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The Owl Woman

by grymalkyn 

Posted: 23 December 2003
Word Count: 4375
Summary: Murder, mystery and revenge ... a fast-paced mystery-thriller full of weird happenings and tangled relationships.

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There is no death.
Only a change of awareness, a change of cosmic address

Bob Toben
Space-Time and Beyond

I have been where Bran was slain
Iwerydd’s son of widespread fame

From the Black Book of Carmarthen


Vicki wrestled silently with whatever it was that held her. She couldn’t move. Fear gripped her. She knew it was a dream but there was nothing she could do. It was one of those terrible ones where you’re out of control, no way out. Suddenly she was free, flying over the tree-tops, darkness rushing below her, light blinding her. Then it all came into focus and she found herself hovering above the tower. As a barn owl.
A man stood below her, on the edge of the waterfall, something golden in his hands. He held it up to the light and now she could see it was the cup. No! He mustn’t do that! She tried to call out to him, tell him, but only the screech of the owl came out.
He ducked, startled, let go the cup and fell. She watched him plummet down the fifty foot waterfall and hit the pool, like solid concrete. His body plunged through and carried on down to the bottom where he smashed his head open on the rocks. Slowly, he floated up to the surface again, pinwheeling like one of Van Gogh’s crazy stars.
She hovered over him, unable to cry, unable to speak.
Something bright glimmered in the water near him. He turned towards it, his finger pointing. It was the cup. How the hell was it floating? She strained to speak to him, but it was no good.
He caught her eyes. He could see her. Somehow he wasn’t dead yet. He tried to turn, to reach for the cup but, just as his fingers touched it, it slipped away from him and sank down into the water. He looked at Vicki desperately, his lips moving.
‘Remember!’ he said soundlessly. ‘Remember!’
Everything went hazy. Now, when she wanted to stay in the dream, stay with him, she was coming awake. She felt herself falling backwards down the long, dark tunnel towards the point of light at its end. She concentrated on it as the feeling left her body and consciousness slipped away into the mist.

Lightning jolted through her. She sat bolt upright in the bed just as the phone began to ring.
‘Vicki? Vicki?’ she heard Vera’s voice dimly through the fog in her head. ‘Vicki, Jacob is dead. Your father is dead.’
She sat still, clutching the receiver, hearing Vera’s voice calling to her but not knowing it.
‘Mummy? Mummy? Is that you …?’ she began.
‘Vicki, luv, tis Vera here. Luvvy come back, speak to me.’
The fog began to thin.
‘V-vera …?’
‘Yes, deary, it’s me, Vera. Can you hear me all right? Vicki? Vicki? You sound so far away, luvvy. Speak to me.’
‘Dad’s dead?’
‘Yes dear, your father is dead.’
Vicki sat staring, silence inside her and out.
‘Vicki …?’
The fog was nearly gone now. ‘Dead? … He’s dead?’
‘Yes … dead.’ Vera waited.
‘Oh Shit! Damn!’ Vera could hear her banging her hand against the something. The noise stopped. Silence, then,
‘Daddy … I never said goodbye to you!’ Vicki whispered.
Vera choked off a sob herself, waited, then,
‘W-what happened?’ It was the child’s voice. The same child who asked where her mother was twenty-three years ago.
‘It was me as found ‘im. He was in the Tower Pool, drowned. Us don’t know no more. Joe’s called the police. Will … will you come home now, me dear one? … we do surely need y’.’ Vera’s voiced trailed off into silence.
‘I’m coming,’ Vicki said at last. ‘I’m coming home. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Oh! Vera … Vera?’ but the line was dead.
She sat staring blankly at the receiver in her hand.
‘Daddy … Where are you … ?’ she cried out softly, but only her own voice echoed an answer.
Groggily, she switched on the light, pulled a blanket round her and stumbled down to the kitchen.
She could still feel the feathers on her face and see trees beneath her. She felt in limbo, hanging between worlds. She knew in her head she was in the kitchen of her own flat in London, that it was her tribal rug beneath her feet, not a forest. But her heart told her she was in the Wilderness.
She made tea, with sugar, choking on the sweet syrupy liquid. I’m OK, she told herself, just in shock, nothing special about that, and she began to giggle, shaking the tea all over the floor. The giggling turned into shivering, crying. Oh god, I’m going mad, she whispered and hugged the blanket closer. Something in her auto-pilot made her pick up the phone and call Faye.
‘Hullo …?’ the groggy voice queried after several rings.
‘Faye … it’s m-me, Vicki.’
‘What?’ the voice snapped into focus. ‘What is it darling, what’s happened.’
Vicki tried to speak but nothing came out, she choked and sobbed into the phone.
‘Vicki? Vicki … it’s OK darling, I’m here, I’m here …’ Faye began to mumble on into the phone, giving Vicki time.
‘D-dad … d-dead …’ Vicki managed at last.
‘Hold on there, I’m on my way. OK? Vicki? You hear me? I’m coming to you, hang on … OK?’
‘O please be quick …’ Vicki sat clutching the receiver, the coldness ran through her. She wanted to run away to the place between the worlds where nothing happened, nothing hurt.
‘What am I going to do?’ she whispered into the silence.

