40 comments

Oct 16, 2020

Adventure Fantasy

*Author’s Note: “A Tern for the Worse” is a standalone story, set in the same universe as my other Reedsy short-stories, with overlapping characters and events.*


The headwinds were getting stronger. The world was changing, and my flock was getting smaller. Each loss was a new addition to the Firebirds twinkling in the sky beyond; but I survive.

Since the thunder storm that dried the rivers and lakes, life was hard. The Grounders suffered the most, and still do. The Baldies ruled the Grounders thanks to the Gift they received from their God, but even this wasn’t enough to save them now. Our Gift lets us soar above the Wasteland, and whatever we need we can see and reach. Life will get harder; but we’ll survive.

This year the landmarks on the ground were unrecognisable; it made gauging our progress impossible, so the journey felt endless. But the call to fly had always been right in the past, and we were stronger together, so the flock flew on. The drying marshes we left behind wouldn’t sustain us.

I rolled in the air to clear my head. The flight was too long to allow myself to dive into the realities of the new world. I had to stay positive. Stay focused. Stay with the flock. 

I closed my eyes and concentrated on the wind; its embrace was comforting despite its chill, as it rolled underneath me, raising me above the truth below.

Suddenly, the wind deserted me. I opened my eyes with a jolt, and gave two hard flaps to maintain my altitude. Another bird swooped beneath me and stole my wind.

“Ka-caw, ka-caw.”

I didn’t need to see the thief to know who that call belonged to.

“So you made it another year,” I called back. Alf levelled off and flew beside me, so we could maintain a comfortable formation to chat. “Want me to slow down old timer?”

“I’m Whiskered by name not by nature,” proclaimed Alf with a dignified lifting of his beak. “There’s plenty of flaps still left in me.”

“There’s flapping…and then there’s flying.” I spread my neatly pointed wings to show off my plumage.

“Calm down lover-boy, we’re not in the marshes now.” Alf barrel rolled above me and looked down, “Your black hood is already receding.”

“Kik-kik, kik-kik!” My deafening laugh made the flock turn to us, and then they looked away with disdain, which we fully deserved for acting like a couple of Common Terns. “I do NOT have a receding hairline.”

“Ka-caw. Okay, don’t get your flight feathers in a twist.” With Alf by my side, the headwinds felt lighter, and the embrace of the wind felt warmer. The gang would soon be back together.

“So where’s the others?”

Alf didn’t reply, and I got my answer. We flew on in silence, both knowing sharing the pain hadn’t halved it.

“I’ll be glad to leave the effects of that storm behind,” I said, no longer able to stand the silence I’d caused.

“Storms.”

“What?”

“Storms. Plural. I was talking to the Swallows before I found you, and they said the storms happened all over.”

This changed everything. Maybe we weren’t leaving the worse behind us after all.

“Same effect?”

“So they say. An un-Godly thunder, but no rain.”

Suddenly I realised the journey would only get harder, “And the half-way house?”

“Gone to the crows. The Baldies have survived…mostly.” Alf showed no signs of empathy for the Grounders, he was the pragmatic one of the gang. “And what the Crows don’t get is left to the flies. Swarms so thick you can feed with your eyes shut.”

“I hate flies.”

“Food is food, and things will get worse before they get better. They reckon these storms are the same as the ones before we were Graced.”

They? Don’t tell me you’re a convert?”

“No, don’t be silly. Do you think this is my first moult – I’m just saying what I heard.” Alf flew in closer and continued, “But there’s a lot of birds looking for answers, and the Embers have a growing flock.”

I had to admit, I had more questions than I did answers. But the Embers were fanatics, and lived a life waiting for the Firebirds to save them. I didn’t have the faith to wait to be saved. It had been eons since the Firebird descended to our sky, from the sky beyond, and gave us the Gift of flight. We were merely Grounders before, but as the chosen, our scales were Graced to become feathers, so we could soar and leave the others below and become more. If we weren’t grateful for this Gift, and for being closer to the sky beyond, we could end up being banished to the depths of the oceans like the Wet-scales. 

I looked at the waning flock around us. It wasn’t just because our numbers were fewer, Alf was right, there was fear in the air. 

“Maybe,” I said. I was already missing Alf calling me old.

“The Firebirds could be punishing the Baldies,” continued Alf, oblivious to how one-sided the conversation was becoming. “Their metal wings invade our sky and foul the air, so maybe this was to put them back in their place.” 

“Maybe.”

Even Alf was beginning to sense my unease at discussing my fears; whether real, imagined, or spiritual.

