The Darkling Thrush
A newbie bird-watcher watching the skies.
I have seen the Shore.
Mr. Lappet raised both hands to the sky and we were surrounded by birds, surrounded by the Convocation. Their bodies were black and swift and they sparked, creating a lightning storm around us.
Then they spread out and we found ourselves on the Bleak Shore, an endless beach of black sand, with a storm continually rolling on the horizon.
That’s where I was emptied. All my insides removed. I sank to my knees as they picked at me, taking away pieces of me. And then they slipped inside my ribcage and I felt whole. And I knew.
I am a carrier. I am a nest. I am their shelter in the world. I would bring them to others. I would help them feed and they would show me the skies.
I held the bird-book, the one that Taylor had given me what seems so long ago now, in my hands. As I flipped through the pages, the wind lifted it out of my hands and birds caught and carried it away.
No more past. I belong to them now.
I’m going to be following Mr. Lappet for the next few years. Learning how to feed them, how to be a nest for them, how to find others like me. Even away from school, he’ll still be a teacher. And I going to be his student.
You know, birds of a feather and all that.
He was outside my house. I looked out my window and there he was. Waiting. Standing there.
I couldn’t stand it anymore. I rushed outside, not caring anymore. I was going to confront him.
“Hello, Andrew,” he said as I approached. “I knew it would be today, the longest day.”
“What are you?” I asked.
“I am a nest for the storm, Andrew,” he said. “In me lies the path to the bleak shore. Through me the thunder rolls and the lightning strikes. They move through me, Andrew. Don’t you want to meet them?”
“What are they?”
“They are swift. They are static. They are the spirit of the storm.” Mr. Lappet smiled. “I met them long ago, before skyscrapers, before buildings of steel were built. I was born in an age of superstition, back when men believed the gods were responsible for the lightning and thunder. They are those gods, Andrew.”
“Why are you here?”
His smiled evaporated. “I’ve seen you. I know you. What you think, what you feel. I find people like you for them. And I offer them the glory of being one of their nests. Some accept. Some don’t. I gave you those clues for a reason, Andrew.”
“You…you want me to be…” I couldn’t say it.
“Like me? Yes.” His smile returned. “You’ve never seen their glory, their brightness. They are…radiant. Become a nest.”
I took a deep breath, then several more. “What if I don’t?”
“Nothing will happen to you,” he said. “You will live out your days, dull and lifeless, never knowing the effulgent beauty of them.”
“You won’t hurt me or my family?” I asked.
“No,” he said, his face still as stone.
Everything was quiet for a moment. “And what about Taylor?” I asked.
His head tilted. “She was never our target. Nests have to be a certain…type of person.”
“You won’t hurt her?”
“I don’t know,” Mr. Lappet said. “We make no promises about her. Your family will be safe…all others are merely prey for them. They may decide to feast on her or leave her be to find others to hunt.”
“Leave her be,” I said.
“Is that a condition?” he asked. “Will you accept their offer on this condition?”
Would I? Could I become like him? Could I do that?
I stood on the street and gave my answer.
fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck
Yesterday was the last day of school. I knew I had to do something. Or else…or else next year would start up and Mr. Lappet would still be there.
So I started leaving notes of my own in the principal’s inbox. Notes saying that Mr. Lappet was harassing a student. Anonymous notes - I’m not stupid - but I notes I knew the principal couldn’t ignore.
And then yesterday, the principal caught him. He fucking caught him! I watched from around a corner and was ecstatic! Principal Geary actually caught him slipping a note into Taylor’s locker.
“What do you think you’re doing, Mr. Lappet?” Principal Geary asked in that harsh “disappointed” tone of voice.
“Principal Geary,” Mr. Lappet said. His voice wasn’t high or surprised, but calm. “What do you think I’m doing?”
