The Ballad of Greenleaf

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Fantasy Realm
A girl believes her pet bird is dead, but he reappear on her doorstep the next morning. (This is a somewhat older work of mine, please keep that in mind while reading.)

Submitted: July 04, 2016

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Submitted: July 04, 2016

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The first time I felt loss was when my bird Mister died. He was my very first pet, my first life to care for. I was 10. We buried him, wrapped in a paper towel shroud, in a shoe box coffin, in the only small patch of soil on our house. I cried and cried and cried, and something within me collapsed. Perhaps the innocence I’d been cultivating since I was a baby had finally left me. My breath caught in my throat and I suffocated under my sobs. My mother stood beside me, her warm comforting hand on my back. I barely felt it, my grief and anger consumed me so. After a while, I felt a pale blue light wash over my mind, calming my nerves and easing my breath. Numbing me

My mother made me macaroni for dinner, but I couldn’t eat it. I slept poorly, and dreamt of drowning in oceans I had cried myself. Water filled my lungs as I swam frantically towards the light. Many times, I awoke gasping desperately and clawing at the air in front of my face. At first, I felt relief at being alive, only to have the weight of Mister’s death crush me harder than any dream ocean ever could. Finally, morning came, and I pulled my exhausted and wrecked self from my bed. My mother had gotten up minutes earlier and was calling my name softly. “Sascha? Sascha, come here, come look at this.” I went to her and stood by her side in the open doorway. There, on the little patch of soil stood Mister. “A bird!” exclaimed my mother, as though I couldn’t see it was a bird. As though it were not my beloved Mister, without whom life was empty, and food turned to ashes in my mouth. As though I had not spent the previous night in torment because of a bird. “I wonder where he came from. Maybe you can keep him in that old cage you have.”

 

*****

 

From under my blankets, I could hear the new bird chirping in his cage. It was a bright Saturday morning, and the late autumn sunlight lit my room with a pale yellow glow. The beams of light fell across the bed, blinding me to Mister’s cage, which was against the wall and not touched by the sun. Two weeks had passed since Mister had died, and this doppelganger had shown up. My mother seemed to have forgotten Mister’s entire existence. The day this other bird turned up, I said it was like history repeating. I said it was like the gods wanted me to care for yellow and green birds in this neighborhood. I said he came back from the dead; he loved me; he never died; it was all a dream. My mother felt my forehead and asked “Who’s Mister?” She was constantly surprised by how much I knew about budgies. When I told her I’d had a budgie before, she laughed. It was just my over active imagination. So I kept the bird, who had come to us just as Mister had, dumped on our doorstep, or perhaps escaped from a home. At first, it pained me to see this doppelganger everyday, playing with Mister’s toys, eating his food, and sitting on his perches. It was too soon.

I have since grown used to the new bird, and he has eased my grief. I have decided to call this bird Greenleaf.  Greenleaf is exactly like Mister, same coloring, voice, and behaviors. I am constantly reminding myself that he is not the same, he is an impostor or an illusion. Something sinister sent to plague me. I must keep myself vigilant. An hour passed as I watched Greenleaf in his cage. As usual, I was paralyzed in bed by a plethora of emotions and thoughts. Grief at losing my Mister, joy at gaining this new bird and friend so quickly, and confusion at the circumstances of this event. I eventually got out of bed to use the bathroom. I went out to the dining room, and grabbed two biscuits (now cold) and a jar of jam. My mother lowered her book into her lap. Even though she worked a lot, and was usually exhausted, my change in demeanor was apparent. “How are you?” she asked in a simpering, sweet voice. “How’s Greenleaf?” she asked from the couch. “I am fine. Greenleaf is fine too. How are you?” she grinned and said “I’m fine”

 

*****

 

