The winner of our first Short Story Competition is published in the Jan|Feb issue of Irish Country Magazine, out now. This beautiful story came in second place and was written by Derek Nagle from Co Dublin
I don’t know how long I’ve been here. It’s warm and snug and most of the time I can drift off to sleep, but there are times when the light is too bright so I can’t enjoy the warm caress of slumber. My eyes have never opened. I know I can hear something but do not quite know who or what it is – there are merely murmurs. I have made no sounds of my own.
I am alone yet sense a comforting presence. I hope this feeling continues once I leave these surrounds, as I am terrified of whatever lurks outside.
I don’t remember arriving here. In fact, I don’t remember anything other than always being here. But what I do remember is my physical growth. When I look down at my body I can see that I’m expanding in different directions. My heartbeat is stronger and I have more control over which way I position myself. Which is just as well as my physical confines are gradually becoming more cramped. I fear I will run out of space very soon.
A few days ago, I stretched and there was a sharp cracking noise that prevented me from repeating the action. Some cold air got through to my cosy cell causing an unpleasant chill through the bones of my entire body. Sounds were also suddenly amplified greatly. But there was a sudden, and not entirely unpleasant, revelation. I could clearly see that there were others like me. In fact, there were multiple versions of me. I wondered if any of them knew more than I?
The moment I was fully released from my chamber had a certain air of inevitability about it. The crack in my sanctum had grown larger so I could see a lot more of the outside world. Wondrous colours filled the sky and a huge bright beacon radiated heat. All at once I wanted the inside to become the outside. Stretching fully, pieces of my armour (which I have since learned is called a ‘shell’) fell away and I found myself entirely exposed to this miraculous new place. I was also able to open my eyes fully for the first time. Initially it stung, and I had to turn away sharply from the bright yellow flame in the sky as I blinked away sticky tears. But once I got the hang of it and was able to see clearly, I was utterly enchanted. My breathing became easier and I was able to make shrill sounds of my own.
As I became accustomed to my new surroundings, other ‘shells’ started to crack around me with startling regularity. This was accompanied by a high-pitched sound that appeared to be a relentless demand for food. Instinctively, I found myself doing the same, determined to be louder and more boisterous than the others. The gaping hole in my belly needed to be filled as a matter of urgency.
A huge figure appeared above me. It was like myself and my new companions in appearance except it was multiple times our size. It had big, kind, shiny eyes and a huge beak from which it regurgitated a warm, delicious salty gloop into each of our tiny bodies. It was like a drug! The more I was fed, the more I wanted and when the feeding stopped, I cried out for more. Competition was fierce but I held my own with grit and determination. Once replete, I drifted off to sleep only to awaken to precisely the same blissful feeding ritual a few hours later.
I have learned so much in the past few days. My new home is known as a nest and it’s perched by the side of what’s called a cliff. The water that rages hundreds of feet down below is the sea. From my vantage point, I can see many distant objects bobbing on the waves below as sunlight sparkles brightly on the water. I picture myself happily doing the same at some point but am content with my lot for the time being.
It’s difficult to get information from my ‘nest comrades’ as we are all more or less the same age and size, but there’s a larger version of us who appears to know more. They explain that the white fluffy things that cover most of my body are called feathers. These will become less fluffy over time as my body matures. They also say some of them will fall out only to be replaced by others and that they might even change in colour. The parts of my body which hang by my sides are wings. I am able to stretch them out fully but do not yet know their purpose. I hang on my new companion’s every word, determined to find out as much as possible.
Every new thing fills me with a sense of wonder and I look forward to each and every day. I have learned that those who share my nest are my brothers and sisters and the amazing creature who feeds us is our mother. I’m so grateful for the way she looks after us, always putting our needs before her own and treating us all as equals. She helps me to grow physically and I am becoming more confident and independent because of her.
Rainbows are my favourite spectacle in this new world. They appear after rain, illuminating the sky in a myriad of seven unique stunning colours. I love the way I can sometimes see where they start and end and the perfect arch they form. Some disappear almost immediately while others linger so that I can fully appreciate their beauty. I imagine myself bathing in the light of one and ponder if it will cause the colour of my feathers to change. I don’t think I will ever tire of their majesty.
Clouds come a close second. I am amazed at how they constantly change in shape, size and colour. Occasionally, they even seem to be racing across the sky. The big, white fluffy ones look so welcoming. I’d love to drift off to sleep in one, safe from harm and free from the chatter of my siblings.
I am now in my nest on the upper cliff ledge. The sky is a brilliant blue and the wind has faded to a low whisper. The waves crash their foamy whiteness onto the rocks far below, though are silent to my ears. I have been fed and feel warm, safe and protected.
‘Isn’t the world an amazing place?’ I say to my mother. ‘It is,’ she replies. ‘But wait until you learn how to fly.’
You can read the winning story in the Jan/Feb issue of Irish Country Magazine, in shops now. Follow us on social media @irishcountrymag to find out how to enter for Mar/Apr!