The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:

The Ornithological Collection of Uwetsiageyv
(link to main page of novel)


May 2, 2016
An Unintended Answer
Based solely on size, it was undeniable that the totem she had encountered the day before was not the product of the labor of a tufted titmouse nor any number of them joined in concert. Some external agent had erected the totem. Uwetsiageyv therefore began to imagine the nature of the architect responsible for its construction.

She glanced at her companions in the twilight, a pinkish orange light coloring the feathers of the owl but leaving the crow a silhouette in pitch. They were both awake though neither had yet stirred from the position they had adopted through the night. The trio would soon depart this island. In flight, words were harried by the wind and conversations were intentionally kept brief. If she wanted more than a monosyllabic answer, Uwetsiageyv would have to ask before they left.

It occurred to her that one possible culprit was an assemblage of larger, sentient birds, like her traveling companions. She took her time phrasing her question. “Are there others, like you,” she asked, “for every species of bird?” She imagined a tufted titmouse enlarged to the scale of the crow.

“Like us?” asked the crow, though he surely knew what she meant.

“Of the elder race of birds...” She had carefully chosen this description in preference to ‘big birds’.

“The elder race...” repeated the owl softly. A period of silence followed in which the rise of the sun inexorably continued.

“It seems improbable,” answered the crow, “that we are mere anomalies, with neither precedent nor successor.”

When it became clear that the crow would offer no greater response, the owl added, “While nature can give rise to an unusual member of a species, it seems infeasible that an entire race—the elder race of birds—should be confined to one or two examples.”

Both birds began to move, adjusting their wings and making preparations to depart. They seemed in no mood to continue the discussion as dawn had given way to day. By subtle body language, they implicitly discouraged further questions.

Thus Uwetsiageyv did not receive her answer as to the maker of the totem. However, this exchange did provide her with a far more fruitful subject for introspection. If what the crow and owl said was true, then perhaps there were others like her—part human, part bird—wandering these islands.

Chapter 6. Spinus tristis

May 3, 2016
A Hidden Treasure
Consumed as she was by the thoughts of finding another traveler like herself, Uwetsiageyv paid little attention during the flight that carried them from the Island of the Tufted Titmice to their next destination. If pressed, she would have been able to reveal neither the direction of their journey nor its duration.

Her reverie, however, was disrupted by the spectacular sight of the island below, once they approached sufficiently close to make out large-scale features. From above, this island rose from the sea as had the other islands. The waters lightened in color as the sea grew shallower around the perimeter. The familiar beach of white sand encircled only half the island. The interior was not dominated by mountains. Instead Uwetsiageyv found a flat, high plateau, surrounded by cliffs, which fell to the east to the beach and to the west met the sea with a rocky, jagged coast line. Atop the plateau was an impressionistic palette of vibrant yellow, leafy green and a shade of pale purple that could only be associated with thistle.

In fact, as the trio descended to the island, the yellow resolved into huge swaths of sunflowers, standing nearly ten feet tall. The green was revealed as the canopy of a deciduous forest of ash, maple, sassafras and other hardwoods. The purple, which appeared only at the interface between the forests and the fields proved indeed to belong to a thick hedge of thistle.

“Oh, it’s beautiful,” Uwetsiageyv said from the air.

“I thought you would like it,” admitted the crow.

They set foot on the island in a clearing in the woods not far from one such interface. Uwetsiageyv heard the twitters and warbles, arranged in varying phrases and repeated in a seemingly random order, but she did not see the owners. She recognized the song, however, and knew where they would be more easily observed.

Before even finding a place to slake their thirst, she led the crow and the owl to the edge of the forest, where they looked over the thistle to the golden field. Above it, goldfinches—the males of a hue even more vibrantly yellow than the sunflowers and the females displaying their preference for earthen tones—flew with their bouncing, undulating pattern. They called to each other in flight, drawing attention to themselves with both dance and song. To the visiting audience, they paid no mind.

Never in the shared history of pirates and islands and buried treasure had one locale boasted a more lively and abundant golden horde.

May 4, 2016
The Whispering Dwarf
Uwetsiageyv separated from the others only because it seemed a pair of goldfinches beckoned her to do so. Besides, the island was small. She had little doubt that she could take to the air and find the crow and the owl in a matter of minutes, if the need arose.

She followed the goldfinches, who darted along a footpath winding between trees into the darkness of the forest. There was an air of excitement in their flight, as if they were leading her to another cache of the island’s golden treasure. In fact, they shortly arrived at a small, secluded waterfall, in which a trickle of water dropped no more than ten feet in height. At the base, a plunge pool had formed in a bowl of natural stone.

Uwetsiageyv paid little heed to the remaining features of the grotto for her attention was captured by a dwarf, muttering to himself, as he furtively dragged a contraption, which appeared to be a pair of mechanical wings, along the edge of the pool into a narrow crevice in the stone wall down which the water flowed.

Although Uwetsiageyv’s first impulse was to hide, based solely on the nervous, secretive gestures of the dwarf, the goldfinches called cheerily to him, drawing his attention to them and the bird girl who stood behind them.

“Oh,” said the dwarf, startled then evidently relieved, in a low volume. “It’s just you.” His spoke with an accent reminiscent of some corner of the old world.

“Yes,” agreed Uwetsiageyv, “it’s just me.”

“I feared it was Chwèt,” he confided in a whisper.


He seemed surprised at her unfamiliarity with the name. “The owl.”

Thus was Uwetsiageyv privy to the owl’s name. She examined the stranger, who knew more about her companions than she did. His face was weatherworn and wrinkled. If she had to guess an age, she would have said he had already passed the half-century mark. Gray flecked his black hair and beard, though his gray eyes retained a lively youth. He wore the boots, trousers and shirt of a workman. It made her think of a blacksmith or a silversmith or some other sort of metallurgist.

The dwarf finished stashing his folded, flying contraption into the narrow cave, then emerged and stuck out a small, grubby hand.

Uwetsiageyv gingerly stepped forward and, after unabashedly scrutinizing the dwarf further, shook his hand. His grip was strong and hearty. He smiled broadly, revealing yellowed teeth.

