Swan’s Act – (day 7)

Swan’s Act


A.M. Harte

 The swans are dying, and they are singing. Beautiful songs, with notes that ripple across the water and leave London silent in their wake. The sky is grey and cloudless, the wind caresses the docked boats with damp fingertips.

On the bank of the Thames is a young couple in their mid-twenties, him a blond, rugged, Yorkshire lad, her dark-featured and city-slick, delicate beside him. She’s cold, he isn’t, and they huddle together listening to the swansong.

The next eight minutes change everything.

The woman’s heels click-clack on the cobblestones as she walks towards the edge of the water, lured forward by the singing, leaning against her man for support. All that separates the couple from the river is a waist-high metal fence and a steep drop. They could easily jump over that fence but they won’t: the water is contaminated.

Paddling on the surface of that water are seven contaminated creatures, seven swans somewhere between alive and dead. Their feathers are more gray than white and their orange beaks are streaked with blood. The stench drifting up from the river is enough to turn the woman’s stomach yet she steps closer to the railing, rests her elbows against it to better watch the swans. Such glorious singing.

The man stands beside her and examines the swans carefully. “So it’s true,” he says. This is his first time near the river.

“They’re beautiful,” she replies, but he is not impressed. All he can see are the dull feathers and jagged teeth, all he can hear is a strange crooning. When one of the swans flaps its wings, he notices the rotting tendons and realizes it cannot fly.

The woman’s eyes are shining. Two of the swans swim in circles around each other and her ribcage all of a sudden feels too small for her heart. She leans against the man, laces her fingers lovingly through his. “They mate for life,” she tells him.

He nods, uninterested. He’s more concerned by the scientific conundrum before him. Not alive, not dead. It should be impossible.

Across the river are the domed spires of the Tower of London, an ephemeral outline in the mist. It seems somehow wrong that the Tower should endure when everything else has fallen. 

“I wonder whether he’s still there,” the woman says. “The Ravenmaster, tottering out every day to feed the swans as he once fed the ravens.” She’s smiling as she imagines it; she finds romance in the smallest of things.

The man frowns, shakes his head. “He’s dead. Fell in. They fished his cane out of the river in Greenwich. The swans left nothing else.”

Below them, the swans circle hungrily, singing, ever singing. The tug of the siren-song makes the woman lean further forward, arms and shoulders over the railing. Her cheeks are flushed as she eyes the drop and wonders what it would be like to jump.

The man tightens his grip on her hand. “Don’t.”

But she is mesmerized by the swans and how they glide around each other, and their singing creates such a pleasurable ache in her heart that she is all of a sudden convinced they’re singing about love, about undying love. The realization makes the swans even more beautiful. “Through sickness and through health,” she says softly.

When the woman looks up from the river she finds the man studying her as if she were some scientific conundrum he cannot understand.

She smiles at him. “You wanted to ask me something?” She already has her answer ready: yes, yes, yes.

The man pauses. “Not here.” He wants the swans gone; they make him uncomfortable. How the woman can trick herself into seeing something that is not there is beyond him. She seems so foolish and simple for believing that illusion.

“Here is perfect,” she says. “Just say it.”

And because the words have been on the tip of his tongue all day, the man acquiesces, turning away from the woman to face the Tower once more. He leans against the railing, looks down at the swans and imagines crushing them under his foot. “It’s over,” he says out loud. He says it twice as if one hurt wasn’t enough. “It’s over.”

The woman steps back, steps back again, away from the stench of the river and from the swansong which all of a sudden has gone flat to her ears. She looks at the back of the man’s head but cannot find an explanation. “Over?”

He turns around with a ready smile and a prepared list of platitudes, but he never gets the chance to use them.

The woman charges forward, shoves him. No time to scream. The man topples over the railing and down into the river below.


17 Responses to “Swan’s Act – (day 7)”

  1. Tony Noland

    You painted the scene vividly, and left lots of questions open about these killer swans. Pity the poor fool, though… a romantic spot is a terrible place to break up.

  2. Cecilia Dominic

    So much for the scientific conundrum! The irony is that he should have thought through it better instead of giving into his impulses and her pressure. Great story!


  3. Tweets that mention Swan’s Act – (day 7) « 12 Days 2010! -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Helena Butters. Helena Butters said: RT @jimbronyaur: A.M. Harte w/ Swan's Act #12days2010 – http://ht.ly/3rSCk […]

  4. Icy Sedgwick

    Ah, I can just picture which point of the river they’re at! Beautiful story…disturbing, but beautiful. I bet the Queen’s not so keen on her royal birds now!

  5. A. M. Harte

    Thank you for the comments, everyone! 🙂

  6. Seven Swans A-Swimming | A. M. Harte

    […] story, Swan’s Act, went live today. Swan’s Act is a short story about zombie swans and a couple in love, and a […]

  7. Steve Green

    Great piece of imaginative writing, killer swans with teeth, (zombie swans?) It’s a blessing that they CAN’T fly really.

  8. Patti Larsen

    Great story… need more! You left me with the need to see the rest of this ruined world… hope there is more to come!

  9. Merrilee

    Haha, lovely. Typical male timing 😉

  10. Chuck Allen

    I agree with Patti. That is an interesting world you created and would love to find out more about it. Great story!

  11. WA_side

    Hah! Didn’t see that coming did he – thought she was a romantic fool.

  12. Jim Bronyaur

    I just finished reading Jack’s story and I come to this one… whew, we are getting out of hand here, aren’t we??? 🙂

    This is why I LOVE doing this project!

  13. Eric J. Krause

    Maybe he should have waited until they were away from the killer swans, no matter how much she thought she wanted to hear what he had to say. Good story!

  14. TEC4

    Fascinating world you created, and you set us up — I kept thinking she was about to be siren-songed into jumping and instead Mr. Scientific Conundrum gets it. Well done!

  15. E

    Yay. Clap clap clap clap.

  16. John Wiswell

    So much for that guy! You can always wait for a better moment to say those sorts of things…

  17. Susan May James

    Fantastic story, I didn’t see the twist coming!
    Your description and details were spot on, well done.

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