Fantasy Adventure Drama

Michael never defied his father until the day his father died.

You made your bed, boy, and now you have to lie in it.

Michael thought about the words of his dead father while trying to figure out a way to avoid the tepid conversations among the congregants from his father’s funeral now talking to each other in awkward exchanges in various different rooms of his boyhood home. The bird house hung in the tree outside all of Michael’s life. He never thought much about it until some days after he was tall enough to reach it himself. That was the day his father warned him.

“Listen to me and listen good, boy,” his father had said. “Don’t you ever let me catch you touching this bird house. I mean never, ever. You got that, boy?”

Michael got it. He learned early on that whenever his father told him something in the same tone he used to warn Michael about the birdhouse, that it was a very good idea to “get it” on the first warning because, most likely, there would not be a second. Michael learned the hard way at an early age not to ask why by learning what happened when he did dare to ask questions. He spent the first twelve years of his adolescence looking at that bird house through the kitchen window, wondering why his father wanted him to stay away from it.

Michael found out why on the day his father died. The funeral service was quiet. His father had few friends and fewer family who cared enough to travel to pay respects. A few mourners gathered at the house after the service for food. Michael distanced himself, kicking a rock he discovered in the back yard. He stopped kicking and stood underneath the tree where the birdhouse hung.

(don’t you ever let me catch you, boy)

Michael was tall enough to reach the birdhouse. He looked up at the front side, the entrance hole just within reach.

(I mean never, ever)

He slid two fingers inside the hole, but did not have time to react to the pain before he blacked out.

Michael woke laying on his back in the cool grass. He checked the two fingers he stuck inside the hole of the birdhouse earlier to find a mild puncture wound on his index finger. He assumed a bird inside had tried to defend its young by pecking.

Michael sat up and realized something was wrong.

The people were gone. The house was gone. The sun was gone. Michael sat in a strange twilight. He stood up and turned around, surveying the surroundings. The tree with the birdhouse was the only thing remaining familiar to him, but even it appeared barren.  

Birds screeched overhead. Michael noticed they were circling him. He turned to his left and saw three buildings with roofs that sank in the middle and rose on either side toward the outer walls. The birds continued circling overhead, and Michael realized the birds were coming out of one of the buildings.

Michael shivered, reached up and grabbed the birdhouse with both hands, hoping.

(You made your bed, you little…)

Nothing happened.

Michael heard a noise behind him. He turned and stared at the face of a creature with the body of a human being and the head of a bird. Michael resisted the urge to vomit. The bird-man spoke to him in a language Michael did not understand. Before Michael could respond, the circling birds engulfed him in a vortex of feathers and wind. He felt his feet leave the ground. The bird-twister carried him to one of the buildings and dumped him in front of a door held open by another bird-man. Its eyes pierced the boy, and he felt himself dragged into the door by talon fingers. There was a blinding light, and the door slammed behind him.

“Do you have any idea where you are, child?”

Michael sat in a chair. The bird-man stood over him, his beak inches from Michael’s face. His feathered neck and head seemed to undulate in the strange light of the room. Michael could sense others around him, movement, but he couldn’t look around because this creature held his attention with a strange force Michael did not understand.

“Do you, boy?” the bird-man asked.

“I…I…can’t…I don’t…” Michael said.

The bird-man raised his head and looked straight down at Michael. He clicked his beak once.

“You touched it, didn’t you? You touched that which you were told not to touch.”

(and now you have to lie in it)

Michael shook his head, tears dripping. He opened his mouth but nothing came out.

The bird-man clicked his beak again only louder. He motioned to another bird-man — or perhaps this one was a bird-woman — who walked over and took Michael by the arm, lifted him from the chair, and led him to another area. Michael saw various types of machinery humming away, monitored by other bird-men. The bird-man who met him upon arrival joined them and clicked his beak several times. The others stopped what they were doing and turned toward him.

“What you see here, child, is the most sophisticated apparatus ever devised by bird-kind.” The bird-man ruffled the feathers on the back of his neck. “I get chills just talking about it! You are witnessing the evolutionary maturity of the bird-mind on full display. We have worked for centuries to develop this system and in just a few short hours, my smooth-faced little boy-child interloper, we will finally succeed in bringing about the liberation of every bird who has ever dreamt of inter-dimensional travel freed from the inefficient trappings of winged flight!”

Michael looked at the bird-man, who gleamed at Michael with a triumphant bird-grin on his snout. When Michael did not reciprocate, the bird-man clicked his beak again in disdain.

“You do not grasp the immense importance of this moment, boy-child!” The bird-man turned to the machine operator bird-people and yelled, “Commence opening of the portal!”

