sidney_hall_-_uranias_mirror_-_delphinus_sagitta_aquila_and_antinous

The Eagle

The ship’s deck was especially quiet, Old Captain Cohen watched the night sky. He studied the stars and made a note of their positions. No romantic notions entered his mind as he completed the task mechanically. What is special about them anyway? The stars have always been above, Cohen reasoned, and they always will be. They had guided his ship the Great Gnesher for many winters now, shipping their cargo from one side of the world to the other and for that Cohen was grateful. But, he mused, horoscopes were for fools and star-crossed lovers.

The first mate William Kidd was posted at the helm for the night.
“Keep your eyes open Kidd, don’t crash into another iceberg or I’ll leave you marooned on it this time.”

Kidd remained silent, keeping his eyes on his course. Captain Cohen, satisfied with the boy’s submission was turning to leave when Kidd made sudden eye contact with him. His black eyes absorbed the light around them, wide and utterly focused on him like an eagle’s on its prey. The Cohen’s ratlike soul, that hide underneath the bravado and cruelty, panicked as he scurried back to his quarters. I’ll find some trumped-up charge to punish him for tomorrow, Cohen decided.

Cohen undressed and nestled into bed. His sleep was restless and full of nightmares. When Cohen woke early the next morning and got out of bed, he immediately thought he was still dreaming as those predatory eyes emerged out of the darkness once again. It was Kidd.

Cohen demanded the meaning of the intrusion which Kidd happily explained.

“A mutiny?” Cohen asked with a squeak in his voice.

“Yes Cohen, the crew took a vote and you’re walking the plank.”

“You know what buddy, there is no mutiny, I quit!”

Kidd shook his head, “We already mutinied you can’t quit.”

“I just did.”

“Grab your heathen candle and get out,” said Kidd. As a warning, he sliced one of his long curls with the tip of his sword.

Cohen spat on the floor at his feet but cooperated and grabbed the menorah. “You know I don’t even want to be captain anymore, you can be the captain like I care!”

Kidd felt disgusted at his jovial nature – not everything is a joke – though it became clear from his jitters that it was the product of a complete nervous breakdown. They marched up to the deck while Cohen sniffed back tears. The crew jeered at him, though he managed to keep a grim face of dignity. Cohen kept his chin up, walked out on the plank and looked out towards the calm sea.

Unfortunately for Cohen he had the gravest weakness a sailor can possess: knowing how to swim. Desperately he prayed for a storm, a typhoon or even a shark. Anything to bring a quick death. He prayed to all the gods he had worshipped. The gods were silent – only the gruff voice of a stranger answered with a shout from behind, “Mozel tof, you bastard!”

A kick to his behind sent him flying through the air in a somersault that seemed to last an eternity until he hit the almighty ocean with a splash. Disorientated, Cohen struggled in the inky darkness before rising to the surface. The ship was already moving too fast for him to grab his aged hands onto. It sailed off into the distance. The smaller it grew on the horizon the smaller his hope became. “Maybe the crew will have a change of heart,” said Cohen to himself but could not help doubt creep into his voice. He pictured the men in his mind but could only imagine their bloody backs as he whipped them into discipline or the top of their heads as they looked to the ground, not one brave enough to meet his eyes – except for Kidd with his demon eyes glowed like hot coals and who’s fiery gaze could melt steel. Kidd wouldn’t have a change of heart -even if he managed to float on these gentle waves for an eternity, Cohen knew that with certainty.

“Perhaps a friend on board will let a lifeboat slip or even a crate to rest on,” Cohen said with newfound spirit. But once again, his imagination failed him, Cohen could picture the man sneaking across the deck to Cohen’s aid but not the face of his friend. Just one face Cohen demanded from himself, but he was simply incapable he could not form a single face that would plausibly help him or even one that he enjoyed looking at. Not just on board the ship either, but across the whole world he struggled to remember a single friend. He had pushed all of them away, betrayed them, or simply ignored them in his arrogance -blind to the kindness of strangers which he had rejected. And now no one was there help him. Cohen felt the guilt in his heart which he had carried for so long, it’s weight seemed unbearable to him now.
“Let this pain hold me beneath the sea!” he shouted but no merciful smiting was given.

