We Are Small Alone
Minnie Braun watched the sky reflect the colors of the sunset from her balcony, after Henry took a butcher knife to the two paintings she had bought at Jade Matthews’s art show.
“I’ll not have this woman’s work in my house!” he had raged, slicing through Leave Me as she watched, stone-faced. “She is my enemy! And as long as you’re married to me, she is your enemy too, understand?” Henry plunged the knife into Catching the Wind, and Minnie grabbed her midsection as if it had penetrated her own guts. She ran up the stairs sobbing and closed herself in her bedroom.
She had no idea what had happened to The Wilder Side, the beautiful painting of the island she had outbid everyone at the auction for—only that it had never made it to the library. She had tried to call Father Alfredo to tell him—he always made her feel better—but she could not reach him. She had called him twice. Three times. But he hadn’t returned her calls.
She gazed in despair out her window, at the dark trees of Wilder Island. Henry will destroy that too. Is nothing safe from him? When Floyd and Willy sailed down to her balcony, she cried out in happiness. “Oh, fellas, I’m so glad you’re here! I’m feeling pretty low this evening.” She looked over her shoulder, making sure her door was closed.
“We cannot have that, Fair Lady!” Floyd said.
“Indeed!” Willy agreed. “What makes you so blue, Miss Minnie?”
The two crows perched on the railing looked at her with such affection and sympathy, she nearly burst into tears. “Henry destroyed something I really loved,” she said, trying to hold back the tears stinging her eyes. “Right in front of me.” Minnie removed a hanky from her pocket and dabbed her tears.
“What a beast!” Floyd said. He put a wing out and rested it on her shoulder. “He didn’t hurt you, did he, Miss Minnie? I’ll peck his eyes out if he so much as lays a finger on you, let alone an ax.”
Minnie laughed through her tears and said, “Thank you, Floyd! But it was a butcher knife. And Henry never touches me, so you need not worry about that. Which is not to say he hasn’t found other ways to hurt me.”
“I’m afraid I have to agree with Floyd,” Willy said. “He is a beast.” The brothers nodded to each other then turned back to her.
“He’s obsessed,” she said in a low voice. “He’s like a crazy man over that island. The city as much as gave it to him, he says, so he’s making all these plans to ‘christen Ravenwood Resort.’” Minnie looked over her shoulder, checking that the door to her bedroom was still closed.
“Izzat so?” Floyd said. “The beast. What’s ‘christen mean?’ Where’s Ravenwood Resort?”
“On Wilder Island,” Minnie said with a sigh. “Even though it isn’t his to build on—at least not yet. He wants to park that riverboat he’s been giving everyone rides on at the island, he says. And he’s going to build casinos and shopping malls and hotels and, well, everything that Wilder Island is not. That’s Ravenwood Resort.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Floyd said, nodding. “I remember now. Flapjack tables, roulette, and bingo.”
“That’s blackjack, Floyd,” Willy said, rolling his eyes and shaking his head.
“Yes,” Minnie said. “Blackjack, slot machines, roulette—all of that. He said the city condemned the island because it’s a nuisance. ‘A sewer of crows.’ That’s what he calls it.”
“How very uncouth,” Willy said. “In polite conversation, a gentleman should not invoke the sewer. Don’t you agree, my brother?”
“The cad!” Floyd said as he gathered Minnie’s hand in his wing. “To speak so in front of a lady so fair, I am shocked, nay, outraged!” He laid his head sideways on her hand.
“Thank you, Floyd,” Minnie said, gently stroking his cheek with her free hand. “But now, listen. Henry is planning this picnic on the island—”
“Oh, goody!” Floyd said. He danced on the balcony railing and flapped his wings as he crowed, “We love a picnic! We a love picnic! When is it?”
“Floyd,” Willy said, flapping his wings at his brother. “Please. Let Miss Minnie finish!”
“We don’t love this picnic, Floyd,” Minnie said. “Henry plans to do some very bad things to the island. But he needs a lot of other people’s money to do it. That’s what the picnic is for, so he can squeeze it out of his rich friends.”
“I didn’t know you could do that,” Floyd said, tilting his head.
“Do what?” Minnie said, confused. She glanced back at her bedroom door.
