Our Feathered Friends

It was a time of war. When is it never? The Americans were fighting the British. The French were fighting the British and then there were the First Americans, fighting everyone and no-one. And in the midst of this troubled land lived a community of Quakers or Friends. They had long cleared an area in the woodland to build their houses. First, the Brits came to tell them to leave, ‘We cannot guarantee your safety, if you stay.’ And the Americans too. ‘There will be trouble, grave trouble. Best leave.’ And some of the families did go but most of them stayed for they were peaceful people, they reckoned…and they’d planted their homes in this woodland. Who would hurt them?

One Sunday morning on a lovely summer’s day, most of the families were gathered together as usual in meeting for worship. The meeting house was made out of timber. With no glass in the windows, just unshuttered and open to the breeze, in flittered a curious bee and two playful butterflies, dancing in the beam of sunlight falling across the centre table. A young girl watched all this with drooping eyelids. On the window ledge, a young robin sang for a few moments before flying through the room and out the opposite window in search of berries and insects.

Holes in the wood let the light in and through them, she could see the greenery outside, the bushes and trees. Three elders sat together on a bench, eyes closed in prayer. Meeting could go on like this for several hours in those days and the little girl, sleepy, leant against her mum, trying to stay awake. It was hard for her. The warm air lifted. Was that a blue flash passing through a bush, left quivering? She listened to the steady, slow breathing of her mother next to her, her warm body rising and falling gently. Through a knothole, she saw a second flash, red this time and rubbed her eyes. And when she peered again, all was quiet and still…

She was just falling asleep when something made her look up. In the open doorway stood a dozen First Americans, arrows drawn in their bows, dircted towards them. She noticed the long knives hanging from their belts and something else too…was that hair..? And now, all the friends in the room watched with eyes wide open and waited.

One of the elders stood and, speaking in French, palms upwards, welcomed the visitors and invited them to join them. One of the First Americans interpreted for the chief, who stared at them. He relaxed and, saying through the interpreter, told them that he and his men also worshipped their spirits in peace and would gladly join with them. They made to come in but the elder raised his hand. ‘Please, your weapons…leave them outside. The men looked at their Chief but when he took off his bow and arrows and knives and placed them by the door, they all followed. The Quakers made space for them on the benches and, together, they fell into a gathered stillness inside the meeting house in the clearing in the wood.

At the end of meeting, the elder shook the hand of the Chief and invited them all to join them for food. And they did. Much later, when they were ready to leave, the Chief took a white feather, he said, as a token of peace, and pinned it above the door to the meeting house. ‘Everyone seeing this  knows you are our friends and will not harm you.’

Or so the story goes…I’ve been in touch with Easton Meeting in New York State. They told me that the old timbered meeting house of that time is long gone, replaced by a new, shiny modern one. But they still hold their summer meetings there. And they told me the First Americans in that area didn’t wear feathers in their head gear. It’s more likely that the Chief cracked an arrow in half and pinned that above the door as a sign of friendship.

Easton South Meeting House

Every September, the friends of Easton South Meeting gather together to retell this story and think about what truth it holds in the world today.

What a sad country we live in

What a sad country we live in, I texted my friend, going home on the bus. He’d seen it two nights previously. Id just watched ‘My Country’, a National Theatre production at the Liverpool Playhouse, which had recorded the stories and voices of over 70 people after the vote to leave the EU. None of them had felt listened to. They distrusted their leaders. If people had seen just the part Britannia played in reading our leaders’ words during the campaign– all lobster and honour and where was Jeremy..? – perhaps, they would have made different decisions. I thought it a shame this exercise, the listening project, had not happened before the referendum. Regardless of the result, we seem such a sad, cruel island, where people feel imperilled, not necessarily by the EU but ground down by life and its rapid change. Our politicians were decried and I thought of Jo Cox and all the other local, national and EU politicians I’ve met who put in such dedicated unsocial hours to help people. And not a single bullet was fired…

I believe there is to be a film made of ‘My Country’. It deserves a wider audience. It stops you. But catch it best in theatre. It’s off to Manchester next. It takes a needle to your stomach and presses. Maybe, it’s the system that needs changing, not the people in power? And it left me wondering what have we done? And if we have more of this, it could be better.

Borg version 2

I am Borg. I live in a cupboard in a big house. And when I smell a child, I come out, unseen by adults but the children sense me…and smell me…and hear me, dragging my folds of drooping flesh along the floor to get them.