Faye found her clutching the dead phone. Gently she wrapped her in another blanket and tipped Rescue Remedy down her throat. Vicki could feel Faye’s arms around her, the world began to come back into focus.
‘What are you going to do?’ Faye asked once she was fit enough to sit by herself on the sofa.
‘Go home.’
‘Are you OK? Can you drive? Shall I drive you?’
Then she turned back to Faye.
‘No, please. I’m better, look,’ and she held out her hand, ‘it’s steady now, no more shaking. See?’
‘I don’t know …’
‘But I do.’ Vicki walked a straight line to the kitchen and back. ‘Look, no wobbles.’ She came and sat on the arm of Faye’s chair. ‘Let me go. I have to go by myself. I need to. It’s no good with you, I’ll give up and let you look after me.’
‘Vicki … are you really sure?’
Vicki nodded. ‘I must go alone.’
‘OK … OK,’ Faye held Vicki, kissed her. ‘Can I help you pack? Get you something to eat?’
‘Food’d be good. I don’t want to eat but I should, I suppose.’
‘Yes, you should,’ Faye watched Vicki’s back as she went up the stairs. ‘Fly well, dear one,’ she whispered.
As though she heard, Vicki turned and smiled down at Faye.

Later, Vicki took the car up the ramp from the underground car park and out into Vestry Street. The roads were quiet, silent, strange for London, even at half past three in the morning. She slid round the roundabout and up Old Street heading for the M3 and home. Merle would be there.


