I’ve been trying to write this novel for a VERY long time. I’ve approached the story from many different directions, but never quite nailed it. One day I might get it right. It’s a good story – I just need to find the right way to tell it.Until then, The House on Memory Street will continue to float through the void along with all the rest of my Undead Manuscripts.
And that’s all I’m prepared to say about it. 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 intrigue you:
The House On Memory Street – Extract
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?’
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.
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.
‘He’s a strange cove, the bateleur,’ she heard her father say. ‘When he’s flying he looks just like a tightrope walker trying to keep his balance. That’s what his name means, don’t you know?’
Sarah shivered. Like the mountain, the voice of her father cast shadows, long and deep.
The eagle that wasn’t Egbert landed on the granite slabs outside the French doors.
Sarah took a step backwards. The bird looked bigger up close. She was glad the doors were locked.
The eagle strutted to and fro on the patio, cocking its livid red head and triangulating Sarah with its eyes. Then it marched up to the glass and pecked it with a yellow beak that looked like something from a mortician’s toolbox.
Sarah dropped the bird book.
The eagle pecked the glass again, hard. The doors rattled in their frame.
‘Sarah McMay! You’re behaving in a ridiculous fashion!’ Sarah had talked aloud to herself all her life; now she was an old lady she felt it was actually expected of her. ‘It can’t possibly get in. It’s just a bird!’
It was true. Somewhere, perhaps just a few miles down the road, the owner of a falconry centre was marking out a map of the local area with concentric circles showing the likely range of his prize African bird, plotting a search pattern he could drive in his Cherokee, calling up his friends, maybe even contacting the RSPB. Sarah should count herself lucky that this beautiful, exotic creature had chosen her garden as a landing strip.
So why did she feel scared?
Sarah looked at her watch. ‘Moon will be here in an hour,’ she said, waggling one of her wrinkled index fingers at the eagle. ‘Then we’ll see.’
Moon was Sarah’s grand-daughter. She was indeed due to arrive just after dark, but November was a treacherous time of year to be driving on these narrow Highland roads and Sarah was pretty sure Moon would be late. Unlike her mother and almost certainly because of her – Moon was a careful driver.
Besides, Moon was no more equipped to deal with an escaped eagle than Sarah. Still, her presence here would be reassuring.
Sarah looked at her watch again; again the eagle tapped the glass.
‘Call someone up,’ Sarah said. ‘Pick up the telephone and call someone who knows something about birds. You can have it all sorted out by the time Moon gets here, then you’ll have something to talk about over bacon sandwiches and cocoa.’
Well, it was better than just standing here.
To use the telephone Sarah would have to go through the parlour door and into the tiny hall at the foot of the stairs. The door was shut against the breeze that blew constantly first down from the mountain then, thanks to the ill-fitting landing window, down her stairs. Unfortunately the door was an even worse fit than the window, so even on a summer’s day Sarah could feel cold mountain air around her ankles.
Sarah stopped three feet from the door. She listened to the wind singing in the telephone wires outside; that same wind must also be blasting down the staircase.
Yet there was no draught; the air at her ankles was utterly still.
The light outside was so poor now that the eagle was reduced to a silhouette. Only its eyes gave it dimension, black marbles made round by ghostly tungsten highlights from the parlour’s wall lamps. Behind the eagle hulked the mountain, almost black itself as dusk clotted around it.
Back and hips protesting, Sarah bent over as close to double as her old body would allow and waggled her hand around her legs.
No draught at all.
Sarah’s heart accelerated, thundering now. She told it not to be so stupid, grasped the polished brass handle and opened the door into the little hall where she kept the telephone.
But the hall wasn’t there.
Somehow Sarah stopped her knees from giving way.
The little hall had vanished; it had been replaced by a different room. Sarah recognised this new room at once, even though it had no business being in this cottage and even though she had not seen it for over fifty years.
‘You knew you couldn’t close the door on it forever, Sarah,’ she whispered.
Her heartbeat began to slow down. This surprised her more than the rearrangement of her home. Somehow she had been expecting this.
The eagle had stopped tapping the glass of the French doors. Now it was scratching one claw slowly down the wooden frame. The parlour clock chimed gently, but Sarah couldn’t have said whether it was a quarter past five or half a lifetime to midnight. All she knew was either she or the world had gone crazy before she’d had a chance to eat bacon sandwiches with her grand-daughter.
The room waited for her, walls spread wide and welcoming, as real as the African eagle on her patio, the boom of the blood in her ears. She could no more have turned away than opened her arms and flown to the top of the mountain.
In fact, there was only one thing she could do.
‘Just like coming home,’ she said.
With these words, and at the grand old age of ninety-one, Sarah McMay took her first physical step into a room that had never even existed.
Copyright © Graham Edwards 2005