As yet unreleased and unpublished, a story I wrote from inside a house I lived in and have revisited from time to time. You may have seen me flitting sbout in there but if only you could have seen it from the inside, with your eyes through mine. Happily I now have no cause to be there anymore and, for the restless present it remains boarded up.

My Dear Friend,

Sorry not to have written sooner but there's been so much to do lately and one thing drives out another if you take my meaning. I hope all is well with you and yours and that life's treating you well. As I've said I've been very busy recently as I've moved into a new home. It's nothing like the old one, it's darker for a start. This kind of dark is to black what silver is to white and although I've been here a while I've not really got completely used to it yet.

I've had very few visitors since I moved in, Uncle Jack and a number of ghosts but not really enough to have gone to the trouble of holding a house warming party. Not that I think it could get warm here, it's very cold, icy, even. Anyway there's been such a lot to do, out with the old (you remember all those tacky ornaments I used to like to have around me) and in with the new. I call it new but it's all out of storage from when I lived here before. Gosh, that was a long time ago and I don't remember it like it is now, it was even darker for one thing though the door was easier to find - I've not actually been looking for it this time. The days seem to pass more quickly this time too, perhaps because so little happens. That's me really, I don't allow things to happen nowadays, it's safer that way I guess but the walls aren't really as thick as I'd like and sometimes I can hear voices outside. Some of them are sort of familiar but I can't really put names to them and they wouldn't hear me if I answered them which I don't anyway.

As I say, it's very dark but I find my way around by brushing my fingers along the walls and there's no bloody furniture to clutter things up and fall over though there is light of a kind sometimes. Quite often you get little crackles like lightning that come stabbing out of the dark and everything is visible for a moment. The only trouble is that the lightning stabs at you and holds you paralysed so I can't actually do anything while I can see. I'd not be able to anyway because the lightning hurts too. Don't be alarmed, it never marks me and the pain is over as soon as the crackle dies off. Besides I'm finding ways to make the stabs less painful, for instance there's what I've called "shadowing". That's when you make yourself into a shadow for a while and the pain can't get you so bad. I think that given time and practice I can make myself a shadow almost permanently and then I'll never have to worry about the lightning again. Well, that's one of my goals while I'm here anyway.

As I say I don't notice the days too much because very little is allowed to happen, sure I rattle about (got to keep busy you know) doing all the daily stuff. No one seems to really notice I'm living here at all which is great because they'd only try and visit or get me to come out or something and that would have defeated the object of moving here in the first place. So I keep pottering about but the real work is patching up these walls. I say they're very thin though they are very strong the way I've built them but the voices outside can be very loud sometimes, one in particular, and the walls seem to shake when the voices get going. It's as if they're trying to pull the walls down but that's probably me being a little paranoid. Even so it seems that way when the voices are calling and the walls start shaking but it can't be that, can it? I mean what kind of madness is it to try and expose me to what's out there? Besides, don't they know that I want to be in here away from them all anyway? That one voice is the worst and I've thought about replying to it but I don't even when it gets more insistent. It's as if it's desperate to tell me something, as if it wants me to acknowledge it but I can't remember who it is and I think I've been trying to wipe it out of my memory for a good reason anyway though I can't remember that either. So, as I say, I don't reply to the voices, they always go away eventually and in time perhaps they'll go away for good. I don't know what will happen then because every time I hear that one voice getting all insistent the lightning starts up so if it does go away forever perhaps the lightning will too or maybe it'll become continuous which is why I'm working on permanent shadowing.

You get a few things in here to keep you occupied, pens, paper, that sort of stuff (that's how I'm writing to you now of course) but generally I've been too busy to use them though the truth is even if I was less busy I'd not feel very inclined. I am writing now because I've realised that a lot of days have passed since I last wrote to you, you see I mark time differently in here. Ageing is divided into smaller, less regular measures: sleep-time, wake-time, eat-time, pain-time etc. but it's now definitely write-time now that the excitement of moving in has calmed down a bit and I'm getting settled in at last. I've not picked curtains as there are no windows, it's even darker outside (that's why I'm here after all) and who needs to be looking outside at this time of year anyway? By the way do you know what time of year it is? Don't worry if you don't, I was just a little curious, that's all. I suppose you might think that asking you about the time of year is a sign that I'm out of touch with outside but that's not totally true, you see I do remember quite a few things but when I think too hard about them the stabbing starts so I restrict myself to keeping them vague, especially the one about the garden and the flower. Do you remember that one? When I found the flower tucked away in the corner of the garden all covered in weeds and I used to sing to it (I was a bird then you see)?

Well one day I was just thinking about that flower and how it used to raise its petals through those choking weeds and turn a bright white flower towards me when I realised I knew a lot more of the story than I thought. I suddenly remembered how the sun seemed to shine brighter in the garden when the flower showed me those petals and I sang for her. It was as if it shone just for us, the bird and that little flower which sounds silly I know but that's how I remember feeling.

I'm sorry, I'm going to have to stop for a while as the stabs are starting and there'll be some lightning in a minute, this always happens when I remember too much . . .

