The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:
The Ornithological Collection of Uwetsiageyv
(link to main page of novel)
July 1, 2016
“Enemy?” said the dwarf, feigning surprise. “What is an enemy but someone with whom you have yet to discover a shared purp...”
“Stop!” ordered the owl. His command startled the sparrows and they abandoned the sunken stage upon which confrontation took place.
The dwarf’s face easily adopted a grumpy expression. With his jaw set and his arms folded, he looked like he could remain in that stubborn stance for the rest of eternity.
“Our search,” said the crow, “is apparently over.”
His words surprised Uwetsiageyv. She turned to him; he stood only a few feet from her. “You were looking for the dwarf?”
“No,” he replied.
“I don’t understand.”
At the risk of irritating the owl further, the dwarf piped up from the edge of the clearing. “They were searching for you!”
“Me?” Uwetsiageyv said. “They found me sleeping on a beach a long time ago.”
“We didn’t know you then,” explained the crow. “At least we couldn’t be sure.”
“Although some of us had our suspicions,” added the owl, directing his words to the bird girl though he kept his eyes on the dwarf.
Uwetsiageyv could not understand the conversation or its significance but that did not prevent her from throwing her arms and wings up in the air, and girlishly exclaiming, “Well, here I am!”
The dwarf alone could not contain his laughter. “Indeed!” he cried. “It is just as the prophecy foretold.”
This was the first time when it was explicitly conveyed to Uwetsiageyv that the crow and the owl had been searching for the subject of whom a prophecy spoke.
“What prophecy?” she said looking from the face of the dwarf to the crow to the owl.
Although folklore often associate owls with wisdom and especially wisdom gained through supernatural means, it was the crow who took that opportunity to recite the prophecy in full.
July 1, 2016
The Sutra of the Crow Maiden
1Let all who are gathered within the sound of my voice stop what they are doing and listen to these words for I speak to an audience that is not yet born and shall not be born until long after my bones have been turned to dust. 2Thus I rely on you living today to relay this message to others so that my words may pass down through the generations and, one day, arrive at the ears of their intended recipient.
3Let the mammals of the earth listen, for it is in their care, though they claim her not as their own, that the child shall be raised.
4Let the avians of the air whisper these words through the shells of eggs collected in their nests, for they shall know she is one of their own by the feathered wings that sprout from her back.
5Let the arthropods scouring every nook and surface take heed for they will be called upon to spin the golden thread with which her garments are sewn.
6Let the reptiles rejoice for she shall don their skin and shall show no fear of entering their dark dwellings.
7Let the cephalopods in their submarine studios hone their artistic craft for one day she will call upon them to paint her in the ink of their trade.
8Let the fish of the wide and deep sea surrender their scales that she may walk always as if upon water.
9Let the creatures of mythology not be forgotten, for she shall fly above the sea and her shadow shall be as that of a drake coursing beneath the waves.
10Let all living creatures, real and imagined, find their place in her.
11Let this child grow! 12Let her be all children! 13Let her will bring enemies to the same table, that the lowliest dwarf and the mightiest giant and all the creatures who fall between them, shall find some commonality in her through which all the troubles of the world can be resolved, not through conflict but rather through grace and gentle repose.
July 5, 2016
A Parting of Ways
The owl returned to the center of the stone clearing, until he stood on the far side of Uwetsiageyv from the crow. A retinue of white-throated sparrows accompanied him. They settled themselves on either side of the bird girl, each keeping an eye on her as they scavenged over the surface, looking for stray, wind-blown seeds. Maintaining his distance, the dwarf remained at the forest’s edge.
“It seems the search is complete,” said the owl with an air of finality. “We have found she of whom the prophecy spoke.”
Uwetsiageyv fidgeted nervously. She did not dare contradict the owl, though she had her doubts as to the accuracy of his words.
“She does not appear to be the one in which we placed our hopes,” the crow said in a way that did not contradict the owl. Uwetsiageyv turned to look at him. Situated as they were on opposite sides of her, she could not observe the owl and crow at the same time. The crow continued, “We shall have to begin anew.”
The crow and the owl ruffled their wings as if they were preparing to depart, though they had only just arrived at the Island of White-Throated Sparrows.
Uwetsiageyv asked with a panic in her voice, “Are you leaving?”
She turned from the crow to the owl to see him nod. “There is no point in searching further on this island.”
The crow added, “We will try our luck on another island.”
“But we only just arrived. We haven’t even found a spring to drink from...” Uwetsiageyv’s protests faded as she surveyed the resolute expression on the face of first the crow then the owl.
“Go find the spring,” the crow advised her.
“You mean not to wait for me,” accused the bird girl.
The crow acknowledged her words with silence.
“You have chosen to garb yourself in the livery of our enemy,” said the owl. “You must count him as your ally now.”
Uwetsiageyv turned to examine the dwarf who observed the proceedings with a rather all too detached expression.
Uwetsiageyv found herself at a loss for words. Something had gone terribly wrong but, at the moment, she could not pinpoint the moment of her calamitous error.
