Seeing this is the week that Britain began its exit from Europe, I thought I’d mark the occasion with my short short story.
Featured image by @Stefansstuff
The birds arrived in small groups, day after day. In poor condition, with torn wings or broken claws or beaks missing, some floating in feather-stained water. Those that could sought shelter in the uncertain homes that the island provided: chimney pots, ledges and gutters, holes in walls.
The island’s human inhabitants did what they could to make the birds leave, complaining about their unkempt appearance and the way they sang (in harsh sounding, guttural voices). ‘Singing’ wasn’t the word for the racket they made, many older people pointed out. Men began to round up foreign birds and shut them in cages, and shoot them for stews and pies, or ‘sport’. Native birds need our protection, they argued. Foreign birds do not belong here. They are vermin, endangering our island’s way of life.
Soon it was an offence to offer help of any sort to a ‘non-native’ bird. It became one’s patriotic duty to encourage them to leave, to go back from wherever they had come, even if they had been on the island so long it was unlikely that they would recognise the place they had come from. But it didn’t really matter where they went to, in many people’s minds, ‘as long as they’re not here’.
A full-on offensive began in March of that year. Mass shootings, poisonings, habitat stripping. By late spring it seemed as if all the non-native birds had indeed left the island, along with a large number of natives. Gardens were abnormally quiet; bright plumages were absent. Until one cloudless summer morning when a dark cloud appeared offshore, low on the horizon. It grew larger and larger as it travelled inland, emitting a strange and frightening sound: a wailing, keening cry that seemed to pierce the soul. Those who heard it said it was the worst sound they’d ever heard.
Islanders were unprepared for the events of the following days. The few who survived the bird attacks left the island as soon as they could on specially chartered flights, leaving behind piles of faceless corpses. No-one ever went back.
The birds thrived, however. Robin, magpie, thrush, parakeet… They set up in abandoned homes and sang together morning and night, in a beautiful, full-throated chorus.