So here it is. The very last installment of Longspur.
This has been such a journey. Thank you so much to each of you that’s popped over and read a few, multiple, or every entry of this story. I’m so thankful to have a community and friends and family who have supported me along the (sometimes) bumpy road of writing.
and now on to part xii…
LONGSPUR – PART XII
The flocks entered the storm determined, and freezing rain fell on all sides like a thick curtain. Soon, their W formation broke apart, and the birds looked more like scattered morse code across the sky. Cal was losing sight of his crew.
The noise was almost unbearable: hissing rain masked the cries and caws of the birds; wind howled with abandon; cracks of lightning and angry, earth-shaking rolls of thunder. Freezing water fell from the sky with a bitter smell. The storm was violent. Reeling and screaming through the air, Cal and Magda fought to keep their flocks moving forward.
A lone bolt of lightning slashed the sky, giving Cal one chance to see where each bird was flying. He spotted Ariel and Toomey to the east, and the others were flapping to the west. Cal’s feathers were soaked through. Without the lithe ability to glide, his wings pumped up and down, over and over again, fighting to keep his body in flight. Then he realized that one bird was missing.
“DEETER?!” Cal cawed into the rain. No response.
Cal did a full turn in the air, forcing his eyes to scan the tenebrous air for a small, squinting flyer with a tiny orange neck. Magda flew up behind him, and screamed into the rain.
“What are you DOING?!”
“WHERE IS DEETER?” Cal huffed, was kicked back by the wind, then flapped his way back to Magda again.
“What?! I… I don’t know!” Magda began an air scan, too—to no avail.
“Magda, take the other birds with you,” Cal said in a hurry. “There are only a few miles to go.” A loud flash of electricity lit up the grey clouds like a firecracker.
Magda nodded with ferocity, and sped up her flight through the onslaught. She whistled loudly, which attracted the others’ attention. The birds weaved through the storm like she was a magnet. They formed a wobbly U, and began to move forward together.
Cal knew he didn’t have much time. His own feathers were so wet and impossibly heavy, that at any moment he might fall out of the sky. He flew north for a few moments, scanned the darkness, and hoped to find Deeter, flapping happily behind. Instead, all he saw was rain, and all he heard was the hollow emptiness of the wailing gales.
In the midst of his helpless searching, Cal saw a prick of red light pop up between the clouds, then die out again. Cal kept flying, uncertain if what he’d seen was real, or imagined. He ignored it, and kept searching and calling. But then, the red light flickered across the sky again, and just as quickly, disappeared.
Without hesitation, Cal began flying with abandon toward the light.
“DEETER!” Cal cawed. “DEETER!”
He was moving faster than he had in his entire life, and the red light was growing larger, beating faster. A cloud moved eerily out of Cal’s way, and in it’s place, Cal saw a little bird, flying solo towards the light.
“DEETER,” Cal cried, “THAT’S NOT WHAT YOU THINK!”
The two were flying in tandem now, and Cal could see that Deeter was crying.
“We’ve got to get out of this mess Cal,” Deeter sniveled. “Look at that light!”
The two were bathed in a hideous red color for a moment. Cal’s mind was reeling. “How do I get him to turn around?” Cal thought, his mind pleading for help. As they drew closer to the light, Cal began to make out against the stormy sky even darker steel beams, stacked and climbing up to the light’s location. A radio tower. Cal couldn’t tell how many moments they had to spare before they’d hit the tower and die—together.
“Keep your eyes on me.”
Cal pulled up even closer to Deeter, and tried to speak calmly. It seemed like the words came through him, not from him.
“Deeter, please listen to me,” Cal spoke in his ear, nearly crying himself. “This thing that you’re flying toward… it’s not safety. It looks like it, and it even feels like it deep inside you. But, Deeter our instincts are off. They’re wrong. The truth is that we can’t go that way…. Do you hear me Deeter? Don’t look at the light.”
Deeter’s eyes were teary, but he was slowing down.
“Please, Deeter. Look at me, instead.”
Carefully, Deeter’s scared eyes moved from the pulsating red light towards his friend. At that very instant, Cal turned swiftly, and Deeter followed. They missed the tower by inches.
