At the edge of the village, some distance apart from the houses and stores, is an old swing. A girl sits upon it, rocking gently back and forth, ankles intertwined, the wind whispering through her chestnut hair as she stares into nowhere. People in the village call her Polly, because they have to call her something and Polly is as good a name as any. Polly appears to be about nineteen years old, but then she always has. The villagers do not remember a time when she wasn’t there. No harm has ever befallen their homes, families and businesses, not fire, not plague, not famine, not drought, and they believe she protects them in some way. Birds watch from nearby trees as the man approaches her, bouquet in hand.
‘Hello,’ he says, but she pays him no mind. He is not put off by this. He has heard about the beautiful young woman on the swing who never talks, never ages and whose gaze seems to look into some faraway place that others cannot see. Witch, the villagers told him, but he does not care for the simple superstitions of country folk.
‘I brought you these,’ he tells her, gesturing to his lilies, but her stare does not shift.
‘I hope you like them.’
Still no response.
My name is Thomas,’ he says.
‘How are you?’ he says.
‘I am a sailor by trade. I’ve travelled a long way to meet you,’ he says.
She does not answer and, eventually, he is forced to admit defeat. He places his flowers on the ground before her and departs. He stops and tells her: ‘I will return from my next voyage in one year. I will bring you a wondrous gift from foreign lands, and I hope that will compel you to speak with me.’
The birds cackle, as if in laughter.
A year to the day later, Thomas returns. Polly is still on the swing, rocking gently back and forth as she always does. The birds chatter to themselves.
‘Hello,’ he says. ‘Remember me?’
She does not respond.
He glances at the ground, but the wind took the lilies a long time ago.
‘I brought you this.’ He produces a small, delicate bottle from his pocket. ‘This is the most expensive perfume in all of France.’ He waves it in front of her face, to no reaction. He hesitates, then takes her wrist and sprays some scent upon it. An angry noise comes from the trees, but Polly, again, says and does nothing.
‘It’s made with jasmine and peach blossom.’ He asks what she thinks, but she does not offer an opinion so he attempts other avenues of conversation.
‘Why do you always sit on that swing?’
‘Why do you never talk?’
‘Would you like to take a stroll with me?’
Nothing. He leaves, defeated once more. ‘I will try again one year hence,’ he says. The birds let out their familiar cackle. The smell of perfume is scattered on the breeze.
Another year later, and he is back. The birds cease their conversation as he approaches.
‘Hello again,’ he says. ‘It’s me, Thomas.’
He looks at Polly and wonders how she never ages and how she can survive without any apparent sustenance. The word witchcraft enters his mind unbidden, but he shakes his head to cast it away. He has spent too much time listening to idiotic rumour. Despite the evidence in front of him, he refuses to countenance such a notion.
‘I brought you this necklace. The greatest jeweller in Persia made it for me.’
The gemstones sparkles in the spring sunshine.
‘May I put it on you?’
No answer. He places the necklace carefully over Polly’s head, then moves behind her to fasten the clasp. Thomas does not notice the birds beginning to squawk. He steps back in front of her again.
‘Do you like it?’
She says nothing. Thomas frowns.
‘I think that you are very ungrateful. I bring you all these fineries and you cannot even give me a smile.’
Her stare begins to annoy him.
‘You should say thank you,’ he states, becoming louder, ‘and a kiss on the cheek would be polite.’
Her expression does not change and, in anger, he grabs her hand and squeezes hard, feeling bones crack beneath his grip. Even this does not bring a reaction, but the birds scream and this time he notices and is unnerved. He leaves, face wrought with fury. ‘Next year!’ he snaps. Polly’s hand has become swollen and red.
After twelve months Thomas returns, but this time under cover of darkness. Polly is still there, swinging almost imperceptibly, a slash of moonlight across her face. He approaches her from the shadows. He reaches for her hand and is unsure what to think when he notices it appears to be fully healed.
‘Hello, my beauty.’
The birds awaken from their slumber and start to shout, but this time Thomas does not care.
‘Still wearing my necklace, I see.’
He studies her face.
‘I didn’t bring you any gifts. This time, I will take what I am owed.’
He slips his hands beneath her arms to haul her from the swing and onto the ground. The birds go deathly silent for a moment and then there is an explosion from above and they swoop down upon him in their dozens, screeching, hollering, biting, clawing, pecking, jabbing, and though he tries to run there are too many and he is forced to the ground under the ferocity of their attack.
Soon it is over and the birds fall silent and return to the trees. In the morning, the villagers will find the torn, bloodied corpse of Thomas, take it away and bury it with the bodies of the other men who have tried to force themselves on Polly.
And Polly will continue to sit on the swing, rocking gently back and forth.
David Cook’s stories have been published online and in print in a number of places, including the National Flash Fiction Anthology, Cabinet of Heed and Spelk. You can find more of his work at www.davewritesfiction.wordpress.com and say hello on Twitter @davidcook100. He lives in Bridgend, Wales, with his wife and daughter.