The Great Gnesher was a pale dot on the horizon, barely recognisable. Cohen thrashed in despair, she passed over the horizon leaving only the afterglow of her white sails which faded soon after. It was hopeless. A watery grave waited for him. It would wait for him through all his screaming fits, tantrums, and sobs. Nothing would avail that cold mistress the sea from absorbing his floundering matter. Every trace of his existence would be cast irretrievably across the seven seas: his flesh stripped by the scale and claw – his bones whet to nothing and lost forever in the shifting sands.

A hot prickling sensation rolled down from his neck to the bottom of his spine, the sun was at its meridian and shone down harshly on his balding head.. Teeth clenched, he refused to give up. Cohen kept his eyes stuck fast to the exact point on the horizon where the ship had disappeared. Determined to the point of becoming entranced, his focus on maintaining a bearing became a paranoia. He tried to resist it – reassuring himself that he was self-correcting accurately to counteract being swayed by the waves – but the doubt lingered. Cohen was distraught, and he didn’t even know the purpose of keeping the bearing. An illusion of control, he concluded but could not bring himself to forget the idea. It continued to torment him. After all the landscape was entirely identical.

The bare ocean landscape had attracted him the sailing life in the first place. The lifestyle was clean and fresh, the sea air seemed to clean of all the hate and anger which had grown on him like craggy barnacles. Cohen could become anyone he wanted to. Throughout his life, he had been known as Artemis the Egyptian, Quivver the Frenchman, and lastly Cohen the Jew – though he had been born an Oliver in the port city of Liverpool, England. His mother had raised him alone and had told many a story about his father, he arrived on a ship from a far off land, spotted his mother from the wharf, and fallen in love in that instant – due to his sheer handsomeness she fainted and fell into the water, and she woke up cradled in his arms, he having rescued her… That much was consistent but his name, accent and nationality changed on every telling. Knowing not who he was or from whence he came, little Oliver fell victim to his mother’s tall tales and his identity became as fluid as the ocean he was now stranded in. How he wished he could be taken in his mother’s arms again. He was Cohen now, not Oliver, and he had no mother to yearn for.

“Oh come here Oliver, you silly boy,” his mother’s voice spoke clear as day. Cohen turned wildly but found no one.

“Who said that?” demanded Cohen, “A siren whore? You stinking sea witch present yourself!”

His rant was a weak attempt to distract him from the real fear that his mind, not a sweet siren, was playing tricks. Cohen realised suddenly his foolishness but it was too late – he had lost his bearing. The marker was gone, as was the mental stability it had brought. Spinning around in circles his eyes scurried from left to right, navigating his maze: a flat plain trapped between the endless bare sea and the eternal blue sky. In any case that couldn’t have been Mother, Cohen reasoned, she had never talked to him in such a loving manner before. The voice drew out memories. His childhood had been painted in bruises and blood, by various stepfathers. Their easel* was a belt, their brush an open hand, and the canvas his pale young cheeks and buttocks. His mother watched and simply let her various lovers take out their frustrations after a long day of work, an act that hurt Cohen more than the attacks ever could. He wept.

Wave crests whisper to him from below him, “Don’t cry, my love. You know the way out.” Cohen looked to the dark depths to see a nymph-like figure swimming below, she turned to face him and it was wife. Naked and twirling in the darkness below. She smiled at him and opened her mouth to speak. “Hannah…” he whispered in disbelief. Her words came in air bubbles, spluttering and choking though they retained a certain eloquence, as they breached the surface, “Join me. Join me, down here. I miss you so much, it was you who I needed all along.” Cohen’s first instinct was to spit at his wife, or the filthy adulterer as he called her among the other sailors of the Gnesher. The phantasm had yet again taken the image of a woman who had betrayed him. Cohen declined the invitation and shook his head with determination but still she flirtatious danced and caressed herself. “Down here you needn’t cry, you needn’t sob, you needn’t breathe another breath that would only lead you to more suffering. Come sleep.” Still, Cohen declined for a reason unknown to him. A hand reached out from the dark around her waist and pulled her into an embrace with a shadowy figure. It was William Kidd, his vacuousness eyes were unmistakable. Hannah beckoned him to rescue her with her soft brown eyes. Wrath and lust waltzed in nether. He told himself it was a sense of honour that kept him from diving below to take the easy way out. But really it was because it would have meant giving up hope that his real wife still loved him. He would never admit this to himself, hidden under layers of his mind it was a hidden rip that flowed beneath his consciousness. The spectral lovers morphed into a single monstrosity which grew scaled fins on its assortment of twisted limbs and disappeared back into the dark depths.