The school bus screeched to a halt after speeding through a yellow light. I pitched into the seat in front of me, and slid to the side, my face and shoulder pressed into the fake scratchy leather of the seat in front. I scrambled to right myself, but the inertia of the bus kept pushing me forward. Two girls in the seats across the aisle were staring at me. Our eyes met and I blushed furiously, and pushed my bottom firmly into my seat. The bus was almost at the end of the route, and the babble of children was ebbing. My stop was the second to last. When I got off the bus, I felt myself sag, the nervous energy that held me up all day at school was gone and I could relax. I began walking the half block to my house, and something caught my eye. A small brown bird in the gutter struggled and fluttered weakly. Its wings were ragged and torn, breast heavy with mud. I felt tears pricking my eyes, knowing this bird would not survive. I swooped down on it, scooping its frail body into my hands. It panicked, scratching at my hands, dropping feathers. Its little black eyes were pinning wildly, and its torso was heaving. I ran towards the house, the fingers of my left hand wrapped gently around the bird, the fingers of my right scrabbling down my shirtfront for my key. I blasted through the front door, and lay the bird on a pile of fast food napkins. It lay there in shock, gasping. I ran into the bathroom to grab a toothbrush. When I returned to the kitchen, the bird was upright. It didn’t look quite right, but at least its legs weren’t broken. I approached slowly, softly not wanting to startle it. The bird hopped in a little circle, and ruffled his tattered wings. I lowered my face until my chin was on the table and peered at the bird, checking for signs of injury. It looked fine. I slowly moved the toothbrush towards it, and brushed the feathers on its head and front. The bird was surprisingly healthy, considering it had been on the verge of death just seconds ago. I held out my hand, but instead of hopping onto it, the bird flew out the door, which I'd left open in my panic. The house felt strangely empty with that little bird gone. A cool breeze blew through the open door, chilling the sweat on my forehead and bringing me out of my stupor. I went into my room to sit down, and didn’t notice until I’d taken off my shoes that Greenleaf wasn’t in his cage. This was honestly too much emotion for one day, especially a school day. I ran the few steps over to his cage, panic flooding my mind like a staticky pale blue wave. I blinked and there he was, swinging on his little circular swing. He chirped at me and rubbed his face on the side of the swing. I breathed out a sigh of relief, and collapsed back onto my bed, exhausted. I slept for 3 hours, until my mom woke me up for dinner.

*****

The next day at school, I was drawing during class. The little brown bird recovering, as mysterious as it had been, had comforted me. I drew picture after picture of it, until a parade of pen ink birds circled the page of math problems I was supposed to be working on with the class. In my mind the birds lined up in rows, with little marching band instruments and little white shoes. They marched along, peeping and tooting on their tiny trumpets and trombones. I giggle at the thought of birds wearing shoes, and Ms. Merced calls to me sharply.

A few nights after the brown bird had flown off, I was in bed, unable to sleep with Greenleaf in the room. I pressed my face into the warm flannel pillow covering, and breathed in deeply. The air didn’t smell the way it did when Mister was alive. It was clean and flat. I turned over in bed, twisting the sheet under me and contorting the blankets on top of me into a misshapen mass that couldn’t cover my entire body. I forced myself to be still, even when I itched and my hands went numb from being underneath my body. I eventually fell asleep, but my dreams were as vivid as waking day. At first, I was in a meadow, with flowers and grass towering over my head. I struggled to climb over pebbles, swam through small puddles, and fought off beetles and slugs. Next, I was in a cavern, lit with a warm amber light. A tall, hulking figure sat in front and above me. Their face was in shadow, and they had a complex web of Elk-like antlers extending more than four feet from their head. Behind me were a myriad of creatures even stranger than the one in front of me. There was a man in all black, with a riding crop in one hand, and his head in the other. On his left was a woman with long hair, and lips that reached around her entire face. She smiled at me, revealing rows of sharp teeth that split her face in half. On his right was another woman, her dark brown skin visible through her gauzy white clothes. Patterns like the reflections on the bottom of swimming pools danced across her skin. There were short people, with dirt covering their feet and clothes, and heads shaped like potatoes. There were tall people with leaves for hair and skin like bark.

Next to me stood a scrubby brown girl. Compared to everyone else, she was the most regular in appearance. Then I noticed the hard wing cases that extended from her shoulders to just below her tail bone. They moved when she breathed, and I caught a glimpse of shimmery, thin insect wings inside of them. Her eyes were a familiar, pale blue. This pale blue emanated from her, like a halo, and seemed to tint her skin. She was talking to me but her lips moved like glaciers. The only sound coming from her lips was a low humming, which trembled and reverberated around the room. I felt something cold squeeze my heart, and then I woke up. The sky outside was still dark, but my room was lit with a pale blue light.  My heart was racing and my mouth was dry, as though I’d been running. I got up to get some water, and noticed the blue light was emanating from Mister’s cage. It hurt to look at. Even though I was afraid, I moved closer to Mister’s old cage, trying to see the source of the light. I pushed my face up against the bars of the cage, and was able to make out a tiny figure, laying on its side. Whatever it was pushed itself up into a kneeling position. I recognized the girl from my dream. She pushed her long hair out of her face and started to cry. Her sobs were deep and reverberated around my room like one hundred tiny church bells.

“Boy, why are you crying?” I said, copying the classic line from Peter Pan.