“Squeeze orbs out of humans,” Floyd said. “Where do they come out?”
“Crimony, Floyd,” Willy said, cuffing his brother with a wing. “It’s a figure of speech. Forgive him, Miss Minnie, but Floyd tends to take things literally.”
“Oh, that’s okay,” Minnie said, laughing. “It’s a pretty silly saying. Floyd, I meant that Henry will try very hard to convince people to give him money.”
“Ohhhh,” Floyd said, nodding thoughtfully. “I get it now. I thought you meant—”
“Floyd! Shush!” Willy said as he put a wing over his brother’s beak.
Minnie looked over her shoulder, making sure, again, that her door was closed. She leaned closer to the crow brothers. “Henry’s afraid to take the paddleboat to the island, so he invited his wealthy friends for a private ride on a helicopter for champagne breakfast.”
“Champagne breakfast,” Floyd said. “Yum!”
“A helicopter?” Willy asked. “You mean a whirly-bird? Them things are huge! Where will it land?”
“At the opposite end from the hermit’s chapel,” Minnie said. “I don’t know where, other than he said they’ll land on a beach or a sand bar or something. He doesn’t want to run into Father Manzi, he said.” She looked over her shoulder.
“He won’t want to run into Charlie either,” Floyd said to Willy.
“Absolutely not!” Willy agreed.
“Nosirreebob,” Floyd shook his head emphatically.
“No way, Jose’!” Willy said.
“Under no circumstances!”
“He’d be real sorry.”
“Might as well just throw himself off a cliff!”
“Sooner he should cover himself with honey and sit naked on an ant hill!”
“Better he should shoot himself at sunrise every day for a week!”
“Or boil himself in oil!”
The two crows looked back at Minnie. “Nope, that’d be something he wouldn’t want to do. Run into Charlie!”
Minnie could hardly contain her laughter. She loved Floyd and Willy; they always cheered her up, no matter how terrible things seemed. But she felt nervous that Henry would hear them.
“Shhh!” Minnie said, her forefinger across her lips.
“Sorry!” Floyd whispered.
Both crows hunkered down on the balcony railing. “When is this shindig, Miss Minnie?” Willy asked in a low voice.
“A week from yesterday,” she said. “Next Monday.”
“Minerva!” Henry’s voice permeated the house, vibrating walls and windows.
“What was that?” Floyd said.
“Sounds like the man of the house has awakened,” Willy said.
“Gotta go, gents,” she said and blew them each a kiss.
“We ought not to miss this shindig, eh, brother?” Willy said with an air of great dignity and sarcasm as they leaped off the balcony.
In his ancient tupelo tree, high above the Woodman’s Cemetery, on the northern borders of the university, Starfire awaited his friend Hookbeak. Before retiring within its sprawling branches, Starfire and his wife had raised a large number of young ravens, every year building a new nest not far from this very tree. He knew precisely how many children he had sired, and grandchildren. He even knew how many generations of great-grandchildren he had. Seven. Of course he could not come up with all their names, just their numbers.
As Chief Archivist, Starfire dealt in corvid genealogical data on a daily basis. It was a simple task to access the archival lattice; he could do it in his sleep. But he was not concerned with the names of his many descendants at the moment. Another fireball had ejected during Charlie’s trance, and Starfire was flummoxed. He had created several Extermination Chants and went after the bugs that seemed to be eating the data. Charlie had struggled to speak as the lattice closed, and had said something that sounded like “ugs”. Did he mean to say “bugs”?
The roar of the lawnmower on the other side of the cemetery distracted his thoughts. In spite of the noise, he appreciated mowing days for the evening buffet of chopped lizards, toads, insects, and other creatures that couldn’t seem to get out of the way.
He watched his friend Hookbeak approach, admiring his wingspan and graceful glide down to the tupelo tree. The Aviar landed on the large branch near Starfire and folded his wings. The two old ravens greeted each other cordially.
“To what do I owe the honor of a visit, my friend?” Starfire asked. He knew the Aviar preferred to stay on his side of the river.
“There have been some complaints,” Hookbeak said vaguely. He sharpened his beak on the branch near his feet.
“Complaints?” Who? Does the Aviar somehow know of the mishap with the Keeper last week?