“They call me Colugo,” he said, continuing to whisper.

Uwetsiageyv whispered in reply, “I am Uwetsiageyv.”

The dwarf nodded, as if he already knew her name.

The girl pointed to the cave. “What is that apparatus?”

“It’s my wings, of course,” he replied. “They don’t come naturally to all of us.” He seemed to cast an appreciative eye at the magnificent, black wings that emerged from her back.

Uwetsiageyv surmised he had recently flown here. “You don’t live on this island?”

“Just passing through,” the dwarf confirmed.

This seemed a terrific coincidence to Uwetsiageyv. “Have you been following us?”

“I’ve been tracking those birds long before you joined them.”

This unexpected revelation unnerved Uwetsiageyv. She wondered if there were other elements of her journey with the crow and owl of which she remained blithely unaware. There seemed a hundred questions on her mind. She chose a pertinent one. “Why are we whispering?”

“I already told you,” said the dwarf. “I don’t want that bloody owl to find me.”

“Why?” Uwetsiageyv wondered what the dwarf could have done to upset the owl, who, while at times prickly, had gradually come to seem harmless to her.

“Well,” said the dwarf. “The last time I ran into him, he tried to eat me. I barely escaped with my life.” He lifted his shirt, revealing a belly, covered in coarse, black hair except upon a white scar where a sharp beak had long ago torn a chunk of flesh from his side.

May 5, 2016
The Denial
“Why are you following them?” asked Uwetsiageyv of the dwarf. The pair had settled on two weathered stones in the grotto beside the plunge pool. They still spoke in lowered voices. When a goldfinch abruptly entered the clearing, the dwarf jerked and spun about to confirm that he had not been caught unawares by the owl.

He leaned forward conspiratorially. “Do you think I would so willingly reveal all my secrets to a faerie?” He pulled back. “Your kind are known to be tricksy.”

Uwetsiageyv’s eyes widened in surprise. “But I am not a faerie, I’m just a girl...”

“...with bird wings,” concluded the dwarf, “A bird girl, with the frame of a bird, seemingly a waif yet free of despair, long, sable hair, earthen complexion, dark, luminous eyes, a forsaken girl over whom many a lad would swoon, a girl who keeps the company of birds. Do you think me a fool? I know a faerie when I see one.”

Uwetsiageyv was taken aback by this description of her. She undoubtedly had never been described in such flattering terms. “I beg your pardon,” she said, “but I am most certainly not a faerie.” She had raised her voice to rebut the dwarf’s words and her volume alarmed the dwarf.

“Nonsense,” he whispered in a hushed tone as he dismissed her denial with a gesture. “I shall prove it to you.”

“Prove it to me?” said Uwetsiageyv. “That shall be quite impossible.” There was a vehemence in her whisper.

“Were you born of a woman?”

“I was.”

“What did she look like?”

Uwetsiageyv had only one memory of her mother. “She had great, black eyes,” she confided.

“Like a crow?” asked the dwarf, looking pointedly to her wings. He shook his head. “You were only raised among men. Even now to look at you one sees their clothes don’t suit you. They were woven by human hands, and poorly at that.” He examined the several spots where Uwetsiageyv had knotted the yarn of the cotton sweater to keep it from unraveling further. “It’s a wonder that jumper has last as long as it has.”

Although she could deny all the dwarf’s words regarding her origin, she could not refute his simple description of the deterioration of her garment. “I know,” she said, defeated. “It’s falling apart.”

Observing her disconsolate expression, the dwarf hopped to his feet and smiled. “It’s nothing to fret about. On this count, I may certainly be of aid to you.”

“You can mend this?” she said, stretching out her sleeve.

“I can do far better than that,” replied the dwarf. “I can find you a more fitting outfit, one that no wind, however furious, shall fray.”

A doubt crept into Uwetsiageyv’s mind. “Why would you help me?”

“Your kind are a powerful folk,” he replied. “It’s never a bad idea to get in the good graces of a faerie.”

May 6, 2016
The Golden Thread
Just as a pair of goldfinches had led Uwetsiageyv to the grotto where she had discovered the dwarf, so too did a pair now lead both her and the dwarf, though to where she did not know. The bow-legged dwarf managed an awkward tiptoe along the narrow path by which the birds led them. Uwetsiageyv followed in the rear.

Eventually they arrived at a point in the woods, indistinguishable to any other shadowed spot. The dwarf led her to a small shrub-like tree, from which, upon closer inspection, she noticed several oblong cocoons were dangling by silken threads.

Pressing several gently between his thumb and finger, the dwarf pronounced in a whisper, “Good, they’ve already been abandoned.” He began to pluck cocoons, each less than an inch in length, from the tree. He indicated that Uwetsiageyv should do the same from an adjacent tree.

She worried that their might still be a moth transforming within. She squeezed one gently. “How do I know if it is unoccupied?” she asked.

“If one is empty, they all are,” said the dwarf in reply. “They emerge collectively.”

Thus reassured Uwetsiageyv collected a dozen of the cocoons.

With their bounty in hand, the pair returned to the grotto. For the remainder of the day, the dwarf instructed Uwetsiageyv in the art of unwinding threads from the cocoons. He floated three in the small pool and let them soak, he found one end of each then pulled them over a well-positioned stick, where his surprisingly nimble fingers braided them into a single thread, then wrapped them around the green stem of leaf. Quickly, a spool of silken thread began to form.

Clumsily at first, Uwetsiageyv imitated the dwarf. Her spool seemed much more uneven than the sure-handed dwarf. After an hour, she expressed her reservations.

“I could do this for a month before I had enough thread to weave a shirt. I am afraid that my companions will have left me far behind by then.” She said the words apologetically for she knew that the dwarf had meant well, but soon she would have to abandon the task unfinished.

The dwarf nodded but continued his work. “You misunderstand,” he said. “This is only the thread to stitch the fabric together at its seams. We won’t use this silk for the material itself.”

“Oh,” said Uwetsiageyv. “Where will we find the material?”

“The goldfinches keep only the thread. They don’t mind the material, for which they can be thankful.”