That's better now, it was a bad one but quite short though I managed to shadow myself in time. While it was happening I was thinking about writing this letter and how you could be one of those voices outside too, that made me realise that the one voice I keep hearing used to be a little flower too but I don't know how I know that. I wonder if it could be the same little flower I was telling you about? No, I suppose not in view of what happened to that one but I'd better not get into telling you about that, had I? Well, I can tell you'll be wanting to hear it now I've said that and, if the truth be known, I do want to tell you but you'll have to promise I can stop if the lightning starts coming back, OK? Thanks.

Well, I was telling you about how I was a little bird back then. Don't ask me how it came about, perhaps it was a dream or something but anyway I was a little bird with a broken wing. Oh, I didn't tell you about the wing did I? Well I don't know how that came about either so there's no need to feel sorry for me as it wasn't hurting anymore (sometimes I think it had always been like that and hadn't just happened in an accident or something - more likely it had got broken before I was a bird).

So I'd been hopping around for ages, not staying too long in any one place because I knew the old cat or the fox might be about and all the hopping made me very tired so you can understand how relieved I was when I made it to the tree and found I could hide among the roots for a while. I didn't have a lot of strength left but I figured that it didn't matter much anymore so I thought I'd flutter-climb up the tree and take a last look out over the garden. If the cat had come I would never have got away and I guess it really might have been my last look on the garden. Anyway, I got up on a low branch and looked about and I could see where I'd been hopping and I was surprised that it wasn't a very big part of the garden for all the effort I'd been wearing myself out with. I remember thinking that although it was only a small corner of the garden it was a pretty part now that I had a chance to look at it instead of just concentrating on hopping away from where the cat might be, I could even see the sky above the very top of the tree which I'd never looked up at all the time I was struggling along, hopping. The sky was very big and beautiful and I thought "Well, I am a bird" so I just started singing a bit, right there on the branch. I don't know why I did but it seemed the thing to do. That was when I first saw the flower. To be honest I'd passed it a couple of times while I was hopping but it was so covered in weeds and I'd been so engrossed I'd not noticed it. As I sang I could see the weeds parting slightly and the colours of its petals were peeping out. The more I sang the more I saw those colours and, of course, the more she showed me her colours the more I wanted to sing and the more songs I found I knew. This went on for several days, I'd sing and she'd bloom and I really started to love the little flower, not just because she was so beautiful underneath all those weeds but because she tried so hard to get free of them and be the flower she was supposed to be.

I don't normally let anyone see my defects but we became so close, me and the flower, that I showed her my wing and explained why I couldn't fly away. Do you know what she did? She Laughed! I mean actually laughed! She said that my wing wasn't really broken and that I could fly if I wanted to. Of course I've always secretly believed that this was so but I never really tried in case I was wrong and I fell out of the sky. She said she wished she had wings too but she couldn't tell since all the weeds choked her up so tightly. Then it was my turn to laugh because all the weeds were long dead and really brittle and it would have been easy for her to peel them away and see if she really had wings or not. She said she was scared because she'd heard of the creatures who are attracted to pretty flowers and do them harm but I said that if she was a flower she should be a flower and not pretend to be a bunch of weeds just to hide herself away. She seemed to think about this for a long time but she still wouldn't do anything. Then I thought that if she could see me fly she might shrug of the weeds and unfurl her own wings so I took a big breath and leapt off the branch. To my amazement she was right and my wing seemed perfect for flying with. I was so happy just flying around that flower that I started to sing to her and she slowly began pushing off the weeds that had choked her for so long. She was even more lovely than I'd thought but just as I thought she was going to spread a wing herself I saw her press too hard against an old bramble thorn and in my alarm I panicked and forgot I could fly. I was spinning down towards the ground but all I could see was her pushing harder onto the thorn as if she didn't know it was hurting her. I tried to turn my fall into a dive to knock the bramble away but it was no good and the last thing I saw before I hit the grass was the droplets of blood spreading out over her perfect white petals like a bruise. I tried to call out to ask her why she kept pressing on the thorn but I hit the ground before I could hear an answer.

When I woke up it was all a long, long way away from me, in fact it was several days before I even remembered I hadn't always been me and that I was once a bird at all! I do, as you know believe in past lives but this isn't like that, I don't know, I can't explain, it was just sort of something I was before I was this but not before I was born. Now isn't that crazy, just having a past life in the middle of this one? Especially one where you were a singing bird who loved a flower? I wish I could sit here in my new home and figure it all out but when I try I know the lightning's going to come back and paralyse me again.

Well, I've used up this whole letter telling you some silly story but I hope you'll forgive me, you've always been better at figuring out reasons than me so you'll perhaps have an idea of why I can remember something so strange so vividly, do you think there might really be a reason behind it?

Well, I guess I've got to go now, there's so much still to do, you know how it is. I shouldn't write back to me here, there might be more lightning, but I thought I'd write and tell you my news since it was my turn.

Your Friend,

A. xx

p.s. I thought I heard the telephone ring just now but I don't have a telephone here, safety reasons you know. Still I half seem to remember answering one recently and hearing that voice from outside the walls talking to me. I can't remember what it said except something about it being a flower again if I could be a bird. Honestly, and they say I'm the one going crazy ....

©Ashley Mortimer 1998