An IN THE AIR Excerpt: “The Birdman of Bishopsbourne” by Tim Jeffreys

After breakfast, I’d ridden the motorbike up into the high field, as usual, to bring the cows in for milking when I happened to look back and notice a huge hole in the barn’s roof, like something big had plunged right through. At first, I thought maybe a meteor or a piece of space junk. I couldn’t think of anything else that could drop out of the sky and leave a hole that big.

Instead of shepherding the cows out of the field, I rode back down the track to the barn and opened it up. The smell hit me as soon as I got inside. I’m used to the stink of animals—it’s something you get used to after a while—but this was different. This was a smell you could taste. The pungency of it burned my eyes, musky on top with an undertone of something rotten, like dead flesh; kind of how you imagine a person who hasn’t bathed or changed their clothes in a month might smell when the sweat and piss and grime get all mixed up. Once I’d got over that stench, I became aware that there was something there—something big—looking back at me from the shadows at the end of the barn. I think my heart stopped beating for a few seconds when I got sight of it. My thoughts died as well.

I must be fucking dreaming.

But no, the smell alone would have woken me. Stupidly, I squinted and tilted my head from side to side. This thing lay there completely still, hunkered low to the ground with two giant wings spread out to either side of it. Though it couldn’t possibly be, my first thought was: dragon, a fucking dragon in my barn. But it was more bat-like than reptilian, with a dark furry body, except it had these big eyes, both of which were fixed on me, a reddish glow in the gloom.

Fear hit me, and I backed away, sure that any moment this thing would pounce on me, but it didn’t move.

I slammed the barn door behind me, whacked the chain and padlock on with shaking hands, and ran back to the house.

When Marie got up, she found me at the kitchen table. She waved at the hanging smoke as she came through. I’d smoked a whole pack of cigarettes without realising.

“Jack? What’s going on?”

“Nothing. Nothing’s going on.”

She gave me a long look before checking the clock on the wall. “Shouldn’t you be bringing the cows in? Mick and Billy will be here soon.”

“Yes. I…I was just about to go.”

I started to get up, but she stopped me. “Have you taken your pill?”

I met her gaze. “Uh…maybe I forgot.”

“You’re always forgetting.”

Taking the pack of pills down from the cupboard’s top shelf, she brought one to me with a glass of water. I swallowed it with a gulp as Marie stood over me with her arms folded. I got up and walked out into the yard.

Marie watched me from the kitchen window.

I don’t know why I didn’t tell her about the thing in the barn.

Perhaps, I thought I’d imagined it.

Or perhaps, I hoped that next time I checked it would be gone.

I didn’t tell the hired hands either when they showed up and started asking why the gate had been left open in the high field and why the cows weren’t already in the milking shed. I couldn’t think of anything to say.

Shaking his head, Mick went off with the bike to get the cows in whilst Billy went to prepare for the milking.

I stood in the middle of the yard, occasionally glancing over my shoulder towards the barn. There it was in my mind’s eye: that great winged beast lying in the scattered hay like something from a nightmare.

 

 

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Tim Jeffreys escaped the north of England more than a decade ago, and now lives in the greener surrounds of Bristol.  Despite valiant efforts including studying Graphic Arts and Design at University, his original career plans went completely wrong and he ended up working in a tiny office in a Dental Hospital. The screams he sometimes hears from the clinics occasionally make it into the strange stories he writes when no one’s looking.

His short fiction has appeared in Weirdbook, Not One of Us, and Turn to Ash, amongst various other publications, and his latest collection ‘The Real Rachel Winterbourne and other stories’ is available now.

 

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Featured Image Credit: Barn Monster by melora

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