The Bird Book

This Weeks Prompt: 86. To find something horrible in a (perhaps familiar) book, and not to be able to find it again.

The Prior Research:a book

It was either Borders or Barnes and Noble. Yes, I know one closed ages ago, but this was ages ago. Yeah, their two separate companies, but they have the same vibe you know? They’ve got the same big sign, the same letters, the same rows of books arranged in the same categories, all of them new and fresh. It’s not like a Bookmans, where the books are sprawled and it takes a bit to piece together the categories. It’s not a university store, with it’s basement and maze, and categories you didn’t realize people made a living writing books on.

I started there because it was easy enough. Again, easy to navigate. Easy to find. Easy even to check online to make sure they had the book I was looking for.

The notion had come to me, like memories usually do, when I was at work. I was doing inventory again—in one of those parts of the office where inventory hadn’t been done in years. Wouldn’t have been done in years, if it weren’t for an oncoming audit. I had been going through the supplies, finding all sorts of strange things—board games, for instance, based on President Obama’s election. Did you know there were two of those? They made two whole educational board games about it. Several hundred unsold CDs by local artists that were friends of the office. DvDs, mostly of the same educational video.

I had found two stranger things, however. They really were innocuous—eight envelopes. Three labeled “Numbers”, five labeled “Words”.

They felt important—I could feel paper shifting behind them. Probably, honestly speaking? They where flash cards for little kids. That was it. Just. Just flash cards.

But okay, if they were flash cards, I wouldn’t be here, looking for that book. Moldovi’s Ancient and Classic Stories: Tall Tales and Exciting Adventures from Around the Globe. It had a leather cover, gold lettering on the front, and a wonderful print of the globe with little monsters coming off the side. Well, mine did. The new edition did that terrible thing, where it was just a picture of a single ominous image—a globe held by a contemplative statue.

Anyway, I loved the book as a kid. Adored it, read it constantly. But I remembered this weird page—it was page after the story of Brandmante. A reprint of Bulfinch’s Mythology’s section on Charlemagne. There was this page, and I couldn’t quite remember what was on it honestly. Only I didn’t read the book again after that. I think it involved a bird.

I flicked through the new introduction, glossy paper feeling sharp on my fingers. They’d kept some of the original illustrations in the new version, but not all of them. Some had been replaced by a picutre of an archaeological thing. You know, a Greek vase for going over the story of Hercules, some Philippine art for Maui—no, that’s Polynesian. It jumbled the text sometimes, but eventually I reached the end of Bradmante’s bit and reached—Byrnhild.

I flipped back and forth. No middle page. Frowning, I checked the editions listing. I knew something was missing, might have gotten lost in an edit—it had editions from 1920, 1935, 1950, 1980, 1991, 1995, reprint in 1996, an updated edition in 2005, and then this one. Maybe it had gotten lost in the shuffle. I slipped the book back on the shelf, and hoped no one really noticed me as I left. I know Borders and Noble “isn’t a library”, but when you need to check one thing…whatever.

Falcon 1 Diving

Tracking down an older edition of a book is relatively easy, if you want to actually own it. Finding a place that will let you, you know, just quickly check a page is a bit harder. Luckily I knew a place that tended to accumulate books. I did look before—the cover of mine was a 1935 copy. Second printing, had the gold orb with the little people sprouting off of it. Looking at the cover on my screen I realized that, huh. The people were in costumes. I hadn’t noticed it as a kid, but the little boy sticking out of the US definitely had a cowboy hat.

It was a dense store. Shelves up to the ceiling, with just enough room for you to slip in between them. Towards the back, there was an opening into even more shelves, more books, and that way was a maze of the strange. I’d found centuries old books here. I’d felt like I lost centuries wandering around in here. So I thought this time, I’ll just check the front.

Hey Phil.” I said, walking up to the counter. Phil sat on a stool, glasses nearly falling off his nose as he looked over a small crate of new arrivals. His hands only had color relative to the pale yellowed pages that he was looking over carefully. “Hows the catalog going?”

