Wings of Sorrow

By: Iain Rob Wright

 (A horror fantasy novel)

~ Chapter One ~

Shards of broken glass glinted in the mud as moonlight cast its silvery web across the lake. The smashed beer bottle was just another of mankind’s dirty footprints trodden carelessly into nature’s delicate face. How could a person spoil such beautiful scenery so brazenly? It raised many philosophical questions—like, why did people not understand that their homes didn’t end at their doorsteps? The entire world was their home, to share and respect, but they were wrecking it one broken beer bottle at a time.

In his 100% white cotton shirt with nylon buttons, Ainsley was as much to blame as anyone for leeching the earth, but at least he tried to be mindful of the environment. His litter only went in a bin, he recycled enthusiastically, and he never killed a spider if he could help it. His latest car was a hybrid, for Heaven’s sake. While he might not be perfect, at least he was doing something.

Ainsley considered picking up the jagged beer bottle and disposing of the shards before they sliced open a child, or some magpie attracted by the glinting light, but he decided the risk of cutting himself was too high. It was the middle of the night, and the lake was almost pitch-black. The last thing he needed was an infection from a grubby piece of glass after just receiving the all clear from the hospital.

At just forty nine years of age, Stage 2 pancreatic cancer had come as a shock—a meteor of dread out of nowhere. He’d always been so healthy and spry—barely even a cold in as long as he could remember—so The Big C had been the last thing he expected. What on earth had he done to cause it? As a trained chef, hygiene had always been a priority to Ainsley. A non-smoker, and a rare drinker, he was just one of the unlucky. He had done nothing to earn his death, but the cancer didn’t care. The terminal-disease-winning lottery ticket had his name on it.

At first he had assumed he was a goner, and the look on his GP’s face had reinforced that gut feeling. Cancer was the end, he thought. A free pass straight to Heaven—or wherever else a person was destined to go. His life had ceased being numbered in years, and was now ticking down in days—perhaps in hours. The doctors had told him to put his affairs in order—just in case. Yeah, whatever, just in case. ‘Get your will sorted,’ was what they really meant. Time to choose the casket you want to spend eternity in. The more you do now, the less your ex-wife and daughter will have to be bothered with. The thought of leaving his teenage monster, Claire, had been the thing to finally break him. They might barely speak at the moment, but he loved her. For the first ten years, he and her cantankerous mother had raised their daughter together. It had been nice, and his little girl had been sweet. Perhaps she would be again, once the teenage hormones wore off, but he wouldn’t be around to see it. He would be rotting in a deep hole.

But his diagnoses hadn’t turned out to be a death sentence after all. For Ainsley, cancer had been six months of demoralising chemotherapy, followed by keyhole surgery that he was able to walk off in a day. In hindsight, he realised that the oncologists and surgeons had never moved beyond mild concern. For them it had all been entirely routine.

He was recuperating already, and could feel his body regaining strength every day. His biggest problem was insomnia—which was why he was wandering around the town’s lake at two in the morning—a lonely summer night with nothing but nature to comfort him. It wasn’t half bad. The solitude of deep night mixed with the gentle swaying of the trees around the water’s edge was about as serene as life could get. It was easier to appreciate such simple things now that he had escaped the slithery clutches of death, but it had also become much harder to tolerate people ruining it—like when they left behind broken beer bottles.

The bottle continued to offend him enough that he was forced to hurry along the path. The grassy embankment along the water’s edge was peppered with lumpy shadows—geese and ducks sleeping with their pointed heads tucked beneath their wings. Not wanting to disturb their feathery slumber, Ainsley gave them a wide berth.

On the lake, he saw the ghostly visages of a pair of swans. They seemed to be patrolling the waters, like sentries on a battlefield. There was also other movement. The water seemed to be bubbling. Boiling.

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