Chapter 1|Freyja

It’s eight o’ clock on Thursday morning – a cold, nondescript November sort of morning – and Freyja drags herself out of bed. The alarm clock first broke her slumber half an hour earlier, but Freyja has little enthusiasm for the day ahead. She would much rather slip back under the covers and back into her dream. But, like it or not, she has to go to work.

Pulling the warm covers aside, she is assaulted by the sharp chill in the air. She puts on her dressing gown, and lurches, unsteady, bleary-eyed towards the bathroom. Gradually she wakes up and gets herself ready for the day. A shower helps focus the mind to some extent, but she still fumbles her way through her confused morning routine.

Breakfast is a luxury she’ll do without today. Actually, she can’t remember the last time she had a proper breakfast. Wrapped in a warm coat she heads out of her flat. Quarter to nine. Well, at least her job has flexible working hours. She’ll be in by ten.

The station is just a ten-minute walk away. That was important to her when she rented her flat because she knew she’d be commuting. It didn’t matter so much that the flat was poky and in need of some TLC – she never thought she’d spend much time there. At the station, she browses the magazines in the kiosk. Nothing in particular grabs her attention. It rarely does.

Standing on the platform, Freyja is distracted by a magpie skipping along the overhead wires. She wonders why birds seem immune to the high voltages that would kill a person. The few other late commuters on the platform, and a handful of early shoppers, seem oblivious to this intrusion of the natural world. If they’re not on their phones, their minds are certainly elsewhere. As Freyja’s train breezes into the station, the bird flaps away and hops nonchalantly across the canopy opposite.

magpie

Close to Freyja’s destination, her train comes to a halt in a cutting. It often has to stop here for a minute or two, so she’s not too concerned. But after a few minutes an apology comes over the intercom: the train will be delayed because of some problem on the line ahead. Not really what Freyja wants to hear.

Her work hasn’t been going well recently. She’s never really liked the job, which her parents pressured her into taking when she left college. There are admittedly bits of it she enjoys, and she tends to prioritise those – to the extent that she often forgets what she’s meant to be focusing on. It has got into her into trouble once or twice, and she has never understood what motivates other people to be so productive.

While the train sits in the cutting, her eye is drawn to the birch trees beside the line. She begins to count the branches and tries to discern patterns in the way they grow. One of the trees seems to break the rules, and she looks away, disgusted. The train begins to creep forwards at last.

Despite the hold-up, she makes it to work by five past ten. Her boss, Julia, calls her into her office. She’s only five minutes late. Not the end of the world, surely?

Half an hour later, Freyja emerges from Julia’s office and makes a beeline for her desk, head down, trying not to catch anyone’s eye. She collects the few personal belongings she keeps at work, slips them into her bag, and sneaks quietly out of the door. Nobody sees her leave.

It’s not as though she had any close friends at work. She never socialised with any of her colleagues. But walking out of the building for the last time, she feels a pang of regret that she couldn’t even bring herself to say goodbye to anyone. Why can’t she just be like everyone else and put up with a mundane job, knowing that there’s always a weekend just around the corner? As she makes her way slowly down the street, warm tears roll down her cheeks.

magpie

Come lunchtime, Freyja realises she has just been wandering the streets aimlessly, in a somnambulant daze. What little purpose there was in her life has been cruelly taken away from her. She’s worthless. Useless. A waste of space. She’s also hungry.

She pops into her usual café to buy a sandwich – probably for the last time. (Without her job, what reason will she ever have to come back?) She eats half her sandwich on the way back to the station. The other half she tosses onto a bit of scrubby ground near the roadside, where it is promptly set upon by a gull. She obviously isn’t as hungry as she thought she was.

On a normal Thursday, it would be another five hours before she’d be making her way to the station, among the last commuters of the day. But today isn’t a normal Thursday. At least it’s not dark. It still feels wrong to be leaving, though. Everything feels wrong.

She reaches the bridge across the railway line. The bridge she has crossed so many times since she started her job nearly a year ago. (Yes, she couldn’t even make that milestone.) She pauses at the apex of the bridge and looks out along the track, as her eyes well with tears once more. Oh, to be a magpie! To be able to skip along the deadly wires, without a care in the world.

Read Chapter 2 |

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