May 1, 2012

A Fettered Quest

Two weeks ago, my class had another assignment in Language Arts.  This time it was to write either a short story, poem, or graphic novel using figurative language, namely similes and metaphors.  I wrote this piece entitled A Fettered Quest, which is the journey of a lonesome bird finding himself while on the brink of death.  Enjoy!




CHAPTER I - The Message

His eyes of butter are floodlights in the ink black forest, illuminating the lives of its creatures with every lurch of his head.  His beak is like an icicle, sharp and menacing.  His mask of varying tones of black, brown and white melts him into the morbid backdrop of the night and his coat of camouflage shields him from unwanted attention, though the two beacons of light protruding from his dark form make him difficult to miss.

He is the Messenger.

His swiveling ears pick up a sound only he can hear, and his two blinding rays puncture the stillness of the foliage.  His ears strain ahead, striving to pick up a hint of sound.  Then, for only a millisecond, his eyes expand like great yellow balloons, overwhelming his whole head, signaling that his target has been sensed.

Then his wings expand, and the world gasps at their magnificence.  And the Messenger begins his mission.

The forest rushes past his streamlined figure, the blood rushing in his ears and sending his heart pounding.  freedom.  Alas, this is not so, for non rhythmically bouncing against his chest and neck is a small gold medallion engraved with a raven.  cold.  hurts.  metal.  hard.  hurts.

Temporarily ignoring the plight of the medallion, as he has done many times before, he hones his senses and: there.  His powerful wings are silent as they beat the air into toy hurricanes.  His figure alights on a branch, his silhouette becoming a part of the forest.  His icicle beak opens:  who?

The man freezes.  His eyes grow large as he turns a music box turn, his feet pivoting and his body stiff.  When his midnight blue gaze locks with the citrine gaze of the Messenger’s, his already tense form momentarily stiffens, then relaxes.  Because glinting in the barely tangible moonlight, a flash of gold at the base of the Messenger’s neck reassures the man.  The Messenger has not moved.

Belittled by the Messenger’s regal stature and knife-sharp gaze, the man speaks to him as politely as he knows how.

“Good evening to you Sir.” the sandpaper voice scratches.

The Messenger just stares.  hurry.  fly.  away.  food.  And holds out his palm tree trunk of a leg.  The man can see now a battered and wrinkled paper fastened to the Messenger’s leg with a strip of leather.

With hands as weathered as the paper itself, the man clumsily unties the scroll.  And reads.  But when he looks up, his mysterious companion is gone.

CHAPTER 2 - Master

food.  sleep.  fly.  food.  sleep.  food.

The Messenger is tired.  But he will be rewarded.

Throughout his entire life, he has been ferrying messages to and from his master, wishing with all of his walnut sized heart that he knew how to hunt.  But he doesn’t, and his master feeds him, so the Messenger dutifully does his job.

As he flies above carpeted fields dotted with vegetation, the small gold raven dangling from the scruff of his neck indicates his subordination, and reminds him that he will never be free.   

Fingers of orange and pink rise from behind the dew covered hills to color the Messenger’s earth tone body.  food.  find.  home.  HOME.  With a burst of renewed strength, the Messenger accelerates towards the gray stone castle that has just crested the hill.  The Messenger flies high over the moat and over the courtyards, where the townsfolk spend most of their time.  The noise of hagglers selling their wares, and the smell of bread and meat just fuels his wanting to reach his destination.  He is close.

master.  The Messenger winds his way through stone turrets and blue and gold flags until he finds the old stained glass window set in at the top of the Northeast Spire.  He raps his claw-like beak against the glass, his yellow eyes trying to see through the colored glass to the interior.  The window opens.

“Ah!” a booming voice says.  As if he were surprised.  “My humble servant back so soon!”

A man stands in the window.  But you could hardly call him a man, for he looks more like a heap of fine silk, diamonds, and jewels.

“I trust you found the man,” he purrs in a voice as smooth as the silk in his clothes.  Instantly, the man’s beetle-black eyes turn from merry to cold and merciless.  “because you know what happens if you fail me.”

