Corvus Rising – Chapter 18

Chapter 18

The Million Bird Stand

 

Grawky! JoEd,” Jayzu said, smiling at the stunned crow on his step. Alfredo looked up from the papers he was grading at his table, distracted by the loud thump he heard against the cottage wall. He out his pen down, went to the door, and opened it to find a motionless crow lying on this doorstep.

JoEd struggled to his feet. “Man, that was some jaloosie!” He smoothed his ruffled feathers back against his body. “It took me as soon as I left Downtown, Jayzu! It took me way up—higher than ever!”

Are you all right?” Alfredo stooped down to see if the bird was injured.

Oh, yeah! I’m fine.” JoEd looked up at the sky. “But I wasn’t even trying to ride a jaloosie. It just took me and dropped me here. I have come for the Million Bird Stand.”

As I suspected,” Alfredo said. “Birds have been flying in from all over for the past two days.”

He had watched a steady stream flying over the treetops all day. Many landed in the trees near the hermit’s chapel — corvids mostly, to admire Bruthamax’s worship nest. It was rather astonishing, that many birds. And how marvelous that so many different species came to gather in one place briefly, to make a stand against the destruction of Cadeña-l’jadia!

An island this small could not support such a huge number of birds, even for a few days. Alfredo noticed many of them flew off the island in the morning, presumably to feed in the city of Ledford, in the surrounding fields and pastures, and along the riverbanks.

I have been out spreading the word,” JoEd said. “It’s going everywhere, Jayzu, around and around, in wider circles all across the land.” He dipped his beak several times in a puddle on the stone step.

We cannot stop the Bunya without you,” Alfredo said. “I am grateful for your help.”

I would be nowhere else,” JoEd said. “We are small alone.”

Alfredo watched him disappear into the forest as he flew off in the direction of the tree house. For just this one day, I would like to be a crow. To be one of them when they take a stand against Henry Braun. The Bunya.

This is ours,” Charlie had said when Alfredo asked if he could help with the Million Bird Stand. “You’ve already raised your voice. You have done much, Jayzu, to keep Cadeña-l’jadia the way it is. We know you are with us in spirit. It’s our turn now.”

 

JoEd found his parents perched on the rail around the deck of Bruthamax’s tree house. As he approached, Rika nudged Charlie with her wing and said, “My Orbs! Husband! I think our son has come home!”

JoEd landed on the railing and put a wing out over his mother and said, “Hi ya, Weebs!” Rika pecked him lightly and spent a few moments grooming him until he squirmed away from her.

Aw, Weebs!” he said, flapping his wings. “I’m not a hatchling anymore. I can clean my own feathers!”

Your weebs is happy to see you,” Charlie said. “As am I.”

It’s good to be home, Zazu!” JoEd said. “I want to make a stand with you.”

Well, that is tomorrow,” Rika said, nudging her son. “First you must tell us where you have been and what have you seen since you flew the nest. You look a bit thin. Have you been eating enough? Have you found a mate?”

JoEd thought of Shannon, the pretty little crow he had met on the roof of the River Queen. She seemed to like me. He wondered if he could find her again.

I eat just fine, Weebs,” JoEd said. “There’s so much food in the city, it’d be hard not to eat well. And I’m still a bachelor.”

When it is time,” Rika said, nodding, “she will come.”

JoEd looked at his mother with great love. She is so wise, my weebs.

I am in Keeper training,” JoEd said. “Just like you, Zazu! I am a novice. Starfire says I take after you. ‘You’re a quick learner, just like your zazu’—that’s what he said!”

I’m proud of you, JoEd,” Charlie said. “You have done well.”

JoEd roosted for the night in his ancestral tree. He’d been all over since he left, intoxicated by the sight of the River Queen and Downtown. And the university! He thought he’d seen a huge chunk of the world after Antoine flew him around the university. But when he flew out to spread the word for the Million Bird Stand, he was staggered by the sheer size of it all. He flew for hours over strange landscapes without trees, huge lakes whose opposite shores he could not see, and off in the distance, mountains!

But it was good to be home.

 

Henry stood at the window of his office, scowling at the thousands of birds that swirled above Wilder Island. The picnic was tomorrow; everything was ready. “The last thing I need is a bunch of flying vermin in the air crapping all over the place,” he growled to Jules Sackman. He wanted to throw his shoe at those two smirking crows in the tree outside his window.

He closed the window shade and took a seat in the huge leather armchair behind his desk. He fidgeted with the stapler and then the pens in the leather holder that matched his chair. He leaned back, swiveling away from the windows and toward the portraits of his ancestors. Henry the First’s eyes bore down on him. What is it? Have I forgotten something?

I wonder why so many of them suddenly flocked to the island in the last few days,” Jules said, picking at a fingernail. “Almost like they knew something.”

You and my insane wife,” Henry said, waving away the attorney. “You think these stupid birdbrains are capable of thought? It’s just a coincidence—probably some dead animal on the island they all want a bite of. That’s all they know, Jules. They don’t have thoughts, just urges. Eating, shitting, and screwing.”

Henry the First nodded. “Don’t let them stop you, Henry. It was the crows that took down my bridge, you know. Just like now—thousands upon thousands of them flying in at night, so no one saw. The next day, the bridge was no more.”

No filthy crow is going to stop me again!” Henry nearly shouted at Jules.

But what were all these birds doing here? If crows destroyed the trestle bridge, he shuddered to think what they could do to his picnic. He engaged briefly in a dark fantasy of thousands of crows bringing the helicopter down, loaded with his investors. And him.

He shook his head quickly a few times to dispel the gruesome image of bodies floating in the water and the helicopter lying on its side like a dead insect. He tried to focus his attention on the ceremony in the morning. He had dreamed of this day for years. He’d have an official ribbon-cutting and flag-planting, right on the banks of the island. He’d even commissioned a special flag of his family crest, in honor of reuniting the Brauns with their lost ancestral homeland.

Tomorrow, the island will be mine!” Henry said, forcing a grand smile. “And I, Henry Braun the Fourth, shall turn it into a paradise. First I plant a flag, reclaiming the island for my family honor. Henry Braun Island—that’s the new name.”

Henry the First nodded and winked. “That’s the spirit, boy!”

Henry,” Jules said, “you can’t just summarily change the name like that. Wilder Island is on all the maps. And, the island isn’t yours yet.”

A technicality!” Henry said, waving his hand at Jules. “What’re they going to do, sue me?” He laughed bitterly. “And the name ‘Wilder Island’ was never official. It’s my island; that makes it private property, and I can call it whatever I want.”