“I think you’re harassing a student,” Principal Geary said. “We’ve received complaints and I didn’t think any of them were true - I give my teachers the benefit of the doubt - but if this is harassment, I will personally fire you.”
“Ah,” Mr. Lappet said. “That is…unfortunate.”
“Show me the note,” Principal Geary said. He seemed slightly perturbed about Mr. Lappet’s nonchalance, but that wasn’t stopping him from going all authoritative action on him. Inside, I was cheering.
“Principal Geary,” Mr. Lappet said. He started to slowly unbutton his shirt, which I thought was strange. “Have you ever wondered what it felt like to be a worm?”
“What?” Principal Geary raised his eyebrow and said, “Are you on drugs, Lappet?”
“Never, sir,” Mr. Lappet said. “I was just wondering if you knew what it was like to be a worm. To crawl in the dirt and mud and then suddenly be caught by a bird. To be clutched in its beak, to experience the joy of flight and soaring in the air before being fed to its young.” As he said this, he continued unbuttoning his shirt and then pulled it apart.
His…his chest had holes in it. Pits. Gaping wounds that didn’t bleed. Four of them. “I was just asking, sir,” Mr. Lappet said with a smile, “because now you will.”
Birds emerged from the holes in his chest. More than could possibly fit inside him, more than I could count. Principal Geary staggered backwards as the birds assaulted him, surrounded him, lifted him off his feet. They flew him backwards, pushing him out the door at the end of the hall. Mr. Lappet followed.
I didn’t move. I couldn’t. I couldn’t see anything, but I could still hear the echo of Mr. Lappet’s voice.
“Do you hear that, sir? Do you hear the rumbling of their thunder? The charge in the air? They’re going to feed you to their young, sir. Back on the bleak shore, they take you, limb by limb.”
I sank to the floor as I heard an unearthly scream and then a peal of thunder.
I waited. I waited until I was sure he wasn’t coming back. And then I took a deep breath and walked down the hall to Taylor’s locker. I turned the combination and opened it and took out the note Mr. Lappet had left.
It read: Hello, Andrew.
Next week is the last week of school. Yesterday, the seniors graduated and we have one more week before the rest of the school is let out. One week to figure out what the fuck is going on with Mr. Lappet.
I know it’s an incredibly bad idea, but I’ve been following him. Discreetly. Seeing where he goes during his lunch (he eats it in his car) or after school (drives to his small apartment). I haven’t noticed anything as weird as those birds that came out of his mouth, but there have been certain things that were…off.
He eats a lot of sunflower seeds. I mean, a lot of sunflower seeds. He has bags of them in his car. He doesn’t spit out the hull either — just stuffs it in his mouth and swallows.
I’ve seen him place two more notes in Taylor’s locker. She’s still not opening it or even going near it. I asked if I could get something from her locker and she just gave me the combination and walked in the other direction.
The three notes in her locker were different from the others. They formed a poem.
Can you feel it beginning to form? Can you feel it in your chest?
Watch the sky darken with the swarm. Do you not now feel blessed?
Feel the rising, the coming storm. Become like me, become a nest.
I don’t know what to do about him. Tell the principal? Next week’s the last week.
I’m trying to keep that in mind. One more week to go. One more week.
The weekend did nothing to dispel the creepiness I feel each time I see Mr. Lappet. I saw him smiling after class yesterday again and I just wanted to run.
Luckily, I live in the information age and can thus research stuff on the internet. Like birds. Creepy birds.
Remember back to that letter I transcribed? “THEY WILL BE YOUR THOUGHT AND MEMORY.” Say hello to Huginn and Muninn, Odin’s crows whose names mean “thought” and “memory.”
Unfortunately, there’s not much else. There’s some myths and legends about birds, but most of them are giant ones, like the ziz or the roc. Nothing about birds living inside people. Sometimes Google can fail you.
