Flash fiction – Oath

In February 2021, Storytelling Collective had a flash fiction prompt month and of course, I didn’t hit every day (or really get close) but I did end up with some favourites I want out in the world, even in their unedited form.

Oath

“Swear it.”

Margie looked up at the bird, staring down at her from a branch.

It cocked its head to look at her directly, one dark bright eye meeting hers. “Swear it.”

“Fine!” Margie threw her hands up in defeat. “I swear it.” She stomped her foot as she glared up at the bird. “I swear that you and yours have free passage into my yard. I don’t know why you need it or how many of your family I’m allowing entry, so this really seems like I’ll be getting the raw end here but I swear it.”

The bird—Margie didn’t know from birds, this one had a white stomach and brown-grey shoulders with flashes of black in the wing feathers—flew down to alight on her pointing, accusatory finger. Its feet were so small and perfect as they gripped her hand it could make you cry. If it hadn’t bullied Margie she would have felt this was a magical moment. It was still cute, though.

“I can’t believe you’re making me do this with literally no explanation beyond ‘we need to use your garden.’” Margie grumped as she walked over to her tiny back patio.

The bird hopped from her finger to the table, casting about for crumbs as she dropped into a battered wicker chair. “You talk to me, but you haven’t asked why, so I decided you did not like or need explanations.”

“That’s a bulllshit reason, you’re a liar.”

“We’ll be out of your hair in just a moment.”

Margie glanced out into the yard, which did seem to have several birds than normal perched on branches or hopping through the grass she kept tall rather than mow. As she watched, more birds began arriving. Most of them were little bite-size things like the one she’d spoken with, but some were as big as a crow. She was able to identify a few robins, and whatever the blue yelling ones were—jays she thought.

It was starting to get crowded. Margie was grateful that her neighbours never seemed to use their incredibly nice and spacious yards. There’d be no questions.

Even though none of the birds was coming up onto the patch of concrete Margie’s chair was on she still pulled her feet up into the seat. Best to keep out of the way.

The birds were a living blanket across her garden, sun glinting off of dark feathers, or catching the surprising flash of colour in a wing. Right as it seemed that there would be no room for newcomers, the mass of them took to the air.

“Thank you,” the first, demanding, bird told Margie before joining the others. It said something else but she didn’t catch it in the thrumming rustle of hundreds of wings.

The birds moved together in an undulating group. She’d seen photos of starlings doing this, creating a mesmerising pattern as they wove the air in a group. The effect was different here because the size and type of bird varied. Their coordination seemed off at first but the more they shifted, catching invisible currents, the more tightly they moved as one fabric. Confident, their shape twisted again, focusing into a point, like a finger or an arrow.

As one, the group of birds dove. They dove into Magie’s yard and her shock was the only thing that kept her silent, imagining the pile of bodies. She watched unblinking as the mass reached the tips of the summer grass and disappeared as if some portal lay between the fat seed heads. There were so many birds it took some time before all went into the grass, in a focused line only a few birds wide.

Margie lit a slim cigarette, the click of her lighter in shaking hands loud as a gunshot in the silence of their wake.

A portion of this post was initially published in a locked Patreon post on February 15, 2021.

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