The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:
The Ornithological Collection of Uwetsiageyv
(link to main page of novel)
September 1, 2016
They had left the lake without entering it. Only their shoes and socks were wet from standing in the shallow margins. The two girls now carried their footwear in their hands. The songs of orchard orioles filled the woods as the girls continued their survey of the island. Here and there, a lone male or a mated pair of birds briefly revealed themselves.
“I have a funny question for you,” said the crow girl to the tanager. She felt it necessary to preface her question with this disclaimer in order to reduce the probability that she provoked her sometimes temperamental companion.
“Oh yeah?” replied Scarlet, sensing something was afoot.
“Do you think it’s possible to control your own destiny and follow a prophecy at the same time?”
Scarlet stopped and looked askance at the crow girl. “What?”
“Should I repeat the question?”
“No, that’s not necessary.”
“I didn’t think so,” Uwetsiageyv admitted.
“Following your destiny,” said Scarlet, “is not something you can do halfway.”
Uwetsiageyv’s agreement showed clearly on her face. Still, she said, “Maybe, I can do two things all the way simultaneously.”
“How many of you are there?” Scarlet replied skeptically.
“Just one,” Uwetsiageyv answered in a doleful tone. She almost immediately brightened up. “Perhaps, that’s what I am searching for. I just need to find another one of me, so I can do both.” She paused and allowed the gears to turn before adding, almost ecstatically, “Or many things!”
Although the crow girl felt certain that she had spoken these last words aloud, the tanager acted as if she had not heard them at all.
September 2, 2016
A Variety of Means of Duplication
When orchard orioles choose to replicate themselves, a russet male and a yellow female participate in a courtship, which includes bows, seesawing motions, and begging, accompanied by choreographed songs. The couple makes a vow of monogamy for the duration of the breeding season. The female builds the nest, a loosely woven affair, nearly as deep as it is wide, situated in a fork of twigs at the end of a branch. She lays eggs splotched with brown. A single brood is raised each season.
In times of abundance, orchard orioles are known for being semi-colonial, sharing a nesting tree with others of their species. They are also known for their lack of aggression toward other species of birds, content to exist in mutual territory.
As Uwetsiageyv contemplated how she could duplicate herself, so as to both fulfill her self-appointed destiny (whatever it was) and the prophecy, she did not consider the time-honored method of biological perpetuation. Numerous objections presented themselves. She was, in mind if not body, still a child. Moreover, no suitors were present. Even if there had been a potential match, she was not then, nor in the many twists of her long life would she ever be, tempted by this fate, for she maintained an enduring ambivalence to the purpose of existence and felt it unwise to bequeath such a gift upon another until she better understood it.
Therefore, Uwetsiageyv had to find another means by which she could duplicate herself. She and Scarlet parted ways for an afternoon, exploring the island on their own. During this separation, Uwetsiageyv privately asked the orchard orioles for their opinions. To be sure, they responded with zeal! They suggested the most outlandish, practically untenable, fundamentally impossible violations of the laws of reason, physics and good taste, by which she might accomplish her goal. Their suggestions, preposterous though they were, gave Uwetsiageyv much food for thought.
September 5, 2016
Early in the morning, with the sky colored with the presentiment of dawn, the two girls made ready to leave the Island of the Orchard Orioles.
“Why are you in such a good mood?” Scarlet asked Uwetsiageyv.
The crow maiden smiled then said, “Some days I cannot clearly see the physical limits of the universe.”
To be sure, the tanager had not anticipated these words, although she had spent enough time with the crow that she wasn’t entirely taken by surprise. She raised an eyebrow. “And that makes you happy?”
Uwetsiageyv nodded. “It makes it seem like anything is possible.”
“Like what?” Scarlet asked.
“Imagine this,” the other answered. “Two girls sprouted wings from their shoulder blades. They traveled to the Sea of Birds, where time passed in a pursuit whose purpose was known to no one, including the girls. In the cities of men, great sages assembled in congregations with the express aim of deciphering the secret meaning of their goings-on. The wisemen scratched at their bald heads and tugged at their long white beards. The wisewomen separated into pairs, in which one read the future by whatever means suited them—bones, cards, stars—while the other sat behind her and combed long white hair, then fixed it in elaborate braids. The more immodest among them came to an answer and shared it with the assembly. Their speculations were met with murmurs, which politely masked the underlying doubt at each proclamation. Of course, all the suggestions were wrong!” Uwetsiageyv looked to Scarlet. “Do you know why?”
“Because there was no purpose!” Scarlet shouted joyfully.
Uwetsiageyv laughed. “No! Because there was every purpose at the same time and all were equally right and wrong and the day that a single purpose, extracted from all the rest, becomes the only meaning in the world is the same day that people forget what a purpose is or even what use one would have for such an indecent thing.”
With that, the girls launched themselves into the air and set off in search of the next island.
Chapter 24. Thryothorus ludovicianus
September 6, 2016
The crow and the scarlet tanager ascended to an altitude where they were carried by streams of air, flying day and night. Neither the direct light of the sun nor the reflected light of the moon revealed the silhouette of an island on the horizon before them. They were in no hurry.
When, with the arrival of dawn, an island did come into view, they lazily coasted downward, enjoying the sensation of returning to the world of land and sea. As the two girls descended, Scarlet spotted a tremendous school of fish moving toward the shallow waters that encircled the island. The two girls themselves circled once or twice, admiring the fluid, collective movement of the flashing mass of silver. When they observed that the fish, made nervous by their shadows, began to act erratically, disturbing their previous rhythm, the bird girls abandoned their chase and alighted on the beach.
If the natives of the island were offended that the girls had taken their time in arriving, they did not show it. In fact, by their rich cinnamon plumage, their sharp, white eyebrows, and their long tails, jauntily cocked at an upward angle, they seemed to express an insuppressible cheer.