With great beating wings, the crow and the owl rose into the air and left her behind. There had not been time for so much as a word of farewell.
III. Mounting the Stage
12 chapters × 5 parts/chapter = 60 parts
Chapter 15. Sitta carolinensis
July 6, 2016
The Flying Machine
Neither did the dwarf nor the bird girl dwell long on the island of ill-parting. She soon followed him into the woods, where he led her to his cache, in which his flying machine was hidden. He carried the bundle from the confines of the wood to a small bluff from which he could launch it.
Unfolding the pieces, he reassembled it in front of Uwetsiageyv. The skin of the wings was canvas. Portions of the frame were wood, others metal. A leather harness was attached below, to carry the dwarf. Above it a small compartment stored a variety of tightly packed equipment.
As he strapped himself into the device, the dwarf, who had focused his attention on the device, caught sight of the girl’s face. There was no mistaking the forlorn look of abandonment.
“Don’t take it so hard,” said the dwarf. “You fit the prophecy perfectly.”
Uwetsiageyv looked down at her marvelous dress and her miserable shoes. “You made all these things happen.”
Nodding, the dwarf admitted, “I got tired of waiting.”
He fastened the last buckle and stepped back several paces from the edge of the bluff. With a short run, he threw himself over the edge.
Uwetsiageyv made quick to follow lest she be left behind.
In the air, she discovered that flying with the dwarf was nothing like flying with crow and owl. Where the natural flyers coasted on currents of sea air, the cacophonic racket of the dwarf’s flapping contraption threatened to rob the activity of any trace of tranquility. To be certain, there would be no chance for Uwetsiageyv to drift into dreams during this flight. She maintained a position behind the dwarf, though it forced her to shift almost continuously in order to avoid the erratic eddies formed by the irregular beat of his winged machine. She did not want him to witness the tears that welled up and were streamed down her face by the wind.
She had not drunk any water to replenish her strength and she worried about her endurance. It turned out this anxiety was misplaced for the dwarf led them on a brief flight to another island. It seemed too close to be the destination of the crow and owl, who flew great distances between islands. This observation dashed Uwetsiageyv’s hopes of a quick reunion.
The dwarf chose to land, not on the beach, but high up the central mountain, choosing a point based on the ease with which he would be able to return to the air.
The grove beside which they landed was full of boxelder. On the trunk of one tree, a small bird with a white-breast, a lovely blue-gray back and sharp black markings between, clung to the bark, upside-down, its head tilted so far back that it looked out at the new arrivals at an angle almost horizontal to the ground.
Uwetsiageyv dearly desired to profess her adoration of the white-breasted nuthatch, but the crow was not present to invite the declaration and the dwarf was busy disassembling his flying machine.
July 7, 2016
Despondent, Uwetsiageyv wandered alone into the forest, leaving the dwarf to tend to his own needs. Although the boxelders and the nuthatches revealed themselves to her in their full magnificence, Uwetsiageyv found no consolation.
A footpath led to a small stream, trickling over mossy rocks down the side of the mountain. The bird girl knelt beside it and drank. While doing so, she observed her reflection in the water. She recognized the face that stared back at her, but for a moment it seemed that face suggested a return to the orphanage.
Uwetsiageyv swiped the water with a hand, disturbing the image. When it resettled, all signs of homesickness were dismissed if not permanently banished.
She was an explorer, she told herself, forging her way through unknown lands. It was inevitable that she should meet new companions then take leave of them when their paths diverged. Such was the natural way of adventurers. Bolstered by this observation, she entertained the notion of leaving the dwarf. However, after deriving a surprising pleasure from toying with the idea of leaving immediately, unannounced, she admitted she had more to learn from the dwarf. She would bide her time.
The idea that she maintained control over her destiny filled her with a new sense of energy, which she realized had been sapped after the crow had identified her as the subject of a prophecy, long foretold. It fell to her to show them all the error of associating her with that destiny.
July 8, 2016
The Woman in the Clouds
The nuthatches perched at their precarious angles on the boxelder trunks. Uwetsiageyv listened to their staccato calls, “Wah wah wah wah wah wah!” She found a spot between trees where grass lined the earth and, when she lay upon her back and wings, with her arms folded behind her head, she had a clear view of the clouds traversing across the brilliant blue sky.
Even as she watched them, the clouds gradually changed their shape. On a dry day, they might disappear entirely, only to have disconnected pieces reform a week later over a distant but similar expanse of ocean. There was in the clouds an ephemerality as well as an endlessness.
The clouds formed into a woman’s face. She called down to Uwetsiageyv and asked her if she wanted to live forever. Apparently, there was an excess of immortality in the firmament on that day and she was giving it away.
Uwetsiageyv shook her head. She barely knew what to do with one day at a time. The idea of an eternity of days frightened her. “Maybe the nuthatches want to be immortal,” the bird girl said to the woman in the clouds.
“Wah wah wah wah wah wah!” protested the nuthatches in a frenzy. They knew better than to accept peculiar offers from strangers, no matter how elegantly they might drift by.