Yet the private property rights of others,” Jules said, “doesn’t apparently stop you from taking their land.”

Henry the First frowned down upon Jules. “Whose side is he on? How is it you tolerate this insolence?”

This whole eminent domain thing was your idea, Jules,” Henry said, mopping sweat off his forehead.

Don’t whine, Henry.”

He looked up at Henry the First.

“Fire the leech.”

 

After breakfast on the day of Henry the Bunya’s picnic, all the birds on Cadeña-l’jadia, residents and visitors alike, convened at the edge of the forest near the tip of the island where he would land his helicopter. The noise was horrendous, as thousands and thousands of birds of all breeds and sizes flew in and found places to perch, sit, or stand. Every bush and rock held as many birds as could get a foothold. Younger trees bent to the ground under the weight of their bird load. Birds covered everything.

Charlie perched at the top of a dead tree whose leaves and smaller branches were long gone, a high point from which he would speak to the birds gathered below. He unfolded his wings and shouted, “Greetings, Birds of all Feathers!” He made a complete rotation on his perch, his strong mature voice flying out over the crowd as he repeated his salutation. “Greetings, Birds of all Feathers!”

He waited until the birds had mostly quieted down to continue. “Thank you for coming to the Million Bird Stand. In a few short hours, a small yet deadly invasion of the Bunya will begin. If we cannot stop them now, it will mean the end of Cadeña-l’jadia.”

The birds squawked, hooted, cawed, honked, cheeped, quacked, trilled, and chirped their displeasure.

But we are not just here to save Cadeña-l’jadia!” Charlie shouted. “The Earth beyond this little island is also a beautiful place and home to many more birds and many other creatures of all kingdoms! All creatures seem to know how to live here more or less peacefully. All but one. Humans. And the Bunya is their king.”

The birds again voiced their disapproval, some standing up and flapping their wings, some stamping around indignantly—though there was not much room, and everyone chattered at once. Charlie’s voice somehow arched over the noise. “We can turn them back now, all of us. Though we are each small, together we form a multitude, a force to be reckoned with. We shall turn back this invasion, island by island, forest by forest, for however many tomorrows it shall take. Today, the multitude of us will just say no.”

What if they have guns?” a thrush asked in a reedy voice.

We do not need to fear guns from this crowd,” Charlie said. “They will not be armed with guns; they arm themselves with orbs. They think their orbs will protect them. But they are sorely mistaken. We will use the weapon of our guts, and our sheer multitudes to chase the Bunya off our island.”

Charlie flapped his wings and shouted, “It is time! Let us now assume the position. Follow me!”

He swooped off his perch and flew low to the ground, leading a parade of walking, flying, and hopping birds. He dropped to the sand at the edge of the forest and shouted, “It is here we make our stand!”

As the birds arrived, he directed them into position. “We will create a barrier of birds. Yes, a solid wall of birds staring the Bunya down.”

He knew most of the birds could not hear him, but those who did followed his instructions and began layering themselves into a solid wall of feathers, beaks, wings, and claws. “Larger birds on the bottom!” he shouted.

As the multitudes of birds arrived at the site, they followed the others, assuming their positions in the great wall. “One bird every half wingspan—in all directions,” Charlie directed. “Find a perch in the trees, on the ground, on rocks, each other.”

The wall of birds was enormous, comprising many species, many colors, many eyes. It was a marvelous spectacle. There were whole bevies of quail and dove, nides of pheasants, gaggles of geese, flushes of ducks, rafters of turkeys, sieges of herons, murders of crows, conspiracies of ravens, tidings of magpies, descents of woodpeckers, hosts of sparrows, charms of finches, exaltations of larks, wisps of snipes, kettles of hawks, parliaments of owls, and parties of jays. All within a wing’s reach of one another, they formed a barrier of birds from the forest floor to its treetops.

Hookbeak and Starfire perched in a tree near the great wall of birds as Charlie spoke. “At my signal, we all take to the air, and we dump on him from above. The Bunya is our main target, but do not go out of your way to avoid hitting the others. Some of them are as guilty as he and, given the inspiration, would do exactly what Bunya wants to do. So, let it fly. Get some on everyone.”

Some what?” Floyd asked Willy. “Toxic waste? Hot wax? Fliers?”

I believe he means excrement, brother,” Willy replied.

Ohhh,” Floyd said, nodding. “I see.” After a few seconds, he said, “Ours?”

Who else’s?” Willy said.

Oh, goody,” Floyd said gleefully. “I love a pasting!”

Henry Braun looked up at the clear blue sky from the deck of the River Queen. Not a bird in sight—a matter of great relief to him. No dull roar of bird noise came across the river. “Good riddance,” he said with a growl. “And stay off my island!”

The River Queen pulled away from the dock with its cargo of Ledford’s well-heeled elite, and headed across the river to the city boat landing where they would board the helicopter. Henry didn’t dare try and take his beautiful River Queen to the island—not after what happened to his great-grandfather’s trestle bridge. Thirty or so of Henry’s guests sipped champagne and filled their plates at a buffet brunch on the promenade. While the boat paddled slowly past Wilder Island, the passengers enjoyed a marvelous feast that included grilled salmon, a mountain of jumbo shrimp, prime rib, quiche, a vast array of colorful fruit, and an exotic juice bar.

Originally he had planned to serve the feast on the island, but Jules had talked him out of it. “Come on, Henry!” he had said. “Think about it! Most people would prefer to dine on the decks of the River Queen than on the sandy banks of a deserted island. Remember, the island is full of crows; you don’t want to create an attractive nuisance.”

Create an attractive nuisance?” Henry was sick of Jules. “Seems to me those blasted crows are the nuisance.”

It was not an affair for children or spouses. This was not entertainment; it was business. The guest list was restricted to investors and influential politicos, including Henry Braun’s long-time crony, the Mayor. They were wealthy, all of them—except the newspaper people—otherwise they would not have been invited. A reporter from the Sentinel and his cameraman had been hired to publicize the event for Henry, and he magnanimously allowed them to indulge in the food but not the champagne.

After brunch, everyone disembarked from the River Queen. Half, including Henry, boarded a large helicopter that waited in the parking lot. The helicopter took off almost immediately and bore down on the island like a dinosaur-size bird of prey. After disgorging its passengers, it returned to the dock for the second load.

Henry climbed out of the helicopter, strode up the bank, and stopped. The forest in front of him was dark and forbidding, and its stillness seemed uncanny. It unnerved him that he could not see very far into its shadows. This was his first time on Wilder Island, and he wanted to savor these first moments of almost owning it. But the forest repelled him. The profound silence bore down on him. He shook his fist and raged silently. The day is coming, I promise, when I burn you down!

