Once again, this is an old act of fiction that has been simmering in my drawer for years. I dusted it off and began to think of these characters during my writing workshop in my second grade class. I am nearing the end of the final chapter – it being written way out of order. I have drafts of about 3 others including this first one where we meet our protagonists. Here is the final small chunk of the first chapter. If you want to read it from the beginning, click here or simply scroll down to my last post.
“Wanna race?” he dared.
“Sure. To the tall pine down in the valley and back to this old stump. I’ll give you a head start, Brother.”
This was too much. “Oh, no. I insist. Ladies first.” This was all she needed. Like a streak she was off.
“What… Who is this bird?” he asked himself. With that he took off as fast as his wings could pull.
She had a good lead on him. Why had he let her get that head start? Now there was a good chance he would lose – and to a smartbeaked female. His pride would take a beating if he lost. But he was a strong flyer as well as agile and, after straining with all his might, gained on her steadily. The muscles in his shoulders and chest heaved. His legs and feet were pinned back to make his form more aerodynamic. He wasted as little energy as possible to get maximum speed. Snowcapped pines sped by along with scrubby oaks still clinging to their crinkled, golden leaves. It began to snow lightly and Arthur had to squint his eyes.
Gaining. He could see her well now. Slowly he got closer. He couldn’t believe how fast she was. No female he had ever known came close to his flying ability. The distance between the birds decreased and Arthur could see the muscles through the female’s feathers; flexing, extending, bulging, smoothing. She was a magnificent creature. But the closer he got, the more he sensed that she might actually be holding back.
She was playing him.
While she should have taken the straightest line to the tall pine, she darted between limbs and rocky ledges, taunting him to follow at incredible speed. There was a break in the clouds where a shaft of sun shone. Playfully, she headed for it. When the sun shone on her sleekness, on her muscular body, Arthur was lost.
He caught up after a tremendous burst of speed. For the first time during the race he could see her face. She didn’t even look as though she were straining. “Oh, there you are,” she spoke calmly, not at all like one flying in a race. “I was wondering if you would ever catch up. So much for ladies first, am I right?”
With that she began pulling ahead, even though Arthur was flying flat out. “Who is this bird?” Arthur repeated to himself as he viewed her again from behind. Once again the sun slipped behind a low gray cloud. The gently falling snow increased. Arthur no longer looked ahead at the tree around which they would fly. He had eyes only for this bird. This magnificent black creature. The tall pine was about 100 meters ahead and the winner of the race was a foregone conclusion. Knowing full well that she would arrive first at the stump, Arthur only gazed at his new acquaintance, his rival in this race. He was mesmerized by her bulging shoulders, her streamlined form, how effortlessly she pulled herself through the air.
As she reached the topmost bough of the tall pine, instead of circling it and heading back up the ridge to the stump where they agreed the race would end (this was no race, Arthur thought), she quickly fanned her tail and spread back her powerful wings. It was a near perfect landing, almost unbelievable considering her speed. And yet she made it seem effortless.
Arthur swooped around her awkwardly and lit beside her on the branch, snow drifting down lazily as the bough bounced from his ungainly landing. “I thought the race was to be around this tree and back to the stump in the snowfield,” he puffed. The female examined him calmly. Once again she cocked her head to the left, then to the right and back. Her beak was smooth and shiny, the tiny hair like feathers at its base were just… perfect.
“I didn’t want to embarrass you any more than was necessary.” She spoke calmly. She was not out of breath from the strenuous flight. Again Arthur was impressed. His own heart was beating mightily. He tried to suppress his respiration so as not to give away his weariness. “No need to hold your breath Brother. You flew hard,” she said matter-of-factly. “You are not half bad.” Again, she eyed him up and down.
“You’re not so bad yourself,” was Arthur’s weak reply. He could not take his eyes off of her. “The name’s Arthur, by the way.”
“Mine’s Matilda. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Brother Arthur.” He hoped that she wouldn’t see him as ‘Brother Arthur’ for long.
Arthur felt a sea change. He knew that there would be no turning back. He doubted that he would ever again encounter a crow such as this. Looking into Matilda’s sparkling black eyes he saw his own tiny reflections. She must have seen hers too. She bent forward. Slowly, delicately, until their beaks almost touched. Arthur was holding his breath again. But this time he was not trying in any way to impress for he was lost to her. He just didn’t know what this lovely, unpredictable creature would do. There was a pause when the two seemed to exchange breath. She cocked her head to the left very slowly as though she were considering something very important.
“Beat you to the stump!” she cried in a burst of speed and black feathers. The clouds parted and a sky of deepest blue was revealed.
“Oh no you won’t,” Arthur was after Matilda in a flash. But of course, Matilda won.