read on for part xi …
LONGSPUR – PART XI
All eight birds were sucking air. They’d been flying for half an hour, and the effort was growing more difficult with every passing minute.
Cal was at the head of the V, wings spread wide, eyes gazing south. Wind passed over his back like a constant wave, and every so often, he’d push the air downwards to lift himself up, then glide on for a few more breaths. His breast muscles were fatigued, and his lungs were cold with arctic air, but to Cal, the pain was cathartic. For a while the crew flew directly south.
All the while, an invisible and sovereign force exerted its will upon the birds. Sometimes, the shift was so minute, the flock continued on without a thought, though their path was silently corrected by the omnipresent wind. At other times, the change was so apparent that the birds were in awe of its power. Together, they flew on like this, shifting, pumping, and breathing.
“How long to go, Captain?” piped Deeter, to Cal’s left. Cal smirked and felt comforted by Deeter’s little voice. He’d grown to like it.
“We’ve got a while Deets,” Cal said. “And don’t call me Captain… at least not yet.”
At that moment, Cal spotted another clutch of birds, just a few minutes’ distance ahead of them. In between the two separated V’s were a few white cumulous clouds, puffed and expansive like marshmallows made for flying giants. From behind, Cal dodged a cloud or two, then saw white tail feathers and a few orange napes: they were Lapland Longspurs. Though he couldn’t tell for sure, he hoped inwardly that it was Magda’s crew. He sped up.
“Hey boss, slow it down! You’re killin’ us back here!” cried a big plume from the back of the V. It was the same bird that had protested to leaving in the first place. Cal had learned that his name was Toomey.
“Squeak for yourself!” said the beautiful white bird, Ariel. She was on the directly opposite side of the V from Toomey, and flying with ease. She looked proud of her funny retort. Cal’s team was laughing and happy as they approached the other flock of Longspurs. At the head was Magda.
“Well hello fellow flyers,” Cal said confidently, pulling his crew up next to Magda’s. Together, they created a willowing, flapping W. But Magda didn’t seem pleased. She kept her eyes focused south, and her wide eyes and serious stare made Cal’s stomach drop. Something was wrong. Cal slowly turned his head back south, but somehow, he already knew what he was about to see.
Directly ahead, it looked as if the sky was falling apart. Dark sheets of rain were falling heavy toward the ground, and a single flash of lightning lit the sky with a rage. Though clear and dry where they currently were, they were heading directly into a storm.
Cal had a moment of panic. One, singular moment. With that flash of lightning, he saw it all happen again: the sweeping, golden arm of the lighthouse, the unstoppable rushing toward white brick, his father’s crash and fall to the waves. His own grief echoed through his mind, and he suddenly felt disoriented.
“Cal,” Magda said. Her voice was low, serious, and desperate. The birds behind her were still joking and laughing, shouting back and forth across the diagonal moving lines. Cal nodded in assent.
“I see it,” he said. For the last few moments of peace, the birds glided blissfully forward. Cal shook his head clear, and tried to form a plan. What had his father said during the storm? How had he gone so off course?
“Keep your eyes on me, Cal.”
Cal thought back to the accident, and tried to replay it moment by moment in his mind: the pain, his father, moving his eyes to the ground, the fear. Another flash of lightning brought him back to the present danger again. Ariel let out a long scream—the other birds finally saw what was ahead. With just seconds to spare before they entered the darkness, Cal felt a welling inside him bubble up, and his voice called out in a loud song above the others…
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
Brothers and sisters, lift up your eyes
Do not fear even the darkest skies
Look only forward,‘til the sun is nigh
And to still waters we will fly
Lift up your eyes
Lift up your eyes
Special thanks to Brad and Jen for today’s picture! So thankful for you two and your continual friendship!