Uwetsiageyv looked to Scarlet, ready to call out the name of the small birds, but the tanager beat her to it, “Wrens. Everyone knows a wren.”
“Carolina wrens,” said Uwetsiageyv, for this particular species was well known to her. “They sing of a teakettle.”
The welcoming committee obliged what they took to be an implicit request. “Teakettle! Teakettle!”
“Do you always have to be right?” asked Scarlet.
Uwetsiageyv looked hurt, for arrogance was not in her character and she did not think it fair to be accused of it. She had hardly been correcting Scarlet. Moreover, she felt it amply demonstrated that she was often wrong, making the question even more unreasonable. Still, she suspected that, if she were to argue her case, Scarlet would throw up her hands and say resignedly, “You’re right again.” Uwetsiageyv had to be content to meekly murmur, “Only with birds. It’s okay to know one thing well.”
Scarlet leaned over and squeezed the crow girl in a sideways hug. “Oh, you take everything so seriously.” With that she marched off to introduce herself to the Carolina wrens.
For nearly a minute, Uwetsiageyv remained rooted to a spot on the beach. She was relishing the hug, even if it had been sideways. Not only was it the first hug she had received since her arrival in the Sea of Birds, she had also been a most infrequent recipient of such shows of affection at the orphanage.
A hug! Her brain responded, commanding the release of endorphins. Uwetsiageyv floated above the sandy beach for the next half hour.
September 7, 2016
Songs of the Inanimate
The two girls made their way up the forested slope of the mountain as they sought a pool from which they could drink. The wrens that they spotted were tending to their business either singly or in pairs and took little note of the visitors. They made their way to a copse of blue ashes with their peculiar, squarish branches, beneath which they found the widening of a suitable stream.
As they sat in the cool shade of the late morning sun, Uwetsiageyv explained to Scarlet, “I think it is likely that there are other girls like us traveling through these islands.”
“Like us?” said Scarlet, who considered herself unique.
“With wings,” clarified Uwetsiageyv.
“But otherwise not like us?” asked Scarlet.
“Probably not,” Uwetsiageyv agreed.
“Why should we be the only two? Scarlet added, feeling charitable.
There was a lull in the conversation as each girl thought about these other, absent bird girls. “What are they like?” asked the tanager of the crow.
“Well,” said Uwetsiageyv, who had been hoping for just such a question, “I have an idea or two.” She relaxed and described one, as she had seen her in her mind’s eye. “There is one bird girl fashioned after the Carolina wren. She has a stocky build and reddish-brown wings. When she passes, people catch the scent of cinnamon and mistake her for a baker. She is not a baker, although certainly she considers that a high calling. Instead, she is a singer of the inanimate. She sings of teakettles, a song which she learnt from her smaller kin. But she also sings of cast iron frying pans, weather vanes, gardening trowels, creaking wrought gates, old hand-drawn pumps from which water no longer issues and antique carbines abandoned on a former field of battle and left to rust, unclaimed and unwanted, in a series of perennial spring rains.
“Carolina, as she is called by her mother, either sings of the inanimate because they have no voices of their own or, alternatively, allows the inanimate to sing through her because she acknowledges in the calcium of her bones and the iron of her blood, a kinship with that world. All who hear her lilting voice praise her.
“She is waiting for us to sit in audience before her, on one of these islands, and to listen to the songs of her distant homeland and new compositions regarding coral and the exoskeletons of mollusks, washed upon the shore.”
Uwetsiageyv glanced over at the tanager. “She is waiting for us to come to her. That’s why we haven’t encountered her yet.”
September 8, 2016
“That’s nice,” said Scarlet, “but I can imagine a different kind of bird girl.”
Uwetsiageyv did her best to hide her astonishment for this was not the reply she had expected from the tanager. “Tell me!”
“Have you ever been to the Island of Killdeers?”
“I have not,” replied Uwetsiageyv, very much intrigued.
“Well, if you are looking for the bird girl who fancies herself a killdeer, you need not go. She has already left.”
“Why did she leave?”
“As you may know,” replied Scarlet, “of all shorebirds, killdeers are those least likely to be found along the shoreline, preferring instead fallow fields and the pastures of cattle or horses. In fact, the entirety of the Island of Killdeers is a flat expanse of earth upon which a sparse collection of scrub grasses and scraggly shrubs cling to a mean existence. There, the birds nest in shallow holes in the ground. The tactics for protecting these nests, for which they are famous—either pretending to have an injured wings in order to lure a predator away or, if the danger comes from a hooved, grazing beast, fluffing themselves up and charging with their tail over their head in order to drive the threat off—are completely unnecessary. Neither predators nor grazers reside on this island.
“So, the bird girl of the killdeer donned two necklaces of rough cut onyx to remind her of home and spread her tawny wings, taking flight. An accomplished actress, she traveled to the cities of men, where she adopted the stage name Charadrius Vociferus and introduced herself to the management of various theater companies. She showed them how naturally she feigned injury, but she was cast only in the minor roles of horror screenplays where her dying moments were truncated to a few seconds of stage time.
“Next, by fluffing up her wings and adopting her most bold expression, she displayed her prodigious skills at aping acts of courage and heroism. For this she was cast in comedic roles as an overly aggressive female, continually losing at love as a result of her forwardness. This too seemed a misuse of her talents.
“When she objected, the director counseled her to pursue another career, saying, ‘You simply misunderstand acting. For you, all of life is an act and you bring too much of that insincerity to your roles.’
“The killdeer fled the cities to remote pastures. She pleased the fox with the dragging of a wing, though she had no nest to protect. She so frightened the heifers and the steers with her mad dashes that, in her presence, they stayed to well-trod margins along the barbwire fence.