“I don’t blame the Firebirds wanting to put greater distance between the Grounders and the sky beyond,” stated Alf.

“Kik. You don’t have to be an Ember to know that’s a great idea.”

We rolled with laughter. Nothing unites like mocking others.

“Although,” I said, pondering on Alf’s words, “there could be something to it.”

“What do you mean?”

“The Firebird flocks are definitely bigger than I’ve ever seen them, maybe they are gathering for a reason.”

“They always flock where it’s darkest,” explained Alf. “Now the Baldies are only left with their fire, the world doesn’t shine as brightly as when they wielded lightning too.”

“We’ll find out soon enough.” My fatigue made my words sound sharper, and more ominous, than I intended them to be. It was difficult not to sound defensive discussing these fears; males have to be brave. But how can you stand firm against a fear, when there’s no physical foe to dive bomb; and the concept of a Firebird descending from the sky beyond to save us was a comforting hope.

We continued to glide on the wind, and took genuine comfort from our proximity to each other, rather than any spoken words or beliefs. The flock always makes us stronger, but just as I began feeling its strength course through me, we began to divide.

At this point in the journey, individuals decide whether to keep on, or to make a stop-over to rest and refuel, before continuing. The weather was often the deciding factor, but this year I had no choice. My hollow-bones felt liked they’d been filled in with lead-shot. 

I didn’t have to ask Alf to know his decision; the conditions were favourable, and his flaps still looked strong and purposeful.

“I’m going to take a pit stop,” I called, trying to make my voice sound authoritative, despite the strain I felt. “So I’ll catch you up.”

“Tired eh?” There was no judgement in Alf’s voice, nor concern. “Old age catches up with us all eventually.”

“How very dare,” I said curling my wing to face Alf, and giving him my best look of mock shock. “After I’ve been dragging my tail feather all this time so you could keep pace.” Alf rolled his eyes, and refused to take my bait. “I want to check on some baldies I’ve been taming, see if they’re doing ok.”

I wish I could’ve stayed with Alf, but I was tired. I was always tired lately. No matter how much I ate or rested, there was always a feeling of fatigue consuming me.

“Okay. Well, I’ll catch you on the wind then,” called Alf – his wings drooped with the realisation he’d be making the rest of his journey alone.

“Yeah fly safe.”

I just needed to refuel.

I veered off from Alf as we went our separate ways. My soul was the battlefield, as the deep pain of watching my friend fly on battled against the dull ache of my muscles; there were no winners in war.

I’d feel better once my journey was done. 


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40 comments

Dalyane Deblois
13:14 Oct 17, 2020

Hi Andrew! Great story, the descriptions are great and it is well written. Loved the dialogue between the birds and their characters! Keep writing!:)

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Andrew Krey
22:15 Oct 17, 2020

Hey Dalyane, thanks for taking the time to read and like, glad you enjoyed it :)

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A.g. Scott
23:45 Oct 16, 2020

Well it seems Charles has the editing handled lol so I'll just say I really liked some of the ideas here (and the layers that are added with knowledge of the world you're building across all stories) and I'm glad you decided to get something done for this week. (but I got two so ha! I win!) + The prompts are MUCH better this week!

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Andrew Krey
00:19 Oct 17, 2020

Thanks, can always rely on Charles to humble me as a writer lol So this was a case of 'rope a dope' then this week lol Yeah these prompts definitely have a broader scope, but I think I'll still take a break...need to stop letting Reedsy get in the way of my WIP!

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A.g. Scott
00:34 Oct 17, 2020

I feel you on that! The problem is I don't get little yellow notifications when I finish a scene in my WIP :(

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Andrew Krey
00:49 Oct 17, 2020

Exactly! That's partly why I decided to create the Krey-niverse so these stories feel like a WIP - if my WIP can't be more like Reedsy...I'll make Reedsy more like my WIP!

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Charles Stucker
17:30 Oct 16, 2020

Love the title. Had to get that out of the way first. The flight was too long to allow myself to dive into the realities of the new world, I had to stay positive.- two sentences, make the coma a period Stay focused. Stay with the flock.  I closed my eyes and focused on the wind;- use concentrated here- otherwise it's too many focuses in a row. Nobody has that much focus, badum ching. Suddenly the wind deserted me.- comma after suddenly. Or don't use suddenly- lots of style guides warn against the word. Another bird had swooped b...

