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The Umbrellabird

A Descriptive Short Story

Mother told us never to go down there. It was not safe for children to venture through the deep forest that was dark as volcanic sand on a moonless beach. She wasn’t the only one – Grandma Sally told us stories about creatures taller than the coconut trees. They would roam the forest at night searching for little souls to take with them. I crumbled at the thought of my fragile bones crushed under the giant’s feet. The sound was close to that of walnut between Daddy Bill’s hands. My fingers filled with numbness whilst I gripped onto Grandma Sally’s cotton skirt. I couldn’t feel but I heard the words that came out of her mouth. It was cold, almost as if she was dead inside. The people who lived there had nothing to eat or any livelihood. They were existing waiting on death to take their souls. Their skin stuck onto their bones like a leach and faces that covered in deep coats of hair. I listened as she spoke, sitting at the edge of the chair, watching into her gray eyes. Everyone in North District Island believed that Down South was not a place to be. Only the condemned lived there.

I only knew about North District Island.  It was a tropical paradise with endless shores filled with the gentle hue of bronze that was calm on the eyes like a vintage photograph. The waves were deep and favored the sky – a light blue hue with a bright ray of sunshine. It roared and rolled down, crashing on the shore with a soft hiss, fizzing and bubbling under my feet like brine. The cold tranquility was refreshing, and it captivated my soul. I thought of life, I thought of love, even the birds that fly above. There was one thing I didn’t like – the smell of fish that lingered around your nostrils like smoke in a closed room. I avoided going to the fishermen ports. My favorite time at the beach was at dawn when the clouds would be reddish-pink. The air that blew my hair around my face would have an aroma of flowers on the land. The birds would fly in a line and formed different shapes as they went by, and sang the sweetest melody to my ears. I loved it there, tranquility at its best form. It was times like these I wondered what was beyond the sea. I wanted to make memories of the life I lived on earth so I would tell my Grandchildren stories like Granny Sally. The only difference mines would be full of life. Not that I didn’t like her stories, they didn’t sit well with my spirit and that was enough for me. I wanted to dive into the wilderness and experience the land so that it would not escape me. Know the soil, trees, birds and their flattering sound. My heart jumped to my throat at the thought of it with shivers that run from the crown of my head to the soul of my feet. I wanted to live and tell stories of what I saw and not heard. Then a sudden outburst of thought would come to my mind, “what was beyond the gates of Down South?”

My eyes always held sight of the barrier between us, and I knew I was not allowed to go into the condemned. The intensity of the unknown burnt my eyes. I wanted to know what was behind that fence with a deep hue from decades of rainfall. Debris grew over its surface, and the timber was almost not recognizable amongst the tussocks grass that grew around. The fragile leaves would rustle in the breeze and wave at me. My eyes crinkled at the kind gesture of invitation although everything around it was lifeless and bore the color of the sun even in the raining seasons. Even beyond the life of green pastures was absent and the plague disappeared into thick black trees. There was a pathway made, and my mind rattled with the thought of how could that be, nobody goes there. Annie said it was the tall monsters guarding the gate at nights.

My actual desire was to cross over the raggedy gate, stepping my feet on to the soil of Down South. We tried once, but a laborer saw us and sent us back home. The news reached our home even before we got there and our parents were furious. Annie, twelve years old, was banned from leaving her house for a month. She was a year older than me, and we both enjoyed doing the same things. They called us, “Columbus Explorers.” We were different than girls our age who played with toys and talked about boys. Annie and I loved nature and a better way to discover it was to explore and that was exactly what we did. We climbed the trees and looked at the hills in the distance, wondering the way of life of the people that lived there. We made up stories about waterfalls that stood three thousand feet and the trees of different colors of green that surrounded it. We were spectators to our imagination, and it wouldn’t be long after that we would get tired of imagining.

On a warm sunny morning, Annie and I decided to fulfill our void, crossing over to Down South. At first, she was scared, reminding me of our last punishment. Although the memory of my father’s wide hands scolding me on my shoulder was prominent, the dreams of visiting Down South was even bigger. After days of contemplating she finally gave in and we set “sail” to our destination. As we walked through the trail the sound of dry grass pounded our ears. Annie would shout at me, “Maria, walk slowly!” It was loud enough only for my ears as her voice was as soft as a slow blues in a midnight café. We walked for a mile until we reached the gate. There was a part of it that was broken and Annie jumped over. I looked at her, waiting for her to emerge into a creature or hair to start growing on her face. Instead, her pale cheeks became pink and her eyes were widened. She stood still, stiff like a dead animal on the roadside. I asked her if she was okay and, then a smile emerged across her face. That was a sign she was fine, so I jumped over. We took deep breaths and without a word to each other, we ventured into the forest.

