Posted by: lordkyler | April 9, 2014

He Who Speaks With Birds – Short Story

I have never been this nervous. That’s saying something, because I’m nervous a lot. But what I’m about to do now trumps all that.

You see, ever since I could remember, I’ve had a thing about birds. My first memory is of visiting a duck pond. I begged my parents for a parakeet instead of a puppy. I read every book I could get my hands on and watched every documentary. I know everything about migration patterns and bone structure and bird calls and scientific names and fictional birds… Well, you get the idea.

I don’t know why I have this obsession. I know it’s not normal. My mom took me to a psychologist once because I was so enamored with birds that I tried to fly and broke my leg. He said it might be a mild form of autism. I have some of the characteristics, such my preoccupation with all things avian and difficulty talking with people, but I don’t have other tendencies like a limited vocabulary or coordination problems. To most people I’m just the weird kid in the back of the class who draws birds and strange patterns and can always be counted on to laugh at the wrong time.

But there is a secret about myself that I have never shared with anyone.  I don’t know what caused it or what it means or if I’m crazy, but I can talk to birds. It’s not like they speak English or anything. But they way they move, they way they call, the way they fly… it speaks to me, and I can understand it as easily as reading. Easier, even. I remember seeing the crows circling one day and asked what had died. My parents wondered who had told me about that. Or the time they were warning about a raccoon in the backyard.

But recently my secret talent has expanded into something more, and that is what has led me to this moment, where I am about to make a public announcement to a room full of strangers. Because recently, as I stare at the birds and I watch the clouds and listen to the rush of the wind, I have begun to see things more deeply than before. The birds speak not only of what is, but also of what will be. I have been getting glimpses of the future. And it is not pretty.

I sit on the edge of my seat, staring blankly at my tray. My fingers are poised on the edge of the table, as if I am about to stand, but I can’t seem to follow through with the motion. After all, why should anybody listen to me? Why would they believe me? It’s not exactly as though they’ve been kind to me in the past. And if I stick to my guns and insist that these premonitions are real, they’ll haul me off to counseling and psychiatrists and next thing you know I’ll be popping pills the way I eat Skittles, by the handful. It wouldn’t be hard to sit here and just keep to myself. I’ve had plenty of practice with that. And yet…

My visions, though small, have always been correct, so far. Every time. I know what the weather will be like tomorrow. I knew about the bakery fire, and missing toddler, and the gas station robbery. So if there’s even a chance I could save their lives, I need to take it, right? It doesn’t matter if they like me or not. At least, it shouldn’t. Maybe it would for someone else. I don’t know. Gah! Why am I so indecisive?

Besides, what if I’m right? I couldn’t live with myself if I did nothing. That seals it. I’m going to speak. If I’m right, I saved their lives. If I’m wrong, then I am crazy and maybe medication will help. Either way, I won’t have to live with the constant uncertainty anymore. I’ll know whether I’m inspired or crazy. I’m doing it. I’m doing it NOW.

I push my chair back violently with the impetus of sudden, reckless decision and stand up. My rapid motion draws the attention of several nearby students. A good start. I pull my chair back to me and stand on the seat, lifting my head above the crowd. More eyes turned my way. I look up to the ceiling and draw a deep breath. What I’m about to say will change my life forever.

The fire alarm goes off, a shrill, piercing ring that seems to fill the room with sound, as if the air is filled with angry hornets. The lunch room explodes in commotion. The overhead sprinklers burst into life, sending forth artificial rain to combat a nonexistent fire. Students scramble to protect their papers and electronics from the sudden deluge, and begin an orderly stampede to the emergency exits. I am swept along, like a sparrow caught in a hurricane.

It isn’t until all the roll calls are made and the fire engines have come and gone and school is dismissed early and I am walking home that I snap out of my daze and begin to wonder what just happened. It’s difficult to concentrate on a single thought or find the energy to care. I feel empty, like I gathered everything I had to fuel myself, and then burned it for nothing. I’m spent.

