Indigo Joy was a hummingbird. A proper little flutter-flurry. All day long she danced in hazy wing beats; an almost invisible shimmer captured in the glisten of lazy sunrays.
The other birds in the garden loved Indigo Joy. They laughed as she flit this way and that and cheered whenever she paused midflight, hovering just in front of a flower and extending her long slender bill to suckle nectar from deep within its petals.
The younger birds especially liked to see her fly backwards as this was something none of them could do. Indigo Joy loved to show off just for them, suddenly darting sideways behind a bush, only to appear moments later from behind a flower somewhere else in the garden.
‘Do it again Indigo!’ they would shout, and before they could even finish the sentence she was gone, emerging from behind a different flower to rapturous applause.
At the bottom of the garden, next to a shed where an old man spent most of his days writing, was a large tree. Some of the older birds would huddle in its upper branches, chatter-chirping amongst themselves, shaking their heads disapprovingly as the younger birds played excitedly with Indigo Joy.
Midnight, the old crow, was the worst.
‘Quiet!’ he would squawk whenever the young birds became too excited. ‘Do you want that awful cat to know you are down there? One pounce and you’ll be nothing but a feather. Where will that leave you?’
‘Sorry Midnight,’ they would reply as he hobbled back to his nest at the top of the tree. Indigo Joy would just silently flit around a flower as soon as his back was turned whilst the other birds giggled quietly.
Every evening, as the sun began to set, Indigo Joy gathered the other birds together at the bottom of the garden and told them stories. In tiny little bursts and flurries, she told them of her adventures beyond the garden. She told them of the time she flew to the moon and met a man who crafted new craters. Every night he would select the best ones, dust them with silver and tack them to the moon’s surface. She spoke of a secret forest that she had discovered where the trees would sing to each other and the flowers were made of edible light. Their favourite story was about a ship that sailed across a giant eye, carefully avoiding the iris lest it was pulled into the dream realm from which there was no escape.
Listening from the shadows, Midnight silently watched Indigo Joy in disgust, before skulking back to his nest harbouring a beak full of scornful mutters.
As time passed, Midnight grew ever more resentful of Indigo Joy. He longed for the old days when the birds he knew ate worms and berries, and dwelt in the safety of the trees. The days before the fanciful tales and dreams beyond the garden had ever entered anyone’s head. A bird is a bird is a bird, he would mutter.
One evening, in the failing light of the setting sun, Indigo Joy was tweeting a tale about the time she had to save a woman who’d accidentally drank a whole bottle of pure starlight. She shone so brightly that she had to sit in the centre of a darkened room for days, watching her own furniture slowly orbit her. Her husband was in the other room, eyes aglow like twin moons. He’d overdosed on a bottle of pure darkness; his entire body consuming every ounce of light Indigo Joy could illuminate him with.
Suddenly, in a flurry of dark wing beat, Midnight leapt into the midst of the attentive crowd.
‘Enough!’ he cried.
The other birds recoiled in fear as Midnight spat malice at Indigo Joy.
‘What do you think you are doing?’ he continued. ‘Filling the heads of young, impressionable birds with lies and gobbledegook.’
‘They’re just stories, Midnight,’ said Indigo Joy in a frightened little voice.
‘Exactly. That’s all they are. You’ve never done any of it. Why, you’ve never even left the garden!’
‘I just like to make the other birds happy,’ said Indigo.
‘Happy? Do you really think telling lie upon lie is going to make them happy? You make them believe there’s something beyond the garden. Well let me tell you all now that there isn’t anything but danger out there! Just who do you think you are?’
‘I’m just a bird, Midnight.’
‘Bird? What kind of bird flies backwards? What kind of bird needs to eat its own body weight every day just to survive? What kind of bird makes up lies about the moon? No. A real bird eats berries and worms and dwells in trees and nests. All you do is spread poison and there will be no more of it!’
And with that Midnight stormed off, flapping his wings wildly as he went.
