Sophie Warden + Jason Montalvo

Cuckoo Conspiracy

Illustrated by Sophie Warden

“Lady Lucia!” She heard them cry from across the tree. They rushed around her, their feathers flustered and rustled.

“My Lady, our eggs!” cried Mary Dunnock.

“Our babies,” Martha Pipits said through tears.

“They’ve been stolen!” Maggie Warbler wailed.

Lady Lucia brought them to her nest near the highest point of the tree. She cooed and calmed them until they quieted. “Now, my dears, who do you think has committed this crime?”

“That crow,” Martha spat.

“He’s the one,” Mary said through her beak.

“We know for certain,” Maggie waved her feathered fist.

Lucia turned her face and smiled, “Samuel Crow? Why on earth would he do such a thing?”

“Comes from a bad flock,” Mary had heard.

“Always sneaking around the neighbors nest,” Maggie had seen.

“He’s always gone when something’s wrong,” Martha had concluded.

Lady Lucia looked down and rubbed the creases from her dress; hiding the bubble of laughter caught in her throat.

The three women exchanged worried glances. “Is everything alright, my lady?” asked Mary.

She released a long sigh, “This is quite a serious offense; one that will not be tolerated or treated lightly, especially in my kingdom. I’ll see to it that Samuel is found and questioned for this terrible crime. I am sorry that this tragedy came to fall onto you, my council. Now, go back to your nests and I shall send for you when this has all been resolved.”

The three women bowed their heads and left Lady Lucia’s nest, whispering about the fates of their eggs. When she could no longer hear them she let out the laugh she had been stomaching the duration of the meeting.  Mother had said it would be this easy, she thought. Quickly changing dresses to cover the orange of her feathers, she dug a hand under the brush of her nest and withdrew a brown bag that she placed in her pouch.

Drawing her hood over her head she told her pigeon guards if someone sought her that she was busy and wished not to be disturbed. They puffed their pearlescent chests in agreement; they’d been faithful for generations. She then flew out from the tree and into the night.

She was to meet Crow at the oak tree not too far away, and when she came to the tree she found him sitting upon its top, his black feathers shining in the moonlight.

“What are you doing out in the open?” Lady Lucia hissed at him after she found cover under the branches.

Samuel Crow looked down at her and squawked with laughter, “You Cuckoos are always so paranoid. Come up and enjoy the clear night air, it is quite beautiful.”

“Keep your voice down and come here now!” she strained to control the temper in her own voice.

Samuel sighed and jumped down through the branches until he came to her side, “Lady Lucia, just as your kind have been doing this for generations so have mine, so do please try and lighten up.”

Lucia puffed her chest angrily, “Let’s just get this over with. Do you have them?”

The crow turned and motioned for her to follow, leading her through to the trunk of the tree. They came to a stop and Samuel pulled apart a few branches to reveal a knot-hole. He turned, gesturing for her to enter and when she did she found four eggs nestled together.

“They were quite easy to snatch,” Samuel said proudly. “Though I nearly broke the Warbler’s two getting out from her nest.”

Mother said it was this easy, Lucia thought as a smile crossed her face. She reached into her pouch, pulled the brown bag from it, and held it in the air for Samuel to take. He snatched it from her, and opened it to find a mound of grain. His eyes opened in amazement, “Wheat and maize, my Lady you are far too generous. So, what would you have me do with them?”

Lady Lucia quickly turned, walking past the Crow to the edge of the branch, “I don’t care, they’re yours now. Just ensure that you and those eggs are long gone from my woods by dawn.” She spread her wings and left the Crow to his prizes.

At noon she sent for the three and quickly they came fluttering into her nest, each of their faces plastered with fear and anxiety. Before they spoke she produced four brown spotted eggs on a pillow of feathers. Each of the women chirped with joy, racing to their eggs, unaware of their origins.

“My guards found Samuel Crow trying to escape with each of your eggs by the eastern creeks. They were able to win back your children and chase the crow from our lands. You can rest assured that he will never be seen again,” she spoke humbly.

“My Lady, you’re wonderful!” Mary cheered.

“We’re forever in your debt.” Maggie cradled her egg.

“Long live Lady Lucia!” Martha sang.

They quickly rushed away back to their nests to bury their eggs in the safety of their wings.

Lady Lucia waved them off, smiling from success. Her mother said it was this easy, that was how she was able to become the Queen of the Birds here in these woods, and how she’d ensure the Cuckoos reign for generations to come.

Argument for Memory

The past is tyrannical, you mutter past your cigarette.

No, no, not at all! Let me show you why. Close your eyes:

If I say to think of your favorite fruit you immediately can conjure up its image. You can almost feel it in your hands, its roughness or its smoothness. The smell of it fills your nostrils as if it’s right there beneath your nose. Your mouth readies in anticipation of it. The bitterness or sweetness lingers in your mouth and for a moment your stomach relishes from the treat.

Now if I asked you to imagine riding a bike on a clear warm summer day, you can feel your skin prickle under the sun’s warmth. How the black rubber handles feel against your now tense, sweaty palms. You’re about to take off down the tallest hill in the field so your heart’s racing a bit quicker than usual, but don’t worry, you’ve done this before. You feel a bit of calm wash over as you start to inch forward and then you’re racing down the hill. The world becomes a blur, your heart is pounding through your shirt, and the warm air presses against you and just for a moment you’re flying. As you near the bottom, you slowly bring life back into your stiff hands and begin to slow the bike. The grind of the gravel against the wheel roars over the pulse in your ears. Finally you come to a halt. You’re out of breath. Your breathing steadies, a few beads of sweat roll down your forehead, tickling you until you wipe them away. The hum of Cicadas takes over the hill.

Hopefully that worked to some extent.

I never doubted it for a minute, you open your eyes. You flick the end of the cigarette sending ash into the wind.

On some level this is beautiful. Our memories, our stories, can paint vivid worlds with just the dictation of a few words.

At the same time it is also our burden, let me show you why I feel so:

If you can, recall the first time you came to be in love with someone. Their scent immediately passes you as if they’ve just walked by. You can feel them near you; you can feel the warmth and smoothness of their skin against your fingertips. The feel of their hair between your fingers as you run a hand through it. You can remember how complete they made you feel. How anxious you felt the first time you kissed and how perfect you felt after it. How you wanted it to last for as long as it could, and maybe it has, but maybe it hasn’t, and it’s a pain and longing that will linger no matter what you do; no matter how much time passes.

Everyone carries this burden of lost beauty and love. I’m not saying ‘to hell with memories’ but to show why I feel so about the past.

But at least it shows that beauty and love were once there? Not lost forever.

I suppose so, you take another long drag from your cigarette. Tell me another story, you say.