Telling Tales 95
Or an Uncommon Unkindness
“He looks like he’s got a lot of meat on him,” sang one of the gunmetal birds. Ivan didn’t know why their voices didn’t croak like crows’, or… proclaim, however you’d describe an eagle or a hawk’s call, but they didn’t didn’t. They birds talked to one another and evaluated him like a piece of meat, describing him in dulcet tones.
“Not going to be easy,” sang another.
One bird dipped its head down. Ivan wanted to call each one “he” for its masculine shape – what he imagined was a masculine shape – but “she” for its voice. He settled on “it.” One bird dipped its head down and Ivan, not for the first time, considered the fatal silver switch grass to one side of him and the bevy of cruel-looking, heavenly-sounding birds on the other. “Is there are a part of you you could do easily without?”
“No more than you could do without your eyes or your beak,” he answered without much hope. This answer prompted a great deal of discussion amongst the birds. Five of them alit from the branches to the ground in front of him.
“Stretch your arms out, please, would you? To the sides, not the front,” sang a bird. It might have been the same one, or it might have been a different one. They all looked the same to Ivan and they were all making noise, so it was often difficult to identify which one might be addressing him. Ivan sighed and did as the bird said, hoping that by obeying and showing them respect he would not antagonize them. “Turn around, keep going,” sang a voice. Ivan felt decidedly like a piece of meat. He heard them discussing his shoulders, his arms, his legs – one piece of his body after another. “No sudden movements, please,” and then they were landing on him, on his shoulders and arms, four birds with the sound of rustling, ruffling metal. Their talons bit into his jacket and sleeves and he found himself falling against his own clothes as they raised him up in the air. Their wings pushed their air around him like bellows until the ground emerged at his feet once more.
“Heavy,” sang a bird. “Are your feet sturdier than your hands?” sang another.
“I don’t understand.” Ivan was still catching his breath.
“You are too heavy for us to fly across the field and your feet would drag on the grass. Would your feet survive?”
The silver grass swayed gently, innocent as can be.
“We will be indebted,” sang a voice. “A debt for a debt.”
At that, several birds flew away into the forest of copper trees and several more flew to the ground where they waddled into the grass, having no fear themselves of the blades. The sound of shrieking metal drew Ivan’s eyes back to the forest. A badger covered in bronze tufts of fur was ripping the bark off of a tree in sheets with iron claws. A large black spider of pitted metal dropped down from a platinum web as three gunmetal birds staggered out of the field, beaks filled with blades of grass. It wasn’t until a bird sang, “Excuse me” that Ivan looked down and saw that his legs were covered with more spiders draping his legs in platinum silk.
Quick as thought, the badger bent the bark over his feet and the spiders wove in the silver grass at the ground and before he knew it, Ivan was wearing tall copper boots that peeled a light patina like an aspen.