“Don’t apply your human concept of gender to me. I am not a boy.” I blushed. Her voice was deeper than her sobs, husky and rough and sweet all at the same time. It stuck in my ears the way tears stick in your throat.

“Oh, ah, I know you’re not a boy, it’s from a book.” She stared at me. “Why are you crying though?”

“You know why! You were there and you didn’t even say anything. I thought you liked me.” Her voice broke a little at the end, like she was about to start crying again. I was confused.

“I don’t know you. I don’t even know what you are.” She swiped her hands across her face and sighed.

“I thought as much. My name is Angiris, and I have been assigned to you as your protector. I’ve been with you since your seventh birthday, defending you from malevolent beings, breaking enchantments put on you, and guiding you away from danger.” I was stunned.

“Why are so many people after me? Am I special?”

“No, you are just a child. Don’t interrupt, I don’t have a lot of time.” I mimicked locking my lips and throwing away the key.

“According to your timeline, I am 231 years old, but in the land of Tir Na Nog, I am just a child, a little older than you. So I don’t quite understand the human mind. I don’t understand your definitions of right and wrong. Fairies have a very different code of ethics. When your pet died, I thought it was my job to stop your grief, but Cernunnos tells me that is wrong. Ah, anyways, I took the shape of your little pet and lived as it.”

“What!” I burst out. “How is that possible? Are you a shape shifter?”

“No.” She frowned. “It was just a glamour charm, it’s very simple. We’re only supposed to use glamour in emergencies, to hide. Not to show ourselves. That’s why I’m in trouble, showing yourself to a human is one of the worst things a fairy can do.” She breathed out heavily, letting out a little growl deep in her throat. “Anyways, I erased your mother’s memory so she wouldn’t get confused. This all was supposed to stop your pain, instead your grief became… more complicated. It was colorful, and more layered. But I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t erase your memory, I’m supposed to protect you. I couldn’t pretend the new bird died too, that would make everything worse. So I stayed. And I brought that stupid dirty bird from outside back to life too. You weren’t happy though.” She talks in short, dry sentences. Her voice is harsh and almost emotionless as she recounts her crime.

“How could I be happy! My bird died and magically reappeared! I was sad, but then I was really confused too, so I didn’t have time to be sad.”

“I know that now! I know!” Her voice rose to a piercing trill. “I was wrong, and I broke the law and now I’m going to jail. All because your stupid pet had to die.” Her arms were crossed across her chest, hands gripping her biceps like she was trying to hold herself together.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get you in trouble. I wish I’d met you before, I could’ve helped you out a little.”

“I thought you did know me. I showed myself to you countless times. Your mind is like mud, you see and you forget. You see me in your dreams, you saw me when your pet died, you see me at school all the time!” My mind fizzled. I wasn’t sure which part of her statement I wanted to respond to.

“Was that dream true then? The one I just woke up from?”

“Yes! That was my trial. You were no help at all, you just stood there, mouth open like an idiot.”

“I couldn’t hear you. I only saw your lips moving.” She sighed.

“Yes, that happens. Our world is different than yours, many humans can’t stand it. You’re lucky you were with me, or you’d probably be trapped in there. If you ever got out, you’d be totally disconnected from reality. It’s dangerous.” She looked at her feet, and let her hands fall to her side. She breathed deeply, which made her wing cases expand open and then click shut. “I’m sorry I yelled at you. I’m upset because my career is over and my reputation is ruined. I might never be able to come to your world again. It’s not your fault though. It’s mine.” She started to glow brighter, and I felt the light surround me, and warm me.

“I have to go. They’re calling me.” And her light disappeared

I was standing in the pitch dark.

*****

I woke up to a dim grey sky, the bitter tones of my alarm clock scraping at my eardrum. My eyes were scratchy, and my joints were stiff, as though I’d been running all night. I walked slowly to the bathroom, trying to jolt my body into wakefulness. The air in the bathroom was chilly, and the toilet seat was cold. I breathed in the fresh morning air drifting through the window, and felt soothed. I was still sad about Mister’s passing, and the hole in my chest was as big as it had ever been, but the sadness felt right. Justified. I flushed the toilet and poked my head into the living room. My mom was giving herself a once over in the mirror, checking her hair and making sure her shirt was tucked in. She saw me and said, “Good morning. I heard you snoring up a storm last night, sounds like you got some good sleep.”

“I did”. My voice stuck and I cleared my throat. “I feel pretty good today, I think it will be a good day”. My mom pushed my hair away from my forehead.

“I think so too.” She walked to the door, and took a step out. “See you at six!” I smiled and waved.

“See you at six!”


© Copyright 2017 Sascha Cohen. All rights reserved.

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