As we get closer to Christmas, and closer to the end of this project, I hope this post finds you and your family well. The news from a few days ago is still so fresh on my mind, and so horrific, that moving on, shopping, and writing silly stories sometimes seems futile. But we all are here for some reason—and though evil raised its ugly head this week (and will again), we do not have to be afraid of it. Because in the end, it will not win.
Here’s the next installment of Longspur, Part IX. For Parts 1 – 8, Click here!
LONGSPUR – PART IX
“Doren. Magda,” Madame Billow nodded, addressing the next potential Captains. Then almost as an afterthought, she turned to the final contender and said with a snarl, “Cal.”
Hearing his name pulled Cal from the horrid memory that lurked just beneath the surface of his mind at nearly every moment of every day. A raindrop, a flash of lightning, or just the sound of waves crashing could send Cal reeling back into that moment, watching his father fall down to a watery grave. Now, Madame Billow wanted to test his instincts? “My instincts killed the General of this flock,” Cal thought, letting his beak point wretchedly downward. “My poor instincts killed my father.”
“Cal,” Magda nudged her friend with a wing.
“What?” Cal snapped, leaving Magda with an expression of shock.
“They’re waiting on us,” Magda pointed up in the sky, where Madame Billow and Doren hovered, waiting on two more longspurs. Cal looked around at his peers, and noticed that they’d been corralled into three groups. Colin was back, looking dark and embarassed at the back of the far left group. Trudy was already back to squawking with other chicks in the center group. And in the far right group, there was Deeter, whistling and flapping his wings to get Cal’s attention.
“You’ll do great!” he squeaked from afar. Cal tried to nod back his thanks, but felt even worse. Now he had a fan, someone he was almost certainly going to let down. Cal turned his heard back up towards the sky, and saw Magda ascending gracefully towards the atmosphere. His stomach felt as though full of live worms, even though it was entirely empty. Cal followed the other three quietly back to the wire.
When he arrived, Doren and Magda were waiting on one side of the pole, and Madame Billow looked agitated and impatient on the other.
“So I see you finally decided to join us, Mr. Longspur,” Madame Billow jeered. “Thank you for gracing us with your presence, your highness.”
Her voice had grown even more bitter and hateful, now that the rest of the flock was out of earshot. Magda turned to Cal with wide eyes, surprised by this change of attitude. Cal wasn’t. Then, Madame Billow’s vindictive tone disappeared, and she continued her normal warbling.
“Here we are, you three,” she sang, somewhat warily. “I wasn’t sure about allowing fledglings compete for these positions. The Passing is a nearly 2,000 mile journey that will take us months. Some Captains left with their flocks just this morning.” Madame Billow took a pause, and her voice became sharp and angry. “Things will be much harder this year,” she said, looking directly at Cal, “no thanks to you.”
Up on the wire, the wind’s hollow voice filled what would have been a painful silence. Another moment passed. Cal felt hot and angry. He eyes were blinking quickly, and those stomach worms had turned to imaginary centipedes. His insides writhed and ached, and he felt the sting of her words straight in his gut. Madame Billow looked positively hungry for more. She hadn’t felt this powerful in years.
“The General died in a freak storm,” Magda spoke up bravely. “My mother says he saved Cal’s life.”
“What do you know, squabbler?” Doren said scornfully, moving a step towards Madame Billow. “The only bird that really knows what happened was Cal. Isn’t that right, Mr. Longspur?”
Doren puffed up his plumage, feeling strong and clever. Magda’s looked towards Cal with furrowed feathers, hoping he’d defend himself, but he didn’t let out a single peep. She saw Cal’s eyes grow cold and stoic, facing away from the wire, and away from the others. Magda turned back to Madame Billow, feeling defeated. She waited for further instruction.
“Whatever the circumstancities,” Madame Billow cawed, “I don’t trust you. Obviously neither does Doren, and chances are most birds down there feel the same. I don’t know what’s wrong in your bird brain,” she said, turning the vitriol on Magda.
“No matter what happened in the past, two of you will be chosen as Captains,” Madame Billow said disdainfully. “We have the final challenge to complete.” She breathed in deeply, in an effort to clear her muddled mind. Then continued her final speech.
“Down on the ground, your brothers and sisters are waiting in three groups. And tonight we will make the First Flight,” Madame Billow paused to check that they understood. “That’s fifty miles.” Another pause. Cal, Magda, and Doren listened attentively, and the wire bounced up and down with the wind. Cal’s mind was racing, imagining the lighthouse, the light, the storm, and the sight of his father’s broken wings. He fought to pay attention to what Madame Billow was saying.
“You will be leading them in three separate flocks,” Madame Billow continued. “This isn’t going to be easy. The weather will not cooperate, and chances are you will be caught in a ‘freak’ storm,” she said, glaring at Magda. “Every year we lose a bird—even a flock—in the First Flight. This sort of thing takes impeccibilatious instincts, and it’s not to be taken lightly. So, if you do not want to lead… If you aren’t to be trusted with the lives of others,”—another serious pause—“then pipe up now or forever hold your squeaks.”
Cal stared across a dimly golden horizon. His stomach was much quieter now. The centipedes and worms had died down, leaving behind a low rumble, and a whole lot of questions. Perhaps now was the time to give up and let Magda and Doren lead the others. Maybe this was his chance to escape.
“I’m ready to lead the First Flight,” Doren said, breaking into Cal’s doubts with a confident swagger.
Cal imagined falling in line with the flock. He tried to imagine following Doren through The Passing, just like any other bird—but he couldn’t.
“I’m ready too,” said Magda. All three looked at Cal, waiting.
Cal’s mind moved quickly, anxiously aiming for a decision. He thought of little squinting Deeter. He thought of his father. Somehow in that anxious moment, he felt a quiet peace rise over him, and an unmistakeable confidence. “Don’t be scared Cal…You were made for this….You can do this. Follow me.”
With that, he turned to Madame Billow.
Thanks to Jason Mundie of A Dream Within for today’s photo—what a striking image.
I’d love to hear what you think about today’s installment!