“She fled further into a cave, where she acted, entirely cloaked in darkness, to no audience at all, but even that did not satisfy her. So, she retreated entirely within herself, where she now portrays an entire lifetime in an imagined world in which she is the undisputed star of a show that is neither tragedy nor comedy but an ostensibly scientific documentary of the natural world.”
September 9, 2016
The Crow Lad
“Are you crying?” Scarlet asked with a mixture of surprise and dismay.
“That was beautiful,” Uwetsiageyv said as she dabbed at the corners of her eyes.
“You are crazy.”
A pair of Carolina wrens settled in a branch of the blue ash extending over the stream. They had been eavesdropping on the secret lives of bird girls but now unabashedly made their presence known. “Teakettle! Teakettle!”
Observing the pair, Uwetsiageyv said, “There must be boys too.”
“Boys with wings?”
“I haven’t seen any,” Scarlet countered.
“Nor have I but that’s no proof that they don’t exist.” Uwetsiageyv took a deep breath, exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen. “Now I am imagining a crow lad with black wings like mine. He is not garbed in the skin of snakes; his trousers are a coarse, woven fabric, his jacket the tanned hide of a cow. Furrows permanently line his brow for he senses in his being an inviolate contradiction between his conception of himself and the actuality of his representation in the physical world. Neither his actions in response to external stimuli nor the actions of the world in response to his own words and gestures coincide with his demand to exist as a moral being. His perplexity in this matter knows no balm.”
“He’s too sensitive!” Scarlet interjected.
“And then some,” Uwetsiageyv agreed. “Others find his presence uncomfortable if not annoying. He explains to them, ‘I understand your uneasiness with me. I myself have always struggled with my inner conviction that life is meaningless.’ Such an admission only further embarrasses those with the ill fortune to be present when the words are spoken.
“There is an unexpected respite for the crow lad, which he could not have foreseen. His winged stage of being is like a chrysalis between larva and adult, a brief period of transition. Soon the metamorphosis is complete and he becomes a crow in his entirety. Crows, in the purity of their being, are not troubled by the lingering doubts of consciousness.
“This explains why we haven’t seen a crow lad; they are on their own journey and don’t remain long in that state.”
September 12, 2016
The Owl Who Threw Stones
“There was another, round-faced boy, who had woken up one morning with the wings of a barn owl,” said Scarlet to Uwetsiageyv. “He lived in a house down the street from the crow lad. It was a habit of his to throw small stones to scatter the murder of crows that congregated in great numbers upon the branches of the tree in the front yard and along the eaves of the roof of his neighbor’s home. Their caws of remonstration only served to provoke the owl boy to cast the stones higher into the air.”
“What did he have against crows?” Uwetsiageyv asked.
Scarlet shrugged. “He just didn’t like the eerie gleam in their eyes and the harsh sound of their voices.”
The tanager continued, “Usually, the crows scattered until the boy moved on before returning to resume their perches. However, the owl boy continued at it, day after day, until one day he succeeded in driving the crows away permanently. When the crow lad returned home that evening, he discovered the owl boy, still with half a pocketful of stones, lording over his empty yard.
“‘Where are my crows?’ asked the crow lad.
“‘Gone to who knows where,’ replied the owl boy. He looked up and down the street with a casual, indifferent glance to see if the crows had, by chance, recently returned. They had not.
“Alarmed, the crow lad leapt into the air and flew off in search of his crows. The owl boy walked down the block to his own home, only to discover that the barn owls who stood sentry in the high branches of the birch tree in his own front yard were absent. It did not take long for him to discover the stones littering the grass around the trunk, which had, of course, been used to drive the owls away. He immediately flew off in search of his owls.” Scarlet paused for dramatic effect.
“I didn’t expect to hear that predictable, moralistic nonsense from you,” admitted Uwetsiageyv, who doubted the crow lad would have stooped to so low a tactic. She softened her words with an exaggerated grimace.
“You are so mean!” Scarlet replied, not quite as hurt as she acted. “In that case, I won’t tell you what happened next.”
“You weren’t done?”
“No, I was not.”
At an impasse, the two bird girls crossed their arms. In the morning, they left the Island of Carolina Wrens, vowing never to engage again in imagining the lives of bird folk. The wrens for their part, missed the nuance in the girls’ words, and were left with the unmistakable impression that the islands, which dotted the Sea of Birds, were simply overrun with over-grown bird faeries who squabbled endlessly among themselves, owing to their perverse and ornery natures.
Chapter 25. Zenaida macroura
September 13, 2016
An Unlikely Volunteer
The crow maiden and the scarlet tanager flew at night. From below they appeared to be two silhouettes cast against the canvas of the wheeling Milky Way. Their wings followed a common, ancient rhythm. The drudgery one might expect from a seemingly endless repetition of similar days was washed away by the miraculous, nocturnal cleansing of starlight.
When they landed, several mourning doves greeted them with soft laments, as if grieving for that portion of the girls that had disappeared during the flight. Perhaps, with the replenishing of their spirit, they had lost memories as well, now irretrievable in the vastness of the cosmos.
“What are they crying about?” asked the scarlet tanager. From above she had already surveyed the island. She knew very well that this island, like all the others she had visited, was unknown to man. Therefore, these doves had nothing to fear, for their remoteness provided safety from their primary threat, the human hunter.
Uwetsiageyv was a little more sympathetic. She sensed in her being that sorrow was inextricably threaded through-out the fabric of the universe. One did not need the occasion of a tragedy to weep. “They are mourning doves,” she said to her traveling companion, as if there could be no further explanation.