Uwetsiageyv ransacked her mind, thinking of someone to nominate. Eventually, she could think of no one better suited to an endless existence than the boxelders around her. She said so to the woman in the clouds.
The boxelders, for their, did not vocalize their protests. They allowed the ordinary, timeless sough of the wind to sound through their leaves.
Later that night, after Uwetsiageyv had wandered to another spot on the island and fallen asleep, the clouds returned for the boxelders. It is said that the trees were carried off whole and transplanted on a far coast, caught eternally in the height of summer.
There are no witnesses to verify this story, nor had it been foretold by an oracle of old. This was only the first, tentative step in the dissolution of the Prophecy of the Crow Maiden.
July 11, 2016
On the second evening, when the nuthatches were neither seen nor heard, Uwetsiageyv found the dwarf by the light of his campfire, something the crow and owl had never so much as discussed. She entered the outermost range of illumination of the fire, where its heat did not extend.
The dwarf observed her largely hidden in shadow. The pair remained at this distance for some time while the oblivious fire cackled and spat.
“I know what’s bothering you,” said the dwarf in what must have been an attempt to comfort her. His eyes remained fixed on the fire.
“How could you not,” said the crow girl, “since each of my thoughts, much less my actions, has been pre-ordained?”
“Exactly,” said the dwarf. “You, like any creature before you armed with a rudimentary thinking apparatus, are struggling with your desire for self-determination in the face of the overwhelming evidence of your wholesale inability to influence your own destiny.” He took a deep breath. “It is a rather common diagnosis, especially among teenagers and those whose mental faculties never advance beyond such years.”
The shadows hid Uwetsiageyv’s frown. “That doesn’t make me feel better.”
“Only a fool expects to be comforted by the truth.”
“That is an even less pleasant thing to say,” Uwetsiageyv said in a tone of reprimand.
“Don’t blame me,” said the dwarf, “if I am reciting from a script.”
“What does that mean?” Uwetsiageyv was not in the mood to be moved by the dwarf’s frivolous redirection of fault.
“It means,” said the dwarf, “as an agent through which the prophecy is made manifest, I too labor beneath a role in which I have limited discretion and of which I am not overly fond.” He shifted his gaze to the shadow of Uwetsiageyv. “Still,” he added in a suddenly cheerful voice, “I try to make the best of it. Come enjoy the fire. There is a chill in the air tonight.”
July 12, 2016
An Aborted Loathing
Uwetsiageyv had followed the dwarf to the bluff where he had left his flying machine. As she watched him reassemble it in silence, she found herself reluctant to leave the company of the nuthatches. Only a few had come to see them off. From nearby trunks, they observed the dwarf’s labor.
She did not offer to help him. He had mastered the solo performance of the routine, and any deviation, no matter how well-intentioned, would only prolong the process. When the wings of the contraption were extended and the device prepared to go, Uwetsiageyv liked it even less than she had previously, knowing as she did the clamor that was to come. In fact she entertained the idea of loathing the contraption, nurturing a deep and unyielding hatred for the mechanical beast. She tried gritting her teeth and clenching her fists.
“It’s time to go,” said the dwarf. He turned his attention from the flying vehicle to Uwetsiageyv, catching her in the paroxysm of her attempt to summon anger.
“What in the world are you doing?”
Uwetsiageyv’s eyes opened wide. She blushed in embarrassment, as her face relaxed and her hands opened. The presentiment of anger seeped from her as easily as water through a sieve. “Oh nothing,” she said innocently.
The dwarf patted the vehicle protectively but kept his thoughts to himself. He strapped himself in and, with a short, running start, flung himself off the bluff. Into the air, he climbed. With each beat of the mechanical wings, the flying vehicle imparted its own insentient violence on the substance of the air.
With extra attention to the gracefulness of each movement, Uwetsiageyv lifted herself into the air and followed the dwarf. Both she and the dwarf understood that there was no need for the prophecy to be so painfully executed, yet as it played out, neither could deny how little they relished the company of the other.
Chapter 16. Sialia sialis
July 13, 2016
Once they had reached a coasting altitude, Uwetsiageyv chose to fly ahead of the dwarf, in hopes that it might minimize her exposure to the racket generated by his flying machine. She met with moderate success and managed to enjoy the flight from the Island of White-Breasted Nuthatches more than the one that had brought her to it. The cool air moving over her exposed arms and calves also served to calm her.
Of the new flying order, the dwarf said nothing. In truth, he had expected Uwetsiageyv to take the lead immediately upon their joining company.
No islands came into view during that day and the next, providing Uwetsiageyv with what she deemed a proper flight. On the third day, when she did espy an island on the blue horizon, she guided them toward it with a sense of satisfaction.
From above, the shape of the island brought nothing to the imagination of Uwetsiageyv. However, its coverage differed from most of the islands she had visited. It was only partially cloaked in a canopy of deciduous trees. At least half of the surface area of the island was covered in fields of tall grass.