Merle watched the owl’s face grow in the computer screen until it blotted out all the costings he’d been working on. It changed, swirling, shapeshifting, becoming almost human, the eyes dark wormholes, holding his, dragging him down.
He came to just before his head hit the keyboard. He’d passed out for a moment. Now he sat up, breathing hard, blinking, trying to regain focus, but still mesmerised by the owl face on the screen. He watched it fade, watched the costings return. The thing had blinked and he could smell it. He wanted to hope it was just the burgundy and camembert he and Jacob had put away earlier. But he knew it wasn’t. The owl face had dissolved into hers. God damn! he thought, that was over ten years ago.
The loud, trailing ‘khree-i’ of a barn owl shattered the silence. Goldy sat up, bottling her tail, jumped off the desk and headed for the door where she turned to look at him.
‘What is it, girl?’
The cat stared at him out of huge, unblinking silver eyes. He groaned, the wind was rising, it was late, but he followed to find her stood by the kitchen door. She trilled sharply.
‘OK! OK! I’m coming!’
He dragged on boots, a thick coat, found a scarf. He was about to open the door when the cat trilled at him again.
‘Eh? Oh yes!’ He went to the pantry.
Goldy led him across the yard into the lane, past the stone pig-herm who guarded his gate and down to the river. The moon made a path across the water to the island by the clapper bridge. He scooped the cat up and carried her across into the shaw of hollies. She jumped onto a tree stump and sat curled, waiting.
Merle collected some kindling and built a small, hot fire in the shelter of the hollies. Its white smoke rose in a thin column until it came above the tops of the trees, then the wind took it. He took a small bowl out of his pocket and got some water from the river. He muttered over it, took a sip and set it down by the fire, then he sat on the other tree stump to wait.
The clapper bridge was a white dragon-skeleton in the moonlight, the birch trees glimmered ghostly along either bank. How long would it be? He looked at the pile of wood, it would last a while yet but he built up the fire. The trees soughed wilder than before, the winds were rising again.
Would it come? A movement caught his eye from the far bank and he saw the owl launch from a tree at the other end of the bridge. It flew silently across the river, wing-beats strobing in the moonlight, to land on a branch at the entrance to the holly-cave.
‘Come, friend,’ Merle whispered. He fished the meat out of his pocket, offered it.
The owl stooped down, snatched the meat from Merle’s hand and took it back to the holly branch where it sat tearing at it thoughtfully, watching him.
Goldy gave a low mutter in her throat, arched, then set her tail around her paws and sat still as stone.
Merle stared into the flames. The image came. He was up by the waterfall with Jacob. A scream shattered the silence, they both ducked but Jacob slipped and fell. Merle stood bodiless, helpless, at the top of the cliff, watching as Jacob fell into the pool. The vision changed, now he could see the cup, it came closer and closer. He reached out to take it but the image exploded into pain. He came to and found he had put his hand into the fire.
He crouched beside the stump, hugging his hand under his armpit, groaning and swearing. The owl flew down and rubbed its beak on his burned hand. He stared into the golden eyes.
‘Help me!’ he heard inside his head.

