The birdcage: short-story

The birdcage

He took a long breath and opened the door to his balcony, the brightness of the morning sun blinding him momentarily. He squinted his eyes and looked around. Dead quiet, an empty birdcage staring back at him. He could feel the metropolis moving beneath, the breeze of speeding cars never stopping to ponder on life’s deeper avenues. Always in a hurry to get somewhere, but where does one really go all the time?

He sat on his chair and let this thought consume him like it had done countless times. Nothing ever stopped out there, but still he never dared taking a closer look over that edge. He knew the whole world moved and lived outside that old apartment, but he still dared not looking it in the face. This idea that if he were ever to look over that edge, the demon of gravity would control his sense of vertigo and tip him over. 

His late mother’s voice echoed too often in the darkness of his memories: “If you get too close, it will suck you right in.”

An invisible force.

Lurking.

Beneath your balcony.

Beneath your bed.

Right. Beneath. Your. Comfort. Zone.

Just waiting to pound on the curious wanderer who dares peek too far.

The empty birdcage stared back at him once more. The only company he had kept after his mother, and the only memory to outlive her, was that old, green parrot.

You see, that old parrot dared to get as close to the edge as far as his cage would allow him, the sights of blue skies giving him hope of abandoning it one day.

His mother used to mock him when they spent afternoons in the balcony admiring the bird. “He’s got no feathers but has more guts than you!” she would tell him. He came to admire the bird, its ability to aspire to greater heights.

But once old Mum died, her ghost lingering around every old piece of memorabilia collected throughout the years, he decided to give the bird the opportunity of having a go at freedom.

He started by opening the cage, but the bird would merely tilt its head to the side as if asking: what next?

He then had a go at holding the bird outside the cage, in an attempt to have him fly away into the endless blue, but still, the bird did not flinch. He realized if this bird was to ever fly away, he too would have to get close to the edge. It took him several weeks to even get close, his mother’s overprotective advice haunting him every instant he dared peeking over.  

Until one autumn day, when the bird’s food rations were about to run out, he set himself to approach the handrail that hung under his navel. He held the bird in his right palm and had one last look at his frail green companion. He closed his eyes, got as close as his small soul would dare, and held his hand out the balcony. He could feel the bird edge ever closer to the tip of his fingers, almost ready to fly. His heart started beating faster. His palm where the bird rested started sweating. Both hearts were now galloping and he decided to open his eyes.

When he did, the bird was fluttering its wings to prepare for departure. He made the mistake of looking over the edge when observing the bird and time came to a halt.

A cold breeze brought a shiver down his neck.

When he looked to the side, his mother looked at him disapprovingly.

“Put that bird back in its cage right now.”

The blood iced in his veins and the bird sensed this, lunging for it. When it did, so did the man trying to grab the bird one last time.

But it was too late.

Mother’s unexpected visit had taken him by surprise, and so did the height of the handrail that protected him from beneath. He fell forwards, and for a second, he admired the green wings of the parrot finally ascending towards the clouds. He was now in the hands of gravity, propelled downwards into the jungle of the metropolis. He admired the vastness of it all, the advancements of mankind outside his apartment, views that flew past him at frenetic speeds.

Towards the end, he could see the cold asphalt waiting to bring him home. And so he did.

He woke up in his bed and immediately looked under it. Nothing but dust. He got up and opened the door to his balcony, the warmth of a summer night greeting him from a slumber.

The empty birdcage stared back at him. He decided to open it, in case the parrot came back. A smile filled his existence as he dared closer to the edge and admired the world beneath.

Non-Australia Day: experimental writing story: postmodern f(r)ictions; written in October 2019

Non-Australia day

Chapter 1: First arrival

The year is 1788, and after a period of approximately eight months and seven days, Captain Cook is thrilled to announce the sighting of a new promised land to his crew. The land is rugged and the sun shines feverishly bright above as they moor. The men are excited to finally set foot on dry land. Some set to lay on the white sand, some run amuck in a spring of joy, but no one is happier than Captain James at the sight of a New World to claim as his own. One of the men is ordered to grab a flag in order to claim this land as Her Majesty’s, but just as the Captain was ready to be cheered upon planting that wooden pole onto the virgin land, something caught his attention. It was with great surprise he saw a huge sign, the sort you might see on the side of the road informing you how by looking away for three seconds at one-hundred and ten kilometres per hour will result in X meters missed, whilst doing exactly what it preaches against. Cook wiped his brow in disbelief at the sight of reading English on the other side of the globe. The sign read: ‘Welcome to Our Country’, in bright red and white letters; a yellow background stating ‘United Tribes of Abaustralia’. 

