The Last Day

It was the last day of summer.

The last day the frogs leapt in unison. The last day the Rooks flew into town, sailing on the wafts of music which floated up between the long fingers of flutists. The last day peach gowns were worn, gossamer and chiffon wafting gently in the breeze as though underwater.

It was the longest day of the year, the shortest night. Some reckoned the night didn’t come at all, because the sun was peeking blearily over the tip of the horizon, hiding her fiery hair, but not quite low enough so her rays didn’t escape and lighten the blackness of night.

Penny’s parents were preparing for the sunset, the sunset that would never come.They ran around the kitchen like headless chickens, and she smiled to herself.

She watched them from her corner in the kitchen, where the small window fit neatly into the little alcove, and was a porthole to the view of the sharp, steep landscape outside their house. She sat on a small red cushion, worn and faded from years of use, on the small wooden window seat.

When she turned back to the view outside, she saw the Rooks. An entire flock of them. A colossal black cloud, swirling over the mountainous city, like an ominous vortex. Their hoarse cries rising in the sky, a bellow of extortionate proportions. The very utensils shook on their hooks, the mugs rattled and the cupboard doors vibrated with the sound of over a thousand of them, and Penny slammed her hands over her ears.

The music from the city was drowned, and the sun sank lower in the horizon. She watched as they soared around the city once, twice, and a third, final time, before they swooped upward, covering the sky, and bringing darkness onto the world. Pitch blackness draped her window, and Penny found herself looking at the glass and seeing only her dim reflection, and the reflection of the wooden kitchen in it.

She turned to her parents, they had stopped what they were doing, and were standing, frozen, eyes on the window. The house began to hum with the screeching outside. It was beyond anything she could imagine, and even though they heard it every year, the sound was momentous. Time-stopping. Gut-wenching. She felt it in her bones, her heart was beating to the sound of it. Her breathing changed to match the shift in tune. The sound was increasing. Louder and louder, the vibrations more and more intense, until, as the clanging orchestra outside reached its peak, a sudden silence filled the room. The darkness outside surged, replaced by a dim twilight, and Penny stared up at an empty sky.

The Rooks had vanished.

The remaining twilight would hang over the world for a few weeks, before the black tendrils of winter edged their way across the sky, bringing frost and snow.

The last day of summer.

 

 

Advertisements

The Summer of the Rooks

Can you ever tell when the Rooks come into town?

flock of rooks

They swarm in on the sunrise, that’s what. From far away they look like any old birds. A flock of geese, perhaps, flying home after a long winter away.
But rooks are more sinister than that. They squawk and caw along with the crows, in graveyards.
I heard they were carnivorous birds too. Which is especially morbid, when you think about it. What are these awful carnivorous birds doing loitering about graveyards? Lots of meat in graveyards, if you ask me.
The summer of the Rooks is different, though. Every four years there is a Summer of the Rooks. It occurs when all the Rooks from all over Urigal fly to the capital city of that land, and there is much merrymaking as the days grow longer, and the minstrels walk about in long beautiful gowns, their long tresses bleached golden by the sun, their voices trilling in sad beauty; the markets are groaning with produce, the people were at peace and rest. All is right with the world. Once every four years.
This year, of course, was no different. Twig was alive, as Twiggy as ever. His shock of white blond hair was positively silver that summer, the sun had been out so much. His cousin Delilah was as delightfully moody as ever, and as protective of her cousin Twig as she always was. His best friend George, the Pie-Boy, as the Phenomenal Girl liked to call him, was ever present. And yet there was a look in his eye which suggested that he possibly had a past which was finally catching up to him. His violet eyes no longer twinkled with merriment. He had started to talk about an Alex, a Lem, and a Tristan. He had started the twitchings one always knew were Home-sick Twitchings, and yet nobody acknowledged them because it was a Summer of the Rooks, and everybody was meant to be content.
Rooks by day, folks. Rooks by night. Why was the Summer of the Rooks always so splendid, when rooks themselves were such morbid birds?
Well, quite simply, the people of those lands believed them to be good omens. Omens of happy tidings, of lush fields and great yield, of fat cows that gave full, rich, creamy milk, of hens that laid half a dozen eggs a day; each, of snails that ignored lettuces, of worms that happily wriggled through soils, of fish that flashed silver in a river that was a sea of bounty, of days filled with warmth and laughter and food, of people who did not know hunger or sadness or irritability because they had all they could ever want in one season.
I wore a woolly hat, that summer.
Twig commented on it. He said, “Cor, Pegs, that’s a beautiful hat you have on”
George told me his sister Lem had the exact same hat. It was just a normal hat. Blue, with zig zag stripes, and patterns in white wool. It had a little pom bobble on top, and two strings hanging by my ears. I wore it everywhere. I wore it in the forest when I went looking for blackberries. I wore it in the strawberry fields, I wore it everywhere, I tell you, everywhere.
It was never cold on the Summer of the Rooks, so I really cannot say I had a solid reason for wearing my hat. Nobody asked me, however, so I didn’t say anything. Nobody stared at me, or told me I was a tad odd. They didn’t even think it, I don’t think. I don’t know why nobody questioned it. Not even Rob. I don’t know why Rob didn’t question it.
We were walking over the bridge, me and Rob. When this huge cloud rolled up, cracking like some huge angry beast had slammed a stone fist into it. Lightning tore a great rift in this black cloud, and Rob and I shrank back from the monstrous beauty of it all, as the thunder clapped around us, a deafening sound, reverberating around our skulls.
Then the rain began. Soft at first, then huge, like ten penny pieces, slamming on our heads and shoulders.
I looked at Rob, and he was smiling at me through the rain, his eyes were golden because he was Rob and he had golden eyes, and his eyelashes, which I have always admired because of their supreme length, had beads of water dangling on their pretty tips, and his hair hung over his face as rivulets slid down it, and he was smiling through the deluge, down at me, and he said,

“Your woolly hat is all wet”

And beyond him, I saw the rooks, crowing through the rain in mockery, not seeming in the least ruffled by the downpour.
rooks in rain