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The Nightingale by E. E. Rhodes

Long listed for the WRITE ABOUT WALKING AND LISTENING competition run in July & August 2021

I was out in the cotton-soft dusk. Nearby, a dozen shadows loomed against the shutter-stall trees. It grew darker. Night-scopes and lenses flashed in the torchlight. Ready for something in the steadfast gloom.

They moved slowly. One man passed within touching distance and I murmured a query. His head-torch swung to me, startled, bright and brittle-glinting. He tipped his chin towards the path into the trees.

I followed. Pausing as they did. Listening.

A wood-dense trill excited the line. Then a spit-sad mutter reached me, just a common starling. We waited again.

The man accepted tea from my flask, offered me a nip from his. Hoping for a nightingale, he muttered. He’d heard one in his childhood, and had been waiting seventy years since. Now he tipped along with this bunch, hoping and hoping and hoping against hope. The torchlight gave him a dedicated gleam.

At 3 a.m. regret rippled through the group. Enough. Some had work to go to. Up with the lark as well as out with the owl. They drifted away, the torchlight bobbing through the wood into the silk-slubbed dawn.

The man shrugged. Maybe the starling had learned the song from a nightingale. Maybe there was one to hear. If the night was right. We listened again, but everything was still. He sighed, shouldering his rucksack.

I asked why this wood in particular? Why here at all? Only because of gossip on a birder forum, he told me. Only because of a rumour of joy.


Itching to write something yourself? Submit a piece to our Shorelines project, and invite your friends to read it aloud, for a chance to win a prize. Join one of our creative writing workshops or keep up to date with all our competitions by signing up to our curated newsletter here.

Read more from the Long List of stories submitted to the WRITE ABOUT WALKING & LISTENING competition. Listen to winning authors read their work at a showcase event on Sunday 26 September 2021 book here.

Buy WALKING – the limited edition illustrated chapbook anthology of 15 poems and stories inspired by walking and listening €4.50 + p&p

All proceeds go to support future Sound Walk Septembers

El Rhodes

El Rhodes

United Kingdom

I’m an archaeologist who lives between Cardiff and a small hamlet in Hertfordshire. I’m bookish and quiet but tell a good story. Over time I’ve walked a number of the long distance paths in Britain and Northern Ireland - The Pennine Way, The Coas...

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