The Messenger trembles.  scared.  will.  get.  food.  and holds out his shaking leg to show his master that he does not have the message any longer.

“Very good.” the heap of silk croons.  But the Messenger does not feel pride in his master’s praise.

The lavish pile of cloth swishes from the window and glides over to a gold bell hung by the door.  The man gently tugs the chain, and a faint chiming echoes through the vast halls of the castle.  Almost immediately, a man with light blue and black checkered pants and a dark blue tunic opens the door to the chamber, the length of his mustache almost forcing him to cross the threshold sideways.  In his hands, he carries an ornately carved gold embossed chest.  The bejeweled man takes the chest and dismisses the servant.  He bends down and a silk sleeve materializes from his raiment to open the chest.

food.

The man looks back at the Messenger, trying to gauge his impatience.  He cocks a heavily penciled light brown eyebrow and takes eternity to dip his hand into the chest.  Then, without warning, his hand plunges into the box and withdraws a small field mouse.

FOOD!  food.  thank.  you.

The satin mountain chuckles, causing ripples to break out all over the his body, starting in his wide girth and spiraling out towards his pointy head and little feet, a wide middle and two barbed ends.  He casually tosses the mouse to the Messenger and the bird quickly gulps down his treat.

“Do you want more?”  asks the man, black eyes wide and innocent.

The Messenger just blinks at the man with his two yellow lanterns.

“Well then, we’ll just have to deliver another message, won’t we?” squealed the clown, hopping from one foot to another in sadistic glee.

The Messenger wished he was able to cry.  hungry.  sad.  tired.  don’t.  want.  mean.  master.

The man reaches into one of the thousands of folds in his garments and plucks out a rolled piece of paper.  He smiles like the devil and says,

“My little friend” the man smiles evilly, “If you would be so kind as to transport this message to the Earl of Hartford, I would be much obliged.”

It takes all of the Messenger’s willpower to not bite the brute’s gluttonous hand off as he deftly ties the message to his leg.

Stripped of reason, the Messenger angrily flies out the window, flying as hard as possible, not caring to save the small amount of energy he regained during his short respite with his master.  mean.  master.  The Messenger needs to rest, but his hatred has clouded his judgement.

CHAPTER 3 - The Trap

The shadows grow longer as the Messenger flies over the houses and fields retracing his path until he reaches the forest.  By now, it is a few hours past midday, and the Messenger knows it will get dark soon.

He penetrates the barrier the trees’ dark figures make at the edge of the forest.  The branches and shadows snatch at him as he glides through.  The Messenger’s pupils dilate to accommodate the sudden absence of light and he slows down in order not to run into the branch that suddenly appeared before him.  He swiftly but ungracefully dodges.

safe.

no!  this.  can’t.  be.  happening.  AAHH!!  wing.  wing.  hurts.  spinning.  colors.  pain.              black.

                                                                        - - - <+> - - -

The Messenger stirs to the sounds of bird calls and dripping foliage.  The morning dew is melting and the plants and animals in the forest are beginning their day.  But not the Messenger.   light.  hurts.  WING!!  pain.  wing.  Pain spirals up his body, almost rendering him unconscious every time his weak heart beats.  The Messenger finally braves the sick feeling traveling from the pit of his stomach into his throat and gets the courage to look down at his wing.

His dinner plate eyes grow bigger, threatening to engulf his entire head.  His once tawny wing is now caked with dried crimson blood, disgustingly blending with fresh blood and twine.  no.  need.  wing.  An animal whose only salvation is flight can no longer escape his troubles high in the air.  But this inability to fly also prohibits him from delivering messages.  can’t.  fly.  can’t.  get.  food.  from.  master.  help!  In his frantic but inevitably futile efforts to escape his virtual prison, he just manages to entangle his wing more painfully in the twine.  His vision blurs and he falls unconscious.  The Messenger has fallen prey to a rabbit trap.