Vera & Joe

Vera came away from the window. The night air still flowed in like a dark, chilly stream, wrapping her round and making her shiver. Downstairs, she pulled on a coat and went out, leaving the door open so the brightness from the kitchen flowed out to light her path. Not that she needed it. These lanes were in her bones, her blood, had given birth to her. She turned up past the crown of ruins on the hill, oak leaves crunching brownly under her feet and her ears still full of the cries of owls. Vera trudged on in the bright moonlight, her breath coming out as frosty smoke.
The way seemed to take forever and, despite her fifty years familiarity, she nearly missed the way into the Wilderness. The gate creaked. Beech trees surrounded her, reaching up their grey arms, and a huge holly twisted whitely skywards. She followed the ride to the middle of the wood and stopped still. He wasn’t there. How not? She had seen the owls, followed where they led, but the glade was empty of all but the circle of stones, sitting up out of the grass like tall hares. The central stone stood stark and white in a splash of moonlight.
Her feet took her back towards the lane. The gate onto to Tower Moor was open and she stared at it, not wanting to go up to the ruins. She’d never liked the place, even as a child she wouldn’t join the other children to play there. Cold, dark, treacherous, she muttered, what’s ‘e want to go opening all that up for? But he had. Reluctantly she went towards it.
Fumbling in her pocket, she found the torch and screwed her eyes shut as the sudden light blinded her. She clambered round blocks of masonry and piles of earth. At the top, the hole gaped before her, breathing out an ancient dank smell of leaf-mould and wet soil, like an old garden. Vera leaned over to look. The torch showed nothing, an empty pit.
She made her way round to the west side. Here, where the cliff fell fifty feet, a waterfall shot out of the ground and down through a circle of rock into a deep pool. There was a seat by the head of the fall, Vera found her way to it, sat down, and looked.
Jacob floated face up in the water, his body pinwheeling left and then right in the eddy from the falls. Vera’s breath stopped. Sometime later she realised she was crying. Later still, she found her way down the precipitous stone steps into the glade surrounding the pool. Ferns dripped wetly and caught at her bare legs. Her slippers were sodden. She stood on the pebble beach watching him turn. What am I to do, how can I get him out?
A movement in the rhododendrons on the other side caught her eye. A splash of white? She watched, but it took her a little while to accept what she was seeing. She felt a tickling inside her head, then words came, Find Joe! Owlpen woods! came the voice in her head. Vera blinked and rubbed her eyes, but the owl-like figure was gone. If it had ever been, she thought.
Wearily, she found her way back. Going across the garden she noticed the study lights were on and the French windows open. She didn’t stop. The gate at the end of the garden let her into Owlpen Copse, not far down the path she tripped over Joe where he lay in the grass. On her knees beside him, she felt for a pulse but immediately he groaned.
‘Argh!’ he said. ‘What happened?’
‘How should I know, silly man! I only jus’ got here m’self!’ Vera told him with the crossness of relief from one who thought she had two dead bodies to deal with.
‘Ugh! Oh! What happened?’ Joe tried again.
‘Jacob’s dead’ Vera sat back on her heels.
‘Ugh!’ Joe lay still, holding his head.
Men! Vera thought crossly, you has to tell ‘em everything fifteen times afore it sticks. And then they don’t remember. She stayed quiet to give Joe time to get the significance of what she’d said. He sat up slowly. She passed him a handkerchief. He wiped his face, not looking at her, thinking.
‘Where?’ he asked after a few moments.
‘In Tower Pool. Drowned.’
Vera shrugged. ‘There weren’t no-one else there that I saw ‘cept …’ she caught her breath, stopped, then said again ‘there weren’t no-one else there.’
Joe shot a look at her then pulled himself up, reached down a hand to help her. ‘We’d better go see’ he took her arm, as much to help himself as her. They went back to Tower Moor, and the pool. Joe stood watching the body pinwheel.
‘How’s we goin’ ter get ‘im out?’ Vera asked after a bit.
‘We’re not,’ Joe said. ‘Better get the police.’
‘Is there summat …?’ Vera’s voice trailed off.
‘Don’t know. But we have to call the police. Come on, love. We both need a cup of tea and I’d better tell Olive where I am and what’s happened.’
In the kitchen, Joe dialled nine-nine-nine, Vera made tea.
‘Where’s Hecaté?’ she asked him when he got off the phone.
‘Oh lord! I’d forgotten her. I’ll go look, you stay here.’
Vera sat at the table with her mug of tea, staring at nothing. She started awake when the door opened. Joe had a small black bundle in his arms.
‘She’s not …?’ Vera jumped up.
‘No, she’s OK. I found her in the bushes by the pool, crouching, watching. I was afraid she’d scratch when I went to pick her up but she didn’t, just butted my hand and began purring.’ He put the cat on the kitchen table. They both examined her, there seemed to be nothing at all wrong.
‘She saw it though!’ Vera said.
‘Whatever it was’ Joe added.


