The Birds Have All Gone

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A very short dystopian story that makes no sense. It has a point even if nobody gets it but me.

Submitted: March 23, 2007

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Submitted: March 23, 2007

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The Birds Have All Gone

By Matt Kilmartin

 

I used to come to this park quite often in my youth. Of course, those were the days before the birds had all gone. I stand surveying the patch of grass overlooking the bay with the magnificent cityscape in the distance. In my memories the water and sky were much clearer just as the grass and the solitary tree in this place were much more alive. This is quite a different place than when I was last here.

The pigeons walk the grass around the tree but do not take flight or look for food. In fact, the pigeons are not there at all. They are but images of birds projected onto the field by a nearby machine. I walk among the yellow, translucent birds, apparitions of the ones who once roamed. As I step more gingerly through the dying grass kicking my feet they take flight in a programmed state of alarm. When they fly too high into the air they become nothing more but an abstraction of the image, a golden spectre of light, and disappear.

The afternoon is getting cool and breezy when my twin brother shows up, agreeing days ago to meet in this place. We play chicken in our vans on a gravel path that lies between the water's edge and the grassy field while his wife sits in the distance reading a book in a folding chair among the birds, the silly games of boys no interest to her. Our vans speed toward each other, dust flying through the air behind us. I wonder which of us will turn first, but we both brake at the same moment, narrowly avoiding a collision.

He steps out of his work van and I see him for the first time in years. We look exactly alike; pale white skin and no hair on our heads. You'd think we were clones. I get out of my work van, which is exactly like his; white with a blue stripe running across the middle. But whereas mine sports the name of my company in white letters on the stripe his only contains a group of letters and numbers whose meaning are indecipherable; a secret to all those except within his organization.

I ask him how he is. He tells me things couldn't be better. He's smiling.

We stand for a second staring out into the water that separates us from the city. In the distance we can hear a soft female voice speaking as if it were emanating from the city itself. My brother asks me about it.

It had been years since he had left. In that time came a voice that spoke to the people of this city continuously. It was jarring at first to hear this voice that, like the birds, was being broadcast from an unseen place. I remember hearing it for the first time as I walked the streets in confusion. After a while it started to fade into the background of my mind, blending in with all other ambient noises like the chatter of people in a restaurant. I don't think anybody really knew what she was saying anymore, and true to form nobody ever spoke of the woman's voice or even acknowledged its existence at all.

Then, in thought, I saw the source of this voice as I had in my dreams and musings. I knew that in my journey I would someday discover her. She stands on a dais in front of me, her long, flowing gown and golden hair blowing behind like great wings. She speaks to me in the same voice I'd grown so accustomed to. I don't know yet what she'll say.

This disturbs my brother. He asks me why I wanted to see him and why in this place. They're going to start a park restoration program in the next month, I say. Soon they would start to beautify many parks around the city, including this one. They would be changing the entire landscape of this place. Soon they would start digging.

His eyes widen a little as I gain his attention. I can tell he's panicked. I'd seen the plans on the news almost every night, I tell him, a plan by the city officials to boost citizen morale.

I tell him what I had been thinking ever since hearing this news; I don't think they're deep enough. I suggest that we bury them again. Bury them deeper. Where they won't be found.

I walk over to my van and open the rear doors. Inside are two shovels. I take one and hand him the other. I remember this place as if I were channeling my former self. I know every inch of the small field and I know exactly where to dig.

We walk to a spot some distance from the tree near the rocky water's edge. This is where we break ground and start to dig. With sweat dripping down my brow and a cramp in my side we haul the dirt from the ground in heavy piles. Even the cool wind of late afternoon isn't helping as my shirt soaks up perspiration and my arms start to ache. After what seems like an hour of digging we find it.

In the freshly dug plot of dry earth lies a dirty plastic bag that contains what is unmistakably a decaying human head. It was one of the boys we had known in school. We buried him here all those ages ago never thinking that we'd have to come back for him. I can see the look of worry in my brother's face as I realize it only mirrors my own. The hole is barely four feet deep.

Without making a decision as to whether or not we were going to move it we bury him again. I'm not worried about somebody seeing where we'd dug. It wouldn't be long before the whole park was nothing but dried out soil. As I pat the last of it down with my shovel my brother walks over to the water's edge. I follow him and stand beside him, dust dancing around my feet.

There are three more in the ground around this park, I tell him. I nod toward the water directly in front of where I stand. And another down there weighted down in a canvas bag.

We both step forward and peer into the water. There are no shallows there, just the rock ledge before us and the depths of the bay. A little to my side I can see a dead jellyfish bobbing up and down in the water next a rock. I'm fixated for a moment by it. And then there's the one I had hidden in an old mattress that was taken to the garbage dump.

As I'm staring at the jellyfish my brother turns away with a great sigh and walks back to his van. With his back to me he says we'll talk about it soon. He's not sure if we should even bother.

I stand alone and watch him leave, the sound of the bay playing against the rocks the only sound save the distant female voice of the city, the knowledge that it will always be there giving me a sense of comfort and certainty. I have a fleeting impression of being in the womb.

His wife gets up and walks to him carrying her book and folding chair. She walks among the artificial birds, not disturbed by her in the least, who congregate around a solitary tree that holds never ending vigil over a small park whose ground keeps my secrets.


© Copyright 2018 Matt Kilmartin. All rights reserved.

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