I had a lovely piece of news yesterday which gave the new year a big boost. Aged 62, I entered my very first writing (fiction) competition in December, and aged 62 and three-quarters, I’m delighted to announce that I won it. [SFX of excited squealing]
This was the Wild Atlantic Writing Awards, open worldwide and organised by the lovely folk at the Ireland Writing Retreat in Donegal. The theme was Nature and the word count 500 words max – other than that we were free to use any style, genre and interpretation we liked. The good news is that if you can’t travel very easily, there’s a virtual retreat in the Spring, so wherever you are in the world, you can get the Wild Atlantic benefit to spur you to write.
Here’s my winning entry: it’s flash fiction, so a very quick read.
Even for Kingsley, this was disgraceful. He was pissing in the Castalian Spring. ‘Have some respect, you disgusting oik!’ I added a violent expletive, but he just sniggered.
‘No harm done. It won’t even smell. See, washed away already.’ As he spoke, an owl hooted from the cleft beside the Spring.
‘Athena’s warning you,’ I snarled.
My husband snorted, then jumped down and strode past me. ‘I want coffee,’ he declared, heading for the kiosk by the bus stop.
We were in Delphi, arguably the most sacred site of Greek culture, home of the Oracle and the Omphalos for millennia. I’d always longed to see it, and I was here with a botanist’s excuse of searching out the Parnassus Peony, named for the mountain looming above us. Kingsley’s obsession with the Greek War of Independence would be fed, too; tomorrow we’d be in Missolonghi.
I yelled: ‘I’m going down to the Temple of Athena.’
‘See you later!’ he called.
At that point I never wanted to see him again.
Too impatient to walk the long way round on the road, I crossed it and scrambled down the limestone scree, grabbing at scrubby bushes to stop myself falling; it was a long way down.
It was the end of May; Athena’s temple blazed white against the periwinkle sky. Nature was renewing itself, life at its most vigorous – a thousand greens hung with jewels. But life is hungry, and only death can feed it. Near the marble columns, I saw a blackbird thrashing a snail against a rock until it could pick the soft body from the shattered shell; half hidden among the roots of a laurel lay a mess of small bones and tufts of fur. The sacrificial circle.
My hunt for blood-red peonies offered me other floral gifts, air warmed by oregano and thyme; I was happily lost, my face inches from the earth, camera busy. I heard my name and looked up. ‘Sybil!’ Kingsley was striding down the slope below the temple, waving and hallooing. I hadn’t realised how close I’d crept to where the land fell away to the next terrace. It was only a couple of metres, but I didn’t fancy the fall or the scramble back up.
Kingsley was edging around a large rock on the edge, but stopped to peer into a hole, fingers clinging. ‘Wow! He crowed. ‘A nest – with eggs!’ He reached a hand into the hole.
‘Don’t touch them, idiot! I yelled.
Out of the sun screamed a bullet of feathers and talons, wings and beak wide for attack as the little owl mobbed the thief. Kingsley shrieked, tried to cover his head, lost his footing, shrieked again. It wasn’t a long drop, but he landed badly on a rock, and I think I heard his skull actually crack.
Athena’s owl landed by her nest, swivelling her head to pin me with a yellow glare like a question. What now, Sybil?
Options. But funeral rites first. Time for gifts afterwards.
– end –