Chicken ghosts

(Written for, and dedicated to, a friend)

farmhouse effect’Twas a fascination, call it morbid if you will, she didn’t really see it that way. Just that, they’d spent good times in the old farmhouse. Driving past, memories, pulling over, place looks deserted now. Fascination, for no more suspicious reason than just seeing the old place in abandoned emptiness, led her through the side door, hanging open half off it’s hinges. Mediterranean midday sun slanting through pillars of dust motes.

The old house would have memories in some fanciful literary preamble; in reality all it had was the immediacy of a shifting sunlit dust-scape. She was quickly bored with it’s emptiness. This was not in the same league as the young Titus Groan lost, and lost in wonder, in the endless hall-after-echoing-hall abandonment of Gormenghast Castle.*

chuck3 effectA quick peep round the back, then drawn into the garden, even more secluded now it was so overgrown. The chicken run, still there mostly intact. Now she let the memories come. Morning coffee, sitting on the tree stump, listening to the chucks. You could tell a chicken whatever complete crap was happening in your life at that particular time.

You could tell bright-eyed PolyAnna, or speckledy-grey Anasthey how you’d half realised that the more you tried to clutch at something as it moved away from your destiny, the less likely you were to grasp it. And how to hold up your needs and frustrations to the sunlight of care-lessness, like washing on a line that you return to later for inspection… to find it’s bleached by that sun such that you barely remember those needs and frustrations; if you were to really try you might just make out their shape on the fabric, but why bother?

And PolyAnna, or Anasthey, would cock her head, eyes unblinking, seemingly cogitating this wisdom, gently clucking it over, but then suddenly there’s a grub or sunflower seed spotted and you’re dismissed in an instant.

And you’d smile as you got up, washed your cup at the outside tap, feeling light, feeling spacious for no reason. Chickens have that gift.

chuck1 effectAnd for sure, look there, in the heat haze of midday sun, born out of the silence, indefinite shapes, you wouldn’t realise they were chickens unless you’d been part of this story. Gentle clucking wafting across from the other side of the River Styx, you can tell by the unworldly metallic shimmer to the chucks’ strange contented harmony. And look, the metallic shimmer comes into the world of form, silhouetting the ghostly shapes as they fluff their phantom feathers, flashes of half seen colour, or light.

And more insistent metallic notes that come into her head, demanding attention, look we’ve brought you an egg, and she reaches down to pick it up, so insubstantial that she sees clear through it to her gently enfolding fingers on the other side, and as she watches, entranced, it cracks open and a gossamer-fine shawl unfolds from the shell and drifts upwards in an unseen updraft, patterns of other-worldly colours moving through the fabric itself as it rises and twists, and in it’s wafting up, it brushes her face, and in an instant the colours dance through her head like mischievous imps, snatching away thought and weaving their enchanted rainbow through the fabric of her mind.

Sounds of children’s laughter down by the river at the bottom of the village. Snapping back into sunlit reality, everything more immediate, more defined, than she’s ever seen. She walks back to the car in a bubble of spaciousness. Lightness of being, driving off, then laughter, and a whispered ‘….thank you PolyAnna, thank you Anasthey……..’

You can listen to the music and images that go with this story here.

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* See ‘Gormenghast’, from the trilogy by Mervyn Peake charting the fortunes of Titus, Earl of Groan, in these masterpieces of descriptive writing.
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