Original Prompt: A mentally unstable hermit goes to live in the Fukushima exclusion zone. The story is told from the perspective of a curious raven that, due to mutations caused by radiation, developed the intelligence of a 12 year old.:
I was awoken before dawn by a rustling in the brush below. Very unusual for anything to be up and about at this time of the hour in this part of the
forest, I squawked aloud as I tried to chase the sleepiness away. Stretching my wings up behind my neck twice, I shuffled to the end of my branch looking down in the semidarkness for the annoyance which had woken me this early in the morning.
What in the forest.
A human man was stumbling through the underbrush among the roots of the forest. Humans never traveled this deep into the forest. I sometimes fly all the way out to where the humans live in their forests of stone but all the other birds that live in these vast, cold forests are stupid and selfish.
This forest had been mine for as long as I can remember. No one else lived here but the bugs which had always suited me just fine. It did get kind of lonely but I preferred that to the hustle and bustle of the stupid city birds.
How dare this ugly human come in to invade my forest. I start squawking uncontrollaby in indignation at the presumption of this dirty ape. Just who did he think he was?
Stumbling like a drunk through the brambles of his forest I winced as I saw him destroying the plants of my home. Screw this, I’m not gonna sit by and watch this thing with hair mess up my home.
Letting the breeze catch my wings, I experience the glorious drop in my stomach that only comes with the freedom of flight. I flap my dark wings a few times before tucking them in and diving the fifty feet quickly towards the human.
As I sped towards him his scent of sweat and grime wafted up to me. This dirty old human actually looked at me solemnly and curiously as I land on a low branch near him. No-one had ever spared me a second glance and now this man was staring at me as if I was one of their moving pictures. He twisted his beak in a grotesque half circle as if to scare me because he only had a handful of yellow teeth remaining. Then he really and truly spoke to me: “Hi birdy.”
My curiosity was certainly piqued now. I’d always wanted to have a conversation but had never been able to communicate with humans or birds so I’d basically resigned myself to exile. Hopping a few jumps closer to this interesting stranger, I tried to tell him outloud: “Hello.” But when it came out of my beak it sounded more like “CAWWWO.”
I squawked in frustration and hopped a few more times closer to the man. He continued to study me with his freakish beak curved upwards across his face. He held out his long wing suddenly with a look of expectation. A little incredulous, I nonetheless flapped my wings to rise the few feet to flutter down onto the top of his featherless wing near his head. “What a smarty little birdy,” he rasped as I accompanied him through the forest.
What a fascinatingly ugly creature I had found myself with I thought to myself as he began strolling along the forest as if he had meant to come retrieve me all along.
He was completely featherless, instead covered in hair with parts of him actually exposed to the elements. Silly creatures humans really, they had to wear all those types of… clothes. I had trouble remembering human words… and to be honest I liked it better that way. Human’s had done nothing for me but shoo me away and throw crumbs at me as if I was a beggar. Why should I have to learn their ugly language and terms?
Still-Being able to have a conversation would be nice so he would accompany this human who had given him his attention. It had been lonely in the forest for many years.
We passed out from underneath the canopy of the forest into a clearing and were both blinded momentarily by the sun reflecting brightly off the long line of cars covered in creepers that snaked into the distance.
The man began squawking a dreary little ditty as he strolled along beside the machines being taken back by the forest. Running a wing along the metal as if to touch into the past, he softly stepped slower than the dead. I wanted to join into his song so I squawked melodically along with him.
Giving me a sideways look of pleasure in the joy of companionship, he faltered for but a moment when he stumbled hard but straightened quickly to pick up his ditty with renewed gusto.
We were a duet making ethereal music that transcended species for an audience of metal. Trees swallowed us again as the clearing ended. Moving among the shadows, the man was moving at a pace of a few steps a minute. Keeping up the ghostly song which was carried by the whispering of the wind that ran through the fallen leaves among the roots we made it to a hollow in which the floor crunched loudly underfoot.
Crunching the leaves slowly underneath his feet, the man stopped moving entirely. This whole time the man had maintained a pleasant, happy expression even if he was extremely ugly. Now he looked-there was no other word for it-sad. Some kind of rain was coming out of the bottom of his eye as he reached inside his strange cloth he kept on his body.
Bringing out a shiny locket, he slowly opened the glinting gold hinges to show a picture of himself with two women humans. One was as tall as the man with much less hair and the other was small and had his same ugly beak. As I took in more details of the pictures I realized he had much more hair and was much dirtier now than when this picture had been taken.
Without warning, the man collapsed onto the ground and the locket tumbled out of his hands. I squawked in alarm and fluttered softly onto the ground near his head. He was retching and shaking among the leaves making a violent crunching noise as they were crushed underneath his seizing body. I wanted to help but didn’t know what I could do so I made a lot of squawking in distress. Then – just as quickly as it had begun – the seizures stopped as he vomited red over the brown of the dead leaves.
I nudged him twice with my beak but I knew instinctively that something irreversible had just happened. There was something gone in his eyes as they stared unblinkingly at the locket laying fallen open a few inches from his outstretched hand.
Photos courtesy of photographer Arkadiusz Podniesinski.