by Andrew Foote
Throughout this story real organisations and real people are mentioned by name. Their place in the tale is in the author's imagination. No thoughts, words or deeds attributed to those people or organisations are real, nor have they ever happened. This is a story! It's fiction. The people and organisations, even when they interact with the characters, are presented in an entirely imagined and fictitious manner, and no discourtesy is intended to them by the author nor by the web site.
We hadn't really discussed what we were going to do by way of marking each other's Birthdays, we normally didn't do that much anyway but a few days before Lucas' he'd sort of retreated into his shell, not that he wasn't talking to me but I instinctively knew something was playing on his mind and despite our communication, really personal thoughts he could block from me.
I decided to ask.
"Is everything okay? You've been very quiet of late?"
"I'm sorry Andy. Everything's fine. It's just me being silly I guess."
"Do you want to talk about it or do you want me to shut up."
"Talk about it. Yes, I want to talk about it.
You see, my Birthday is this coming Sunday and I just wondered……..I wondered if you would mind if we went back to Wormleighton? I told you it was stupid."
"No it isn't? You want to go there so we will. Any particular reason?"
"Not as such, I just feel it's necessary given what we believe to be true. No need to stay very long, just mark their grave with some flowers, maybe say a prayer and head back home. Can we?"
"Sure. I'll look up train times to Oxford and book tickets just as soon as we get back from Christchurch."
We took the train to Banbury as it was nearer to the village than Oxford then took a taxi which dropped us off next to the pub, the rest of the way we walked.
Lucas was quiet but seemed happy enough to hold my hand down the path which lead to the church. The place was locked, no big surprise there so we ambled round to the grave.
Had someone been tending it? It looked as if it had been very well taken care of as the surrounding grass had been cut back and little or no sign of any weed growth.
We both lay a small bunch of flowers at the foot of each of them then bowed our heads, not praying as such but more in quiet contemplation.
We stayed like that for some time before opening our eyes and lifting our heads. What we saw almost took our breath away as perched on the fence that separated the boys grave from the rest of the churchyard sat two white owls watching our every move.
I was scared, I hate to admit it but I'd read somewhere that to see owls during daylight hours and especially white owls was a sign of bad luck.
"Oh fuck Lucas. This I don't need."
"What? They're so beautiful! What don't you need for fucks sake?"
"White owls, daytime, bad luck!"
"Rubbish! How can something so perfect represent bad luck? Let's see if they're friendly shall we?"
"Yeah? And how do you propose to do that? Ask them maybe??"
"Hold out your arm and clench your fist. Just do it Andy!"
Much against my better judgement, I did as instructed and no sooner were our arms outstretched, the birds took flight and alighted on our wrists.
So very light despite how big they looked! Lucas turned to me and smiled.
"Scared now are you? These guys are wild birds. Not ringed or tagged as if they were kept as hunting birds but the real deal. This is a very special moment Andy. Savour it."
As if by command, both birds hopped up onto our shoulders and stroked the side of their heads against our cheeks. So unbelievably soft!
"Bad luck or not, they're beautiful and so very loveable!"
Just then we heard a voice, that of the Reverend Judy.
"Bubo Scandiacus or the Great White Owl. Are they yours?"
"Oh hi Judy. No, they're not ours, they're wild."
"Wild? How come they've come to be here with you?"
We ran her through the morning, not that there was very much to say.
"So there you have it. Andy thought they represented bad luck but I really don't care, I just think they're wonderful."
"I wonder if they'll come to me."
She held out both her arms and one by one the birds again took flight and settled briefly on her wrists but after a couple of seconds, flew back onto our shoulders.
Judy was close to tears.
"I'll be in the church if you feel in need of a chat. Sorry but I'm having trouble with this."
The owls continued to rub our cheeks then Lucas spoke.
"We'll be back on December 13th . This has been so good. You guys take great care of each other as will Andy and I. We love you."
With that, they were off disappearing out of sight behind the church tower.
We went to find Judy sitting at a pew, head in her hands.
"We're sorry if we've upset you Judy? We just came to pay our respects given it's my Birthday and presumably that of my late relative. We never intended any trouble."
"Come and sit with me guys. Something I have to tell you.
Those were indeed wild birds and not only that, they're rare items in England. As their Latin name signifies, they're better suited to colder climates so that in itself is unusual but now here's the rub. Owls are very territorial so why then do we have two adult males who are happy in each other's company? Normally they'd be ripping each other to shreds! Did you notice their eyes? One had blue eyes, the other yellow so they're not related. If trained, they'll come to you if offered a lure but otherwise they keep a safe distance from humans so why you? Rhetorical question as I don't have an answer.
