I've been posting excerpts over at the LJ community, but thought I'd put them together here for completeness' sake.
Annie liked her current temp job. Admittedly jobs she didn't like were few and far between, but this one was working out particularly well so far. She was filling in on the reception of a company that manufactured and sold widgets. The company had a fancy name, as well as a long and distinguished history, and its offices were on the same corner of the industrial estate as its warehouse. Or 'distribution centre' as the sign over the double doors around the back proudly proclaimed.
Annie's desk was at the front of the building, where she and the assorted potted plants got full sunlight most of the day, at least when the sun bothered to shine on that particular grey corner of South West London.
The tasks required were easy enough: she answered the phone – then either took a message or transferred the call; she greeted visitors – being equally polite to the unexpected ones as to those who had appointments; she sorted the post – incoming and outgoing. On her quiet days she packaged up promotional letters, informational leaflets and product catalogues for the marketing department. On really quiet days she was free to catch up on her reading, write essays for her college courses, or simply browse the internet.
The people were friendly too: always a bonus even on her shortest assignments. Sales reps would drop in, and then chat with her while waiting for their boxes of literature and samples to be brought down from the warehouse. If they commented on how Annie was a long way from home, it always seemed to be a reference to her accent, rather than to her skin colour.
Annie tore off a piece of sandwich and threw it as far away from her as she could. The pigeon set off in pursuit.
Suddenly there were ten, twelve, maybe more pigeons all fighting over that one scrap of bread. At least they were away from Annie's bench now. She raised the sandwich to her mouth.
A ginormous gull swooped down, knocking the sandwich from Annie's hand. As the bread hit the grass more gulls appeared flapping their huge wings, and yelling abuse at each other, and at Annie.
Annie scrambled over the back of the bench, almost dropping her lunchbox as she stumbled. She ran back towards the main door of the office building, and smack into a man walking towards the door from the opposite direction.
The woman who got out of the van couldn't have been much taller than Annie. She had glossy dark brown hair, pulled back into a short plait, and with a streak of lighter orange-brown running through the hair just above her ears. She walked around to the back of the van, and opened both doors, taking out a battered brown satchel, and a large wooden box.
Just as Annie was wondering whether the woman would be bringing the box – some kind of bird-trap? – into the reception with her, the Managing Director bounded through and out into the car park: all without saying a word to her. He walked briskly up to the woman, and greeted her in what appeared to be a most effusive manner.
Annie watched from behind her computer screen as the two held an animated conversation: the man gesturing towards the upper parts of the building, and the woman apparently offering to show him what was in the box. He shook his head decisively in response to her gesture, and she shrugged. Obviously she was used to people demanding results without wishing to know the details of her methods.
Curiosity getting the better of her, Annie left her desk and approached the box. There was something inside: a living, moving, flapping something. Annie took a step back, glaring at the box. Whatever was in there couldn't get out. At least she hoped so. Squeezing between the back of the sofa and the wall, Annie approached the box from the opposite side.
The box was closed on that side too, but there was a panel that could obviously be slid up to release whatever was flapping and scratching about inside. Annie was pleased to note that there was a catch, firmly fastened at present, that would prevent the box being inadvertently opened in transit. But what was in there? And how had it been persuaded to enter in the first place?
"D'you want to meet her?"
Annie looked up, startled, and also a little guilty at being away from her post.
"Cassidy. My hawk." The woman's accent was partly London, and partly something posher.
"I'm Rose by the way."
"Annie." She scooted between the table and the sofa, and leaned against her desk in what she hoped was an unconcerned manner. "Annie Park."
Rose looked at her enquiringly.
"Three Korean grandparents, one white grandfather. All happily settled in Glasgow. You?"
"My parents came over from Hong Kong in the 1980s." Rose's tone suggested the move hadn't been as permanent as they'd perhaps intended.
"Have they gone back?"
"A few years ago now: my brother's still here, though, and I'm living with him at the moment." Rose grinned. "Just until I can rent somewhere with a place for Cassidy. Jon's okay, but his friends can be a little trying at times."
Annie nodded. "My house mates aren't bad people, but all of them at once feels like too much of a crowd.
The hawk was much bigger than a pigeon, though smaller than the largest of the gulls; even from far away her beak and claws looked wickedly sharp. Most of her feathers were the same glossy dark brown as Rose's hair, and she had a patch of orange-brown feathers on each wing that matched the streaks Rose had.
Cassidy was a much less flappy sort of bird than the nasty birds from Monday: soaring and gliding above the warehouse and offices then returning smoothly to her perch on Rose's gloved left hand.
Rose lifted her right hand to feed – or perhaps pet – her hawk, then turned slightly. Seeing Annie, she gave a brief wave and beckoned her over.
Rose seemed to know a lot of people – and some of them were likely to be at the pub that night – but she also seemed happy to make at least one new friend in the person of Annie. They weren't that far apart in age, and they both had career ambitions that differed from what their families had planned for them. Annie thought she might go back to Glasgow eventually, but the idea of staying in London and eventually getting a permanent administrator's – or even a manager's – job was becoming more and more appealing.
"I did work experience at the zoo," Rose said, "and it was the birds that really appealed to me. Then I did stints at a wildlife hospital and a falconry centre and decided that that was the only thing I could really see myself doing."
"How old were you when you decided that?"
"Oh, about fifteen or sixteen."
Annie sucked on her straw. She had come to London with no real idea what she wanted to do – almost on a whim – with only the money saved, and the references, from her summer holiday jobs of the past few years to support herself and her job applications. Even her college courses had been picked because they looked like they might come in useful one day. Not because she had any kind of career plan in mind.
Annie carefully pushed the window pane up as the bee flew backwards. It flew forwards again, out into the fresh air, and then dropped down to land on one of Annie's flowers. As she watched the bumblebee, Annie caught site of another visitor. A hawk was perched on the little wall that ran along the ledge below the windows of Annie's room. All the houses thereabouts had the ledges; the top-floor rooms were that bit narrower than the rooms below; while Annie wasn't sure why that might be, she knew a lot of other people took advantage of them to enjoy the sunshine.
Some people living in rooms like hers would sit on their windowsills, safe in the knowledge that if they slipped they were more likely to land on the ledge than continue falling to the pavement below. Braver residents would clamber out of their windows and onto the ledge itself, sitting with a drink or a cigarette, or stretching out full-length to sunbathe. One man in a room across the road even took a tiny barbecue out onto his ledge and gilled sausages and burgers to pass back through his window to people inside the house.
Annie had never climbed out onto the ledge; she had never even sat with her legs hanging out of the window. She had placed the windowboxes there when she first moved in, to give herself an excuse not to. She wasn't scared of falling, exactly, but she was scared. What frightened Annie was the idea that once she was out there, high above the street, and the cars, and the people, out there with the wind on her face and in her hair, she would want to fly.
I've been trying to keep up with everyone else's progress on the various writing challenges this month, but feel free to tell me more about how you're doing in the comments.