The men looked at each other in surprise: not only had they never seen such sophisticated marketing techniques, but they were also made aware of the possibility of a more advanced population residing in this ‘virgin’ land. Cook addressed the crew:

-Men! Do no despair! We are sure to establish contact with this newfound people and offer our…

Bam! A loud bang threw the men onto the beach sand. They looked at each other terrified as the sky exploded in colour. Bang! Another loud explosion caught even the Captain off guard, who tried not to show weakness in front of the men. The explosions finally stopped. No one got up but Cook, who picked up his hat as he felt his heart almost exploding out of his chest. What a welcome. He was still gathering his thoughts when he saw a figure approaching through the smoke and heat-waving horizon. The figure wore a hat similar to Cook’s, but much worse for wear. Everyone was still too terrified to get up, and Cook trembled as he looked in this mysterious man’s eyes. He approached Cook:

-G’day Captain, I’m Cooked. Welcome to the Great Plains of the United Tribes of Abaustralia.

Cook was speechless. He saw something in this man’s eyes that touched him deep in his soul, like staring at a glossy mirror after a big night out when one can barely recognise oneself. The man went on:

-Today we celebrate Non-Australia day. The date has been moved back and forth, but I won’t go into that. The space-time continuum has been broken as the people of Abaustralia now lead technological advancements and go on to fix little tweaks in history. Captain, are you with me?

Cook is in awe. The crew starts to get up slowly and make way towards the ship. Cook is reluctant to stay but his legs won’t budge.

-Don’t worry about the fireworks, they were an ironical touch. How was your trip?

-Too long. My name is…

-Captain Cook, sailor of the seven seas, and Captain of the Royal British Navy. I know you. Every single detail about you.

Cook was terrified.

-I’m sorry, who the hell are you, and where the hell are we? Did we circumnavigate too much? Is this North Africa?

-You don’t need to worry about who I am. Destiny can be a son of a bitch. As of where we hold this encounter for the ages, you are exactly where you should be. This would be the land that would put the Great Cook into the books of history, where cruise ships would perpetuate your colonial achievements and hegemonic ways with your name on them. Where lamb barbies and VB’s would be raised in your honour every year, without fail. Where whole communities would never be the same because of you. Where fences would create divisions without equal. But you have the choice.

Cook drew out his sword. The crew got up in attention, but they weren’t too worried. Cook went on:

-In her Majesty’s name, I order you to tell me yours!

-Her Majesty? Thy Majesty’s power does not reach thus far. Not in this dimension, at least.

-Dimensions? What the hell are you talking about?! – he took a step forward and held his blade to Cooked’s throat – Your name, peasant!

-My name? As I said, destiny is a helluva thing. If you were to kill me now, you would be slaying the blade of time, and your existence in this blessed land would come to a bitter end.

-I shall take my chances. Time to meet your creator! – Cook swung his blade backwards and sliced Cooked’s head off. The hat fell off and the head rolled off a couple of meters, face down. Cook walked towards the head. -Let this be a message to any fool who decides to cross her Majesty’s destiny!

The crew cheered in relief. Cook kept on going whilst picking up the head:

-Too far have we travelled to be stopped by a mere tale-telling pirate! – He kept on going whilst holding the head by the hair, its face showing to the crew – Let this be an omen to our enemies! We shall not be stopped! Can I get three cheers? Hip hip! – silence. Cook tried again – I said hip hip! – No luck. Cook was confused. He looked at his crew whose eyes were locked onto the severed head; their faces devoid of colour. Cook dropped the sword and started rotating the head towards himself. Now that the hat was off, he could make sense of the pirate’s features. He felt his soul almost leave his body as he saw his own features on the severed head, a devious smile of browned-out teeth glaring at him. He let out a somewhat girlish shriek as he threw the head out of his own hands in disbelief. The crew was rooted to the ground. Cook vomited his lunch. The crew watched on. The Captain composed himself and yelled:

-Get me some goddamned rum! NOW!

