“Stay humble, and you will stay out of danger”, my mother told me.
I was still in the nest when this warning came down. I cheeped for a worm, but she held firm, staring me right in my hungry eyes. She wanted to know that I had understood the gravity of her statement.
“I’ve seen it happen too many times. I’ve lost too many friends. You are downy and new now, my son, but you will come to see that the world is full of dangers for a young bird. There are cats. Snakes. Birds of prey. Windows.”
She paused, and stared off into the distance for a moment. “And there are greater evils, too. Ones of which I dare not speak.”
I pretended to understand, but I just wanted her to finish. I wanted to eat. I was always hungry, and the things she brought never seemed to satisfy - but for the moment, with a fire burning in my little belly, I wanted whatever she’d provide.
“We are ground feeders. Seeds. Grains. Fruit, perhaps. The occasional beetle, cicada, grasshopper or snail. Leave adventures in the human world to pigeons. They fear not the savagery of man, and they often suffer the consequences.”
I peeped, meekly. Hungrily. Finally, she relented, and regurgitated a dinner. As advertised. Seeds.
I drifted off to sleep that night, sated for the moment, but dreaming of better foods.
It was perhaps a few weeks later, after I had left the nest, when I floated over the rich man’s estate. It was massive, unlike anything I had seen. I had been foraging by the riverbanks all day, finding paltry pickings of the usual foods, but I suspected a place like this would be a garden of delights.
I alit just behind a manicured hedge. Through the leaves, I spied a gathering. There were perhaps two dozen people, but it was clear that one was the host. He was confident. Boastful. He carried an air that demanded attention, and his guests seemed almost in his debt. I watched as they dined. Plates filled, then emptied. Quantities of food the likes of which I could only dream, back in the nest, suffering down another crunchy, tasteless cicada.
My mother’s words hung in my ears. Savagery. But the rich man, how dangerous could he be? This did not seem a savage place. Still, I held cautiously. Waited for the party to break. Surely, there would be something left when it was safer to move in.
Perhaps an hour or so later, the last guest had staggered to their car, and it seemed I was alone. I hopped past the hedgerow, and began pecking at the crumbs that had fallen onto the flagstone patio. There had been breads. Cakes. Even feasting on the humans’ discarded detritus, I was more sated than I’d ever felt.
I was deep in the thrall of a bit of baguette when a voice from behind startled me. “Well, hello there, little friend.” I froze. “Looks like you’re awfully hungry, aren’t you?” I was too terrified to move. “Come on, now, little fella, don’t be afraid. Look at me, won’t you?”
I spun around, face to face with the rich man. “I never let anyone go hungry, not even my bird friends. You’re on my patio, so you’re my guest, and guests shouldn’t have to peck at crumbs. Besides, I’m known for my food. I bet you’ve never had something like this.” He rang a small bell, and within moments, a butler appeared at his side, bearing a lidded silver platter. I was still afraid, but at the same moment, I salivated at the thought of what could be under there.
He opened the platter, and I nearly recoiled. The stench was overwhelming. I knew wild garlic from my foraging, but I’d never smelled it quite like this. It bubbled with something thick and viscous on the top. Limp vegetables appeared trapped, like flies in a malevolent spider’s web. I wasn’t sure what to call this disc of food in front of me, but I had no intention of tasting it.
“Come on, now, don’t be shy. Try a bite.”
My mind raced as I sought a way to politely demur. I had entered this man’s property. I had gone against my mother’s wishes and put myself in great peril. I feared what could happen if I angered him by refusing a meal he seemed quite proud to have prepared. Finally, it hit me. I cleared my throat, and warbled a reply. Somehow, I thought, he might understand my bird language. I told him that I’d love to try it, but, you see, birds don’t have teeth.
Surely that would satisfy him. I couldn’t appreciate such a sophisticated meal due to my own, obviously irreconcilable personal shortcomings. A polite refusal that would leave his pride and my stomach both intact.
He smiled, but not in the way I expected. “You know, I dabble in science, too. I think I have just the solution.” Before I could ask what that could mean, I was trapped under a bell jar. Whisked into his basement. There, well beneath the shiny kitchen, there was a laboratory. A place of evil. I tried to scream, but birds don’t scream. At least, not when I was a normal bird. Not before his horrible transformation.
I awoke in a stupor, my beak throbbing, the rich man standing above me, hands covered in blood. My blood? Who can be sure?
He smiled again, this time as though he were admiring a masterwork. “My finest creation yet. I have given you something no other bird has. Now, you are in my debt.”
He handed me a mirror.
I wished I had been given the ability to cry.
He laughed maniacally.
“Now, who wants pizza?”