My second cross-continental collaboration with artist, Suzanne Starr.
This story was inspired by Suzanne’s drawing which I saw on my LinkedIn feed. Once again, I found the images of her characters so compelling that I had to write their story.
You can find more of Suzanne’s artwork at www.suzannestarart.com – do check it out!
Part of my Flash Fiction collection
‘That’s a pretty dress, Miss Clara,’ said the Stork, as the little girl approached him. ‘Oh, but you look sad on your birthday. Why?’ She is so tall now, he thought.
‘I wish I could just fly away like you do,’ Clara looked up at him with her large brown eyes.
‘What’s wrong, Miss Clara? You have a lovely home with people who care for you. Why are you unhappy?’
‘It’s just that I feel like I don’t belong properly. They’re not my people, are they?’ Clara fiddled with her lace-edged handkerchief. ‘You explained to me last year, you delivered me to the wrong people. I’ve been thinking about it all year.’
The Stork cocked his head and looked intently at her. ‘I know, Miss Clara, and I told you how sorry I am for my mistake.’
‘Did you tell the other little girl?’ Clara looked up at him, ‘the one who should’ve come here instead of me.’
The Stork hung his head, ‘no Miss Clara, I didn’t. And perhaps I shouldn’t have told you.’
‘So why did you?’ Clara was on the verge of tears. ‘Why did you, Stork?’
‘The two of you were my first deliveries and I got it wrong. That’s why I kept coming back to check on you, until you were old enough for me to talk to you and to explain properly.’
‘And the other little girl?’
The Stork shook his head sadly. ‘The mother realised something was wrong.’
‘My mother? My real mother?’
The Stork nodded.
The Stork’s beak drooped so that it almost touched the ground. ‘She thought the baby was a changeling.’
‘A changeling? What’s that?’
‘Some people believe that a changeling is a fairy child left in place of a human child which has been stolen by the fairies.
‘But it wasn’t a fairy child?’
‘No, of course not. That’s just a silly superstition.’
‘So what happened to her?’
‘She was left out on the hillside as is the custom in that part of our country.’
‘I don’t understand. Why would they do that?’
The Stork sighed. ‘They hope that the real baby will be returned.’
‘Oh.’ Clara was silent. She twisted her handkerchief some more. ‘But why didn’t you tell her? The mother, I mean.’
‘She could neither see me nor hear me.’ The Stork started to pace about. ‘Only little children can see and hear the Storks,’ he said over his shoulder.
‘And you couldn’t save the baby from the hillside?’
The Stork turned to face her. ‘She’d gone by the time I found out what had happened.’
Clara frowned. ‘Maybe the fairies did take her.’
‘I don’t believe in fairies.’
‘But maybe someone found her. Maybe she’s with another family?’
A large tear rolled down the Stork’s beak. ‘Don’t you think I looked for her; that day, the next day, the next week?’ The Stork sniffed and shook his huge dark head. ‘I searched for months and years, because of my mistake. That’s why you’ve been so precious to me.’
Clara went up to the Stork; she reached up and put her hand on his neck. ‘Poor Stork, I’m sorry.’
‘I will always be sorry, Miss Clara.’
Clara thought for a moment. ‘Can we go there and have a look?’ Clara waved her handkerchief towards the sky. ‘I’d love just to see where I might’ve been living.’
The Stork looked at her, eyes unblinking.
‘I could ride on your back,’ Clara ran her hand over the snowy feathers on his back. ‘It can’t be that far. If you mixed us up on the same night,’ she reasoned.
‘No, Miss Clara. It’s not possible.’
‘I said no!’ He turned his back on her, hunching his wings.
Clara sat down on the edge of the sidewalk and started to cry.
The Stork couldn’t bear to hear her sobbing; he turned around and nudged her with his beak. ‘I’m sorry, Miss Clara, but I can’t.’
‘But it’s my birthday today.’
‘That’s the point, I’m afraid.’ The Stork folded his long legs underneath his white feathers and huddled close to her. ‘Today is the last day you will be able to see me or hear me. You see this is your tenth birthday, and after you pass the hour of your birth, you too will be blind and deaf to the Storks.’
Clara looked at him. The Stork looked up at the sun which was sinking below the tall buildings of the city. The soft feathers of his cheek brushed against Clara’s hair. ‘It’s almost time, little one.’ The Stork stood up, gently helping Clara to her feet with a brush of his long beak. The Stork faced her and bowed gracefully as the disc of the sun disappeared behind the dome of the cathedral.
Clara looked at him, wiping away her tears. ‘Stork, dear Stork…’ and as she spoke, his image started to fade, so only a faint outline remained. His voice echoed around the little square. ‘Goodbye, Miss Clara.’ Then his was gone.
That night Clara had a dream, a very vivid dream. A girl about her age was waving to her from a bright, sunny hillside somewhere. She looked just how Clara imagined a fairy might look and she was smiling. And every year after that on her birthday, Clara found a soft white feather on her pillow.
©2018 Chris Hall
*’He’s Back’ is one of two works by Suzanne Starr which form part of the ‘Into Darkness Exhibition’ at the Norwich Art Center, Connecticut USA. The exhibition runs throughout October 2018