Some cultures believe that owls signify bad fortune but that is only because they're seen as creatures who crave solitude.
Bad luck for of course they tend to reside in deserted places. If you see flies, the place is dirty. Therefore if you see owls, and in the daylight, there is something deserted there."
Lucas was deep in thought but then spoke up.
"Actually that makes a lot of sense. The boys were murdered, left for dead then buried and promptly forgotten about, deserted if you will. I think they're like a reincarnation or something, I mean how else can it be explained away?"
"Reincarnation or maybe a representation? I actually prefer the latter but then so many things have occurred here that can't easily be explained away, it's difficult to say.
There was a piece in the newspapers a couple of years ago which told of a toddler falling into a river but instead of drowning, a breeding pair of swans used their beaks to support this kiddie and then the strangest thing happened. They were joined by another pair of swans and between the four of them, kept the child afloat until rescue arrived. Have you ever tried to get close to a breeding pair of swans? Don't try especially if they have cygnets. They would most likely attack you and even if they're in a good mood, they'll hiss at you and be pretty intimidating. In this instance they didn't even object to the second pair which is pretty amazing. Like those owls, they're fiercely territorial, I mean they even chase off their own young once they can fly so what do you think? A modern day miracle? There's no doubt in my mind that's precisely what it was."
"Who's been tending their grave?"
"Oh that was me. Somehow I knew you'd be coming back today what with it being your Birthday Lucas and I didn't want you to find it unkempt or at least uncared for."
"Thank you. We really appreciate it. We'd better be getting back now but if you've no objections, we'd like to be here on December 13th . That's Andy's Birthday."
"Come up anytime you like. It's been lovely to see you and by the way, congratulations on your performance in Rio. Simply breath-taking!"
"Itch scratched then?"
"Yeah plus a few more I never realised were bugging me! I still can't quite figure out the significance of the owls though."
"You're the one who has the stronger belief in God so if you are having difficulty with it, what chance do I stand. Another sign maybe?"
"Fuck knows. Judy says she's never been aware of seeing them before and she promised us she'd ask around to see if anyone else has. It's been over a week now and she hasn't called or emailed. It might sound a bit far-fetched but what if they only fly on the Birthdays?"
"What? You mean like some sort of celebration?"
"I dunno really. It's all very confusing like it should mean something to us but we're just too dense to see it. Could it be that they sense our presence? Might it just all be a coincidence? No, no I don't believe that last one so forget I ever mentioned it. Sure, it is possible if highly unlikely that we see two owls during daylight hours but two males together? Nah, not possible but then we come to their actions. They not only came to us without being offered a lure but they settled on our freaking shoulders! Oh come on Andy? Wild birds of prey acting like they've known us all our li……..oh fuck!"
"Do you want to test your theories? We could maybe talk to Judy and if she's happy enough, set up some sort of discrete CCTV and monitor the site and if it doesn't come up with anything, go back unannounced and see what happens."
"I guess it could work but what if they still don't show up? What does that prove?"
"Nothing but if we say, left the CCTV active until my Birthday then see what happens? If they're a no-show then okay, it was just a pure coincidence but if they do……..? They only fly on our joint Birthdays!"
"I don't know but we'll still be further forward than we are right now."
With Reverend Judy's blessing we arranged for CCTV cameras to monitor the boys' graves and the fences that surrounded the area.
There were no signs that our owls had returned so just after we got back from competing in Adelaide we went back to Wormleighton.
It was one of those days……..a typical English winter's day. Chilly and with mist rising from the land which did nothing to take away the feeling of spookiness especially as we were walking through a cemetery but what the heck. We were here for a specific reason and nothing would deter us.
We were met at the church by the Reverend Judy, no big surprise given not only was it a Sunday but we had also told her we were coming.
"There's been nothing boys. No sign of your owls here or anywhere else for that matter. Why did you feel the need to come back today? I thought that you intended to come back on your Birthday Andrew."
We talked to her about our theories and our need for further information. Something gave me the feeling she thought we were paranoid although she was gracious enough not to say so in so many words.
We then asked her for some quiet time, perhaps a time to pray or just be alone with our thoughts. She stood back but not so far as not to lose sight of us so we joined hands and bowed our heads, again not so much praying but an opportunity to empty our heads in much the same way as we did prior to competition.
Despite the miserable weather, we weren't cold neither did the damp seem to penetrate our clothes.
It was so quiet I could almost hear Lucas breathing but then the slightest tap on our shoulders and Judy saying "Dear God Almighty!"
We opened our eyes and perched on our left shoulders were the two owls just as before and while it's difficult to make out very much out of the corner of your eye, it appeared that both birds were holding something in their beaks so I quietly told Lucas to hold his right hand just in front of his left shoulder and to close his eyes.
Why I thought closing our eyes important I really can't say but as we took position so something was dropped into the palms of our hands followed by the soft stroke of feather against skin before both birds took to the air never to be seen again.
At the vicarage we had time to study whatever had been placed in our hands. A small sprig of mistletoe bound and wrapped in some sort of paper. I say wrapped but that isn't right. It had been tied together very intricately by very thin fibrous tree roots, so thin they might even have been threads of cotton.
We had all of us managed to calm down enough not to get emotional but the meaning of the mistletoe was easy enough to explain.
Judy was possibly the shakiest of the three of us.
"A token of love. Throughout time mistletoe has represented love because it's planted indiscriminately by birds in tree bark. You can't grow mistletoe as in a bush, it's a parasite if you will that can only survive if it feeds on the sap of another tree but that isn't my point. Love is indiscriminate, none of us know when or who we might fall in love with as mistletoe never knows where or if it might flourish but as for the parchment? I hardly dare touch it."
"We're going to though aren't we? I'm not prepared to leave it here Judy. These were offered to Andy and me for a reason and not for the experts to ponder over for half a lifetime?"
"The priest in me says you're wrong but then logic……..if there is indeed any logic in all of this says go ahead. Did you think to bring your camera?"
Lucas searched his pockets and produced his new Lumix and at Judy's instructions, took close-up shots of the tiny bouquets concentrating on the beautiful way they had been bound together with the roots.
The result were amazing but then they should be as he'd spent serious money on the bloody camera with its thirty mega pixels, wide angle zoomy whatever thingies so I was pleased it was getting an airing and being put to good use instead of taking naughty photos of me in the shower.
Who said romance was dead?
I was all for untying the roots right there and then but I saw the look on Lucas' face which made me pause.
"Please Andy? Don't do it? I think Judy's right and we should at least get then checked out before we go doing anything rash."
"But they were given to us for a reason and if we don't open them, we'll never know why."
"Yeah I realise that and I'm not suggesting that anyone goes tampering with them, just get them looked at by an expert. C'mon? How the hell could owls tie knots? Their beaks are designed to rip prey apart not for delicate shit like this? There's more to this than meets the eye so it makes sense to gather as much information as possible before we destroy the evidence."
"You win……..again. How I wish you weren't always right?"
"Always? Well I have to admit that I think Lucas is right this time at least. What if I make you a promise that nobody will untie the roots? Would you feel happier Andy?"
"Bucket loads but I'm impatient to know what's going on and the longer we leave it, the less we might understand."
"I doubt it. If there's a connection then these lads have been dead for over nine hundred years so where's the rush? Another month or so is like a few seconds by comparison, anyway if my guess is halfway correct and they are reaching out to you, they'll understand the need to try to grasp their message with you having as much information as possible.
So……..shall I look after these and have them looked at for you?"
"Sure. Go ahead Judy."
"Okay I'll lock them in my safe and on Monday I'll see what I can do.
Look, I have to go and get ready for Evensong. Stay as long as you like but just close this door as you leave."
"No we'll come with you. We've a train to catch but thanks anyway."
Judy opened the door for us that lead from the vestry to the main body of the church. Lucas walked ahead but stopped abruptly throwing his arms out preventing us from passing him.
"Whoa!! Hold it right there! What the fu……..?"
Judy went to push past him but Lucas is very powerful. She was no match for him but did manage to look over his shoulder.
"Damnit! Those bloody Saunders kids again! No matter how many times I tell them not to play inside the church, still they come!"
Lucas turned to her.
"Saunders kids?? How old are they?"
"Oh God, Keith is ten, Brandon…….. eight I think. Lovely polite boys but grrrr! I call them the Urban Terrorists! I'll get a broom and sweep it up."
"No wait up? So you have two little boys aged eight and ten living in the village that speak fluent Latin? Not only that, they have a pretty awesome talent with scripting?"
Lucas whipped out his camera and took a few shots at the lettering that had been written in the dust on the floor which read
'Vado iam. Illic est hand postulo ut reverto ut nos es per Deus Abbas tramen vereor non vadium opportunus in vita u test etiamnunc advenio'
"What on earth……..? Okay Keith and Brandon? You're off the hook for now. It's beautiful, far and away better than anything I've ever seen but don't ask me what it means, I never got past 'O' level French."
Just as she spoke, a gust of wind eddied around the church and redistributing the dust, it was gone.
I was pretty much struck dumb as we watched the lettering disappear then Judy pulled herself together.
"Okay then. Let's get ourselves up to the vicarage and get this sorted out."
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