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Andrew Krey
18:46 Oct 16, 2020

Great! Thanks for checking this out so quickly Charles, really appreciate it! I'll make the changes now. Hopefully it will make the difference this week! I love the title too - it went through a few variations, but once I saw the turn/tern pun, the bird was definitely going to be a Tern, and there was no going back (I was originally going to have "The World has Gone to the Crows" instead of dogs, and have the migrating birds be swifts or swallows). 'Suddenly' is a crutch word for me I usually remove in the edit, but with this one I fe...

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13:05 Oct 23, 2020

Good concept with a message to go ahead in toughest situation. Very nice👍

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Andrew Krey
14:27 Oct 23, 2020

Thanks Syed, I'm glad you liked it

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Prachi Kumbhare
11:12 Oct 23, 2020

Andrew, I liked this story a lot. I could feel every bit of the scene in your story. You have beautifully put a bird's life into words, which reminded me of my childhood where I used to read those animal stories and relate to them in actual life. Very well written... 👏👏👏

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Andrew Krey
14:26 Oct 23, 2020

Thanks, glad you liked it! :) I used to love stories from the perspective of an animal when I was a kid too, but they've been done so much now it's hard to do it with a unique spin

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Prachi Kumbhare
16:21 Oct 23, 2020

Yes, exactly. But you did a great job here. The plot is great here. :)

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Regina Perry
15:45 Oct 21, 2020

This is a great story, Andrew. You managed to give the reader an immersive experience in a bird's world. I loved all the bird terminology, and the way the birds made bird noises in between the things they were saying, sometimes even instead of a different word. You did a great job making that a part of their language. The "Firebirds" are stars, right? The timing of this story was a little hard to pin down. Is this supposed to be set during early times, with the evolution of birds, or is it supposed to be futuristic, in an apocalyptic world?...

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Andrew Krey
00:19 Oct 22, 2020

Thanks Regina, really glad you enjoyed my story :) Yeah the flock of 'Firebirds' is the stars above, the sky beyond is space, and the 'Firebird' that descended bearing their gift was the meteor/comet that wiped out the dinosaurs. The universe I created to set my Reedsy stories in has a timeline that spans contemporary, near future, nuclear war, post apocalypse. So this story is set post apocalypse, but the birds are trying to use the mythology they used to explain the dinosaurs getting wiped out, to explain the post apocalyptic world t...

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Regina Perry
00:40 Oct 22, 2020

You're welcome. I thought it might be something like that. I was getting just-past-dinosaur vibes, but there were definitely post-apocalyptic vibes, too. Thanks for clearing that up. The comma I was talking about isn't the Oxford comma, though I'm glad to hear you use that one. I'm rather fond of the Oxford comma, myself. Fun facts: The first kind of comma I mentioned is called a "joining comma". The second is called a "bracketing comma". Their names indicate their usage.

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Andrew Krey
01:14 Oct 22, 2020

I’ll sack my editor then! Lol I’ll Look up those type of commas then, thanks. I usually punctuated my work purely on flow/breath while reading, and still developing my grammar knowledge beyond this :)

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L.a. Nolan
08:20 Oct 21, 2020

I really enjoyed this! A fantastic perspective, a 'birds eye' view of this world you've created. You prose is slick and flows very well, I found myself propelled through the discretion, crated vividly, without being bogged down by excessive detail. Well done! I look forward to reading more!

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Andrew Krey
23:32 Oct 21, 2020

Thanks Lee, I'm glad you enjoyed it

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Laura Clark
06:08 Oct 21, 2020

What a great title! I loved the premise of this and I’m pretty sure this was the hardest prompt so kudos for tackling it. You did a good job of giving us enough information to make this a standalone but there were more questions than answers in this for how the rest of your world is put together. I will put your other stories on my to-read list so that I can catch up on your world building! I really enjoyed the way that you humanised the birds whilst keeping them distinctly avian — I think that’s quite tricky but you nailed it. T...

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Andrew Krey
23:28 Oct 21, 2020

Thanks for your feedback Laura, I appreciate it, and I'm glad you enjoyed my story. I decided I'd try this prompt as I assumed it would be less popular, and therefore improve my chances of being shortlisted...well that was the logic behind it at least! Lol I'm glad the dynamic between the two birds worked; my aim was to have the interactions be human like so it was relatable, but have the reference points of a bird, to remind the reader that's what they are. Great to hear you feel that worked :) Thanks again

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Laura Clark
06:10 Oct 22, 2020

I always think that the hardest prompt will win but I’ve seen so many win that were for what I think is the easiest prompt - I think it’s less about the prompt and more about the way you handle it. If that helps your future prompt choosing! The interactions between the birds definitely balanced well - I could see them as two ageing men meeting in a supermarket or some other transient place. The relationship was written very well. Looking forward to reading more of your work (when I have more than 2 minutes!)

