13.12.07


People began looking over their shoulders and exchanging glances. Whispering to each other. Who was the stranger dressed in black at the back of the church? They had expected a quiet affair. The family, a few friends and a couple of old work colleagues. And that was pretty well how it was. Most of the mourners knew each other, or a least knew who they were.

Except for that one shadowy figure behind them.

When the time came to leave for the cemetery, they turned and filed out from the gloom of the church into the bright sunlight of the spring morning. But where was the mysterious stranger? He seemed to have vanished as quickly as he had appeared.

They gathered around the grave. The priest offered prayers up for the saving of the departed soul, and through tear filled eyes, the bereaved saw the stranger moving slowly around at the rear of the assembled crowd. As the coffin was lowered into the ground, the stranger moved silently forward and threw a hand of soil onto the cask. But no one felt him push his way to the front. And no one saw him leave. He just disappeared.

The wake was a solemn affair. There was much discussion about the man in black. Nobody knew him, but everyone felt as if they should.In a tree outside sat a large black bird. Watching. Observing. Head darting from one side to the other. As the people left, it silently and slowly flapped its wings. As if in slow motion. Then it flew up and up and up. Higher and higher until it disappeared from view.

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Two weeks ago it was inconceivable that he would be lying in a grave today. So young, so vibrant. So full of life. Why did he suddenly leave home? After all, he had everything he ever wanted. A loving wife and two doting children. A circle of friends that adored him. And a life most people could only dream about. But something had been occupying his mind. He had seemed distant and ill at ease.
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He started talking about his funeral. Not just talking about it, but planning every detail. The music, the guest list. His collection of fine wines which he built up over many years, was to be enjoyed and appreciated he said. It had to be truly appreciated. And strangest of all, he said he would be there to make sure all of his wishes were honoured. He said his friends and family would miss him when he was gone. Only then would they appreciate him.


A few days ago he didn’t come home. He was found with his life drained from him in a wood a few miles from home.

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What had happened was a mystery. Had he been attacked? It didn’t seem so. Had he taken his own life? It didn’t look like it, and why should he anyway?
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The day following the funeral the sun shone. It was still. It was quiet. Nothing moved except a large glossy black bird which was strutting up and down the fence close to the front door of the house. Candice sat motionless with a child under each arm. They silently sobbed.
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Suddenly a wind began to swirl around the garden. It whistled through the half opened window. For a moment she was sure she heard him. “I’ll never leave you and you can never leave me” a breathy voice seemed to say. But then again it was probably just the wind playing tricks with her mind. Then it became calm again. The bird flapped it’s wings and flew up into the sky. Up and up and up it went . Higher and higher until it was gone
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The police were satisfied that there was nothing suspicious about Jimmy Dupre’s sudden demise. The coroners report concluded that he did in fact take his own life with a cocktail of drugs, some of which were unknown. What were they? Where did he get them? The experts were baffled.
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But Candice, his wife of ten happy years, needed to understand why it happened. What led to it and why she had never spotted something was wrong. Surely something was very wrong. She spent hours sitting with his list of chosen funeral music in her hand. Would these titles give any clue as why he decided to leave her and the kids? She played them over and over in her head. She wrote down the words, but nothing jumped off the page. Some songs were his old favourites. Another - You are so Beautiful - was the song they danced to at their wedding. She closed her eyes and drifted back to that moment when he took her in his arms. The moment when the clapping cheering crowd seemed to fade away as they turned and turned on the dance floor in their own private heaven.
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'You’re everything I hoped for, everything I need. You are so beautiful to me'
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Tears fell on the sheet of paper which she held in her trembling hand. But then her water-filled eyes were drawn the final piece of music on the list. She suddenly went cold. A vision of a black bird in a tree flashed into her mind. She saw again a glossy black bird flying in slow motion up, up and up into the sky. She stumbled to the CD rack and searched for the disc. Where was it? She grabbed handfuls of records and threw them this way and that. It must be here. It must. Then she found it. She pushed and shoved the disc until she finally managed to locate the slot in the player. She pressed play.
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'Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise'
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Had he come back as a winged guardian? ‘Don’t be stupid! That only happens in the movies. Had he sent it from beyond the grave. ‘Get a grip of yourself.’ She broke into a sweat. ’It’s a sign. It is a sign‘. Everything around her was spinning.
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'Black bird fly
Black bird fly
Into the light of the dark black sky'

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Suddenly the lights went out. The music stopped and Candice just sat there silently sobbing. It was so quiet she could hear the beat of her heart. But the sudden black-out didn’t alarm her. After the events of the past week she felt nothing could possibly hurt her any more.
..
Through the still darkness she thought she heard a faint sound. Or did she imagine it? The children were asleep upstairs. Perhaps one of them stirred. She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. She was drifting away. A calm descended over her.