The slope of the island was gentle and, when the dwarf asked to do so, she allowed him to select a landing spot from which he would have the least trouble taking to the air again.
So they came to landing in a small, relatively flat expanse of grass, as tall as the dwarf if not taller. The field was bordered by hardwoods—ash, hickory, silver maple and stately red oak. On low branches at the border between the woods and field, eastern bluebirds observed the arrival of their visitors.
The vibrant blue and warm reddish-brown breast easily identified the males, as did their low-pitched songs. They were hasty creatures and the entirety of their song took no more than two seconds to perform, which they did frequently. At spots beside them, females with gray backs elegantly tinged with hues of blue listened to the familiar calls with mixed responses.
Eventually several birds came out to investigate, if not greet, the bird girl and the dwarf. With erratic patterns, the bluebirds darted over the top of the grass, in a well-spaced perimeter around their guests. After satisfying their curiosity, they settled back at their posts at the edge of the clearing.
Uwetsiageyv’s fondness for bluebirds nearly matched that for white-breasted nuthatches. She could no longer restrain herself. “I love eastern bluebirds!” she exclaimed to the dwarf.
“Huh?” he said, folding up the flying machine.
“I love eastern bluebirds!” she repeated.
He paused for a moment and turned his attention to the few birds still dancing around them. “They have a blue to them,” he agreed, “that is pleasing to the eye. But they are devilishly hard to catch, if one is hungry.”
July 14, 2016
The Search Revisited
The dwarf had only taken a few steps through the tall grass before he turned and asked Uwetsiageyv, “Are you going to help me look?”
The bird girl did not take her eyes off the bluebirds at the clearing’s edge. “I don’t know what we are looking for.”
“The same thing you were looking for with Kònèy and Chwèt.”
“Oh,” said Uwetsiageyv, drawing the syllable out so that it became clear to the dwarf that his words had not sufficiently clarified the matter.
“They never told you what they were looking for?” He wondered, again, what kind of relationship had existed between the bird girl and the crow and the owl.
Uwetsiageyv reluctantly shifted her gaze from the bluebirds to the dwarf, hidden in the tall grass. “The owl told me that we were searching for the same thing that everyone else is.”
“So you do know,” said the dwarf, now perplexed.
“And what is that?” Uwetsiageyv asked with an edge to her voice.
“The fulfillment of the prophecy, of course,” answered the dwarf.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Uwetsiageyv insisted. She had yet to move so much as a step toward the tree line. The idea that everyone was working toward a prophecy that she had never even heard of until a few days ago was outlandish. “Most people are not looking for any prophecy to come true.”
“Hmph!” said the dwarf. “The next body you run into that admits they aren’t waiting for the prophecy, you make sure to point them out to me.”
Immediately accepting the challenge, Uwetsiageyv called out, “Bluebirds!” The birds at the edge of the clearing leapt from their perches at the sound of her voice. “Are you waiting for the prophecy to come true?”
The males performed their two-second overtures and the females executed an abbreviated aerial ballet in response. If this act was in fact an answer to the query put to them by Uwetsiageyv, then the particulars of their response remained ambiguous. To Uwetsiageyv’s dismay, contained in their music and dance were inseparable elements of living in the moment, detached from both the past and future, and an implicit acknowledgement of their relationship to what had come before and what would invariably follow. To be sure, the reply of the bluebirds was not an unequivocal rejection.
“Told you so,” said the dwarf. He turned and marched off to begin his search of the forest.
July 18, 2016
A Geography Lesson
Although Uwetsiageyv had started off in a different direction than the dwarf, owing to the contours of the island, the path she followed eventually led her back to the dwarf. He was seated at the base of a silver maple, chewing the leaf of some plant he had spotted along the way. A drop of clear saliva welled up on his lower lip. As she watched, it fled down into the dwarf’s beard. Though tempted, Uwetsiageyv did not inquire as to the nature of the leaf.
“Can you be any more specific,” she asked, “about what we are looking for?” She managed to resist the urge to point out that, whatever their object, the dwarf seemed not to be searching very conscientiously.
The dwarf shrugged. “I don’t know how it can be spelled out any more clearly. The prophecy was pretty specific.”
Uwetsiageyv folded her arms. A female bluebird arrived in the branches of the silver maple and eavesdropped on their conversation. Uwetsiageyv welcomed her company; she served as a witness to this dialogue. Later she could be called to testify in some sort of otherworldly court in which universal justice was dispensed that, contrary to the words of the dwarf, nothing had been made clear to her.
The dwarf followed Uwetsiageyv’s gaze to the witness on the branch and sighed deeply. “Fine,” he said. “Let me restate the prophecy in terms no one can possibly misunderstand.” Such a bothersome task was not to be undertaken sitting down, so he rose to his feet. Clearing his throat, he began, “If the lowliest dwarf and the mightiest giant are to sit at a common table, if peace is to be made between them, then you,” here he jabbed a short finger at her, “must find a dwarf and a giant. As I am standing right here in front of you, it must be apparent to all that you have already found your dwarf.” He spread his arms wide so that he could be perceived by all. “So that leaves the giant.”