Dick got back from lunch to find the phone ringing. It was Jacob’s solicitor.
‘Hello, Dick. I’m sorry to ring you at the Museum but I needed to catch you as soon as possible. Are you alone? I’m afraid I’ve very bad news. Jacob died last night?’
Dick spluttered slightly and then remembered to breathe. He could see nothing, his eyes were full of water.
‘Dick? Dick? Are you there? Did you hear me?’
‘Y-y-yes. I’m here.’ Dick managed.
‘It all happened very suddenly last night, or rather early this morning …’ Delagardie rambled on gently, giving Dick time to take it all in. ‘Will you be going down to the funeral?.’
‘Err … umm … I … er … well …’ Dick mumbled.
‘No matter, dear boy, no matter. You’re mentioned in the will you see, you have to know. I’ll go down myself for the funeral, and to read the will. Now, is there anything I can help you with in regard to the Museum? Can you let them know? Set off procedures and such? Probably better done in house than by me.’
‘Yes, James. I can do that,’ Dick’s stutter left him. ‘I’ll be in touch. I think I need to sit down and take this in. Oh god!’
‘Dick, call me any time. Don’t forget.’ Delagardie rang off.
Dick sat down at the desk, staring at Jacob's papers, all laid out before him. He could focus on nothing. There was the beginning of an empty pit growing in the middle of his stomach. He called the personnel office quickly and began setting wheels in motion, before he lost it completely. The afternoon was spent with people popping their heads round the door, offering condolences and asking him to sign or agree things. At four o’clock David Ranley-Hall, the big boss, called him in.
‘Dick, this is dreadful!’ he hardly let Dick sit down. ‘Can you carry the show for the time being? Is there anything happening I should know about, anything I’ve forgotten? You’ll want to go to the funeral. So will I. D’you know when it is?’
Dick felt he was in the firing line of a gattling gun.
‘Yes, no, no, yes, yes, no.’ Dick answered in sequence.
Ranley-Hall blinked and his spectacles slid down his nose.
‘Thank you, Dick. Knew we could rely on you. Dreadful thing though, dreadful. How will Vicki manage?’
I don’t need this, not right now, thought Dick.
‘David, I haven’t a clue,’ he said. Again he was surprised at how well his stutter was keeping in the background. ‘If you don’t need me I’ll finish up here, then I’d like to get home.’
‘Of course. Go off as soon as you like. We can all manage. You’ll be all right to come in tomorrow?’
‘Yes David,’ Dick smiled wryly at his boss. ‘I’ll cope.’


Sylvie watched. It was like watching a TV screen, only silent, no sound. The picture showed her Vicki, struggling to escape the dream, her hands convulsing, clutching at the duvet.
‘I’ve enchanted you now, girl, trapped you inside the owl,’ Sylvie whispered, her voice sweet and sticky, like honey. ‘You are my owl woman. You cannot escape me, you will do my will!’ her mouth curled in triumph.
With her mind's eye, Sylvie steered Vicki towards the tower. She watched the owl’s white wings hungrily cupping the air as she swooped over the eight-spoked wheel of the Wilderness. Then she saw Jacob standing on the rock shelf above the pool, by the tower. He was holding the gold cup.
‘I have you now!’ and Sylvie filled Vicki’s mind with fear, forcing her to fly down towards her father.
‘She knows! She knows!’ Vicki cried out.
But Jacob heard only the ghostly screech of the barn owl and felt the rush of wind as the bird flew low over his head. He ducked away from it.
Sylvie watched, revelling. Jacob’s feet slipped out from under him on the wet mossy stone and he fell towards the shimmering water. His body plummeted to the bottom, his head hit the rocks and he sucked in the deadly water as he floated to the surface. His broken body turned first this way then that in the water currents. The grieving owl-woman watched from a branch by the edge of the pool. Sylvie was satisfied.
‘Well, Jacob, you are gone and I will have the cup now,’ she laughed aloud. Then she realised that somehow Jacob was still conscious. He could see the owl-woman, and he knew who she was. Sylvie ground her teeth. She watched Jacob smile to his daughter before his eyes dimmed.
Sylvie spat, snuffing out the candles, and turned on the desk lamp. The stuffed owl was quiet again in its glass case, the spirit which had animated it was gone.