By way of confirmation, the doves provided several variations of their lament. One sang out the middle syllable, “Coo-OO-oo!” Another called “Coo-oo! Coo! Coo! Coo!” They gracefully sauntered on the grassy margin of the beach, their tan bodies and slender tails shifting easily as they scanned the earth for seeds.
As if the calm bestowed by the girls’ flight could be dismissed by the ordinary motions of the mourning doves, Scarlet abruptly said, “I’m tired of pointlessly wandering around.”
Uwetsiageyv could scarcely believe the words that next came out of her mouth. “Perhaps, you need a purpose.”
Scarlet too seemed stunned into silence.
“Aren’t you searching for something?” asked the crow maiden.
“I suppose so...” the tanager replied tentatively.
“I will help you find it,” offered Uwetsiageyv.
“But I don’t know what it is.”
“That’s just as well; it keeps you from finding it and having nothing else to do later. In the meantime, you can also look for other, smaller things. It helps to pass the time in an amiable way.”
September 14, 2016
The Secret Library
Consoled by the song of mourning doves, the two girls surveyed the island. As she contemplated what Uwetsiageyv has said to her, Scarlet asked her companion if she had smaller tasks that were keeping her occupied during an otherwise ambiguous search.
Uwetsiageyv nodded but not with an overwhelming sense of confidence. “I’ve been trying to sort it out,” she said.
Their path led them to a stream, lined by willows. They removed their shoes and socks and crossed in the cool, shallow water.
While Uwetsiageyv still stood midstream, she confessed, “I’m building a library.”
Scarlet, who had reached the far bank, turned about, sure that she had misheard her. “What?”
“I am building a library,” the crow maiden repeated.
“I don’t see any books.”
“In my library, each book is a bird and each bird is a book.”
“But you are not collecting any birds,” Scarlet said.
“You mean like in a cage?”
“That’s not how I do it.”
Scarlet waited for Uwetsiageyv to explain. A soft breeze pushed strands of her long black hair across her face. Her friend seemed so peaceful standing in the ankle-deep stream. Scarlet re-entered it herself until the two girls stood face to face, separated by a few feet.
The music of the flowing water provided an inimitable accompaniment to the description of the ornithological collection of Uwetsiageyv. “I am collecting each bird in my mind. They may seem like memories at the moment, but they are much more than that. The idea came to me when Kònèy told me that he himself was a memory. The rest of it came to me when the owl explained that we are lower-order projections of a higher-dimensional reality, trapped in a particular sequence of events by an ancient symmetry-shattering phenomenon, which left us able to move only forward in time.
“My library already exists in a higher-dimensional reality. I am sure of it, although I may not have found it yet. I am out collecting birds for it. I can think of myself as an acquisitions clerk, who should have the shelves filled when she is called to account. What seems like memories now will be revealed in my library as living books, since there one can get around the prohibition against moving in both directions along the temporal axis by taking alternate routes through higher-dimensions.”
“That sounds nice,” said the scarlet tanager, even though she really thought is sounded completely crazy.
“Thanks,” said the crow girl. “Please don’t tell anyone else. I am keeping my library secret for the time being.”
September 15, 2016
A Field of Boulders
The two girls continued their exploration of the Island of Mourning Doves amidst the choral arrangements of the natives. When Uwetsiageyv discovered herself humming along, she immediately stopped for fear that Scarlet would admonish her. However, shortly thereafter, the crow girl found herself absent-mindedly humming along again. Glancing over at the tanager, Uwetsiageyv found a barely perceptible smile curling the corners of her lips.
“What kind of small things should I be looking for?” Scarlet asked as the girls clambered over a patch of boulders to reach a copse of trees farther up the mountain. Of course, they could have flown but the exertion of navigating the rough terrain possessed its own reward.
“I’m pretty sure,” Uwetsiageyv replied between breaths, “that you have to figure that out for yourself.”
“Still, can’t you give me some ideas?”
“You could help me collect books,” Uwetsiageyv offering in an impulsive act of generosity. She almost instantly regretted her words, though she did not retract them. She was not yet ready to share the task of the construction of the library with another.
She worried needlessly for the tanager quickly rejected the suggestion. “No, I need my own thing.”
“You think I should collect seashells?” Scarlet considered the suggestion only for a moment before she caught Uwetsiageyv’s expression and realized it was a joke.
“I would be good at it,” she insisted. “But how would I carry my extensive collection from island to island?”
“Just keep the really tiny ones!”
“I would be the scarlet tanager with world’s foremost collection of tiny seashells.”
“I would pay money to see it.”
“How much money?”
“All of it, I suppose,” said Uwetsiageyv, who had never had any money. At the orphanage their material needs were provided for and the penalty if one was caught begging in the streets, as orphans did from time to time, was the immediate forfeiture of the ill-gotten charity and loss of outside privileges. Consequently money meant nothing to her. She realized belatedly her offer was an empty one.
“Have you ever held a silver coin?” asked Scarlet, penetrating the unintended ruse.
Uwetsiageyv shook her head. “But I have flown in silver moonlight.”
That Scarlet could not deny, since she had personally been witness to it. She caught up to Uwetsiageyv as the boulder field petered out. “It’s a problem if I don’t know what I am searching for on the big scale or the small scale.”
“Oh, you know,” Uwetsiageyv said, wrapping an arm reassuringly about the tanager’s shoulders. “You just have to give yourself a little more time to recognize it.”
September 16, 2016
A Sentimental Offer
The bird girls ascended to the summit of the mountain that formed the Island of Mourning Doves. Tired and sweaty, they settled upon a thick mat of dried needles beneath the collective shade of a few fir trees. Their search completed, they compared notes.
“Nothing,” Scarlet concluded.
“A miraculously melancholic choir, engaged in a never-ending dirge,” Uwetsiageyv agreed.
It was this exchange that prompted Scarlet’s declaration. “I’m not like you.”