Uwetsiageyv waited to make sure he was done with his speech, which had, to her mind, been delivered in a rather patronizing manner. “We are looking for a giant?” she asked.
“Exactly,” said the dwarf, stomping his foot. “I am glad we are now on the same page.” He moved to sit back down.
“Where are we likely to find a giant? We are deep in the Sea of Birds.”
Seeing that his lesson was not yet done, the dwarf abruptly remained standing. He next spoke of the geography of the Sea of Birds. He outlined the position of the sea with a gesture, then pointed to six spots around it. “Above the Sea of Birds, the endless firmament. That you know well. Below in subterranean realms, sheltered in vaults of rock dwell my people. To the north,” he said, “are ice-covered wastelands, beneath which swim leviathans. To the south, a continent of endless jungle. To the east, the lands of men and to the west, the Land of Giants.” When finished, the dwarf sat down. “Are we clear?”
“The Land of Giants?”
“Where giants can be found. And that’s why,” said the dwarf, “the crow and the owl recruited you to find the gateway to the Land of Giants.”
July 19, 2016
The Hollowed-Out Oak
The oak was engaged in a prolonged process of dying. The interior of the tree was hollowed out, the wood had rotted away. Still an annular sheath of the trunk remained through which the tree was able to support green leaves on a few high branches. At ground level, there was a split in the bark, granting access to the dark interior. Tired of the dwarf’s riddles, Uwetsiageyv crawled inside.
The bluebirds did not follow her, but chose to occupy better ventilated positions on the branches of the same tree.
Uwetsiageyv sat on the ground. For a while she peered out through the triangular hole through which she had entered. The world appeared brighter than normal through this aperture, surrounded as it was by the shadowy innards of the tree. Soon, this view too exhausted her. The bird girl closed her eyes and sought an internal calm.
She prayed, though she would not have called it prayer herself, nor would most readers, regardless of whether they choose to engage in the practice. Her act differed from tradition in that she spoke to the God of the Hollowed-Out Oak, whose space she now shared. She thanked him for welcoming her into his sanctuary for a brief spell. She acknowledged the comfort of the dark chamber. Her prayer also deviated from the norm in that it was promptly answered, for the God of the Hollowed-Out Oak dwelt in the very near proximity and it proved nigh impossible for him to pretend that he was unaware of this invocation.
The God of the Hollowed-Out Oak asked the bluebirds sitting on his branches just what he was supposed to do; it had been an awful long time since someone had asked for his intercession. He had forgotten how to respond.
This made the bluebirds laugh at his expense. They sang and danced as bluebirds do, refusing to answer.
Meanwhile Uwetsiageyv fell asleep.
In his forgetful ignorance, the God of the Hollowed-Out Oak managed the best he could. He cradled the bird girl in his darkness and whispered the same soothing words he had often said to himself during the long, slow process of dying.
July 20, 2016
The Intimation of a Key
Uwetsiageyv found the dwarf in good spirits. When he spotted her emerging from the trees at the edge of the clearing, he exclaimed cheerfully, “As near as I can tell, there are no giants on this island,” as if it were cause for celebration.
“I didn’t see any either,” Uwetsiageyv admitted. She scanned the field one last time but found only several natives, tiny specks of blue at the far edge of the field.
“Then I suggest we head off to another island tomorrow morning.” He oriented himself so that he faced the setting sun. The Land of the Giants lay to the west.
“Okay,” Uwetsiageyv agreed. She had no better alternative.
Dusk fell. As if the owl were beside her, Uwetsiageyv remained standing and peered out at the reflections of countless stars on the surface of the sea. She was struck by the sensation that, on another island, the owl was observing these same reflected stars. This errant thought arrived and departed in a matter of moments, but it left her feeling optimistic. On the next island, she thought, she might yet find giants. She imagined them as ordinary humans in appearance, but twelve feet tall. One was a sentry seated next to a huge stone gate, isolated from any structure of wall. She asked the guard if she could enter and, in a deep rumbling voice, the giant replied that she was more than welcome. Uwetsiageyv stepped through the stone arch and appeared on the far side.
There she found another giant, a woman in an enormous, plain yellow dress, seated on a three legged stool, as if guarding the gate from the opposite side.
“Am I in the Land of Giants?” Uwetsiageyv asked.
“No,” said the giantess.
“I went through the gate,” Uwetsiageyv insisted.
“It doesn’t work,” she explained patiently, “unless you have the key.”
Chapter 17. Sayornis phoebe
July 21, 2016
An End to the Clamor
Ordinarily, when a close companion has a peculiar idiosyncrasy or habit, there are three common responses, which depend less on the specifics of the mannerism and more on the disposition of the observer. They can find it an endearing trait, they can grow accustomed to it and come to ignore it, or, in the worst case, they can allow it to become an annoyance, grating deeper at their nerves with each occurrence.