Its wo going along fine. What do you need?”

I’m looking for an older book.” I said, drumming my fingers. A crow screeched outside, as Phil nodded slowly.

I might have a few books that are old.”

Right, duh. I’m looking for a copy of Moldovi’s Ancient and Classic Stories: Tall Tales and Exciting Adventures from Around the Globe. Older the better—First Edition if you have it.” I said, holding up a picture of the cover on my phone.

Lemee see…thats a new name.” Phil said, turning over to his computer. He’d spent every day I knew typing into the computer—name, title, edition. A growing record of what he’d inherited from the old man, what he had bought from collectors, what he’d sold to other collectors, libraries, and more. A few clacks later, he nods and gestures for me to follow.

So, Jim had a second edition—that’s as old as I’ve got. That sound right?” Phil said, descending into the depths of the musty cellar. I shrugged. Might be.

The second edition had a similar cover—not exactly the same, but a globe, people popping out of it. I automatically skimmed to the page after Bradmante. There was a brief poem, about a bird—the Awal bird.

Up and Down it goes

The sound grows and grows

The Awal Bird catches and drops

The Mouse screams as it squawks

As the rodent’s heart gives out

the Awal Bird eats the mouse.”

Bird 1 Diving.png

The poem was familiar. Yes, I’d read this before. It was next to the picture—a picture of the Awal bird and the Mouse. There was a footnote—a redirection to the introduction, for the second edition. Back through the pages.

The first printing of Moldovi’s Ancient and Classic Stories: Tall Tales and Exciting Adventures from Around the Globe contained a number of misprints and factual errors or outright forgeries. After some considerations, and much conversation, a number of pieces have been removed. Major alterations include: The Awal Bird* illustration, misprinted in one in three instances; the Jala dog*, which was determined to be a derogatory tale from local Spanish authorities and having no real basis in tales of the area; the Womi-tali*, a combination of nonsense syllables that again, appears to be an English invention of little providence; the illustration of Typhon, misprinted in one in four cases; an instance of the Grootslang* misprinted in one in five cases; the picture of the Faerie Queen, misprinted in six out of ten cases; the story of the Wandering Sword, rewritten after a second translation; and lastly the image of the dying Medusa, misprinted in one of five1*. In cases where originals could be found, they were printed. In cases where they could not be located, sadly, omissions had to be made. These are marked with a * above.

The introduction rambled on more about the responsibility of editors and parents in these trying times to monitor the stories of the youth to prevent a descent into insolent barbarism. Whatever. Missing page was a misprint was the problem. Which meant either spending ages looking for a first edition that maintained the misprint—a one in three chance—or finding the one from my child hood. And that meant going home.

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Home is a rambling place. Home is a fetid place. I didn’t know that word, really, until I heard some author use it to describe the house I lived in, between the trees. The driveway’s perpetually marred by bird crap. Mom never bothered get rid of it, and the birds—the white birds, leaning over with their long legs and necks. They loved our home.

My car pulls up on the overtake driveway—cracks and dents from time rattling the tires. The birds all watch me—the pale ones look like a cat licked them slick. Feathers flicking out at the end. One ruffles its feathers with its needle beak. I hate them.

They only seem to come into this part of town—no doubt someone’s escaped pets. One of them squawks at me.

I fumble with the keys, cursing a bit. They haven’t changed the lock yet. Maybe they’ll forget to. When I final managed to convince the door its me, I open into the bare interior. The wallpaper is mostly gone—there’s a strip of a flur de les in the upper right corner of the living room. There’s a few chairs there. Ones no one would buy cheap, ones that would take too much effort to donate. Ones that were sick with mold.

I didn’t dally long. Well, no. I had dallied. Mom’s library was what I was supposed to clear out. Honestly, I hadn’t gotten to it yet. I would have but, but well. Books are heavy, in both the literal and cheesy way. Taking them out felt weird. And then things happen, things continue to happen. It was weird.

