The following piece is an entry for the Autumn 2020 MicroFiction contest held by Dandelion Press. The contest challenge is to describe what is going on in the painting at left, created by Lori Preusch.
© 2020 Deah Curry PhD
All Rights Reserved
Everyone assumed Kestrell to be a strange child, a lonely orphan. The village busybodies talked endlessly about how she needed a mother, an education, and some new clothes – not necessarily in that order. And seldom with kindness or practical solutions. Well, she may have been only twelve, and sporadically overseen by a forgetful, elderly, bachelor uncle, but she had her life well in hand, thank you very much.
You see, Kestrell knew a couple secrets, and kept a few of her own. She knew, for example, that birds weren’t just birds. That drawing was a way to give birth. And that her uncle’s ancient library had been handed down from her Swedish ancestors, with a few super rare esoteric textbooks for making magick remedies.
Plus she had discovered that if you wrap a blue ribbon around a hat just right, tie the bow with a deceptively casual flair, and affix flowers and berries to it, that certain friends can be called to tea when you need useful advice, or a bit creative fun.
Corvy and Ravee had been the first to answer her millinery invitation. At the time, Kestrell didn’t even realize she was speaking to them. She had simply donned the misshapen chapeau found in an attic trunk of heirlooms, under a stack of old leather-bound books. She wasn’t supposed to go wandering about alone in the dark forest behind the house, where the real world was, so she had learned to be content exploring the environment of the attic.
Anyway, it hadn’t taken long for her to learn the corvidae language, spoken in nasal caws, head tilts, awkward hops, and wing flaps. The more the pair grew to trust her, the more they revealed how their behaviors – like, picking up and moving a pen, walking through ink and leaving a meaningful trail on parchment, perching on specific books, and so on – should be decoded for conversation.
“Which of these books should I read next?” Kestrell mused out loud one day. To her surprise, Corvy hopped right up on volume three of Cunningham’s Medicinal Berries. “Are you sure? I haven’t read volumes one and two yet.”
“Caw,” Corvy replied.
“Okay. Thank you.” Then looking at Ravee, she asked, “Any other suggestions?” Well, that started a bit of a squabble, making Kestrell sorry she had asked, not wanting Ravee to feel left out.
The crows debated for a few minutes, shuddering their feathers, voices emphatically loud. Then Ravee hopped over to the thick book on which the silver pitcher sat.
“Oh, yeah, I know I should finish that.” It was a sketchbook of flowers, with instructions on how to collect early morning dew from them for healing uses. She had stopped reading that book after the chapter on making the snapdragon flower essence remedy. “It’s a lot of work, that book.”
“Caw caw caw,” scolded Ravee, which Kestrell understood to mean, that’s no excuse.
“Are you telling me I’m supposed to become a healer?” she asked, for clarity. “Aren’t I a little young to be taking up such work? I mean, what about having a carefree and happy childhood?” She laughed as she spoke. She’d known for half her life that she was meant to be a healer, and that the books in her uncle’s library were the best education she could have for that.
Almost spilling a pot of ink when getting up from her desk, Kestrell announced, “I have an important question. It’s time to call the Council. Let’s see who’s in the forest today.” A well-groomed trail went 100 yards into the woods before circling back around to the iron gate at the end of her yard. Corvy and Ravee flew happily ahead of her on the path.
But when Robin, Nuthatch, and Sparrow joined in, the crows were less than delighted, for they were a bit jealous of their special relationship with Kestrell.
They weren’t just crows, you see. They were actually the em-birded spirits of her grandparents who lived in the Life Beyond. They were highly protective of her, even around other transmigrated souls now inhabiting critter bodies, too.
Leading the multifarious flock back to the library-turned-Council room, Kestrell said in her best grown-up persona. “Please settle down and listen carefully. I very much need everyone’s opinions. The town ladies insist I go to Miss Tuttle’s Boarding School for Social Refinements and Childhood Friends. I’ve already learned everything they teach there, but maybe I should have human friends? What do you think?”
Ravee was first to answer with a shudder of wings, shaking his head. Corvy cawed in loud protest, registering her agreement with Ravee’s unmistakable NO!
Robin, often the peacemaker at council meetings, fluttered a short flight to the third highest shelf, digging her bird-toes into the book titled ‘Avian Shamanism’. Kestrell understood that to mean Robin’s advice was she already had what she needed to be the healer she was meant to be.
Nuthatch and Sparrow chattered back and forth as if oblivious to the others present. Then Nuthatch flew out the window, returning with a magenta, trumpet shaped Mountain Pride flower. Kestrell knew the dew from it makes a remedy for having confidence in oneself.
Aha, she thought, Nuthatch and Sparrow are saying, don’t listen to the busybodies. Trust us, trust yourself.
Bluebird hopped to the top of her hat, signaling her opinion that Kestrell knew how to call friends to her world when she needed them. Boarding school would just put a lid on that secret talent.
“Good, then. I’ll have my uncle tell the ladies to mind their own bee’s wax. He’ll like doing that,” she chuckled, to which the feathered council all noisily declared agreement.