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Rambling Beth
11:34 Oct 19, 2020

I love how you tackled this prompt! So creative. I honestly think this prompt gives more freedom with playing around with ideas, and I think you did it wonderfully here. Really enjoyed it!

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Andrew Krey
17:52 Oct 19, 2020

Thanks for taking the time to read and like my story, glad you enjoyed it :) Tbh I usually prefer a narrow prompt, to keep me focused, but for this one it definitely worked out well for me - I decided it wouldn't be based on plot early on, so gave me the space/words to really play on what a bird's perspective would be like :) Thanks again

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Tessa Takzikab
02:12 Oct 19, 2020

Hi, sorry it took me so long, I'm not usually on Reedsy over the weekend, so it's probably too late, once again, for what I say to make much of a difference. Fortunately, I don't have much to say. I loved the title the second I saw it, before even checking which prompt it was, although for some reason that didn't clue me in. I'm trying to decide if these birds are ordinary birds or dragons of some sort, since you mention that the scales turned to wings. I also like how you have the birds have religion(s), especially since the end of the wo...

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Andrew Krey
03:17 Oct 19, 2020

Thanks Tessa, glad you liked it! :) Don't worry about it, I was just excited that for once I submitted with more than 30 mins remaining (I have a habit of coming up with the premise through the week, but not actually starting to write till Thurs/Fri). I keep updated versions so feedback is always welcome even after the deadline :) I loved the title too, as soon as I thought of it I knew I had a winner (there were some previous versions lol), hopefully it will entice people to read it. The 'worse' also ties into the apocalyptic wastelands ...

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Tessa Takzikab
16:57 Oct 19, 2020

Wow! That's really cool, I didn't know that. Thanks for the science/history/myth/religion :) lesson!

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Andrew Krey
17:59 Oct 19, 2020

Ha you're welcome, I'll wait for my apple to arrive in the post as your favourite teacher ;)

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Tessa Takzikab
19:40 Oct 19, 2020

:)

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Rowena Tisdale
18:44 Oct 17, 2020

Very creative take on the prompt, Andrew! I enjoyed the taunting, teasing repartee between your characters, and how they used it to mask their deep connection to each other in the story, while amplifying it for your readers.

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Andrew Krey
22:46 Oct 17, 2020

Thanks Rowena, glad you liked it :) I tried to create a 'lad' dynamic, teasing each other, and comfortable enough to insult without offense, but still not comfortable enough to discuss their fears. I thought with Covid, it would be relevant to mens-health, and our unwillingness to engage with a 'talking cure' to mental health. With the limits of the prompt, I tried to add as much subtext and layers to the story as possible - what mythology animals would have always intrigues me, so it was fun to get a chance to explore that :) Thanks a...

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13:36 Oct 17, 2020

Nice take on the prompt. :) I very much like the tone of the story and the layers of backstory revealed throughout--haven't read any of your other work, but I feel I may need to now. And yeah, looks like this prompt and the fall decorations one were by far the least popular--at least so far. ;)

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Andrew Krey
22:35 Oct 17, 2020

Hi Caden, thanks for reading and liking my story, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I actually come up with the backstory of the Firebirds before I come up with the rest of the premise, so it's great to hear you liked it. I may be biased, but I would definitely recommend reading my other stories too! :D They're all from the same universe, except my first, and my bio gives a little info to help you decide, if you do choose to read others. And yeah so far so good with the prompt, I'm hoping a less popular prompt will help make my story stand out mor...

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01:09 Oct 18, 2020

We'll see. I ended up writing four stories for this contest, but my main is for this prompt. ;) I'll take a look at your others when I can.

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Andrew Krey
01:36 Oct 18, 2020

That is productive! The most I've done so far is two in a week, and the second one "Ctrl + Z", was only just over a 1000 words too...and that was tough enough! Good luck with your entries.

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11:24 Oct 18, 2020

Thx. :) I must confess that while the first two of my entries were 3,000 words and 1,600 words respectively, the latter two didn't quite reach the bar, so I added "extra words" on the ends to lengthen them. I figured that while they might never be accepted for the prompt, it was better to have them out here than not. :P

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Andrew Krey
18:01 Oct 18, 2020

Yeah definitely, one of the main reasons I like Reedsy is because its not just a competition, but also gives you a platform to permanently share your stories

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