Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday fiction: Migration

 Every day Alex brought the same three things to work: his lunch (tuna on rye, an apple, a store-bought cookie smelling of childhood) a book and a plastic sandwich bag full of breadcrumbs he would feed to the birds on his lunchbreak. His co-workers didn’t notice his routine enough to even snicker. He was all but invisible in his grey coat and black hat. If they had noticed him and whispered behind their hands he would have ignored them.

It was only when things changed that they realized he had always been there.

On that particular Thursday, Alex arrived at the usual time, parked in the usual place, hung up his coat on the wooden hanger he had long ago brought from home. He tucked his lunch, book and bag of crumbs into his lower desk drawer as he always did. He didn’t notice that he had been followed by birds. He simply got to work.

But the birds knew something was different. At first a few hundred birds perched in the manicured trees outside. Soon the bare branches were sagging under the weight of sparrows and goldfinches. Alex kept working while his coworkers clustered around the windows. The cheeps and trills could be heard through the sealed glass while the employees gossiped back.

No one knew what to make of it. At first it was exciting, an anomaly in a day that was otherwise like any other, but soon someone laughingly said, “Hey, it’s kind of like that movie ‘The Birds.’ What do you think will happen when we go out?” and immediately everyone felt small and vulnerable.

They began to discuss their options. Should they call the fire department? The police? The SPCA? Maybe someone should go out and see what happened, sacrifice one for the good of the many. Polly, from accounting, noticed the birds were mostly on the south side of the building. Swirling gales of birds would wheel past one window in particular seeming to make patterns she couldn’t read.

Alex pretended not to notice. He turned his monitor away from the window but kept seeing the flicker of wings in the screen. He closed his eyes and typed without meaning. When the phone trilled, he jumped

Polly’s voice was shrill, Polly who had once asked him what he was reading and didn’t laugh when he spilled his breadcrumbs, so startled to be addressed by someone else. Polly, asking if he knew what was going on, why did the birds want his attention, what was happening?

His sigh came from the soles of his feet, a warm draft that fluttered his inbox.

“I guess they think it’s time.”

“What do you mean, time?”

“Come on, I’ll show you.”

They met by the south side exit. She hung back, afraid to step into the whirling chaos. “Don’t worry, they won’t hurt you. They only want me to go with them.”

It was a maelstrom of starlings and crows, sparrows and pigeons. Polly flinched as birds rushed overhead and around but Alex walked out fearlessly.

A tornado of birds wrapped itself around him, a density of feathers and beaks converging until Polly could barely see him reach into his pocket and pull out a baggie of crumbs. Shoes flew out of the rushing cloud, then an hand clutching a jacket and glasses. “Hold these for me, would you?”

She took them just as he let them fall, then she saw breadcrumbs firework high above the storm of birds. They called and swooped everywhere, picking crumbs from the breezes made by their own wings. The force of their flight increased, Polly was pushed back to stand against the building and Alex’s outstretched arms seemed to grow brighter and broader. She crouched, clutching his jacket to her as the birds flew wildly, pulling at her hair with every wingbeat. She put her hands over her head until the air around her began to subside and light seeped through her fingers. She looked.

The birds were gone, V's high in the sky pointing south. All that was left of Alex were his wingtip shoes, one fallen on its side. When her co-workers asked, she said, “I think he migrated.”

When he didn’t return to work the next day or the following week, Polly insisted they put out a birder feeder and bath. “You never know,” she commented, “He might get hungry and stop by someday.”

(c)2010 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. This is amazingly good!

    Love the details, especially the "wingtip shoes" - that's brilliant!

    "I think he migrated" was a line that made me laugh and admire how you worked the leitmotif throughout the piece.

    Well done!

  2. Really nice bit of weird fiction. I don't have anything constructive for you, just the compliment.

    (Seems like there should've been a "Polly want a cracker" joke in there somewhere, but it wouldn't have been an improvement ;)

  3. I love the thought that he transformed into a bird and migrated with the rest of the birds. I like to imagine that they helped list his feet from the ground as they swirled around him and when his shoes came off, that's when he morphed. Nicely written!

  4. Very good story, I didn't see that coming!


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