The rain was still pounding down upon the two birds in flight. With Cal on the right, and Deeter on the left, they steered back South, through the darkness.
They found the flock grounded and cheering just two miles south of the radio tower. All the little feet and tail feathers were muddy, and all the beaks were open, singing in excitement. Cal and Deeter glided down to the ground, and landed with a little muddy splash. Cal looked at Deeter proudly, and saw his little pointed mouth, surrounded by wet and spiky feathers, all clumped together and soggy from the rain. Like this, Deeter looked even more helpless and goofy than usual. Though he was exhausted, Cal somehow found the energy to laugh out loud.
The birds chirped, “What happened? and “Where’ve you been?” and “How’d you escape the storm?” and Cal just stepped back, to let Deeter take the stage. The little squinting bird became demonstrative and showy, acting out the red flashing light, the horrid storm, and just how close they’d come to the deadly tower. Cal moved to the outside of the circle, and looked on quietly. He felt satisfied, happy, even, watching Deeter chirp excitedly. Cal felt with utter certainty that if his father were here today, he’d be proud. The thought made tears stream down the right side of Cal’s face, but the added wetness was masked by his already-drenched feathers.
Cal shook his body hard, which sent little pellets of water out from his body. His feathers puffed up just slightly, and he gazed around the ground to take in his new surroundings. This thicket was green, and the sun, which now hung low on the western horizon, oozed a pinkish hue on everything. The muddy dregs felt cold on his feet, but Cal spotted a little bush to the right, and noticed that its large green leaves had protected the dry ground. He imagined digging and burrowing and covering himself in that bush, and sleeping for a very long time. Before he stepped away from the flock, he looked back once more at Deeter, who was still holding court. Then, above the chattering birds, he saw Magda, Doren, and Madame Billow perched in a tree. In that same moment, they turned and flittered down gracefully to the ground.
“Congratulationification!” Madame Billow sang. On her face, she displayed a rather sour expression. “You have all made it through your First Flight, despite the horrid storm! And now, we have our Captains for The Passing.”
The Lapland Longspurs sang all together, creating a grid of yelps and hollers, criss-crossing the thicket. Cal looked on, stepping closer to the rest, and suddenly, his stomach dropped.
“The two captains who made it back with their entire flock first, are here to my right and left: Magda Bethel, and Doren Illbus,” Madame Billow paused while the crowd cheered yet again. But, Cal noticed that Billow didn’t seem pleased. He looked to Magda, and noticed that Magda’s brilliant black eyes were gleaming and happy—and looking right at him.
“Quiet, QUIET!” Madame Billow cleared her throat for effect. “Our third contender, Mr. Longspur should be immediately eliminated. He left his flock, to pursue just one single bird. That decision displayed impetuosity, stupidiousness, and an utter disregardation of all the responsibilities a Captain possesses.”
The birds were looking on in shock, and turned back to see the same shock on Cal’s face. Deeter stepped up to Madame Billow, and was about to put on a strong defense, when she flipped a wing in his face to stop him.
“While these two,” she pointed to Magda and Doren, “should become our captains, one of them has decided to step down. Already.” Madame Billow looked utterly disgusted, standing before a silent brood. “And I’m going to let that bird explain the decision herself.”
“Yes,” Magda stepped forward, and the rest of the birds arced around her, creating what looked like a miniature, bird-filled amphitheater. Cal’s heart was racing, and suddenly, he felt the back of his neck burning. Then Magda’s voice broke through his racing thoughts.
“Today, we all witnessed something great,” Magda said. “We were in the midst of a storm, and we lost a brother—Deeter. I’m embarassed to say that all of us, moved on to the south, and simply looked after our own survival. Only one bird had the courage to go look for the one that wandered off.
“Perhaps that isn’t a quality you would look for in a Captain, Madame Billow,” Magda said very humbly. “But I disagree. And that’s why I’m stepping down, and asking that tomorrow, when we all leave for The Passing, another bird takes my place.
Thank you so much to Jason Mundie of A Dream Within for this absolutely perfect image.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and I will be posting the final giveaway of this #12days1story adventure. I hope you stop in… because I think you’ll enjoy the giveaway more than ever 🙂