One of the crew members rushed to grab a bottle of rum out of one of the drunkards collapsed on the beach. He placed the bottle in his Captain’s hand, as one would place a gift on a dead body. The Captain took a huge gulp and gathered himself for a few seconds. He went on:

-Do not despair, men. The day is long and destiny is playing tricks on us. This land seems to be involved in a mist of magic unbeknownst to our ways. – He took another huge sip of the rum – But let us not be dispirited by whatever the hell that was. The land seems rich and the horizons run vast. – He looked around in the distance – let us find some shade and set camp for the night.

The men were lethargic. Cook started losing his temper:

-Did you not hear me?! I said…

-Captain, look…

One of the men pointed in the direction of the ‘Welcome to Our Home’ sign, his hand trembling. Cook wiped his drenched brow and saw another figure walking towards them through the blazing heat. Another pirate, he thought. As the figure approached, Cook’s legs started to tremble. He looked at the rum bottle in amazement as if to ask if this day could get any more surreal. Another big gulp. Some of the men started to run towards the ship, but Cook stopped them:

-Hold your ground, men! We have come too far to run now!

The figure got closer, and Cook could discern Cooked’s walk under the scorching sun. His hat was on again. Cook finished the rum and yelled:

-Don’t get any closer! – he picked up the sword – What do you want from us?

-Same thing as before: just an innocent chat. I come in peace! Do you?

The men were suddenly thrown onto the ground once more as a huge, scary creature flew over their heads, its roar sending their ears ringing. Even Cook was reluctant to stand up as the creature flew past. When he lifted his face off the sand, he could see Cooked shooting a bright, red laser beam that disintegrated the creature off the sky. Ash started to rain. Cooked holstered his weapon back into his jacket’s pocket. He smiled at the sight of the crew glued to the hot sand. Cook gathered all the power in his bones and got up once more.

-What the hell was that?!

-That, my old friend, was a Pterodactyl. Pardon my manners, but it is non-native to this land nor era. They breed like rabbits as well. We have been having some minor time-travelling glitches. Where were we?

-Time travelling? – Cooked smiled once more – Who are you?!

-I, my friend, am the all-seeing blade of time. The living proof that time, centuries, in our case, can change people. I am, my young James, you. Or we. Whatever way you want to look at it. It’s a bit confusing.  

-We? – Cook looked at his empty bottle – Get me some more rum! – One of the men got up swiftly, still haunted by the situation and ran towards the boat. Cooked watched in silence. He went on:

-Old habits never die, huh? – he let out a huge laugh. Cook trembled at this. The laugh rang too close to home – Don’t waste yourself away with that cheap rum. This here is some of the finest 22nd century rum Hawaii has to offer. Some amazing hosts them Hawaiians can prove to be, huh? – He laughed by himself once more, handing the bottle to Cook – You don’t get that one yet. My bad. Should we take this conversation somewhere more private? This sun is killing me.

Cook was reluctant to move but enjoyed the rum. Cooked tried to convince him.

-Come on, would I really off myself? We are too goddamn proud of ourselves, and you know that. Follow me.

Cook looked back at his crew. He nodded in confidence and followed Cooked into the line of trees. They kept on going for a few metres until they found a shady spot. Cooked reassured him:

-I could never handle the heat. What am I saying? We. There I am talking to myself again. Do you do that much? – Cook didn’t reply, still drowning himself in fine rum – Let’s make this a pleasant meeting.

Cooked took another weird looking gun-like creation out of his pocket. He pointed towards the shady clearing and pressed the trigger. An igloo was produced right before their eyes, and Cooked looked at Cook entertainingly. He joked:

-No comment?

-Not the weirdest thing I’ve seen today. – he said, drunkenly.

-Ok, ok, time to slow down on the rum, you don’t want to be wearing our liver out. Let us go in.

Cooked took the bottle out of Cook’s hand and took a sip out of the rum as he saw his former self enter the igloo. He followed him inside.

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