So I went to the library. Yes, the library: land of dead trees. Still, no luck. Lots of books about birds, none about what I’m looking for. Until I found a book - by accident, no less - called Urban Legends of the South. The book was just sitting on one of the tables and had a bookmark sticking out. I flipped to the page where the bookmark was and there I found it:
The Legend of the Witch of Gatlinburg
Around the 1800s, it was reported by some settlers whose relatives had disappeared, that they had actually been taken by a witch who lived in the Great Smoky Mountains. Rather than admit their relatives died by more mundane means, they claimed that they were taken by a witch who cavorted with a convocation of demons. These demons were described as taking the form of a flock of dark birds and apparently lived within the witch’s body. Though the mountains were searched, no trace of “the witch” was ever found.
I’m not stupid. This book was left for me to find. So now I have two more questions that need answering: who is leaving me these clues and why did they underline the word “convocation”?
I didn’t tell Taylor. I didn’t tell anybody. I mean, if they read this blog, they would know, but I don’t think they would believe. But I don’t think anyone I know reads this blog, because otherwise I would have been carted off the funny bin by now.
Because, let’s face it, I saw a bunch of birds fly out of Mr. Lappet’s mouth. That’s not natural. That is, in fact, unnatural. And yet, I saw it happen.
So: not telling anyone. I did tell Taylor that I suspected it was Mr. Lappet putting the notes in her locker.
“Yeah, right,” she said sarcastically. “Mr. Lappet loves pulling pranks. He’s the funnest teacher ever.” (You have to imagine those words practically dripping with sarcasm.)
Of course, Taylor no longer uses her locker anymore. She knows if she opens it, she’ll find another note (something I can confirm, having seen it placed there), so she just leaves her books in her backpack and never opens her locker. She’s not saying anything, but I understand why. Out of sight, out of mind.
Unfortunately, Mr. Lappet won’t stay out of sight. Every time I go to his class now, it feels…strange. Creepy. I saw him after class today and he was smiling and my hands starting shaking so badly.
I don’t know what to do about it, though. I’ll just have to tough it out until summer starts.
holy shit holy shit holy shit holy shit HOLY SHIT
I don’t. I don’t know how to tell this. What happened. Start at the beginning. I have to tell this to someone. Start at the beginning.
I went to the study hall for detention. It was me and a few other students. I didn’t know anyone - I don’t really hang around the kids who are in detention.
The teacher who supervised us was Mrs. Hertzberg, the German teacher. She’s been at the school almost forever. It was a few minutes before we could leave, but I needed to go pee really badly. So I asked if I could go and she said it was okay.
After I went to the bathroom, I heard a whistling. I looked around the corner and I saw Mr. Lappet. He was standing outside Taylor’s locker, stuffing another note inside. He was the one who was writing the notes.
He was whistling this weird tune. I can’t. I can’t remember what it was, but it just made my head hurt. I decided to follow him. I wanted to know why he was putting the notes in her locker. Why he wrote those things.
He left the building and walked down to the quad. He stopped next to a bench and sat down. He looked up and…he opened his mouth. His mouth stretched out. It became wider and wider, larger and larger.
And out of his mouth emerged a beak. Then a whole bird. It stepped on Mr. Lappet’s chin and then flew away. Another bird came out of his mouth. They looked…strange. It flew away as a third bird came out.
Then. Then his mouth opened wider again. There was another bird. A huge bird. It was bigger than his head. I don’t know how it could have fit inside his body, but it did. It emerged from his mouth and then flew away.
Mr. Lappet closed his mouth slowly. It looked…unreal. Like it was a special effect. But it wasn’t. He wiped his mouth and then started to whistle again.
I ran inside and threw up in a trashcan.
What the fuck? What the fucking fuck?
First day back from a three-day weekend. It kind of sucked.
