By Sean Mulroy
Not long ago the Silver Bird flew over our valley and every child ran into the clearing so tall poplar trees could not distort their view.
When the bird flies over, circumstances are always the same; it passes around midday, each time there are seven days between one sighting and the next and it only ever glides over for a few fleeting moments then is gone.
The Silver Bird is constantly hungry and always angry; its stomach growls repeatedly while flying overhead and often there is a thin white trail left behind that looks like clouds. Some say the clouds come from the Silver Bird, that it is their mother, but others don’t believe so. Many have noticed that the white trail soon disappears and therefore the substance cannot be a cloud but something different.
Older children raise their arms up to the Silver Bird until it disappears into the distance, perhaps hoping it will fly down and carry them away. Younger children cover their ears with both hands, scared by the bird’s anger, and peek frightened glimpses up every now and then imagining where it is going to. Sometimes in dreams they can see that place but when awake are unable to describe it and as they grow older those dreams leave them forever.
The Elders of our tribe mostly sit down and gaze eerily at the bird or pray or offer their most valuable possessions up to the magical creature. Once the largest enawene fish ever remembered being caught was cooked and laid out for the bird, in hope that it would swoop down to accept the gift and bless the giver with many wishes or even just one. Some of the adolescents, or fighting young men who feel they have something to prove, throw sharp spears at the bird and beat their chests; but this is frowned upon and often afterwards most stay away from them, fearing, because of their sacrilege, they will bring bad luck.
Once, after a heavy rainstorm, a child found a strange piece of rock in the mud that had washed off a small hill. All were transfixed by this rock as it resembled the Silver Bird’s skin, particularly the way it glimmered under sunlight. Awa has now stuck that rock to the tip of his totem staff and carries it around everywhere.
Today the Silver Bird flew over our valley louder than ever. Smoke like that from a fire fell from its rump and there was no trail of white clouds left behind, only black smoke which smelt strange. Everyone shouted at seeing this and as the powerful-being fell lower and lower some screamed and wailed. The creature collided with the forest and the whole earth shook louder than thunder. Now there is a terrible fire off in the distance. Tall trees are ablaze and their billowing smoke rises to the dark sky in waves or like ripples in a pond, one after the other. More great birds have gathered in the sky. They too must be angry, because each one constantly growls while floating over the area where the Silver Bird fell; perhaps they are searching for someplace to land and rest. Although none can see the birds, it is much too dark for that, we can see their eyes; they glow and some must have many eyes, one bird has more eyes than I have fingers, I know because I counted them off. They resemble small moons that flash light pale colours.
Even though it is dark and cold tonight, we are all getting ready to greet the great multitude of giant birds. Awa has put on his best skeins and Mashco-Piro, the witch woman, has collected multiple bones and skull fragments from each family’s recently deceased. She is hard at work threading them together into a long necklace. We shall give those flying giants the best offering we can, our most precious. All, who have not already, are applying red clay to their bodies; we look impressive.
So now I must prepare myself as well. For I too will leave this valley to trek up glowing red hills under a smoky sky, following my Wayãpi towards those blazing flames that eat into our jungle and there, on the crest of the highest hill, kneel in worship before fallen Gods.
– Sean Mulroy lives in Newcastle, NSW, Australia. His writing has previously been published in AntipodeanSF.