Marching (second prize)

by Oliver Barton

I heard the noise as I rose on the escalator. Outside the entrance the street was full, heaving with a tide of humanity. If I’d known there was a march on, I’d have gone to work a different way. I would be late. Again. Bloody protestors.

As I grumbled, the mass engulfed me. Maybe someone grabbed my arm and pulled me in, but there I was, marching with the Gaderene swine, heading for oblivion.

‘Where are we going?’ I yelled at a young man in a suit who wasn’t actually screaming unintelligible slogans.

‘Hyde Park,’ he bellowed. So? Most demos end up there or the Houses of Parliament.

‘Why are we marching?’ I said, but he’d been swirled away. Another voice shouted in my ear, ‘It is time!’

I turned to see a pink hoodie drift off in another eddy. Then people started blowing whistles, and I was deafened for the next half-hour. By then we were storming past Buckingham Palace and heading down Constitution Hill, Hyde Park straight ahead. Beside me a tiny nun was almost. The whistles had subsided, so I tried her. ‘What’s it all for, sister?’ She smiled up at me, a pearl of sunlight in that seething mass, but said nothing.

A strange humming began. It took a while to take form as singing, low and quiet. Gradually, the voices focussed in on one key and speed, and the song grew. I didn’t recognise the tune, but obviously everyone else knew it. I caught something about birds and cages and liberty. Good stuff for a protest song, but what did I know?

As the song grew in volume, so did the marchers begin to step in time with it. As we neared the end of Constitution Hill, there was a mounting excitement. People seemed to grow taller, to glow. The pace imperceptibly picked up, so that we crossed Hyde Park Corner almost at a gallop.

Then the impossible happened. Through the gates of the park, people radiated outwards from the line of march, jogging, then running, then galloping frantically, like geese trying to take off from a lake. And to my astonishment, each was unfurling great wings, beating them up and down as they ran. And they flew. As they rose, the clumsy beating became smooth elegant strokes, and they spiralled up, up and off to the north, a flock of great white wings blotting out the sun.

I stood there, earthbound. There was an old chap a few yards from me, gawping upwards, mouth open. He saw me. ‘It gets to you, doesn’t it,’ he said. ‘Wonderful sight. I saw it last time, in 1948. Not many see it twice.’

‘What are you talking about?’ I said.

‘It’s the angels. The guardian angels. They change shift every 63 years.’ He turned and looked to the south. I could see a tiny dark cloud in the distance. ‘Look,’ he said. ‘Here’s the new lot coming.’

[eds – We enjoyed this as the most original interpretation of the prompt, and skillfully written to boot. Thanks Oliver!]

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  1. #1 by jennifer walmsley on April 4, 2011 - 8:41 am

    Wonderful. Loved every word that built up to a crescendo. What an image at the end!

  2. #2 by Sandra Davies on April 4, 2011 - 11:03 am

    A lovely setting up of one set of preconceptions only to have them completely – and believably – blown away at the end. Original indeed!

  3. #3 by John Ritchie on April 4, 2011 - 11:06 am

    I very much enjoyed this. Resonated strongly. Well done.

    John

  4. #4 by fiona campbell on April 4, 2011 - 12:14 pm

    wow, gave me prickles across the back of my head at the end, fantastic idea and stunning imagination, well done!

  5. #5 by S de Assaf on April 4, 2011 - 12:15 pm

    Fantastic, I was swept along like the protagonist thinking it was a description of yet another protest march. Incredible and a beautiful image that will long stay with me.

  6. #6 by Philip Dodd on April 4, 2011 - 5:09 pm

    nicely done. i like that idea a lot, having been an angel myself.

  7. #7 by Judy Adamson on April 12, 2011 - 11:04 pm

    What a wonderful, whimsical (?) idea!

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