Many people come to the big house, where I live. They bring many children. Their families won’t miss one, a juicy tiddler. I have to live after all and I love to suck the marrow out of the inside a long leg bone.

Listen…there’s one now, coming into the room, all alone. And through the keyhole, I spy her, drawing nearer. What is she searching for…most likely her smart phone? ‘I’m bored!’, she says. Not for much longer, little one. I have your phone. Just a few more steps…come on, yes, open the cupboard…open the door…to let me out…Aghh!

Ella turns on her heels and flies screaming out of the room, back along the corridor and down the stairs. Her three friends rush to her, while I trail after. I am slow, I know, but every bit of this big old house is familiar to me and they can hide but I will find them. And when I do, they will become Borg too. That’s just how it is.

Ella points back to the upstairs room, unable to find her words. What can she tell them? And the other children follow her finger. From the top of the banister, my dark red eyes glow fiercely at them. They scramble in wails and leg it. Slowly, savouring the meal which will soon be mine, I follow them, leaving behind a trail of fresh orange flesh scales, rubbed onto the carpet. Something else the children will have to answer for…

As I descend the stairs, all has gone quiet. Adults pass freely by me and through me, without notice. They’re not in the game, not any more. They escaped. Only the children…only the blood and meat of the children keep me going. I raise my snout in the air. They think they are clever, that they can outrun me. What fools they are! No-one escapes Borg. No-one!

I enter the library. At the back, there is a cupboard. All is still but I know they’re here, all four of them, silent, eyes popping out at each other in the darkness.. I hear their hearts bopping, their breath racing. Soon, I will eat one of them.

I crawl to the door of the cupboard and fling it open, belching my rotten breath to numb them. Ella emerges instantly, brushing my side before I can grab her and runs off, shrieking. A grown up, distracted by the noise, comes into the room. I hate these adults. I wish I could eat them too.

While I’m looking back, two more dash past me. They scream too. You are safe…for now…but one day, I will tear you apart and eat your heart.

There is one more. A boy. A boy is in here in the dark inside the cupboard, stacked with chairs. For a moment, I hesitate. Maybe, I’m mistaken. Could the boy have hidden somewhere else?  Just then, he squeezes out and I’m caught unawares. He is too quick for me and rushes past before I can grab him.

Then, they are outside on the grass on a kind of maze, etched onto the lawn. It only has one way in. One way in means…One way out! Go in, go in, my lovely bones. Go in…and I will follow you and make you all Borg.

And they go into the labyrinth.

I reach the entrance.  There is a traffic light on red. I wait. It stays on red for a long time. I can hear the children, talking and shouting, then, suddenly, the light changes to green and all I hear are the chill wind at my back and the cry of a solitary crow. I rumble in.

Further along the path,, there is a notice, ‘Think’. A lot of good that does anyone and I press on. I am hungry. It is weeks since I have tasted meat and these four will not escape me again. I am almost at the centre…another notice, ‘Feel’. Who puts this nonsense here?

I reach the opening to the centre of the labyrinth. And there’s the girl, Ella with her friends, huddled together and squealing under a notice, ‘Hold’, when they see me coming. I spit on the floor to slaver my throat and wet my teeth. But suddenly, the lights change at the entrance from green to amber to red and I must wait. I feel as if I can almost reach them. No hurry!

The children are holding something. What is it? It looks like an…anchor? What have they got an anchor for? Where..? And they rise into the air beneath the anchor. The fresh wind blows, helping the four holding onto its long chain to take off. Ella’s foot dangles over me, as they sway and she nearly falls off. I open my slimey jaws to catch her but they pull her back in before I can bite and are gone. Red-Amber-Green – I walk into an empty chamber.

There is nothing for it but to return to my cupboard and lick my toes. I’ll not forget them, Ella and her three silent companions. Borgs live in cupboards for a very long time. I have never seen a dead one, though there may be one in your kitchen cupboard. All I can say is ‘Don’t prod.’

And, in time, I turned into human form and worked as the house manager. Some years pass before Ella and her three friends return to the house. I watch them. I greet them. I know them. I shake hands with each of them in turn and lick my lips. And they know me. ‘Welcome back’, Ella and friends. You are all Borg now and their eyes begin to glow amber red in the gloaming!

‘We are not Borg! My name is Ella and these are my friends.’ Startled, I take half a step back. It is enough to let Ella brush past me and when she turns, her eyes are shining a deep brown. She should be Borg..? She calls out to her friends, ‘Here now, come now…Now!’ And the charm is broken and they burst past me and out into the garden. And I gasp…

Borg

I am Borg. I live in a cupboard in a big house. And when I smell a child, I come out, unseen by adults but the children sense me…and smell me…and hear me, dragging my folds of drooping flesh along the floor to get them.