As she listened to the mechanical flapping of the dwarf’s flying contraption, Uwetsiageyv considered her options. She desperately did not want to fall into the last category, for she knew that if she allowed the dwarf’s clamor to get under her skin, it was her own fault. She would then have failed to rise above what could reasonably be deemed a minor nuisance, essential to the dwarf’s ability to move between islands.
However, after putting up with the cacophony over several days of flight, she proved at her wit’s end. The final straw appeared when they approached the next island and she observed a lone bird come out to greet her.
A smaller bird, with a fine beak and what some might consider an oversized head, climbed into the sky. The morning sun highlighted the grayish-brown feathers on its back and the dusky wash leading to an off-white breast. It opened its mouth in greeting, but Uwetsiageyv could not hear it for the riot emerging from the machine beside her.
The eastern phoebe tried again, several times in fact. With each attempt, Uwetsiageyv strained to hear the familiar “fee-bee!” of the flycatcher, but heard only the dwarf’s maddening racket.
They landed at a point of the dwarf’s choosing. Though she said nothing, by her stance and silence, the dwarf knew that he had upset her yet again. What he did not suspect was that Uwetsiageyv had, much to her discredit, hatched a plot to sabotage the old dwarf’s flying machine.
July 22, 2016
An Act of Sabotage
The phoebe perched on the frame of a wing of the dwarf’s machine, as she watched Uwetsiageyv partially unraveling the thread that wrapped the edge of the fabric around the wooden rods. The smaller bird shook her head reprovingly. The bird girl’s face shared the sense of dismay. Of course, she knew what she was doing was wrong. Why did she persist?
As her fingers continued their work, she reminded herself that everything that transpired here in the Sea of Birds unfolded according to a prophecy written in ages past. Therefore, this act of treachery too must have been foretold and was necessary for the fulfillment of the prophecy. While she was not entirely convinced by this argument, it provided some comfort.
When it came time to depart the Island of Eastern Phoebes, the dwarf did not notice Uwetsiageyv’s handiwork. At dawn, they launched themselves into the sky. Several hours into the flight, when they found themselves over an endless expanse of blue, with no island in sight before or behind, the left wing began to tear loose. Well beyond the reach of the dwarf’s short arms, there was nothing he could do but watch the damage grow with each beat of the wings. Eventually, a gust of wind tore the fabric from the wing; it was lost behind them unnoticed, for the dwarf now plummeted toward the sea. From above, Uwetsiageyv watched as he tumbled helplessly downward. The fatal impact with the surface of the sea was circumvented only when the leviathan leapt from the surface and snatched him from the air in its gargantuan maw, swallowing the dwarf whole.
“Fee-bee!” cried the phoebe, as if she had followed Uwetsiageyv through each step of her daydream.
Uwetsiageyv returned to reality and found her hands resting gently on the dwarf’s folded flying machine. She examined the thread. It seemed untouched; her unraveling too appeared to have proceeded exclusively in the daydream.
She left the machine and wandered into the island’s interior. Thirsty, she looked for a stream to replenish her energy.
The lone phoebe flittered behind her calling repeatedly, “Fee-bee! Fee-bee! Fee-b-bee!”
July 23, 2016
An Alternate Perspective
The dwarf had no need of the warning of the eastern phoebe, who came to trill at him in tones of alarm. He still believed Uwetsiageyv to be a faerie, mischievous by nature. Moreover, the dwarf was well versed with the lore of fey creatures. He understood that the daydreams of faeries held a power of their own.
To protect himself, he sought out the bird girl. He found her in the company of a solitary phoebe sitting beneath a weeping willow at the edge of a small brook. Despite his suspicions, the dwarf could not deny that she looked very much in her element, serene and innocent.
She had apparently confided a dark secret to the willow tree, for it too, like the phoebe, sought to warn the dwarf. It spindly arms waved in the breeze, cautioning the dwarf to remain vigilant.
Uwetsiageyv looked up at the dwarf’s approach but said nothing. Her face, usually expressive, was conspicuously free of emotion.
Seating himself on the bank, with the trunk of the willow between them, the dwarf opted for a semi-direct approach. “When we find the gate to the Land of Giants,” he said, “you will need me.”
Uwetsiageyv glanced from the corner of her eyes and a wan smile escaped her. “Oh,” she corrected him, “I need you now.”
It was not the response he had expected. ‘Always the surprise,’ he thought to himself.
“Uwetsiageyv,” he said, starting over, “when we reach the gate to the Land of Giants, you will need a key to enter.”
“Do you have the key?” she asked obediently.
“I am the key,” he told her.
“Then it’s a good thing you are here,” she said without conviction.
“Indeed,” agreed the dwarf. “It’s good to be here, alive in the Sea of Birds, with a quest worthy of a lifetime’s devotion.”
“That,” said Uwetsiageyv, “is an interesting way of looking at things.”
July 24, 2016
Feeling ornery, Uwetsiageyv finally confronted the dwarf on a topic that had been bothering her for some time. She found the dwarf, trying to inconspicuously stand guard over his flying machine. He said something about departing the Island of Eastern Phoebes on the following morning, but Uwetsiageyv did not respond to that point.
