“What is that sound?” Alex whispered to himself.
He heard shrieking in the distance and watched as a single white feather gently swayed in the air until it touched down on his shoe. It had to be from a bird, but he had never heard a bird that loud. He weaved his way through the woods and stepped into a clearing. As he walked further, the loud chirping became a smacking sound. The treetops rustled and there were beaks protruding from the green bushy trees. Bright orange and black beaks pecking trees and crunching on what appeared to be leaves, nuts or berries.
Alex stared more closely and saw that it was not birds, but men with beaks like birds.
A nicely dressed birdman in a suit dropped from a branch and approached Alex.
“Oh, my goodness. You really gave us a scare young man,” he said.
“Are you a bird or a man?”
“Well, that’s a crazy question to ask. We are men. We just have beaks like birds.”
A stick snapped under Alex’s foot, causing the bird man to jump.
“Oh, you can’t be that scared,” Alex said. “Because you are not real.”
“I assure you young man that I am very real. I get dressed, I take showers, I have a house, drive a car and I go to work,” the bird man said.
“Why haven’t I ever seen anyone like you before?”
“Well, young man,” he whispered. “You are one of the fortunate ones who can actually see us. You can see right into our world.”
“Yes, have you ever tripped over something or felt like you bumped into something, but there was nothing there?”
“I mean, I guess. Doesn’t everybody?”
“That’s us. It happens to our people as well. Most of us can’t see you. Collisions do occur. — Is that a white feather resting on your shoe?”
“Yes—it is,” Alex said as he picked it up.
“You know what that means, don’t you?”
“What does it mean?”
“You get a wish. Just one wish. You must understand that there are consequences for every wish. Good things can happen — and bad things can happen. Sometimes the person who puts the wish into the universe—vanishes,” the bird man said as he clapped his hands together.
“Not likely, but I’ve seen it once or twice,” the bird man said.
“Well, what do I wish for?”
“That is up to you, boy. You better make it a good wish. But please do me a favor. Don’t—forget about us.”
Alex held up the feather and wished. He let the feather drop to the ground when he finished and watched as the bird people vanished. His eyes strained as he tried to refocus on what he had just seen. Like one of those magic puzzles with dots and lines, he was hoping the image would reappear. — But it never did. So, he strolled home through the dark shadows of the woods.
Alex arrived home to find his mom scrubbing the wooden deck on the front porch. He watched for a moment as she tried to eliminate a sticky substance with what appeared to be a soap and water mixture and a rag.
“What are we going to eat tonight, Mom?”
“Let me finish with the scrubbing. It’s almost dark but it’s too early to be asking me questions. And it’s too early to think about dinner. What’s wrong with you?”
“I don’t know why you are so angry. We always eat around this time. Why don’t we ask dad to pick some food up from the store on the way back from work?”
His mom gave him a stare, one of those go to hell looks.
“What?” his mom yelled.
Tears streamed from her eyes.
“Why do you do that to me and your sister? Your dad has been dead for years and you mess around like that.”
“What are you talking about Mom?”
“Don’t act like a fool, Alex. We all know it was an accident, no one’s fault. You need to move on.”
Confused, Alex stared at the ground for a moment.
“Don’t play games with me, Mom. I just talked to Dad this morning.”
His mom slapped him as hard as she could across the face. Almost as soon as she slapped him, a delivery person pulled up in a compact car.
“Kind of late for a delivery, isn’t it?” his mom said acting like she hadn’t just slapped him silly.
“I’m just doing my job,” the man said as he slipped an envelope into her palm.
She looked at the envelope for a minute, ripped it open and then pulled a letter from it. She began reading a letter written on yellow note paper. Her voice started to break as she began to speak. So, she cleared her throat and continued speaking.
“We never have to worry about anything again, Alex,” she said, crying uncontrollably.
She clinched an insurance check for more money that she had ever seen in her life in her hands as the letter dropped onto the deck.
Alex had just made a wish that he and his family would no longer have to worry about money. It couldn’t be, he thought. My dad had to die for this?
Alex’s mom hugged him tightly. For Alex, the next few days were a complete blur.
In the following weeks they moved to a new city, where he attended a new school with new kids.
He was not a great student like he once was. He continued to blame himself for his dad’s death. And his grades suffered for it. Getting into fights had become a regular occurrence. The other children called him things like the “B” word, because he had no father.
He loved his dad. The connection between the two of them had been one of the best friendships any boy could ever have. Every time he passed a wooded area, he peered into the trees, hoping to get a glimpse of a bird man. Alex prayed constantly that another feather would drop on his foot. Just one more wish and his dad could be there with him.
One night he sat in front of the television with his sister watching her favorite cartoon. It was the one where the bunny was being chased, and everyone who dared go after him faced disastrous consequences. It was supposed to be funny, and maybe in a dark way it was.
“Leroy said to tell you hello. He hopes you are doing well, Alex,” his sister said.
“Leroy, who is Leroy?”
“He’s a man. I mean, he looks like a man except for his beak.”
“His beak? Don’t make a wish, Liz. Whatever you do, don’t make a wish!”
“A wish? What are you talking about? They are just friendly people,” she laughed as the cartoon continued.
“Liz. Where did you see this — Leroy?”
“In the woods, just behind the new school.”
“Could you take me there, Liz?”
“Of course. Of course. — After the cartoon,” she laughed as an anvil dropped off a cliff onto some unsuspecting predator.
Copyright © 2021 by Ryan Barnard-Stoker