An impatient bird squawk comes from outside. The stairs creek beneath my weight, unaccustomed to a somewhat healthy adult presence. Much better for children, or potsmoking teenagers, or whoever actually came here anymore. The grafitti on one wall suggested they fucked—but who knows. Kids lie.

Still, the second story den door was shut. Still locked even. Immaculate. A persian rug, grey with dust. Some fungus growing out of one of the pipes. The bookshelf wore its age well, shelves like creases in some preserved brain. No, thats not right. Like ribs. If I’m going to compare it to a body, it was a like wooden, rotting, putrefying ribs.

I brushed away the spiderwebs with a stick, and then struck the floor a few times to keep them away and dead. Then I reached up—up—to the upper right. The red book, with it’s gold cover. Faded with time, yes. Pages feeling like crisp cloth, delicate and sharp at the same time. I carefully thumbed through it.

My heart stopped.

Six eyes. Seven eyes. Fractal eyes. Fractal, screaming mice. Rising and falling. Each instance, a hundred iterations. All of them—all the bird eyes, bird wings, flapping, falling, soaring, diving.

All looking at me, blended together into a single circle. Time had rotted parts of the page. The spaces in the ink were more eyes. It stained my fingers as I ran over it—it stained and stuck. The holes my hands left became more birds. More eyes.

I didn’t scream.

Last Swarm.png

I stumbled back to car. The birds start flying, circling and then taking off. But the circle stays overhead for a second. Just a moment, an empty circle as the car starts.

The Awal Bird

A curious bird, sometimes called the yo-yo bird reported in a few mountain areas, particuarly in the Rockies. The awal is said to grip its prey, and fly high into the air. Unlike most birds, however, it does not tear into its food. Rather, it drops the morsel from a great height and dives after it. The awal bird does this many times, until the poor mouse—or larger creature—suffers a heart attack and dies. Then, the awal bird feasts on the perfectly preserved remains. Stories suggest that a larger bird, or that flocks of them, will seize small children for meals.

1This image in particular horrified some of our younger readers. It appears the image of the medusa misprinted to look as if she had a second set of eyes in her mouth and mouth beneath—we apologize for the distraught.

 




The above story still feels off. It feels too settled, and like the vestige of another, more intricate piece. The premise of the birds is a story I remember, but honestly can’t place. I think it might be from  Borges, fittingly enough–but I didn’t check too deeply.

Next week, we resume a more normal programming, with the ways to raise the dead with ashes and even organs perhaps! Come and see the essential salts!

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Gil’s Gone

This Week’s Prompt: As dinosaurs were once surpassed by mammals, so will man-mammal be surpassed by insect or bird—fall of man before the new race.

The Research:Birds and the Bees

Gil says in the time of our oldest fathers, we had great stone houses. We too, Gil says, could look down on the forests and grew trees that touched the sky. Trees with roots made out of rocks and fire in their knots. Meat and berries were there for everyone. Our oldest fathers looked down on the world smiling. Their sons were lazy boys, and so a bit was lost. Their sons were lazy and had bad teacher, so more was lost. And more. Then, we were born. And by now, the birds have knocked down our trees and homes above ground.

Gil is the old brother. Gil is taller than me, and has a big stick most of the time, so when we go under the sky, he always comes with me. He knows where the big nests are, and to keep away from them. He knows where the fish are that can still be found. He’s taught me some. But Gil keeps most to himself, because he says I’m still lazy.

We were out hunting between the trees, hiding from the mesmer bird and the howling owl, in the deep of the leaves, when I first saw it. The great golden tree, planted in the sky. The birds built them, where the roots couldn’t be cut and the branches were beyond our touch.

“Stay away from those,” Gil said, pointing, “More than any other.”

“Any other?” I asked. Gil nodded.

“Our mothers and fathers a long time ago made things like those. They are terrible places, full of bad spirits and birds of all sorts. But worst of all, is the great garuda bird. It’s wings are wider than all our homes, it’s claws could tear open our roofs, and pull us out like worms. They are red, bright red, and fast. They only live in golden nests.”