“When we first met,” she said to the dwarf, “you told me that your name was Colugo.”
“I am called Colugo,” said the dwarf.
“But, if I remember correctly, I heard the owl call you Mr. R.A. Peach.”
The dwarf nodded. “It’s true,” admitted the dwarf. “I go by more than one name.”
“Which is your real name?” asked the bird girl.
“Neither!” said the dwarf. “I should not share my true name so freely.”
“Not even with me?” It wasn’t clear if Uwetsiageyv’s hurt feelings were genuine or feigned.
“A faerie?!” By his tone, the dwarf left no doubt regarding his belief that faeries were not at all the sort of creature to be trusted on secretive matters.
“Mr. R.A. Peach,” said Uwetsiageyv in a formal tone, “I told you that I am not a faerie.”
The dwarf folded his arms across his chest. He would believe what he chose.
“What does the R.A. stand for?” asked Uwetsiageyv.
“I’d rather not say,” said the dwarf stubbornly.
Uwetsiageyv pursed her lips. “And Peach? As in the fruit?”
“No,” shouted the dwarf, apparently insulted. “Not the fruit! Peach!” He glared at her. “Peach!” he repeated, “as in unimpeachable character.”
“Hmm,” said Uwetsiageyv. “I prefer fruit to character.”
“What?” said the dwarf, sure that she was deliberately antagonizing him. “And why is that?”
Uwetsiageyv thought of her days in the orphanage. “Fruit is much sweeter. Character is notoriously sour.”
July 25, 2016
An In-Flight Concession
As unlikely as it seemed to either of them, Uwetsiageyv and the dwarf departed the island together. “Fee-bee!” The advice of the eastern phoebe rang in their ears, growing fainter as they ascended into the pink sky of dawn. If there were words to be shared between them, they were impossible to communicate over the racket of the flying machine. Nevertheless, the sun rose. The entirety of the sky turned a familiar shade of blue. The waters of the ocean responded to the various physical forces exerting their wills upon it. The gravity of the Earth held the ocean against the sea bed while the tug of the moon swirled it about. Deep undersea currents maintained their stubborn paths based on thousands of years of habit as much as thermal gradients. The drag of the breeze against the surface of the ocean sculpted crests and troughs, teased opaque, white foam from translucent, cerulean wave.
In the lead, Uwetsiageyv had no need to look over her shoulder to gauge the progress of the dwarf. His relative position was readily apparent based on her ears alone. Still, something tugged at her, and she glanced back only to discover a lone phoebe struggling to keep up with them.
“Go back,” she called to the tiny bird.
It refused to yield to Uwetsiageyv’s command. “Fee-bee!”
“Go back!” she shouted again. “We travel too far. You would die out here.” She slowed her progress and the dwarf rattled by her.
The phoebe would not surrender until it wrested from Uwetsiageyv a promise that she would not allow the dwarf to come to harm, lest she lose her own soul.
Once the bird had extracted this concession, it returned to the sanctuary of its island home, arriving exhausted but relieved.
Chapter 18. Haemorhous mexicanus
July 26, 2016
When they drew near enough to the next island that the sound of the dwarf’s machine could be heard by the natives, a flock of sixty or so birds arose from the green canopy of a grove of black locust and chestnut trees on the near side of the island. The faces and necks of some of the birds bore a coloring, which ranged from a dull, brownish red on many to a much more vivid hue on a select few. Other members, the females, displayed only grayish brown faces with indistinct marks. The house finches bobbed out of time with each other.
Either their agitation was contagious or, with the approach of the dwarf, the clamor of his machine rapidly spread across the island. In any case, waves of finches erupted from the island, next in its elevated interior, then from the far flanks visible on either side.
Although Uwetsiageyv had done her best to maintain her composure during the flight, this raucous and graceless introduction to the birds was not at all how she desired to be announced.
Sulking, she allowed the dwarf to select a spot on which to settle. Again, he chose a point midway up the island, positioned near a small rocky cliff, from which he could easily launch himself. Once landed, the cacophony of the machine subsided to a residual buzzing in her ears and Uwetsiageyv watched the house finches gather around them in great numbers.
“House finches,” said Uwetsiageyv. They were as common as any bird she knew, but she still enjoyed their jumbled, warbling song.
With so many of the birds assembled, their joint song reminded her of an orchestra tuning their instruments prior to the arrival of the audience in the auditorium. Each performer played snippets of a common score, but did not attempt to synchronize their efforts. Uwetsiageyv heard in the choir of birds a natural synchronization governed by laws other than meter and rhythm.
“What a racket!” said the dwarf, gazing at the finches with disapproval.
To her discredit, Uwetsiageyv, who had just silently endured two days of the dwarf’s din, could no longer restrain herself. She nearly exploded, and in doing so, made it clear to the dwarf, in terms that could not possibly be misunderstood, what she thought of his inconsiderate hypocrisy and his infernal flying contraption. We do not record her tirade verbatim in these notes, because words such as these are best released with the feelings from which were born then allowed to be forgotten as the emotion dissipates.