Vicki drove down the A303 on auto-pilot, her head full of memories. Merle and she had grown up together. Both only children and natural solitaries, they had gravitated to each other. Her mother wrote magical children’s stories, his was an artist and musician. Their fathers were old friends, his the local doctor, hers the lord of the manor.
‘Going on for bloody centuries!’ she snorted, putting her foot down to pass a lorry.
They loved woods, the river, gardens. Joe, who ran his own herbery as well as being gardener at the manor, taught them about gnomes, as he called the elementals of the soil.
‘The TV gardening programmes call biodynamics witchcraft. Hocus-pocus!’ he waved his hands in the air and pulled a face. ‘Cow dung instead of snake oil! But you can see what it does for the land, how the plants grow.’
Jacob loved it. It was what his grandmother had done. But he’d always been too busy rootling about with bones and history, so the old walled garden had fallen into disrepair. Dad had been glad when Joe came.
‘I learned all this from my dad,’ Joe told them. ‘And he actually met Rudolph Steiner. And his dad, my granddad, was one of the ones who gave Steiner the old lore which he built his agricultural lectures on.’
They had been impressed. Especially after they’d discovered who Rudolph Steiner was and Jacob had told them about Vicki’s grandmother, how she had gardened that way. And that she, too, had met Steiner.
‘It’s a small old world,’ Jacob had said.
They’d told Joe things they’d learned from the fey folk. Joe listened, and taught them to dowse. Merle taught him how to listen to the water, to hear underground streams. She taught him how to hear animals. They both kept horses, rode together, were childhood sweethearts. Everyone assumed they would marry. Perhaps that was the beginning of the trouble.
Merle went to Oxford to read maths and philosophy. She followed him to read English. He got a first and went on to a PhD. They left together. He asked her to marry him.
‘I was so happy … at first,’ she told the windscreen. ‘I made all those plans, how we could convert the clock house until I inherited Bridewell. Then, after the gods know how long, I got out of my own head and actually looked at his face!’
Vicki banged the steering wheel with her hand.
‘Ye gods!’ she accelerated past another lorry, ‘how could I have been so bloody crass?’
But her memory wouldn’t stop its replay.
‘I love Bridge Cottage’ he said one day.
‘Oh so do I,’ she had enthused.
‘I don’t want to leave it,’ Merle didn’t look at her. ‘Would you … could you … ?’
His voice trailed off. She didn’t answer. He turned away and walked back home down the path through Penny Woods.
‘So blind. So stupid.’ she cried out loud in the car. ‘I didn’t follow him … Oh why, gods, why? No! I ran away to London, took the software job. Bought the warehouse flat, hid there with my lovers and my roof-garden and my work. Life was fun and full and satisfying, or so I kept telling myself,’ she said savagely. ‘Faye kept me sane … And there was Dad …’
She pulled in for petrol and stood staring up at the dark sky, sucking in the cold, damp air. It had the smell of home.
She saw the accident again, the blood, Mummy dead. And the woman peering into the car, a pale golden halo of hair and eyes like pits into which Vicki had fallen. Now, twenty-three years on, she wasn’t even sure it had actually happened.
She got back in the car and headed for the M5, her mind still playing old films. She turned the radio up very loud, trying to drown out her thoughts. But a little part of her remembered the foxes. Merle had rescued her then.

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Comments by other Members

JohnK at 05:50 on 24 December 2003  Report this post
Hi Grymalkyn -

Intriguing, and with a stylish technique.

However, I wonder if we are being taken for a ride again here. This is from a book published a year last August. Any comments we offer can have no bearing on the book - so the WW principle of being constructive is not relevant.

Here is a new member to be watched with interest.

Regards, JohnK.

P.S. Perhaps I am being unnecessarily suspicious. and if so I apologise to Elen, but WW has been targeted by pretenders.

bluesky3d at 11:34 on 24 December 2003  Report this post
Who are Rat's Ink Publishers? - the link from your web page to them does not seem to be working. Would you recommend them?


oh, and welcome to Writewords Elen! :o)

roovacrag at 12:20 on 24 December 2003  Report this post
Liked this, but more could have gone into it.I agree with John on this Get a better publisher. Try the good ones find these in Writers and artist year book. Good luck. xxAlice

Ellenna at 13:43 on 24 December 2003  Report this post
This is intriguing and so is your website.. Welcome to Writewords, Elen :)


Jumbo at 23:26 on 27 December 2003  Report this post
Hi, Elen

Welcome to WW.

Can I just ask, why have you posted this?

What exactly are you looking for by way of comments and feedback?

Best wishes for a prosperous 2004.


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