Birdie

Birdie and her family left their home after the great cooling came. Food was scarce and they hadn’t been fed in so long. The light was fading. Once bright and white, it had turned a golden color that plants couldn’t seem to tolerate. Their leaves changed to a sickly yellow color and fell. The days were getting shorter. Soon there would be no light left at all.

It wasn’t so much a decision to leave as, well, one day some of them started walking. The rest followed and they didn’t see any good reason to go back. There was no one around to stop them.

They didn’t stop until they came to a great field of corn. The stalks grew taller than Birdie’s head. She looked up at the fading light through their leaves. It was the first time she’d seen green in what felt like forever. The leaves here were already tinged with yellow, though, and turning brown at the tips. Some of the stalks had fallen to the ground under the weight of the ripe cobs. It was the first food they’d seen since leaving home and her brothers and sisters stopped to gorge themselves.

Birdie considered the worm-eaten cobs and walked on. Her stomach rumbled but she waddled on. She’d been walking for so long. There had to be something more than half-rotted corn somewhere in the world. She left her family behind. They were too hungry to notice.

Dry leaves brushed her bare legs as she wandered. She shivered in the wind. When she was smaller, the leaves had been green and growing. The wind was warm. And the light seemed like it would last forever. That seemed so long ago.

At the end of the field was a house made of faded wooden planks. Birdie recognized it as shelter, though it was a long way off. She reached it just as the sun brushed the horizon. Long shadows followed Birdie as she walked. Night was coming soon and temperatures would plummet. She could freeze to death if she didn’t find somewhere to roost.

Around back, she found a door. She cocked her head this way and that. It was an odd thing. A sapling had grown up over the door, pruned and guided carefully to grow along the door frame without obstructing the door itself. A few leaves clung to the branches. The rest had crumbled in the cooling weather or were piled up at the base of the tree as part of the new carpet of fallen leaves that had settled over the world.

Warmth radiated from the doorway. Birdie could feel the heat of it on her bare face and legs. It reminded her of the time when the fields had been all green and alive. Before the light began to change. Before the great cold came.

She put her shoulder against the door and pushed it open carefully. The air inside burst forth with the smell of cooked corn and burning wood. The sounds of the wind outside gave way to the voice of the fire. But there were other voices here, too. Human voices. Birdie could see their feet hustling and bustling around the kitchen. She tried to keep out from underfoot, staying close to the walls to peck the ground for dropped grains.

A human looked down at Birdie. One great hand reached out and seized her by the neck, dragging her kicking feet off the ground. She tried to call out the alarm to her family. The house wasn’t safe. They had to turn back and spend the winter somewhere else. But they wouldn’t be able to hear her, even if she could make a sound.

“Looks like we’re having turkey for dinner,” the cook said.

Dianne Williams lives in Lawrence, Kansas. She grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries and classic science fiction. She once dreamed of being an astronaut. Or maybe a lawyer. Or an artist. She settled for being as many of them as she could all at once through fiction writing.

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