“Yes, my friend, complaints,” Hookbeak said. “But first, tell me about the damage to the lattice. Last time we talked, you suspected something was damaging it. ‘Bugs’, I believe was the term you used.”
The lawnmower droned closer. Starfire could smell the gasoline engine exhaust co-mingled with fresh-cut grass. He nodded. “Bugs ate many holes in the lattice—mostly in areas where we store Patua’ data. Bugs are why we did not find Jayzu in our database. I think.”
“I see,” Hookbeak said. “That is problematic. But you have killed the bugs, you say? Have you fixed the holes?”
“I thought the bugs were gone,” Starfire said. “I thought I killed them all and left a systemic poison in case they come back. But, alas, I believe I have missed one.”
It was no mean feat, killing the bugs. Starfire had been in a mildornia trance for an entire day with only a few novices to watch over him. Several times he had surfaced from the trance, gasping, “Not finished yet. Must go back.” He beaked more mildornia berries, and though he felt he was dying of thirst, he did not drink.
After the extermination, he had fallen over stiff as a board. The novices told him later that they had been frightened he had died. But he was not dead, and the bugs were gone. Until Charlie’s trance that ended with him struggling to say “bugs.”
“I will run another Extermination Ritual,” Starfire said. “After I am sure they are gone, I will continue repairing the damage they have done. It is very time-consuming to search the Keeper’s memories for the Patua’ data, and then to extract it and patch the holes the bugs made. Sometimes I don’t find what I need very quickly, and the Keepers have to stay under longer.”
“And is that dangerous?” Hookbeak asked.
Starfire looked deep into his friend’s opaque black eyes. Does he know? “Not usually. Some do not tolerate such high doses of mildornia berries, it is true. But it is the only way I know to patch the holes.”
He had screened the Keepers well, he had thought, experimenting with dosages of mildornia berries to filter out the Keepers for whom the deep trance might be fatal. How did Beatrice get through the screening? He had been grievously shocked when the young Keeper had fallen over stiff and dead as a doornail right at his feet. Before he had even searched her memories. Such a tragic loss.
The lawnmower droned nearby, like a giant cricket in the grass declaring the summertime temperature. “There are risks to the trance,” Hookbeak said, eyeing the mower and its two riders. “We know that.” He turned back to Starfire, his black eyes blazing in anger. “But to break into a corvid’s private memory, Starfire? That is akin to stealing, is it not? I am quite uncomfortable with that scenario. This is a serious covenant you have broken.”
Starfire sunk his head into a wing and pretended to scratch a sudden itch. How did the Aviar know he had wandered without permission through the Keeper’s memories? The Keepers themselves did not know. It was true he had been warned. Severely warned. And he agreed it was a sacred trust he had violated, an unequivocal promise to the Keepers that their personal memories would be left private while their minds were open and unprotected.
Starfire had neutralized his guilt by continually reminding himself that what he had found was worth his minor rule bending. Besides, while he was only fixing holes in the archival lattice, he had found a few more Orbs of the Patua’.
“I am certain that the Keepers would all give permission for the searches,” Starfire said, “but it is so very cumbersome and time-consuming to get it.”
“Yes, that is true, Starfire. The Council founders deliberately made it difficult to obtain such permission—to prevent such violations as this one. I insist that you follow protocol.”
“I do not have the time!” Starfire protested vehemently. “There are much greater issues I am attending to.”
“What could be a greater issue for the Chief Archivist than keeping the Keepers of the Archival Lattice in good health?” Hookbeak asked. “That is, alive.”
“You do not understand!” Starfire said. He hopped back and forth between two branches, grasping one for a few seconds before leaping back to the other. “We are running out of mildornia berries. Even before the bugs ate our data, I had none to spare.”
Hookbeak blinked a few times and said, “What has that got to do with these invasions of yours, other than you’re using large amounts of berries and killing your Keepers?”
Starfire stopped, gripping a branch tightly and glaring at Hookbeak. He tried to control the angry impatience that surged upward from his breast. Calm yourself, raven. Anger kills reason. He focused on the sound of the lawnmower as it traversed back and forth across the cemetery. He tried to visualize the pattern the mower always left in the grass and the smorgasbord of delectable dinner entrees.
