Short Stories

The Dark Tide – Part 9

This is a work of fiction.


It took longer than four hours to reach the place where the young sitting bird, the children, and my daughter’s love were, because we had to stop along the way for food and water.

My daughter ran ahead to warn her love that he mustn’t be seen or see the female Leader of Worship or me (his seeing the children had been necessary), and then my daughter and I left the female Leader of Worship covering her children in hugs and kisses, and went to where the two young birds were. The father bird was tiny.

“He hasn’t been getting enough protein,” my daughter said. “I think he must have been orphaned three or four days ago. If nobody had found him, he’d be dead now.”

The young sitting bird walked over to us.

“Hello,” I said. “I’m happy that you and the young father bird are well.”

She chirped softly. She sounded so much like her mother had, it made my heart ache.

“Young sitting bird,” my daughter said, “we’re loath to ask this of you, but we need your help. My mother’s spirit has been trapped in the river, and we . . .”

She looked at me and I said, “We’d like to rescue her spirit and put her body somewhere nice. Would you fly us there, please?”

She chirped softly, stood tall, and looked over her shoulder at her back.

My daughter strapped a small wooden seat to the young sitting bird’s back, although there were no bags attached, and my daughter and I climbed into it.

“We can’t go very high or fast,” my daughter said. “Young sitting bird, if you tire of flying or fear anything, you must make a sound and land.”

She chirped.

“Thank you,” I said.

She chirped again, and took off.

She flew slowly, and my daughter directed her toward the river.

We were passing above a clearing when the young bird made a terrible sound.

“What’s wrong?” my daughter and I said in unison. She held still in the air for a moment, and then she reached back with her right foot, and tore a grayish brown feather from her tail. She grasped it in her claws and pointed it at something on the ground. I looked, but didn’t see what had upset her. My daughter’s sharper sight allowed her to see it, and she gasped.

“What is it?” I said.

“A vampire snake,” she whispered. “Is it the same one?” The sitting bird made a two-tone sound. “Maybe,” my daughter said.

Without warning, the young bird dove toward the ground. My daughter and I both cried out in fright, and gripped the seat as tightly as we could.

As we got closer, the scene resolved into a grassy spot with a tiny stream flowing through it. A huge dark red snake lay with its head on the bank, but the rest of its body was in the water. The bird flew us down until we were about a house hight about the stream. The snake hissed, and I pressed myself hard against the back of the seat.

Was it long enough to reach us?

I heard a soft splash and looked into the water. A small snake was riggling in the stream by its mother’s tail.

The young bird dove straight down into the stream, and then she was carrying us aloft again, and I saw the young snake hanging suspended from her claws. Before I could catch my breath from the plunging descent and stunning rise, she spun herself around and zipped through the air as fast as wing and muscle could take her — and us.

She took us back to where the young father bird was, dropped the young snake a few step lengths in front of him, and he punched upon it. She looked at us over her shoulder and chirped apologetically, turned slowly this time, and flew us toward the river.

It was very hot, and I think the young bird was tired, for we flew very slowly along the river, looking for the place where the flood had surprised those living on the flat, fertile land.

A while later, the bird chirped softly and landed us.

“Do you need water?” I said. She did, and so did my daughter and I.

We took off again and continued along the river. I recognized some landmarks, and then I saw it. Up ahead, a wide grassy area extended on both sides of the river, the place where I’d built my house, and it was still submerged.

My daughter looked at it, turned to me, opened her mouth as if to speak, and then closed it, for what could she say? I nodded.

I pointed out the house into which the man who had cursed me had taken my wife, and the young bird brought us slowly toward it. The water had come right up to the roof, and I was grateful that I would not have to look at the face of the man who had cursed me, staring sightlessly from the barred window.

“How are we going to get in?” my daughter whispered. “I didn’t realize the water would be all the way up to the roof. I thought floods were . . . shallower.”

“The chimney,” I said. “I’m afraid this is going to make us all unhappy, but it’s the only way.”

“What?”

“One of us has to be held in the young bird’s claws.”

“No!”

“Since I can’t swim, it should be me, and I’ll lower you down and help you and your mother’s body up.”

“It hurts so much.”

“The pain will be nothing compared to the joy of knowing that her soul has been reborn. Let’s go. It won’t take long.”

I asked the bird to return to the bank and land, which she did. I stepped down, and looked into her eyes.

“Please hold me as still as you can and fly with us directly above the chimney of that house.” I pointed to it.

Soon, I knew what my daughter meant; it did hurt a great deal, and she wasn’t catching me but picking me up as tenderly as she could. I gritted and ground my teeth and bore it. Slowly, the young bird glided toward the chimney, and when we got there, I reached up, grasped my daughter, and lowered her down, until she took firm hold of the wood of the structure. Why hadn’t we thought to bring vine ropes? I opened my mouth to say that we should go back and get some when I heard a voice speaking from within the house.

“My daughter!”

“My mother!”

I tried to see into the chimney, but my daughter was in the way of my sight.

“Mom! How?”

“Oh, my daughter! How did you know?”

“My father brought me here to rescue your spirit. Mom, how?”

I tried to keep the pain from my voice as I said, “Let’s get everybody out of here and then we can talk.”

The bird chirped and settled me down onto the roof, which was bathed in about a finger’s depth of water. She let go of my flesh, and held only my clothes, and the torment in my sides abated somewhat.

“Mom, how?” my daughter said. There was no point in trying to insist that she wait for the story until after we were all safe.

“When I was a child, I used to dip my head into the bath water and hold my breath for as long as I possibly could. When the man grabbed me, I had no idea what he had against us, but when I realized that we were going into the water, I took a deep breath and didn’t move. I wasn’t strong enough to fight, and I hoped that my breath would hold out long enough. It wouldn’t have, except I got a little air when he hoisted me up the stairs. He wasn’t doing such a great job of keeping my head below the surface there, so I got some air. The water was rising, and I didn’t think I stood a chance, but then he stopped dragging me, and let go. I looked up and there was the chimney. With the last of my failing spirit, I kicked my feet and swam upward, until I popped into the chimney and took in a lungful of sweet, fresh air.”

“How come you stayed here?” she asked.

“If the flood had risen much more, I would have had to leave via the chimney, but I preferred to wait and see if the water went down. I’d much rather walk out of here through a wet house than go up and face a river I didn’t know or understand. The only problems would have been time and water.”

“What?” my daughter said.

“I was starting to get thirsty, but I had no intention of drinking water fouled by a dead man. Eventually, thirst would have driven me upward, but I was able to get into my bag, and my water bottle was clean, but now it’s empty.”

“Let’s get out of here,” I said.


Part 10, which is the last part, will be posted on Friday, June 26.

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