Although Uwetsiageyv did not appreciate the full import of his words, she at least understood that she must travel to another island to complete the task.

When dusk arrived, they had two spools of thread, each over a half inch in diameter. “My companions will be looking for me,” Uwetsiageyv told the dwarf.

“Then you should go,” he readily suggested, for he too had begun to worry that the girl’s prolonged absence would draw the owl and crow to him. The dwarf handed his spool to the girl. He took a step toward the cave where his flying contraption was stashed. Perhaps he intended to hide himself.

“Where will I find the material?” Uwetsiageyv asked.

“The next island or the one after that,” replied the dwarf almost as if he knew the pattern of their journey, past and future. “If it turns out that you need help in finding it, perhaps I shall be the one who aids you,” he assured her. “Now go!”

Having no pockets, Uwetsiageyv stuffed one spool of thread into each sock at her ankle. Though the socks hung loosely on her thin legs, they proved sufficient to secure the newly woven thread.

“Thank you!” whispered Uwetsiageyv. She flapped her wings and rose into the air, only to discover the crow already circling above the island, apparently searching for her. She quickly flew to him and they descended to a glade where the wide eyes of the owl seemed to follow Uwetsiageyv with undisguised suspicion.

May 9, 2016
When the unspoken search of the crow and owl had come to its conclusion, the crow announced that it was time to leave the Island of Goldfinches. He again took the opportunity to ask Uwetsiageyv if she had learned anything in particular during her stay.

The question did not take Uwetsiageyv by surprise. On the contrary, she had worried about this very moment, for she had kept all knowledge of the dwarf to herself. Uwetsiageyv did not believe in lying. She had long ago succumbed to the suspicion that uttering a falsehood would cause her to lose her soul, one white lie at a time. She therefore had prepared a diversion, which she hoped would satisfy the crow without resorting to prevarication or, barring that, admitting to her secret encounter with the dwarf.

Uwetsiageyv narrated to the crow and the owl the folk tale of Rumpelstiltskin, an imp or a gnome or a faerie, depending on the retelling (in Uwetsiageyv’s version, he was a gnome), who, in exchange for her first-born child, clandestinely spun straw into gold for a maiden, threatened by her king. Impressed with her supposed abilities at the loom, the king not only spared the maiden’s life but married her. When the time came to turn over the crown-prince to Rumpelstiltskin, the maiden, now queen, reneged on her arrangement. She sent a spy to discover the gnome’s name. Once his name was known to her, she had power over him. In his rage at being deceived, Rumpelstiltskin either flew off on a ladle, kicked the ground so hard he opened a chasm which promptly swallowed him, or tore himself in two, depending upon the version. Uwetsiageyv had him swallowed by the chasm, fearing that if she allowed him to exit the story in flight, it would bear too much resemblance to the reality that had befallen her.

When Uwetsiageyv had finished the tale, the crow and the owl exchanged curious glances. Their appreciation for the girl’s subtleties increased substantially on that day, for she had accomplished many tasks simultaneously. She had not lied, yet at the same time she had communicated and not communicated everything she should and shouldn’t have to her avian companions. Such skillful manipulation of the truth was not to be taken lightly.

When the goldfinches incorporated the tale of the visit of the faerie and the dwarf to their island into song, they embellished the events substantially. They added wholly fictionalized elements that increased the drama and aided the rhyme scheme. From the mere fraction of the story that transpired on their island, they ultimately came up with a song that many among us might have mistaken as being a crude, early version of Rumpelstiltskin.

Chapter 7. Cyanocitta cristata

May 10, 2016
A Cryptic Reply
Several times during the course of their flight, Uwetsiageyv discreetly looked over her shoulder to see if she could see the form of the dwarf behind them, flapping along in his ungainly, flying contraption. She found no sign of him. Perhaps he had in his possession binoculars to keep them in sight at distance; it was certainly not an uncommon piece of equipment for those who studied birds.

The singular quality of the next island they approached was the presence of oak trees to the exclusion of all other species. These oaks seemed to Uwetsiageyv to be of no ordinary breed. Even from the air, they seemed over-sized and impossibly ancient, the many gnarled arms of a single individual sprawling out for fifty yards before touching the tips of its fingers against its neighbors.

From the ground, the trunks were as wide as Uwetsiageyv was tall. The dark bark shone a pale brownish gray where light struck it. Spanish moss collected at the numerous elbows and dangled like ornate bracelets.

Uwetsiageyv would have named this place The Island of the Oaks, except for the blue jays that called themselves to her attention with their squawking song. Appearing only singly or in pairs, they were fewer in number than the residents of the previous islands, which she had visited. Their intricately patterned costumes of white, black and myriad hues of blue complemented the gray of Spanish moss, the silvery underside of the pointed leaves, and the crooked geometry of the trees themselves.

The enchantment of Uwetsiageyv by this magical scene knew no bounds. Each island, she thought, outdid the one before.

“This is a beautiful place,” she said to the crow and owl in gratitude for bringing her here.

“We had nothing to do with it,” the crow tersely replied.

She did not let his tone sour her spirits. She walked beneath the boughs on sandy earth scattered with acorns. Several blue jays were always in sight but usually kept at least one tree away.

“I might be better able to help you,” she said to the owl, who had kept pace beside her, “if I knew what you were looking for.”

The owl seemed not entirely immune to the same oaken magic that had struck Uwetsiageyv. “We are searching,” he said, after a pause, “for the same thing that everyone else seeks.”

Uwetsiageyv entranced by the activities of a blue jay and an acorn waited with half an ear for the owl to elaborate. By the time the delay in his response struck her as unusually long, she discovered he had already wandered off by himself.

May 11, 2016
An Imponderable Answer
It seemed none of the trio was in a hurry to leave the sanctuary, which the Island of Oaks provided. The owl seemed never to sleep, meandering through the forest day and night, sometimes with Uwetsiageyv at his side and sometimes alone. If the owl was engaged in a search it seemed at best in a lackadaisical way, its pace slow, its gaze superficial. The crow too seemed preoccupied, for he spent a great portion of his time with his eyes closed, breathing in the mixed scent of oak and ocean as he listened to the combined choir of bird and surf.