Cohen admitted to himself the siren had been tempting, a pleasurable escape from this hell, the ringed horizon he was stuck in may as well be on Neptune. He looked for any landmark which his gaze could grasp to and rest his attention upon. Instead, his attention wandered haphazardly. The brain is a device for solving problems and if it can’t find any, it will make some. And so Cohen’s boredom forced him to turn inward. Preemptively he braced for the gut punches his journey down this path would throw. So many lost opportunities, his family that he would never see again and who would be happy of the fact. The wife who he would never be able to apologise to for all the pain he caused. The lies he had spun around their relationship had been such a waste of time and eventually they both were strangled by them. His escape to the sea provided Cohen with a clean slate, where he could build himself up again the supreme liar he thought he was, he was not a miser with a failed marriage sailing the Great Gnesher but a Jewish captain of limitless charm and cruelty. But a lowly rat is a rat whether he sleeps with fleas or under silk, Cohen thought. He clutched his chest and felt the admittance tear a great hole in his heart: his greatest fault had always been pretending to be someone greater than he was. His life had been a tumble -crashing down one disastrous step at a time. Here he was sitting sorry at the very bottom of that pit.

The sun began to set. Golden streams of light hit Cohen’s teary eyes and he wondered if it would be the last time he felt the sun’s tender kiss on his brow. In desperation, he stretched his head as far as he could trying to drink in as much as he could of that last precious sip. Night fell with quiet melancholy. Never had he felt so hopeless and helpless, the sea would not part if he whispered lies to the white foam caps that floated by. No control could be wrestled from the tides, his life was at its nadir and could not sink any lower.

Cohen went limp, closed his eyes, and let his head descend back into the water. For so long he had been fighting, stealing, lying because he was scared – because he thought it was simply the way to survive. And now it was time to pay his dues and so he finally let go and simply laid on his back. Expecting to sink, Cohen instead found himself supported as if by an unseen hand supporting him, swaying him calmly. His mood began to change.

The benefit of hitting rock bottom is that there is nowhere to go but up. And Cohen felt lifted. There was no reason to pretend anymore, the ship was gone, the world was gone, and all the people with their judging eyes. It didn’t matter if he went by Cohen now, or Oliver as was known before, or any other name, he was just himself in that moment. This pure and fetterless joy was completely alien to him, Cohen felt he was in the presence of something infinitely gentle. The waves caressed him and he let his mind wander with the tides. His eyelids opened of their own accord, a thousand candles lit flickered in the dark.

“Oh, the stars, the stars,” Cohen smiled. They had always been consistent in his shifting world where his surroundings, his companions, and even his identity were in flux. Out here they danced in unobstructed glory, away from the sot fuming fires and smog of ship and city. The waves had subsided and the now flat sea acted as a mirror for the heavens above.The horizon melted away as sky and sea became one. His world was a satin tapestry pierced with glittering diamonds. The stars which had guided his Gnesher for so many years took on a new life. Flying among the constellations he saw his guides by his wing. Cygnus, the swan – her elegant neck stretched across the cosmos. Corvus, the crow – his watchful eye keeping vigil over the world. Cohen weaved past them. His guide was the king of all, a greater hunter than Orion, more beautiful than Andromeda: Aquila, the eagle. Aquila’s wings were of such enormity and grace that Cohen was drawn under their shadow, spinning and rolling like a tide pulling back out to sea.

Cohen laughed, “Why did I ever fear you? Never did you leave my side, always watching and waiting, I thought you were my hunter- little did I know that it was from love that you stared.”

Not only love, but love despite. Despite his lies, his flaws, everything wrong he had committed and all those he was yet to commit. Under the eagle’s gaze he was filled with courage- not the type of courage to dive once more into the breach, but the simple act of loving despite. Cohen loved music, loved stories, loved to dance, loved to fuck, but these were all very easy things to love. His challenge, which he met bravely, was to love all those who wronged him.