‘Don’t worry about Midnight,’ said a young bird, but Indigo Joy just flew away and hid behind a flower.
The garden became very quiet after that. The birds largely kept to themselves for fear of Midnight. Occasionally a young bird would sneak over to Indigo Joy and ask for a story, but she would only ever refuse and look sad. They would watch from the trees as Indigo Joy fluttered amongst the flowers feeding, but she never attempted any acrobatics. Midnight’s malicious gaze was forever upon her.
As the summer days lengthened the birds in the garden longed to have fun. They missed Indigo Joy’s tales. They would wait until Midnight took his afternoon nap and then huddle together dreaming about adventures beyond the garden. It was never the same though. Without Indigo Joy, their stories always seemed to end in fears of what lay beyond the garden.
One beautiful morning, Indigo Joy awoke to the sounds of excited chatters. They seemed to be coming from somewhere near the pond. Up and down the cries went, followed suddenly by an eruption of cheers and laughter.
Indigo Joy cautiously peered from behind a bush. There, in the centre of a group of young birds, was another hummingbird. She could just make out a tiny voice, it seemed to be telling them a story. Without a second thought Indigo Joy dashed towards the pond.
‘Of course, I used to be a clockwork hummingbird,’ the little voice was explaining.
‘And I used to have to wind him up!’ cried Indigo Joy.
‘Look, it’s Indigo!’
The birds cheered as these two little hummingbirds proceeded to dance in midair, taking it in turns to tell the rest of the story.
Suddenly, a mass of black feathers landed in the circle and began to squawk wildly. The other birds screeched in fear. In the excitement they’d forgotten all about Midnight.
‘What have I told you about all this nonsense?’ he screamed. It was then that he noticed the other hummingbird. ‘Who are you?’ he asked, viciously stabbing a wing in the hummingbird’s direction.
‘Why, I’m Shay,’ was the reply. ‘And I’ve just returned from the edge of time.’
‘You’ve come from no such place,’ said Midnight. ‘We have enough of your kind around here. Be gone!’
The other birds, including Indigo Joy, held their breaths, but Shay just hovered delicately in front of Midnight.
‘Who’s going to make me, old crow? You? I think not. Why, you can’t even fly backwards.’
And with that, Shay zipped to and fro, fluttering in circles around Midnight’s head. The old crow squawked loudly and flapped his wings in the air, but it was no use, he couldn’t catch Shay. Exhausted and dizzy, he promptly fell over.
‘Victory is mine!’ announced Shay.
The other birds erupted with laughter as Midnight lay on his back, his legs helplessly kicking in the air.
‘Be gone old crow,’ said Shay, as he elegantly bowed low for the crowd.
Midnight staggered to his feet, taking a shaky flight back to his tree where he could be heard squawking angrily for the rest of the day.
Midnight didn’t bother any of the birds after that. He spent most of his time in his nest, alone.
Once again the garden was full of life. Indigo Joy and shay quickly became inseparable. They would finish each other’s sentences, tell stories together for all the birds, and they would put on the most stunning flight displays; spiralling up and up before plummeting back to earth, only to stop millimetres above the grass, hovering in perfect synchronisation.
Shay was fearless. He wasn’t afraid of Midnight in the slightest. Shay said Midnight was all feathers and flaps. With Shay around Indigo Joy’s confidence returned and her stories became more elaborate than ever before. More than anything else, Indigo Joy loved to listen to Shay tell of his own adventures beyond the garden. She was sure he added plenty of embellishments and she certainly didn’t believe that he was once a clockwork hummingbird that suddenly came to life one day, but they made her laugh so much that she would happily sit listening for hours. It was almost as if Shay had been around forever.
One evening, following a lazy summer’s day, Indigo Joy and Shay were engaged in the telling of a particularly animated story for all to hear. It was about a bitter old bird who had built an enormous cage from twigs. Its sole purpose was to enable him to lure young birds into it, where he would keep them locked up and out of any mischief that he didn’t approve of. But in his own stupidity, he had somehow managed to accidentally lock himself inside the cage. Birds would gather round laughing and taunting as the twisted old bird tried in vain to escape the prison of his own making.
