The Write Stuff: The Child Garden, by Catriona McPherson

Welcome to our regular feature showcasing the talents of the nation's best writers

Catriona McPherson at her home near New Galloway, Dumfriesshire.   Pic Ian Rutherford
Catriona McPherson at her home near New Galloway, Dumfriesshire. Pic Ian Rutherford

It was far from silent in the dark wood. There were mice, rats too maybe, scuffling in the undergrowth, and the heavier tread of a hedgehog as it moved along the line of trees and later made its way back again. An owl’s wings beat softly, rustling the leaves in the canopy, and just once a fox barked, setting all the nesting birds peeping their alarm.

Underneath these living sounds, the river glugged and churned, sucking at stuck logs and nudging at pebbles. Further downstream the waterfall fizzed over the rocks at the edge of the drop and crashed into the pool below.

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So it can’t have been quiet enough to hear all those sounds when the end came. It was imagination filling them in, nothing more. No one could have picked out a soft creak, a sigh, the sound of cloth rubbing on cloth as his arms and legs clutched at nothing while he pinwheeled down. Even the splash as he entered the water was a quiet one. It could have been a rock dislodged or a piece of the bank collapsing.

Afterwards, the noises of the wood at night must have carried on — nothing to frighten the birds, nothing to stop the rats in their endless scurrying. Now it was only fear making the silence grow until it boomed. Now it was the very act of listening that blotted away all the sound. Now the clamourous thoughts themselves hushed every other thing besides them.

Those same thoughts were still racing around chasing their tails when the car engine started, roaring like a fairy tale monster, bringing real life and all the trouble in the world back into focus with a snap!

Time to think fast and get it right. Time to make sure only one life ended here tonight. He was gone — no getting him back again, no point going with him. ■

About the author

Formerly an English lecturer at Leeds University, Catriona McPherson divides her time between southern Scotland and northern California, where she teaches for the Open University and writes. The Child Garden is published by Little, Brown, £8.99