Turning his back, Henry forced himself to override his fear. At least those damn birds aren’t still flying around overhead. He climbed up to an elevated position on a rock and watched his guests make their way toward him. By the time they all arrived, Jules had finished setting up an easel to hold a set of colorful charts illustrating impressive returns on investments in Ravenwood Resort.

My friends, at long last I fulfill a boyhood dream,” Henry addressed the carefully chosen faithful, arms outstretched. “I’ve asked each of you here to witness this momentous occasion where I bring this island back into the fold of my family where it rightly belongs.”

Henry gestured behind him as he spoke. “Many years ago, my ancestor Henry Braun the First was swindled out of his rightful ownership of this island by corrupt politicians and a railroad desperate to survive. Through the next three generations, each Henry Braun brought fortune and good times back into the family. But we have gnashed our teeth, waiting for the time to restore what is ours. This island. It is now that time. With great honor and pride, I plant my family flag on Henry Braun Island, as it shall be known from here onwards.”

Unfurling the flag with the Braun family crest emblazoned in gold, Henry stuck the flagpole into the sand. Jules handed him a small sledgehammer; he smacked the top of the pole a few times and handed it back. Turning again to his guests, he threw his arms out and said, “Welcome to Braun Island, my friends. Upon this island we will build Ravenwood Resort.”

The people before him remained silent. No applause, no cheering, no flag waving, no celebration. Henry’s smile vanished and his neck hairs stood erect suddenly. He glanced over his shoulder at the forest and saw nothing but dark shadows woven into a patchy fabric of leaf and branch. Still, there was something not quite right about the scene.

He turned back to the investors, shoving his shaking hands into his pockets and licked his lips nervously. “I ask each and every one of you to join me in prosperity. Invest in Ravenwood Resort on Braun Island. Each of you has a prospectus and—”

No one was paying him the least attention. The investors looked past him into the forest, eyebrows raised incredulously. Henry stopped talking and turned slowly toward the trees. Perhaps it was the angle of the sun, but where a few minutes ago only a dark spooky forest stood, now thousands and thousands and thousands of eyes stared at him from within a great wall of feathers and beaks.

 

The birds remained motionless, but for the occasional blinking of an eye. Charlie suddenly flapped out to a rock adjacent to Henry Braun, fixing his blue eyes upon him.

Well met, Bunya,” Charlie greeted Henry politely, extending his wing in the traditional crow salutation.

Complete silence reigned over birds and humans. “In case you are wondering, Bunya, we are here to let you know that it is us, not your fellow humans that you will ultimately have to contend with. Your own species cannot stop you. We will.” The crow turned toward the investors and said, “Best you all leave now, lest you become soiled.”

No one moved. “Have it your way, then.” Charlie leaped into the air above Henry and shouted, “Let it fly, birds of all feathers! Let it fly!”

The wall seemed to dissolve suddenly into an astonishing cloud of birds of all shapes and sizes. They flew toward Henry, a tiny target for so many birds, but in this they were adept. They had been practicing since dawn—a simple drill Charlie had devised, where they all circled and dumped in an intricate yet simple pattern.

The birds orbited Henry, and each took their turn diving and letting it fly. A thunderous noise of beating wings and ridicule from the beaks of the multitude accompanied the mass dumping.

Your mother plucks your feathers!” yelled JoEd as he shat upon the Bunya’s bald spot.

You weren’t hatched, you were laid!” Willy hollered as his load struck Henry’s prominent nose.

I wouldn’t wear that suit to a dog fight!” a magpie yelled, her tuxedo markings clean and flawless as she dumped her load.

Not to be outdone, Floyd bombed Henry with his own repartee, “I’ve seen bigger peckers on chickadees!” Splat!

After whitewashing Henry’s head, the birds moved on to other challenging territory: his suit coat, his trousers, his shoes. It took a long time for a million birds to dump their loads, and they did not hurry. The Bunya huddled near the rock upon which moments ago he stood in triumph, blubbering like a baby.

Starfire and Hookbeak flew out of their tree and took hold of the Bunya flag and pulled it out of the sand. They flew out over the river and dropped it in the water. “So long, Charlie!” Starfire yelled over his wing. The two old ravens parted company, as each headed for his respective tree in their respective cemeteries on either side of the river.

Once Henry had been thoroughly encased from head to toe, Charlie gave the signal for the birds to desist. “Birds of All Feathers, land in the sand!” The bombing suddenly abated as the birds dropped out of the sky. The entire tip of the island was covered with birds. Not a grain of sand could be seen from the river to the forest. “We don’t want any of them to think about coming back,” Charlie said. “Make it so there is no room for a human to stand.”

The sudden shower of shit scattered Henry’s guests all over the riverbank. No one escaped getting hit, but Henry bore virtually the complete brunt of the birds’ fury. The investors had all abandoned him, clamoring over one another for a seat on the helicopter. The pilot jumped out and shoved half of them back, shouting, “I’ll be back. Just stay right here. I’ll be back.”

Only faithful Jules stayed with Henry, waiting patiently for the birds to finish, but far enough away to avoid getting too badly pasted himself. The pelting finally stopped, but the sudden noise of that many birds crowing, quacking, honking, whistling, chirping, tweeting, clicking, and clacking all at once was hardly less fearsome. Henry ventured a quick peek. “Jules, where are you?” he cried out, digging his fists into his eyes like a lost little boy, smearing and grinding bird doo into his eyesockets.

I’m right here, Henry. Come along now,” Jules said, flicking a bit of birdshit off his sleeve. He handed Henry his handkerchief to wipe his eyes and escorted him to the helicopter. The birds closed in behind them.

I can’t let you aboard my ’copter all covered in crap like that, Mr. Braun,” the pilot said, blocking Henry from climbing aboard. “You’ll ruin my upholstery. Take off the shirt and slacks. Clean him up as much as you can,” he said to Jules. “I’ll be back.”

The group of spattered yet well-heeled investors took off in the helicopter while Henry stripped down to his skivvies. The pilot returned for him and Jules after leaving the guests in the safe hands of their chauffeurs at the City Boat Landing. Henry climbed aboard and left Wilder Island forever.

Mission accomplished, a million birds headed home. All except for JoEd, who had promised his weebs he’d come back to the tree house for a few days. She had completely forgiven him, as mothers will do, for flying away to the River Queen and not coming home for days. But he wanted to spend a little time with her, before he left for good. And to say a proper good-bye.