Midnight’s presence, hidden in the shadows of a bush, was unknown to the two hummingbirds as they recounted the tale. In an outburst of venom, Midnight sprung forth. Catching Shay unawares, he sent him tumbling across the grass with an angry flap of a wing. Midnight hopped up onto a wall, preaching loudly to the gathered crowd.
‘So you think this drivel is funny do you?’ His eyes moved from bird to bird, but all were silent. ‘All I have ever done is to try and protect you from that cat, and the only thanks I get in return is this thinly veiled poison!’
Midnight was so furious as shuffled to and fro, that he lost his footing and slipped off the edge of the wall, plummeting to the ground.
Moments passed as Midnight lay on the grass. One of his wings was limp and he lay groaning in pain.
‘Midnight has broken a wing!’ said one of the birds. ‘Where’s Indigo Joy? She’ll know what to do.’
They turned to see Indigo Joy a little way off. She was sat on the grass. She seemed totally unaware of what had happened to Midnight. Next to her, Shay lay very still. There was a tiny pool of blood where he had hit his head on a rock as Midnight had sent him tumbling. Indigo Joy didn’t speak.
Noticing the lifeless body of Shay, Midnight let out a shrill cry and ran off to hide beneath a bush.
In the coming days, the garden took on an eerie silence. The birds did everything they could to try to cheer up Indigo Joy, but to no avail. In the quiet, Midnight could often be heard muttering insanely from under his bush. Indigo Joy would often wait until Midnight was asleep before leaving berries out for him to eat. The other birds often asked her why she did it, after all that he had done.
‘He’s just a mad old bird,’ was her only reply.
Indigo Joy never told anymore stories. She said that they all died with Shay. The birds still gathered every night and Indigo Joy would sit with them, quietly listening as they told their own tales, encouraging them to tell more as their confidence grew every day.
One morning, Indigo Joy was leaving berries in front of Midnight’s bush. There was a rustle of leaves from within and an Angry Midnight leapt of waving his one good wing and babbling incoherently.
‘I knew it was you!’ he shouted. ‘You did this to me. I’m now an invalid because of you and you dare to make fun of me by leaving berries. Do you think I can’t fend for myself?’
‘No Midnight, It’s not like that, I was…’
Midnight wasn’t listening. He was too busy flapping his wing and screeching angrily. In the confusion, the other birds had started to gather. It was then that Indigo Joy noticed something moving in a bush just behind Midnight; two eyes peering intently as he marched to and fro.
‘Midnight, Look out! Cat!’ shouted Indigo Joy in sudden realisation.
But it was too late. The cat had already pounced, hurtling towards Midnight in mid air. Indigo Joy did the only thing she knew how to do. She leapt in front of Midnight and straight into the path of the cat’s jaws. With a loud snap, the cat scurried away, leaving Midnight alone at the bottom of the garden. Stunned into silence, he watched as a single indigo feather, catching a ray of sunshine fell and gently settled on the grass.
A moment passed as Midnight, intensely watching the feather, slowly absorbed what had just happened. With a sudden cry, Midnight ran off through a hole in the fence. He was never seen in the garden again.
As time went by, things slowly started to return to normal in the garden. The birds missed Indigo Joy dearly. They decided that anything could live on in a story and Indigo Joy became the heroine of nearly all their tales. It was during one such tale that a young bird paused to listen to something.
‘What’s that?’ he asked.
So they did. In the distance was the faintest sound of tiny chirps.
‘It sounds like its coming from Midnight’s old nest at the top of the tree.’
‘No one ever goes up there.’
‘Shall we look?’
And they did. In the highest branch of the tallest tree in the garden, the birds peered over the edge of a nest. Inside were two broken shells. Amidst the shells were two tiny birds. Hummingbirds, to be precise. One boy, one girl, chirping in the early evening reds.
Love in hazy flutters.