Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: Raphus Cucullatus

Every week Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

Raphus Cucullatus
Word Count: 600

“What brings you to Mauritius?” Abel asked.

“Birding,” said the stranger. He wore funny clothes and his Dutch was terrible—even his English was strange. But Abel had agreed to show him around, so Abel would show him around.

“Birding?” asked Abel, unfamiliar with the word.

“Just a hobby,” said the stranger. “I’m looking for a species of bird.”

“You want to eat it?” asked Abel.

“No, I just want to see it.”

“I don’t understand this hobby of yours, I’m afraid,” said Abel.

“Oh, it’s not that unusual,” said the stranger. “There are people who travel the world to see works of art or ancient cities. They cover great distances—often at great expense. That’s not all that different from what I’m doing.”

“Only, you want to see a bird,” said Abel.

“That’s right.”

“Must be some important bird.”

“It can only be found here and now on Mauritius,” said the stranger.

“And you don’t want to eat it?” asked Abel.

“Not at all.”

“You’re an unusual man, Mr…” prompted Abel, hoping to get the fellow’s name.

“Just a man who likes birds,” said the stranger.

They picked their way across the beach, hiking over dunes. The stranger carried an odd stick, not quite a walking stick or a dueling stick, and not quite a shepherd’s crook either, but somewhere in between. Abel could have sworn he heard it hum, but that was preposterous. Sticks didn’t hum. Must have been the wind or the ocean playing tricks on his ears.

A gull flew overhead.

“That the bird you’re looking for?” asked Abel, pointing. It wouldn’t be—gulls were everywhere, not just on Mauritius—but Abel was keen to get the conversation going again.

“The bird I’m looking for won’t be found in the air,” said the stranger.

They walked on, crossing dune after dune and had to cut inland as the forest overtook the shore. Abel hacked vines out of their way, and as they moved out toward the ocean again, the stranger reached out a hand.

As Abel’s eyes readjusted to the sun, he saw a three-foot bird bobbing along the water. “That thing?” he asked. “A dodo?”

“Shh,” said the stranger. “You might frighten it.”

Abel laughed. “More likely he’ll walk up and peck at you. Those little ostriches are too dumb to be frightened of you.”

“Actually, they’re more closely related to pigeons,” said the stranger.

“I see why you don’t want to eat it, though,” said Abel. “They taste like horse leavings—only greasier.”

The stranger pulled a small box from his trouser pocket. Then he looked at it—seemed to look through it, actually. He tapped the top of it, and then moved to the side and performed the whole ritual again. He repeated this several times before returning it to his pocket. The dodo seemed only mildly concerned with the stranger’s attentions, or his small box. “It’s beautiful,” said the stranger.

“They must have ugly birds where you come from,” said Abel.

“Well, I must give you something for your trouble,” said the stranger.

“It’s no trouble,” said Abel. “I can hike along the beach all day. Shall we head back?”

“You go on ahead,” said the stranger. “I’ll catch up.”

Abel started back into the trees, but he stopped when he heard the humming sound—the same humming that he’d heard coming from the stranger’s walking stick. Only it was louder, and it was definitely not the ocean. He turned back and was blinded by a flash of blue light.

When the light subsided, the hum—and the stranger—were gone.

Edited by Carolyn "Are We Playing Dr. Who's Game?" Abram.

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