The Magic Feathers

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Illustrations by Frederick Allen


‘I know you miss Grandma,’ Mum said. ‘So do I. And she misses us. But we’ll just have to make do with phone calls until it’s safe to see her again.’

Everything had changed, and Bea didn’t like it one bit. It was nice having Mum at home all the time, but she was getting bored without school. She missed her friends. She missed seeing Grandma and the special time they spent together each day after school. Grandma knew everything there was to know about birds and animals, plants and trees. In the summer, she took Bea exploring in the fields or down by the river. She taught her the names of all the garden birds and helped her put out food and water for them every day.

Now Bea was stuck in one house with Mum, and Grandma was stuck in another, and they weren’t allowed to meet. Bea wandered into the garden, trying to find something to do. ‘I wish I could see Grandma properly, just to make sure she’s all right,’ she said out loud.

The branches above her head rustled, then a beautiful creamy-white feather floated down very slowly, landing right at her feet. It felt like a message. She picked it up and took it inside to Mum. ‘Look!’

‘Goodness,’ said Mum, looking up from the computer and pushing back her glasses. ‘I’ve never seen one like that before.’

‘It’s magic,’ Bea told her.

She put it on her shelf of treasures, the ones Grandma had helped her collect: the giant pine cone, the dragonfly chrysalis and the white stone that sparkled when you held it up to the light.

Later, as Mum kissed her goodnight, Bea asked, ‘Do you think Grandma’s all right on her own?’

‘I’m sure she’s fine,’ Mum said, but there was something about the way she answered that made Bea wonder if she was telling the truth.

In the moonlight, the feather shone like silver. Bea slipped out of bed and went to fetch it. Strangely, as soon as she got back into bed with the feather in her hands, her eyelids felt heavy. She yawned. In seconds, she was asleep.

‘Tu- whit, tu-woo-hooo.’

Bea was awake. The room was dark. It was the middle of the night, but she felt full of energy.

‘Tu-wooo. I’m waiting for you-hooo.’

Bea ran to the window and flung it open. A barn owl was perched on the roof next door, its chest a mass of creamy feathers. ‘Where are you-hoo?’ it called, blinking a pair of enormous eyes and shaking its wings.

Owl on roof

Bea waved the feather. ‘Here I am,’ she said. As she spoke, she felt the feather drop from her grasp, and then a kind of swirling softness surrounded her, as though someone had thrown a warm cloak over her shoulders. Bea looked down and gasped in surprise. She lifted one scaly foot and then the other, admiring her creamy-white feathers. What was going on? She tried to ask, but the words had gone. ‘Tu-whit, tu- wooo,’ she hooted, hopping onto the windowsill. Was this a dream? She spread her wings, filled with the urge to fly.

‘It’s time to go. Hooo-hoo,’ the owl hooted softly.

They set off together, over the sleeping house and the quiet street, flying high above the bright ribbon of the motorway and on into the velvety dark countryside where Grandma lived. At last, Bea saw a familiar white-painted cottage below her. There was a light at the window. She swooped low. Through the glass, she could see a pale face looking out. ‘Grandma!’ she cried, ‘How are you?’ but the night stole her words, carrying them away until they were no more than the cry of an owl in the dark: ‘Hoo-hooo. Hoo-hooo.’

The next morning Bea slept late. ‘What’s made you so tired today?’ said Mum, coming in to wake her.

Bea sat up. She stared at the window and then at her hands, poking out of the end of her pyjama sleeves. ‘I had the strangest dream…’ Before she could explain, the phone began ringing, and Mum hurried away.

When Bea reached the kitchen, Mum was stacking plates with one hand and talking into the phone with the other. ‘I know,’ she was saying, ‘it’s hard for us all.’ She turned and saw Bea. ‘I’ve got to go. I’ll ring you later.’

‘What’s wrong?’ Bea asked.

Mum looked flustered. ‘I think Grandma’s a bit lonely,’ she said. ‘She used to love the sound of owls hooting, but she said the one she heard last night was really spooky.’

Bea nearly choked on her cereal. So it was real! But she’d made things worse, not better. She finished her breakfast quickly and went into the garden. ‘I wish I could make Grandma feel less alone,’ she said out loud. The leaves overhead stirred. There was a loud squawk, and a long, thin, lime-green feather fell at her feet.

Bea put the feather away without telling Mum. She hugged the secret to herself all day. She even asked if she could go to bed early. ‘What’s got into you?’ Mum asked. ‘Are you feeling all right?’

