The Devil's Hair and the Ostrich

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

A young boy leaves his abusive father and goes off to find Santa Claus. On his way, he gets lost on a cargo ship and meets an anarchic ostrich who teaches him about himself.

*Entry in the Short Story Contest*

Note - This story was built around the words, "redhead", "ostrich", "boat", and "Santa Claus", words that my friend told me to build a story around. So I did.

The Devil’s Hair and the Ostrich

“You’re a disgrace, you and your cursed red hair!” hollered Theo’s father at him, spitting like an enraged bulldog.

He was drunk again. It was common of him to be. The poorly aging man, troubled by his own nonsensical superstitions of witchcraft surrounding his innocent eight-year old boy, would often drink his melancholy away, drowning what little sanity remained intact in his fragile mind.

Irene, Theo’s mother, had lost her life when giving birth to him. When his feeble body took its first breath into the outside world, his father saw not a miracle, not the heaven-sent gift of child birth, but rather a curse, a weed that had spread its roots too deeply into the love of his life and infected her with its virus. For her gruelling, twenty-five-hour struggle, she’d been rewarded with death. She’d traded her life for that of a weak child who could barely manage breathing without breaking down in pain.

When he saw the woman he’d loved since their teenage years fade away into obscurity, he blamed the boy, he and his flaming red hair. He named him Theo, that’s the only gift he made him, the gift of a name, one Irene had chosen.

Theo had particularly bright and unusually coloured hair, even as a new-born. It was frequently the object of torment his father used to lash out his anger.

“You have the devil’s hair!” he would say. He’d say worse, much worse, things a child should never be allowed to hear, but he said them anyways.

But, it was the comments about his hair and his mother that bothered Theo the most. It wasn’t his fault, he thought, if she died. He didn’t have the power back then to decide the fate of another, neither has he got it now. He wished he could wind back time and chose to never be born, at least then he wouldn’t have to endure the trauma he was being put through day after day. The things someone must do to make an eight-year-old have such a distorted train of thought.

One day, as Theo was eating his cereals quietly in the kitchen, hoping he wouldn’t wake the beast that lay next room, snorting like a pig from the snot clogged in its throat, he thought about running away. Where would he go, he had no idea, but anywhere was better than here.

He didn’t have to wish any further, when his father got up and shuffled his piggery-smelling sweating body into the kitchen. He slammed his half-empty beer now warm from last night on the table.

“You little shit…” he mumbled with a drunken, sobbing voice. “I want you out of my home before I burn off that god-forsaken hair off your head…”

Truth be told, he could have probably been able to do that with the anger swelling inside his stomach. He pushed away the table, pushing himself with it in his inebriate movements.

Theo grabbed hold of his schoolbag and ran off without brushing his teeth. It had taken eight years for him to decide to finally leave. It hadn’t been the first time his father threatened him, but he chose that time to be the last. As he passed through the door for what could possibly be the last time, he couldn’t help but feel a surge of relief within him. He had no idea how he’d survive alone, but loneliness was a better fate than abuse.

That evening, after school was over, he walked a different path, toward one of the local parks. He sat down on a public bench littered with graffiti and dried chewed gum, though not as dirty as his home. His coat kept him warm in these early December days.

He stared at the happiness he’d never known. Children played cheerfully in the parks with their loving parents. How lucky they were to have been blessed with such content delight. That was the childhood he’d dream about.

Evening came faster than anticipated. With all public parks closing at eleven in the evening, Theo thought it best to move. After all, even if he decided to stay, the local authorities would bring him back to his nightmare if they found him loitering about in the night.

That’s when he was struck with a spark of child ingenuity. He took off for the post office at speeds he wasn’t aware he could reach. He’d always been fragile and easily broken, but this was somehow an exception, like he’d been blessed with divine strength for this one task he imposed on himself.

The post office closed in less than an hour, plenty enough time to execute his marvellous plan. He sat down at a desk and pulled out a pen and paper from his schoolbag. He immediately began to write a letter to the one person he thought could help him.

“Dear Santa,

I haven’t been good this year, but I haven’t been bad, either. I was a regular boy. I only ask one thing from you this Christmas, only one. If you would give me this one present, I wouldn’t ever ask for anything again. All I want, is for my dad to love me.


He sent it in an envelope for the North Pole, no specific address. In his mind, the North Pole was under the dominion of Santa Claus, he was its warden. If the letter arrived there, he would get his hands on it.

With the night upon him, the already chilly temperatures dropped even lower. His body trembled, his teeth chattered. He didn’t have any friends he could seek refuge with, so he hid under the low branches of a pine tree covered in a thick layer of snow.

The next morning, and every morning after that, he snuck back to his home to check the mail before his father had a chance to. He’d also steal some food so he wouldn’t go hungry.