We went on searching after that, but I kept looking up at the floating nest. It was a second sun floating in the sky. It was like those rocks that line the great blackbirds nests and roosts, or that we see the occasional mouse scampering with. It almost got us killed, when I looked up at it instead of focusing on driving away the flock from the body of the great beetle. As we carved into it’s carcass and wrapped it’s legs and chitin to carry it home, there was a flicker of red, red like our blood, across the sky.

And then a loud screeching sound, like a new born in the warrens the first time. The wind moved fast. Big golden claws grabbed Gil, and then he was gone. High and higher the red wind went, to the sky. I watched on as it flew in circles, then with another screech it swooped towards the shining nest rooted in clouds. Gil was gone, back to the bright nest in the sky.

I had a thought then. Gil was be mad if I went after him, toward the bright nest. The people back in the burrow would be mad if I lost Gil. I think Gil would let go of his anger if I got him out of the nest. If I went fast, I might make it with the sun in the sky still. There was a lot of bush and brush in the way, and birds at night were worse. Howl owls at night slip quiet and slice your head off when you don’t look.

The bushes were free of thorns, mostly. My feet moved quick over leafs and droppings, the mice running beneath my feet and the occasional caw of the big eagle overhead, covering the little light there was in the forest. It was simple going, easy going, for the most part. Gil taught me be quiet, be quick, be cunning and full of tricks, and I would survive.

It was as the sun turned orange on the horizon that things went bad. As it’s gold went over the sky, I heard a rustle in the bush behind me. I turn around spear ready, waiting for the doomed noises. But there was a swaying shimmer back and forth. A pair of talons danced about beneath a long bright beak. Eyes of orange and green waved, a thousand eyes on the back like stars.

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It was a bright dancer, child of stars spun in feathers and flesh. Its beak clicked in rhyme and rhythm as round and round talon stepped and its beak bowed about. With a flurry of eyes meeting mine, it invited me to dance wordlessly, a beauty without any of my form. The invitation was doomed and fatal. The mezz bird dances you tired. It talks with no words, only steps, until there is nothing left and you fall. And then it feasts on you.

But when the mezz bird dances, you can’t help but follow along. You dance and dance, and it’s the most beautiful thing you’ve seen. And it would have ended then and there, trapped in the rolling dust

if not for the kind sun. A beam struck across its face as my spear began to slip. And the cruel light broke the trance and dance stalled. I took what I was given, and drove my spear into its glowing face.

The blood along the bright feathers caused it to screech. It’s eyes grew red, it’s body was a crude fusion of two birds. A robin wedged in it’s face. And now it was mad and blind running about. Normally, were I wise or old, I’d kill it and make a coat from it’s feathers and a stew from its bones. But the shining nest was still low in the sky, and so I had to run on past it as it slashed the ground and bit the branches.

Rather than finish off the mezz bird for it’s feathers that hold the sky, I ran further down to the shining nest that began to sink to the ground. As night fell and the sun slept I ran, and ducked away from the howl of the owls and the screeches of other, older eagles that fly round the tree tops with a great deal of sound, feeding on paltry bats and lizards. Near the nest I crept, watching as other birds flew to and from it.

The nest light was dimmed by a thin red and organge spread acorss it on all sides. There was the occasional glint of great talons or a dread eye. I walked across the plain, spear ready and eyes steady. But I slowly realized how big it was. All the burrows back home were smaller. All our houses were smaller. One of it’s sticks ran as long out from the rest as a dozen trees ran from the ground up. And others were woven among each other.

As I got close, there was a single spindle poked the floor. A beam of gold, like a long root or a snake tale. To run in the clear was doom, Gil had said. Stay with the trees and the bush and the large leaves, and you will live. Stray from it and you will die. But it was night, and if your above ground, the night will kill you with no light. Into plain, I will die. In the forest I will die. In the light I will die.

I move to die in the plains and run towards the spiral, grabbing it tight. It feels strange, soft and full of holes, and was harder climbing then the trees had been. I pulled my self, piece by piece, with my spear in hand. The moon was looking down haughtily by the time the wind started to rise around us.