The light flickered back into life and she slowly opened her eyes. She stared at the empty fireplace and in her mind she could see Jimmy sitting on the rug with the kids trying to make pictures from the glowing red specks on the fireback behind the dancing flames.
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Whoosh! She physically jumped when a cloud of soot fell down the chimney. There was the sound of frantic fluttering. More soot. A bloodcurdling screech.
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The light went out again and the silence returned. She drew her knees up to her chin and sat shaking, afraid to move. There was a faint shuffling sound somewhere in front of her. First from the right then the left. Then nothing.
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After a few minutes of silence she decided that she would have to make her way to the table where she remembered she had a candle and a lighter. Slowly she uncurled her body and gently put one foot and then the other, on the cold wooden floor. She raised herself upright, and took a step in the direction of the table holding onto a chair back for support. Left foot, right foot, and then she trod on the pile of discarded CDs she’d thrown on the floor. She slipped and fell and thumped her head on the table and sending the candle flying across the room.
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Pit - pat -pit -pat. Something small was creeping around in the darkness The light came back on then immediately went out again. She saw nothing. Once more it came back to life, and for a brief second she was sure she saw Jimmy sitting on the chestnut leather Chesterfield. Then all was black again.
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She screamed. ‘What are you doing to me? What have I done to you? Why are punishing me?’‘Answer me! For Gods sake answer me’
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Outside, the clouds cleared, and through the window a blanket of blue moonlight filled the room. She must have imagined him. Her mind was playing tricks. The sofa was empty. Getting up from the floor her eye was drawn to something lying on the window ledge. Something dark, long and shiny. It was a black feather.
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And round it's quill a wedding ring. Jimmy's wedding ring..
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Candice rushed up stairs to the children’s bedroom. As she crashed through the door they stirred but didn’t wake. She shook Lily who groaned, whimpered and turned onto her front. ‘Wake up’ she yelled as little Jack rubbed his eyes and wearily gazed into his mothers frenzied face. She grabbed Lily’s arm and tugged her from her bed and onto her feet. Jack sat up and rubbed his eyes once again. She hurriedly put then into their dressing gowns. She held Jack under her arm and dragged a complaining Lily down the stairs, out of the door and into the Range Rover..
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With wheels spinning on the gravel she reversed at a furious rate back through the gate, sending a wooden flower tub rolling down the road. As she accelerated away, she glanced through the gaping front door of the house and felt certain she saw a figure.
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Ten minutes later she swung into her parents drive and slid to a halt. She pulled her protesting children toward the oak door and banged and thumped as hard as she could. A light came on and a worried voice called out ‘Who’s there?’ ‘Mum - let me in! The kids are freezing. Open the door. Please’
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Once inside Candice settled Lily and Jack into their beds and began to go over the events of the evening. By now her father had joined them and her parents sat listening and wondering if the stress of the last couple of weeks had begun to have an effect on her mental state. Eventually the three of them retired to bed and agreed to talk more in the morning. Perhaps in the light of day things would be clearer and a simple explanation would be found.
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It was a beautiful crisp and sunny winter’s morning. There was a dusting of snow on the grass and icicles dripped from the gutter on the shed. After breakfast Candice wrapped the children warm up and sent them out the garden to play. ‘Can I have a biscuit please? ‘asked Lily. ‘Of course you can’.
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A few minutes later she heard them happily giggling, and for the first time in days she felt her self relax. Her precious children were safe and that’s all that really mattered to her.She crossed to the window. They were on the lawn. She smiled as she looked at their rosy cheeks, and the white of their breath floating into the air.
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Then her heart thumped. The full horror of last night returned. Lily was crouching down. Her hand was open. In her palm a broken biscuit. Eating it was a big black bird.
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Her daughter’s laughter echoed around her head as she rushed to the door. She flew outside and rushed across the patio. She ran around the corner of the house, slipping and sliding on the ice, toward the lawn.
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The lawn was empty. The children were no where to be seen.
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A black bird sat amid the white snow on the frozen grass. Staring. Blinking. Mocking. Menacing.Candice rushed around the garden calling out their names. She was beside herself with fear. The black bird watched.
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Suddenly out leaped Lily and Jack from behind a bush. 'We were playing hide and seek with the black bird' said Lily.' Just like we did with Daddy'. Candice turned around to face the black bird. It was not there. Nothing remained. The snow was undisturbed.