On December twenty-third, with Christmas soon upon him, and with no response from Santa, Theo began to worry. Did he ask too much? Perhaps his demand was an impossible one to fulfil, one even the mighty warden of the North Pole couldn’t do anything about. No, that wasn’t it. Santa delivered year after year presents to children across the world, in a single night, no less. He would never fail to answer his call, not to a deserving child.

That’s when it hit Theo, like a punch in the gut. What if he wasn’t deserving enough to receive what he asked for? He pondered about it, thinking back to each day of the last year.

His memories were mostly of his father coming back from God knows where, having left his mind wherever he had been. They weren’t happy memories, to say the least. In each one, he’d try in any way imaginable to avoid his unwanted fury.

Maybe that was it. Maybe he hadn’t tried hard enough to love him. His father lost Irene and was left to care for him. If he gave him the love that had vanished from his life eight years ago, maybe then things would be different.

But, he’d already made up his mind to never go back there. Sometimes he wondered, was he missed? He wouldn’t be surprised if his absence had gone unnoticed.

On Christmas Eve, Theo decided to go look for Santa Claus himself. He hadn’t answered his plea for help, which could only mean he was in trouble, logically. He wiped off his powerlessness and replaced it with an adventurer’s bravery. He was determined to see his journey through to the end.

That was until he got totally lost. He started to pant nervously when he realized he had no idea where he was going. He was in a part of the city he’d never seen before. He called for a cab passing nearby.

“Can you go to the North Pole?” he asked politely, waiting for an answer to get in the car.

The driver looked at him with a puzzled look. The silence kept strong for an excruciatingly long ten seconds, before the cab drove off. Theo wanted to cry at his misery. It seemed everything turned its back to him.

Time passed, and spring soon came. The snow began to melt, soaking the ground. Theo was still headed to his unchanged destination. He turned nine last week, a birthday he spent with a couple of quarrelling squirrels under a tree in a forest, probably his most memorable birthday to date.

A paperboy at a street corner shouted, waving a journal above his head, “Journal, journal! A man dies naked in a laser tag arena!”

This grabbed Theo’s attention. When he looked at the front page, he recognized his father. He had no idea how he managed to die in such a goofy manner, and quite frankly didn’t care. He felt no joy, but neither did he feel regret of sadness. Usually such a crybaby, he didn’t shed a tear for his only family’s death. He felt no different from any other day, his father had died nine years ago.

Eventually, Theo arrived at a harbor at the east coast, who knows where exactly. Exhausted from his long travels, he lay in an open crate that shielded him from the sunlight.

When he awoke, his body swayed from side to side. He soon understood he was on a ship. Could his luck get any more rotten? He screamed out for help, panicking in his wooden prison.

It was neither a man nor a woman who freed him, but rather an ostrich. The animal stared at him with a menacing, unblinking eye traversed by a deep scar. As if the situation weren’t surprising enough, it spoke to him in a raspy voice.

“Get out, boy.”

Theo dared not disobey the authoritarian bird that spoke like it was giving an order. He carefully left his crate which he now desired to hide back into.

He didn’t believe what his eyes saw. The crew had been tied to the cargo of the ship by what could only be described as a zoo. A slew of diverse animals, ranging from skunks and racoons, to giraffes and elephants, had taken over the ship.

In the water next to this one, another ship, immense and wooden, awaited departure. Animals brought loot onto it, leaving the people in their miserable state, all except Theo, whom the ostrich forced on board with them.

As he threw his eyes around his new surroundings, he noticed the animals were all in pairs. The floor was several storeys above the water. On the center mast, tightly tied, arms high over his head and legs pointed straight down, a naked man struggled to stay alive. His whole body had been mutilated, and what held him in his position were long, rusty nails sunk into the skin of his hands and feet.

The ostrich approached Theo and said coldly, “This religious fanatic’s been building this ship for the past thirty years of his sad life. He wanted to recreate Noah’s ark. Once he was done with it, he took us away from our homes and casted us on this floating piece of junk. He got what he deserved.”

The ostrich seemed to be the only animal capable of human speech. Its anarchic behavior had evolved far past what its miniscule brain was deemed capable of.

Theo gathered all the courage he had left and asked the ostrich in a shaking voice, “What do you want from me?”

“It’s not about what I want, its about what you want. What was a child doing in a crate on a cargo ship in the middle of the Atlantic?”

“I ran away…”

“You ran far, I have to give you props on that. But, have you thought of what you would do once you ran away? Where you would go, what you would do to stay alive, basic thoughts even a boy is capable of.”

Theo lowered his head in shame, thinking back to his father’s death. Not only did he have nowhere to go, he now had nowhere to come back to. Upon realizing this, he broke down and cried, faced with his helplessness.