“Quite by accident,” Starfire said after composing himself, “during my searches, I have finally discovered the legendary Orbs of the Patua’.”
“The Orbs of the Patua’?” Hookbeak said. “And these orbs—what relation do they bear upon your sacred oath?”
Starfire told the Aviar about the orb Jayzu found under Bruthamax’s bones, describing in great detail the skilled craftsmanship of some unknown ancient Patua’. “And much to my surprise, another orb has turned up, nearly identical to Bruthamax’s. Right in Ledford.”
The lawnmower invaded the space in which Starfire’s tupelo tree grew, capturing the attention of both ravens. A crow perched on the gas tank in front of the mower, while the operator steered it deftly around trees and tombstones. The noise was loud enough to prevent conversation, and the two ravens perched quietly until the mower moved on.
“And theses searches have revealed another potential Patua’,” Starfire said, when the noise had diminished somewhat “of whom we knew nothing.”
Hookbeak rose up on his thick legs and stretched, flapping his wings a few times before folding them back at his sides. His legs hurt. So did his wings. The lawnmower came into the small clearing underneath them. “Is the gardener Patua’?”
“No,” Starfire said, “and he’s deaf as a post. Julie just likes to ride the mower with him. She said she likes the smell of fresh-cut grass.”
“And what do you think they are?” Hookbeak asked. “These orbs you risk so much for?”
“Seed pods,” Starfire said without hesitation. “Mildornia seed pods!” A gust of wind blew through the branches, revealing the white ruff around his neck.
Hookbeak refolded his wings and said, “And how did you come to that conclusion? Have you broken one open? Were there mildornia seeds inside?”
“No,” Starfire said. “I personally have never actually seen one of these orbs. But my hunch is that—”
“Your hunch?” Hookbeak shook his head in wonder. “You are risking lives for seeds? For ‘potential’ Patua’? My friend, what has happened to you?”
“You don’t understand!” Starfire said impatiently. “We need mildornia berries!”
“I do understand that,” the Aviar said calmly. “I know that the seeds are required for the trances. You have told me that more than once. And that the mildornia bushes used to thrive everywhere. And the last known bush, a hermaphrodite, grows on Cadeña-l’jadia.”
A sense of profound weariness permeated his being. Suddenly life seemed severely complicated. Ah, my Rosie, I shall leave all this soon and come join you, my love. “I am trying to understand,” Hookbeak continued, “why you have violated the sacred trust between the Council and the Keepers.”
Starfire did not speak for a few moments. Hookbeak had watched his friend struggle with his passionate ambitions their entire adult lives. But never had he transgressed from the ethical boundaries set by the Council.
“Where is your conscience, Starfire?” he asked quietly. “You cannot continue this invasion of the Keepers’ memories for any reason, no matter how lofty it seems. It is simply wrong, even if we are in desperate need of these seeds. Or discovering more Patua’. The Council will not sanction this.”
Starfire shook his head as he strode back and forth on the branch. “The Council is myopic, Aviar! Can you not see what is at stake here? Our entire database, our entire history, our entire genealogy since the days of First Crow and First Raven will be lost—to say nothing of the Patua’ data. For the love of the Egg, Hookbeak, these are perilous times! We cannot afford to adhere to ideology when our very survival is at stake.”
“Do not think that I am unaware, Starfire,” Hookbeak growled, “of what is at stake here. Am I not Aviar? It is my business to be aware, as I must make you aware of the dangerous winds you are flying in. Have you no regard for your Keepers?”
“I am careful,” Starfire said sullenly.
“Not careful enough,” Hookbeak said. He had been sorely disappointed in his friend, not so much that his experiment had been fatal to young Beatrice. But why did he cover it up? Why did he not come tell me? Have I not been his loyal friend all these years?
“There is no proof!” Starfire protested. “Even the Emplacement Ritual is sometimes fatal.”
“And you refuse any remorse for the death of this innocent Keeper?” Hookbeak hopped onto the branch near Starfire. “I cannot continue to shelter you, Starfire, or your activities. One more mishap among the Keepers,” he said, putting his beak into the other raven’s face, “and I am going to blow the lid off this. Do I need to explain what will happen in that event?”
Starfire stepped backward under the Aviar’s pressure but did not reply.
