Bird Story

By: Christopher Edmund Nelson

The first thing he knew was that the world was dark. Very dark. And heavy. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t move. He tried the left wing…nope. The right wing…nope. Nothing.

He solved the first problem. It was dark, he realized, because his eyes were closed. He changed that.

The sun was out, and he was in the shadow of a cactus. Every so often he saw stars and felt as though a coyote were chomping on his head. Not that he'd had that experience before. Nightmares, yes, but not really. Though clearly something was wrong—so said his head—and he couldn’t quite put his wingtip on it.

Something was moving in front of him. Something orange and pointed. Something alive. His heart raced. He tried to get up. The thing went faster, back and forth in his blurred field of vision. Any minute it would kill him.

His vision cleared a little. He saw his legs in front of him, though he couldn’t feel much back there. One twitched a little.

He decided not to move just yet. Not to try, anyway. He didn’t seem to have much of a choice, at present, about succeeding. Instead, he tried to remember what had happened.

Trapped. Can’t get out. Can’t get out.

The thoughts flashed in and out. They didn’t seem to mean anything. He closed his eyes and tried to remember more.

* * *

Diann opened one eye and looked around. She was in her car. She took a quick look around; no sign of anyone else. Good. She unlocked the back doors. Better safe than sorry, even in the middle of nowhere.

She opened the window and rubbed her neck. A little stiff, maybe. Not too bad. She opened the door and stepped out. Rocks crunched beneath her feet. The sky was still fairly dark. A slight breeze blew; it smelled a bit of dust but was otherwise clean. From the horizon stretched a bit of light—just a bit. Almost sunrise. Excellent.

She was thirsty. She walked to the trunk, opened it, and got some water. She could hear birds. Movement in the distance; she looked up and saw a coyote slinking along. Also just barely awake, perhaps. She walked to the hood and sat down, facing the east. Such a lovely morning.

* * *

He remembered the exhaustion. He remembered the intense relief. Like waking up from a terrible nightmare. The elation of escape.

Escape from what?

A trap…it was a trap…

He remembered the closed space. Spongy surfaces. The transparent walls that nearly kept him there forever. Pain…in the head…he remembered that well. How he had found the way out, he wasn’t sure. It was a trap, and every way seemed the same, especially after the blows to the head, but he had fought and thrashed and that had done it, done it, yes, he was free, free from that awful space…

The transparent walls. That had been the worst. A horrid invention, these invisible forces that promised freedom but only offered pain as he beat against them, each hope a false hope. That was the worst.

Wasn’t it?

But no…there had been one more thing…

* * *

The sun was coming up. The stars were gone, and the east was blazing. She shielded her eyes, managing to hold onto the thrill of watching the sun rise even though her hand was blocking most of it. Golden light poured through everything. She closed her eyes, and the light shone through the lids.


She darted her head around to see what had made the sudden noise. She was all alone. Nothing stirred near the car. She looked to see if there was a dent. No…but something was in the car. Something small. A little cactus wren. It appeared dazed. She thought about what to do for a moment; the bird needed to get out of her car, but birds were filthy creatures. Of course, if it could get in, it could get out…but it wouldn’t find its way without help. She might have to touch it. Might. Better see.

She opened the door. The bird had dazed itself on a window and was now in the back seat, but it didn’t look badly hurt. It trembled a little when it saw her. She reached toward it to shoo it out, and it backed up. She reached for it. It pecked at her, and she drew her hand back. It watched her. When she reached again, it suddenly flew.

* * *

The giant. He remembered, now. That was the other thing. The monster that had set the trap.

Luckily, he was young and could think on his feet. He recovered just in time to see the creature coming for him, the monstrous thing that towered above him. He backed up as it lunged—

mustn’t let it know I’m afraid

—and then held his ground. It reached. He pecked, and it drew back. He would take it on if he had to. As it reached again, he thought he’d better take wing. The exits were illusory, however; each time he saw a way out, he would be met with a force as solid as a stone, and stars shot through his vision wish each blow. He found himself on the spongy surface of the trap again and wondered if he had been out long, and then, with a headache (yes, his head ached even then, and there was more of it ahead), he was on his feet and warding off the creature again. It was big, but he was fast; he hopped about and kept it off guard as he fought it.

* * *

If only it would be calm, she could get it out. She remembered to open the other doors after it bashed itself against the sides of the car again. Now it flittered about, trying to be away from her and avoiding the sides. She moved farther into the car. The bird suddenly shot through one of the openings, and she watched it fly away as quickly as its wings would take it.

She closed the doors. The sun was up, now. She had missed the rest of the sunrise for a stupid little bird.

No matter. Time to move on with her day. She intended to stay in the desert a little longer and make the most of her trip.

* * *

That was how it was, the terrifying time in the trap before his sudden, miraculous rediscovery of the way in and out. The creature had been most careless.

Ah, to recapture the innocence of the time before, when he knew not of such terrors. Right up to the moment when he, partially blinded by the sun, had been fooled by the view of the desert through the far side of the trap, he had not had a care in the world. He had been off, he recalled, to The Cholla Patch, a local hangout, where he hoped to meet some lovely young cactus wrens to play with. Ah, sweet pleasures of youth.

And before that: waking up, a young wren with his whole life stretched in front of him. The whole world his cholla patch. He was invincible. It was exhilarating and worth every second. Flying along, feeling the cool air in his feathers, he would never have suspected that in mere minutes he would be fighting for his life.

But that was the past. He was different; he had gained one hell of a hangover and a little bit of wisdom. Time to move on; time to stretch his wings and explore, if more cautiously, the world around him. No more wasting time, for time—his time, at least—could be very short in the end, and he would make as much of it as a cactus wren could ever hope to.