The Reluctant Eagle – a taster
This story won The Independent Story of the Year competition many years ago, but it’s now very hard to find, so I’m delighted that Alfie Dog Fiction has published it on their website. The novelist Angela Lambert, one of the competition judges, was kind enough to compare it to Kipling – high praise indeed.
Here’s the start of the story:
One day the Reluctant Eagle decided he would like to see outside the nest. He knew his feathers were not quite ready for flying but he thought that it would be alright just to look.
Foot by foot he struggled up the eyrie. By the time he got to the top his legs were aching.
Then he had his first look Out There.
It was just as well the eyrie was old and well built. It could take the impact of a nearly full grown eagle falling into it flat on his back.
The sky and cliff had still not stopped spinning when Mrs Eagle returned to the nest.
“Are you alright, dear?”
The Reluctant Eagle struggled upright and tried to bury himself under his mother. But really he was far too big for that anymore and all he succeeded in doing was nearly pushing her out of the nest.
“Calm down, dear. Now, what’s the matter?”
“I… I looked Out There,” the Reluctant Eagle said. “I’m really sorry, I know I promised to be good, but I just wanted to look.”
“At least you didn’t try to fly before you’re ready.”
“It’s so far down,” he said.
“What’s so far down?” Mrs Eagle was beginning to realise what her son was talking about.
“Everything. Out There.”
“But you will be able to fly, dear. Up, down, and round and round.”
The round and round was a mistake. The Reluctant Eagle groaned and hid his head beneath his wing.
Mrs Eagle’s suspicions were confirmed. Her son was scared of heights. She was flummoxed.
Mr Eagle arrived at that moment. When Mrs Eagle had explained what was wrong he prodded his son with his beak. “Pull yourself together, boy. This is no way for an eagle to act.”
“I wish I’d never hatched.” The voice was still muffled as the Reluctant Eagle had discovered that if he kept his head under his wing and his eyes tight shut then everything stopped spinning. “I liked the egg. I never asked to be an eagle. Why couldn’t I have been a… a rabbit or a deer or something?”
Mr Eagle was too shocked to answer. How could an eagle want to be a rabbit?
Mrs Eagle spread her wings, indicating for her husband to follow.
“We’ll be back soon, dear,” she said. “Don’t forget to eat your dinner.”
The wind caught her wings and in one soaring swooping arc she was carried off until she landed on a nearby crag. Mr Eagle followed.
“How are we going to teach our son to fly if he’s afraid of heights?” asked Mrs Eagle.
Mr Eagle was taken by surprise at this request to start thinking so soon after landing. “Er, I think we have to do something,” he said.
“So do I,” said Mrs Eagle.
“You do? Oh, of course you do. Yes, we have to do something.”
“Quite,” said Mrs Eagle.
“Right. I know, I’ll tell him to start acting like a proper eagle.”
“You already have,” Mrs Eagle pointed out.
“Who do we know who’s afraid of heights?”
“No one on my side of the family,” said Mr Eagle.
“I didn’t mean eagles.”
“Who else is there?”
“Well, you know.”
“I do? Oh, yes, of course I do.” Mr Eagle stared off into the distance, hoping for inspiration. He noticed a pair of ears twitching against the skyline.
“Rabbits?” he said.
“Well, not just rabbits,” said Mrs Eagle. “Any of the four feet. They can’t fly so I suppose they must be scared of heights.”
“Right. Quite. Scared of heights. Hmph.”
“So we could ask them.”
“Yes.” The word was out of his beak before he could stop it. “Ask the four feet?”
“Who else would know?”
“Er, yes.” Mr Eagle was trying to work out how he had agreed to this.
“So.” Mrs Eagle turned to look at him. “What are you waiting for? A watched egg never hatches, you know.” As she spoke her wings opened to their full span and before Mr Eagle could say anything she was airborne. He watched her disappear over the edge of the cliff.
“Ah well,” said Mr Eagle and went off in search of four feet.
The rest of the story is available to download from Alfie Dog for the princely sum of 39p (of which I receive half), in files suitable for Kindle, other e-readers or as a pdf to be printed out.