I was hanging around the street corner, trying to think of a reason not to go back to my crack-addict-infested address, when another one of those weird storms cropped up. One second the sky was bright blue like out of a freaking picture book, and the next, violent streaks of lightning flashed across it. The street lamp automatically kicked on as the sky darkened. Drops of water the size of fists pounded down.
“Shit.” I ducked my head as I rifled through the garbage can on the corner. My fingers touched squishy, warm, slimy, and crunchy (thrown in there for good measure) before they found a plastic bag. I yanked it out and held it over my head. My braid, jet black and reaching past my butt, was already heavy with water.
A severe storm siren shrieked, barely louder than the thunder, but the streets had already mostly cleared. This was the fourth storm that came out of nowhere in the past two weeks.
A couple of pigeons squawked as they flew awkwardly through the heavy rain drops, wailing, <Storm. Bad. Fly.>
I ignored them. My building was only a couple blocks away, but I already knew I would be as soaked as hell when I got there. Still, the tension in my neck eased a bit when I saw its ratty stone walls.
Everyone knows that anything south of Fourteenth Street is bad news. But that’s probably because of all the drug dealers, shootings, prostitutes, and piles of vomit. Just saying.
Calvin Apartments was my building’s name once. Now it’s just known as That-Place-Drug-Addicts-Go-To-Get-High-And-Have-Sex. But the rent’s cheap (free), and I can usually avoid the multitude of half-conscious hippies offering a chance to “share in the experience, man.” I sleep on the third floor. You have to do some pretty impressive gymnastics to navigate the crumbling stairs to get there, so most of the apartments’ other guests don’t bother me.
When I finally stumbled through the one-hinged door, I sighed. It was freezing, sure, and I could barely hear myself think over the thunder, but at least it wasn’t wet. I threw the plastic bag away and stripped down to my bra and underwear. My ragged wardrobe went into the sink to dry, I hoped, without molding. I wrung my braid out.
The message light was blinking on my answering machine. I’d picked up an ancient landline phone a couple of weeks ago for five bucks at a thrift store. It blew most of my savings at the time, but it was an investment.
I pressed the button.
“Hello, Wisewoman. It’s Dorothy Kramer. I would like to make another appointment, if it fits with the will of the universe. Sir Nightingale has been acting up lately. I don’t know what’s wrong. Would Friday at three be okay? Thank you, and bless you.”
I wanted to gag, but that message meant another fifty bucks going into my meager account. Enough for two weeks of decent meals, if I stretched it out.
Yeah, so there’s something you should know about me.
I can talk to birds.
At least, that’s the theory, unless I’m completely nuts. And believe me, the jury is still out on my sanity.
It started about a month ago. No, I didn’t get the bird flu or undergo some dangerous experiment at a research lab. (Though I damn well wish I could qualify. Then I could make some money without having to dress up in feathers and bangles.) It just happened. As in, I was walking the streets of the neighborhood, going through the garbage to see if anyone trashed half a burger, and a pigeon landed near me and said, <Food?>
Except, it didn’t talk. Not exactly. More like whined on the inside of my skull.
It sounds cool, but it really isn’t. You see, I’m broke as hell and stuck in this damn city. And in the city there’s exactly one type of bird to talk to: pigeons. All the eagles and falcons and other sweet birds must be commuting around this place, because I haven’t seen squat of them.
So all I have to talk to are pigeons, and those conversations usually go something like this:
Me: <No, I don’t have food. I just want to talk. You know, to someone other than the crack addicts at my place.>
Me: <No, you fucking bird, I don’t have any food!>
Pigeon: flies away
Yeah. But this whole talking to birds thing wasn’t without its bright side. After I stopped freaking out, I went to the library on Fifth Street to print off a couple dozen fliers. They advertised Laura Many Suns—Native American Wisewoman and Bird Whisperer. Most of the ones I hung up became the subject of jokes of corporate guys on their way to work. But I hit a couple of my target demographic: old, rich ladies who are way too fond of their avians. After a trip to the thrift store to buy robes, beads, and feathers, I started my first official career since leaving the reservation. Of course, if some of the elders could see me mocking my heritage, they’d have several four letter words to say to me. But, hey, they don’t have to eat out of the trash if this doesn’t work.
I called Mrs. Kramer back. Her prized parrot had been squawking a lot. He was probably just bored, but I’d stop by anyway. My throat hurt from using my ‘mystic’ voice, and I was starting to shiver as I dried out. Listening to Dorothy’s bird troubles, I pulled a chipped mug out of a near bare cabinet, filled it from the tap, and threw it in my (semi) new microwave, the first thing I’d bought with my new earnings. I was sick of eating everything bone cold.
