Inspired by a lovely little Cardinal that kept coming back to my backyard...
I adored my little songbird– my cheerful, little, insignificant feather-covered friend that made it a point to perch just outside my window every single morning as the sun lifted its way over the horizon. I appreciated your shrill song more than anything; your metallic chirps and slightly off-tune whistles that managed to find the path into my heart and pry open the iced over doorways into my soul. Somehow, you managed to make me feel something that I once thought I would never feel again; happiness.
The first morning I saw you, I was hesitant to actually see you for what you were. My medicated mind made me want to see nothing more than a crimson blur on the concrete that was the ledge outside my room. I call it my room, but it was more like a cell, a prison that was built to house me until I died, a pathetic collection of four walls that was identical to every other in this building- rooms meant to house people like me, people that were determined to be a threat to themselves or others. I was told that something in me was broken, I was told that I was likely to break and hurt someone.
I was told I was a burden to society.
But that morning, when my eyes focused on the pale orange and pink color of the sunrise as they contrasted the colorless concrete, you were the little silhouette that I, at first, failed to comprehend. My eyes struggled to actually focus on you, but as they did, I saw that beauty with which my life would be graced. You stood there, your crest held high as to signal how confident you were in your own existence. Your crimson feathers, the black circles around your eyes, almost like a bandit’s mask; all of it managed to steal my focus from the morning sky.
That morning was the first time that a smile had managed to creep its way across my face for as far back as I could remember. You were a shining beacon in the shadows that encompassed my life, my mind. The darkness that had become the foundation of my world felt like it had been suddenly fractured; a seam shown to me, and a loose thread highlighted. With your small orange beak, you gripped that thread and you pulled it as hard as your tiny frame would allow.
I stared at you for as long as you sat there. I watched you stretch your wings, I watched you preen some of your feathers, take in the warmth of the sunlight, and I watched as you flew down to the ground, grabbed some sort of berry from the bush by the wall, and made your way back up to enjoy the bounty of your hunt. You tore into that berry, satisfaction taking you over. It was then that my course of action became clear, I had to keep you coming back, I had to figure out what I could do to keep you happy.
If I had to be honest, I only knew one thing about you, and your kind- you liked seeds and berries. I started talking to one of the orderlies that I had become friends with, and I practically begged her to add blueberries to the lunch menu. It was a strange request on my part, but not something that would really concern her. In the end, she relented, and when lunch came around, I was able to get my hands on a few just for you specifically.
When I got back to my room, I opened my window slightly, and I pushed the corner of the screen, separating it from the exterior frame. While the bars over the window were able to keep me in, I could at least create this little doorway between our worlds.
I placed the berries on the window sill and I sat there, waiting. I sat on my bed watching the window sill for the entire night, knowing that you would be there to find them first thing in the morning, and I refused to miss it. Sure enough, as the sun started to peek its head over the horizon, as the sky started to glow it’s hazy pink and orange hues, your bright red feathers graced my existence. As you landed on the concrete, I could feel my heart starting to race; you were truly a stimulant to my colorless life, a scarlet beacon of hope in the umbra that had overcome me.
Watching your small beak grab those berries, tear open the outer skin, and rip into the flesh as delight spread over you… How could I possibly explain it? It was truly pure bliss; I was feeling honest happiness for the first time since I had been wrongfully pushed through the doors of this facility. They claimed me mad, yet does a madman find happiness in nature? Would a madman find it in his soul to assist a creature smaller than he in finding sustenance? If yes, then truly I may have been mad, but madmen seldom find a smile on their face as they absorb the beauty of our natural world. It was at this point that I chose to remove the chains that society had placed upon me- I stopped listening during the group meetings, and I chose to use you as my therapy. You would be what would guide me from here on.
I made it a point to greet you with your morning berries for several days after this. I slept very little during these first few days, simply because I wanted to make sure that you would come back, and I wanted to make sure that you were the one to get them. I imagined that you had a nest somewhere nearby, you possibly had a newly hatched offspring that you were taking bits of this meal to, and you were making sure that your female counterpart was happily fed. This was nearly confirmed to me a morning, somewhere around two weeks since our little ritual had started. You arrived, right on time, but you weren’t alone. You swooped in and landed, making your delightful chirping sounds. Then, within a moment, another took flight from a nearby tree and landed right next to you. Her feathers lacked most of the color yours contained, but they were all cherry-tipped- a beautiful grey that faded into a delightful red.