Many people come to the big house and they bring many children. Their families won’t miss one, a juicy tiddler. I have to live after all and I love to suck on the marrow inside a crisp, long leg.

Listen…there’s one now, coming into the room, all alone. And through the keyhole, I spy her, drawing nearer. What is she searching for…most likely her smart phone? ‘I’m bored!’, she says. Not for much longer, little girl. I have your phone. Just a few more steps…come on, yes, open the cupboard…open the door…and let me out…Aghh!

Ella turns on her heels and flies screaming out of the room, back along the corridor and down the stairs. Her three friends rush to her, while I trail after. I am slow, I know, but every bit of this big old house is familiar to me and they can hide but I will find them. And when I do, they will become Borg too. That’s just how it is. It is The Way.

Ella points back to the upstairs room, unable to find her words. What can she tell them? And the other children follow her finger. From the top of the banister, my dark red eyes glow fiercely at them. They scramble in wails and leg it. Slowly, savouring the meal which will soon be mine, I follow, leaving behind a trail of orange fleshy scales, rubbing into the carpet. Something else the children will answer for…

As I descend the stairs, all has gone quiet. Adults pass freely by me, through me, without notice. They’re not in the game, not any more. They escaped. Only the children…only the blood and meat of the children keep me going. I raise my snout in the air. They think they are clever, that they can outrun me. What fools they are! No-one escapes Borg. No-one. Ever!

I enter the library. At the back, there is a tall wardrobe. All is still but I know they’re here, all four of them, with silent, eyes popping out at each other in the dark.. I hear their hearts bopping, their breath racing. Soon, I will eat one of them.

I creep to the door of the cupboard and fling it open, belching my hot, rotten breath to numb them. Ella emerges instantly, brushing my side before I can grab her.  She runs off, shrieking. A grown up, distracted by the noise, comes into the room. I hate these adults. I wish I could eat them too.

While I’m looking back, two of ybe others dash past me. They scream too. You are safe…for now…but one day, I will tear you apart and eat your heart.

But there is one more, a boy. A boy is in here in the dark inside the wardrobe, stacked with chairs. For a moment, I hesitate. Maybe, I’m mistaken. Could the boy have hidden somewhere else?  Just then, he squeezes out and I am caught unawares. He is too quick for me and rushes past.

Now they are outside on the grass where there is a kind of maze, etched onto the lawn. It only has one way in. One way in…One way out! Go in, go in, my lovely bones. Go in…and I will follow and make you all Borg, like me.

And they entered the labyrinth.

I reach the entrance.  There is a traffic light on red. I wait. It stays on red for a very long time. Further along the pathway, I hear the children, talking and shouting, then, suddenly, the light changes to green and all goes quiet, except for the chill wind at my back and the cry of a solitary crow. I rumble in.

Some way in, there is a notice, ‘Think’. A lot of good that does and I press on. I am hungry. It is weeks since I have fed and these four will not escape me again. I am almost at the centre. There is another notice, ‘Feel’. Who puts this nonsense here?

I reach the opening to the centre of the labyrinth. And there’s the girl, Ella, with her friends, sitting close together. They are squealing under a notice, which says ‘Hold’. I spit on the floor to slaver my throat and wet my teeth. But then the light changes at the entrance to amber and red and I must wait. I feel I can almost reach them. No hurry….

The children are holding something. It looks like an…anchor? Where have they got an anchor from? What..? And they rise into the air beneath the anchor. The fresh wind blows past, helping the four holding onto its long chain to push off. They sway and, for one moment, Ella’s foot dangles in front of me. I open my slimey jaws to catch her but they pull her back before I can strike and they’re gone. Red-Amber-Green – I stare into the empty chamber.

There is nothing for it but to return to my cupboard and lick my toes. I’ll not forget them, Ella and her three silent companions. Borgs live in cupboards for a very long time. I have never seen a dead one, have you…though there may be one inside your cupboard? My advice…don’t prod.

In time, I turn into my human form and work as the house manager. Some years pass before Ella and her three friends return to the house. And I remember them. I watch them. I greet them. I know them. I shake hands with each of them and lick my lips. And they know me. ‘Welcome back’, Ella and friends. You are all Borg now and our eyes darken amber red in the gloaming!