CHAPTER 4 - The Dream

The next few weeks consist of blurry shapes and patches of light, but most of all, unending, indescribable pain.  Pain that causes lunacy.  Each time the Messenger wakens, he counts the seconds until he will go unconscious again and escape the agony.  Every hour, he grows weaker.  He is immobile, and hasn’t had food for days.  must.  hunt.  need.  food.  But hunting is a challenge he’s never before been faced with and the pain is sapping his life force.

The scuttling sounds of squirrels and woodland animals lull the Messenger to sleep that night.  His brain slows and his pain lessens.  And that night the Messenger dreams.

The yellow moon is a reflection of his enormous eyes as the Messenger listens for his prey.  The pain in his wing only a dull throb now, his eyes scan the small forest clearing with laser intensity.  The low vantage point from a tree stump enables the Messenger to catch his prey much sooner after first sighting it, an unpredicted advantage to not being able to fly.  There.  The Messenger’s head snaps and he solidifies into a statue, as if Medusa herself had walked into the clearing.  A foot the length of a winter green flower stepping on decaying leaf litter 20 feet from the Messenger’s perch can only mean one thing.  Dinner.

The Messenger leans forward slightly, an invisible string seeming to pull his very essence towards the mouse.  Almost there.  So close.  With talons as sharp as the mind of Einstein the Messenger releases his grip on the decaying wood of the stump.  The muscles in his palm tree trunk legs bunch and spring, launching this angel of the night into the air to spiral down upon its final meal of the day.

The Messenger wakes shivering but brimming with energy.  He takes a shaky breath of relaxation and is able to return to his slumber with a calm mind.

CHAPTER 5 - An Inevitable Death, and the Imminent Prospects of Such

After two more days of hallucinations and altered reality, only one thought remains clear in the Messenger’s head.  food.  And now he knows how to get it.  With a gulp to swallow an ocean, he lifts himself up off the decomposing forest floor, careful to keep his wing stationary.  He glances at his monstrosity of a limb and braces himself for the pain he knows will come when he lifts it.  His shoulder trembles in anticipation of the agony.  He closes his two glowing orbs of yellow and lifts his wing.

The pain is not utterly unbearable.  In reality, it is not half as bad as the Messenger feared.  The Messenger breathes a sigh of relief at the sharp throb, glad that just letting his wing rest was the best remedy.  The twine of the rabbit trap is still snagged in his feathers, and the Messenger does not dare try to remove it, for fear of inflaming the wound.  Despite the relief of less pain than anticipated, the Messenger’s stomach has shrunk to the size of a lead fishing weight and the pain he feels is very present.  His colossal mountain of hunger and the pain in his wing threaten to overcome him, and every so often, his lamplike eyes dim somewhat and gloss over, but the Messenger is always able to fight it.  The gold medallion is a constant weight dragging his neck down, daring him to give in to the pain, gradually becoming the sandbags on the Messenger’s hot air balloon of life.  But the Messenger’s will to survive always overcomes his acceptance of death.

CHAPTER 6 - Freedom

The Messenger’s talons pierce the blanket of leaves surrounding the rotting stump of a maple.  Using his beak as a third foot, he climbs the stump to settle majestically at the top, the gold medallion thumping angrily against the beat of his heart.  His wing throbs from the effort, but the Messenger ignores it.

i.  am.  free.  The Messenger blinks once in a millisecond of realization and in one swift motion reaches his head down and slices through the textured interlocking threads of the medallion’s cobalt cord.  His yellow gaze follows the gold raven and its cord as they spiral down to the forest floor, bounce once, and come to rest with the raven’s golden head directed downwards into the cold embrace of a maple leaf.  He is no longer the Messenger.

The owl’s neck tilts up as he glances at the crowns of the trees.  Nostalgia fills his eyes, the longing to be high in the air almost overwhelming his composure.  But no.  He must remain stoic at any elevation, and turns his gaze to the ground.  The owl shuffles his feet.  Left.  Right.  Left.  And then he waits.

If you were a chipmunk, or a crow, traveling through those woods on that moonlit evening, and you were keen enough to spot the owl, you would think him asleep on his perch, and you would continue on your way.  But he is not asleep.  

The owl is hunting.

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