One for Sorrow

27th September 2019 — 9



One for Sorrow

27th September 2019 — 9

This week’s photo writing prompt courtesy of Sue Vincent’s fun #writephoto challenge is entitled “harbinger”.

Well, I now know a lot more about magpies and its seem their reputation is well deserved. They are one of only a handful of animals (including humans) that can recognise themselves in a mirror. Anyway, it’s a given it’s going to be difficult to write anything about a magpie without a hint of Poe, so this short story is a little on the dark side, you have been warned (~710 words).

Angrily, he kicked his way through the autumnal wood. He’d slipped away whilst no one was looking.

How could she! It was meant to be just the two of them, he was her world, she’d said it, every day. Through tearing eyes, he took his anger out on a large oak tree, fists landed bluntly against its trunk. The pain only made him madder and he tugged at the low hanging branches until one finally snapped. It caught him off balance and he stumbled, sobbing, into a pile of leaves.

“Liar!” he yelled, at the memory of her soft kiss on his forehead. He smashed the splintered branch against the ground.

“How dare she!” he hissed, panting he stared down at bloody knuckles. She would not soothe these cuts, he would not let her.


He jerked his head up and met the gaze of a large magpie sitting on the broken tree limb.

“Squark!” it repeated, gliding down into the clearing, landing only a few yards in front of him. It pecked at the leaves, throwing them into the air. Its head twitching as it glared at him with one dark beady eye.

“Stupid bird,” he spat.

“Squark!” It replied, defiant.

His hand curled tight around the branch and in a fit of temper, he launched it at the cocky magpie.

“Squa!”. The branch hit the bird with devastating force, sending it sprawling, feathers flying across the forest floor.

Surprised, he ran to where the magpie was trying, shakily, to stand. One wing was clearly broken and the once glinting eye was now cloudy. A drop of dark blood dripped from its beak.

“Squark!” It croaked, still defiant. Still mocking!

“Stop it!” He threatened, picking up the branch, it was slick in his hand.

“Squark!” Was the magpie’s last word. He brought the branch down on its head, again and again, rage pouring out of him. When finally he came back to his senses, he drove the branch deep into the mud and stood there shaking, staring down at the black and red stain. Guiltily, he kicked leaves over the bloody carcass until the broken body was hidden.


The noise terrified him, instinctively he scrabbled from where he’d buried the fallen magpie. How! He’d killed it, his mind was racing. He thought he saw it moving.


This time he heard it clearly and he looked back up at the tree. Sitting on the broken limb sat two magpies staring down at him with two black accusing eyes. He laughed.

“Stupid birds! Did I kill your friend?” he mocked, secretly relieved. Smiling he shook his head, they’d got him good.

“Squark! Squark!”

He raised a fist at the birds. “Do you want some as well!”

“Isaac!” the voice echoed around the clearing. “Isaac!”

She burst into the clearing, “Isaac there you are, what are you doing?”

She rushed over to him, her white dress trailing through the leaves. “You know how important today is to me, to us?”

“Sorry mother,” he said, hiding his hands behind his back.

“What is it?” she said, her voice softened. She straightened his hair and wiped the dirt from his cheek. Caressing his chin, she gently raised his head until she had his gaze. “You know, you’re my world.”

He could feel her love, see it in her vibrant blue eyes. How could he ever have doubted her? He was embarrassed. “I know.”

“You okay?” she said, hand on his cheek.

He smiled and nodded.

“Good, the wedding is about to start, come on,” she said grabbing his bloody hand.

“Squark! Squark! Squark!”

His head shot up. Three magpies, three beady eyes stared back at him. He hesitated for a moment. His mother’s hand slipped from his, as she slipped on something wet underfoot. Her arms flailing, he watched in slow motion as she fell backwards onto the splintered branch. It pierced through her chest, through her heart. He tried to stop the blood that soaked her beautiful white dress, tried desperately to hear her last gurgling words, held her head and watched as her eyes went dull.

“Mother!” he cried.

“Squark! Squark! Squark! Squark!” was the only answer from the four magpies that now sat in judgment on the broken tree limb.

One for sorrow,
Two for mirth,
Three for a wedding,
And four for death

It seems there are many variants of this children’s counting rhyme and like most nursery rhymes, it can trace its roots back to antiquity. I came across this variant here and thought it offered an interesting prompt for this macabre short story. The moral of this story, don’t mess with the magpies!


  • Iain Kelly

    27th September 2019 at 9:59 pm

    Dark indeed Chris, expertly written.


  • Sue Vincent

    27th September 2019 at 10:06 pm

    ‘A little on the dark side’? Masterly understatement, Chris 😉


    • Chris

      27th September 2019 at 10:14 pm

      Lol, I was writing another short story for a horror anthology. There might have been a tinsy-bit of bleed over 😉


  • Sadje

    28th September 2019 at 5:41 am

    This is a very well written story.


  • Nat

    29th September 2019 at 12:29 am

    This is so good! Dark, but great! There are several more versions of the rhyme. The oldest known is

    ‘One for Sorrow
    Two for Mirth
    Three for Funeral
    Four for a Birth
    Five for heaven
    Six for hell
    Seven for the devil, his own self’

    Definitely don’t mess with the Magpies. We salute if we see them while driving as they’re supposed to bring bad luck if you don’t salute. Another Old Wives Tale leading to Superstitions, or some truth there? 🙂


    • Chris

      29th September 2019 at 8:07 am

      I really was surprised how many versions of this there are, all darker than the more popular modern kids version. I did see a similar custom about having to ask after the Magpie’s family. Other interesting superstitions – they were the only bird not to sing at christ’s crucifixion and they carry a drop of the devil’s blood on their tongue. I think there’s a whole horror anthology off the black & white back of Magpie’s 😉


  • joylennick

    1st October 2019 at 6:01 pm

    Expertly handled, but so dark…Yep, there’s something about magpies.


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