Inky Flash Fiction: The Battle by Sharon Clark

Battle was being waged right outside Stephanie’s bedroom. Again!

She’d opened her curtains to a perfect Spring morning. Daffodils bobbed their happy heads in a gentle breeze. Blackbirds filled the air with their joyful song. The fresh green scent of awakening foliage drifted through the open window. All was harmonious except for the all-out war atop her potentilla.

The magpie was back. His head rocked to and fro as he attempted to wrench a slender spear of new growth from the bush. He was a powerhouse of a bird, strong and determined, the metallic blue of his tail and wings shimmering like armour in the early sunlight. Beautiful but deadly as he yanked at his prize, not caring about the curl of unborn leaf at its tip.

One for sorrow, Stephanie thought, as the stem was torn mercilessly from the defenceless bush. If this carried on her poor potentilla would be nothing but a skeleton. Why did this wretched bird have to pick on her garden?

Suddenly the wind chimes sang out. The bush quivered in the unexpected breath of air, shaking the magpie loose. In a flap of wings he dropped the torn-off stem, which promptly tumbled into the basket-weave centre of the bush. Two for joy, thought Stephanie, although she knew the victory was a hollow one. There was no way to graft the torn twig back onto its parent. Better that the magpie should have it rather than tear off yet more.

The magpie seemed to be in agreement. Landing again, his greedy eyes focused on the fallen prize, but before he could act a flash of dusty brown darted into the tangled heart of the bush, snatched the stem from its resting place and took off. A cheeky snip of a sparrow – faster, smarter and smaller than the magpie.

A caw of indignation rent the air as the magpie gave voice to this upheaval of the pecking order. Now it would definitely have to renew its attack on the bush.

Stephanie reached for her hairbrush and rapped hard on the window to scare the bird off. He glanced up, tilted his head insolently and then renewed his assault. Furious she raised the brush for another rap, but then inspiration struck.

A few moments later she stepped into the garden. The magpie eyed her suspiciously, shifting its weight from one foot to another atop the potentilla.

She held out her hand, palm up, a tangle of dark-brown hair from her brush clearly visible.

‘A peace offering,’ she said. ‘Stop attacking my bush and you can have this.’ She walked slowly to the bird table, and snagged the hair onto the hook of the peanut container.

The magpie watched her back away. Then, with a sharp caw, he flew to the table, snatched up the hair, and set off for a higgledy-piggledy nest in a silver birch.

‘Three for a girl or four for a boy?’ she mused, as she went in search of more nesting material.