First: new note in Taylor’s locker. I tried to get it away from her before she could see it, but I wasn’t as lucky as last time. She ripped it up and tossed it in the trash. I only caught a glimpse, but it was enough:
RED SKIES THERE SHALL BE BLOOD RED SKIES
Second: Mr. Lappet was acting extra squirrelly today. He kept on glancing over at me and Taylor and squinting his eyes, like he was trying to catch us doing something. Taylor didn’t notice — this was after she found the note, so I don’t blame her — but Mr. Lappet was seriously creeping me out.
Third: I have detention. Seriously. I was trying to bring Taylor out of her funk with a funny joke in note form. This time, Mr. Lappet actually did catch me and gave me detention tomorrow.
It was one note. And Taylor was sitting right next to me. Geez, that guy just gets worse and worse.
Another note in Taylor’s locker. I saw it before her, though, so I grabbed in and stuffed it in my pocket before she could see it. I’m going to reproduce it here (I think she’s forgotten about this blog, too):
HOW DO YOU STAND IT? NOT BEING IN THE SKY? HOW DO YOU STAND LIVING ON THE HARD COLD EARTH? DON’T YOU WANT TO KILL YOURSELF? DON’T YOU JUST WANT TO GO TO THE HIGHEST BUILDING AND JUMP, JUST FOR THOSE FEW SECONDS IN WHICH YOU CAN PRETEND YOU ARE FLYING BEFORE YOU SPLATTER THE GROUND LIKE A HUMAN JACKSON POLLOCK PAINTING?
WE SERVE THEM BECAUSE THEY GIVE US THE SKY. THEY LET US SEE WHAT THEY SEE. NOT JUST THROUGH THE EYES OF DUMB BIRDS, BUT THROUGH THEIR EYES. THEY HAVE SO MANY EYES. AS MANY EYES AS THERE ARE STARS.
IN EXCHANGE, WE ARE THEIR CARRIER. OUR BODY IS A CAGE. WE LET THEM USE IT. NEST IN IT. AND, WHEN THE TIME COMES, THEY WILL OPEN US UP AND ENLIGHTEN ALL WHO SEE THEM. THOSE WHOSE EYES DON’T BURN OUT WILL HAVE THEM PECKED OUT. THERE SHALL BE NO EYES EXCEPT FOR THEIRS.
YOU CAN SERVE THEM, TOO. I HAVE SEEN YOU WATCHING AS BIRDS WHEEL THROUGH THE SKY, FERVENTLY WISHING YOU WERE UP THERE AS WELL. IF YOU SERVE THEM, THEY WILL GIVE YOU THE SKY.
THEY WILL BE YOUR THOUGHT AND MEMORY. GIVE THEM YOUR EYES.
I wish I could say this was the weirdest part of the day, but no: after school, we were walking together, we passed through this copse of trees. On every branch there was a bird — pigeons, owls, crows, ravens, rooks. They packed each branch. It was like a scene from a Hitchcock movie.
We just walked past them, freaked out, but nothing happened.
Summer can’t come fast enough.
Three weird things happened today.
One: the strange notes in Taylor’s locker are back. This time she ripped them up and tossed the pieces in the trash before I could even look at them. I didn’t know what to say to her, so we just walked to class in silence.
Two: when I was flipping through the bird-watching book Taylor gave me (trying to identify an owl — turns out it was Great Horned Owl), I found a page that hadn’t been there before. Seems the person who stole it out of my locker and ripped a few pages out actually added a page. And now I know it’s the same person who is leaving notes in Taylor’s locker — remember the “for us are hay seeds” in that note? The new page in the book is for phorusrhacids or “terror birds.” Their name means “Rag-Thieves,” thus the “thieves of rags” part of the note is explained, too. Why anyone would do this is beyond me, though.
Three: this isn’t as weird as the last one, but after class, I saw our biology teacher Mr. Lappet looking so strangely at Taylor. She’s the best student in the class, so I don’t know why he was staring with such…venom.
Summer is almost here, so school will be out soon. No more pencils, no more books, no more Mr. Lappet’s dirty looks. Yay.