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The Canals, Rebecca Harrison

“We didn’t know the night was wings. Not until the Ghasts came to the canals.” Granny cut the last slice of ginger cake in half and gave me the bigger bit. It tasted of goodbyes. “Don’t suppose you can remember the night much.” She sat next to me. The sofa sagged. “It used to go all over the sky, far as you could see. We all thought it was a darkness that went right out past forever. Turns out it was just a flock of Ghasts flying round the world.”

“I was only little,” I said, but I did remember – Ma holding me at the window, naming the stars, her smell of sugared almonds and bedtime stories.

“Day and night, that’s the way it was – one and then the other.” Granny picked crumbs off her plate. “These ten years of day we’ve had – it gets into your bones, makes you sore. Now don’t look at me like that, Derrie, it’s not my age, ask anyone. Start with those poor souls who sweep the dead birds off the streets. There’s folk out there dying for a bit of night.”

“Then why don’t they go to Venice like Ma did?”

“Your Ma was always running after danger like it was the ice cream truck. I warned her. I begged her to stay put. But she thought she could chase those Ghasts back into the sky. Knowing her, she tried to shoo them with an umbrella. I’ll have a few words with her when I get her.” She took my plate, filled the sink with sudsy water, and snapped on her rubber gloves.

“What if she’s…”

“None of that, you hear me.” She scrubbed the dishes. “I’m not going to sugar coat it – your Ma will be fragile. Ten years in Venice. Ten years with those Ghasts. She’ll need a lot of TLC, and that’s where you come in. If I don’t make it out, you’ve got to take care of her.”

“But you said the lamp would protect you.” I took a cloth and began drying. We’d been everywhere and then some looking for a way to get Ma home, to send those Ghasts back to the sky. We’d crammed down passageways so dark, I thought the night had come back. We’d turned all the pages of all the books we could lay our hands on. And now we had a lamp I couldn’t polish the grime off, a candle that smelled of antique sausages, and a bundle of words like a nursery rhyme.

“It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t prepare you.”

“Prepare me to be on my own?” But she just pulled the plug out and traipsed upstairs to bed. Granny always kept Proper Time and soon she was snoring. I didn’t want to be left alone. So, I took the lamp, and I took the candle, and I took the bus to Venice.

The bus smelled of cheese sandwiches and sleep. Sun slapped through the windows. The road curved and jolted me awake. The lamp was on the floor between my feet and the candle was in my jacket pocket and I said the words over and over. I was still saying them when the bus driver shooed me out, out on the edge of Venice. Venice is all water and beauty, beauty so huge you’d need bigger eyes to gulp it in, Granny had told me. But I only saw dark. Dark that moved thick and crackly. I lit the lamp with a match. I took three breaths down to my toes. Then I stepped forward.

The dark was all over me, brushing me, tickling me. There were faces in it. Twisted faces. Faces with too many teeth. And they gibbered at me. Their eyes were all bite. I clutched the lamp tighter. Wings beat hot winds on me. My heart was all through me. I was shuddering. I gasped their breath, and it stung my throat. I saw shining points Ma called stars, but I knew they were just wounds on their wings. Black feathers brushed me. Talon fingers reached at me. I knelt and lit the candle from the lamp. My teeth chattered. I was all shake.

“To the sky, take flight, be back as the night,” I said. A face was close to mine. It hissed. I called for my Ma. I shouted loud as they gibbered. There was a sound like laughter through a beak. “To the sky, take flight, be back as the night,” I said again and again. The Ghasts parted. And I saw her. Ma. She was by a canal. Her eyes shone at me. Her dark hair curled all beautiful. She didn’t look older. But she had too many teeth. And she had black wings. “To the sky, take flight, be back as the night,” I said. The Ghasts were flapping their wings. My candle nearly blew out. Ma opened her arms. And I went to her. I left the lamp. “To the sky, take flight, be back as the night.” She ran her talon fingers down my cheek, down my throat, down to my shoulders. A pain burst in me. The Ghasts were flying all over. There were gaps in the dark. Dabs of sun. ‘“To the sky, take flight, be back as the night.” They were leaving. They were leaving. Ma smiled with her too many teeth. Her talon fingers tugged at my shoulders, tugged something out of my shoulders, pulled and pulled and pulled. I opened my black wings. I beat them. And I smiled with my too many teeth. Then were we flying. Ma and me. Up to the sky. Our flock flew and flew. And we gibbered. We were the night.


Rebecca Harrison sneezes like Donald Duck and her best friend is a dog who can count.

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