 

Never Mind!” shouted the Sentinel headline the next morning, right above a photo of Henry Braun covered in bird droppings. The caption read: “Wilder Island birds just say no to Ravenwood Resort.”

The whole front page, filled with news about Henry’s precious island, made Minnie smile. She laughed at the pictures of Henry, remembering his cold rage when he came home from his picnic the previous day.

Changed Our Minds!” headlined the article where the city revoked its condemnation of the island. Oh, thank the Lord! She heard Henry coming down the stairs and flipped the paper back. As he entered the kitchen, she set his perfectly cooled coffee on the table.

Henry scowled, and without touching the newspaper, he picked his coffee cup off the table and climbed the stairs to his office.

Minnie smiled and reread the lead article in the Sentinel, a humorous account of Henry’s picnic, including photos of the birds in action. “As if they enjoyed it,” the reporter wrote of the birds. “As if they enjoyed pelting the wealthiest man in the city with their excrement.”

I enjoyed it too! Even if I did have to launder his stinky clothes afterward. It was worth it! Go, birds!

She wondered if Floyd and Willy had been there. Would that I could have been a crow for that day! She giggled into her coffee. Alfredo Manzi’s name leaped out of the article at her.

“‘Ganging up on and pelting,’ says Dr. Alfredo Manzi, noted professor of ornithology at the university and pastor of the old hermit’s chapel, “are not uncommon offensive tactics that many birds employ to drive off predators—the smaller birds, especially. I am most impressed at how this so-called attack harmed no one, yet completely conveyed the message, ‘Hands off our island!’ Everyone is washable. We humans should take lessons.”

Minnie laughed to herself. Oh, I love that man!

 

Kate Herron’s inside sources informed her that the Mayor’s office had been deluged with the Friends of Wilder Island postcards, with notes that read, “Save your job, Mr. Mayor! Save Wilder Island!” “No to Eminent Domain!” “Keep the island as is!” “No Casinos!”

The city website shut down briefly,” she told Alfredo on the phone. “Too many people tried to log on and voice an opinion. Three to one, the e-mails, faxes, phone calls, letters, and telegrams expressed support for keeping Wilder Island wild.”

God bless the people of Ledford!” Alfredo said.

Well,” Kate said, “we dodged a bullet, I think. If Henry had planned something other than a gambling casino, things may’ve turned out differently. Still, the birds had the final word. That should give the next guy pause.”

 

Russ finished reading the Sentinel article aloud to Jade, and the phone rang. “Good morning, Russ!” Alfredo’s warm voice said. “Have you two seen the morning paper?”

We have!” Russ said, pushing the speaker button so Jade could hear. “I keep wondering if I’m dreaming. Is it true? Wilder Island is still ours?”

Still ours,” Alfredo said with a chuckle, “thanks to thousands of birds, our land trust, and the people of Ledford. Is it not marvelous! I am thinking it is only appropriate that we celebrate our victory here on the island.”

I’ll second that thought!” Russ said. “The island is the only place to celebrate this. We deserve a party for all the work we did! This weekend? And maybe afterward I can show Jade around a bit? I want to get some more photos, and she’s dying to see more of the island.”

Yes I am!” Jade cried out. “I’ll paint while Russ hunts for the flower he’ll name after me!”

Of course,” Alfredo said. “The island is your research and painting area; come and go as you please, both of you. I will call Sam and Kate, and Thomas too—he will be glad to hear this news. If you do not hear otherwise, please meet the Captain at the loading dock at nine on Saturday. I hope that is not too early?”

Nope,” Russ said. “We’ll be there.”

 

www.amazon.com/Corvus-Rising-Book-Patua-Heresy/dp/0991224515

Corvus Rising – Chapter 17

Lone Crow (2016) Pauline Teel Photography

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.

www.amazon.com/Corvus-Rising-Book-Patua-Heresy/dp/0991224515

Corvus Rising – Chapter 15

JoEd Blows His Mind

 

Henry slept on his riverboat, but he did not sleep well. All night long, he was plagued by dreams of an angry River inciting the wind to blow, battering his beautiful River Queen to smithereens. While clouds poured down rain, the River Queen capsized. Alone, he bailed bucket after bucket of water, but the more he bailed, the more it rained. Just before she rolled over and sank, Henry woke up, drenched in sweat.

At dawn, he got up, showered, and shaved, and slammed down a shot of bourbon to stop his hands from shaking. He strode purposefully down to his usual breakfast—bacon and eggs over-easy, a slice of burnt toast, no butter, and a cup of black coffee. He read the Wall Street Journal as he ate, ignoring the bustle of the workers around him as they prepared for the city folk of Ledford to come aboard for their free ride.

Saturday morning dawned bright and beautiful; the decks and docks had been picked clean of food by the crows. The crew cleaned up the rest of the trash, and the River Queen was ready to roll. Henry abandoned the idea of circling Wilder Island—his dreams the night before of an angry river destroying his beautiful lady quite convinced him. “We’ll go up the river to the mills,” Henry told the captain and crew, “and down to the old stone bridge.”

The people of Ledford flocked to the docks to wait their turn for a ride on the lovely River Queen. An endless stream of ice-cream sodas and hot dogs flowed while Henry handed out baseball caps and T-shirts displaying the Ravenwood Resort logo, and free tokens for the casino. Television and newspaper reporters circulated among the crowd, filming the revelry and occasionally interviewing a citizen.

Tell us how it feels to be waiting for a ride on the historic River Queen,” the television reporter asked as he stuck his mic into the face of a carefully coifed, middle-aged woman.

I’m ecstatic,” she gushed. “Is this gorgeous or what? Can you imagine? A ride on the glorious River Queen? Oh, be still my beating heart!” Putting her hand to her bosom, the woman closed her eyes as if taking a moment to regain her composure.

So,” the reporter said, winking at the camera, “I take it you’d like to see the River Queen permanently parked at Braun Enterprise’s proposed resort on Wilder Island?”

Oh my God!” The woman went into another round of passionate yet ambiguous exclamations. “Can you imagine? Oh! Right across the river! In our own backyard! Can you imagine?”

As the River Queen paddled upriver, the reporter sidled up to a small group of people leaning on the handrails. “Tell the folks out there in TV land how it feels to sail on one of America’s historic paddleboats!”

Oh, we love it!” a woman said. “I’ve always wanted to ride on a paddleboat, you know. I’m so happy I got to experience this!”

Truly,” a man said. “This is a wondrous experience! My great-granddaddy was the captain of the Delta Queen, back in the day. That was a sad day, when the paddleboats stopped running the Mississip, I’ll tell you what. I’m just downright grateful to Henry Braun for bringing this piece of American history back to us.”

