Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Once it flew

... a short story dedicated to Joanne Harris.

Once it flew

She found the Small Thing in the old glasshouse.

She hadn't meant to go poking around the wrecked square of Victoriana but a scent enticed her. A sharp, almost lemony scent, such as coriander seed or the first squirt of oil from the skin of a satsuma. It sang in a bright tremolo.

'Help me.'

Her nostrils pulled to the rectangle of rotted wood and scant grey panes. The smell soared above the expected ground of mould, fern-seed and neglected terracotta. Ghost odours lingered. Canna lily and those puffed-up blooms with gaudy spots that should have been the coxcombs of dragons. She tasted galvanised watering can and frog breath in the chord, and the soft harmony of pigeon nests.

But it was that sharp scent that stung her sinuses, that caught her attention like licking across a battery top.

Spiderwebs rounded the corners of the few remaining panes in grey and sagging lace.The weavers squatted in tunnels: wary dark blotches, waiting. Along a flagged path, and across a brick-lined sump, curtainy threads twisted on a window-ledge. The smell pinched her septum and dragged her like a small bull.

She skirted the shrunken boards over the rainwater store and narrowed herself away from the splintered shelving. Pot shards ground beneath her boots and squealed with burnt orange voices. But the urgent panicky reek tugged her forwards. Some harsh and wild tone like the songs of the Northern Dales called her.

The web ahead rippled. At the edge, black and hairy legs twitched, eager and percussive. In the middle, wings fluttered. Scales, more precious than begonia seed, danced to the vibrato of the air.

She tore away the gluey skeins. Too late. The antennae of the Small Thing drooped and its scent faded to a sad musk.

It blinked its bilberry eyes at her and pleaded with notes of bergamot.

'I can no longer fly - learn my song.'

She bent her head and let the amber music in.