“Thank goodness,” the crow girl replied, who sensed that there was already too much evidence in the world suggesting that one Uwetsiageyv was more than enough.
“I think I’ve learned what I can from you.”
Uwetsiageyv frowned. Although she had some time ago accepted that her traveling companions would come and go during her exploration of these islands, it had not occurred to her that such a time may have already arrived for the scarlet tanager. She was profoundly disappointed by the thought of separating. “Are we parting then?”
Scarlet read the emotions hidden just beneath the surface of the crow girl’s face. “We could postpone our parting, I suppose, for a little while,” she paused then added, “if you don’t think that’s a sign of too much weakness or sentimentality.”
Uwetsiageyv’s face brightened immediately. “Of course, I do,” she said. She was not in the habit of indulging in maudlin displays of sentimentality, but given the opportunity, she jumped at the chance. For all their imagining of other winged children, she did not know when such an occasion—the prolonged farewell of a fellow bird girl—would come again.
September 19, 2016
The Tanager’s Tale
“This is the last island we shall leave while in each other’s company.” These words of portent Uwetsiageyv did not speak though she knew them to be true. She stood behind the tanager and admired her sleek, black wings and crimson snakeskin dress.
“Are you ready?” asked Scarlet, not completely unaware of the thoughts with which Uwetsiageyv was preoccupied.
In the silence that followed, the mourning doves sensed the crow girl’s reticence. They responded for her. “Coo-OO-oo!” Never before was a crow so grateful to a dove.
Dawn threatened the night sky and a gibbous but waning moon fled to the west.
Her patience exhausted, Scarlet turned and asked, “What is taking you so long?”
Uwetsiageyv smiled fondly at her friend. “I am committing your book to memory.” Finished with her task, she extended her wings and led the tanager off the island and along the path of the moon, a pursuit both of them knew to be, at best, implausible.
Chapter 26. Agelaius phoeniceus
September 20, 2016
Here, A Giant Has Fallen
They spotted the giant from the air. He was lying on his back, partially submerged by the ocean waters. His size exceeded all expectations, for, had he been standing, his height would have exceeded three miles. As it was, lying down he formed his own archipelago. His knees were bent and appeared as two triangular, mountainous protrusions jutting side by side from the sea. His folded hands rested on this belly, forming a smaller island. His head appeared to be propped on a reef for the top of his face, from his chin to his brow emerged from the sea.
The giant had been dead a long time. His body had petrified. Dense flora and fauna had colonized most of his surfaces exposed to the air. The lone exception was his mouth, which was open grotesquely wide, as if he had died in the act of howling, though whether in agony or rage could not be discerned at this late stage. In any case, he had been unable to shut his jaw after the fact. It further appeared that the giant in his death throes had disturbed the local geological strata, allowing a conduit to open, in which magma channeled from a subterranean reservoir, up through his throat to spew, in ages past, from his mouth. All that remained of this activity was a caldera that rounded the corners of his lips, widening his mouth even further into the familiar circular crater. His upper lip was covered in a thick forested moustache, as was his chin. The interior of his mouth, however, was devoid of life.
Of the four exposed islands, the two girls chose to alight on the giant’s face, along the rim of his mouth. They stood with their backs to the forest, gazing down the funnel of sand, rock and hardened ash. At the bottom of the crater, a dark hole appeared in the ground, leading presumably to his esophagus and trachea.
“Conk-la-ree!” cried a flock of natives, ambushing the girls from the cover of the forest. The birds emerged as one, and performed a synchronous circling of the caldera.
“Conk-la-ree!” Uwetsiageyv shouted at them as they flew overhead. The red patch and yellow stripe on their wings were fully visible. The display of their plumage proved unnecessary, since their distinctive call had already revealed them as red-wing blackbirds.
The flock returned as one to roost in trees not far from their original point of departure.
“What does Conk-la-ree mean?” Scarlet asked the crow girl.
“I always wondered the same thing,” Uwetsiageyv said, “but now I am pretty sure it means, ‘Here a giant has fallen.’”
September 21, 2016
The First Reunion
The two girls searched for a stream from which to drink but they could not find one. It seemed the face of the giant was entirely arid. When they were surprised by a sudden afternoon rain, they took shelter in a cave-sized nostril. Later, they studied the muddied puddles of the precipitation that accumulated at the corners of the giant’s eyes.
Several red-wing blackbirds accompanied the girls as they ascended through the forest of black tupelo, returning to the ridge of the caldera. Once clear of the protective canopy, their ears were assaulted by a steady clamor. The blackbirds scattered.
“What is that horrible noise?” Scarlet asked, covering her ears with her hands.
“You don’t know?” Uwetsiageyv replied, for the clattering sound was familiar to her. She waited until the flying machine appeared, circling around the island. She pointed toward it unnecessarily, for their attention was directed by the source of the ruckus. “It’s the dwarf.”
Scarlet, who had never flown with the dwarf and only heard second-hand from the crow girl the legend of the dwarf’s flying machine, belatedly sympathized with her. The tanager did not remove her hands from her ears until the dwarf, having spotted them, lined his flight path up at a tangent to the perimeter of the crater and landed his contraption. He came to a stop not fifty feet from them.
The two girls approached, while the dwarf waved vigorously at Uwetsiageyv as he unstrapped himself from the device.
“Scarlet,” Uwetsiageyv said, when they had reached the dwarf, “allow me to introduce you to Mr. R.A. Peach.” She chose this name over Colugo and the dwarf did not correct her.
The dwarf stuck out a stubby hand. Scarlet gingerly accepted the handshake but kept the contact to a minimum. When the act of greeting was finished, she quickly clasped her hands behind her back. “What a coincidence,” she said ambiguously.
