This Week’s Prompt: 127. Ancient and unknown ruins—strange and immortal bird who speaks in a language horrifying and revelatory to the explorers.
The Prior Research:Birds the Likes of Which God Hasn’t Seen
It was perched like a bloated dead spider on the hill, waiting for its children to well up and devour it. Sprawling gardens and forgotten mazes, hedges long dead and fountains over grown with mold and moss, formed its stone web. The baths that once bubbled with mineral spring water were now entirely consumed. Even the wolves gave it distance.
The only wholesome thing we saw, walking up in the night with our flashlights, were the birds. Nests of birds across the abandoned rooves and long collapsed balconies. Well, wholesome might be the wrong word. There were sparrows and robins and such, birds that sang in the morning and all that. I never was good with telling birds apart without bright colors. But I know ravens and crows, and the sound of owls in the night.
Place was full of vermin—mice, rats, insects, all of them flocked to its walls. Course they lured in birds. And in a few years, when the ceiling gave way, the bird’s lure in something bigger. What, I don’t know.
“My uncle says grandpa use to come here.” Jordan said, shining his light through the front gate. There is flicker of a fox moving away from the light. Had something with feathers in its mouth.
“Yeah? Like as a butler or something?” I said, looking around. The trees were full of dead leaves. Jordan’s clipers break the rusty lock.
“Nah, before that.” He said, pushing open the gate. “When, yeah, some rich guy owned it—that guy who always watered down his food? Apparenlty apart from running workshops and stuff, he opened up a bunch of baths. Cured every sort of ache.”
“Huh. You’d think that sorta business would’ve kept it open.” I said, as we walked down the broken cobblestones. You could still see the baths, rising in rows down the path to the backdoor. What had been a pool of water was both dead and oh so alive, the water mostly sunken into the very bottom, but moss and mold growing up the walls. Only the uplifted hand of the statue was visible. A confused crow was pecking at it.
Renovating a new wing onto the manor took time. During the day, the dolorous toll of hammers and cranes drove all life from the place. Even the owner, Gerald Copperson, retreated upward and away, in an isolated study from the clamor. There he studied heavy books and answered letters as his designs for the building were carried out. It was only at night, when silence fell over the structure like a curtain, that Gerald ventured out to survey the work.
Slowly, the new wing was rising—by summers end, it would be finished. A whole new set of rooms, including a parlor for entertaining more properly. A spare kitchen perhaps. He walked along the currently bare walls—ones that would be filled with engravings to memorialize the effort. He had even found the perfect statue in an Italian graveyard—once the purchase was finalized, the Renaissance marble.
On such a nightly walk, in the warmth of a summer night around the bubbling fountain with its angel statue, that Gerald felt the chill of a passing shadow. The owls of the surrounding wood sometimes came to pass over his well lit home, and as an avid bird watcher, Gerald instinctively turned to catch a glimpse. And sure enough, there was a bird—but not an owl of any kind he’d seen. It had wide wings like a condor, with thin feathers flayed out, and a heavy tail as it descended down. It circled for a moment before affixing itself to the lance at the top of the roof. The knightly statue, placed over where one day his children would slumber, seemed to sag ever so slightly with the weight of the bird.
Each of the baths had been an effort to make.
“We should be able to get six baths.” Sheryl muttered, drawing out the locations on the map under the gaslight. “It’s not exactly the Hanging Gardens or Bath, but its more than enough I think.”
“I was hoping to get some of the water to the gardens.” Yohan sighed. “But there isn’t a convient spring—not with those minerals.”
“The water and the vegetables might not mix well anyway.” Sheryl said tapping her chin. “I mean, whats good for the outside isn’t always good for the inside.”
The aquafir beneath their feet went into a number of local springs—with some effort and piping, the water was funneled into baths and fountains. A rare, dare Yohan say it, unique mixture of minerals was just beneath the surface—fed by rain water and underground rivers, the aquifers water was bountiful. It worked wonders on illness…or it should. Similair chemicals had been found down river—not the same, but similar. Bottles had been kept as household cures for a while now.
“Still, six baths for now. Maybe we can make more later.” Yohan said, rolling up the plans. “With a field for exercises, and a vegetable garden—I think we might be onto something here. The sort of thing people really need.”
The inside of the building wasn’t any better than the outside. The wallpaper had peeled and cracked—the cheerful pink flowers faded away. Gashes and grafitti covered walls as we went down the alls. Doors ripped off the hinges. I’d say by some crazed monster, but probably by some idiot drunk teens. The smell of piss and the sexual history documented on the wall seemed more their work than Bigfoot’s.
Chunks of the upper floor had given in—rain broke the way for wind.
“You’d think, but you know—after a bit, fads fall out of fashion, people stop having the money to go to a health club to get told they need to eat nuts and wear sackcloth.” Jordan said with a shrug as he stepped over some rubble. “Then you can’t make rent, and no one can buy it because you know. It’s a building this big, what are you going to do with it?”
“Make a hotel?” I said, looking around, light catching on a nest of cobwebs. “Or maybe…like…a business park?”
