This was the first story I wrote when I was twenty. It is actually the first chapter of a novel, but I felt it can also stand on its own as a kind of fable.
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“And the Lord God formed man
of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his
nostrils the breath of life; and man became
a living soul…”
He remembered waking sometime during the night, but didn’t feel the need to stir from his reverie until the sun had poked through the morning cloud cover. He looked around himself with eyes that now saw things for the first time, like a newborn that had been pulled from the womb of dreams and now gazed upon the true world. He looked to the horizon at the mountains and watched in silenced amazement as the crimson sun crept above the mountain range far to the east. The beauty of that sunrise would have brought tears to his eyes, had he any to cry. A feeling lurched in his chest and he knew this feeling must be awe. He had never seen anything quite as beautiful in his life, and, he realized he had never seen anything before that moment.
For the first time since his “birth” he looked down at himself. His body hung there, suspended above the ground. He tried to will his body to move, but found that his feet just wiggled in mid-air. Looking to his sides he saw why he could not get himself to the ground; through both of his wrists was a large spike, one for each arm. He couldn't understand why he had been born into such a world, only to be cruelly held prisoner in such a manner. He didn’t remember doing anything to anyone that would warrant such a response; to limit his freedom.
He hung his head, disappointed he would not get to see this amazing world for himself save for what he could see from his lofty perch above the dusty ground. The sun drifted lazily across the sky, and he marveled at the clouds as they floated by, drifting along in that azure sea. He watched, disheartened, as the sun fell beneath the horizon once more. For a moment he was sullen, feeling that his time to view the wonders of this place were much too short. Then, as he drew his eyes to the sky he saw something more beautiful than that wonderful orb which had descended. The moon rose in all her pale glory before him. His newfound soul rejoiced in the wan light of this new and wonderful mistress. He whispered endearments to her in his mind, dedicating himself to watch her rise as long as he would be able.
There he hung, day after day and night after night, always watchful of the wonders, which were occurring around him each day. He found something new and wonderful each and every day. On one lovely over-cast day he saw a deer canter by in the distance and was amazed by its grace and beauty. It bounded and leaped in the fields, unaware of its own existence but rejoicing that it had life. The next day he was met with an even greater surprise. It came from the distant horizon he had longed to see the other side of. It floated in the air like he did, but it wasn’t held to one place as he was. It had true freedom, swooping in the breeze and gliding on tenebrous wings. He watched with great wonder and envy the way the creature soared above him. He didn’t hate it for having the freedom denied to him, but he wanted to be up there so badly it caused him to ache all over.
The bird swooped down and lighted on his shoulder. He would have given a yell of terror had his mouth not been sewn shut. The bird’s feathers shone a bluish-black in the noon light. It hopped about on his arm looking at him with its head tilted one way, then another, trying to get a good look at this unusual thing hanging there. It ruffled its feathers and puffed up giving a raucous call that frightened him again. He was anticipating the bird would attack him with its onyx beak and end his short life, but it merely stared at him, making calls at him as if imploring him to reply. He had heard other things make noises as he hung there: howls in the distance, chirps from some small little things below his feet, in the grass, and a little yellow version of the creature on his arm that whistled a lovely tune to him on occasion.
He decided that the bird was trying to communicate with him, and for the first time he tried to make a sound. It came out as a muffled gurgle in his throat that tickled his nose.
‘Caw, caw, caw!’ replied the crow when it saw the look on his face. He thought it sounded very much like a laugh but couldn’t be sure since he had never heard one. His feelings a little hurt, he turned his head the other direction to avoid the crow’s jovial looks at his expense. But the crow, not wanting to give up this new source of entertainment, hopped across his slack shoulders to his other arm to stare at him again.
‘Caw! Caw! CAW!’ it cackled. Oh shut up you horrid little thing, he thought; though he hadn’t really meant it.
They stared at each other for some time, him trying to make sounds and the crow laughing in its bird-like way. They played that game until dark clouds rolled over the sky and thunder boomed in the distance. The crow jumped from his arm and flew into the distance. He didn’t understand why the crow had left. He was just starting to enjoy the little nuisance. At least it was some company. Feelings of loneliness, wanting to be with other beings, crept into his thoughts.
Lightning flashed and the thunder cried out in the sky directly over him, causing him to cower like a struck child. He was more afraid then than he had been when he met the crow. Then the rain fell. It hadn’t rained the whole time since he had awakened from his dream, and he had thought unsung melodies to his mistress, the moon, more times than he could remember. It was an entirely new experience. The water dripped from the brim of his hat and ran into his eyes. He loved the feeling of the water hitting him from far above, but soon grew tired of being damp and wished that the sky would stop weeping on him.
The next day the crow came back. He thought he would have to go the whole day with the bird taunting him, but instead the crow just perched on his shoulder and spent the day with him in silence.
The days passed and the nights crept along, and he and the crow grew to be good friends, spending their days together playing the laughing game. He could now chuckle a little, though it sounded unusual through a closed mouth, which made the crow laugh even harder. Soon he began to feel as if he could understand the hoarse sounds of the bird. It wasn’t that the bird could talk, but it was as if he could almost assume what the crow was saying by the way it moved its body and looked at him as it cawed. Why are you hanging there like that? It would imply
‘Hmm hmmm hmmm!’ is all that would come out but the bird seemed to understand him as well as he understood it.