“It’s no coincidence,” Uwetsiageyv and the dwarf said simultaneously, though each had a different explanation which quickly followed.
“He has been following us,” said the crow girl.
“It’s all the work of the prophecy,” appended the dwarf.
Scarlet frowned. Uwetsiageyv grimaced. Mr. R.A. Peach bellowed, “You did it, girl! You found our giant!”
The unexpected volume of this pronouncement startled the few red-wing blackbirds who had returned to observe the proceedings. “Conk-la-ree!” they cried as they flew off again.
“He is dead,” Uwetsiageyv commented drily.
“Of that there can be no doubt,” said the dwarf, peering out past the hands and toward the mountainous knees. “He was a big one.”
The bird girls had little to add to this observation.
“You found our giant,” the dwarf repeated, relishing the moment. He rubbed his hands together.
“It was an accident,” Uwetsiageyv admitted.
“Of course, it was,” the dwarf agreed. “It could never have happened any other way.”
September 22, 2016
A Misapplication of the Wisdom of Solomon
The dwarf pointed down the boulder-strewn slope of the caldera toward the dark opening at its center. “That is the gateway to the Land of Giants.”
The two bird girls exchanged skeptical glances. Based on the geography around the Sea of Birds, as shared with her by the dwarf, Uwetsiageyv understood the Land of Giants to lie not underground but to the west. However at this stage, she said nothing.
The dwarf took the opportunity to disassemble his flying machine. As he worked, he explained, “This giant was placed as a sentry, guarding the entry to the Land of Giants.” He began folding up the wings. Pulling a strap tight to hold them in place, he looked up and added, “And a formidable sentry he was. Had he been at the top of his form and chosen to deny us entrance, we would have had a hard time convincing him otherwise.”
Uwetsiageyv tried to visualize them asking the giant to open his mouth and let them climb inside. She assumed that she did not fully understand the nature of the gate.
“Not through force alone,” continued the dwarf, “could we have achieved our goal. Thankfully, it did not fall to us to slay our foe. The implacable march of time was our ally in this battle.”
The martial terms with which the dwarf described the potential encounter with the giant disturbed not only the two bird girls but the red-wing blackbirds, perched within earshot, as well.
“Conk-la-ree!” they sang, reminding the dwarf that the giant was dead.
Soon the dwarf had the flying machine collapsed into its most compact form. The rectangular arrangement was nearly as large as the dwarf but substantially less dense. He leaned against it casually and asked, “So who’s coming with me?”
The red-wings blackbirds flew away. They had become attached to their home on the remains of the fallen giant and had no intention of abandoning him.
Uwetsiageyv looked over at the tanager. Scarlet’s expression steeled. “I certainly shall not go,” she said to the dwarf in a determined voice that brooked no argument. “I hope for nothing more than the utter failure of your misbegotten prophecy.”
The dwarf nodded. These words did not surprise him; the scarlet tanager had already made clear to him that she was not the one of whom the prophecy spoke. He placed all his hopes on Uwetsiageyv, who had so ably led him to the gate.
“Will you come with me?” he asked the crow maiden.
There, on the lips of giant whose final howl was cast in stone, Uwetsiageyv looked up at the piercing blue sky, the indifferent burning of the solar orb, then to the endless undulation of the surface of the ocean. Her gaze drifted over to her friend, the scarlet tanager, and came to rest on the dwarf. She felt equally the desire to establish her own destiny by defying the prophecy and the looming threat of wandering endlessly among the islands of the Sea of Birds in search of some ill-defined prize. She was drawn to both paths, or neither. And so she said, after some reflection, “I shall tear myself into two unequal parts so as to accompany each of you on your separate paths.” She did not elaborate on the relative size of each part and both the tanager and dwarf demonstrated the discretion required to refrain from asking.
September 23, 2016
A Second Farewell
The crow girl and the scarlet tanager walked along the arc of the crater’s perimeter. The dwarf gave them their space to say their farewells. The red-wings blackbirds, too, let them be.
At one point, the tanager looked over her shoulder to make sure that they had put a sufficient distance between themselves and the dwarf. She did not want her words overhead. Satisfied, she stopped with Uwetsiageyv beside her. She spoke haltingly for she feared to impart any degree of violence in the tearing in two of the crow girl. Still, the scarlet tanager sensed the truth. “I shall have the smaller part of you.”
“You shall have the better part,” promised Uwetsiageyv.
Scarlet looked down at the rocky earth. Her gaze wandered over to Uwetsiageyv’s scale-studded shoes. “At least I’ll never have to see those awful shoes again,” she said with a half laugh.
Strangely, for the first time, Uwetsiageyv no longer felt embarrassed of her shoes. It was as if this moment put their insignificance into focus. “Where will you go?”
Scarlet shrugged. “I think I’ll look first for the Island of Scarlet Tanagers.”
“Good, I have always wanted to see it.” Uwetsiageyv smiled. “But don’t get mad if they mistake you for a boy.”
Scarlet looked down at her crimson dress. She did not reply to Uwetsiageyv’s words. Instead, she said, “I do not think that we shall meet again.”
“Why do you say that?” Uwetsiageyv exclaimed quietly. “I will find your book in my library. You will sit beside me, in the fading light, as I read of your adventures.”
“Are you sure?”
Uwetsiageyv nodded. “You are perfectly captured in my memory. I am missing only one thing.”
“And what is that?”
The scarlet tanager spread her great black wings. A ripple passed through the muscles as she prepared for flight. She leaned over so that her breath brushed against Uwetsiageyv’s ear.
“Piranga,” she whispered. “Piranga olivacea.”
So saying, the scarlet tanager departed the Island of Red-wing Blackbirds, never to return.
