2018 Salisbury Literary Festival Short Story


I was sitting next to Louise Tidwell the afternoon she threw herself from the dovecote. She had been the least loved of the three daughters, so it seemed right for her to die first. No one asked how she had come to be up on the roof, but everyone agreed it was a tragedy, especially after their mother had abandoned them, gone off with another man, according to their father.

The glade next to the dovecote was a haven for insects, enlivened and dancing in the pale summer heat. It was also there that their father John gathered piles of dead wood for the winter store. When one fell on his second daughter Maisie, crushing her beneath, people began to wonder whether his heart could bear such a thing.

He saw me watching that night in his room, or at least sensed I was there, because he leaped up from where he had been sitting and shouted at me to get out. I let him catch the tail of my laughter as I flew away. The following day he went out with his gun and shot every dove from the sky till the heavens were empty.

But one came back.

John’s last daughter Melinda had always been fascinated by the cold deep waters of the river which ran behind the dovecote. So strange then that her father had never taught her to swim. A naturally curious girl, it proved all too easy to lead her to where the current was too strong.

This third impossible death in as many weeks soured local spirit, turning it to suspicion. The village had long been troubled with ill fortune, of girls dying too young or vanishing without trace. And now daughters in the same family dying?

An angry crowd gathered like a squall around the dovecote in which John had shut himself, demanding to be let in, their questions answered. Only when the authorities arrived did he have no choice but to do so. I watched from one of the windows as they inspected the place, asking John of his whereabouts the days of his daughters’ deaths.

For over an hour they scrutinised him and the dovecote, but found nothing, shepherding all from the premises. Incredulous, as they made to leave, I dropped down to the spot in the dovecote where wide slivers of dark ran between and beneath new floorboards. John cursed to see me, aiming a kick, but I was too quick for him.

“A dove!” someone exclaimed.

“The floorboards!” pointed another.

Despite his protestations, the police dragged John aside and tore up the boards, finding below a shallow grave, within it a clotted rotten jumble of small bodies, on top the mouldering remains of a grown woman, a young body in her arms, my body, laid there only months before. As strong hands took hold of John, I flew to an open window and stretched my wings wide, turning my beak to the sun and rising to greet it.

Leave a Comment