• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 06


It was a sacred place, the ‘red gra’. It lay at the far side of the school field and was only for the esteemed fourth years to use.
Then, one day, we were fourth years.
Miss Jasper took us first to the shed. She handed out unwieldy hockey sticks and balls, and we carried them awkwardly and silently as she led us to the red gra, a square of Mars yet to be trodden.
As we got closer, the markings were evident, lines and shapes sprayed on to the biscuity gravel, which we were not to disturb with our plimsolls.
She set us up, dribbling the ball in pairs, then disappeared for a while, as teachers often did in those days. Probably for a smoke.
My partner was Kitty Hoskins, a strange girl. A loner. Hunched and uncoordinated, elbows akimbo, she held the stick ineptly and had little control over the ball. Even so, she managed to whack it right off the red gra and it was swallowed by the grass.
She lolloped after it, greasy fingers of black hair lifting and dropping, and her hockey stick trailing like slug slime in her wake. Her kneecaps were like knots in her spindly, white legs.
I turned away and ground the ball of my foot into the cinnamon crumbs.
We heard the shriek before we saw the frenzied flapping of dark wings. Hair was indistinguishable from feathers, and screams from squawks. Kitty was beneath the black umbrella of an enormous bird. Its legs shook like wind-blown bell ropes as it pulsed its body at her, jabbing with its beak.
We had all heard about this bird, and, in assembly, had been advised to knock on a door should we be attacked on the way to or from school. It was a thrilling and terrifying prospect, although deep down we thought it was rumour. Most of the girls ran, but I was transfixed.
Just as suddenly as it had started, there was silence.
Kitty had her back to me. Her hair was a tangled nest. She was gripping her hockey stick in the way an executioner holds a spent axe.



She was off school for a few days.
Mr Banforth, the caretaker, was seen in gardening gloves, taking a shovel out to the field, and coming bag with a bulging bag that bounced against his leg as he walked.
The odd black feather occasionally skittered across the playground.
The day Kitty returned, the sky was wild with grey ciphers and the cacophony was deafening.
She never spoke again.
We all whispered and watched as she wandered around the playground at breaktimes. Whereas before, pigeons, sparrows, magpies and robins used to sit on the walls and roof, they had all gone. She had scared them all away. She scared us, too.