“The Council will strip you of your position as Chief Archivist,” Hookbeak said, stepping toward Starfire and bearing down on him. “And your name will be blackened forever.”
Starfire growled and flapped his wings. The Aviar backed off, and the two ravens stood eye-to-eye, searing the air between them with the charged particles of their anger. The leaves on all the branches of the tupelo tree suddenly rattled and quivered.
Hookbeak broke his stance first, shaking his head. “Have you gone mad, my friend?” he said quietly. “Too many mildornia trances, perhaps?”
“And if the database goes down,” Starfire said, as their tempers cooled, “what will it matter if I have a good or bad name? Aviar, please, I beseech you, hear me! I do not know how else to save our database. At the small expense of my position in the archives, and even my good name among the corvid, I am willing to make this sacrifice.”
“Did you ask the Keepers if they were willing to sacrifice their lives to your vanity before you volunteered them?” Hookbeak asked.
“This is not my vanity, Aviar,” Starfire growled. “There is much at stake here, the preservation of all of our knowledge, history, and genealogy. Which is the more valuable? The rights of the individual Keeper to maintain memory privacy, or the rights of the entire corvid species for the past seventeen or so million years?”
“You call upon the dead?” Hookbeak asked incredulously, “to defend this mind invasion of yours? What rights do the dead have?”
“They have the right to be remembered,” Starfire said. “Is not that why we ever constructed the archival lattice in the first place? To keep track of ourselves? Shall we allow millions of lives to be lost to this stubborn obedience to principles?”
“Shall we lose our moral compass over a database?” Hookbeak flapped his wings several times.
Charlie left Charlotte’s windowsill at Rosencranz after their morning visit and flew across the river, across the university campus to Starfire’s tree in the old Woodmen’s Cemetery. Hookbeak was there with him, and the two old ravens seemed to be deep in a heated discussion—an argument from the looks of it. Starfire seems angry! I wonder what they are arguing about?
Charlie flew once around the tupelo tree, but as he started back toward Cadeña-l’jadia, Starfire called out, “Yo, Charlie!”
He turned around and sailed into the tree, settling on a branch near the two ravens. “Grawky! I hope I didn’t interrupt anything important.”
The two ravens looked at each other briefly. “Nothing that we have not been endlessly discussing,” Hookbeak said wearily. “Grawky, Charlie.”
“Indeed,” Starfire said. “Perhaps we should thank you for the interruption. Otherwise the two of us could grow old and stiff and keel over right here in this tree, without solving a thing.”
The two ravens looked at each other gravely for a moment, then cackled with laughter as they flapped their wings. Once they settled back down, Charlie told them what he had learned from Floyd and Willy. “And they said Henry Braun plans to land a helicopter on Cadeña-l’jadia.”
“That would be the only way he could get there,” Starfire said. “The river would never let him near.”
Charlie nodded. “Jayzu and his friends are fighting him, but he has many orbs and is very powerful.”
Starfire said, “That man is a menace, the very antithesis of the Patua’. We cannot allow him to gain control of Cadeña-l’jadia. We must stop him.”
“But how?” Charlie asked. “We are just birds. Not even the humans seem to be able to stop him.”
“We are small,” Hookbeak said, “each of us. But together we form a multitude. Tomorrow we shall assemble the Great Corvid Council. We shall take a stand on Cadeña-l’jadia.”
The Great Corvid convened on the roof of the hermit’s chapel as the mid-afternoon shadows began to lengthen. Many more crows and ravens than councilors attended, and they perched all around—in the trees, the garden, and all over the marvelously rusty, sparkly contraption Jayzu had planted next to the pond.
“Greetings, Councilors!” the Aviar spoke from the apex of the chapel roof. “Greetings, corvids! Greetings, all birds of all feathers!” He turned slowly all the way around, his great wings unfurled as if to include everyone. “Thank you for flying in on such short notice. We face a grave threat.”
“We?” Wingnut asked.
Charlie heard a wave of murmuring propagate through the trees all around him. “Who is that?” “That’s Wingnut. He thinks he’s going to be Aviar one day!”
“Yes, we,” Hookbeak’s voice rumbled. “We do not exist independently of the human sphere.”