September 26, 2016
They descended into the crater of the giant’s mouth. The dwarf carried the flying machine strapped to his back, nearly doubling his height. In the loose gravel, the footing was uncertain. Several times Uwetsiageyv found herself sliding down the slope, only to slow her progress by taking hold of larger boulders, rooted where they stood. She was in no danger; she could simply have leapt into flight had she lost control, but something kept her on the ground. If she was to enter the Land of Giants in the company of the dwarf, she would do so as he did.
They arrived at the hole in the ground at the bottom of the caldera. It seemed as much an irregular crack in the Earth as it did the giant’s throat. Before they entered, the dwarf placed in Uwetsiageyv’s care the lantern, a metal flask of oil and a box of matches. “It will be dark,” he told her.
Overhead a flock of red-wing blackbirds witnessed the crow girl follow the dwarf into the hole.
Inside, the space opened up considerably. Uwetsiageyv found herself in the middle of a lava tube. It seemed roughly cylindrical with a diameter of forty feet, if not more. One end of the tunnel seemed to stretch more or less horizontally toward the shoreline. It must have collapsed at the far end, because, while the stone floor was damp and slick, there were no standing puddles. In the other direction, the lava tube descended at a gentle grade. The dwarf led them down into the subterranean darkness. Soon the only light came from the flicker of the metal and glass lantern held in Uwetsiageyv’s hand.
Uwetsiageyv followed behind the dwarf. Keeping the lantern low to illuminate the stone where she would place her next footstep. “How long will be travel like this?” she asked, when they were not far into the darkness.
“It’s hard to gauge the passage of time underground,” warned the dwarf, “especially for those accustomed to life on the surface. There is neither sunrise nor sunset, nor any of the myriad of living responses to the daily cycle—no opening of flowers and no morning song of birds. Nor is the waxing or waning of the moon detectable except in its gravitational pull on the stone, which yields far less appreciably than does the ocean in its tides. But if you listen, sometimes, you can hear the stone groan as it stretches.” The dwarf fell silent.
By this answer, Uwetsiageyv understood the dwarf to mean that they would be underground for some time.
It cannot be said that Uwetsiageyv entered the Land of Giants in darkness, for she held the weak light of the dwarf’s lantern. It is true that this source of illumination provided only a local halo around her and left even the stone walls of the tube cloaked in impenetrable gloom.
IV. Delivering the Performance
12 chapters × 5 parts/chapter = 60 parts
Chapter 27. Mimus polyglottos
September 27, 2016
The gradual slope at which the lava tube descended steepened. Inside, Uwetsiageyv imagined that they had followed the contours of the mountain from which the island had formed and were now beneath the sea. As they continued to travel downward, she felt the immense weight of the sea accumulating above them, though its presence in the cave was limited to an uncomfortable humidity and a thin film on the surface of rock visible in the frail light of her lantern.
After what seemed like miles, the tunnel flattened out and Uwetsiageyv guessed that they now traveled beneath the ocean floor. ‘What a terrible way to travel,’ she thought to herself, as she contemplated the alternative manner with which she might have left the island—namely flying unimpeded through open sky. To the dwarf before her, she said nothing.
Uwetsiageyv remained oblivious to the moment when they entered the Land of Giants. It was dark on either side of the portal. The contour of the stone remained unbroken. It could be suggested by the skeptic that no such discrete boundary existed. Certainly, there was no moment when the dwarf turned to her and announced that they had reached their long sought destination.
How long they traveled beneath the sea proved, as the dwarf had predicted, difficult to determine. Many times, they paused while Uwetsiageyv stopped to refill the oil lantern from the flask. She had to rely on the dwarf that they would arrive before her reserve was depleted. When this turned out not to be the case, the dwarf waylaid her concerns by producing a second flask.
Accustomed to flying for days on end, the extended travel alone did not bother Uwetsiageyv. However, she did, from time to time, rustle her wings in anticipation of escaping the confines the cave.
Eventually, the tunnel began to rise. By the same slow process by which they had descended, Uwetsiageyv and the dwarf began the long climb out from beneath the ocean. The breath of the dwarf became labored for he carried a heavy load upon his back, but he did not ask for a respite.
They climbed and climbed until it seemed to Uwetsiageyv they must have reached an altitude beyond the highest mountain, but still they continued their ascent. If his subterranean senses knew of it, the dwarf gave no hint of the proximity of the exit. Thus, when they stumbled upon starlight streaming through a crack in the cave, where a portion of the wall had collapsed, Uwetsiageyv was taken utterly by surprise.
“I guess we are here,” said the dwarf, poking his head out of the cave, wary for giants.
Standing behind him, impatient to feel the cold starlight on her face, Uwetsiageyv heard a collection of whistles, rasps and trills. She brushed past the dwarf in her excitement, not bothering to apologize for jostling the load on his back, but saying only, “They have mockingbirds in the Land of Giants!” She rushed out to see just how big they were.
September 28, 2016
The Sequence of Peace
Uwetsiageyv entered the Land of the Giants as a lone northern mockingbird heralded her arrival.
She greeted it fondly, for she had not expected so familiar a face to be the first she encountered in this foreign land. In fact, the silhouette of the mockingbird, seemed not much larger, if any larger at all, than that of its cousins who dwelt near the orphanage. In the faint light, it seemed to possess the same pale belly and gray wings, crossed by the same two white bars. If she hadn’t been so sure that she had just traveled beneath the ocean by an expert guide to the Land of the Giants, she would have mistaken this giant mockingbird for one of its ordinary kin.
The mockingbird continued its varied song, as the dwarf emerged from the cave. He peered around, allowing his eyes to adjust to the starlight, before deciding that the coast was clear. No truly enormous birds had been waiting outside the opening to ambush them as if they were worms wriggling from the earth.