And slowly the nest rose, me with it. The sky grew pale around me. It rushed up with a great crimson breeze with quicks of gold and flicks of yellow. And as I closed my eyes, it carried us both soaring up. And spun about, so much I thought I would be sick. Until I felt earth’s pull on my head instead of my feet.My hands slightly slipped. And slowly I slid down the stick of gold, towards a waiting nest. Fear held back my scream of terror.

And then I saw the garuda bird.

garudacover

Wings red as mezz bird blood. Wings stretching from mountain to mountain. Wings that were larger than the woods laid end to end. Wings that were larger than the sky could ever hold. Talons, many talons on two long heron legs. Talons that could tear off a burrow roof. Talons as thick as trees. Talons that sun-born, shining and blinding.

It perched between it’s cast pillars. It’s many talons held a limp man. Gil, maybe. Maybe some other poor fool. But as I looked on, in my think place there as the sound of great wings beating. Winds rose and feel in my mind, and I was trapped motionless again. But now it was the second sun that held me fast, turning with a pair of dark eyes upon me.

They were eyes that swallowed the sky, swallowed me into never ending shadow. Eyes black, eyes that ate noises and left only the sound of great wings. I was born on those wings, up higher still. I was born on warm winds. My thoughts turned again, briefly, to the unseen hands of the great garuda.

And then I awoke, up high in the nest, in a golden burrow with sticks of gold making it a dome upon a dome. And around me flew eagles of sapphire and red herons and birds upon birds. And each, each was like the garuda, and a vast cacophony of wings filled my mind. And so I began my story again.


Come back next week, for another corpse. One less…well, feathery then this poor lad was.  Our prompt?

33. Determinism and prophecy.
We’ll…have a lot to talk about.

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Birds and the Bees

This Week’s Prompt:32. As dinosaurs were once surpassed by mammals, so will man-mammal be surpassed by insect or bird—fall of man before the new race.

The Resulting Story: Gil’s Gone

So, we have a couple wonderful things to talk about! So many horrifying ideas. I have worked with this concept before, for my own pre-society purposes, but I’ll try a different route than last time I touched on this one. We’ve talked about cyclical surpassing and ages a few times already, here and here. But now we have the notion of a much grander movement: an entire kingdom replacement. And this is new.
It is firstly an almost apocalyptic notion. The surpassing of the dinosaurs was their complete extinction, and the arrival of (eventually) a level of organization and planning that was utterly alien at the time. If there are any reptilian civilizations, they are so utterly obliterated as to be effectively non-existent. The horror of the future advancing suddenly on a viewer, and the world rendered unrecognizable, is often a reactionary thing.

The deep seated fear of the passage of time is common in Lovecraft, and in this it takes a biological form. The powers of the future will not only out pace us in prominence and intelligence, but they will also forget what to us seems so grand and powerful. We talked about that with Ozymandias here.

Now, insects and birds do share a few common components worth examining as horror authors. Both are occasionally impressive group animals. Both are often shockingly more intelligent then they seem, crows being quite ingenious and ants practicing almost human levels of sophist action in architecture, planning, and agriculture. Neither has a terribly expressive mouth and far less expressive eyes, an important aspect of the alien and horrifying.

Birds are less …strange, relatively speaking. Alot of their strangeness I know is thanks to this wonderful comic artist humon, who outlined the mating styles and courting of a number animals and is a fun resource for strange or alien ideas of romance or the like. Birds do flock, and of course there is the famous war they waged documented by the amazing Alfred Hitchcock (and the…admirable recreation by Birdemic). They are a bit more rife with folkloric and mythological imagery, however, and such things are my favorite to talk about.

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Races of intelligent birds brings to mind first the Tengu birds of Japan. The tengu are, at varying times, aggressive demons, angry ghosts, dangerous protectors, and mountain spirit. They often are practices of ascetic arts. They also often tricked, as mischievous spirit are, and well versed in sword play.

