The House On Memory Street – An Undead Manuscript

BateleurThe House On Memory Street is a novel I’ve been trying to write for a VERY long time. Until I get it right, it will continue to float through the void along with all the rest of my Undead Manuscripts.

The following extract – taken from one of the many versions of this unrealised book – will do little to edify you further. But I hope it might dust your day with a little intrigue:

The House On Memory Street – Extract

The Eagle

1

The eagle flashed past the little kitchen window, just a shadow against the sunset. Sarah jumped, nearly dropping the cup she’d been drying. She pressed a wrinkled hand to an equally wrinkled breast and congratulated her old heart on still being able to race.

Hanging the cup on its hook, Sarah draped the damp towel over the handle of the range and peered out into the garden.

Her neat lawn sloped steeply between equally neat borders, climbing into blue shadows cast by the pine trees at the end of the garden. Beyond the trees rose the mountain, a vast wedge of purple heather. Between them, the trees and the mountain had absorbed most of the day’s failing light, leaving a single dust-flecked beam suspended above the lawn. It was through this beam that the eagle must have flown.

As Sarah watched, the sun dropped completely behind the mountain and the tide of blue shadows flowed down the garden towards her cottage.

The eagle was perched on the bird table at the south edge of the lawn, its head hidden as it rummaged beneath its wing. Beside the little net of seeds Sarah had hung out for the sparrows it looked huge and incongruous.

‘Egbert?’ she said. ‘Is that you?’

2

Nobody knew who in Strommoch had come up with the name Egbert for their resident golden eagle. But whoever it was the name had stuck and these days Egbert was something of a local legend. Strommoch wasn’t the only Scottish village with a golden eagle as its mascot, but there were few that could claim a resident bird who was over fifty years old.

Sarah had serious doubts a golden eagle could really live that long, but when an entire half-century of village lore was constructed around the comings and goings of such a glorious bird, who was complaining? It was a poor birth and a wretched death that was not augured by one of Egbert’s famous flypasts, and when he deigned to land in your garden you knew you were truly blessed.

So it was with genuine pleasure that Sarah teased open the little kitchen window to improve her view of this visiting celebrity.

The eagle kept up its preening for a while, but when it lifted his head back into view Sarah gasped in surprise, because it wasn’t Egbert at all. It wasn’t even a golden eagle.

The bird was actually rather smaller than she’d realised – a little bigger than a buzzard but much smaller than Egbert the eagle. Its feathers were glossy black except for those on its shoulders, which were pale grey. But what really clinched it was the bird’s face: it was brilliant red.

The strange bird stared at Sarah with eyes like hard black marbles.

Even allowing for the poor light, Sarah wondered how she could possibly have mistaken this creature for Egbert. Shaking a little, she closed the window and drew herself a tumbler of water from the tap.

The eagle – if it was an eagle – watched her through the glass, not moving, not blinking. Even the north wind that had blown up earlier in the evening seemed incapable of disturbing its feathers.

Recovering from her surprise, Sarah rinsed the tumbler, turned it neatly over on the drainer and went through to the parlour where she kept a row of tidy bookshelves. She pressed one hand against the arthritis in her back and rummaged through the books with the other. The bookshelves were right beside the French doors, so she was able to keep one eye on the bird.

It hadn’t moved; all the same, it seemed to be looking at her.

Sarah soon found the book she was looking for: Birds of the World. She kept them in alphabetical order, of course. She took it, straightened her back with a wince and leafed through to the section on birds of prey.

The introductory spread told her she had 307 species to choose from; she found the one she was looking for almost immediately.

It glared out at her from the page just as it was glaring at her from the little bird table. Nudging her glasses to the end of her nose, Sarah peered over the half-moon lenses at the picture of an African bateleur eagle.

There was no doubt – this was the bird. The bright red face was as striking on paper as it was in the flesh. A little diagram showed the eagle’s usual hunting grounds in central and southern Africa. She learned that it scavenged and displayed a characteristic rocking motion in flight. The grey shoulders told her this was a female.

The wind blew through the feathers on the back of the eagle’s head and neck, opening them out into a curved black mane. It opened its wings, testing the air.

Sarah’s heart was racing again. Should she call someone? Wasn’t there a society of birdwatchers or something? What was it they called themselves? She knew enough about birds to be sure it wasn’t every day you saw an African eagle in the Scottish Highlands. It must have escaped from a falconry centre or something.

Bateleur eagle.

Something was tickling her memory. She could hear somebody speaking that name.

‘Bateleur,’ she said aloud, closing the book and hugging it to her chest, where it trembled in time with the thumping of her heart.

As if answering to its name, the eagle lifted off from the bird table and flapped through the shadows towards the cottage. As it flew it tipped sideways, first one way, then the other.

‘Characteristic rocking flight,’ murmured Sarah.

Then it came to her, the memory breaking open like a bubble. The voice she remembered was that of her father … Click to read the rest of this extract

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