The Gift of Wings

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

An overbearing landowner meets an unearthly fate following an encounter with a peculiar stranger

The fox broke cover at the edge of the wood, followed by the chaotic, tumbling stream of hounds. Their barking was as loud in the frosty air as gunfire. Behind the hounds at a distance but gaining fast came the riders in their red coats, each one of their number united in the heroic solidarity of weak men acting in unison.

 

In his study with the curtains drawn tight against even the weak winter sunlight Edward Sand felt the approach of the fox. Its fear and exhaustion hit him like waves, a window opening into a mind ripped apart by an instinctive drive to flee.

 

He stood up and rushed violently towards the door. The pen he had flung down on the desk spilled its cargo of ink to make a pool on the desk the colour of dried blood.

 

Leading the charge across the open fields between the wood and the edge of the village Sir Thomas Thorne waved his whip above his head like a sabre and shouted 'forward the bloody fifth!'

 

The Fifth Lancers had been his father's regiment and Pater had raised his oldest son on tales of heroic charges against an enemy line that broke and fled. Then sent him away to school to learn all the prejudices a gentleman needed along with an aversion to thinking.

 

Now here he was forty-five years of age, the undisputed king of his few hundred acres. A man devoted to all the passions of his time and station, good brandy, the status quo and hunting to the death any fox with the temerity to cross his land.

 

That morning the fox, seeing a possible escape route made for the walled garden of a cottage that stood half a mile from the edge of the village. Not today you bugger! Thought Sir Thomas as he jabbed the spurs hard into the flank of his horse. Not when I'm giving chase.

 

The race was an unequal one and would have been lost by the fox, but for the intervention of the man who came running out of the cottage garden shouting and waving his arms.

 

He was of indeterminate age with a stick thin frame, untidy fair hair and the shallow complexion of someone who spent his time keeping irregular hours indoors. He wore a frock coat that was shiny at the lapels and elbows and, as Sir Thomas noted with distaste, his boots looked like they had last seen polish when they were still in the possession of the cobbler.

 

All together he looked like a not very reputable scarecrow that had escaped from its field to have a go at scaring something different for a change. In response the horse reader up making him dig the spurs into its side, then swing his riding crop wildly at the man.

 

 "Damn it Sir! What are you about?”, he shouted face scarlet with fury.

 

 " You can't do this; it's monstrous ", came the rather breathless reply.

 

" Can't I by God! And who are you to say what I might do on my land? "

 

At the back of his mind Edward Sand felt the heartbeat of the fox slow ever so slightly as it entered cover. He felt too the confusion of the hounds as they milled about in a yapping pack. A little help and a life could be saved.

 

 "Wind from heaven sent, take his scent. Scatter it on your airs far from sight; they shall not find it try as they might. So, let it be!", he intoned in a strange sing-song voice.

 

Watching this peculiar performance Sir Thomas curled his lip into a sneer and snarled: "Are you a madman; explain yourself sir!" To emphasise his point, he sent his whip whistling past the end of the man's nose.

To his surprise the man did not flinch back, instead he stepped forward, making his horse give a frightened whinny. Something that might in a more sensitive man might have stirred a little fear.

 

 "My name is Edward Sand," the man proclaimed in a surprisingly powerful voice, " and I forbid the taking of a life today".

 

 "Forbid? Forbid is not a word used to the man who owns half this blasted county!"

 

 Out of the corner of his eye Sir Thomas had caught a glimpse of a patch of orange fur under a nearby hedge. In one swift movement he drew the pistol that rode on his hip and fired, from under the hedge came a single shriek of pain, followed by silence.

 

 "I give that for your forbidding things sir!", he snarled.

 

 "And I give you the gift of wings," replied Edward Sand, his eyes grown suddenly as cold as the stars on a winter evening.

 

The fellow was cracked. Utterly cracked, thought Sir Thomas as he dug the spurs into the flank of his horse and rode across the fields following the harsh call of hunting horns.

 

'A most disagreeable man, a writer of some kind by all accounts', Mr Peebles was the Thorne family solicitor, his family had served theirs for more generations than either care to recall.

 

He was a fussy little man with the pallid complexion of someone who spent long hours in rooms where the curtains are drawn tight shut. Whenever he spoke, he had a habit of wringing his hands and looking nervously about in a way that always reminded Sir Thomas of a woodland creature about to take flight.

 

'Writer eh? Don't trust anyone who makes things up for a living'.

 

'Quite so sir, and the books her writes,' Mr Peebles lowered his voice as if he were about to say something that might be considered obscene, ' are about fairies and the like '.

 

Sir Thomas snorted derisively, ' the fellow clearly is cracked then; thought so all along'.

 

'Indeed, so sir, but, alas, sufficiently sane to have bought his cottage and the land it stands on outright'.

 

'Not through you I hope.'

 

'Indeed, no sir,' Mr Peebles came as close as a man of his nature could to bridling at the very suggestion, 'Peebles, Peebles and Brown are very selective about whom we do business '.

