The Birds | A Short Story

Stepping through the maze of twisting vines covering mother’s garden shed, I open the round wooden door and enter without her permission. I need to see what she’s been hiding from me. A sharp, tangy smell fills the air and my bare feet squish into the wet soil. I can’t believe I’m finally doing this.

Streaks of light follow me into the dusty darkness giving me a narrow view of the interior of the shed. I see no shelves. No jars. No baskets. Nothing at all but an empty room. Although it’s small, the dark space above me is filled with scuffling sounds and feels much larger than it looks from the outside. I’m not afraid of the truth, I say to myself and take another step.

Reaching my hands above me to check for cobwebs, I stand on tiptoes and peer into the shadowy rafters. I can’t see anything, but the ruffling sounds increase and I freeze. A moment later, something small and round zips through the air and lands on the fingertips of my left hand.

Remembering all of the puncture wounds on my mother’s body, I brace myself for an attack, but nothing happens. After a few deep breaths, I gather my courage and rotate my hand slowly. The unknown critter hops several times until its heartbeat pounds into the curve of my outstretched palm.

For years I’ve been convinced my mother has been hiding the world within her shed and now I’m certain this living thing in my hand is the key to unlocking it. Lifting it closer to my face and into a streak of sunlight, I see it’s a little black bird with glossy unblinking eyes and a bright orange beak. 

It’s the same type of bird I see perched in the peach tree outside the kitchen window every morning while I eat breakfast. I see them in the evening too, sitting in the thin branches of the birch trees while I play in the yard behind the house. Why has mother hidden them in her shed? The bird in my hand coos as if trying to answer and I bring it even closer to my face.

“Hello, little bird.”

I’m not supposed to be here, but the bird doesn’t seem too concerned. It chirps loudly and the sound is answered by hundreds of flapping wings above me. Wispy, dark feathers fall like autumn leaves onto the braids of my hair, the curve of my freckled cheek, and the tip of my upturned nose. 

Each place they touch tingles with electricity and heat, moving inward through my body. When the sensation reaches my gut, it explodes. It’s as if the core of my body has been waiting for this moment to truly come alive. I don’t know why my mother tried to hide this from me, but I found it anyway. The truth rushes through me.

All the times I stood in front of the large mirror in my mother’s room and spoke to my reflection as if it might be able to answer me, I wasn’t wrong. Another world does exist, layered beneath ours. It calls to me. Closing my eyes, I picture myself sprouting wings and diving into fluffy pink cotton candy clouds. The world below looks much smaller than it did before, or have I grown bigger?

The birds continue to fly around me, cooing and singing in a language I can partly understand. Mimsy. Snozzwangers. Heffalump. Nerkle. As their wings brush against my cheeks and arms, the words flow through me bringing images of fantastical delights. If I could stay here forever I know I’d learn their language and their secrets. I could become like them.

The metallic thud of a car door closing silences the birds in an instant. Mother’s home from the store and if she finds me in here I’ll be in big trouble. I open my eyes and the birds have all scattered—returned to the dark shadows of the rafters. I want to call out promises to return, but I don’t want to risk being heard and I’m not sure I’ll be able to come back. Instead, I walk out the door and close it as quietly as I can behind me.

I’m a mess, covered in feathers and smelling like the sticky mud on the bottom of the shed. Without looking toward the house, I run through the thick birch tree grove to the shallow creek which separates our property from those of Old Man Stefan. Birds circle and scream in the sky above me, but I don’t know if they are the birds from the shed. I can’t make out what they are saying.

Mother will be calling me soon to help cook dinner, so I dangle my feet into the cold creek and splash water onto my bare legs and arms. It’s icy cold and I shiver slightly. The sun has moved to a place behind the trees and the sky has a golden tinge that will soon grow purple.

The water flows slowly, causing several clumps of vibrant green algae to wave gently. A small gray spotted fish darts out from behind a pile of smooth river rocks. It opens and closes its mouth and I have the strangest thought—if I stick my head in the water will I be able to hear it speak?

Although I know my mother will be calling me soon, I have to try. Laying on my belly on the grassy shore, I plunge my head into the water and listen intently. The rushing sound of the water as it flows over the rocks is occasionally interrupted by an odd popping sound, but I don’t hear any voices. Forcing my eyes open, I see the fish mere inches from my nose. Its large, round eyes stare at me and its mouth continues to move but I don’t understand what it’s trying to say.

Surfacing, I shake the water from my braids and tell myself I’m being silly. The birds didn’t speak to me and neither can this fish. The certainty I felt in the shed has faded and I’m far less confident any of it is real. It’s as if a magical silk was drawn across my eyes coloring the world and is now removed again. I’m suddenly very tired. I cover my face with my hands.

Minutes pass and I only lift my head when I hear the sound of several birds landing in the trees across the water. They stare at me with dozens of shiny black eyes and the warming sensation in my gut flares to life again. I have a feeling I’m supposed to do something, but I don’t know what. 

A single black feather floats from the trees and circles above the water. I watch it dance back and forth before it lands delicately on the surface, balanced like a water bug on its spindly legs. Before the current can rush it away, the same grey spotted fish swims frantically to it and bites at its soft uneven edges. I have the sense it’s trying to tell me something so I lean closer to the water.

“You want to be a bird?”

I’m not sure why I say it, but incredibly, the fish nods its head and stares back at me. Okay, I think, I can do this. Lowering my hand into the cold water, the fish quickly swims into my palm. I close my fingers around its wiggly body and pull it out of the water. I stare at its round fish eye for a minute before closing my own eyes.

Using all my imagination and concentration, I picture one of the birds in the shed. I concentrate on the way the feathers fold across the body and the way the beak curves on the top. The fish wiggles in my hand and then goes limp. I open my eyes slowly, afraid I may have killed it, but it worked! I did it!

A small black bird, exactly like those in the shed or those in the trees staring at me now, sits in my palm blinking at me. I giggle as it shakes its wings, nods its head, and flies into the sky. Splashing around in the muddy dirt beside the creek, I watch the bird soar overhead diving and flipping through the clouds. It seems so happy. I’ve never been more proud of myself.

“Ta-Ting! Ta-Ting! Ta-Ting!”

Mother rings the metal triangle by the back door three times which means it’s time for me to go inside and help with dinner. I wave goodbye to the fish-turned-bird and skip my way back home. I don’t remember ever feeling this happy.

Mother puts on her favorite jazz record and luckily doesn’t seem to notice my muddy feet. She hands me the apron covered in lemons and sets me to work peeling potatoes and carrots. She seems lost in thought and I’m happy to work in silence as she seasons the chicken, adds my veggies to the tray, and puts it in the oven.

While dinner cooks, I do my evening chores. I sweep the kitchen and living room, dust everything, set the table, and change into a nice dress for dinner. Mother and I eat in silence, passing the rose-colored salt-and-pepper shakers back and forth. She seems in a good mood and I’m lost in thought. Dinner passes quickly.

After dinner, we do the dishes side-by-side, like always. She washes and I dry. She hasn’t noticed any change in me and I’m doing my best to act normal. 

I’m not supposed to know about the magic of the birds, but it’s all I can think about. I wonder what other magic I can do. Does the creature have to want to be changed? Can I change things into something other than birds? Could I change Old Man Stefan’s mean cat into a toad? The thought of the scraggly mean cat croaking and jumping across the fence makes me laugh. Mother notices.

“What’s so funny?”

Mother stops washing the dishes and stares at me with her hands on her hips. I know this stern look and I try hard to keep a neutral face. I don’t want to give away my secret.

“Oh, I was thinking about a funny joke I heard at school…”

It’s a stupid lie and I immediately try and think of a joke I could use if she asks me what it is, but her attention has switched to my hair. She pulls a black feather out of my braid and holds it up to the light. Her face goes from slightly annoyed to angry.

“How could you? I told you to stay out of the shed because it’s dangerous, but did you listen? Of course, you didn’t. You think rules don’t apply to you—little miss perfect. It’s because you think you are better than me, isn’t it? You think the birds won’t attack you, huh? You are wrong, child. You have no idea what you are playing with.”

Without drying her hands and before I can say anything in response, she slaps me hard across the face. I stumble backward and drop the towel onto the floor. She picks it up and throws it onto the counter, knocking over two glasses that tumble to the floor and shatter.

“Look what you made me do! You are an ungrateful brat! Go to your room. I don’t want to see your face anymore.”

Rage prickles through me like a spiny monster trying to get out. Images of throwing things and slamming doors run through my mind, but I know if I act on those feelings everything will get much worse. I’ve never seen my mother so mad, so I do my best to appear calm by hanging my apron on the hook by the door, walking slowly to my bedroom, and shutting the door with a delicate click.

Throwing myself onto the bed, I scream into my pillow until it’s soaked through with tears and my body goes limp. Rolling onto my back, I stare out the window at a crescent moon and wonder if the birds in the shed are still singing mimsy and truffula. Mother will be doing paperwork by candlelight at her desk. I wish I could ask her about the birds. I wish we could talk about anything.

Mother painted my room pale yellow when she was pregnant with me and it’s remained the same color. I scan the three shelves above my bed, looking at my collection of neatly arranged stuffed animals, framed artwork, and little glass figurines. The kids in my class have much messier rooms, but I’ve always been proud of how much I can be trusted to care for my things.

On the shelf closest to me, tucked between a reproduction of “Starry Night” and a stuffed blue penguin sits a glossy glass black bird with a delicate tiny beak of pale orange. I’ve got a collection of ten birds, all given to me by my aunt Nona as birthday presents. She wraps them in pristine white silk and includes a note saying, “Happy Birthday little bird” in curling cursive letters. I wonder if these gifts were meant to be hints at what I discovered in the shed. Does she know? Can she do the same magic?

Without thinking, I reach my hand toward the bird and call it to me.

“Come here, little bird.”

The warming sensation in my gut returns as the bird shakes its wings, chirps softly, and glides from the shelf to my outstretched palm. It breathes slowly and I stroke its soft feathers. It’s alive! I made this bird real just by thinking about it. A rush of excitement thunders through me and suddenly I’m giddy with possibility.

“Come, little birds, come and play with me!”

Singing the words as brightly and cheery as I can, the effect is immediate. A swirling mass of wings and chirps fills the air as the nine figurines come alive and land on the bed around me. Before I can say anything to them, several paintings around the room shake as colorful fantastical birds wiggle out of the frames and join the blackbirds on the bed. These are fuzzy and colorful, unclear but beautiful.

The chorus of birds sings around me. Woozles. Borgroves. Runcible. Versula. As the words worm through me and tell me stories of lands unlike mine I’m dazed with wonder. Tales of horned villains, talking bears, and flying broomsticks. I’m swept away by it all until I hear my mother’s voice in the hallway.

“We need to talk.”

Her voice sounds soft and I know she’s sorry for what happened earlier, but she’ll quickly return to anger if she finds all these birds in my room. I’m not sure what to do, but the birds seem to sense the danger and fly quickly into my open closet. I shut the door softly as my mother walks in. She looks at my ruffled blankets and at the closed closet door and frowns.

“What’s going on here?”


It’s absolutely not convincing, but surprisingly she lets it go. Smoothing the blankets on my bed she pats the spot beside her and I sit close enough our legs are touching. She’s got a new bandage on her wrist, covered in tiny dots of blood. She grabs my hands and squeezes them hard in hers.

“You don’t know the horrors of this world, and I’m glad for it. I don’t like being like this with you, but it’s my job to protect you. Please, please, forget about the shed and the birds. Okay? They are not for you and it will only lead to you getting hurt.”


The word escapes before I can stop myself, but she doesn’t yell. She squeezes my hands harder and speaks in a low, sad tone.

“They will show you things you will want and can never have, my child. Those worlds are not for you and will only make you hate the one we live in. Forget the birds. Come and listen to music with me in the parlor. I’ve made hot tea and we can forget all this unpleasantness. Okay?”

I nod my head and, as she kisses my cheek, I look toward the closet and know the birds are waiting for me. For now, I must keep this power to myself, but someday I’ll be able to let the birds fly free and I’ll join them. We will travel to all the worlds together and maybe I’ll even convince my mother to join me.

Author’s note: This story began as a writing assignment meant to explore my own legacy of writing and how I came to be a writer. I had the idea of using birds to represent books and equating the act of writing to magic. Partway through the story, I got into my head and doubted the very premise of the idea. I was stalled out for weeks, but I finally pushed through and finished it. My dear editor friend said it reminds her of a Studio Ghibli film and I couldn’t think of a better compliment to receive. Let me know what you think and I hope you have a wonderful day.

59 thoughts on “The Birds | A Short Story

  1. Glad you powered through and finished this – a deeply immersive story with complex characters whose personalities leap off the page 🙂 We’re right alongside your MC as her inner emotions run from doubt and fear to hope for the future. Beautiful uplifting ending! ❤

    Liked by 3 people

      • Definitely – plenty of parallels with modern families today; overbearing parents anxious of trying new unfamiliar things, the unintended abuse when they assume they know best for you, the fragile hope that they’ll come around to your POV in future. Lots of interpretations to unpack here!

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you loved it, Ashley. It was such a struggle to write and I honestly wasn’t sure if the story got lost in my fear and uncertainty. I’m glad you enjoyed it and liked the open ending.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember similar conversations, in which I was warned not to go somewhere because there used to be sheltered dug underneath the area, or not to talk to somebody because he or she was no god, or not to do something because blah blah blah. The thing is narcissism is mixed with family responsibility, which can be very confusing. And often the mental scar is not visible.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Alright, I don’t do this. I don’t write long “stories” nor do I even read them much ever at all. I don’t. But I did, this time. I have difficulty shaping my enthusiasm sometimes. (Could that be blessing?) So you’ll please pardon me. In this moment, reading you, I’m in love. Said another way – when beauty sits right in front of my face – well, what other response would one expect. A touch of mundane, what a pleasure reading your story. Started out some shaky, what’s this mean, then became, whatsoever this is, this is where I want to be. To say wonderful writing is too too shallow. (keep writing, please)

    First impression said, yea, makes me remember reading Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”. Ordinary that becomes so much more than ordinary.

    Don’t think I could do what you do. But maybe you’d enjoy an old one, sort of fairy tale, “girl, bed and bear”, inspired by a photograph. IF SO, then go to my Menu > Book 1 poems > scan down a bit & there it is.

    you also made me talkie tonight. thank you Bridgette. happy surprise!

    PS bringing mother back at the end, with a different sort of wish – brilliant.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Neil! You’ve made my week with this thoughtful comment. “whatsoever this is, this is where I want to be”—that’s music to my ears! “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” is one of my top five books and to have my story echo it in any way is hugely exciting. I’m a huge fan of yours and wil be checking out your story now. Thank you!


  4. You created many tones in this piece: intrigue, mystery, fantastical elements, and more. Engaging story, Bridgette.

    This stood out to me: ” If I could stay here forever I know I’d learn their language and their secrets. I could become like them.”

    Liked by 3 people

    • I hadn’t considered that connection, but now that you mention it I can see that. Knowledge is double-edged—powerful but also destructive. The mother wants to protect her child from the disappointment of her own life (having not fulfilled her own dreams), but the child will never stop seeking out her own path. Just as Eve was destined, with the gift of curiosity, to bite that apple.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Knowledge is powerful but destructive… so true.

        I have a semi-completed short novel (I’m not sure if I’m going to do anything with it) that alternates between a guy with a (female) pen pal and the same guy as an adult 18ish years later who finds the old letters and tries to track her down after all these years. As with much of my writing, it is based on something that actually happened to me. When that was happening (2014), I remember talking to a few friends about the situation, contemplating whether or not to try to find her, and someone told me that it made sense why I might be hesitant, because the memories of that year and a half when we were writing and the 14 letters I got from her during that time had value too. I didn’t want to discover anything that would tarnish that memory.

        (I didn’t incorporate that particular subplot into DLTDGB or base a character on that specific pen pal, even though it was from that time in my life, because I had already told that story. In fact, that’s part of the reason I haven’t done anything with this novel, because some of the same scenes and people from there also appeared in DLTDGB. James from this novel is obviously Taylor from DLTDGB, for example, and the character in this novel also throws a box at his friend, gets lost playing Sardines, and discovers his faith in the same way Greg did.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That sounds like an interesting novel idea. Regardless of what happened in the real world, I wonder if you could write it differently. Could you give yourself the ending you wished would have happened? Or maybe she’s become a terrible person and latches onto you/your MC or maybe even gets him involved in some shady stuff. There are so many directions you could take the story. I think you should finish it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The story had (in the novel and in real life) a lot of parallels with the character feeling frustrated with, and eventually deciding to leave, his job. (However, in the novel, the character was not a teacher, like character-Greg will be.) I feel like I didn’t go into enough detail when the main character (Steve, I’ll just use his name) has a job interview in the adult part of the story. That’s the main reason I felt like it was unfinished. I feel like I didn’t write that part very well because I’ve never had an interview for that kind of job.

        I could probably change around those past memories a little bit, so as to have the same effect on Steve’s development without telling the exact same stories I told about Greg.

        I like the way I ended it. The way the story ended in real life came with some realizations attached to it. Steve had a slightly different ending, but the same main point, and it came with the same realizations.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I hope you have good day . I like & love reading the story. Very interested ending. Iam so glad & love your writing words. The same main point, and it came with same realisation.
    You are best writer, Bridgette!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I really enjoyed the concept. You always do such a good job showing power displacement between authority figures and children in your writing, giving us readers someone to root for as they race towards uncertain futures.
    The slap made me stop completely. I had to take a deep breath and then continue reading. It was so sudden and really captured my attention.

    You are a great writer and I could definitely see these little birds in a Ghibli animation. Keep it up ♥️

    Liked by 2 people

  7. A tender story (even with its moments of harshness) telling about the need for each of us to discover and live in harmony with our universe. Bridgette, you are a fine writer, and I agree with the previous comment – the makings of a novel. I was raised in Sub-Saharan Africa, and in the ’50s, wild animals were our ever-present neighbors. Birds of many species – too many to name. Never-ending lands, lush with grass and trees, the mighty Zambesi River, and its partner, the Victoria Falls; all these were the latticework woven around the innocence of my childhood years. Only when I sneak a look backward do I realize the wonderment of my childhood. Rudyard Kipling wrote Of Cecil John Rhodes: “…The immense and brooding Spirit still shall quicken. Living he was the land, and dead, His soul shall be her soul!”
    The land of my childhood is a spirit etched deep within my soul. Blessings – Peter.

    Liked by 1 person

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