“For who?” Jordan said, pushing open the door. “No one’s buying that sort of thing when there’s no money to go around. And by the time there is…well.” He flashed a light at nearest example of spreading mold, a cancerous growth along the walls.
“Anyway, its this way I think. Up the stairs, shouldn’t be too hard to spot.” He muttered, as we entered into the lobby, the dome over head as dark as the night—darker, because not a single light shone down.
Copperton was a simple man. He considered himself an appreiator of nature. He even enjoyed bird watching on occasion. But the nosies that came from the knight, whenever that strange bird arrived, were unbearable. A warbling song filled the room, and disturbed his dreams—dreams that once had been of fields and boyhood dreams where now stained with a familiar red.
He did not like his rifle. That was perhaps a peculiar thing to say, when the tool had been his most constant companion. Even when family faded, and friends perished, his rifle was ready at his side. It’s bayonet able to be fixed. His hands knew it’s shape and grooves better than his kitchen tools. Still. He did not like his rifle, as he took it outside in the dark of the night, stalking again through the bushes.
The Bird was there again—how had he known, this night of all nights? It had no rhythmn, it had no pattern he understood—but it descended down regardless. And then, as he raised his rifle—one shot, to frighten it off, one shot to get some sleep, one shot above those majestic wings—
“It has to be some sort of…Rodent?” Yohan said, examining small, but noticeable scratches on the top of the bath houses. “Right? Like, I guess a bat or owl might, but these look a bit big for that.”
“Well, whatever it is, we should try and stake out for it.” Sarah said, looking off into the woods. “Its scaring off the guests, making some sort of noise.”
“Are we sure that’s not exhaustion? Steam maybe?” Yohan said, stepping down the ladder. Sarah shook her head.
“Probably not. But even if it is, it’d be better knowing what is causing the steam to screech out of the baths. Figure out how to stop it, calm everyone down.”
“That’s fair, we don’t want them stressed here.” Yohan sighed. “That would defeat the purpose of our institution.”
So the two of them made plans, lantern in hand and with a bat ready. If it was just a large bird, some stones or the like should keep it away. Yohan brought a looking glass as well, to get a better glimpse of what was happening on the roofs that caused such a strange and disturbing noise.
The moon was high, when the shadow first moved across the ground. Wings spread wide, feathers trailing—the air shimmering as it spun into the world. The stars flickered as the bird danced down to the top of the bath—steam that rose from the spring wrapping around it, woven into dense bits of rain. In the veil of droplets, Yohan could make out the long neck of an ostrich rising from the plumage—plumage that became sharp under the light of the lanterns. And before he could cast his stone, it began to sing.
The stairs were creaky, walking all the way up to the office. The stairs were rotten as we walked up to the office. The stairs spiralled up and around and around the spine of the building, that nearly touched the concrete cranium, the dome overhead. And then the stairs stopped at the top, at the office.
The door wasn’t that broken. It’s hinges were rusty, it squeaked loudly as we opened it, but all things considered, it was in good condition. It was still a door that could be closed. There were the remains of papers on the floor, bureaucracy coating everything. The ceiling of the office had collapsed in, under god knows what weight—maybe nothing more than rain.
I rested my crowbar on my back, looking around.
“How do you know its still here even?” I asked, shining on the walls. Graffiti was absent, but there was a crumbling corkboard. You could faintly see where paintings had been removed, where furniture had once been. The desk was gone, but there was still a chair sitting there. Apparently no one wanted it.
“Just trust me, I checked. Just need an extra hand getting it out.” Jordan said, walking to the wall and tapping along for a moment—the wood seeming to recoil from his touch until at last he hit upon something. He put down his sack and took out his hammer, striking away at dry wall. It was after the third whack that a shadow past over head—a vast shape plunging the room into darkness for a moment. And when it passed, we were no longer alonge.
There it sat, atop the chair, a grotesque parody of a bird. Its entire body was covered in knife like spines, crackling as it cut the air in it’s motions. Its long neck ended in a hardened beak, with holes running up the neck. And as I started back, and Jordan turned, it raised its beak and began to sing.
It sang and the walls fell away.
It sang and what we saw was rot and life, healing and hurt. We saw a thousand fold this building, this roost that it sang on once, but many times. We saw vibrance of life here, a rainbow that washed over the world. The stars, they no longer seemed so far. We saw each other—felt the rifle in our hands, felt the stone, the lantern, the crowbar, the fear, the joy, the brilliance, the memories of trenches, the memories of hospitals, the desperation, the smell of unfamiliar shores, things collapsed together as it sang. Its notes stiched across time and space, all at once, were we all speaking and seeing each other or was it a messenger bringing with it all those touched before? Was it here or there?
It sang it sang and the air vibrated with its song, refracted and spread and folded in on itself. It sang and then it was gone.
And we were left, unsure what parts were us and what parts were other.
This was along time coming. I found the idea of a song as the uniting element of revelation made sense–songs are after all a means of connection that, in theory, transcend language. I apologize for the recent delays, my burn out spat ran long than I expected. Still, I think this is a good story to come back to. If anything, I can think of ways to expand on this idea–drifting the stories together more at the point of impact, reflecting after the song has ended.
Next week: We discuss frogs and royalty.