The bird-people began flipping switches and turning knobs. Michael watched for several minutes as the machines hummed to life again. The meters on some of the machines began to register, causing their bird-operators to nod with approval. The whir and hum of the servos inside the machine housings increased in pitch. As they did, the bird-people began chirping and whirring along with them, in concert with the machinations of their massive bird-apparatus.

They are worshipping that thing, Michael thought. They are worshipping that thing as their bird-God right now. “What are you going to do with me?” Michael only meant to think it.

“What are we going to do with you?” the bird-man said. He laughed, which surprised Michael, who did not expect the bird-man’s laugh to sound so human-like.

“Why, we are going to send you away, of course!” the bird-man said. “You cannot be allowed to remain here, nor to tell anyone what you have heard and seen in this place. What did you think we were going to do with you, boy-child?”

“I don’t know for sure,” Michael said, and it was the truth. He had no idea what the bird-man intended to do with him now that he was essentially trapped in this weird world. He had seen things. Heard things. The boy-child had become a liability.

You have to eliminate your liabilities, son. Do you know what that even means? You can’t afford to be a softy, boy. As your father, it’s my job to toughen your ass up. And I’m going to do just that. You’re gonna learn, boy. You just watch and see.

The bird-man chirped out orders to the others in their bird-language Michael could not understand. In that moment, with the bird-man’s attention directed toward the machines and away from him, Michael noticed a small passageway at the corner of the inverted roof peak in the middle of the room. He looked around to make sure no one was looking at him. All eyes were focused on the machines, whose humming and grinding increased in intensity by the second.

Michael figured his only chance to escape the bird-people was that passageway. The problem — he would have to run directly toward the machine and duck through the sections of the apparatus to get to the passageway. That path would take Michael directly toward the bird-men. Passageway or portal, Michael needed to escape, and he preferred to do it his way rather than their way.

(Lie in it, boy. It’s your bed and you made it and now you have to lie in it like it or…)

Michael broke into a sprint. The bird-man and (possibly) bird-woman nearby remained so enthralled with the machine that it took several seconds for them to realize Michael had bolted. When the bird-man did, he shrieked high-pitched orders to the worker bird-men to stop the boy-child interloper. Michael ran harder, almost tripping over his own feet as he drew within five feet of the gap between the two sections of the machine. The gap was smaller than he expected.

Michael had just lowered his body to slide through when something grabbed his ankle, pulling back with enough force to cause his body to slam face-first into the floor. The next thing he knew, he was hoisted into the air and being carried, by one feathered hand, to a chair. The bird-man slammed him down into it and stood behind him, holding his shoulders with force.

The bird-man leaned forward and whispered in Michael’s ear, his beak brushing against Michael’s outer ear as he spoke.

“You are going to bear human witness to this marvel of ornithological engineering, boy-child. (whether you like it or not) And, when the portal is open, you will also witness the liberation of all birds everywhere, free to take hold of all that they have…”

Before the bird-man could finish his self-satisfying diatribe, Michael felt the grip of the bird-man’s talons loosen ever so slightly on his shoulders and surprised even himself by tilting the chair back on its rear legs, grabbing the front legs, and yanking the chair out from under himself, sending the chair back down across the knees of the bird-man and Michael to the floor. The bird-man, startled, couldn’t move fast enough to grab Michael again before he jumped off the floor and ran straight toward the platform on which the portal had already begun to open.  

The bird-man was screeching, the machines wailing, the portal opening wider in an oval-shaped white glow illuminating the entire room. Michael saw bird-people flocking toward him in his peripheral vision. He did not turn to look. He kept his focus on the portal, driving forward with as much speed as he was capable. He could see — and feel — the bird-men getting closer. If he was going to make it…

The bird-men reached for him, and Michael felt talons scrape his mid-section on both sides as he dove toward the white oval. His hands hit its shimmering surface first. It felt like water, and Michael imagined he was diving into the swimming pool his parents had installed the day before his twelfth birthday but refused to fill with water until his actual birthday. Once Michael’s hands passed into the portal, it seemed to draw him. The further his body entered, the faster it pulled him in, and in less than a second, Michael disappeared from sight.

Michael woke up lying on his back in the warm grass in his backyard with an intense headache. The sun shined in his eyes. He sat up and looked at the tree and the birdhouse. He stood up, decided he had fallen, or passed out, dreamed the whole thing, and then walked back toward the house, shaking his head as he went inside through the kitchen door.

Behind him, in the yard, in a low limb of the tall maple tree, from the hand-made birdhouse his father had warned him not to touch, a robin poked its head out. The bird clicked its beak twice, wiggled its body through the hole, and flew away.

September 18, 2020 00:46

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