It’s been so fun to write this story, and share it with you piece by piece. Originally, I hoped to write about 400 words per installment… but then the story felt like it just poured out of me.
If you’re just joining us, take a few minutes this morning with your Sunday cup of coffee, and read up… I know you’ll enjoy it!
… and now, on to Part VI!
LONGSPUR – PART VI
Standing before Cal was a Gyrfalcon, two feet tall, with a slick white head, a curved beak, and eyes like an angry mother.
Cal peered upwards and felt his feet tremble, then made a sincere effort to stand up straight and elongate his little orange neck. The falcon stared down angrily and stomped its feet. Thrashing its head back and forth, she tried to free her beak, which had been tied shut.
Cal’s heartbeat quickened. On any normal day, he would fly as fast as his wings could carry him away from this bird—a predator. But today was different. Today, he had to climb on the back of that bird, fly who knows where, and prove that he could find his way back south. He fought the instinct to flee, and tried to imagine this killer beast was just his father, only much deadlier. Before he could protest or ask any questions, Madame Billow spun Cal around, facing the rest of the onlooking birds.
Every beak was open in shock, and several birds had scurried into the bush and branches in self-protection. Magda stood at the front of the pack of plumed birds, unwavering. Just before Madam Billow slid the blindfold over Cal’s eyes, he noticed Magda’s head give a slight nod of confidence. Behind her, Deeter looked on anxiously.
Cal repeated his father’s instructions over and over in his head. Find the wind. Find the wind. Find the wind. He felt Madame Billow’s fluffy wings pushing him towards the hunter, and onto her writhing back. Cal held on and tried to breathe as the falcon spread its wide wings and took flight.
Flying on the wings of another bird felt unnatural. Cal felt heat permeating through the Gyrfalcon’s back, even as it soared this way and that, leaving Cal fearfully disoriented. When he peered straight down through the black of the blindfold, he could see just a sliver of white feathers—but nothing else. He held on and let his mind catch up.
They were ascending through the trees, he knew that much, because he felt the weight of gravity pulling him backwards, almost like he might fall off the falcon’s back. As soon as they reached the bird’s peak, Cal thought, he’d have to find a way to take off his blindfold. He could let go and find his way south, and somehow find Madame Billow—but he couldn’t do it blindfolded. He’d learned that much with his father.
Cal shimmied and squinted and tried to will the blindfold off his head—but it didn’t budge. He breathed heavily and felt wild with terror. If he took flight now, he’d be lost in the air blind, and might never find his way back to the flock. He would die, blindfolded in the arctic.
Staring into black nothingness, he felt the bird stabilize into a level, full glide. He had no idea where they were, how high they were, or where they were headed, but this was his chance—and he had an idea. Cal was going to grab for the falcon’s sharp claws—and hoped with all his might that he wasn’t thrown from the bird before the blindfold was cut by one talon.
He slid down the bird’s back and felt carefully for the bird’s huge tail feathers. “If I miss…” Cal wondered, then changed his line of thinking. “Don’t miss. Don’t miss. Can’t miss. Definitely cannot miss.” Cal took a deep breath and swung his body down toward what he hoped was the falcon’s claws.
Suspended in the air, Cal flapped once and felt with intensity that his fears were realized—he was flying blind. But just as he was giving way to despair, a sharp grey claw clipped him in the face, sending him spinning mid-air, flashing with pain, and cutting his blindfold off in a swipe.
Suddenly, Cal looked around him, and saw the expanse of the arctic below: white and brilliant. He was flying higher than he ever had before.
Soaring through the air, Cal laughed wildly and let out a loud shout of joy.
Find the wind, he thought. Feeling the northeasterly wind ahead of him, Cal let the air stream turn him naturally south. Spotting Madame Billow in the thicket, Cal soared victoriously to her side.
Thanks to Jason Mundie @ADWPhotographs for today’s amazing photo!
… Please feel free to comment on today’s installment of Longspur. What are your thoughts? Do you think Cal is changing? Tell me what you think!