The ostrich helped him up and brought him to a cabin. Through the window, he saw the sun set over the horizon, a gleam of light warming his room. He dragged himself over to the mirror.

His eyes were as red as his hair, his cursed hair. He picked up a plot-convenient razor next to the sink and plugged it in the wall. Apparently, the man who built this vessel even incorporated electricity.

Theo brought the razor closer to his hair, its blades clipping against one another. The ostrich suddenly burst in the room.

“What are you doing?” it asked.

“I’m getting rid of this burden,” answered Theo.

“Why, is it too heavy?”

“It’s a curse. All my life, my hair brought me bad luck, nothing else. I lived a miserable life because of it. I lost my family because of it. I lost my future because of it.”

“And you think shaving it will fix all these problems?” Theo stopped his hand in midair. “You think you can alleviate your misfortune by cutting away part of yourself?” continued the ostrich. “It’s easy to blame everything on a single one.”

“My mother died and my father’s cursed me for it. I have the devil’s hair, it’s what he said.”

“Look at my eye, boy. Do you see this scar? It itches every time I think of the man who inflicted it on me. Because of this new evil look, I’ve become the scary ostrich. How do you think I felt when my brethren exiled me from the golden plains of Africa because of a physical feature I have no control over? After that, I was kidnapped by the goon on the mast and brought here. I’ve had nothing but bad luck as well, but you don’t see me complaining about it. This scar of part of me now, and I have to deal with it just as much as every other part of me. You can’t erase your past by chipping away at yourself. If that were possible, I’d find a way to remove my scar and go back to my family. Instead of hating your devilish hair like your father thought you, take it with you and go find someone who’ll love you for it.”

“Someone who’ll love me and my hair? That’s absurd.”

“Is it really, now? I thought the same about my scar until I met the animals of this ship. They accepted me and made me the grand ostrich guru. Although your past may be filled with nothing but misery, and although it may be out of reach, your future isn’t. It’s up to you to decide whether you want that future to be an identical continuation of your past, or something completely different. I made mine something else, so can you.”

Theo dropped his arm, like he suddenly lost control of it, staring at his reflection in the mirror.

“Removing the part of you that’s brought you so much misery won’t change who you are. Besides, you realize it’s hair, right? It’ll just grow back in time.”

The ostrich left Theo to ponder about his fate. The next morning, he went looking for the bird, his hair still waving in the wind on his head.

“Bring me to shore,” he said.

The ostrich smirked at the boy’s newfound determination.

“Sorry it took so long,” said the ostrich. “We animals don’t have the greatest sense of navigation on the sea.”

It took seven years for them to find dry land. During that time, they’ve mostly been turning in circles.

Theo hopped off the ship and waved goodbye to the ones who revived him. They had decided one day the sea was where they belonged, for some reason. He spent a few days wandering around the cities, hoping a ray of good fortune would finally shine upon him.

He stopped in front of a high school. It’s where he should be, right now, he thought to himself. If he hadn’t run away all those years ago, he would be in high school. He heard tales about it, tales of hardships, none of which sounded nearly as bad as what he traversed.

The bell rang, and a horde of rampaging students came rushing out, like they’d just regained their freedom after a lifetime of slavery. They walked, some ran, past him, ignoring his existence. In the mob, a girl bumped into him.

“Excuse me,” she said politely.

She had blue hair, which Theo couldn’t shunt his eyes from. He’d never seen such strange hair in his whole life. He began thinking about what her parents must have done to her, what they called her. But, she looked happy, with a subtle smile never leaving her face. “You have very beautiful hair,” she said.

Theo stood agape at her remark. Never in his life did he think it possible for someone to have that opinion of him. “Y-yours too,” he said shyly.

“You think so? Thank you so much! I just had it dyed yesterday.”


“Yes, dyed. What, you didn’t think it was natural, did you?” With the same smile, she took her backpack on which were an immeasurable number of pins. She took one and handed it over to him. “Here, I found this pin the other day while walking. I already have it in my collection, so you can have it instead. A strange pin for a strange guy,” she said it with a half-sarcastic, charming smile.

“Thank you,” said Theo as he opened his hand to receive his present. He took a good look at the pin and smiled. He scoured the gradually smaller mob for the girl, when he saw her waving him goodbye across the street. He returned the gesture, a bit distant.

He looked at the pin again. A round one, of an ostrich standing in a field of golden grass.

Submitted: February 06, 2018

© Copyright 2022 Thomas Vlasblom. All rights reserved.

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This was a really cute short story Thomas Vlasblom and I would love to read more short stories of yours if you come up with more :-).

Signing out,

Fri, February 9th, 2018 9:55pm

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