I am so enveloped in my own thoughts, I almost don’t notice someone calling my name. I turn and try to see who is calling me. Across the street is Cheryl Green, also known as the crazy old cat lady. I prefer not to call her that, but you’ve never seen somebody fit the stereotype so well. She is probably in her sixties or seventies, with straggly hair and stained clothes that used to be brighter colors. She’s not actually crazy, but she has a lazy eye and some unusual beliefs. And cats. She has a lot of cats. I have heard they have an appetite for birds.

I tried to pretend I couldn’t hear her. I had no desire to talk to anyone, much less weird old ladies. But then she crossed the street and I couldn’t ignore her any further. I turned around and forced a smile. I half-succeeded. “Hey, Mrs. Green,” I said.

“It’s Miss,” she corrected. “Where are you going?” She was going to try and get me to take something to the post office again, I could tell. She spent hours writing letters to seemingly everyone, congressmen, lawyers, news anchors. I had no idea what the letters were about, but as far as I knew she had never gotten a reply. For some reason she insisted they be dropped off at the post office but refused to go herself. She had talked me into doing it for her several times, but I was in no mood today.

“I’m going home,” I said. “Had kind of a rough day.”

“Is that so?” she crooned. “Well well well. Maybe you could do an old lady a favor and keep her company for a while. I’ve got cookies and milk for ya!” I had had her cookies before. They were an old family recipe, with the secret ingredient being half a cup of cat hair.

“No thank you,” I said, on the last few strands of politeness. “I have a lot of homework.”

“Come on,” she said pleadingly. “I’m terribly lonely.” Join the club, I thought to myself. I shrugged and gestured that I couldn’t help it.

“I’m sorry, but I have a lot to do and I don’t think I’d be good company,” I said. “I’ll come over tomorrow, I promise.” I turned around and resumed my walk.

“Oh for the love of Zeus and Hera,” she said in exasperation. A gnarled, liver-spotted hand grasped my shoulder like eagle’s talons, her technicolor fingernails clamping onto me like a vise. I turned around, startled and found myself staring at Miss Green, but no Miss Green I had ever seen. Her hazy, happy demeanor had evaporated, focusing to laser intensity. She had transformed from a sleepy persian feline into a battle-hardened tomcat in the blink of an eye.

“We have something important to discuss, boy,” she hissed. “Strange things are afoot and we have little time. Come quickly.”

Instinctively, I pushed away, breaking her grip and stumbling backward. I tripped on the broken pavement and fell, skinning my hands raw. Had the old lady finally snapped? I tried to get away, but found my way blocked by cats. Not just the three or four that usually traveled with Miss Green, or the odd dozen at her house or even the roving bands of feral cats that swarmed the neighborhood because of the food she put out for them.  No less than a hundred cats surrounded me, felines in every shape, size and color imaginable, like a river of fur blocking my escape.

Now thoroughly spooked, I prepared to run. Wading through a sea of angry cats had to be better than whatever a madwoman had in mind. I hoped. But before I could begin, the sun grew dark overhead. I looked up to sea a cloud of birds descending like a dark cloud, ravens and hawks and songbirds and sparrows, flying together in a great swarm, wheeling like a hurricane. As one, they suddenly dove from the heavens, surrounding us in a rush of wind and feathers and birdcalls.

Rather than attacking the cats, as I thought they would, they began to circle around us, forming a massive column some twenty feet high. At this point, shock overcame me, and my legs gave out. The last thing I remember before fainting was the wizened form of Miss Green holding her arms high and laughing, laughing, laughing.

•••

I woke up on Miss Green’s couch with a start, though it took me a moment to remember why I was startled. Nobody was around, no immediate danger, and my head felt like someone had driven a javelin through it, so I fell back onto the couch.

The couch was an old floral print, faded through untold years of use. Sunlight peeked through the ruffled white curtains, drawing golden lines through the air. Several clocks ticked away in unison, and knickknacks filled every nook and cranny without a cat in it. Miss Green’s house was like a place untouched by time, dim and quiet, filled only with memories, trinkets, and faded pictures. The living room was by some sorcery free of the cat hair that covered the rest of the house.

Miss Green came into the room bearing a tray with tea and cookies. I sat up suddenly, but doing so sent another javelin into my head and I collapsed immediately, hands pressed to my temples.