 

The next notion is that of the Garuda Garuda bird, who is a flaming bird that nearly destroyed the Naga. As a group of entities, it is exclusive to Buddhism. In Buddhism the Garuda has wings many miles wide that cause hurricane wings when flapped. Such vast and cosmic creatures border on that existential fear of wind and weather, and would be worth additions beside things like the Great Old Ones in terror they inspired. They could likewise level mountains, and warred with the Naga frequently, sometimes taking human form.

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Insects, however, are far far more bizarre. The sheer variety of terrors they inspire is astounding. From vast organizations to small scale assaults, insects are frightful characters. I’d detail all of them, but Tom Waits did it better here:

There is some folklore precedent for insects ‘taking over’. In myth, there are the Myrmidons who are (despite human appearances) born of ants. These legendary soldiers, renowned for their discipline, served beside Achilles at Troy and were among the finest in the world. Bee’s have an even more impressive history. Three bee maidens gave Apollo his famous prophetic gift in Greece. The San people of the Kalahari tell of a dead bee becoming the first human after falling into the ground as a seed. In Hindu myth, the form of a bee was used to kill the demon king Arunasura, who could not be slain by bipeds or quadrupeds.

With all this folklore, where to go with our monsters? Well, that depends a great deal on how we tell this story. There is the obvious way: as the apocalypse occurs, in rapid action. After all, the dinosaurs were quickly overcome, weren’t they? We could frame it as an alien invasion from within, a sudden hostility of the planet to mortal presence. Except…that’s not what happened to the dinosaurs. Sure, the death of the lizard kings was rapid. But the rise of mankind took millions of years to occur.

Such a vast scale is hard to communicate in a narrative. We could take on a sort of historical view, as a text book instead of as a disaster movie. But that borders on the dull unless done exceptionally well.. A mix of the two, as is the style of Planet of the Apes (which also features a humanity overcome and displaced by another species) could work, following the human survivors in an essentially alien world.

That latter seems the best. It allows an alien setting, amongst a reshaped world, while avoiding the time displacement. The plot is less obvious, but fleeing the new arrivals should not be hard to write as a starting point. Surviving to some safe place (which is invariably, it seems, not safe) is a common enough idea, although it tends to be used only in the few centuries after the apocylpse has touched down.

A nice alternative to the sanctuary narrative might be a rescue narrative. While maybe a little more upbeat (at least possibly) then horror is normally, being captured and held by alien forces for unknown (and given our monsters place in the line of history, perhaps unknowable) purpose is terrifying in it’s own right. And for good reason.

There is a stability we, as a species, insist upon. We are the top of the food chain among things we can see, particularly in Western ‘civilized’ societies. The Netsilik and other Inuit peoples, who rely much more on animals and hunting for survival then domestic animals, ascribe the reverse. We can hunt, only because the animals pity us. Such a notion is utterly alien to the world of Western theology and philosophy, beyond a few possible exceptions of animal nobility and particularly naturalistic philosophers.

garuda1

Threatening stability, rendering humanity another animal, puts our fear of chaos and ourselves on center stage. The uncertainty between our kinship with animals (such as cats and dogs) and our…well, feasting on them (as in cattle and sheep) and a general fear that we are not much more than them. There is a very of subordination of place in the cosmos (a common concern in Lovecraft’s) as well as the creation of alien terrain. For, the dinosaurs did not give way merely to humanity, but to all mammals as the apex predators and herbivores. How strange a world, where the chief forest hunter is not the wolf by a flock of hawks or peacocks. What adaptations would they have to help them prey on their new food?

Some of these are starting to form into concrete concepts, with new venues of perception and awareness available to the great garuda birds that is lost to us. The way to traverse between stars and worlds, the way into minds and souls, a race so much more aware and intelligent then we that the comparison would be as if brutes were to call their burrows shining metropoli. There is something…terrifying in beholding something so aware as to look down upon mankind, and I think a rescue of sorts from whatever occult experiments such vast things wish to preform on such small creatures. And there is a lack of avian monsters in the mythos…

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