He found love for his family that had abandoned him, his unfaithful wife, and even for William Kidd. All at once a great burden slipped off his back. A great force gripped his chest, Cohen reasoned that Aquila had found him worthy and swooped down upon him from the heavens. Tucked under the eagle’s cradled wings – Cohen smiled, nestled under a starlight quilt, and slept.

dodo

The Dodo

“What does a dodo taste like?”

“Like nothing else on land or sea.”

“Do you think that excuses you?” growled the Captain, “Or that it will save you from the noose?”

“No, but it saves me from regret,” he said with a flick of his greasy tongue.

“It won’t save your soul, my son,” said the Father and placed a comforting hand on the condemned man’s back.

“That flesh tasted better than heaven, Father Tomás. I filled the void which is that all men’s hearts hold, Father, and I filled it with one juicy thigh,” his mouth frothed over in delight, the priest wiped the saliva from the corner of his mouth.

The condemned man continued, “The void that some men spend their whole lives trying to satisfy by guzzling rum, fucking whores, or praising God.”

“Or your case Father Tomás, with all three,” said the Captain.

“Guilty as charged,” chuckled Tomás who turned to the criminal “but not as guilty as you. May God have mercy on your soul”

With a snarl, he replied, “And may He have mercy on your empty stomach.”

The captain kicked the stool under his trembling legs and the accused’s obese body fell with a sickening crunch.

The crunch wasn’t his neck but the palm tree over head.

“And that was the last tree on the island, Captain Kidd! I am free!” the prisoner  sprawled on the ground.

Captain Kidd pressed his boot on the windpipe the pathetic creature whos laughter came to a wheezing halt. With a fluid motion the Captain produced his sword in an instant while a deadly silence took ahold, the Captain had practised his specialised method of killing on many other men who were far more formidable than the wide-eyed, quivering, blubbery fat sack-of-poor-diet-decisions that lay before the Captain.

The Father protested at the last moment, “Surely he is not worthy of your methods.”

The Captain hesitated for a moment and let the tip of the blade rest in the cold sand.

“Too fast and efficient for your Spanish methods? Then torture him in the gibbet.”

The condemned man misheard ‘gibbet’ as ‘in the butt’ and immediately began shouting, “Capt please, I am not that type of sailor!”

Father Tomás grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, “Come on boy, the gibbets aren’t so bad.”

His upper lip trembled as he fired out a series of questions,

“How long will it take? What is it going to be like Father? Who will else be there?”

Tomás grinned, “It will be long, dark and full of sea-men”

The man he fainted, his eyes rolled upwards towards the night sky.

The gibbet wasn’t much more comfortable than being on the receiving end of the Royal Navy’s favourite past time. It was a human shaped cage that would prevent the occupant from moving an inch. Many pirates and privateers had been executed in gibbets, left to die of thirst over many days as crows plucked out their eyes.

Luckily for this prisoner, his eyes were not at risk unless the native dodo population learnt to fly and gained an appetite for the yellow-tinged eyes of an obese alcoholic.

Captain Kidd walked the sandy shore of the island that had been his home for the past month. He stared wistfully over the dark ocean. That man was a fool but he was right about one thing: their empty bellies. The rations were dwindling more and more and the innocent dodo – which he had taken to protecting was looking tastier and tastier. Staring at the lantern in the distance shining from the ship – his ship. Or it had been before he had been betrayed by his first mate.

His brooding was interrupted by the guttural call of a nearby dodo. As a bird call it was rather vulgar and difficult on the ears, it sounded like a choking seagull. However it was a difficulty in describing the sound in itself, every call was inconsistent due to the Dodo’s incompetence. One was irritating enough, the whole pack was cacophonous.

As dumb as it was the Dodo that had started all this trouble. It had taken his ship from him and more than that – his closest friend.

