How Featherkind Got Its Song
936 words long
This is a creation myth the birds tell each other. It's as likely to be right as anyone else's.
Notes from the author:
This one makes me nervous. The idea came to me easily—a sort of Just So story about How the Birds Got Their Song—but in the process of reworking it for a Friday Fictionette, its implications began to trouble me.
See, I’m hearing. I don’t have any first-hand experience with being deaf. Where the hell do I get off, trying to describe what it’s like for the whole world to be deaf?
It helps, I think, that it’s an invented creation myth for a talking animal world, like those told by the rabbits in Watership Down or the unicorns in Birth of the Firebringer. It doesn’t help enough. Unlike the tale of Frith blessing El-ahrairah’s bottom, or the unicorns alone accepting Alma’s invitation to dance, the events of this invented myth too easily parallel real-life human issues. Now that it’s finished, I’m squirmingly aware that it reads a bit like advocating for abolishing deafness, and thereby the Deaf community. By divine intervention, no less.
When I started Friday Fictionettes, it was my intent to reveal a bit of my writing process—the good, the bad, and the ugly of it. But it’s very uncomfortable realizing I may have just committed an ugly. All I can do is put it out there and humbly open myself to your feedback. If you feel moved to respond, I’m listening.
First Feather created featherkind in the all-encompassing Silence. And after First Feather withdrew, featherkind was isolated and alone.
We were uniformly drab in those days, lacking the bright plumage that blazes like a beacon from the treetop to catch a mate’s eye. This was our only defense from hunterkind. We had marvelous powers of vision with which to keep a good watch, but hunterkind were masters of disguise. They could look like blades of grass, shadows on stone, or even clouds in the sky—for some of the hunters were themselves featherkind, traitors who killed on the wing. Our only safety lay in standing perfectly still, cloaked in unremarkable grays and browns.
But remaining motionless didn’t put food in our bellies—nor eggs in our nests, for camouflage hid us from friend as well as from foe. We were hunted and starving, and dying quite as much from loneliness as from those.
Now, there were two who came to be known as He Wears Changed Feathers and She Brightens the Sky—and I will tell you why. They had each of them watched from their hidden perches, hoping to catch a glimpse of some other on the wing. Or, when hunger drove them from hiding, they made daring leaps into the clear blue, hoping that another’s eye would seek them out. But the only movement they saw, and the only attention they attracted, was that of hunterkind.
After long years of this, each of them came by themselves to the same resolution. They sought out such foodstuffs as barberries, cochineal bugs, and the bark of the dogwood tree, such that they grew new feathers in yellow and crimson and blue. They pricked themselves on thorns to stain their cheeks red and rust. They rolled in soft grasses to pattern their chests green. And in their new brilliant clothing they went hurtling through the treetops, hoping not only to see but also to be seen.
Now hunterkind’s eyes fell upon them not only as they flew but wherever they took rest. The leaves of the trees could no longer hide them, nor could the grasses upon the ground. They were forced to dodge and race and twist and turn for as long as the sun was in the sky. It was a desperate time, and an exhausting one. But their plan worked. Their startling colors drew each other’s eye, and they found each other, and were no longer alone.
Soon, a great multitude were flying and roosting together with He Wears Changed Feathers and She Brightens the Sky, for in their new raiment they attracted a good deal of attention. This was the first Great Flock, and in their numbers they discovered a greater measure of safety. One might spot a threat that another could not, and raise their gaudy wings to warn the first—for most of them followed the example of He Wears Changed Feathers and She Brightens the Sky—and as a mob, they could effectively harry the hunter before it made off with its prey.
In time, the rainbow-hued Flock caught even the eye of First Feather. Out from the midday sun came First Feather, whose wings filled the sky and covered the entire Flock with their shadows. “What is this great disturbance,” exclaimed First Feather, “that shocks the vast Up Above with every color in the world?”
All featherkind cowered. Having never heard a voice before nor any other sound, they experienced First Feather’s speech as a series of blows delivered in anger to the head. But First Feather continued more gently, and such was First Feather’s power that none of featherkind could fail to understand.
“I created you to go through life invisibly, because I am fond of you and want you to be safe. Why have you broken cover? How can you escape the eye of hunterkind, when you are adorned so extravagantly?”
“We were lonely, First Feather,” they said with thought and gesture and wing-beat and prayer. And such was First Feather’s power that none of featherkind could fail to be understood. “We needed to find each other. It is not such a great thing to be safe, if it means being always alone.”
“Neither is it a great thing to be content if it means being the last of your kind,” First Feather mused. “Nevertheless, I accept that things must change.”
And with a ringing word sung full to the farthest extent of the vast Up Above, First Feather abolished the Silence. The world became full of sound: the rustle of wings, the wind whistling through the treetops, and the warning sshh sshh of the grass through which hunterkind stalked. And featherkind found they had voices. They raised them in praise, and were startled by the glory of the sound. Thousands of notes of music tumbled together like acorns falling from a tree.
“Yours is the gift of song,” said First Feather, “that your voices might move others as your plea has moved me.” And that is why, from that day forth, we alone of all the creatures sing. Hunterkind may roar, or growl, or keen, or even make unnatural noises in pale imitation of featherkind, but true song belongs to us alone.
And that is why we sing when we call to each other, when we gather a flock, when we seek for a mate, or when there’s need to warn of hunters on the prowl. And that is why each morning in the new light of day, we raise our voices together in praise and thanksgiving to First Feather, who ended the Silence.
This is the full text (936 words) of the Friday Fictionette for August 28, 2015, which I've designated the "Fictionette Freebie" for the month. You can also download the fictionette from Patreon in PDF or MP3 format regardless of your pledge tier or whether you're a Patron at all. Thank you for reading it!
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