Storytime: For Whom the Bird Tolls.

September 27th, 2017

No bells tolled.
The cars didn’t slow. The lights didn’t dim. There were no pallbearers or mourners or even plain gawkers. Not a blink from an eye.
After all, it was only a small dead bird.

There it lay, turned on its back with its head to the side. Feathers ruffled in the breeze when it burst hard ‘round the corner. It had been kicked by careless toes once, twice, five times until it was off the beaten centre of the sidewalk, and the slight smear of its blood had been worn away by ten million soles since then, since the morning.
Like most bodies, it looked a little surprised. But no one else was.
After all, it was only a small dead bird.

Someone had most of a hot dog and was left with the unfortunate part of a hot dog, which was the butt-end of the bun. Someone let it drop. And because it landed next to the body, that was where the pigeon found it.
It bobbed its head, as pigeons do, and muttered and chuckled its odd pigeon voice.
Then it left.
Then it came back.
By the end of the day there were a round dozen pigeons standing on that little stretch of curb. Some would take off, some would come in. But never less. Never less.
It was a peculiar sight to any that noticed it. A couple motorist swerved. One honked. The pigeons would take off and land again. Bobbing. Talking.
Nobody really noticed what they were standing around. After all, it was only a small dead bird.

In the morning the first seagull stopped by. And from there word moved on faster, farther. Magpies and crows and starlings oh my, all in a row on the lights and storefronts and curbs and all staring, all staring in that lidless bird way that usurps words.
That evening the first raptor stopped by – a youngish peregrine falcon, a resident of the skyscrapers. It slid out of the sky like an otter down a riverbank and tucked itself in between a couple of finches, which didn’t so much as twitter.
The ducks came in, which raised a few eyebrows. And the big, foul-tempered geese. And the little batch of swans that had stopped by the week before, taking time out of their trek to stand around on a streetside. Honking and muttering, shifting from foot to foot and tucking heads and necks into place.
Waiting and watching.
People were taking pictures now, with and without selfies. Amateurs and idlers and professionals and perfectionists, dropping by or coming over.
But there wasn’t really any sort of explanation they could see for it. After all, it was only a small dead bird.

The city woke up to find itself corralled in feathers. Birds lined every roof, rail and corner. A stare for every footstep taken, every inch of every block. Storks in the parking lots, crows in the suburbs, ospreys on the balconies of the condos. Woodpeckers clung to the great glass panes of the skyscrapers, giving offices an unexpected new decoration.
There was no wood. Mind you, they weren’t pecking either. Just watching.
And nobody was sure what they were watching for, either. Because nobody had any idea why they’d all come. After all, it was only a small dead bird.

That evening, a formal petition was left on the doorstep of city hall, signed by an uncountably vast number of tiny little claws and beaks. The writing was chickenscratch, but a definite list of demands.
This got the attention of more than the photographers. Scientists became involved, and the media. Interviews were conducted with councillors and Phds. Everyone was extremely excited to hear that birds could communicate with people, let alone in a legal or quasilegal context. It was quite a novelty. A few thousand gigabytes were wasted on it very quickly, here and there and everywhere, and the city went to bed wide-eyed, waiting for more. The news wasn’t happening fast enough anymore.
The day following that a fresh copy of the petition appeared on the stoop of every councillor, plus inside the local paper’s mailbox. And everyone was very excited until they realized it was the same old thing they’d seen yesterday. How dull. Birds couldn’t be as interesting as all that after all.
Besides, they were in the way now. Birds clogged the streets as well as the sky. Sometimes they crapped on the ground and people stepped in it, or it landed on them, and that was intolerable. They obstructed traffic. They called loudly to each other at inconvenient times, or indeed at all, and this annoyed people that were trying to get to work and just keep on staying alive. It was all a nuisance, and for what? Why all the fuss? Who could understand what kind of nonsense could make perfectly normal birds get up to that kind of irrational nonsense?
Nobody had any idea. After all, it was only a small dead bird.

On Friday, the birds stopped waiting.
Executives were picked up bodily and swung head-first into their own shining glass-walled towers.
Storefronts were defaced with guano.
City hall was picked up by ten million geese and ducks with a lot of rope and dropped into the harbour.
Every single polished, sweeping plate-glass window in the city was broken into extremely small fragments, allowing pigeons in through the new door to flip cartwheels through the businesses and high-rises and whole world they’d been barred from.
And the mayor was waylaid, abducted, and left stranded and clinging for dear life atop the tallest antenna in the city.
“You mind telling me why you went and did all this?” he asked the pelicans that had ferried him there, before they lifted off. “I really don’t understand why.”
The pelicans consulted with their translator, a particularly ruffled and therefore entirely ordinary crow.
“There was a small dead bird,” said the crow.
“What? Well that’s… well, bad, obviously. But scarcely unusual! It happens every day here. Why? What was so special about that happening?”
“Mostly that it wasn’t special,” said the crow.
And they left the mayor high and dry. But with plenty of grips to hold on to.
In a bit of a breeze, though.

The papers wouldn’t shut up about it for days. But it was real peculiar.
After all, it was only a small, flattened mayor.

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