He’s Back!

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!

girl with big bird by suzanne starr
‘He’s Back’ charcoal drawing by Suzanne Starr*

Part of my Flash Fiction collection

He’s Back

‘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.

‘What happened?’

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.’

‘But Stork…’

‘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


The People Who Lived in the Picture

When I saw this drawing by artist, Suzanne Starr, on my LinkedIn feed, I was so intrigued by the figures in the picture that I had to write their story. I contacted Suzanne to ask her permission, and now we have a collaboration across continents. Awesome!

You can find more of Suzanne’s artwork at www.suzannestarart.com – check it out!

The people who lived in the picture by Suzanne Starr
Graphite Drawing by Suzanne Starr

Part of my Flash Fiction collection

The people who lived in the picture

‘Who are they, Ashley?’ Charlie pointed up at the picture on his bedroom wall. ‘Are they family too?’

Ashley glanced at the picture which was hanging next to the school room door. She’d never really noticed it before, but then she’d hardly ever been in the austere blue-painted room (formerly the nanny’s room) in which her young cousin was staying until it was time for him to start at his new school in England.

‘I don’t rightly know, Charlie.’ Ashley carefully took the picture down from the wall and came to sit beside him on the bed. They looked at it together. It was a small pencil drawing of five children of varying ages, or maybe four children and their mother, tightly grouped together with their arms wrapped around each other. They were wearing outdoor clothes which looked rather old-fashioned, thought Ashley. The drawing looked old too, faded, the paper discoloured along the one edge of the wooden frame.

‘Look at their expressions; they’re so lifelike.’ said Ashley.’

‘They look sad,’ said Charlie.

‘Maybe it’s because they’re posing,’ said Ashley. ‘Like the in the old photographs on the piano downstairs.’

‘The little boy at the front, what’s he holding?

Ashley peered at the picture. ‘I think it’s a spinning top. You know, you push the handle up and down,’ she demonstrated a pumping action, ‘and it spins. I’m sure we’ve still got ours somewhere. I’ll see if Hodge knows where it is.’

‘But I wonder why he looks so cross.’

‘Perhaps it’s because he’s had to stand still for so long and maybe he’d rather go and play,’ she ruffled Charlie’s golden hair. ‘You’d be scowling too.’ Ashley laughed.

Charlie pouted and then giggled as Ashley chucked him under the chin.

Ashley returned the picture to its place on the wall. ‘Come on, Charlie, it’s time for lunch. We can ask Hodge about the spinning top.’


Ashley was curled up in the drawing room with her notebook at her side. She’d intended to finish her latest fairy story, but her mind kept drifting back to the drawing. Maybe there was a story there, ‘The people who lived in the picture’. She smiled to herself and glanced at her watch; Charlie was supposed to be studying to prepare him for the start of school, but he wouldn’t mind if she just popped in to borrow the picture. As instructed, she wouldn’t disturb him.

Charlie’s door was closed. ‘Charlie? Can I come in?” Ashley knocked politely and waited. ‘Charlie? Are you there?

There was no reply. Ashley put her ear to the door. Perhaps he’d dozed off. She wouldn’t be surprised; the books with which he’d arrived looked deathly dull to her. As she put her hand on the doorknob, she heard a huge crash, as if something had fallen on the floor.

‘Charlie?’ She turned the doorknob and pushed the door, but it wouldn’t open. ‘Charlie! Let me in!’ She shoved the door hard and it yielded. She looked around. Charlie was crouching on the floor in the corner of the room. A brightly painted metal spinning top rolled across the room towards her.

Ashley picked the toy up and turned to Charlie. ‘Hodge found it then,’ she said. ‘What on earth were you doing with it?’

Charlie shook his head and pointed to the picture. Ashley crossed the room and looked; the little boy’s hands were empty. He was leaning forward, arms outstretched, as if he’d just dropped (thrown?) something. Ashley looked at Charlie in disbelief.

Ashley held out her hand to Charlie. They fled from the room.

They found Hodge peeling potatoes in the kitchen. Breathlessly Charlie tried to explain what had happened.

‘Slow down, slow down!’ She wiped her hands on her apron. ‘Now, Miss Ashley, you’ve not been scaring young Master Charlie with your fairy stories, have you?’

‘No, Hodge, it’s real, really real.’ Charlie’s bottom lip quivered.

Hodge reached out and put her arm around Charlie’s shoulder. ‘All right, luvvy, let’s go and have a look.’

Charlie hung back as Hodge marched into his bedroom followed by Ashley. The picture lay face down on the floor and the schoolroom door was open. Hodge bent down and picked it up. Suddenly the schoolroom door was snatched shut. Hodge looked up. ‘Master Charlie?’

‘I’m here,’ said Charlie stepping into the room. Behind him they heard footsteps running along the landing.

Hodge turned the picture over. It was a drawing of an empty room.

©2018 Chris Hall