Oliver Sanswicky is a young boy with an ever growing fear of birds, birds, birds. In his unfortunate predicament he is slowly becoming one. Surrounded by people much more powerful than he is they take away all the things most important to him: his friends, his mother, his freedom.
Oliver’s struggles push him to a near-point of defeat. A point that causes him to wonder if perhaps a little song might ring true.
We all fall down.
The thing about things was that things never stayed the same. This was true for the little bird who was once a little boy. He was sitting in his room quite at a loss for words, quite uncertain how to tell the tale of his own story. He sat rigid, muscles tensed in a small, tight room with papers nailed roughly into the walls around him. They were scraps. Scrap memories, scrap words. Scraps of his life he could never piece together. Today, he would start, dig his pen into the paper as he remembered his discomfort in a tiny little room made of concrete.
Even though, now, he felt comfort in a tiny little room made of concrete, too.
Sitting in this room, he never felt safe. He never imagined himself feeling safe, not for a second, not for a minute, not even an hour or two. The little boy who was part bird and part boy held his breath when he could faintly hear sound beyond the steel steel door. And he would stare at it with wide eyes until the sounds went away.
His heart would flutter about like a dying bird trapped inside his ribcage and his breathing would startle it into panic stricken frenzies so that his heart tried to fly from his mouth and would only get stuck in his throat. Stuck in his throat so tight he would shake and shake and shake while the room began to spin and sway. His skin would feel tight and it began to stretch tighter and tighter around his bones and his organs as he struggled to breathe and his hands would shake and tremble like the world was about to end.
His eyes would sting and his mind would race circles around the tight room with the low ceilings… and his feathers? Oh, his feathers. He would take to them by the fistfuls—and in his frenzy, he ripped them from their roots and he swore and he swore silent shouting that he was not going to be like this. He was not a bird. He was not a bird he was a boy. He was a boy.
He was a bird…
He wasn’t a boy.
The boy—who wasn’t a bird yet—was quiet, sitting in the classroom as other students in grades much younger than his went out to play and he could only vaguely focus on a teacher who was saying, “Oliver?” Probably. His eyes were stuck, however, fused to the crow just outside the window as its beady yellow eyes peered into him. His palms were sweaty and his mouth was dry and he couldn’t hear anything but his own heartbeat.
But didn’t this teacher know he couldn’t turn his gaze away? Lest the creature attack him from behind? The boy winced under the tension of the tone but his eyes were fused to the bird’s.
Crows didn’t have yellow eyes.
And then it fluttered away and the boy noticed then the teacher was standing by the window and watching him with an expression he couldn’t read. She exhaled.
“Oliver. Pay attention. You’re here to learn, not to fool around staring at birds out windows.” She pressed her eyebrows together in an expression he understood as angry. “Explain the passage we just read.”
The little boy could feel the heat of his panic slowly recede into his fingertips as he pressed them into the wood of his desk and let the grain in the wood shine a dull glow. He kept his gaze focused on this as he recited the oaths in his head.
To incite pain unto others is the greatest sin.
To inflict wound with pen or word creates a darkness within.
The Maker watches all.
The Maker notices all.
Let it be known man’s greatest affliction
Is man’s greatest infection.
The boy thought it was a little ironic—he had learned this word very recently and found it very useful—considering he could not will himself to speak it.
The boy couldn’t speak even if he had wanted to. The teacher would have known this. He supposed she would have. He began shaping the words with his fingers, stumbling over the smooth eloquence of sentence structure only to be stopped midway.
“Enough enough. Someone else please speak. Explain the passage we just read…”
The boy’s mind drifted then from the conversation the class was having. He could feel a great grip form in his stomach while another voice spoke in his place. A shaky one filled with uncertainty. They were wrong.
He could never be right, though. He rearranged the wood grain with an essay. A reply, a small paragraph he wished he could have said even though he knew the teacher would never read it. He never wrote things on paper anymore like he used to. They never really cared.
The boy let the grain settle back into its original shape and turned his gaze back out to the crow he was watching earlier, only to find that it had flown away.
“Write Pikkish! None of that makes any lick of sense. They’ll think you’ve gone nuts.”
Monty laughed to himself as he sat down with his tray next to the boy—who wasn’t a bird yet—that was writing in a notebook he was given by his mother. She sometimes confiscated it and the boy never really understood why. He didn’t think she could read it. None of them could.
“What’s that say, anyway?”
The boy didn’t know this kid, Monty, who had taken a seat beside him. It made him uncomfortable but he was curious. He didn’t know what else to do, so he just shrugged.
“How come you don’t know?” Monty said through mouthfuls of bread and cheese. “You wrote it. You gotta know.”
The boy shifted uncomfortably in his seat and bought himself some time chewing on his own lunch before he asked, shaping the words with his hands: Want to know, you, why?
Monty blinked blankly for a moment to which the boy just shifted uncomfortably and looked away. He turned back to his scribbling. He should have known better than to try after being afforded the luxury of having a friend who had learned to communicate with him in a way that was just like talking.
“Hey… no. Come on. Write it first. What’s it mean? What you said with your hands…?” Monty insisted.
The boy watched his classmate for a moment, trying to detect any sort of mockery. At length he sighed, flipped to another page in his notebook and scribbled out his reply: Why do you want to know what I’m writing?
Monty leaned over to read what the boy had written and shrugged.
“I guess it’s because it looks like a secret code and you kinda seem like you know a lot of stuff, if you ask me that’s what. A lot of secrets…” He paused to consider his statement, frowned and then said, “You read lots about witch hunts and stuff?”