The day turned into night as we saw nothing but a dim light between the trees. We followed it as our hearts raced. Beads of perspiration rolled down my face, and at that moment I wanted to turn around and head back home. I was waiting on Annie to make the first move, but, she kept walking forward as if she was under a spell. I couldn’t see her eyes, but I knew they were widened to a point it might scare away a monster. That was how it was whenever a situation intrigued her thoughts. I gripped onto her hands, and we walked through the thick vegetation. My feet became weary, and my eyesight was getting dull. I called out to Annie in a tight whisper, and she jerked my hands, silencing me. As I tried to speak again, the bushes began to shake. It was loud and almost deafening. Our paced increased, to a point where we bolted down the path like an Olympian champion. Out of the corner of my eyes I saw a shadow running towards us. The screaming of my lungs penetrated my body, fueling my veins with adrenaline allowing the will of my muscles to go far beyond a jog. Annie was beside me and I wondered if she too saw the shadow. The little light at the end kept us going, and we thought of nothing else but reaching there. As we came closer, one of my feet slipped across to Annie and we both tumbled. This was the first I heard Annie’s voice since our journey began, and she was screaming hysterically. We held each other tightly, and my eyelids were pressed together. We came to a sudden halt, as I felt a cold finger against my shoulder. I was scared to open my eyes. It was the monster I thought. I should have listened to Granny Sally, I murmured until I was slapped on the shoulder by Annie’s little hand followed by her telling me to open my eyes. And suddenly I felt like a different human being. My eyes glanced over to the fingers that were pierced on my shoulder. It was hairy, not like that of a bear but that of my father. A bulk of saliva slid down my throat causing an audible smack. Fright gripped onto me as I looked up to the man whose face was just like mine. He was human, not a monster. His deep eyes were bronze and glittered in the dim light. His skin the color of caramel shone to a point where I almost saw my shadow. Annie and I shared a stare until his voice broke the silence.

“What are you doing here?” he whispered in a deep accent I have never heard. 

My eyes widened; it was not what I was expecting. His voice was calm, the same as his composure.

“We… We…” I paused, allowing my breaths slow down, “We wanted…”

“We wanted to see what Down South looks like!” Annie shouted over my voice. My eyes followed her as she got up, exploring the garden of flowers. On both sides of the narrow alley were beds of orchid and heliconia of various hue and aroma. I remembered them from the science class. Above the trees were separating, allowing streaks of light to shine down. My eyes glanced to the sky as I listened to the melodious chorus of the birds. If their music was visible it would have been beds of lavender carnation flowers resting on a softly flowing riverside. The petals, solid and rich-toned, swirl perfectly out into full bloom. Their chirps were bright as the petals and fresh as the fallen rain upon them. I turned around and around with my hands separated from my body until my eyes became dizzy. The term paradise on earth never felt so real. My smile grew as nature finest became alive.  It emerged strong and beautiful, the kind of wealth that compliments the blue sky.

The man asked us further questions about our visit to his community. When he was satisfied with the answers he led us through the alley, and we were under the sunlight. Everything seemed different. The air was as fresh as a daisy, and I smelled its greenness. This was the first time in my life I had experienced such an earthy scent. The leaves were greener and the grass was moist. It was nothing like my Grandma Sally had described. The birds’ chirps were louder and I saw them pass by in hues that I have never seen. There was one that stood out. It had a bright red bald patch on its neck like a balloon and had a conspicuous crest on top of its head. Its body not measuring more than fifty centimeters was black and shined like the moon in the ocean. As it leaned forward, I heard a drumming sound echoing into the forest, and looking behind it I saw the others flying along. My mouth dropped, and my face was lifted – for a few seconds, I could not breathe.

The beauty captivated our soul and we became much more of a prisoner when we reached an area that appeared to be the center of Down Town. The white-water cascading down the cliff in a magnificent uproar that was yet silent. It blended into nature, along with children and adults playing the water below. They were people like us. Annie and I looked at our reflection in the water, something we could have never done in South District Island. Behind us came a child, younger than us. As he opened his mouth there were few teeth present, and the ones that were, decayed to an extent I wondered how he ate. I had never seen such before, even his clothing was torn, and had stains that told years of being worn. Some others who followed him wore clothing made of animal furs and feathers. I read about them in books but never thought a day would come where I would see an indigenous tribe. They were like us except there was one thing different about them. They welcomed us, something I knew our people wouldn’t have done. I asked the little boy about the bird that we followed, he said it’s called, Umbrellabird and that we were in Umbrella City….

Published by Monique Miller

Hi Everyone! Welcome to My Story Time, where I publish short stories, poems, and proses. Writing is more than just putting words on paper, it's an art that fuels one's imagination.

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