That morning was a sign from the universe that I needed you to be happy, you and your new companion. You were all I needed during this time of my life, not this institute, not their heartless words of encouragement, and sure as hell not their god-forsaken medication. It was then that this place and their methods ceased to exist for me; I found ways around their schedule of forcing me to take their pills. I started writing a short story about a bird, I explained to my orderly friend that I had found therapy in words. She was surprisingly encouraging, so much so that she and her manager came to my room to read what I had written, and had decided that I should spend more time working on my newfound art than in group sessions. I agreed.
Before they left my room that day, I made a single, potentially strange, request to them. I told them that, over the past few days, I had been craving a simple pleasure from my time before being here- sunflower seeds. I asked them if there was any way I could get unsalted sunflower seeds regularly, as I used to thoroughly enjoy them. I remember the head orderly gave me a slight look of concern, then glanced back down at my writing project. I believe that he may have had a strange feeling of success in his mind- maybe he thought that I was getting better and that they were the ones that were causing it. He made me a deal; so long as I kept writing, and could show that I was making progress, he would bring me a bag of sunflower seeds per week. He made it very clear that, if I faltered, the deal would be off– I promised him that I had no intentions to quit writing.
And with that, I could now give you something to enjoy and I would no longer have to risk getting caught with berries in my pockets. Over the next week, I felt lighter, I felt like my head was clearing out an overcast that had been there for as long as I could remember. You were the cause of my happiness, you were the reason my heart was able to feel again, and you were what I needed in my life. I had stopped sleeping entirely during this week, the medication was fully out of my system, I had practically stopped eating, and was no longer speaking to anyone; I now had assurance that you, and now your mate, would always come back to my window, and I could not have been happier.
That is… until this morning. Something about this morning felt strange. I hadn’t fallen asleep, I knew that for a fact, but for some reason I felt like my mind had fallen into a type of self-preservation. I watched the clock near my bed, but there was a point where I’m fairly certain that it stopped counting the time. For some reason, I could no longer read the numbers that it displayed. I would not be deterred by the malfunctioning device, I turned back toward the window and waited for the sun to continue rising- except it didn’t. On this morning, the sky seemed desperately overcast, and a light fog lifted off the dew covered leaves. No matter, I knew that, even if the sun was slow to rise, you would still show up, right on time.
I pulled open my window, pushed the screen from the corner and displayed a pile of the seeds that I had been given- a buffet of sorts for you and your friend that I knew you could not resist. I sat and waited for you to fly down through the haze and land so valiantly as you greeted me. I waited solely for you to once again grace me with your beauty.
But what showed up on my window sill that morning was not you. The creature that landed looked like you solely in the fact that it contained red feathers upon its wings and held your same black eyes. From the haze fell this abomination that stood at least five times your size, with wings that surely fell into the double digits and seemed to be placed at random. It held your black eyes, sure, but more than your two- it seemed to be able to see in every direction at once. It’s talons here bent in ways that would have been painful to any other creature, it’s tail contained multiple layers of feathers, and its beak… oh god its beak. No longer did it have the small, orange mouth that you would so delicately pick at your food with. No, this creature’s mouth was nothing more than a hole filled with sharp fragments of what I could only assume were teeth.
This disgusting creature that now filled my vision landed and stared at me, making patterns of shrill, metallic clicks that caused my brain to feel agony. Every single piece of its song as it whistled was enough to drive me to madness, and cause my blood to run ice cold. My spine felt weak, my hands were clammy and my face was covered in a fear induced sweat. All of this was compounded when a second of this hideous monster landed beside the original, her feathers the same cherry-tipped grey as my songbird’s female companion. She made the same shrill screeches as the first; I felt like I wanted to vomit.
These two things, I have no idea what to truly call them, both stood and stared at me with hunger in their eyes. What feels worse- I know now that these two beasts are here to stay. It’s been what I can only imagine to be a few hours, and they haven’t left. I can see by the look in their eyes that they are hungry, and are willing to do anything they can to get to their next meal as the tooth-lined void on their face fills with drool. What’s worse, they seem to show no interest in the sunflower seeds I so delicately placed upon the windowsill…