With a grunt, he set the flying contraption down. He had carried it a long time. Free of the weight of his burden, he stretched his arms with relief.
“We made it,” said Uwetsiageyv, exhilarated by the simple fact that she was no longer confined to the darkness of the tunnel.
“There was never any doubt,” the dwarf replied, speaking, of course, of the prophecy.
The dwarf opted not to make a fire, though a chill lay in the night air. He feared to draw the attention of giants, long known to attack dwarves on sight.
When he shared this reasoning with Uwetsiageyv, she said, “You are not really going to work toward the destruction of all giants, are you?” She had asked him this question before but that had been many islands ago and the dwarf had not given a proper reply. This time, the hours of the early morning crept by patiently, providing the dwarf all the time he needed to muster an answer.
After considerable thought, he asked, “What could a single dwarf do?” He turned to face the crow girl lying on her side at the edge of the clearing. “You saw how big that giant was.”
“So you are going to try?”
The dwarf shrugged.
“What about the table?” Uwetsiageyv reminded him, “In the prophecy.” Although she still had trouble visualizing the dwarf and island-sized giant at a common table, she nevertheless clung to the idea; it was, after all, the crux of the prophecy.
“Of course,” the dwarf admitted, “all has not been made clear to me.”
Uwetsiageyv thought these words an ominous preface to the words that followed.
“But, if I understand the traditions of peace-making correctly, they typically follow a period of conflict.”
At this pronouncement, the mockingbird flew away to bear these ill tidings to its compatriots.
September 29, 2016
A Victim of Unchecked Melancholia
As the morning sun rose above the eastern horizon, Uwetsiageyv discovered as she had expected that she stood upon the Island of Northern Mockingbirds. To the east, the dawn illuminated unbroken sea. To the north and south, she observed the shore of the island curving back. Behind her a mountain arose. It was possible, she supposed, that this was a promontory to a larger continent, rather than an island, upon which giants dwelt.
She took to the air and confirmed her initial guess; this formation of land was surrounded by water on all sides. However, to her surprise, she discovered this island, too, was formed from the petrified remains of a giant. This giant had curled into a fetal position and wrapped her arms around her knees before she expired. The high points in the island corresponded to a shoulder, a hip and an elbow. This egg-like shape stretched a mile from the crown of her bald head to the base of spine. The crack from which Uwetsiageyv and the dwarf had emerged was located at the giant’s ear.
She returned to the dwarf and made her report.
“It appears,” the dwarf surmised, “that something swept through the Land of the Giants, killing the sentries on both sides of the gate.”
“What could do that?”
“A contagion of some sort,” said the dwarf. His opinion was based on the absence of wounds, which eliminated a violent death. “Perhaps unchecked melancholia. Or ennui.”
Uwetsiageyv spent the rest of the day in the company of various mockingbirds, whom she loved. After meticulous scrutiny, she concluded they were, in fact, no larger than ordinary mockingbirds.
She also studied the trees, a mixture of ash, scarlet and post oaks, and red maples. Though the girth of the trunk of elders among them was impressive, they too seemed of ordinary size. When Uwetsiageyv held fallen leaves against the span of her own palm, she did not feel reduced in size.
She next examined the sun. For a while she imagined that it appeared larger in the sky than usual, but after a while she convinced herself that this was only wishful thinking.
“The Land of Giants is a very ordinary place,” she announced to the mockingbirds. In this discovery she experienced a mixture of relief and pleasure, for she had always felt at home in forests and the absence of the foreignness she had anticipated in this place comforted her.
September 29, 2016
“I think I saw your uncles,” said the dwarf to Uwetsiageyv, when she rejoined them at the end of the day. He was kneeling beside a pile of deadwood, encouraging a fire to take hold. Apparently, he had assured himself that the smoke would not draw the attention of unwanted threats.
“My uncles?” said Uwetsiageyv, who had no idea to whom the dwarf referred.
“They must have been following me,” he mused. “And come behind us through the tunnel.”
“Who?” Uwetsiageyv asked again.
The dwarf rose from his knees. He brushed his hands together, brushing the dirt and sand from them. The fire had caught hold. “Why Kònèy and Chwèt, of course.”
“What!” exclaimed Uwetsiageyv, looking around as if she might still have a chance to spot them. “Where?” Here? On this island? When did this happen?”
Amidst the flurry of questions, the dwarf related the following encounter. He had been surveying the island from well-hidden vantage points so as not to reveal himself to any lingering giants, when he observed the crow and owl standing on a ridge, corresponding to the giant’s jawline. It appeared that the pair had only recently emerged from the ear.
“What did they say to you?”
The dwarf looked surprised by this question. “Well, they didn’t say anything to me.”
“Because I never revealed myself to them.”
“But why not?”
“Because I didn’t particularly want that accursed owl to take another bite out of me!” Sensing the crow girl’s crowing indignation, the dwarf had ended the conversation in a shout.
Uwetsiageyv leapt into the air. Daylight was already starting to fade. She circled the entirety of the island peering into the darkening depths beneath the canopy. The services of several mockingbirds were engaged to aid in the search, but to no avail.
The dwarf knew her search to be pointless but had not had the opportunity to tell her. As he had watched them, the crow and the owl had taken to wing and left the island.
When she returned, the dwarf shared this information with Uwetsiageyv and watched as her excited agitation turned to deep disappointment.
“Why didn’t you let me know as soon as you found them?” she demanded.
Ignoring the practical objections, the dwarf simply said, “I thought you had broken off relations with them.”
That night, Uwetsiageyv refused to share the campfire with the dwarf. She would leave on the morrow, with or without the dwarf. She did not know exactly what she wished to say to ‘her uncles’ as the dwarf called them, but she could not deny the desire in her breast to see them again.
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.