Congratulations to yesterday’s fashionABLE giveaway winner, Sara Chase! She’s the lucky winner of one Etanesh scarf! (I’ll be in touch to get your mailing address to get you this wonderful prize!)
If you’re just joining us, you’ve stepped into a crazy project called #12days1story. On odd days in December, I’ll be sharing parts of my first short fiction story. On even days, we’ll be doing great giveaways that will make perfect holiday gifts.
Today, we’re on to Part II of Longspur.
(To catch up from the beginning , go read Part I!)
LONGSPUR – PART II
No one was listening to the fat and feathered bird squawking from the middle of the wire. Madame Billow was surrounded on either side by two or three well-behaved birds who kept their fragile feet firmly gripped to the line—a telephone wire nineteen feet above a highway. Several others circled above, flitting and fluttering around, not content to land. A car or two passed beneath them, with a rush. All the while, Madame Billow’s voice broke out, screeching, pulsating and persistent.
“What are you ponderating? Do you imagine I showed up to watch cars?” she squawked, growing increasingly agitated. Her feathers were visibly ruffled. “Get in LINE!”
One by one the line grew longer on either side of Madame Billow, and soon, the wire that crossed the highway was covered in Lapland Longspurs. The largest, oldest bird crooned from the middle of the wire, while the fledglings listened intently.
“Today is the day,” Madame Billow sang. Her persistence was eclipsed by an eerie melody, smooth and beautiful, that she’d sung many times before. After a pause, the group echoed her, “Today is the day!”
“That you learn to leave the Arctic,” she continued. “That you learn to leave the Arctic!”
And the song continued, back and forth, line by line, like this:
Today is the day that you learn to leave the Arctic.
No wind to strong, no storm too dark, to stop this journey’s roam.
Today is the day that you learn to lead your brothers.
Do not look back, do not wait, do not fear flying home.
Do not fear flying home, for it is where we tread
Fix your eyes upon the south, and keep your conscience known
Many have gone before, and many will go again.
You take no flight alone.
You take no flight alone.
The song ceased there, and the wind whistled its ghostly final chord. Madame Billow felt a chill, though she wasn’t sure whether it was from the Arctic air, or from the serious faces she saw to her right and left looking to her for instruction. Forgetting the shiver, she began pontificating—starting with the long speech she gave every year to birds who’d never completed The Passing.
“And as you already know,” Madame Billow warbled, “we will depart from this place in one week’s time. And due to our impending departure, you must treat training with the utmost seriousity. You never know when something you learn here might help you, or even save you from death.” She paused for effect, then cleared her throat and continued. “A few initial demandations. You MUST eat before The Passing! And NEVER…” but she didn’t complete her warning. She was interrupted by a small voice to her far left from a bird that just landed on the line.
“The ground’s already frozen.” The tufts next to the outspoken bird hopped closer to the middle, leaving him separated from the rest. It was Cal. He looked toward the rest with a sneer, but continued his protests. “How are we supposed to eat if the ground’s already frozen?”
The others began to snicker and turned away from him, ignoring his question. His face became dark and indignant.
“Quiet, quiet down!” Madame Billow flapped. “What an perfectatious point you make, Mr. Longspur! And a superb segue into our very first challenge for Captain, a position for which I’m sure you’re fit.”
Cal was quiet again at her bitter words, and felt the wire shake with the force of the wind. The sun’s light hid behind a cloud and she announced the day’s purpose: selecting two Captains for The Passing. In one week, they would leaving the arctic in flocks of 25, and journey towards their winter home. Captains, she said, were individually responsible for the safe passage of their small flock—and a position rarely offered to first-time-fliers.
“Due to this summer’s tragic accident,” Madame Billow said, taking a pause to look at Cal, “we must choose two new Captains from, well…all of you!” She looked at the birds from over her beak, like they were a serious disappointment.
She fluffed herself and continued, “The choice will be based on three aptitudes: scavenging, orientation, and instinct. We will begin with a test of scavenging. And Mr. Longspur, I’ll take your comments as volunteeration.”
He looked at her blankly, from across a row of shivering birds. He felt the sting of her voice, her mention of the accident, and the bitter reminder of his guilt in it all. He wondered if her selection of him was some kind of cruel punishment. At the same time, he felt a defensive rush of energy fill his frame, and stared back at her unflinchingly.
She huffed and exclaimed, “That means you’re going first. FOLLOW!”
With that, Madame Billow raised herself off the line, and took flight into the sunlight, which burst from behind the cloud as if on cue. In turn, the birds lifted off from the right and left, following like they were attached by a long string, trailing out on either side of their leader. Last in line, Cal smelled the frost in the air, and tried to let it cool his insides, that were hot with humiliation.
Thanks for reading! Special thanks to Brad and Jen of Q Avenue Photo for today’s “perfectatious” photo.
Please feel free to share/link/tweet/comment about the story for entries in tomorrow’s surprise giveaway. What did you think of today’s story? Is it odd that the story is about birds? What do you think of Cal? Madame Billow?