“Not feeling well, my lad?” she asked, setting the tray down. She lifted the ancient, rose-patterend teapot and poured a cup of scalding-hot tea. “This will make you feel better.”

Slowly, I reached for the cup and took a tiny sip. It was too hot, as always. Miss Green sat down in her overstuffed, high-backed chair. Boris hopped into her lap. Boris was a long-haired, flat-faced persian, with luxuriant fur the color of blue steel. He was the undisputed king of the house, and the only cat allowed in the living room. Miss Green stroked him as she talked.

“It’s hard, isn’t it, all that information?” she said softly, her gentle tones matching Boris’s purring. “I’ll wager the stress and the shock didn’t help either.”

“Information?” I croaked.

“Don’t play the fool, child. The birds speak to you, as the cats do to me.” That made me sit upright, regardless of the piercing pain.

“What?”

“Don’t act so surprised. You are one of the few who doesn’t think me insane, and you’re certainly the only one to share the sight.”

At a loss for words, I drain the teacup in in single gulp, forgetting it is scalding hot. I burn my tongue, but as the liquid burns its way down my throat, the fierce pounding in my head dies away to a dull rumble.

Seeing my surprise, Miss Green stands up, dumping an affronted Boris to the ground. She comes and sits by my side. “Your parents didn’t tell you?” she asks. I frown.

“Tell me what?”

She sighs. “Perhaps they do not even know. The blood is so diluted, and so few know of our heritage any more.”

I stand up, freed of the incapacitating headache. “Listen, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but if you don’t explain what’s going on real fast, I’m going to call the cops and get us both put in the crazy house, ok?”

“I think you have an idea. Why else would you be willing to stand in front of your whole school and pronounce catastrophes upon them?”

My jaw flapped open involuntarily, something I though was only a figure of speech. “How did you know about that?”

She smirked. “Who do you think pulled the fire alarm?”

I tried and failed several times to speak, but nothing came. I was well and truly flabbergasted. Miss Green stood and took my face in her hands. “You and I are augurs, with the gift to glimpse the future, you in the birds and the winds and the clouds, and me in cats and leaves and fire.”

“But- why- how?”

“We are of the blood of Cassandra, the prophetess, she of ancient Greece who saw all things before their time. Her descendants keep a part of her gift. Yours is aeromancy.”

It sounded insane, but she seemed certain of her words, and I had no better explanation. I could speak with birds, so why not throw Greek oracles into the mix?

“You have not fully developed your gift, my boy,” Miss Green continued. “That is why the flight of the birds overwhelmed you so. You are not used to seeing so much at once. But rest assured, what you have seen is true.”

I took several deep breaths. What I had seen… it was utter disaster. “So… the storms…”

She nodded sadly. “Storm and fire and earthquake, famine and war. Apocalypse.”

The teacup was still in my hands. I set it down and looked at Miss Green with panic. “Well, we have to warn people, then! Nobody is prepared, nobody knows…”

I started for the door, but Miss Green slipped in front of me and placed a wizened hand on my chest. “Who do you think I’ve been writing all those letters to?” she said harshly. “I’ve told everyone I can think of. Cassandra’s Children have been trying to warn the people for years, standing on street corners, posting on the internet, handing out flyers.”

I stop dead in my tracks. “There are more of us?” I ask.

“Dozens,” she said. “But it doesn’t make a difference. There’s a reason everyone thinks the doomsayers and street-corner prophets are mad. For along with Cassandra’s gift comes Cassandra’s curse.”

And suddenly I remembered the legend of Cassandra from an old storybook. “You mean…”

She looked up at me with a  tear in her pale eyes. “That’s right, my boy. We are cursed, always to know the future, and never to be believed.”

I cannot believe it. I will not. “I can’t just give up on them,” I said, and pushed rudely past her to the door. Miss Green followed close behind, but did not try to stop me.

“It will only bring you pain,” she warned. “Some have been driven mad.”

“I am used to pain,” I said. I walked away without looking back. A thunderstorm loomed on the horizon, and overhead crows circled in a warning dance. I would warn my family, and I would warn the town. I would warn the whole world.

I am Alexander Stathos, and I speak with the birds.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: