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The Archaeopteryx

Journey past the eternal burning pits of the Karakorum desert, across the Caspian sea, deep within the Libyan countryside there lies the Lake Silene which is shadowed by a nameless mountain. On a high ridge of this mountain is the entrance to the largest subterranean cave network ever discovered. Coincidentally the cave is also where the first fossilised Archaeopteryx was found, considered the first evolved bird, a hybrid with both reptile and bird characteristics. The British discovers felt satisfied with their fantastic find, which would be a key piece of evidence in proving the theory of evolution, and decided they would head home the following day. However one of their party lingered in the cave overnight before leaving. Trained as linguist she was an expert in the local language that had been spoken by the medieval populous. Though she was fascinated with the archaeopteryx it disappointed her that no human remains or artefacts had been found, but now she found a new fascination. She lingered in the cave simply to listen.

In the cavernous depths, echoes ring out with such strength, clarity, and persistence that you can hear everything around you for miles away. This gave a peculiar experience that when the extinguished your lantern that the entire eighty square mile cave system to compress into one single point in space. The cave network effectively became an extension of the ear canal.

The linguist decided to venture further down into the cave, which twisted back and forth as it continued downward. The entire cave’ structure look remarkably like an inverted tree that forked in different directions. It came to no surprise to the linguist, as she studied her map, that a prehistoric bird had been found perched on this creviced stone tree. She was particularly interested in exploring a branch that had only briefing been looked over by the archaeologists. It was here that she had heard, if only for a brief moment, a whisper that sounded almost like an alien language. And now she searched for it in the same chamber that it had first sighed in her ear. Waiting for something to happen, the linguist reflected that she would have felt that days had passed if she hadn’t had a timepiece. Frustrated and increasingly becoming hopeless she leant absently minded against a stalagmite. Although the formation looks solid it was hollow within. The tip collapsed under her weight causing the linguist to slip and fall.

It caused no injury save for a bruised ego, she brushed herself free of debris and assessed her careless damage. Out of the broken tip of the stalagmite came a hissing sound of released pressure. The stalagmite now resembled a colourless trumpet grown out of the damp floor. She looked down into the orifice and felt a slight breeze. Perhaps I’ve opened a new passageway, she thought. The air smelled otherworldly but that was not the only long trapped remnant which was now going to be freed. Sounds that had been trapped in a perfect vacuum, resonating for centuries, now echoed out in fast succession into the cavern. The sound of thunder and rain at first and then cracking of stone and rock which must have first cried out millions of years ago. The startled linguist was now scrambling for her notebook and pens.

Streams of words poured out but they were said so rapidly spoken that she couldn’t decipher a word. Steadily the pressure of the untapped chamber let off and recognisable sounds could be deciphered. A clanging of metal on metal, the shouts and yaps of fighting men, and the squeals of women, the crackling of a fire, moans of agony and ecstasy mixed in an intoxicating cacophony that came to a stop with an inhuman screech. And then finally after a moment of silence, as the linguist’s pen shivered in anticipation in her shaking hand, a voice spoke. She recognised the dialect, just barely. It was rasping, unnatural, and simultaneously held the sincerity of an old man’s final words and an infant’s first.

And she wrote down all that she heard.
And she was mocked by her peers.
And this is what was spoken by the long dead voice:

Before you finish your task and are herald as a hero, I must speak.
Please let a villain have his last words…

Your hatred of me is unquestionable but it is also unjust.

What did taking a spare cow or sheep matter?
“That’s my sheep!’ the shepherd would shout.
You claim ownership over another living being and believe you have this right because it is logical, you are smarter and stronger than simple farm animals.
The beasts stay within their posts and graze the fields.
What you fail to understand is that I am your shepherd, I am smarter and stronger than you. And the posts that mark your field stretch the entire green earth, from pole to pole, which I ruled – until you came along, a knight in shining armour!

You say it was unjust that I ignored the many mothers who screamed at me, “Oh my children will starve!” But my belly is much larger than a little child’s and I have felt the pain of an aching stomach far longer any man.

Perhaps your great hatred of me is because I do not respect your law, the false law of man.
There is no law but the law of nature, your cattle lost their right to live fore they had no claws to fight and your sheep fore they had no wings to flee. And now I face the court of natural law… at the end of your sword. Fear not, I will have no qualms, unlike your people who incessantly begged for their lives at my feet and professed the unfairness of it all.
I am content that even as you slay me I will still win this argument. Natural law is king.
I was not beaten because of your pure heart or your noble god, but only because your sword has proven sharper than my tooth and claw.

Ah, I see your hand grips tighter at the sword, does it anger you when I mention your god?
Spare me the proclamations of your bravery or dedication to God, those will be heard down the centuries for millions to hear and will echo far longer than the forgotten screams
of women and children that met their end in these caves.

Yes, it’s true I’ve killed many, but many of what?
And don’t cry murder, for when a man kills a man it is murder.
I have no kin to commit murder. Please don’t get teary eyed that I am the last of my kind, I am one of a kind.

Though I was born in Eden I barely remember it. I can’t recall what I whispered in Eve’s ear. I do not comprehend sin, nor redemption. I do not seek redemption. I do not seek paradise. What I really seek, and what I have sought with every word of my last speech is another breath, another moment, another chance.

And with that said, the Dragon made one last desperate attack,
But St. George kill’d the Dragon, and run him thro’ and thro’
And all sang, honi soit qui mal y pense.

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The Sparrow

When I was a very small boy, I often dreamed that I could fly. Each dream I would have to relearn how to fly . It takes a certain concentration, like the flexing of a nonexistent muscle, to begin floating upwards. You can’t get too excited, the jitters would bring you back to earth – you must be as natural and carefree as a bird. Funny that such a dream probably formed within my pram when I could hardly walk, let alone fly. Out of all the birds, I was inspired most by the meek sparrow, whose swift flight always seemed to bring feverish excitement despite their tiny size. How fearful I became as I saw one weaving between traffic and disappearing into the impossibly small cracks in the concrete. I feared if his flight were one millimetre off his small body would collide against the bricks, and explode like a firecracker into the same white cotton fluff that filled my teddy bear.

Within the small cracks, the sparrow is king. He may as well be a mouse with wings when exposed to the great outdoors, but while gliding low within the gutter pipes, sewers, and shopping centres he is a lion. More than a lion, he is a heroic griffon, swooping down pouncing on the unnatural invertebrates. He preys on the pests on the land, crashing down on cockroaches, locust, and flies. He is a knight in his humble common brown cloak, his tiny claws are scythes to the insects that plague us. Even we humans, with our sophisticated eyes, observe that the sparrow is especially swift but imagine what a cockroach sees. Its antennas only sense a change of light, if a sparrow was to attack it would only sense a shadow flicker past. Scurrying away through cracks and crevices, up walls onto ceilings, the shadow follows and attacks unceasingly. The sad creature dies in absolute terror and incomprehension. To the pests of the world, the sparrow is not a hero but a demon. I describe this because I share my dreams with the cockroach as well as the sparrow.

In my dream I am flying over my hometown, weaving through the alleys, and laneways where I spent carefree childhood summers laughing and playing, I notice the Sun’s warmth and rise upwards the heat is addictive. I get carried away with this new sensation and lust after the luminescence. I am like Icarus with wings heldfast by candlewax or a moth heldfast by candlelight. You might predict that my wings are going to melt and I will plummet to Earth just in time for my alarm to blare, waking me up in a cold sweat – that would be a mercy compared to the terror which will occur.

In the climax of my greed, the sun suddenly disappears and with it the day and the ground is swallowed into darkness. The cool breeze disappears I feel that I am swimming in an endless pool though I have no desire for breath and even if I did I wouldn’t be able to find my way to the surface of this black abyss – all orientation has dissolved. Where is up? I do not know. My hand isn’t visible even as I wave it inches from my face. I am left in this void to ponder, boredom sets in – then paranoia – until finally a ripple in the water reaches me. Still, I can’t see anything but the ripples are stronger now. Out of the shadows see a flash of something impossibly quick. Its outline is rusted chrome which blends its darkness. It is as if the universe is bending towards me, some otherworldly being that is stretching through the fabric of space in my direction. My instincts command me to flee. A burnt out forest appears which I rush into and take refuge but the beast pursues me still.

It slashes at me and I scurry through the darkness away, again and again, it comes. I try to fight and throw punches but like a dream they simply fall off and through the creatures flesh, as if under a dentist’s anaesthetic my arms feel sluggish and numb. It pins me to the floor and claws me apart, I crumple and my limbs curl up, my glistening ebon blood spilling on the cinder and charcoal of a forgotten world, black on black. Barely conscious I am carried into its belly, strangely the lining of its gut feels as soft as a pillow. Suddenly I am regurgitated. Up and out of its maw I fall down into the mouths of the monster’s spawn. In hunger they scream in short bursts:
“Beep – Beep – Beep!”

And that is when I wake from the nightmare – to my blaring alarm clock with a cold sweat on my brow, a wet mess in my pants, and a healthy respect for the meek sparrow that to this day I still hold close to my heart.

 

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The Cuckoo

The clock struck noon. What came first the cuckoo or the clock? It may not seem like an intelligent question, but that was exactly what Otto von Bismark asked as he looked to his cuckoo clock which lacked a cuckoo.

Otto’s story begins earlier on that especially warm spring day. The cuckoo bird was dormant sitting inside the clock, a monument to absolute certainty – on most days. On this day, as the clock struck midday instead of a dozen coos, his cuckoo seemingly not bothered with its most taxing task of the day simply took off with its clockwork wings and flew out the open window of their three story apartment. Astonished as he watched it glide out into the metropolis of Berlin, he put it down to hallucination from midday heat. But it continued to infuriate him – despite trying his best to ignore the now abandoned cuckoo clock, whose tiny doors still opened with a slight squeak but no longer welcomed an automaton bird. Otto complained and whined incessantly about the clock because lately the cuckoo’s cry had woken his infant son. Though it was clear that the baby was more disturbed by his father’s rages than birdsong Otto went as far as shouting that he would rip apart the clock and choke that annoying cuckoo. These comments did not go unnoticed by his wife, who forbid him to even touch the antique clock which had been in her family for generations. Neither did Otto’s rages go unnoticed by the cuckoo, who had at last escaped.

Now that the cuckoo was missing it annoyed Otto all the more. His wife would go into hysterics once she learned her beloved cuckoo had flown the coop. The crippled mechanism continued to trigger on the hour, causing the moment to replay in his mind like a gear with one especially long tooth that prodded his brain every o’clock. For half the day Otto endured this clockwork nightmare until finally, he decided to venture into the city park, the Großer Tiergarten, in search of the cuckoo. Before leaving Otto announced he was going away for a short holiday over the weekend to relax. He kissed his wife and son goodbye, who were both glad to have him out of the house.

He caught a tram to the park and felt at ease strolling under the pine branches. High above the birds observed him from their perches in the trees, among them somewhere was his cuckoo. It was the beginning of spring, the birds were nesting and wary of intruders. Even distinguished persons, such Otto von Bismarck who was a conservative statesman, were watched with caution – and perhaps more so, it depended entirely on the bird’s political leaning. Despite their stress and screaming offspring, the young couples of the Großer Tiergarten felt no animosity towards the men and women who passed through their homes. As we will see, our cuckoo had no such forgiveness and what can we expect from a creature that wasn’t brought forth from Eden’s earth – but was an idol of man’s imagination.

As Otto passed through the gardens he forgot his mission in the tranquillity around him. Here the gardens had conserved the unmistakable crowded beauty of a germanic forest without the implied threat of bear, wolf, or visigoth. The only barbarians that hid in these woods were begging vagrants who would sooner throw out an empty hat than a spear.

“Where is that blasted bird?” he asked in a sudden impatience which typically arrived when Otto found he was enjoying himself. In reply came the familiar call of the cuckoo. There it was, he froze and didn’t dare take another breath. In his dedication he created the wrong type of silence, it was the type of threatening quiet that only occurs just before disaster, death or injury. The cuckoo recognised it at once, and rode the breeze across the lake, dipping close to the flat body of water. Throwing caution to the wind he ran after the small bird to the edge of the small lake. It appeared two cuckoos were flying over the mirrored surface.

Otto mused: Perhaps it finds pleasure in this place, the flat lake which stretches out to the tree line that shoots up at a right angle, almost boxlike. A creature of clockwork could find a home in these forests of impeccable german design. In reality, it was precisely the opposite. The cuckoo hated this park. Spending its entire life on a set track designed by a god who it had never met, caused the cuckoo to despise the creator who had never asked for its opinion before winding it up and setting the cuckoo off down a one track life. That was its singular purpose as it flew out the window that hot spring afternoon – to escape. Hidden among the pine needles the cuckoo spied upon Otto, its cogs turned over a new purpose.

Otto von Bismark crept up to where he had seen the cuckoo flee. There it was! Perched upon a fallen tree. It’s feathers have grown soft, Otto observed as he crept closer. But at once he was sure it was his cuckoo, its head rotated like the hand of a clock to look at him. He shot out his hand but the machinery was far quicker than his flesh. It sprung off the branch with a flash of its sparkling jet eyes that faded into the starry night.

Otto would have to wait until morning to restart his search. “Damn that devil!”he exploded. Frustrated, he kicked a nearby tree. Shaken from the force something fell directly on his head with a cracking splatter. He wiped a sticky fluid from his face. It appeared to be a birds egg. Otto flicked off the eggshell horns that ordained his head while muttering to himself of his bad luck he heard a faint whirring like a struggling engine from below. By now the sun had gone down so he fetched his lighter from his pocket and revealed the oily mess at his feet, he gasped at the sight. It was the half-formed embryo of a bird, but like Otto’s target, it was mechanical. It wheezed out of its broken body which spilt more of the oily goo onto his shoes, its writhing body glittered from the orange flame of the lighter. Otto felt ill but couldn’t bring it upon himself to end the pitiful creature’s suffering.

My bird must have been breeding, thought Otto who suddenly came to an epiphany: I can repair my clock with this cuckoo. It would be brought up in the clock and never know the outside world, and thus would never desire to fly out the window like its predecessor. Before leaving, he looked up to the canopy to see where the egg had fallen and spotted a raven looked down and cried out in mourning as if the mechanical embryo had been its own hatchling. Disturbed by the entire scene, he didn’t stay too long to contemplate, though he underestimated just how deeply it had disturbed him. He cupped the wretched thing’s writhing body, felt the crunch of its gears in his tight grip, and began the journey home.”I’ve had quite enough of this insanity,” Otto muttered.

Contrary to Otto opinion, it doesn’t seem so insane when you’re familiar with the cuckoo, who is famous for its clock but is also famous – or rather infamous – for its nesting habits. The cuckoo sneaks its egg into the nest another species of bird, the cuckoo fledgeling hatches quickly, pushes its adopted sister out of the nest and is raised by the host mother. It is strange and sad to see a mother feeding a cuckoo, the murderer of her children who sings a different song and wears a different plumage – it’s mark of Cain for all to see. This is exactly what the cuckoo had done over the spring, sevenfold. In its hatred of structure and order, it laid its eggs and warped fate in blatant disregard to His design. Like all lives, the cuckoo’s had been written far before it lived them and the cuckoo skittered between those sacred lines, skewing the ink that tied our destinies together. Expertly hopping from one fated thread to another, from which the angels wove their tapestry, it stitched itself where it had no place to be nor its parasitic children.

~~~

Berlin’s workers were heading home for the night. Factory workers mixed with clerks and accountants in the churning masses intent on entering the trams. Otto joined the sea of people and hopped into one tram that was especially packed, he clasped tighter onto his prized cuckoo. A woman with a pram and a small boy holding onto her dress followed immediately behind him. The woman wedged the pram into the crowd to make space for herself and her boy. The hastily pushed pram jutted into Otto’s protruding.
“The lengths mothers will go for their children,” Otto thought with a guffaw. The cupid face boy peeked out from behind his mother’s skirt with a grin that melted his previous annoyance. Otto smiled back as the boy approached slowly curiously eyeing his clasped hands. Perhaps the boy thought he had a sweetie or a toy hidden, the possibilities captured his young imagination. The boy pointed again eager to see what was hidden behind this portly man’s clasped hands. Hesitant at first, Otto relented at last. What harm would showing the boy his fantastical bird do?

Otto opened his hands to reveal the windup cuckoo. The boy’s jaw dropped, but not with delight, his eyes betrayed a sickening disgust which spread to the rest of his face as it drained of blood. The boy wailed and caused his infant sibling to begin crying. Heads turned towards the commotion. Otto looked down to see the mangled corpse of a baby bird in his trembling hands. In desperation, he fondled the featherless wings trying to feel the gears and cogs which he had felt clicking moments earlier. Sickened onlookers had begun to notice and started moving away from him, most with simply too shocked to speak but many shouted abuse. Otto looked up in utter confusion. The mother screamed at him: Ach Gott, ach Gott! Du ungeheures Ungeziefer!

Each syllable rang out in perfect clarity but Otto couldn’t understand a word. The tram had taken on a different appearance and the people too. Now the entire world appeared to him as a mechanical system. All his life he had been staring at an optical illusion and now the veil had been lifted – the inner working could not be unseen. The wailing boy’s eyes blinking with tears appeared to him like a strange puppet show. Feeling lightheaded he clung to the open window. He saw the trams blindly following their route, eternally attached to their tracks. And the men and women shared this automation eternally attached to their jobs and to this city. The factory worker’s faces are as greased as the assembly line equipment they operate, and the clerks too, they’re ink stained finger extensions are simply extensions of the pen that rules them, they are just another cog in the machine, as vital and as replaceable. The boy’s tears are rolling down his face but this doesn’t cause Otto to remember the many times he wept when he was a boy, instead, he witnesses a reaction: the release of a sodium and dihydrogen monoxide from emotionally distressing stimuli. He has completely forgotten the spectacle he has created by parading around a dead bird to children but the passengers hadn’t. Men crowded around him, grabbing and shoving him towards the exit. Otto was more focused on the sensation of being pushed and spun rather than resisting. He rolled out of the tram to a clamour of further abuse being hurled at him. Face up, lying on the pavement, Otto looked to the stars but saw only cyclical constellation, running in circles pointlessly. While the entire world spun around the sun it was forever chained to, Otto finally felt something. It was a minuscule feeling at first that grew and grew, but he still couldn’t identify it. Everything was silent at once. The stars disappeared.

The feeling pounced, he heard somewhere in the distance the noise of a man sobbing. “Who is crying?” someone asked. No answer came. Just like Otto’s broken cuckoo clock – the universe and all who live in it are part of a system that runs perfectly but when the tiny doors open up they revealed nothing: no purpose, no command from above, just the vague hanging void. Like slipping out of a dream, Otto realised it was he had asked who was weeping, and he it had been he who was crying. The moment of madness seemed to be over, he still clung to the bird’s corpse which was now attracting flies. Gathering himself up from the gutter, he walked the short distance to his apartment under the glare of the morning sun.

Otto crawled up the stairs, fumbling with the key that slipped in his blood coated hands. He entered his apartment which was dimly lit. The shadows were stretched thinly across the walls. Déjà vu assailed Otto as if he had walked into the suffocating silence, he felt he had taken these same steps a thousand times before . It was the wrong type of silence, though Otto did not flee from the suspect danger. Instead heard the sound of a struggle, a muffled moan from behind the bedroom door. His mind reeled in all the possibilities, sprinting through vivid images of his wife and child strangled and their soft bodies contorted and mangled. As fast as his mind was, he legs seemed to sink into the the floorboards as if stuck in mud. They slid about, making precious little progress towards the bedroom door where his beloved wife and son lay to the mercy of the world. “How could I have left them!” his hysterical mind screamed. Finally, after an eternity he crawled to the foot of the door and pulled his body up with the door handle. The door handled turned with extra force. Slowly, while supporting his weight on the door handle, he entered the room.

Otto saw his wife, naked, her back arched back in agony. Her mouth agape in horror. But the corners of her mouth curled upwards into a smile. Her mouth was agape in ecstasy. Her back relaxed and slide back down to the ruffled sheets of the bed, next to her lover. Otto let out a small gasp, the sight of it crushed him. His wife didn’t notice but the lover did, who stared at Otto with jet black eyes. The stranger’s face held no expression, not as if it felt impartial but almost as if it was incapable of producing any expression at all – despite this Otto felt the face was grinning nonetheless.

Otto couldn’t bear to look any further at his adulterous wife and he simply stood motionless his eyes to the ground. A cold breeze blow in, still in shock Otto automatically feared his son would catch a cold. Just in front of the window was the crib, he walked towards it and broke out of his trance, he gazed upon his son’s crib which was all but empty except for an enormous egg. Otto cried out, his throat shuddering with fear. He approached the open window and knew what he would see yet he still stuck his head out. There, at the bottom of the street lay his crushed baby boy fallen from his nest, lost in a slumber of crimson sunder.

In grief Otto looked to his wife, she lay alone – her lover had disappeared. A cuckoo called in the distance, and Otto let out a mad laugh because he knew at last that everything had been unavoidable. Otto would follow his sewn fate to the last moment. He grasped the glittering string before him and stood on the window ledge looking down to his son below, he saw at the end of his thread lay a golden noose weaved by angels with harp string and all. Like the cuckoo, he would escape out the open window on a warm spring day. It was a pity he lacked wings. The clock struck noon.

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The Lyrebird

The lyrebird is of the genus, Menura, and the family Menuridae. It is most notable for their ability to mimic natural and artificial sounds. To tell the story of the lyrebird I first have to tell the story of a blind autistic man and musical genius, Derek Paravicini.

He was born 3 months premature and weighed less than a book. His feeble body had to be constantly pumped with oxygen to keep his tiny lungs fluttering. The high amount of oxygen eventually burned out his retinas and would also retard the development of his brain. His aristocratic father watched his floundering for eight years and seemed rather disappointed with his heir. But he would soon change his tune.

Derek was to begin going to a school for the deaf. On their first tour through the school, young Derek and his father walked through down the hallways.

“Do you think you would like to start school Derek?” the headmaster asked him
“Start school, yeah, start school Derek,” he replied imitating the headmaster’s upper-class accent. He often repeated speech, a behaviour called ‘echolalia’ typical among suffers of autism.

They walked past a music room in which a little girl was playing the piano, Derek charged into the room and knocked the little girl off her perch, who began crying. His father, no longer surprised at his outbursts went over to apprehend him as he mindlessly poured his fingers over the keys in a cacophony of sound. With each of his father’s heavy steps that came ever closer his tapped faster and faster, until a tune began to emerge out of the chaos, soft at first but then stronger. A melody erupted that paralysed the room. The girl stopped sobbing and his father didn’t dare to take another step while Derek’s fingers flew across the keys.

Derek Paravicini’s first song sounded like nothing else in history, he had never heard Beethoven, Bach, or Chopin. This creation was entirely original. He had constructed a masterpiece exclusive from centuries of music theory from the ground up.

His father’s eyes welled up with tears. He had never been able to truly relate to his son or even communicate throughout the tumultuous six years they had spent together. In fact, he had yet to talk with anything other than a grunt. The fact weighed heavy on the father’s proud heart, especially with because of how much he loved the boy. But now he was talking, and more than that, he was singing through the ivory keys. The song was a catharsis for both father and son, all the pain and stress that had built a wall between them was melting away.

The song was collected from the melodies only a blind man’s heightened hearing could pick up. As a piece of music, it was hard for the father to define, it spoke of splendour and misery despite its creation by a mere child’s mind.

It was remote from human learning and so wild that birds flocked to the window. All kinds of birds flocked to the windows and gazed in with their glossed eyes. The birds watched Derek Paravicini’s own glazed eyes which he carried blindly as his head pecked up and down to the music, they thought that he was a very peculiar type of bird. All at once they took a step back from the window, a mass shuffling of spindly legs created a parting down the middle of a sea of plumage. Out of the avian crowd stepped a bird that was equally gorgeous as it was humble: the lyrebird.

It listened to the tune and strutted back and forth across the window sill. Its freckled tail perked and wafted about in time to Paravicini’s melody. Then it opens its small beak and sang with the piano chords. A duet between man and bird commenced, and the lyrebird’s voice was equally as beautiful as the boy’s playing. From out of the seemingly impenetrable darkness, Paravicini heard a voice that understood and spoke his language, for the first time in his life the universe was in harmony. For the first time in his life he had a friend. A gentleness and femininity rang through the lyrebird’s notes which he had never felt before. It was the closest he would ever come to feeling love. He would have cried if his tears could flow through his shrivelled ducts.

Their duet rose to a crescendo. Beak, feather, finger and foot unleashed in an upward slash that cried out in pain. This lyrebird had travelled, collected, and imitated every birdsong in existence but had never heard anything so tortured and confused, and though she was intimidated she held onto her pitch. The agony Derek endured as an infant now fuelled his playing, while he was clinging to a life he had started far too soon he found sanctuary in a small corner of his mind. And this was where he created music composed out of the inhuman bleeps of medical equipment, the murmur of hopeless doctors, and the sizzling oxygen that ravaged his brain. It spoke of innocence tortured, a beautiful nightmare that seemed to have no end which would echo and spin endlessly among the stars that he would never know. The stars he would never see.

His fingers collapsed in a rest. Drained of his anger he felt that he could not play on. The world returned to his home, a dark confusing misery

But then the lyrebird picked up the melody again. This time she led and he followed. The melody spoke of all the wonders the lyrebird had heard in her travels, it spoke of a shining hope that existed not only in the quiet grassy plains that surrounded them, but in the grinding desert sands, in the groaning arctic glaciers, and in the silence you can find deep below crashing waves. Paravicini treasured every phonic, clung to each one like a candle in the dark, and memorised it all. Likewise, the lyrebird memorised all it had heard, as was its nature. The song came to a cadence and ended as abruptly as it had begun.

The quiet that consumed the room seemed as thick as molasses. All that remained was a rarely seen smile on Paravicini’s face and a twinkle in the eye of a lyrebird who would be content for the rest of her life. Derek’s weeping father ran forward to take him into an embrace and almost crushed the fragile boy. The birds at the window spooked and flew off in a flurry, the lyrebird disappeared in the cloud of panicked feathers. Derek’s father cried from being overcome by sheer majesty – but also in grief because he knew with certainty he would never hear that song again. And he was right, he never did hear that song again nor did anyone. Derek went on to take huge developmental steps thanks to his passion in music, he eventually became well known as a savant musician though he could never recreate that first song.

Don’t despair reader, the song isn’t entirely lost. As we know the lyrebird performs its own type of ‘echolalia’, she whispered to its young who then whispered to their own young. And if you venture into the depths of the wilds where the lyrebirds reside, far from the guttural groans of civilisation, you might hear it sung out from wooded hills and down through lush valleys: a human melody shrouded in birdsong.

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The Currawong

A pair of yellow eyes flickered through the undergrowth. She danced from tree to tree, her bright gaze seemed it might spark a bushfire. Her eyes were a surreal yellow that jumped out at you with their sheer contrast. They had depth and if you weren’t careful you could find yourself falling into them. Looking into her eyes I knew I trusted her. She trusted me, even though she was a bird and I was a boy. I wished to tame her but it was an impossible wish for she was wild. Wild from her dark velvet feathers to her twisting ebon claws. To tame her I would have to clip her wings and if she couldn’t fly then she would cease to be a bird at all.

Teasingly, she jumped from branch to branch, higher up the canopy. She too had an impossible wish, she wanted me to cast off my earthly fetters and follow her up. If only I could fly: to sprout wings and feel the sun’s warmth far above the winter clouds. The idea appealed to me. I have a hunch that perhaps the opposite appealed to her – that she wished to swap the vehicles of our souls.

To pluck hands, fingers, knees, and toes from her own body – just as she plucks worms from the earth moistened by morning dew. To pluck all her feathers out except one.

And that last feather she would dip into ink as black as her quill and scrawl a nearly forgotten tale about a bird who was once a boy.

Barn owl swooping - Tyto alba

The Owl

 

When I walk through the wood at night my torch shines through the branches and bushes, bringing them to life. The shadows animate with each further step into the wilderness. A dead stump becomes a rabid dog, an overgrown vine becomes a gaunt marching witch. The stars shine brighter here, they gleam through the leaves and sticks as if a thousand unblinking eyes were glaring at me.

An owl hoots in the distance. Suddenly the hellish creatures fall away. Perhaps it was simply the intrusion of reality into my imagined landscape, or perhaps the owl imparted some of her courage to me. For an owl’s courage is only matched by her wit. For an owl, the night is as obvious and unfrightening as the day is to us. She sees no ghouls in the shadows but will spot the smallest step of a frightened mouse miles away. She has no fear of a monster in the shadows because that is what she is.

Though in the day the owl’s experience is equally as unnatural and ruled by imagination as ours is in the night. As the sun rises from the cold dead earth, the owl looks over her domain in coloured in the light. Her eyes are built to see the smallest flicker of movement miles away in the darkest deepest corner of the forest. Now in the daylight, she is overstimulated and sees prey everywhere.

The foliage that blankets the forest floor become a swarming ocean of scurrying mice. Every dancing leaf becomes a darting green sparrow. Even the sun itself becomes a giant egg to pillage from its blue nest. To slice it open with one stoop, spill its golden yolk down upon the earth. An owl would strike her talons down upon the neck of God if she could fly high enough, such is her courage.

Her reaction to this shifting mosaic of quarry is to simply close her eyes and sleep. While out of fear we close our eyes from the dark to hide, she does so simply to dream of greater prey than reality can provide – to scout, hunt, and devour in the day as she does in the night.

Route 663 Rock Bottom

The light changes to green, “Go on, get out,” it whispers.

The bus lurches forward, we sway in unison. Their minds have already jumped miles ahead. The present moment doesn’t exist for them, they’re thinking about dinner cooking at home, they’re scrolling through our phones envious about a friend’s latest trip to Bali, and trying desperately to get their minds off work – when they should feel lucky for having jobs. I can’t jump ahead, I don’t know where I am going and so I’m trapped in the present. And presently we’re coasting past the homeless squats under the railway bridges, I look in with morbid curiosity. In the daytime they are as humble as lambs, but now deep into the night, they cackle as their Gatorade bottle bongs crackle, smoke rising from their bubbling brews. No wonder all the commuters are afraid to look out at them, all except for one. He is old and although his weathered face wears a blank expression, written into the deep lines around his eyes are tales of splendour and misery. He continues fearlessly gazing out at the vagrants. The real fear goes beyond mere boredom, it is what the mind conjures to combat the boredom that is truly terrifying. I can feel it stirring within me now, a buried cask of memories mixing with emotions that have grown potent over the years. Substance will collapse onto style, style will drown in its own blood.

The city lights warp as they shine through the mist climbing out of Yarra, ghostly tendrils claw up the embankment like a swamp monster venturing out from the deep. A gull cries out, its agony echoes out of the fog. No need to imagine any new monsters, there’s enough in Melbourne. I’m leaving it all behind. Too many people, too many ideas. I’m escaping the whores, the fiends, and especially the family and friends – the ones you love hurt you the most. The drunken laughter from the camps fades under the steady rumble of the engine.

I’ll spare them judgement. Everybody has a vice, doesn’t make them a monster. Some vices are vague assortments of fetishes and sins but mine can be measured by kilometres per hour. My main indulgence is speed, distance over time, movement, the closest a man can get to achieving that buried childhood wish of flying and swooping among the birds. Funny that such a dream usually forms within a pram when a child can hardly walk, let alone fly. The sparrow’s swift flight always seemed to bring me feverish excitement despite their tiny size. They also brought me fear as I saw one weaving between cars and disappearing into the impossibly small cracks in the concrete. I feared if his flight were one millimetre off his small body would collide against the bricks, exploding like a firecracker into the same white cotton fluff that filled my teddy bear.

Childhood is over, get with the times. Get on the road. Get on with the job.

Yellow light.

I chuckle to myself. “Yellow means accelerate,” something my larrikin Pop used to say when he taught me how to drive my first motorcycle. A few passengers around me break out of their trance and look at me with confusion. I guess I’m that guy now, the guy so isolated he can’t differentiate thinking from talking aloud. The old man blank expression remains despite my outburst. The bus accelerates, as the driver shoots through the intersection the golden bulb blinds me for a moment. In that short moment, I was taken aback to a far simpler time.

A pair of yellow eyes flickered through the undergrowth. She danced from tree to tree, her bright gaze seemed it might spark a bushfire. Her eyes were a surreal yellow that jumped out at you with their sheer contrast. They had depth and if you weren’t careful you could find yourself falling into them. Looking into her eyes I knew I trusted her. She trusted me, even though she was a bird and I was a boy. I wished to tame her but it was an impossible wish for she was wild. Wild from her dark velvet feathers to her twisting ebon claws. To tame her I would have to clip her wings and if she couldn’t fly then she would cease to be a bird at all.

Teasingly, she jumped from branch to branch, higher up the canopy. She too had an impossible wish I sensed, she wanted me to cast off my earthly fetters and follow her up. If only I could fly: to sprout wings and feel the sun’s warmth far above the winter clouds. The idea appealed to me. I have a hunch that perhaps the opposite appealed to her – that she wished to swap the vehicles of our souls.

To pluck hands, fingers, knees, and toes from her own body– just as she plucks worms from the earth moistened by morning dew.

To pluck all her feathers out except one, which she would dip into the ink as black as her last feather and scrawl a nearly forgotten tale about a bird who was once a boy.

Red light.

The traffic signal is staring at me, its red angry eye looks so enraged it might just burst like a ripe old tomato, leaking pulp out over the asphalt. I flinch at the violent thought and turn my thoughts to the red cherry tomatoes my Pop used to grow. He would look at his plants through the sliding door while sitting in his grand wooden armchair. The sliding doors were so filthy and warped from the sunshine that you could hardly see through them. I remember skipping back and forth past them, I must have been around six or seven, cackling at my warped reflection and my Pop laughing with me.

He wore thick glasses that sat on his proud Italian nose, which was always pointed towards his garden. He still wished he could be out there rather than stuck in that armchair feeling his bones creak like the limbs of a great oak.

“Don’t get old,” he’d tell me half joking.

“Okay, I won’t.”

I can see his soft hazel eyes looking down at me. One second they could show love and the next moment his gaze could cut steel. It is the type of gaze you aren’t born with but is carved into your eyes by sharp moments of love and violence. My Pop saw Egypt, Papua New Guinea, and Libya. He fought through them, he fought for our way of life. I remind myself of this at crucial times, that my day-to-day problems don’t involve a fight against the spread of tyrannical fascism; the stakes aren’t life or death.

I don’t feel the common stresses of life while moving. The rush I feel from speed is not from moving towards something but the comfort of moving away. It’s a naivety, somehow I trick myself into thinking that the problems that haunt my life won’t follow me. I’ve wandered enough to realise that the problem is me, it is a painful fact which took me a long time to admit.

“Hurts like hell to get shot in the gut,” my Pop told me on my tenth birthday. He was shot on the high crest of a sand dune just outside Gaza. He didn’t have time to plug his wound because seconds later his best friend was shot through the head. Down the dune, he dragged his friend and his bleeding guts. Blood never loses its colour when soaked in sand, he recalled to me. So down the side of the dune, a dripping crimson dress was left draped in his wake. He dragged his bleeding guts back to Egypt and dragged his bleeding guts back to Australia. He dragged his bleeding guts to that grand old armchair and watched those cherry red tomatoes drag themselves up from the dirt, and you can bet they stood up straight – to attention.

His pain was worth it, I can only hope mine will be.

Green light. You can go now.