When I finally managed to pry my ear away from Dorothy and Sir Nightingale, promising to come by on Friday, I hung up and sipped the hot water. It burned my tongue, but warmed my gut. I settled into the hard-back, three-legged chair and closed my eyes.
The phone rang.
“Double shit.” I slammed down the mug and dragged myself over to pick it up.
“Hello, is this, um, Laura Many Suns? The, ah, Wisewoman?” Feminine, but young. Not my usual clientele.
“Yes,” I said, putting on my ‘mystic’ voice. “What is it you require, my child?”
“Ms. Many Suns, my name is Bethany Kingston. I work in the rare raptor house at the Metropolitan Zoo. A couple of our birds, our eagles, have been acting strange lately. Not eating, sitting still on a branch for hours, making odd noises. We’ve had vets in, but they can’t tell us what’s wrong. Those birds are dying, and I want to know what’s causing it.”
“And you require the help of the Bird Whisperer? Madame, I can assure you—”
“Look, I don’t believe in that ‘Bird Whisperer’ crap. I think you’re a hoax and a scam artist.”
Okay, I was not expecting that. “Um…”
“But the patron of the exhibit, a very nice elderly lady named Meredith Brooks, swears by you and your hokum. And she made it very clear that her donations would stop if we didn’t consult you.”
Good old Meredith. That woman had more finches that the continent of South America. She liked to hear me tell stories about them, made up, since the finches actually didn’t think much beyond ‘food’ and ‘fly’ and ‘poop.’ As bad as pigeons, in some respects.
“Can you come to the zoo tomorrow?”
The zoo was out of walking distance. I’d have to take a bus. I paused, thinking about my dwindling savings. Even with Dorothy’s appointment on Friday, I wasn’t anywhere near solvent enough to throw three bucks away on some girl who didn’t want me to come in the first place.
“Thanks to Mrs. Brooks’ generosity, we’ll pay you three hundred dollars.”
I had to juggle the phone to keep from dropping it. “I’ll be there first thing in the morning.”
“Seen you then.” She hung up.
Outside, the storm was fading. Leaves sparkled with water, giving everything a green sheen. I sat back down and smiled. Three hundred dollars. More money then I’d seen at once in my entire life, and hopefully enough for a down payment on a ratty apartment that didn’t reek of pot.
Bethany Frank frowned when she saw me. I weaved through the crowd of screaming kids asking for ice cream, bored-looking parents on their cell phones, and grandpas talking about “the good old days.” The six necklaces I wore, variations of fake metals and leather, banged against my chest. My head itched where I’d stuck the feathers in. But I had a part to play, and for three hundred dollars, I’d have dressed up in a chainmail bikini.
“Ms. Many Suns?” Bethany asked, making her way toward me. She was a short, pale girl with blonde hair. Even her eyes were a watery blue. It looked like the recent storms had washed all the color out of her. The crème uniform didn’t help much.
“Call me Laura, child.” I bowed, keeping a smirk from plastering itself across my face.
Bethany held a clipboard. She ran her eyes over me, disapprovingly, I knew. I had gotten that same look back on the reservation all the time. Her pale eyes lingered on my costume. “There’s no need to put on a show here.” Her voice lowered, losing its professional quality. “And ‘child’ my ass. I’m at least three years older than you.”
Probably. I was only twenty two. Not much of a Wisewoman, but most of the ladies I catered to had bad eyesight. One look at the feathers, bangles, and braid, and they knew I was legit.
“The raptor house is this way.” She turned and walked quickly through the crowd.
I followed. A bunch of people stared at me, with my fluttering robes and jangling beads. I gave them the finger.
She led me past gorillas sitting on their asses and giraffes peering lazily over the bars at the excited preschoolers in front of them. We headed toward a building with a ‘closed for maintenance—come back soon!’ sign on its doors. Above the door was an elaborate wood carving of an eagle. Under that was “The Rare Raptor House” carved into the woodwork. A pigeon perched on the eagle’s wing. <Food?> it asked.
I swore under my breath.
The hall we walked into was dark and narrow, lined with illustrations of owls, hawks, eagles, and other beautiful birds of prey. Instead of following it around the curve to where the crowds gathered to ogle, Bethany opened a ‘staff only’ door.
The room was filled with sinks, shelves, and all the bird-keeping supplies you’d need for a lifetime. She jerked her head toward a door at the far end. “Through there is the aviary. Most of our birds are in there.”
“Do your thing. I’ll be in the viewing area. Don’t want to ruin the magic, or whatever. When you’re done, I’ll have your check and a statement for Mrs. Brooks for you to sign, saying you looked at our birds. Got it?”