Bea fell asleep with the green feather clutched in her fist. It seemed no more than a moment before she was woken by a tremendous squawking. When she reached the window, her mouth fell open. The night had vanished, the sun was high in the sky, and the garden seemed to have turned into a fluttering mass of bright green feathers. Parakeets! They were everywhere, swinging from tree branches, crammed together on fences and rooftops. They’d even taken over the washing line. The noise was deafening.

Two birds on a wire

Bea couldn’t wait to join in. As soon as she felt the soft swirl of green feathers settle around her, she opened her beak. ‘Squaaark!’ she cried, and flew out to join her new friends.

It was a very different journey from last time. One minute they were scudding through the skies as fast as planes, the next moment there was a screech, a swerve and they all plunged down into an orchard. Swaying at the top of a cherry tree with the others, Bea smelt the ripe fruit. Mmm! Too delicious to resist.

Finally, when they’d eaten their fill, they set off again. Soon Bea caught sight of the cottage. ‘Squaaark, squaaark!’ she called, and the flock followed her down into Grandma’s garden. Grandma was dozing in a chair with a book upturned on her lap, but as the jabbering, squawking mass of birds settled in the apple tree above her, she jumped up and began flapping her hands. ‘Shoo, shoo, you noisy creatures!’ she shouted. ‘Get away from here! Don’t you dare eat my apples!’

When the phone rang next morning, Bea answered. ‘Hi Grandma,’ she said. ‘How are you?’

‘I’m fine, love.’ She didn’t sound it.

‘Have you been watching the birds in your garden?’

Grandma snorted. ‘There’s no room for the other birds once those blessed parakeets zoom in. I’ll be lucky to get any apples this year. A great mass of them took over the tree yesterday. Gave me the fright of my life.’

Bea trailed outside. What was the use of magic if it just made Grandma miserable? ‘I wish I could make Grandma happy,’ she thought. She didn’t realise she had spoken the words aloud until she heard a familiar rustling noise and saw a small brown feather spiral downwards. She went over and picked it up. It wasn’t a very pretty feather, nor very exciting, but she put it on her shelf as usual and forgot about it until bedtime.

After Mum had kissed her goodnight and gone downstairs, Bea twirled the brown feather between her fingers. She didn’t want to make things worse. But whatever the bird was, it must be too small to do much harm. And wasn’t there a saying, third time lucky? She tucked the feather into her hand, turned over and fell asleep.

She was woken by the sound of tapping. A small bird with a brown back and a bright red chest was pecking at the window pane. Bea laughed. ‘A robin, of course!’ As she waited for the soft weight of the feathers to clothe her, she had the sudden urge to sing. Her mouth opened in a trill of liquid notes. The robin looked at her through its glossy black eye as if it approved, and then it swooped across the garden fence. Bea spread her wings and followed.

The journey took much longer this time. They bobbed from garden to garden, flying low over hedges and fences. Bea missed the speed her long green parakeet feathers had given her. Before long, she felt quite worn out. She was glad to stop at a bird table for something to eat. They flew on again for what felt like hours. At last, she could go no further. She fluttered down to rest on the handle of a garden fork. Suddenly she heard a familiar voice.

‘Hello, my little friend, how are you?’ Grandma was on her knees, weeding the flower bed.

With a whir of feathers, Bea flew down next to her.

‘Fancy some worms? Or how about some cake instead?’ Grandma reached into her pocket, then held out her palm. Bea hopped over to peck at the cake crumbs. If she had been able to smile, her grin would have stretched from ear to ear. Grandma and cake! Two of her favourite things!

Robin redbreast

Bea spent the whole afternoon with Grandma. She pecked round her feet, she sang from the apple tree, then she hopped onto the arm of her chair and listened while Grandma talked. At last, the shadows lengthened. ‘Goodbye, my little friend,’ Grandma waved as Bea flew off. ‘Come again soon.’

Mum was on the phone as usual when Bea came down for breakfast.

‘That’s great news, I’m so pleased,’ she said, covering the phone and whispering to Bea: ‘It’s Grandma – she’s feeling much happier.’

Bea hid her smile. Mum would never believe her if she told her what had cheered Grandma up. Besides, she didn’t want to give away her secret. Maybe, she thought, when they were all together again, she’d tell Grandma about her magical adventures. Or maybe she’d just show her the feathers, and see if she could guess.

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- Total nr. of readings: 15,790 Copyright © The author [2020] All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.

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