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It was the week before Christmas. For the sake the children, and her own sanity, Candice tried to put the events of the past three weeks behind her. She had a life to lead, and she wasn’t going to let a tame blackbird get in the way of rebuilding her future. There were explanations for all of the odd events that had recently taken place. Co-incidences, dreams even.
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The house was a frenzy of activity. The Christmas tree was in place and the floor was strewn with ornaments and tinsel. ’Let me Mummy - let me ’ said Jack as he reached to plant a golden angel on a branch and toppled forward whilst his sister shrieked with laughter.
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There was a thump on the door mat as a pile of Christmas cards fell through the letter box. Lily rushed to scoop them up. ’Let me open some Mummy - please’.At the bottom of the pile was letter. Candice felt sure she recognised the handwriting. It couldn’t be. Surely not. Her eye fell upon a letter ‘a’ in the address. Jimmy always made his a’s look like z’s. She had never seen anybody else do it. But the postmark said that it had been sent yesterday. Jimmy was buried weeks ago. Suddenly those feelings began to well up inside her again. Feelings of despair. Of terror. Of lost love. Of hatred for what he was putting her through. She began shaking, and felt rage coming from deep inside her.
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As she walked toward the kitchen her legs turned to jelly and room began to spin. ‘You can’t do this to me Jimmy’ she whispered. Tears rolled down her cheeks. ’How DARE you do this to me Jimmy’. She tumbled down onto a chair. Should she open it - should she throw it on the fire? No, it had to be opened. It may just give her a clue as to what the hell was going on.
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It opened easily. Inside was piece of white note paper and a downy black feather. She unfolded it, wiped the tears from her eyes, and gradually focused on the three lines of typed words. Beneath them was a scratchy blotchy signature. As if it was written with a quill pen. She read the sentence over and over again, the rage building with every second that passed. She couldn’t believe what she was reading. Surely it was a joke. A practical joke. Some sick bastard was playing tricks with her mind . Just as he or she had almost every day since the day of the funeral. 'This can't be happening to me'. She read it again. Slowly. One word at a time.
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‘My darling Candice - I have to tell you…………………..
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‘Mummy mummy what’s the matter?’
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Those were the last words she heard as she fell to the cold stone floor.

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Diagonal rods of rain stabbed the trampled grass around the gaping hole that was to become the final resting place of Candice Duprey. It seemed unbelievable that just weeks after the burial of her husband, the same sombre group of people would be once again be huddled together in this bleak graveyard. It was almost impossible to make out who all the mourners were. To defend themselves from the ravages of this dreadful winters day everybody stood covered from head to foot in rain soaked clothing, like so many eerie black statues. Two tiny children were being comforted by their ashen faced grandmother. And two people clutched each other as one at the back of the assembled crowd. Somehow they seemed different. Like strangers. And then they were gone.
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A week later Candice’s mother Janice was reluctantly going through the house, hoping to find some clue which might explain her daughters’ sudden death. Her eye was caught by a piece of crumpled paper on the floor. It was a letter. As she unfolded it she soon realised it was in Jimmy’s hand. It was dated just days ago. She began reading it.
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‘My darling Candice - I have to tell you....
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A sudden shattering of glass shook Janice to her core. Through the smashed window pane flew a black bird. Round and round the room it flew knocking paintings from the wall, sending ornaments crashing to the floor and scattering bottles and glasses everywhere. Round and round it flew, squawking and shrieking. Round and round and round. Janice cowered in a corner, her arms covering her head. When would it stop? Round and round and round.
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Then silence. A sudden deafening silence.
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It was several minutes before she dared peep out from behind her clammy ice cold hands. All around was chaos. The room was wrecked. An ice cold breeze blew through the broken window. The curtains flapped like unsecured spinnakers on a runaway yacht. She crawled across the floor and felt sudden pain as she sliced her knee on a shard of glass. Grabbing hold of the ledge, she slowly pulled herself up and peered out into the flooded desolate garden. She felt the warmth of her blood trickling down her leg. Through the sheeting rain she could just make out the image of two black birds. The wind was tugging at a rain sodden piece of paper which one was holding in its beak. In an instant, the wind won. The paper tumbled across the lawn and snagged in a rose bush several yards away. Janice looked back to the lawn. .




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The black birds had flown.

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It was April. The death of Jimmy Dupre remained a mystery. Why his wife Candice should have met her maker just weeks after her husband baffled the experts. Their children Lily and Jack were young enough to continue with their lives almost as if nothing had happened. Too soon, however, the ugly reality of their parent’s untimely demise would surely dawn on them.
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It was the kind of spring day that lifted the spirits. Puffs of wispy white floated in a sky of softest blue. Primroses gave way to a sea of golden daffodils which nodded in a breath of breeze. A brigade of brazen bluebells stood to attention under a canopy of palest green. Shoots of green grass stretched toward a shimmering yellow sun and across the field and beyond, the first lambs of spring frolicked in the rising warmth of a new season. Creatures of the undergrowth dared to raise their heads and survey the blossoming scene unfolding before them.
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Janice however had visibly aged. To lose her son was bad enough, but to lose her precious daughter-in-law just weeks later was devastating. Suddenly she had children again.She was all they had. They were now at the centre of her life. Her very reason for living.
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Janice and the children had not been back to the house since Candice died. Lucy and Jack needed to grieve in their own small way, and this seemed to be the best way to set the process in motion. But far from being subdued, they seemed positively elated. The rushed up to their rooms and played with their trains and dolls as if nothing had ever happened. Janice sat on the couch and allowed the memories to flood back into her mind. She looked at the fallen Christmas tree and thought of Christmases past. On the floor were the shattered glasses from which a few months earlier they drank champagne to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary. Tears flowed down her cheeks when her eyes fell on a picture frame – it’s broken glass jagged over a photo of their wedding day.
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‘Can we play in the garden?’ pleaded Lily. ‘Please’ added Jack with an irresistible grin pasted across his chubby face.