The ride on the River Queen was a big hit. Though the paddleboat stayed well in the middle of the deepest part of the channel, most people had never been that close to the mysterious island, and the opportunity to observe its secrets was tantalizing. Nor had they ever been on a riverboat.

Take some pictures of people having a good time,” Henry said to the television reporter he had invited. “I want their smiles all over the evening news, you understand?”

The River Queen made quite a spectacle indeed, cruising up and down the east side of the river. A contingent of crows clutching the golden railing atop Henry Braun’s apartment added to the people’s amusement, but not to Henry’s.

Damn crows,” he growled at them, waving his arms, trying to scare them off. The crows cackled back in laughter—at least that’s what Henry heard. “I’ll have the little bastards shot if they don’t get off my boat.”

Don’t do it,” Jules had told him the evening before when the crows began to arrive. “It’s illegal to discharge a firearm in the city limits. And don’t shoot the crows, it’s a violation of the Migratory Bird Act. Remember you’re on a mission here. You want people on your side. You want to appear reasonable, not like a hot head with a gun. Put it away, Henry.”

At first light, JoEd opened one eye. After a few seconds of bewilderment, he remembered where he was and opened the other eye. A momentary wave of guilt washed over him for breaking his promise to his zazu that he would be home by sunset that day before. He would go home today, explain to his weebs how fabulous and wonderful the River Queen was, that he was simply unable to tear himself away. JoEd hoped she would understand.

Many crows still snoozed on their roosts all around him, including Antoine. JoEd waited quietly, surveying the scene below. Antoine was not kidding; there was food everywhere. Maybe I will find a hot dog. He leaped off the railing and down to the deck. Before him lay a veritable feast, and he picked at a morsel. “Is it a hot dog, I wonder?” he said out loud. “Or is it a doozy?”

That,” Antoine said as he came in for a landing next to JoEd, “is a French fry.”

It’s incredible,” JoEd said through a beakful of the most delectable food he had ever tasted.

This is a hot dog,” Antoine said, pushing a piece of reddish something or other at JoEd.

Wow!” JoEd said after a few pecks at it. “Better than the French fry! These humans know how to eat!”

He and Antoine wandered through the rubbish, picking at a burger here, a piece of caramel apple there. The sun rose to hundreds of crows feasting on the largesse left by the crowds the night before.

Had enough, kid?” asked Antoine.

JoEd nodded. He was stuffed. The two crows flew back up to the railing above Henry’s apartment and watched a dozen or so humans issue forth and fruitlessly attempt to chase the crows off the decks.

The only thing’s going to get rid of them boys,” Antoine said, shaking his head, “is the hot dogs and burgers and fries getting all eaten up or tossed into the river. You’d think they could figure that out.”

Good for us they can’t,” JoEd said. “That was some pretty easy pickings. I usually have to work harder than this to get food on Cadeña-l’jadia.”

That’s why we like to live among humans,” said Antoine. “Great food and lots of it. Leaves more time for riding the jaloosies.”

JoEd gazed across the river at the dark green shadows of Cadeña-l’jadia. He really should be getting home, he knew. But there was just too much excitement. Too much food!

And there’s even more food across the river,” Antoine said. “Big crowds at the Waterfront yesterday. They dropped tidbits everywhere, and not just hot dogs. Everything! You ever had Thai, JoEd?”

The young crow shook his head. “Come on, son,” Antoine said as he leaped into the sky. “This is going to blow your mind!”

The two crows flew together across the sparkling river toward the Waterfront. When they arrived on the scene of the arts and crafts fair, JoEd saw that many crows and other scavengers had already arrived. But no humans. He followed Antoine as he swooped up and down, and in between the colorful art fair booths. They passed up many delectable tidbits on the street, and he wondered if they would ever find any Thai. Not that he knew what Thai meant, but the last two days with Antoine had considerably broadened JoEd’s world view, and he supposed that eating Thai would too.

Finally Antoine dropped to the street and pecked at a chunk of food. “Nope,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t know what it is, but it ain’t Thai.” He pecked at it a few more times. “It’s good, though!”

Better even than a hot dog!” JoEd said with his beak crammed with whatever it was. “Is it a doozy?”

Nah,” Antoine said. “Wait’ll you taste Thai; that’ll be your doozy, I reckon.” He lifted his beak into the air. “I know it’s here somewhere. I can smell it.”

The two crows took off again, and JoEd followed Antoine back through the streets. “Ah!” Antoine said. “There it is!” He swooped down to a trashcan next to a tent, picked out a small container, and dropped it to the ground. “Yep, Pad Thai. Long, flat noodles, a few peanuts and some stir-fried veggies.” Antoine said triumphantly. He hopped down to the pavement and pecked at the Pad Thai. “Oh, yeah!” he said after he swallowed a bite. “Pad Thai! You gotta try this, JoEd! It’s just out of this world!”

JoEd picked a piece off the street and dropped it immediately. “Whoa! That has got some kick to it!”

That’s how we like it,” Antoine said, chuckling. “You get used to the heat after a while.”

JoEd ate very well on Cadeña-l’jadia—plenty of fish guts, small rodents, even an occasional egg. But he’d never even heard of spice, let alone imagined what it did to food; he pecked at the Thai food, though it burned his eyes even to get near it.

After a while,” Antoine said, “you crave it hot.”

JoEd could not imagine craving the burning sensation in his beak and all the way down his throat. He slurped some water from an abandoned cup.

Here,” Antoine said, tossing JoEd a piece of a honeybun he dug out of the trash. “Eat this. It’ll take some of the sting away.”

The honeybun soothed JoEd’s burning beak, and he returned to the feast before him. Perusing the food choices strewn about the streets and sidewalks, he sampled a croissant with cream cheese and orange marmalade from the French Riviera Bakery and declared that it was his favorite food of all time. When he tasted the souvlaki from the Greek Cafe, he changed his mind—until he discovered the amazing flavors of Japan.

Teriyaki!” JoEd said to Antoine. “That’s my favorite!”

Have you tried the calzone?” Antoine pointed a wing toward the Little Italy trashcans. “Tobias found a mushroom-broccoli-mozzarella over there. Sweet!”

Oh, yeah!” JoEd said, amazed again at the world of flavors that had visited his beak. “The absolute best!”

Stuffed beyond belief, JoEd couldn’t take another bite. Antoine motioned him up to the lower branches of a tree. He wondered if he could even fly. “Hey!” JoEd called out after he had hauled himself up to the branch next to Antoine. “Isn’t that Jayzu down there?”

