Short Story: A Flash Of Green

Tap, tap, tap. It was such a subtle sound it was almost lost in the general background noise. Traffic from the nearby motorway provided a river-like wash of white noise, especially since it had not long ago finished raining. Neil would probably have ignored it, just like the other faint tapping noises he’d been hearing all day if he hadn’t seen the large green bird sweeping down towards one of the nearby trees.

For a brief moment he’d wondered how one of the infamous West London parakeets had got so big and so far from its normal haunts, but then he’d seen it in profile and admired its strong straight beak. It really was a woodpecker! He thought.

By pure chance the bird struck at the tree again as he was watching. The tap, tap, tap was softer than he would have thought, but then he realised that the tree was solid and healthy, so the tapping wouldn’t be echoing as much. He smiled, snapped a picture on his phone, and carried on his way.

Behind him he could hear another repetition of the tap, tap, tap fading into the background wash of traffic noise. He focused on carrying his shopping back up to the flat.

It was only when he was unpacking everything in the warmth of his kitchenette that he realised he could still hear the tap, tap, tap sound. His curiosity caught, he wandered through the lounge eating an energy bar, half-expecting to see the woodpecker on his windowsill.

There was no sign of the green-plumaged bird out there, or on the narrow balcony either. He finished his energy bar, frowned at nothing in particular and went back to his groceries.

He’d barely finished when he heard the tapping again. Just those three short taps, but loud and strong and somewhere that sounded like it was in the flat. With more of a frown than ever, he began to search the place, lured from room to room by the elusive noise.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

He briefly considered if it was the flats above or below him doing some DIY, but it didn’t sound like the deep pounding or drilling that had echoed loudly the last time they’d put up shelves or whatever it was they’d been up to.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

He thought he saw a flicker of motion on the balcony and charged over to look. By now an unreasoning dear was rising. Phantom noises were never a good sign, he knew that. Everyone knew that. Why that incessant noise?

Tap. Tap. Tap.

That was always the sound associated with ghosts, wasn’t it? The tapping on tables in the dark, once for no, twice for yes – or was it the other way round? What did three mean?

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Was the bird an omen? Some psychopomp drawing out the dead? Neil was aware at some level that this was ridiculous, but he was still stumbling from room to room. His world and goals had shrunk now to finding the source of the noises.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

He burst back out onto the balcony and saw it, a flash of green in reflection, fast and sweeping. He turned, flailing, and fell against the balcony railing, which gave way beneath him. Neil fell. He landed heavily. As he began to fade, his sight filled with motion, people overlapping and pale, and a woodpecker just next to him with deep and reflective eyes. It leaned forward to investigate him.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

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