Wingnut folded his wings in displeasure but settled back on his branch. Charlie was glad he backed down. There was no time to argue.
“We must open our eyes to the uncomfortable truth,” Hookbeak continued. “The events in the human world over the last century or two have encroached upon our otherwise idyllic existence, and we can no longer bury our heads under our wings and ignore the problem. We are losing our forests, our rivers, and streams to the inexorable march of human civilization across the landscape.”
Hookbeak signaled Charlie to take the high perch next to him. “Tell all our corvid brethren of the threat to Cadeña-l’jadia,” he said as the crow landed.
Charlie stood up as tall as he could, opened his wings, and called out as loudly: “Cadeña-l’jadia is under siege as we speak. There is a plan afoot by the human, Henry Braun, to remove its forests and birds, and replace them with a human-built landscape of concrete and buildings.”
Many of the birds gasped, and Fishgut called out, “Henry Braun?” The raven rose up on his roof branch near Charlie and shouted, “Henry Braun? You mean the Bunya? Have we such short memories, my corvids?” He unfolded his wings. “Is he not the same bunya who shaved the northern forests to nubbins?”
The birds snickered at the slur. “Bunya” meant “meat so rotten even a corvid would not eat it.”
“Then he built the fish-canning factory,” Fishgut said, “and the place now reeks of rotting fish. While I feed off the largesse of the Cannery, it is too much, and the landscape is spoiled. And it stinks. I would much prefer that the forest, my ancestral territory, had remained.”
The older birds in the surrounding tree shouted angry epithets against the Bunya, recalling the destruction. The councilors maintained a slightly greater decorum, with only a few disapproving hisses.
“It was the Bunya’s ancestor,” Starfire spoke out, “who tore the forests down for the Cannery. The living Henry Braun, known among some of us as the Bunya, plans the same fate for our Cadeña-l’jadia.”
“First Henry Bunya will purchase the island,” Charlie continued, “and turn it into an amusement park for humans.”
“Purchase?” asked Mikey. “As in purchase the branch?” He looked down at his feet.
“I thought he said purchase the island,” Restarea said, blinking in confusion.
“Purchase? What is purchase?” O’Malley asked.
“Let us examine the word ‘purchase,’” said Athanasius. “Purchase is derived from the Middle English purchacen, or as the Anglo-French would have said, purchaser. To purchase means to get a better grip on an object, as in ‘grasp the branch with both claws for more purchase.’”
“Oh, that branch,” Restarea said, nodding.
“What about the island?” Joshwa asked. “I thought we were talking about an island.”
Walldrug said, “I thought purchase means, essentially, to own. In which case, I must ask: can anyone own that which he cannot carry off?”
Hookbeak motioned Charlie to continue. “Do not get sidetracked into these philosophical gopher holes, Charlie. Tell them about the threat to Cadeña-l’jadia.”
Charlie nodded gratefully. He remembered when the Council first met Jayzu. It’s a wonder they can get anything said and done. He hoped he was never called upon to be a councilor. “Henry the Bunya,” he addressed the Council again, “has millions of orbs that he wants to give the humans in the city in exchange for the island. That’s what I meant when I said he wants to purchase it.”
Taken aback, many birds spoke at once: “Exchange orbs for the island?” “I cannot imagine!” “That is what purchase means?” “Millions of orbs!” “How many is a million?” “Imagine how big the nest would be to hold a million orbs!”
“What would anyone do with that many orbs?” Ziggy asked.
“Buy an island?” Joshwa said.
The councilors laughed raucously, including the Aviar.
“Seriously,” Starfire said when the laughter had died down, “even among humans, ownership is a fairly abstract concept. But if anyone owns Cadeña-l’jadia, it is Charlie. His family has lived there since before there were any humans at all in this part of the world. Even humans regard that sometimes as legal ownership.”
“However,” Wingnut said, “humans do not consider that any other species has ownership over any fraction of the entire earth’s surface.”
“True enough,” Hookbeak said. “But let us not exhaust ourselves trying to understand the human concepts of ownership. Let us return to the subject for which have convened. We all know that forest destruction hits us birds first, if not hardest. Remember when the Boonies were out in the middle of nowhere, Walldrug?”
“How could I forget?” the raven councilor cried out. “I watched my entire ancestral homeland devoured. Thousands of trees were shaved off the land to build a gigantic parking lot and a corn chip factory. Where there were trees, there is now only burning asphalt. They killed it all.”
The birds in the trees surrounding the chapel had grown quiet. He knew some of the crows ate regularly at the corn chip factory. Can we rise above our stomachs?
“And Cadeña-l’jadia is next,” the Aviar said, “unless we band together and stop the destruction. This is our sacred land, if not for the hundreds of corvid generations born here, but this was the home of the great Bruthamax, may his spirit forever walk this lonely isle. And Jayzu. Let us not forget Jayzu.”
All of the birds within earshot of Hookbeak showed their approval by screeching and flapping their wings. Some called out, “Long live Jayzu!” “Bruthamax forever!” “Bruthamax will never die!”
“We have no more time,” Hookbeak’s strong voice cut through the noise. “We have waited long enough for the humans to come to their senses. We must stop talking and act. If we are going to prevent the Bunya’s destruction of Cadeña-l’jadia, we must be proactive. We must act.”
“And do what?” Wingnut asked. “Throw ourselves in front of the saws?”
Hookbeak said. “Saws?” He shook his head. “I was thinking we throw ourselves in front of the humans.”
The councilors blinked in confusion and asked each other “What is he talking about?” “Is he serious?” “Throw ourselves in front of humans?”
“Follow me!” Hookbeak’s voice rose above the private conversations, calling out to all the birds on the roof of the chapel as well as in the trees. He flapped his wings, lifting his great body above the trees. “Let us say no to the Bunya! A million birds taking a stand! We must all fly out and spread the word, starting today, to all birds in the land. We shall invite them all to the picnic on Cadeña-l’jadia. This land is ours. Now fly! Spread the word!”
Hookbeak led the way as he flew off shouting, “Calling all birds! All birds of all feathers! Picnic on Cadeña-l’jadia! Good eats! Take a stand against forest destruction! Take a stand against the Bunya!”
The councilors, Charlie, and a host of corvid volunteers flew far and wide, and they spoke to many birds across the land. Charlie sent off all the young crows on Cadeña-l’jadia to engage the birds beyond the timber mills, all the way to the northern border. He sent his sons JohnHenry and Edgar to carry the message Downtown, and to the Waterfront. More crows flew out across the river to the university, to the woods behind Russ and Jade’s house. The airport ravens carried the word to the surrounding towns and countryside.
As the corvids spread the word, other birds heard the call and carried it into the wind for miles and miles around Cadeña-l’jadia. “Come ye! All birds of beak and feather, come to the picnic on Cadeña-l’jadia! Take a stand against the Bunya!”
Beak to beak, the word spread as the corvids raised the alarm from the cemetery to the timber mills, out east to the plains beyond Ledford, to the south all the way to MacKenzie. “Come all ye birds of all feathers! Join us and all our winged brethren for the Million Bird Stand on Cadeña-l’jadia!”
In a matter of one day, scores of birds over many hundreds of square miles took to the skies and headed to Cadeña-l’jadia. They arrived in multitudes, landing in trees, on the shorelines, and in the meadows, calling out, “Small alone, mighty together!”
The new bird sanctuary was jammed with birds, from the cliffs to the riverbanks. The sudden influx of such an enormous number of birds attracted the attention of the city as birds arrived continuously, hundreds and hundreds every hour. They assumed a swirling flight pattern above the treetops of the island as they searched for places to perch, stand, wade, or sit. The noise generated by many birds produced a low-decibel buzz that did not abate until nightfall, when the birds settled down in their roosts to sleep.
A reporter from the Sentinel ambushed Alfredo as he left his office in the Biology Department at the university. “Dr. Manzi,” the reporter asked, “how do you explain the sudden arrival on Wilder Island of so many birds? Has your bird sanctuary become a nuisance, attracting too many of our avian friends?”
“A nuisance for whom?” Alfredo answered. “If you are asking is this odd, I would say it is very odd that so many birds of different species would suddenly show up in the same place. It is hard to know what to make of it, but I’m sure we will all find out soon enough.” He smiled, edged past the reporter, and left the building whistling a popular tune from 1960s, a song about a blackbird.