Thanks to the efforts of a multitude of crows and a few humans who ate and cleaned up all the rubbish that had been dropped by the crowds the evening before, the Friends of Wilder Island Arts and Crafts Fair opened on Sunday morning with clean sidewalks and streets. The doors of the local Downtown churches flew open and disgorged the early worshippers, who came in long lines down the sidewalks to the fair on the Waterfront.

The evening news the night before had showcased some of the art donated to the silent auction, to be held at noon. People rushed to the Friends of Wilder Island booth to put in last-minute bids, and while they waited, volunteers sold them shares in the land trust and gave them free colorful brochures cleverly disguised as calendars. They explained the mission of the land trust and how support from Ledford residents would be the only way to save it from development.

Everyone who entered the booth received a free lapel pin that said “Friend of Wilder Island”, and a raffle ticket for a free T-shirt or baseball cap with the land trust logo, a blue-eyed crow against the silhouette of the island at sunset.

Just send this postcard to the Mayor,” Kate said as she handed one to a passerby on the street in front of the booth. “Tell him how you feel about our island. They’re pre-addressed and pre-stamped for your convenience! Just sign it and send it!” she said, pointing to a nearby US mailbox.

The postcard featured the painting Jade had donated to the art auction, The Wilder Side, on the front, with the text “Save Wilder Island!”

The Wilder Side was a raucous carnival of trees and flowers, birds, butterflies, and bees that beckoned the viewer to step forth into its unknowable secrets. Buried in the familiar, the untamable still maintained a fragile presence woven into the varied assemblage of plant, bird, and insect. Hinting at deeper mysteries more ancient than ours, layer upon layer of paint created a sense of another dimension. The painting enchanted, whether one chose to contemplate its greater secrets or to just luxuriate in the rich surface textures and color.

The Wilder Side was among the larger donations at the silent auction, as was Sam’s sculpture, Roadkill. Comprised of rusted metal objects cast off by motor vehicles along the interstate, the sculpture featured a large raven picking at the wreckage of a shiny red convertible, the victim of an inelastic collision with a sparkling blue sedan. From a short distance, the raven appeared to be perched amid a sea of brightly colored red, blue, and silvery flowers.

Russ chuckled as he stood before Roadkill, remembering the first day he’d met Sam at the quiet pool in the garden of the hermit’s chapel. Sam materialized at Russ’s elbow and stood for a moment looking at his own piece.

Thanks, man,” Sam said, clapping Russ on the back. “Thanks for the idea. I’m going to give you and Jade the model—it’s a miniature replica of the big one, about yay big by yay.” Sam mimed the approximate size with his arms. “It’ll go right into your garden in the backyard, next to the fountain.”

What fountain?” Jade asked, laughing. “I mean, thanks, Sam!” she turned to Russ and said, “Honey, can we build a fountain in the backyard?”

Absolutely,” Russ said, also laughing as he hugged his wife’s shoulders. “But seriously, Sam. Thanks. I mean that. I love it, really. And I’m honored that you were inspired by my offhand remark.”

Alfredo looked at his watch and then up at the bandstand and said, “We need to go, Russ. The open-mic discussion starts in about five minutes.”

Later, hon,” Russ said and gave Jade a quick peck on the cheek.

 

During breaks from the live music—by a local band called Hermit Crow—Russ and Alfredo facilitated live televised discussions about issues surrounding the Wilder Island controversy, if Ravenwood Resort became a reality. People strolled through the bandstand area, stopping to listen for a few minutes or longer, and anyone who so desired could step up to the mic and make a comment or ask a question.

Russ and Alfredo took their seats at a folding table on the bandstand. “Greetings, folks!” Russ said, his voice strong and clear. “Welcome to the Friends of Wilder Island lunch-hour discussion. First on the agenda is lunch.”

A few people chuckled as Russ turned to the priest and said, “I’ve got brats and kraut from the German-American kitchen. What’s on your plate, Dr. Manzi?”

Oh, I’ve got a sampling of everything from the Taste of Thai booth, including dessert,” Alfredo said.

Smells great,” Russ said. He turned toward the crowd. “So, folks, while Dr. Manzi has a few bites of his lunch, let’s get things rolling.”

He stood up, mic in hand, and strolled to the edge of the bandstand. “It’s a lovely day for a fair.” He smiled at the people below. “And doesn’t Wilder Island look gorgeous in the morning sun?”

Like a jewel!” a woman near the bandstand said.

An emerald isle in the river!” her companion said.

Our island is indeed a precious jewel,” Russ said. “But some think it has greater value as an urban playground of greed and waste. That is the choice before us, folks, whether to turn Wilder Island into an urban playground, or to preserve it as a lone sliver of wilderness within urban Ledford.”

Wilderness!” a man shouted.

More people wandered into the bandstand area, most of them bearing hats, flags, and lapel pins bearing the land trust logo.

But if it’s declared a wilderness, will we ever get to see it up close?” another man asked in a loud voice. “Or will we just continue to see this jewel, as you call it, from across the river?”

Yah!” his female companion yelled out. “We want to visit our island.”

Virtually no one has set foot on the island,” Russ said to the crowd, “ourselves excepted, and the fact is, if we are successful in our fight, very few will ever step onto its banks.”

A few people booed and hissed. “Everyone is invited to Ravenwood Resort!” a voice from the back shouted.

On the other hand,” Russ continued, trying to see who had spoken. One of Henry’s shills, no doubt. “If Ravenwood Resort replaces the island as we know it, a great many people will visit, but everything we love about it, the wilderness, the crows, will be gone.”

What’s the diff?” the same voice shouted. “Either way, we don’t have to see no crows!” A handful of people around the man laughed and clapped and patted him on the back.

But you bring up a valid point,” Russ said. “So, why do we need wilderness if no one can see it? Would we rather have an urban playground open to everyone?”

Alfredo stood up, leaving his partially eaten lunch on the table. “I can take it from here, Russ.” The crows moved in on his lunch as he spoke to the crowd. “Why do we need wilderness at all? I would like to answer that with a quote from Edward Abbey, noted author and outspoken defender of wilderness.”

He pulled a small notebook out of his shirt pocket and opened it. “‘The love of wilderness,’” he read, “‘is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the Earth, the Earth which bore us and sustains us, the only paradise we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need, if only we had the eyes to see.’”

A few people laughed and clapped. Alfredo smiled as he closed the notebook and put it back in his pocket.

Too bad most of us will never see it!” the man in the back shouted.

Somewhere along the way,” Alfredo said, ignoring the heckler, “we gave ourselves the illusion of dominion over the Earth, which has all but severed our connection to the web of life. We built great cities, where we concentrated power and wealth, while we impoverished our spirits and our wild lands in the search for more money.”