 

'I should hope so; if you want to go on seeing any of mine,' growled Sir Thomas, reaching for the port.

 

Sir Thomas reached for the port a lot that night; more perhaps than was usual even for him. His was an old house, built on even older foundations and surrounded by a wood that had a few centuries on both.

 

Not a spot to sit in listening to old joists settle and the wind rattle the leaden windows if you have an uneasy mind. Sir Thomas hated to admit it, but that odd little Man Sand had rattled him like the wind was the library window.

 

I give you the gift of wings.

 

It was an absurd thing to have said, entirely in keeping with a man who was himself entirely ridiculous. Yet the coldness in his eyes when he said it marched that of the steel Sir Thomas was fond of imagining emulating his ancestors by facing battle without a quiver. He though was quivering, to the point where when he poured a drink the bottle played a nervous little tune on the glass.

 

When he eventually climbed the stairs to bed that night Sir Thomas was more than a little unsteady on his feet. The eyes of his ancestors watched him balefully from the gloomy oil paintings hung along the gallery. They did not seem impressed by what they saw.

 

In his bedchamber, a large draughty room with tall windows looking out on a stormy sky, Sir Thomas fell still dressed onto the bed and wrapped himself in a bundle of sheets. As they had done when he was a child the shadows seemed to scuffle with half seen things.

 

' Nonsense. All a load of blasted nonsense,' he muttered as he fell into a drunken slumber.

 

A drunken slumber that was soon enough interrupted by a most peculiar dream. One where he felt himself to both within and not within his body at the same time.

 

It took Sir Thomas a moment to realise what seemed to be happening, he felt himself to have been lifted up away from the inhibiting weight of ordinary being to a place where the wind rushed past him and he had an uncanny feeling of unrestricted movements.

 

He was flying. Unquestionably, improbably, flying through the air with all the speed and grace of a bird.

 

The closest thing his stagnant soul was capable that might have been called childish delight gripped Sir Thomas. He spread his arms wide and soared far up into the cloudless sky. Then with a skilful turn plunged down towards earth, where the estate, the village and the countryside beyond were all laid out below him like toys on the nursery rug.

 

There was the river he fished in, the rolling acres he chased foxes across and close by the wood; what? Something he hadn’t thought about, but which now made him turn cold with fear.

 

The hides he and his friends shot from, felling the birds that streamed overhead having been driven from their cover by the beaters for the dogs to bring back.

 

At the same moment he saw the first white puffs of smoke against the blue of the sky, followed a second later by the dry bone crack of gunfire. Damn close too! He couldn’t see but could imagine the scene down in the hide. The stink of spent cartridges, the frenzied rush of the loaders and voices calling out, ‘faster man; damn your eyes!’

 

The grace and exhilaration of flight turned in an instant into the panicked fluttering of an attempt at escape. More shots peppered the air, even closer this time, the tainted breeze from one passing inches from his face.

 

He made an attempt to turn, to zig-zag away from the gun barrels that would be tracking his every move. Too late. Sir Thomas felt a sharp pain in his chest, then he was suddenly falling towards earth; towards a blackness that had come from nowhere and overwhelmed everything.

 

‘Not that I’m one to gossip’.

 

Mrs Harmon folded her arms across her chest and leaned back from the kitchen table, her broad face wearing a look of pious honesty.

 

‘No dear, not you,’ replied her good friend Mrs Carver with only the smallest trace of irony.

 

They were sitting in the large kitchen of the parsonage drinking tea with on the table between them a large fruitcake. Mrs Harmon would tell the other housekeepers in the area she called on that is was ‘nice in its way, but a bit dry’, adding ‘but then hers usually are’.

 

‘They say they found him dead in his bed, Sir Thomas’, Mrs Harmon lowered her voice and leaned forward as if afraid some invisible person might be listening, ‘some might say there was something funny about it’.

 

‘Funny?’, Mrs Carver leaned forward until her nose was nearly touching that of her companion.

 

‘Yes, you know.’

 

Mrs Carver did, or at least she had heard a couple of other versions of the story; but a little embellishment would do her own later retelling no harm.

 

‘No dear.’

 

‘They say they found a bullet in his chest, but there wasn’t a gun anywhere in the room’.

‘Do they dear?’

 

‘Yes, but of course that was only one of the housemaids talking, and she was packed off to her sister soon enough, so I don’t know’.

 

‘No dear, we don’t’.

 

There had indeed been a bullet in Sir Thomas’s chest, a perfect shot to the heart of which any huntsman would have been proud; although that wasn’t the strangest thing about his death.

 

When the housemaid who found him and was subsequently sent away came into the room there was a long wing feather lying on his outstretched arm. This was later found not to match either those in his pillow or the mattress. It had grown out of his flesh.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: October 19, 2020

© Copyright 2022 A W Colclough. All rights reserved.

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Serge Wlodarski

I can think of a number of people this should happen to. Good story.

Mon, October 19th, 2020 12:59pm

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