Storyteller on the Lake
"Birds" is a story that can be classified as science fiction or fantasy. It is a story about a youth who struggles to discover himself while living in a totalitarian regime.
In the land of Kidane no bird has been seen for over a century when they were driven away as vermin by the country's leaders. At first, Kidane thrived but as their crops began to fail they looked with covetous eyes to their verdant neighbor to the north, Gleinmorge with its lush forests and abundant wildlife. Skirmishes between the two lands have been growing more frequent with the might of the Kidani army prevailing against their Glein counterparts. Finch, a descendant of the great Krogg the Angry from a century previous, is in his final year at the Kidani Academy. His parents want him to one day become an officer in the army but he does not possess the heart of a soldier. He flounders in class and is often ridiculed by his classmates. The boy puts up with the mockery for he knows not of any other way. One day while in Major Dagg's class a fellow student reveals to Finch what he has hidden in his pocket - a dead bird. The boy was not only at once awestruck by the creature, his life was about to change forever.
Birds is available through Author's Den.
A Bird in the Hand
“Do you want to see something different?” Wigg whispered, drawing Finch’s attention away from the teacher’s lesson. The youth’s eyes slid across the classroom and became focused on the desk adjacent to his where he saw the tall and lanky adolescent lift its lid only slightly and reach in with his free hand.
Finch’s eyes watched with the disinterest of one feeling obliged to do so only to be nice while in reality he desired not to be interrupted. Major Dagg, the teacher, was talking about patriotic duty and how even though most of the students in the room were not even eighteen years old it still behooved them to think first in terms of the country and not in terms of the self. It was a lesson that was first taught when Finch was less than half his current age. It was a lesson that the children at this academy were taught every year through the ten years that they were required to attend classes. This was Finch’s tenth year. After this year he would not be taught this lesson any more. It would be expected that he had learned it.
Wigg drew his hand out from his desk. Hanging from outside his clenched fist was a pair of the strangest feet that Finch had ever seen. He had never seen anything quite like them. They were so small and possessed digits that seemed extremely nimble. His attention to Major Dagg dwindled to nil.
“What is it?” he asked the teenager that sat next to him. He and Wigg had known each other most of their lives but they could hardly be described as friends. Wigg tended to be a loner but when he showed affiliation to anybody it would be with an older crowd than the more juvenile Finch. Most of the time Wigg’s gang sought to ridicule and belittle Finch and his cronies.
“It’s something that my brother brought home from the front,” Wigg said softly as not to draw Major Dagg’s attention. “It’s a bird.”
“A bird!” Finch cried out in dismay. His voice was louder than he had intended it to be. He thought that it would be certain that Major Dagg would inquire about what the commotion was about. Yet as he sheepishly raised his eyes to look at the former cavalryman he saw that the teacher was engaged in conducting his well-rehearsed rhetoric and that if the two boys had caught his attention he was at the moment not showing it.
“Not so loud Finch,” Wigg hushed, opening up his fingers to display a tiny yellow carcass resting on his palm.
Never had Finch beheld such delicacy and such a unique configuration of body parts. He had been taught that birds used to exist in Kidane but that they had long ago disappeared. He had always been told that birds were heinous and vile creatures. This was something that he had accepted without ever exploring the reason why. But now as he looked at the small dead creature, he wanted to know more about it. His immediate reaction was that it was a thing of beauty. He could not help himself. He had to reach across the aisle to touch it. As his fingers lightly lit upon the bird’s yellow covering he saw that these tufts danced gently to the stir that his hand had inflicted upon the air.
“They are feathers,” Wigg whispered.
“And the carriers of all manner of infectious disease!” a sudden bellow blustered through the classroom. It was Major Dagg. He had somehow managed to traipse from the front of the room unbeknownst to Finch and Wigg and was now standing directly above the boys. He took his handkerchief from his pocket and grabbed the dead bird from Wigg’s hand. He held it up for all the class to see. “This ladies and gentlemen is known as a bird. To be more precise it is what is called a canary. See how it is covered in a furry coating. Can you imagine all the germs that can tuck themselves in the nooks and crannies of these feathers? Vile disgusting things! Our forefathers proved their wisdom the day that they eradicated these creatures from our land. No longer is Kidane scourged by the disease that these foul creatures carry.”
The girl that sat directly in front of Finch started behaving erratically as if she were in imminent danger. Major Dagg had been waving the dead bird almost on top of her. With his frightening words, she must have gotten it in her head that the canary was suddenly going to come to life and spring upon her in a savage attack. She got up from her seat and raced to the opposite side of the room.
“Sit down in your seat Tercel!” Major Dagg commanded in that booming voice of his. “A Kidani never displays the fear that he or she feels inside!”
Tercel did as she was told. She slinked her tiny frame back towards her desk, her arms and head held low, fearful that she might incur a wrathful blow from the riding crop that Major Dagg still carried from his glorious days as a cavalryman in the army.
“You are showing fear young lady!” Major Dagg roared, raising his riding crop in the air as if he was about to use it upon the frail waif that skulked in front of him. “Never show fear in my class again!”
The riding crop came down.
But it did not strike the girl. It came down onto Wigg’s shoulders.
“And never bring contaminated contraband carrion into my class again either!” Major Dagg thundered at the boy. He threw the bird carcass into Wigg’s face.
Wigg’s mouth contorted into an expression of sheer animosity. There was no fear in him. He was bigger than the teacher and he was in fine, athletic shape. He possessed the traits that made him appear the archetype of what a Kidani youth should be.
Finch was suddenly scared that Wigg would launch an attack upon Major Dagg and that all manner of trouble would ensue. But the youth that sat beside him managed to take control of his rage and subdue it and sublimate it. The fire in his eyes had become contained.
“Wigg, you will take that fetid object outdoors and bury it deep in the ground in a location far from the schoolyard,” Major Dagg ordered. Finch thought that he caught a look of relief in the teacher’s face as if he, too, had been frightened about a physical attack. “Afterwards, you will go to the lavatory and thoroughly wash your hands. And then you will report after school for detention and reprimand.” Then the teacher’s head turned. “Finch, you will do likewise!”
The boy had not been ready for such treatment. “But I did not do anything wrong!” Finch whimpered, knowing as he spoke that it was absolutely the wrong thing to say. A Kidani never whimpers and complains about the treatment accorded to him, no matter how unjust that treatment may seem.
“You disrupted my class and I saw you touch that dirty bird! And now on top of that you have just behaved in a very un-Kidani manner! Boy, you are in your final year of school. Have you not learned anything about how a citizen of Kidane is expected to conduct himself in all of that time? Now, go with Wigg and bury that bird.”
Finch was about to ask if the teacher did not want them to wait until today’s lesson was over. But he saw it in Major Dagg’s eyes that they were to dispatch Wigg’s contraband immediately.
Wigg picked up the carcass from the floor and stood up. He was brazenly close to the teacher and he made sure that Major Dagg was fully aware of the size differential between the two of them. Their eyes were locked, their bodies were tense. And then the youth said, “Are you coming Finch?”
The smaller boy got up from his desk. He was in a state of disbelief. He did not know how he had gotten into trouble. He had never been in trouble in the decade that he had been coming to this school. His academic record was unremarkable as were his achievements on the field. He had left little evidence at the Academy that he had ever been here. Until now.
As he stepped past the teacher, he could feel more than see Major Dagg shake his head in disapproval. He felt as filthy as the dead little thing in Wigg’s hands.