The crowd had grown, but was still smaller and quieter than Friday evening. A few people waved flags; most just nodded and seemed to be listening intently. Perhaps it is because they have just come from a blistering sermon. A few crows had collected in the trees surrounding the bandstand, staring down at him. Or was it his lunch?

Often we lose ourselves in these artificial landscapes,” he continued. “Cities weigh heavily on the hearts of men and women, and we must be able to escape them, even if it is just in our imaginations. In wilderness, we find ourselves. As we cherish one of our last wild places, let us become aware of our connection to it and impose surrender upon ourselves.”

Surrender?” the man at the back of the crowd shouted. “Never!”

The calliope on the River Queen suddenly started up, and Alfredo glanced across the river. A line of cars had formed at the road leading to the parking lot at the boat ramp, and a crowd had gathered at the paddleboat.

Yes,” Alfredo said. “Surrender, as the old hermit, Brother Wilder, surrendered to this wilderness we are now trying to preserve. He chose this wild island as a refuge from the world of cities and men, where he spent his life in solitary contemplation of the glory of creation.”

Who has time for that?” the man in the back shouted. “Some of us have to actually work for a living!”

Alfredo’s face did not betray the anger he felt surging in his chest, and he continued without reaction to the heckler. “While most people do not desire such lengthy solitude, it is through these pristine and unaltered wild lands that our spirits connect us to the Earth. As we gaze upon our island from across the river, its wilderness lives within us all; let us not now throw it away for a few pieces of silver.”

The crowd cheered and many clapped. Before Alfredo could continue, a small crow dropped from the sky onto the table, and beaked a noodle from Alfredo’s plate. The crowd laughed, and Russ said, “It must be about time for open mic. Does he want to make a comment?”

Alfredo turned off his mic and said to the crow, “Well, hello little fella!”

Don’t you know me, Jayzu?” the crow said, looking up.

Of course I know you!” Alfredo said in a very low voice. “Grawky, JoEd!” He smiled as he put out his hand, and JoEd brushed it with his wingtip.

Grawky, Jayzu!”

Grawky!” Russ said as he offered his hand and giggled like a schoolboy when he felt JoEd’s feathers grazing his skin.

Nine more crows dropped down to the table, all talking at once. Russ’s mic amplified their caws and squawks over the loudspeakers. The crowd laughed and cheered at the show on the bandstand. The crows seemed to have the upper hand, helping themselves to the lunch plates of the two professors.

Is he talking to those crows?” a woman standing close to the bandstand said.

Nah! He’s just pretending he’s talking to them!” a man next to her shouted. “Fake!”

Looks like they’re shaking hands,” her companion said, “—that is, wings. Hand and wing.”

Is that real, Mommy?” a young boy on his father’s shoulders asked. “Is that man really talking to those crows?”

Sounds just like a bunch a crows to me,” the woman next to him said.

If he’s talking, them crows sure aren’t listening,” the little boy’s daddy said.

If that’s talking,” the man next to him said, “I can talk crow too!” He put his fists in his armpits and did a funny dance while shouting, “Caw-caw! Caw caw caw-caw!”

The little boy laughed and called out, “Caw! Caw!” as he flapped his arms up and down.

Antoine,” JoEd called out from the table to his new friend, “come say hey to Jayzu.”

Hey,” Antoine said, bowing low to the table, with wings extended outward. “The pleasure is mine.” He straightened up and brushed a wingtip against Alfredo’s outstretched hand. “I am honored, finally, to meet the great Jayzu.”

I am honored as well, Antoine,” Alfredo said, glancing sidelong at the crowd. A few people were frowning and shaking their heads, but others seemed entertained more than shocked. “A friend of JoEd’s is a friend of mine!” He held out his hand.

I smell Thai!” Antoine said, raising his head.

Right here,” JoEd said, pointing with his beak toward Alfredo’s plate.

Antoine beaked a fat noodle and swallowed it. “Ah!” he said raising his head. “Extra spicy! That’s how we like it!”

Alfredo watched in stunned silence as the crows wandered back and forth across the table, noisily pecking at the luncheon entrees. Within a few minutes, the table was a complete mess, with food strewn all over. Anxiety and fear gnawed at him, but the people below the bandstand seemed to enjoy the fiasco on the table. They laughed and clapped and cheered for the birds. A few called out: “You go, crows!” “They’re really eating his lunch!” “Do you think they planned this?”

Now that’s some class-A brat,” Tobias said, finishing off the last bit of Russ’s sandwich. “Still don’t care for the kraut, though!”

Russ grinned at the crow eating his sandwich, as if he was enjoying himself. Everyone seemed to be at least amused, Alfredo noticed. Except me.

A man took the mic, turned his back on the bandstand, and said to the people, “This is not real, folks. Just a publicity stunt with a bunch of trained birds.” He turned to Russ and Alfredo and said, “You expect us to believe you’re actually talking to crows?”

The crowd fell silent. The crows looked up momentarily and returned to their luncheon on the table. Russ glanced at Alfredo. “We are definitely for real,” he said.

He stood up, mic in hand. “This is not a stunt, folks. We’re as surprised as any of you that these crows showed up at our discussion today. And happy to share our lunch, as if we had any choice!”

He looked at the crows with an expression of feigned exasperation. The crowd roared as one of the crows flipped Russ’s abandoned plate over, scattering sauerkraut and crumbs.

Alfredo admired the way Russ’s humor had gotten the crowd laughing again. His knees were shaking, and he wished he could sit down, but a crow stood in his chair, pecking at the last remnants of Pad Thai on his plate.

My colleague,” Russ said, his arm extended toward Alfredo, “Dr. Alfredo Manzi, well-known and respected scientist, has studied crows for his entire life, including their language.”

Alfredo had been uneasy since the crows first landed on the table. He felt like Russ was dragging him over a precipice he had feared his entire life.

We humans are not the only creatures on Earth that speak a bona fide language,” Russ was saying. “So do whales and dolphins. Almost everyone has even heard recordings of their sounds, right?”

The majority of the heads in the crowd nodded amid a swell of murmuring.

Well,” Russ continued, “so do the corvids, as Dr. Manzi has learned in his research.”

Alfredo felt the tingling needles of adrenaline preparing him for…what–? He saw no fear on the faces in the crowd. It is not as if Russ is lying to them, his rational voice said. There is nothing uncanny here, really.

Russ stopped and turned to Alfredo. “Tell them about your research, Dr. Manzi.”