The boy shook his head and then wrote a question to Monty asking what a witch was, scribbling this down in his notebook.
“They do the creepy magic.”
“Yeah, you know, like weird black goop and, you know, ghost story stuff. They used to light them on fire and throw rocks at them. I learned that in history. Witches aren’t supposed to know magic.”
The boy was convinced his face was melting. He could feel it dripping into his hands like tar, sticky and wet and thick. He could feel the oily texture spread across his hands as he tried to wipe them free of the goop, tried to touch his face and put it back together again but the blackness just spread and spread until he pulled his hands back and in the blackness winked small eyeballs into existence. They stared back at him blinking until the irises became red red red and bubbled up, blossoming into flowers that bloomed from his skin, his blood. They overtook him and spread and spread and spread while spells whispered in his ears to form a sharp piercing ring.
“No. Nonono. Heck, kiddo. It’s only people who don’t got magic to start who can be witches and you got a lot of magic.” Monty shrugged and he tapped at the notebook again. “What’s it say?”
But the boy was confused, his brows pressed together and he wrote:
How do non-magics use magic?
“What’s that to you? You know if you learn this stuff the teachers get all suspicious of you. Non-magics get kicked out, witches get burned and people who help witches? Well, they disappear.” Monty paused for effect before he continued, saying, “You know… witches? They believe in all sorts of things, too. Like that there’s more than one…You know.”
Monty then made the sign of the Maker and the boy frowned, thinking, trying to imagine the idea that there were more than just one God. He wrote: The books say there’s only one.
Though the boy wasn’t so certain of that himself anymore.
Monty nodded. “Yeah that’s the thing. Apparently, witches can’t read neither or else they’d know these things. That’s probably why people burned them.”
The boy shifted uncomfortably and turned back to his notebook, flipped to the original pages he was writing on and began scribbling again. The older boy was quiet until his lunch was finished and he said, “Not that I’m betting on you being a witch-helper or nothing. You know.”
The boy could feel his companion’s eyes on him now, more pointedly even though the boy refused to acknowledge it. The older boy pressed on, “I mean. Lots of rumours about you being buddies with a witch that ditched a couple weeks ago… Is it true? That Charlie was a witch?”
He stopped scribbling in his notebook and slowly did the boy turn his gaze up to Monty who watched him. The boy fiddled with his pen for a moment as they both stared at one another before he shook his head. He could feel his chest tighten and turned his gaze back to his work before his eyes could start to sting.
Charlie was small with long, dark hair and skin much darker than his. The two were at recess sitting in the yard with their arms pressed together when Charlie said, “Like a ghost! Or like paper. I can see blue lines under your skin.”
The boy was eying their arms and then inspecting his for the blue lines that could only be his veins beneath his skin. He frowned.
She said, “I think that’s pretty cool.”
He made a small gesture pinching the air before his chest and feigning throwing it in his face before he slowly spelled with his hands A-L-B-I-N-O.
Charlie watched him for a moment, taking the motions in before she wrote down the letters in the dirt and tried to pronounce them. The boy couldn’t help but let out a small hissing laugh. She pushed him with a small smile on her face and she said, “Ghost boy. That’s what you are.”
The boy paused to consider this, shrugged because he wasn’t sure that he liked that very much. It made him feel a little imaginary. He didn’t want to go through the trouble of explaining that though. He wasn’t really sure how to.
Charlie turned her gaze up to the sky and the boy watched her before he did the same. The sky was filled with fluffed clouds broken by bright blue. He squinted a little because it hurt his eyes. He could hear Charlie flop over and did the same. She shut his eyes for a moment.
Charlie said, “My dad says… there’s a goddess spirit who takes ghosts and turns them into clouds so that, when you die, you can still watch over everyone.”
The two were quiet, the boy thought about this. He propped himself up on his shoulder to watch Charlie.
She said, “He also says there’s a God who keeps everything in balance and you have to do good or you get sent to a horrible place under the earth.”
She also said, “And there’s another one, a lot like the Maker. He looks over the people and he punishes the bad and gives to the good.”
She stopped then. Holding the silence before she peered at the boy who was trying to make sense of the words she was speaking. She frowned.
“Do you think there can be more than one Maker? Like a bunch of them. For little things, that make up a big thing?” She sat up then, watching him more seriously before she looked away. The boy pressed his hands into the dirt trying to ground himself while his thoughts spun around him wildly.
She whispered, “Don’t tell anyone…”
The two were real great friends…
The boy was waiting patiently at the table while his brother sat next to him and his parents were busy laughing in the kitchen while they prepared the meal. He was thinking a lot, about what Charlie had said. He was thinking about Gods. About the Maker. Why would she be wrong? He didn’t think she could be playing tricks on him. They were friends… she would never say things to hurt him… he picked at the painted designs on his plate, focusing in on the scratching sound his nail made against the shiny surface—
“Hey, you okay, champ?”
The boy jolted out of his thoughts and stared up at his much older brother. He nodded quickly, noticed his brother’s eyes narrow before he turned his attention back to his parents who loudly intervened with their dinner. He could still feel his brothers eyes on him, but was soon freed from his gaze when their father asked his brother to start the prayers of thanks.
“We give our thanks to the Lord our only Maker. To he we owe our all.”
The boy couldn’t help but let the words echo in his mind and found himself feeling guilty for doubting his beliefs…
Though some small part of him, he could still feel, was nagging otherwise.