July 27, 2016
She had hurt the dwarf’s feelings, or so he pretended. Dwarves are notoriously tough; it is difficult to believe that one as weathered as he could genuinely be affected by a spate of mere verbal abuse, especially from a creature such as a faerie, well-known for their mendacious and fickle natures.
He continued to examine Uwetsiageyv, amidst the song of the flock of house finches. She stood not far from the rocky cliff, the open sky formed a canvas behind her, as if she were imitating her own portrait. To this portrait, he found it easier to speak. “Uwetsiageyv,” he said calmly, “we have many islands yet before us. Perhaps, it would be wisest if we split up. We could cover twice as many islands in the same amount of time.”
Embarrassed by her outburst, Uwetsiageyv did not wish to speak. She merely nodded. At the same time, the prospect of being left entirely on her own in these islands frightened her.
As the dwarf strapped the flying machine on his back, he relayed the following instructions. “If you are the one to discover the gateway to the Land of the Giants, you will be unable to enter without the key.”
Uwetsiageyv had not forgotten that the dwarf had already identified himself as the key.
“If you find the gate, you will have to approach the gatekeeper. You must provoke the gatekeeper in order to generate a response, which will resound for many miles around. I will come as quickly as I am able.” He fixed Uwetsiageyv with an inscrutable expression, while he finished his final preparations.
She chose not to inquire as to the nature of the preferred provocation.
“Nor can I enter without you,” added the dwarf, as an afterthought. “I will do the same, if it is I who come across the gate first. It will then be up to you to come to my aid.”
He stepped back from the cliff, in order to get a running start. “I leave the search of this island to you,” he said. With no further words he ran to edge and flung himself off the cliff.
The bird girl and her host of finches watched the dwarf rise into the morning sky, the din of his machine fading as he shrank to a speck, before disappearing entirely.
July 28, 2016
A One-Sided Conversation
“Mr. R.A. Peach,” said Uwetsiageyv to the dwarf who was no longer present, “there is a question I have been meaning to ask you.”
The absent dwarf gave no indication that she should not proceed.
“The crow and the owl claimed that you were bent on their destruction. Is that true? I don’t understand how your hostility fits into the prophecy.” She neglected to consider how her own hostility toward the dwarf had arisen in a natural way, independent of any prophecy.
Since the dwarf was by now miles away, moving through a bank of clouds and emerging in a sun-swept cloudscape, he had no knowledge of the question. Even if he had been within earshot, he likely was not in the mood to answer it.
Although the house finches eyed her curiously, Uwetsiageyv asked the empty space beside her again, “Do you intend to destroy the crow and owl?”
The ancient enmity between dwarves and giants was well known, documented in both academic treatises and popular fiction. That a dwarf should extend his rancor beyond humanoid giants to avian giants as well was actually not much of a surprise. That giant birds should reciprocate the feeling was likewise predictable. Yet Uwetsiageyv remained unsatisfied with this answer. “There must be more to it,” she said aloud, though the dwarf could not hear her. She did not, at that time, realize that hatred was a living creature, indulging in the biological impulse to propagate from one generation to another. It could lay dormant during years of drought then erupt with the slightest hint of provocation, leading to a torrent. Encoded in genetic segments, hatred migrated and spread with populations, adapting when necessary to address new enemies.
Uwetsiageyv was not a child of innocence; she had, during her brief life, been exposed to senseless malice. Nevertheless, her spirit was such that she refused to accept this definition of a mindlessly malevolent perpetuation of enmity.
“There must be another reason,” she said again.
The house finches could provide no assistance to her as she navigated these mental circumlocutions. They had long ago opted to abandon even the consideration of such thoughts in favor of an existence based on impulse, whim and flight. Though they invited her to join them, the bird girl was made a different way.
July 29, 2016
The Search Resumes
Uwetsiageyv began her search of the Island of House Finches. She was not sure whether, as the owl had said, she was searching for the same thing that everyone else seeks. Alternatively she might be searching for the gate to the Land of Giants, as the dwarf had advised. Perhaps, they were the same thing, although she had no evidence to support that unlikely proposition. Finally, she admitted, as she knew the crow never would, it remained within the realm of possibilities that there was in all actuality no object to the search; rather the pursuit was a self-defining existential exercise.
The house finches were no help. The many thousands of them that called this island home sang out to her, in hopes of drawing her attention to each highlight of the island, of which there were an equal number. Included in such landmarks were random scatterings of shells on the beach, clusters of flowers petals streaked with orange, a pair of trees standing side by side with branches that looked as if they were holding hands, and burls attached like tumors to the sides of living trees. The house finches seemed convinced that in fact there was an infinite number of objects for which Uwetsiageyv did not yet realize she was searching.
Their ridiculous antics made Uwetsiageyv laugh. “Oh happy day!” she said to them in all earnestness.
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