Alfredo frowned and said through clenched teeth, “What the hell are you doing, Russ?”

I’m telling you to stop being such a weenie,” Russ said, through his smiling teeth with his mic behind his back. “You’re a scientist, man! Now stand up. Talk science to them. Don’t let them go away thinking any of this is fake. Or supernatural.”

The people waited for Alfredo to speak. A breeze came through the bandstand, carrying the calliope’s ridiculously merry tune. He glared at Russ. His legs felt like rubber, and his stomach jumped into his throat. But he turned his mic on and faced the crowd. “It is true,” he said.

Smile!” Russ hissed through smiling teeth.

Alfredo looked out over the small crowd for a few moments. They are my students, and I am in a classroom. He moved out from behind the mess and the crows on the table, brushing the bits of food off his clothing. Russ smiled approvingly, and the crows continued to scavenge for every last morsel on the bandstand.

Crows and their raven cousins are extremely intelligent birds,” Alfredo said, his voice sounding stronger than he felt, “with an extensive intercultural language that I have studied for many years.”

You are a scientist, man! Russ had reminded him of that one critical weapon he had against fear: reason.

In that time, I have managed to learn a few of their words, phrases actually, such as how to say ‘hello,’ which is what you were seeing here today.” That was an under-exaggeration, he knew. Sometimes it is best to deliver the truth in small bundles.

Riiight!” the heckler from the back shouted. “You expect us to believe that!”

Does he think we are fools?” the man next to him shouted. “Crows don’t talk!”

Teach us how to say hello to the crows!” the little boy on his father’s shoulders yelled, and the crowd cheered.

Alfredo explained in great detail the guttural sounds and within minutes, the people were yelling, “Grawky! Grawky! Grawky!” Their noise attracted other fair goers, and soon the crowd had grown to several hundred, all shouting, “Grawky!” and waving their arms and flags.

Grawky!” JoEd called out, though the crowd did not hear him over their own noise. “Grawky!”

Several more crows flew down to the table, chowing down while the others flapped their wings and called out, “Grawky! Grawky!”

We love our crows!” a woman shouted from the crowd. “Long live Wilder Island!”

The people cheered, waving their flags, hats, and arms.

Wilder Island!” they shouted. “Wilder! Wilder! Wilder!”

What’re they saying?” Antoine asked Alfredo.

They love you,” he said. “And they are all friends of Cadeña-l’jadia.”

Well, by golly, so are we!” Antoine shouted. “Right, JoEd?”

That’s right!” yelled little JoEd. “Cadeña-l’jadia forever!”

Antoine led the others upward into an ever-expanding spiral as they all shouted out, “Cadeña-l’jadia forever!” He turned them all back, and they flew a last low circle over the crowd and headed toward the river.

Grawky! Grawky! Grawky!” the people shouted and waved until the crows had vanished from sight.

 

The airwaves and the newspaper came alive with opinions, viewpoints, sales pitches, and pleas, as the media captured the weekend’s events on both sides of the river in the struggle for the body, soul, and future of Wilder Island. From the Waterfront and the Friends of Wilder Island Arts and Crafts fair, to Henry Braun and his River Queen parading back and forth in front of the city dock, the citizens of Ledford indulged themselves in food, drink, and merriment as they considered the choice before them.

The Sunday evening news featured the crowd at the bandstand shouting “Grawky! Grawky! Grawky!” while Russ and Alfredo looked on haplessly behind a table full of crows eating their lunch. All of Ledford watched continuous reruns of a video of Alfredo and Antoine greeting each other, wing to hand. By the time the ten-o’clock news had ended, the majority of Ledford residents had learned how to say hello in crow.

Dr. Manzi brought a trained troupe of talking crows to the table this afternoon,” a reporter said with vague tones of dread in her voice. “He claimed he has decoded their language, and taught the small gathering what he says is the crow word for hello.” She rolled her eyes as the camera showed the crows eating right off the table.

 

Jade laughed and said, “Oh, look at you two with all those crows! They look like lawyers pacing back and forth as they argue. That’s hilarious!”

And completely eclipsing an historic event of our two species greeting one another!” Russ said, shaking his head. “Leave it to the media to spew innuendo, half-truths, and outright lies, and call it news. I wonder how much Henry Braun paid them to say that.”

Total propaganda!” Henry Braun’s television face said. “This is just a flimsy cover for the utter nonsense this land trust outfit is trying to perpetrate on us. This is nothing but a joke, folks! These phonies want to prioritize crows over people! Why can’t they share the island with the city of Ledford?” he asked innocently as a scene of crows feeding at a dumpster filled the screen.

My Ravenwood Resort will be completely environmentally friendly,” he crooned as the black birds picked at the garbage, “and open to the many, while this, this bird park is open only to crows. We leave it to the good people of Ledford to decide.”

The station broadcast its reporter’s footage of Henry giving balloons and candy to children, roses to their mothers, and prospectuses to their fathers. Henry’s voice played continuously in the background, basted in heartfelt concern for his fellow man, appealing to the very freedoms guaranteed by the US Constitution.

And what do you think of the planned Ravenwood Resort?” the reporter asked, sticking his microphone into the face of a woman with frothy blue hair.

Oh, I just love to play slot machines!” a woman said. “So much fun! And on the historic River Queen!”

I hope he builds it,” a man said. “The sooner the better! Ledford could use some entertainment. For the love of mike, how many tractor pulls can a person go to?”

Even if it means destruction of the crow population on the island?” the reporter asked.

When did flying rats become a protected species?” demanded a man with an ugly sneer. “They’re vermin, that’s all. Braun Enterprises is going to drain that swamp and bring us a new, beautiful, and clean resort for our families.”

They say after Henry Braun does that, we won’t have any more mosquitoes,” another man said. “I’d be in favor of that.”

Don’t know why it’s taken so long to drain that swamp,” his wife said. “It’s a health hazard, I tell you.”

The camera cut to a smiling, magnanimous Henry Braun striking a pose in front of the beautiful River Queen. “Other than for nostalgic reasons,” Henry asked, “why should we save Wilder Island? Why not turn this otherwise derelict land into a resort we can all enjoy?”

 

Dora Lyn put her knitting down and stared at the man on the TV. The announcer had said the man’s name was—what was it? Dr. Alfred Manzer? She was sure she’d never seen him before, a man with a thick streak of white through his black hair. But it was his voice that had attracted her attention and made her look up from her knitting.

He was awfully handsome and she listened for a few minutes to him read from a small notebook and then plead to keep Wilder Island wild. “Who is he?” she said to her mother, who was deaf as stone. “I know that voice from somewhere.”

 

 


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