“Yes.” I skedaddled through the door. Bethany’s eyes were like darts between my shoulder blades. On one hand, I didn’t blame her. I mean, these were her birds and I was dressed like an idiot. But on the other, for the first time I really wanted to show someone that I could actually do what my fliers advertised.
I cringed as I walked through the door, waiting for a chorus of <Food?> from the inhabitants.
The aviary was an octagon. Thin pathways ran between the eight different sections, separated by chain link fences and handrails. I started sweating under my robe. It was hot as hell here. Condensation dripped off the leaves of deciduous trees I didn’t know the names of.
No birds. None that I could see, anyway. I stood there for a while. Through the foliage and fence, I caught a glance of Bethany’s smirk from the viewing area.
I help up my hands, for her effect, and spoke without speaking, <Hello? Is anyone here?>
I was about to start bribing these shy birds with food when I heard rustling. A flash of wings caught my eye to the left. When I turned, there wasn’t a bird in sight. <I know you’re there. Look, I have food. Come out please.>
A crack followed by the rumbling of thunder shook the aviary. The lights flickered and went out. “What the hell?”
I shivered. Goosebumps, barely visible in the now dark aviary, ran down my arms. The wind chilled me even more. Wait, wind? In a building? My heart began to race as I stumbled back to the door. This was getting far too freaky for me. I wiped cold sweat from my forehead as I fumbled with the doorknob.
<Hello, Laura Many Suns.>
Holy shit. I turned around, compelled more than anything by the deepness of the voice. It didn’t scratch my skull like the shrill voices of pigeons. It rang in my head like a gong. My legs gave out, and I slid to the ground.
A figure loomed over me. Wind jingled my necklaces, emanating from the great beating of its wings. Behind it, smaller figures took to the air. Looked like the eagles of Metropolitan Zoo weren’t as sick as they appeared.
I swallowed. <Yeah? Um, I’m here.>
Lightning crashed outside again. I thought I heard Bethany’s yells underneath it, but when the bird spoke again, all other sound was drowned out.
<We’ve been waiting for you to come.>
Yeah, well, I’m here now, aren’t I? I wanted to say, but with another flash of lightning, my host was illuminated for a second.
It, no, he was an eagle. Not a cartoony bald eagle they use to teach kids the fifty states. I could barely breathe. He was…magnificent. Molted brown and white wings stretched across the aviary, sending a chilling breeze over me with every stroke. The feathers looked simultaneously soft and deadly enough to cut steel. A hooked black and yellow beak looked down on me. Amber eyes nearly glowed in the darkness. In them, I saw something a hell of a lot smarter than a pigeon.
<You have been given a gift.>
I had to swallow several times before a sound would come out of my dry throat. <Do you know why? What the heck this is?> An instant later I wondered if I should have addressed him with some honorific.
<I am not the one before whom you should humble yourself.>
Mindreading eagles at the Metropolitan Zoo. Creepy.
<What—who are you?> I asked.
The eagle landed gracefully on the handrail between cages with talons long enough to cut me to shreds. <I am a resident of this place. I was born here. I will die here. But I carry the blood of those who knew the open skies and fierce winds. They called to me, and so I call to you.>
<Okay.> I wasn’t sure what else to say. This was the first conversation I had with a bird in which the word food hadn’t come up.
<Your gift, like mine, comes through your blood. Where my ancestors flew free across the land, your ancestors spoke and the winged folk answered.>
My ancestors? <As in, the old Lakota of the plains?>
<The wing-talkers, yes.>
It was a damn good thing I was already sitting, or else I’d have fallen over. This whole freakish experience, from my first word to a pigeon to this conversation, was because of my heritage? Well, at least I wasn’t crazy.
<This is new to you.>
<Hell, yes.> I didn’t have the energy to be polite. Outside, the storm still raged. It seemed to suck the very life right out of me.
<I am sorry, then,> the eagle said, bowing its head, <about the abruptness of this. But certain things cannot wait.>
<What? Do I have to save the world? Save the rainforest? Let me guess. The “ancestral home” is in danger from the mean white dude and I am the only one who can save it.> Looking back, it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, intentionally pissing off a giant eagle in an enclosed space, but I was tired of this whole episode of weird.
<Do not mock this. You are needed. The storms, you’ve noticed them?> His words were punctuated by a roll of thunder.
<Who hasn’t? But what do they have to do with anything?>
<The Thunderbird is angry.>
Yeah, I had learned about the Thunderbird mythology. In my fifth grade textbook. It was a giant bird who came to banish evil from the world and hurled lightning and summoned thunder and whatnot. Like Zeus with wings.
