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Flight

For the Unspoken challenge

By Laur F.Published 6 months ago Updated 6 months ago 6 min read
Top Story - October 2023
20

I’ve only heard stories about it, the Winter home. They say that there, the sun is brighter and hotter, that the very trees sweat with her closeness. They say the leaves are the size of five nests together, and the ground is dense with thick and tangled greenery. They say I will not be able to walk there, that I must only fly, because there are many more predators than I have ever seen before.

They say it warningly, but I hear it eagerly. I am alight with the ingrained memory passed down through thousands of years of thousands of my ancestors making this very flight. I know where to go; it sings to me, and I sing back, across the Americas, and over the sea, all the way down to those great mountain peaks. My wings itch with their readiness, and all day I twitch and jump, startling the human passerby into coos and laughter.

I’ve only heard stories, because this will be my first flight. And it will be soon: I can feel it in the wind, in the shadows. Humans may wonder how it is I know these things, but it is not for me to consider: I have no capacity to wonder at it: I know only that it is so.

When the day finally comes I eat gluttonously, and then rest until twilight falls. The sky beckons, the pale moon winks. You’re on your way, they say, they cheer. What a joyous, inexplicable wonder: that one such as yourself can fly thousands of miles on his own wings, escape the winter cold, and come to rest in a place of play and sun. Has any creature ever been so free? Go, they say, go.

So I rise from my perch, and then, simply, it begins. I fly south, armed with nothing but that reckless certainty. Before long, I’m in a flock: typically solitary, warblers, my kind, will flock together to protect one another on the long way home.

By the end of the third night, we fall into an easy pattern. The young birds, the ones new to the journey, are eager and restless. They flap enthusiastically, drift away, and fall back, disappearing and reappearing over the long hours. When the older birds sleep, half their brains dozing while the other half keeps them aloft, the young ones play games, brush each other’s tail feathers, and generally demonstrate the same childish behavior as any other species in the world. So it goes.

There is one such bird to my right. She has beautiful, bright yellow plumage and grey wings, and a mischievous glint in her eye. For these three days I have admired her and finally, I am bold enough to gaze openly. She catches my eye and seems to stiffen, and I look forward quickly, afraid I have offended her. When next I look back, she is playful again, dipping her wings from side to side to catch the current, and I see her dart her gaze back at me.

A game, then, and I am eager to play.

Warblers keep no formation in flock, generally contributing to the chaos of our migrations. I dip below the current we’re riding and come up below her, startling her, and a lazy chase begins. She weaves gracefully through the open nighttime sky, at times silhouetted against the fullness of the moon, at times hidden completely in the shadows of the clouds. I follow without hurry, both to save my energy and to preserve her pride: she does not yet wish to be caught.

I have never played this game before and yet I know it, and I know what we’re doing is practicing for our courtship, the dance of bonding. She flits before me on the wind and I can feel her silent laughter, and I know she is seeing it too: how we will fly together to the Winter home and play amongst the green trees and high peaks, how we will catch foods, foods we’ve never yet tasted and will stuff ourselves full with until we can eat no more and then the Winter will end, and it will be time again for this flight; only once we return home, the courtship will begin in earnest, and then, then the next phase of life will come.

Ah, the endless circle we ride! The heavy wheel that keeps turning no matter what weight is put upon it, and here am I, riding it freely, chasing her on the wind. She, her wings proudly spread, a tiny creature weighing less than two ounces and yet purposefully aloft more than a thousand feet above the ground, knows nothing except what her instincts tell her, and by that she knows everything.

My breast full, I let her go and the game ends. She preens gently and then begins to dip, and it is only then that I see that much of our flock has started to glide to lower altitudes. The wind is roaring and the sky darkening and, shaking myself awake, I realize that a storm may be just ahead. It will be dangerous for a time, but this is why we migrate together: to guide each other straight and true. And so for a time, I am content to follow. After all, what would nature ever do to harm us, up here, in our god-given element?

All at once she appears beside me, and I see, with a jolt of alarm, that her feathers are thick with fear. Her fear sets my own heart thrumming and then I see why: below us, a blinding landscape of light is unfolding, spreading like a virus over the earth. A million tiny suns below us, looking upward. I do not know how to feel shock but that is the meaning of what I feel, and I shake it aside to brush her wing with my own - I’m here, don’t be afraid! The only wordless comfort I can offer, even as we dip lower and lower to escape the heavy fog, trading the honest danger for the inexplicable other.

We’re but hundreds of feet up now. She hovers above the flock, and I know she does not want to go lower. The lights are mesmerizing, and now I can see that they are spread not only on the ground but in the sky as well, stretching higher and higher than any human houses I have ever seen in the North. We are flying into a maze, and still we descend. I beseech her, fly around her, beckon her onward, for she cannot go alone, and I will not leave her. The flock will guide us through! I believe it with my whole heart, with all the faith of youth, and as the storm crackles above us I can see her give in. She follows me down, down towards the lake.

We don’t see it coming: we can’t, we can’t possibly see it coming. The sheets of translucent glass thrown up endlessly against the sky are nothing but sky to us. The lights are on on every floor and they blend together amidst the dark clouds, so that it seemed we flew above the lake straight into the welcoming sun.

Even though I couldn’t have known, something in me made me look at her, just before we struck. Just enough to see her head lifted and her gaze steady and I know she knew what was going to happen, and that she was seeing, not the building nor the city nor the storm, but the Winter home, the green leafy trees, and the welcome that was waiting for us there.

~

The conference hall on the lake, which normally turned its lights off during migration season, had been hosting an after-hours event and so kept the lights on. A thousand birds died that night. We do not know if they heard us fall.

Nature
20

About the Creator

Laur F.

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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Comments (16)

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  • The Writer 4 days ago

    congratulations!!!

  • Hi we are featuring your excellent Top Story in our Community Adventure Thread in The Vocal Social Society on Facebook and would love for you to join us there

  • Harbor Benassa2 months ago

    What an amazing journey! Even though they die at the end, the story doesn't have an overall dark tone, enhancing the sadness of the ending. Well-deserved win.

  • Peter Kiruu2 months ago

    Awesome read, captivating.

  • Alison McBain3 months ago

    Such a sad ending. Very engaging.

  • Toby Heward3 months ago

    Very intricate. Nice craftsmanship.

  • JBaz5 months ago

    Unique and absolutely wonderfully written. Congratulations

  • Gerald Holmes6 months ago

    Very well done. Congrats on placing in the challenge

  • Babs Iverson6 months ago

    Congratulations!!!

  • Abdullah6 months ago

    Great story liked this one

  • Laur F. (Author)6 months ago

    Thank you everyone for your kind reviews! Just wanted to share that this story was sadly inspired by real event in Chicago on Oct 4th.

  • Good story, very well.. Congratulation for your good story.. keep spirit.

  • Antonella Rustica6 months ago

    Congratulations on your Top Story🧨💞💥

  • Test6 months ago

    Congratulations on your Top Story, well deserved

  • Dana Crandell6 months ago

    Heartbreaking, and believable.

  • Joe Patterson6 months ago

    Very well written Lauren.

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