Uwetsiageyv feared that her secretive meeting with the dwarf was to blame for her companions’ odd behavior, that somehow they knew of it and were brooding over potential consequences. However, she did not long let this anxiety deprive her of the joys of the oaks and the blue jays who dwelt among them.

At one point, finding herself alone with a solitary jay, she asked it in a whisper, “A friend told me that I might find some fabric on this island, or perhaps the next.” She fished one of the spools of caterpillar thread from her socks. Holding it out for inspection by the bird, she added, “I’ve already wound thread to stitch it together.”

The blue jay examined the braided silk attentively. Perhaps it considered borrowing it and securing its nest with such resilient fiber, but Uwetsiageyv deposited the spool back in her sock before the bird could act on the impulse.

She waited to see if the blue jay would lead her, as the goldfinches had before, to a destination in which she would find bolts of embroidered cloth arrayed before her. The blue jay flew from tree to tree as all blue jays do. Uwetsiageyv dutifully followed, unsure of whether she had communicated her intent and the bird was responding. Ultimately, it seemed that the blue jay had nowhere to lead her, for she traveled in a random walk through the forest of oaks. Certainly, she did not count this episode spent wandering in a lovely and stately arbor as wasted time. She was not even sure that the blue jay had misunderstood her. Perhaps, the bird had chosen to communicate a different message among the oaks and she, given her limited capacity for understanding, had failed to receive the intended message.

To be sure, if this was the case and if the blue jays experienced some dismay at the thick-headedness of their visitor, they did not, to their credit, allow their disappointment to diminish their show of hospitality one iota.

May 12, 2016
The Mandala
If it had not been for the thread nestled against her ankles, Uwetsiageyv might have been inclined to believe that her encounter with the dwarf had been nothing more than a hallucination, produced by whatever portion of her brain corresponded to dwarf-sized fantasies. However, she possessed a material reminder and, at this early point in her life, she had not yet learned how to reliably reinterpret manifestations of a reality purportedly in the grips of relentless causation. In other words, she trusted her memory.

She found the crow, standing beneath an oak. Had she been pressed to speculate as to what he was doing, she would have guessed that he was counting fallen acorns.

She came to a stop beside his motionless form. She too examined the ground and only then realized that, perhaps, he had been purposely arranging the acorns. The erratic pattern at her feet reminded her of a very poorly assembled mandala.

“Do you have a good memory?” she asked the crow.

“Caw!” said the crow, stirring abruptly from his reverie. “Do I have a good memory? You might as well ask, ‘Are crows black?’” Still staring at the ground, he shook his head and muttered, “Do I have a good memory?” He turned his head and fixed the bird girl with one keen eye. “I am a memory.”

In this way, Uwetsiageyv was introduced to a theory that was circulating in fashionable society of the time, namely that the four-dimensional substance of reality was a projection of a higher dimensional space cast perhaps on the horizon of a black hole, in much the same way that solar radiation images our three-dimensional bodies, giving rise to two-dimensional shadows on the curtain of the Earth. Of course, a shadow is a reduction, an echo only, possessing but a fragment of the information contained in the original.

This perspective not only resonated with Uwetsiageyv’s doubts but also hints at the inherently incomplete nature of this narrative.

May 13, 2016
Blue jays navigate an understanding of their existence as lower-order projections of a higher-dimensional reality in a markedly different manner than do other species, Homo sapiens not exempted, that is to say with impeccable equanimity. Being able to move fluidly in all three dimensions helps. No longer confined to crawl upon the surface of the Earth, blue jays explore all three spatial dimensions as the temporal dimension inexorably proceeds. It is a more incremental advancement for them to admit a fifth dimension, and subsequently increasingly incremental to accept a sixth, seventh and so on.

If you ask a blue jay what is revealed in those dimensions, they will not be able to provide satisfactory answers. How does one explain the sensation of flying to a snail? Yes, yes, there is no trail of slime left behind but that is the smallest of the differences. The security of the shell too must go. Other previously unimagined senses and appendages must appear. Experiences, which in the past seemed very similar, will have their symmetry broken and be revealed as unrelated manifestations of a more complex system of dynamics. Similarly, phenomena that were in the past thought to be independent of each other will naturally be identified as correlated elements of a common reaction.

It is too much to claim that blue jays enter these additional dimensions during flight (though we do well to avoid denying it entirely). We will not even assert that blue jays proclaim their theoretical discoveries in bird song. We voice only the modest proposal that blue jays in the movement of flight describe the equations of a higher-dimensional mathematics, which only an intense scrutiny, not yet accomplished by men, can unravel. This is, of course, not an original thought. The ancient Roman practice of augury, that is divination through the observation of the flight of birds, hinted at the hyper-dimensional knowledge of birds. Pliny the Elder credits Tiresias, the blind seer of Thebes, as the originator of augury, though in his case, his insights came from an understanding of the song of birds, a divine gift bestowed by Athena who took his eyes but purportedly cleaned his ears.

Dare we speculate that on the Island of Blue Jays, the process of unplugging the ears of Uwetsiageyv, the crow maiden, began?

May 16, 2016
Athena’s Favorite
The owl too had arrived at a perspective regarding how he, as an individual, could make sense of life as a lower-order recording of a higher-order process, though he did not share these thoughts with Uwetsiageyv. We forgive him his parsimony for, not only is it in the nature of owls to observe in silence, but since ancient times, when the goddess Athena was first accompanied by an owl, these birds have adopted the mantle of wisdom, and hold their words accordingly.

Still, this book of Uwetsiageyv is a fantasy; there are no restrictions within barring the exercise of imagination. Therefore, on the evening before their departure, as a light drizzle fell, the owl stolidly allowed the rain to run down his well-preened feathers. Beside him, Uwetsiageyv raised her wings just enough that the tips folded over her head, providing some shelter from the rain.

Here, as starlight was refracted in the mist, the owl wordlessly held forth on the moment in the history of the universe when the symmetry of time was broken and it was no longer possible for its inhabitants to move with equal ease both forward and backward along the temporal axis. It was at that instant that the concept of memory came into being, since there now loomed an inexorably expanding portion of phase space that was no longer directly accessible.

Moreover, those who had originated at a point far in what had suddenly become the future, found themselves unable to return at their own pace to their rightful position in time. They were required, like all the other denizens of the universe to return home only at a pace dictated by the passage of time in their local environment. However, these individuals naturally possessed an extensive knowledge of future events and were capable of prophecy with, not surprisingly, astonishing accuracy.

Those long-lived among them discovered that individuals born into the current status of the universe were indisposed to having the future revealed to them. They preferred uncertainty, some violently so. These newcomers went so far as to equate uncertainty with liberty! Thus, those with visions of the future largely kept their predictions to themselves, or when called upon to prophesy, cloaked their words in ambiguity, palatable to the pilgrims who sought them out.

Chapter 8. Poecile carolinensis

May 17, 2016
A Delayed Response
The skies had cleared by the time they departed on the following morning. The exhilaration of flight that Uwetsiageyv had first experienced had not been lost. The implicit understanding of flight as an undeserved gift remained with her. She sensed that it was the act of flying that rejuvenated each of them in the absence of regular nourishment. Still, this abstract sustenance was not entirely fulfilling; a hunger ever grumbled in her belly.

During their flight, she peered behind her several times, seeking the dwarf. She found nothing but did earn a reprimand from the owl to keep up or be left behind.

They put several days between themselves and the Island of the Blue Jays, before another island came into view. This island, shaped as it was like an artist’s palette, gave rise to Uwetsiageyv’s expectation that a bird of very colorful feather made this plot home.

Upon descending to the island, she found she was mistaken, for she was greeted by a sporadic chorus of fee-bee-fee-bay, which could belong to none other than the Carolina chickadee. She spotted them easily enough, the black cap and bib separated on each side by an acute triangle of stark white coming to a point at its jaw.

A soft gray covered their backs.

This particular island seemed dominated by sycamore and the white bark veritably glowed in the afternoon light. Among these giants dwelt a host of chickadees, but as was their wont they respected each other’s personal space and one’s incursion within a few feet of another was met with a squabbling rebuke.

“It’s Chickadee Island!” Uwetsiageyv said to her companions, who nodded in casual agreement. “I have always loved chickadees.”

“Is there any bird you have not loved?” asked the crow.

As she surveyed the island with delight, Uwetsiageyv gave some thought to the crow’s question. She ran through a mental list of species. She deliberated so long that she was already following the pair of larger birds up the slope of the island, seeking a spring with potable water, when the answer came to her.

“The caged bird!” she shouted, but the attention of the crow had already moved onto other matters. He considered the girl’s words an abrupt non sequitur.

May 18, 2016
An Old Skin
Uwetsiageyv wandered through the woods that covered the interior of the island, ostensibly searching for, in the words of the owl, “the same thing that everyone else seeks.” It felt good to be part of a common cause, even if she wasn’t sure what the cause was. A casual collection of chickadees served as her entourage.

She found the first few flakes a mere curiosity. They were the size of her hand and flaky like rice paper. The colorless material was grainy but translucent between the veins. She held it up and sun shone through the fine sheet; behind it the sky adopted the texture of an abstract, stained-glass landscape of blue. In this substance the chickadees had no more interest than they did in moss or strips of bark and other materials with which they lined the cavities of their nests.

When she encountered more of the material, she began to wonder as to the origin of the flakes. By the time she came upon a crunched ring of the material, perhaps four feet in diameter, connected to a hollow tube of the same crinkly substance, Uwetsiageyv realized she beheld the sluffed-off skin of an impossibly enormous snake. She would have worried, for a creature of this size could easily swallow her whole, but the chickadees around her seemed unperturbed; she trusted their instincts. It seemed that whatever serpent had shed this skin was long gone.

The ring was wedged between a boulder and a trunk of a mighty sycamore. The obvious path of the serpent led forward, down the slope and toward the sea. Uwetsiageyv followed this general path, though she could discern no signs of its passing other than a few spare scaly flakes, which led her down to the beach.

She held a piece of the skin in her hand. Raising it for inspection by the lone chickadee that had followed her to the edge of the ocean, Uwetsiageyv announced, “This belonged to a giant sea serpent.”

The bird cocked its black cap to better inspect the evidence then, after a measured pause, twittered in agreement.

May 19, 2016
The Origin of Serpents
Uwetsiageyv imagined life as an amphibious, sea-faring serpent, traveling from island to island, gorging itself on birds and their eggs. It seemed an unlikely fantasy for the snake skin she had found belonged to a serpent that would have eaten all of the chickadees on the island as a mid-morning snack. A creature of its scale would require more substantial nourishment, perhaps giant birds.

To answer this question, she located the crow. When she found him, he appeared to be engaged in his search, although she had begun to doubt that he was searching at all. She postponed this discussion for another day.

Surrounded as he was by sycamores, the crow appeared as a black mark in a forest of white pillars that rose to an over-sized tangle of brambles above—a mosaic of bark white, leaf green, sky blue.

“Kònèy,” she said, prefacing her question, “you are larger than the crows that live in the land where I was raised.”

The crow paused from his investigation long enough to cast a curious gaze at the girl. He knew something else was to follow but he could not predict the path of Uwetsiageyv’s thoughts. He waited.

When she observed that no reply was forthcoming, Uwetsiageyv continued. “Are there other giant creatures there?”


“Beside crows and owls?”

“Like what did you have in mind?”


“Giant snakes,” said the crow, pondering the possibility. “I have not yet had the misfortune of encountering a serpent of such girth that I felt threatened by it,” he admitted. The crow then read the expression on the girl’s face. “Have you dreamt such a snake into existence?” he asked, doing his best to keep any premature remonstration from his voice.

“Not yet,” answered the girl. She skipped away to frolic with chickadees before the crow could question her further.

May 20, 2016
Several Conjectures
The owl made the chickadees nervous. Some feared that the larger bird might deviate from its diet of small mammals if the opportunity arose. Uwetsiageyv reassured them that this was not the case with limited success.

Consequently, the chickadees scattered when the owl approached the girl, who stretched her arms and wings as part of a yawn before turning to greet him.

“Have you been not getting enough sleep?” asked the owl, who as far as Uwetsiageyv knew had no more need of sleep than it apparently did for food.

“I’m sleeping well enough,” Uwetsiageyv replied.

“Have you been dreaming?”

Uwetsiageyv raised a curious brow. “No more than usual,” she said tentatively.

“Have you dreamt of a leviathan?”

Clearly the owl had spoken to the crow. “I don’t think that was a dream,” Uwetsiageyv answered.

“What did it look like?” asked the owl.

“Oh,” said Uwetsiageyv surprised by the question. “I haven’t seen it yet.”

“It is stealthy for a creature of such size?”

“I’m not sure,” she admitted. It was entirely possible the snake was a great slithering bulk that she simply had not yet encountered.

“Have you heard its call?”

Uwetsiageyv shook her head. She imagined the whispering hiss of a snake.

As if reading her thoughts, the owl now shook its head. “Its every susurration is a hurricane.”

“What else do you know of it?” asked the girl.

“Only conjecture. I was hoping you could tell me more.”

“It’s amphibious,” she offered. “I think it eats both fish and birds.”

“Of course,” said the owl, “and mammals as well.”

“Of course,” Uwetsiageyv agreed with a pensive frown. Eventually she asked a question peripheral to her worry. “Can all giant animals speak?”

“What an ignorant question!” said the owl with disgust. “Look around you, even the diminutive chickadee speaks.”

Thus chastised Uwetsiageyv said no more. She had merely wanted to know if she would be able to talk to the giant serpent, as she did with the owl and the crow, when the two came face to face.

May 23, 2016
The Breach
Uwetsiageyv said good bye to the Carolina chickadees, who in truth seemed sad to see her go. They had enjoyed her light-hearted demeanor during their shared scampers beneath the sycamores. Several young chickadees accompanied her up into the air, though they kept a safe distance from the turbulence generated by the beats of the great wings of the bird girl and her companions. Eventually, they reached the limit of their bravery. Faring her well one last time, the chickadees returned to their island.

Aloft, Uwetsiageyv now kept a furtive lookout not only for the dwarf behind her but also for the shadow of a sea serpent weaving its way beneath the waves.

Once during the flight the crow cawed, as if in warning or as a deterrent to a potential passerby, but Uwetsiageyv could not identify the source of concern. Still her own vigilance for followers below and behind naturally led her to speculate that the crow, and the owl beside him, must have kept their eyes alert for signs known only to them.

They found a steady current of air, and each member of the trio ceased beating their wings. Uwetsiageyv listened carefully to the whispering sounds the wind made as it took different paths climbing over and sliding beneath the owl’s arched wings. She closed her eyes and allowed this sound to guide her. At first she followed by sound only for a few seconds, fearful that her ears might play tricks on her and lead her astray. She did not want to open her eyes to find herself flying solo and directionless above an endless ocean. She was not yet ready to strike out on her own; her extended time with the crow and owl had caused the seed of fear at being left alone to grow within her. This was curious since she had arrived in the islands with no such trepidation. In any event, she gradually increased the duration between visual checks until, with confidence, she was keeping her eyes closed for ten minutes at a stretch.

In this state, she entirely missed the leviathan breach from the surface of the water and leap a half mile or more into the air, where its gaping jaws would have snatched the crow from his path, had he not veered off wildly to avoid the oncoming attack. Striking in perfect silent, no sound accompanied the serpent—neither roar nor gnashing of teeth. Gravity reclaimed the leviathan and in a graceful parabola it fell back into the sea, leaving behind a spectacular though ephemeral mark from which a circular ripple of white waves emanated.

It took a moment for the sound of the impact to travel the intervening distance, prompting Uwetsiageyv to open her eyes. By that time, all direct signs of the beast were gone. “What was that?” she asked the others.

Neither replied. Now that he understood he had a dreaming girl in tow, the crow adjusted their flight path to a higher altitude.

Chapter 9. Picoides pubescens

May 24, 2016
A Rhythm
From above, the island looked like a roughly circular planet of green with two smaller, rocky potato-shaped moons orbiting it in the watery blue of space. Uwetsiageyv imagined herself an astronaut landing for the first time in uncharted territory. She envisioned planting a flag, but when she came to the emblem upon the flag, she drew a blank. It wasn’t until she heard a familiar pik and the drumming on trunks that she realized the flag would bear the silhouette of a woodpecker.

In fact the island was populated by downy woodpeckers, small among their kind. As they clung to the trunks of boxelder, hackberry and wild cherry trees, the birds displayed their black and white checkered backs to the new arrivals. Only the males had a patch of red on the back of their necks. In contrast, the females were adorned in patterns of strict black and white, with nary a shade of gray between.

Upon spying the natives, Uwetsiageyv looked at the crow. Before she could speak, he preempted her. “Let me guess, you love woodpeckers.”

Uwetsiageyv smiled widely and fluttered her wings. “Especially so!”

The owl appeared not to share in her joy. As they made their way inland to find a stream from which they could drink, the owl seemed preoccupied. He did not delight, as did Uwetsiageyv, in the percussive orchestra that echoed through the deciduous forest.

Uwetsiageyv wondered as to the source of the owl’s consternation until she discovered a dwarf-sized footprint at the edge of the pool, where they had settled. She did her best to inconspicuously disturb the track, but she knew that little escaped the owl’s notice. He surely knew that the dwarf had been to the island recently. Perhaps, he had yet to depart.

Because Uwetsiageyv desperately wanted to ply the dwarf with questions again, she quickly invented an excuse to wander off on her own. “I’ll keep up my end of the search,” she promised them as she backed away, inadvertently stumbling into a large fern.

“And just what is it you are looking for?” asked the crow with a curious tone.

Uwetsiageyv pointed to the owl. “The same thing he is,” she replied. She ran off, leaving the crow to study his silent companion amidst the resonation of an erratic rhythm that could be improvised only by the natural world.

May 25, 2016
The Cave
Guided by instinct as much as by the scarce signs of passage, Uwetsiageyv followed what she guessed to be the dwarf’s trail back down the slope on the far side of the island. As she walked through the woods, she noted that the boring holes of woodpeckers were not uniformly distributed. Some trees appeared to be entirely spared while their nearest neighbor bore a close-packed pattern of circular scars in their bark.

Arriving at the edge of the sea, Uwetsiageyv looked out and observed one of the rocky islands not three hundred yards off shore. It seemed the type of place that sea birds would turn into a rookery. However, it held no appeal for downy woodpeckers, with a lush forest in close proximity.

While no footprints of the dwarf could be seen in the sand, the island before her seemed to lie at the end of the path she had followed. She flew across the distance, playfully holding the tips of her shoes just above the surface of the water.

She arrived alone; no woodpeckers had accompanied her from the island. She quickly discovered a trail of puddles, leading over the rough, black stone. She followed it to a high, narrow gap where the stone had split. Flattening her wings against her back, she turned sideways and slipped into the gap. Step by step, she scooted along a descending path, until a cave opened before her. The interior unlit, she dared take only a few steps into the shadows. In that short foray, her sweater caught on the edge of a protruding rock. Confined as she was, she did not notice it. Scooting forward another step, she caused the sweater to tear from the already ragged hem up nearly to her sternum. She felt the damage in the darkness and barely managed to contain a squeal of frustration.

Her anxiety was diverted from the sweater to sounds of rustling, emanating from deeper in the cave. Something approached with steady footsteps.

The cave proved too dark for her eyes; she heard rather than saw the creature come to a half before her. Relief flooded her as the familiar, gruff voice of the dwarf whispered to her, “Uwetsiageyv, I have found it!” There was a modest level of excitement in his voice.

Before she could respond to his statement, she said, “Have you no lantern? How can you move about in the pitch black?”

“I’m a dwarf,” said the dwarf with a degree of pride. “I was born in the subterranean darkness. I can no more get lost underground than can a burrowing mole.”

However, for the benefit of Uwetsiageyv, he pulled off his pack and removed a small oil lantern of iron and glass. Unimpeded by the darkness which hid his actions from the girl, he filled the basin from a flask and lit the wick with a match.

His weatherworn face, colored in shades of flickering orange and yellow and otherwise surrounded by a halo of impenetrable shadow, inexplicably comforted Uwetsiageyv. The dwarf seemed to sense her state of mind. “Come,” he said gently, “let me show you what I found.”

May 26, 2016
The Dress
The dwarf led Uwetsiageyv down the tunnel by the meager light of the oil lamp. When they came upon the object, Uwetsiageyv immediately recognized it. Although it was far smaller than the one she had found on the Island of Carolina Chickadees—less than a foot in diameter—there could be no mistaking that what lay before her was the shed skin of a snake.

“Why have you led me into a serpent’s den?” she asked alarmed.

Observing that she did not understand his intention, the dwarf slowly pulled the lamp along the length of the skin. In one stretch, it appeared as a long cylinder, almost as if it were a bolt of fabric. He then explained, “It is from this fabric that we shall make a dress fit for a faerie.”

Uwetsiageyv did not bother to remind the dwarf that she was not a faerie, caught as she was in remembering the flaky, brittle texture of the snakeskin she had held in her hands. Certainly, the skin before her appeared smoother, reflecting the lamp light as if polished, but she had little reservation in expressing her doubt that it was an appropriate material, based not only on the texture but its origin as well.

If the dwarf listened to her objections, he did not show it. When she was done, he had already pulled out a knife and was cutting a section from the snakeskin. “This material,” he said, “is the first shed skin of a juvenile sea serpent. It possesses a malleability and elasticity not present in the skin of adult snakes.”

The dwarf handed her the lantern. Uwetsiageyv watched wordlessly, as he laid the material out on the stone floor. From his progress, she judged that he surely intended to make a garment from a single section of the tube of material, without altering the natural diameter of the skin. With deft handiwork, he made a straight cut along the bottom of the dress. Some additional work was required to cut the top of the single piece of material into two shoulder straps, of a shape suitable for nothing short of a sundress.

When beckoned to do so, Uwetsiageyv handed over the silken thread she had kept in her sock. Apparently the dwarf had in his equipment a single iron needle.

As the material increasingly took the form of a dress, Uwetsiageyv experienced a mixture of dismay and admiration. She could not purge from her mind the memory of the scaly feel of the old skin she had held; therefore the idea of donning this dress filled her with revulsion. Still, she looked down and examined the damage to her sweater, weighing the relative disadvantages of her two options.

She also felt an admiration for the skill of the dwarf. When the oil in the lamp was exhausted and the pair was cloaked in utter darkness, the dwarf paused only momentarily until his eyes adjusted to the lack of light. Then he resumed his tailoring of the dress.

Without sight, Uwetsiageyv exclaimed, “You truly are Rumpelstiltskin!”

“If you prefer it to Colugo, so be it. I shall be Rumpelstiltskin,” he said matter-of-factly.

“No, no,” said the girl, taken aback. She desired to exert no such authority over the name of another. “I didn’t mean it like that. Colugo is fine too. It’s a wonderful name.”

The dwarf said no more. He had no attachment to the name Colugo. It was one of many he adopted as need arose. Dwarves, like devils, know that sharing one’s true name grants a power to the one who holds the secret. Thus they guard their true name like a treasure.

It would have hurt Uwetsiageyv’s feelings very much to know how little trust the dwarf placed in her, when she had no choice but to trust him implicitly.

May 27, 2016
Degrees of Translucency
With tentative steps, Uwetsiageyv followed the dwarf from the cave. He held the dress carefully above his head as he sidled through the narrow gap of rock. At the edge of the rocky isle, the dwarf allowed the dress to unfurl for Uwetsiageyv’s inspection.

In the sunlight, it was a thing of beauty, facets in the scales sparkled as did the sea. Oils beneath the surface gave off an iridescent sheen. When he turned the dress, Uwetsiageyv noted that the back was cut much lower than the front to accommodate her wings. A cross strap could be tied to join the two shoulder straps just above the point where the wing-joints emerged from her back.