‘I can’t talk!’ he had said.
'Why not?’ it cawed.
‘I think someone has sealed my mouth.’
‘Oh, you mean that thread that’s in your lips?’
He thought for a moment then said ‘I think so, yes.’
‘Would you like me to take it out for you?’ it squawked.
‘Oh yes, please!’
The crow hopped forward in its awkward bird fashion and looked at the thread on his mouth, as intently as if it had been a worm. It grabbed a loose piece of the thread with its beak and began tugging at it, trying to work it loose. The bird worked at it for a long while, getting small pieces out at a time. The hours passed and the sun slid to its nighttime hideaway below the world. The crow had become very tired and told him they would have to try again tomorrow. He didn’t understand what tired was (he never slept, except for the dream he had woken from) but he said that tomorrow would be fine.
He waited eagerly for the crow the next morning but he never saw its shadow on the horizon that foretold his arrival. Instead, he spent the morning trying to make more sounds with the small part of his mouth that had been set free; just the corner of his mouth. He tried desperately to make the chirping sounds he heard each night, but he could only make “coo” sounds that seemed to entertain the deer that had stopped to see this oddity up on the makeshift crucifix.
The clouds rolled on and the moon climbed to her perch in the sky, filling the void her sister had left for her. He called to her with his new dove-like voice but she did not respond. He didn’t care. Her light shone on him and made him feel loved. That night, for the first time since his waking, he slept, and he dreamed. He dreamed of birdlike creatures with wings as black as his friend the crow, but their bodies were more like his. They came at him, and cut him with sharp swords that sent his insides, red and yellow, spilling into the dirt. Inside that dream he saw a creature that from the neck down also looked very much like him, but he didn’t recognize the face. It wore an old floppy leather hat. Beneath the hat were two unblinking, shiny eyes with two holes in each of them, and a sewn up mouth. That face scared him and he tried to turn away but couldn’t. Slowly, he realized he was seeing his own face, there in his dream. He wanted to touch it, to feel it with the fingers held down so tightly, but before he could, he awoke to the sound of the crow cawing in his ear.
He was happy to see his friend again. The night-visions he'd had still made him tremble with fright. The crow seemed to notice his uneasiness, and thought it must be because he wanted the thread pulled from his mouth. It worked on the thread for the rest of the morning and by late afternoon had succeeded in getting the last bit if it free. He stretched his jaw and moved his newfound lips trying to see all the positions he could put them in, then he tried to speak.
‘Can you hear me?’ he said cautiously.
‘Oh, yes. You have a pretty voice too!’ said the crow with laughter.
‘I do? Fantastic!’
They talked for the rest of the day, about what it was like to fly and about the world beyond the horizon.
‘What is beyond the mountains?’ his voice was filled with trepidation, afraid the crow might mention winged creatures with sharp swords waiting for him.
‘It’s very wonderful there. There is a lake and a waterfall and a town with lots of people’ it cawed. He thought for a moment.
‘What are people?’ he said. This brought a bout of laughter from the bird.
‘You don’t know what people are?’
‘No, I don’t. I’ve been here my whole life.’ His voice, though pretty to the bird, was filled with sadness.
‘Why don’t you get down,’ said the bird. He looked to the spikes in his wrists and said sullenly: ‘I can’t.’
The crow looked at the metal spikes in his arms and thought for a moment.
‘I can’t peck through those. They’re too strong for my beak.’ The crow’s disappointment was evident.
‘It’s okay. It’s not your fault.’ Then he thought for a moment. ‘Am I a person’ he said; another bout of laughter from the crow.
‘Of course you’re not a person! People are greedy and cruel and they only think of themselves,’ squawked the crow.
‘That’s terrible’ he said, and thought that “people” must be those things in his dreams that had wings and those awful swords.
‘Well, if I’m not a people, then what am I?’ The crow gave him a wry crow-like grin.
‘Why, a scarecrow of course!’ he replied, amused, ‘And, it’s “person” when you talk about one.’
‘Oh,’ said the scarecrow a little embarrassed at his mistake. ‘How do you know,’ he said with a little ire in his voice.
‘Crow’s are one of the smartest birds in the world!’ it said very proudly.
‘Oh,’ said the scarecrow again, and he said, “if I'm a scarecrow, then why aren't you scared?' The crow nearly fell from his arm with laughter.
The crow said, 'because, you're not very frightening.'
'Then, I guess I shall have to become something else then.'\
'Don't be silly. You can't change what your are.'
'Oh. That's too bad,' he pined.
'Because, I would very much like to be a Crow.'
The crow looked at him with its sideways glance, cackled with laughter and said, 'I don't think you would make a very good Crow either.'
'Why not,' he said, a bit hurt.
'Because, you have terrible wings. You'd fall to the ground like a stone!'
The scarecrow looked at his arms, and he wiggled his fingers, flapping them like small wings. The crow stared for a moment, then they both laughed and laughed.
Suffer the little children...