His mutinous first mate was Washington Ursa but simply went by Wash. The Captain reminisced about their first meeting. It was long ago on the Black Sea when William Kidd himself had been first mate under the Old Captain Cohen. A Jewish pirate turned privateer, he had sailed them into the Black Sea far too late in the summer but his greed kept them from turning back. The winter winds would be dangerous to travel back through, but Cohen said the profits were more important. Typical of a jew you might think, or more likely ‘you god damn anti-semite’ when really it was Cohen himself who was the anti-semite. It was obvious to all that met him that he was clearly gentile.

He constantly perpetrated his jew disguise in an exaggerated tone, always shouting about profit margins and hot new bargains. Yahweh have mercy on you if you ever questioned his supposed heritage.

One poor sailor who actually was Jewish finally took issue with it.

“You have the nose of an Italian…” he muttered under his breath.

Rage and a touch of fear sprang from Old Captain Cohen’s eyes as he swung around.

“This nose! This one planted on my face! I didn’t choose it boy, just as I didn’t choose to wear this.”

He ripped his homemade yamaka off his head and shoved it in the boy’s face.

Cohen had taken a literal meaning of the term skullcap and had adorned it with the recognisable skull and crossbones.

“You schmuck! You mean to say that my grandfather and 200,000 of my people were expelled from Spain because they had Italian noses!”

“Listen, I know you think it’s important for a captain to have some sort of disfigurement, you know Captain Ahab has the peg leg, Hook has the- you get the idea. But Captain Cohen I think you need to just rethink your public image a little, we like you for who you ar-”

His reply was cut short by a fatal, effortless and very economical slit across the boy’s jugular vein, Cohen was a cheap ass even when it came to killing, using as little effort as possible.

The criticism had struck truth though the Jewish sailour was not able to elaborate on his theory due to the fountain of blood pouring down his trachea. Cohen choose his false identity and his religion due to his lack of manhood, which he saw as comparable to the ‘disfigurement’ that was common among male Jews. This hasidic hoax was performed, and truly believed by Cohen himself, to cover up his small dick that was in no way caused by a Rabbi’s blade.

But now his Jewish posing had gone too far and we were stuck in baltic waters with winter on our heels and a fierce autumn wind in our face.

As if our fate were not cruel enough, a thick fog took the ship by surprise. You could hardly tell day from night, this strange transitory timezone played tricks on the minds of the crew.

William Kidd saw these apparitions day in, day out. Paranoia set in, men saw indescribable monsters that flicked their tendrils out of the fog, as if beckoning them to become part of the fleshy mass that squeaked, flapped, and squirmed behind the curtain of fog.

Old Captain Cohen hid in his quarters and left Kidd in charge.

“Give me a shout if you see land, I am going below deck to count the gold.”

Cohen shouted as he took shelter below from the maddening haze.

“And don’t take your eyes off that horizon boy.”

Kidd never took his eyes off the horizon. Even as it began inflicted his eyes with unforgettable horrors which were burnt into his retinas, a visual tinnitus. _describe what he saw _ Even to this day, Captain Kidd can give off an unsettling stare when it suits him, unleashing small frightening slice of the insanity he endured at the wheel. He silently prayed for land, prayed for anything to happen to bring an end to this slow death. And it was only by his sheer mental fortitude and faith that the crew of Goldie made it out of that pit of decay.

Salvation came into view. Kidd didn’t believe what he saw, a glistening white mountain crept out of the fog, like a crystalline knife it cut through the fog. Dehydrated and starved he thought it was a mere mirage and steered the ship straight into it. In a mad laughter, he drove the ship forward towards the ice mass. As the ship rapidly approached Kidd saw in the distance a man standing on its icy shore, who was calmly waving. He realised that this was no mirage and swung the wheel. The ship turned to starboard but it was too late. The ship’s prow cut into the ice and beached itself on the frozen shore.

Kidd collapsed at the wheel and shouted, “Land ho!”

An equally exhausted man shouted from the crow’s nest, “Not land, guvnor, an iceberg.”

Old Captain Cohen emerged from his cabin at last, “Eisenberg? He owes me a chest dubloons!”

An iceberg it was, population one – the man who would become Captain Kidd’s first mate – Washington Ursa. At that moment Wash was standing on the icy shore and running his hand along the surface of the hull.


Part 1 of XX

archaeopteryx-fossil-008

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.

sparrow2

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 and collected  a requiem of 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, 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.