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Janice watched them running around as if nothing had happened. Jack kicked a deflated ball around, whilst Lily clambered up the wooden climbing frame her father had built just a few months ago. They laughed and shouted and screamed and giggled. ‘Bet you can’t catch me Daddy’ yelled Lucy as she jumped from the frame and dashed down the lawn. ’Let me go Mummy’ screamed Lucy as she tumbled on to her back in fits of laughter. Janice went cold.
The children ran behind the shed just as she was climbing down the steps from the door, out into the warmth of the mid-day sun. ‘Granny, granny – look here, quickly!’ yelled Lily. ‘Come and see’ called Jack. ’Look at this Granny’
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Janice walked to where the voices had come from and she felt herself drawn toward a budding rose bush. A tattered piece of paper was trapped in its thorns and just below it was a bird’s nest. She peered into the woven bowl of twigs and for the first time in weeks she broke in to a smile. There, peering up at her, where two tiny baby birds, their fragile little beaks open wide waiting for the next morsel to come their way.
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It was then she noticed the smudged words on the washed out discarded letter, ‘Dear Candice, I...’ She grabbed the note and it fell apart in her hand as she rushed to unscrew it. Suddenly the joyful sounds of playing children had ceased.
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She turned and looked for Lily and Jack. All she saw was two black birds sitting on the fence.
Lily and Jack were nowhere to be seen.
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THE END



The Stranger - Epilogue


Two children’s bodies found in copse


Walkers in Badger Copse yesterday discovered the bodies of two children. Although the Police have so far refused to comment, it is thought that are those of the missing Dupre children, Lily 4 and Jack 6. There were no signs of an assault having taken place.


First Jimmy, then Candice and finally their children. Janice died of a broken heart.

Followers of the paranormal have for centuries believed there are spirits visiting us in the form of black birds. Ancient wall writings and drawings on cave walls in Egypt thought to date back to the thirteenth century, suggest that a chosen few are taken from our world to a better place. They are able to visit in the form of black birds, and return to their worldly bodies for short periods. No evidence of this phenomenon had ever presented itself. Until now.

Jimmy Dupre knew his fate. He planned his exit from this world to the smallest detail. He apparently died of a mysterious poisoning. He was able to come back to his own funeral as a stranger and what he saw was unbearable. Something of his old self remained with him, and he was desperate to tell Candice what had happened to him.

He wrote a note – a short note, but enough he felt, to help her come to terms with his disappearance. He just wanted her to know that he was always watching over her. Unfortunately he revealed a little too much and his guardian spirits went to any lengths they could to ensure it remained unread. It still remains unread.

All he could do was to use his power to take his family away from their world of despair and to a place where they could once again be together.

At last they are together.



Last week the good folk of the village met in the local church to join together in a service of remembrance for the Dupre family. Everybody turned out. There was just one empty pew – the one where they had sat as a family each Sunday. In the middle of his moving address, the priest suddenly stopped, unable to speak, and a look of horror came over his face. Standing at the back of the church he saw four strangers. A man, a woman and two small children. With a shaking hand he pointed toward them, then slumped to the floor. The congregation turned toward the back of the church, and saw – nothing.

As the stunned crowd left, five black birds flew into the sky.

Higher and higher.



Until they were gone.
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4 comments:

Michelle Johnson said...

You MUST find a publisher for this story immediately. You held my utmost attention throughout with this intriguing and suspenseful short story. Thank you for sharing.

I can't believe you didn't reveal what was in that letter to Candice. I was so wanting to know.

I simply loved this story. Have a nice night. Merry Christmas~

lissa said...

What an eerie story. It's very un- modern even though there's a mentions of CDs, it almost feels like it was set in an era such as the 1800's or earlier. A fascinating read.

Janet said...

I agree - find a publisher. This makes Henry james "Turn of the Screw" read like a children's story.

RupertGeorge said...

So sad...
Find a publisher poppa, immediately...
Too bad I read this story at night...
:-(
RpertGeorge

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