“Put it on,” said the dwarf, “so I can see if I need to adjust it.” He handed the dress over. In her hands for the first time, Uwetsiageyv discovered the material was utterly unlike the flaky skin of the adult serpent. Instead, the fabric reassuringly proved both firm and supple.

To respect Uwetsiageyv’s sense of modesty, the dwarf turned his back to her. She removed the tattered cotton sweater and the wool skirt. She stood for a moment in her undergarments in full view of the larger island, but no sign of the crow or owl was present. Only the echoes of woodpecker activity carried across the water. Stepping into the dress, she pulled it up and with her hands behind her neck tied the strap above her wings.

“How do I look?” she asked the dwarf in a girlish tone.

He turned to inspect her. With a tailor’s eye, the dwarf approved of his craftsmanship. The fabric of the dress fit the slender girl well. The elasticity in the skin allowed it to adjust to her figure rather than hang like a sock. At the same time, the dwarf noted that the dress maintained a loose, comfortable fit. The neckline hung in a graceful, inverted arch. The hem of the dress cut across the knee, just as the woolen skirt had. The dwarf beamed with pleasure. He pronounced, “You were made for this dress, no less than it was made for you.”

Uwetsiageyv blushed at the compliment until she looked down at herself and noticed, to her horror, that once the dress was donned, the translucency of the fabric was revealed. She could see with unacceptable clarity, the different shade of her undergarments and her complexion.

Embarrassed, she immediately moved to take it off.

“What is the matter?” asked the dwarf, reading her panicked expression.

“It’s see-through!” she said.

“Barely!” argued the dwarf.

“Barely?” exclaimed the girl. She thought that was rich coming from someone with eyes that could pierce even utter darkness. “It’s practically transparent!”

They argued for several minutes over the proper term to describe the extent of the translucency of the snake skin. The argument ended when Uwetsiageyv picked up the torn cotton sweater.

“Don’t you dare!” shouted the dwarf, crestfallen and angry at the rejection of his handiwork.

Uwetsiageyv crumbled into a crouch and began to cry. She desired neither to travel in this comfortable but immodest dress nor in the tatters of the orphanage uniform.

The dwarf noted with satisfaction how the dress accommodated her new stance without the slightest pinching or resistance. He thought it wise to keep this professional observation to himself. Instead he offered a potential solution. “I know a dye that takes to snake skin.”

“Really?” Uwetsiageyv responded, immediately brightening.

“If we dye it,” cautioned the dwarf, “it may lose some of its luster.”

“I don’t care,” Uwetsiageyv said. “Let’s dye it.” She moved to remove the dress.

“Wait, wait,” said the dwarf.


“It’s not on this island.”


“The downy woodpeckers are the keepers of your fabric, just as goldfinches kept your thread. Others hold the dye.”

Uwetsiageyv frowned but eventually the dwarf convinced her that this only a temporary setback.

She still had to make the decision between wearing the new dress and the old uniform until the dye was found. Ultimately, the dwarf convinced her with these words, “Who shall see you but the crow and the owl and flocks of birds for whom the mammalian form is already ugly and alien?”

Uwetsiageyv nodded remembering her first dream of the owl and crow.

“Besides the birds, there is only an old dwarf, and I am presently taking my leave.” With that he walked back to the opening in the gap, apparently determined to retreat to the cave, where he could remain out of sight until the girl departed with the crow and owl.

May 31, 2016
The Unexpected Reception
When Uwetsiageyv rejoined the crow and the owl, it was just as the dwarf had predicted; neither said a word about the degree to which light was transmitted through the fabric of her new dress.

Both the crow and the owl did stride forward to examine the dress more closely. Uwetsiageyv pirouetted to accommodate them. Several moments passed in silence, at the end of which the crow cocked his head and pronounced his judgment to the owl. “To my eye,” he said, “it is the skin of a sea serpent.”

“Your eyes do not deceive you,” replied the owl, “unless mine are similarly bewitched.”

The crow brought himself about to face Uwetsiageyv again. “Did you slay this creature yourself?”

“I most certainly did not!” answered Uwetsiageyv, who eschewed violence and who would have continued to wear the tattered uniform rather than the take the skin from the serpent at the expense of its life. “I found the skin shed in a cave.”

“Luck was with you,” said the crow without reprobation, “to have so foolishly wandered into the den of serpents and emerged unharmed.”

With his keen eyes, the owl inspected the careful stitching around the hem, the neck and the arms of the garment. “You are a girl of many talents,” said the owl. “I didn’t know your skills as a seamstress were so accomplished.”

Uwetsiageyv had no more taste for prevarication than she did for violence. She considered the dwarf, safely hidden in his cave, if he remained on the Island of Downy Woodpeckers at all. Taking a deep breath, she admitted, “I had help.”

“The dwarf?” asked the crow.

Uwetsiageyv nodded, not entirely surprised at the guess. She had suspected since she first encountered the dwarf on the Island of the Goldfinches that his visit had not gone unnoticed.

“He has appeared earlier than usual,” said the owl cryptically.

The crow executed a very human-like shrug. “Perhaps he is trying a different tactic.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Uwetsiageyv.

Rather than answer the girl’s question, the owl countered with one of his own. “By what spell did the dwarf trick you into donning this dress?”

“There was no spell...” Uwetsiageyv countered, though her uncertainty was revealed in her voice. “My uniform was falling apart.”

“Indeed,” agreed the crow. “The spell of necessity.”

“A wicked spell,” said the owl to the crow. To Uwetsiageyv he said in a tone intended to console, “Do not be overly disheartened. You are not the first to be taken in by such a ruse. Men who have counted themselves much wiser than you have also succumbed to this spell.”

The woodpeckers for their part did not share in the opprobrium of their larger cousins. On the contrary, they unreservedly sounded their approval of the dress in a drumming that resonated throughout the island.

previous month

next month

This work is made available to the public, free of charge and on an anonymous basis. However, copyright remains with the author. Reproduction and distribution without the publisher's consent is prohibited. Links to the work should be made to the main page of the novel.