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Death by Barn Owl

by Clare Blanchard 4 months ago in children

The Back Door

Death by Barn Owl
Photo by Agto Nugroho on Unsplash

Strange, the fierce and wonderful things that can come out of ruins. Or even out of suburbia.

Ours was a quiet neighbourhood. We had no knife crime, no guns, no gangs. The most exciting thing that ever happened to us was when the Onion Man came round on his bike. The Onion Man, you may ask? He was from the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands, looked as if he might be in his seventies, wore a black beret and had strings of onions draped over the handle bars of his bike, selling them door to door.

Back in the day, a lot more people sold that way. We had a milkman, and there were Romanies selling wooden laundry pegs, and the Onion Man. I remember my Dad having a chat with him once in basic French.

So not much excitement in our neighbourhood. At least not on the surface. To the naked eye, we were all super respectable. Clean, tidy people with mown lawns, trimmed hedges and weeded borders punctuated with rose bushes. Our next door neighbour used to do his gardening in a shirt and tie, for heavens' sake. And painting by numbers.

But appearances can be deceptive. I grew up in a household filled with screaming abuse. One of our neighbours must have heard something, because one day, someone from child protection turned up on our doorstep to investigate the concerns. He was kept on the doorstep, with the front door only opened just wide enough to talk through, and then charmed away with an Oscar-winning bombardment of smiles and warm tones.

Right behind our manicured back yard was an impressive pile of rubble on a derelict site, once a girls' boarding school that had been bombed out during World War II. It's all been cleared now for a new housing estate, but in those days, for two small kids, it was an adventure playground, if a rather risky one.

I can still remember picking my way carefully over steep, haphazard piles of bricks, with rusting iron protruding out that had once reinforced the walls. Occasionally I would lose my footing and graze my shins or twist my ankle. Here and there, a few corners of the old school walls were still standing, even whole window frames. It was eerie, and exciting, and even to a child a reminder that nothing lasts, even the most solid of things.

My sister and I used to play there for hours. Our houses had only been standing for a few years back then, so the whole area behind us was uninhabited.

Except, as it turned out, for the barn owls.

Barn owls, one of the most prevalent bird species in the UK, are fond of building their nests in ruins and derelict buildings. So, not surprisingly, there were a fair few of them nesting behind our house. And because there was a large expanse of derelict land around the rubble, they had plenty of mice, voles and other prey to feed on.

Nobody knows how or why it happened, but one evening after dark, one of the owl nests was displaced from its usual location. Somehow, (perhaps the mother dropped it?) it ended up on the back doorstep of a neighbour. So when he stepped outside to get some air, unbeknown to him he was about to step on to a nest full of baby barn owls just outside his door.

Instantly, the mother owl swooped down out of the night to protect her young. Her attack was so vicious that our neighbour died on the spot, killed by a mother protecting her young from a perceived predator.

Love has many faces, and some of them are truly terrifying. I remember our family lawyer once telling my mother that there was nothing quite so ferocious as a mother fighting for her children. I could have added that there is nothing quite so ferocious as a mother fighting against her children.

It makes me wonder where we get the idea from that we are somehow outside nature. If we are not in nature, then where are we? In the rubble, perhaps? Or in the vulnerable nest outside the back door?


About the author

Clare Blanchard

Born in Yorkshire in England, my permanent home is now in the Czech Republic, where my crime and urban fantasy novels are mainly set.

When not writing I work as a pastoral carer, coach and tutor. I love quirky noir and hand made things.

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