<You mean, the actual Thunderbird? The mythological bird that’s as big as a city?>
<Is there another?> the eagle asked dryly. <He has come, bringing his winds and his rains, to scour evil from the land.>
<Okay, so go tell him to shut up.> I was half kidding until the eagle replied.
<No, Laura Many Suns. That is your duty.>
Before the eagle could answer, the door behind me slammed open. A flashlight beam made his eyes glitter. Bethany stumbled into the aviary. Her face was slick with sweat, eerily lit by the small light.
“Thank God, you’re okay. You can’t hold us liable for any of this. Laura…” Her words died as she noticed the giant eagle staring at both of us. “Oh my God. Back slowly away, Laura. Keep your eyes on the floor. He won’t attack you. He’s not a wild eagle, but there’s no need to provoke him.” The light danced as her hands shook.
“Give me a sec.” I turned back to the eagle.
“No. We need to get out of here now, and call the zookeepers in here. I’m just a manager. I can’t deal with an escaped animal. When the power comes back on, these birds are going to be scared. We don’t want to be in here for that.”
I grabbed her wrist, forcing the flashlight to stop moving. “I’ve got this.” I was going to regret this, but what the hell. “Bethany, you think I’m a hoax. Yeah, this bead and feather crap, it’s an act. But the whispering? That’s real.”
She stared at me for a second. “You want to talk about that now? Laura, I will listen to your pitch for hours on end if you want once we get out of here.”
<Would you do something for me?> I asked the eagle, turning away from Bethany. <Please?>
He regarded me skeptically, and when I told him what I had in mind, I literally heard his sigh on the inside of my skull. But he agreed.
“Laura, I don’t know what—”
“Shut up.” I looked back at her and softened my voice. “Just watch.” I held my arm out, hoping the cheap thrift store cloth could stand up to those talons. The eagle took off from his perch on the handrail and with three flaps of those awesome wings, he settled down on my arm.
I almost fell. Damn, he wasn’t all feathers. Perched on my outstretched arm, he towered over both of us, looking down on us with piercing amber eyes.
Bethany stared. And opened her mouth. And stared some more.
I barely managed to keep a satisfied smirk off my face and out of my voice. “He doesn’t have a name. More like a feeling, like diving through the air, wind rushing through your feathers. He and the others haven’t been eating because they needed me here. They wanted to tell me something.” <So, go ahead,> I added. <I’m listening.>
With Bethany gibbering behind me, the eagle spoke.
<Once, every three hundred of your years, the Thunderbird rises. He wings across the land, using his winds and lightning to purge the land of evil, upholding an oath he made at the beginning of time.>
<And now it’s time.> I still wasn’t sure where I figured into all this.
<Yes. But,> the eagle’s voice grew heavy, <times have changed. Man has taken over the land. Some destroy it, and some protect it. I have to believe the protectors will win out in the end.>
I stared at him, my arm screaming with his weight. It didn’t sound like he wanted me to take up the tree-hugger’s banner and help the Thunderbird defeat Big Oil and all those guys.
<The Thunderbird is unaware of this. But we, the lesser winged folk, have reached a consensus. You must go to the Thunderbird and stop him.>
“What?” I was so surprised it came out in my voice. <What? You want me to tell an ancient elemental force to stop it? To spare humanity?>
<The Thunderbird’s weapons cannot combat steel. His time is over. You must convince him of this before lives are lost. Laura,> he added, before I could protest, <these storms are nothing compared to what he is capable of bringing. They are warnings. Death will come if you do not reach him.>
With that, the eagle launched himself from my arm and into the darkness of the aviary. The lights flickered back on. I was standing there, my mouth hanging open and my fingers rubbing my sore arm. Bethany took a tentative step forward.
“What just happened? What—what did it say?”
I turned to look at her. The smirk was gone. “He gave me a job to do.”
“So, what happens now?”
“We’ve got somewhere to be.”
I had to give her credit. Bethany didn’t start freaking out until we were in her car, on the way to the center of the city. She began tapping the steering wheel, her eyes darting toward me every other second. When she started anxiously whistling, I lost it.
“Can you shut up?”
She giggled nervously. “Me? I can’t believe I’m even doing this, Laura. I don’t even know you. I saw you supposedly talk to one of our eagles, and now I’m playing chauffer on the mission it sent you on. I am entitled to freak out as much as I damn well please.”
I should’ve taken a cab. But, in case this Thunderbird didn’t reduce me to a pile of ash, I didn’t want to completely eviscerate my savings. Especially since Bethany didn’t seem intent on giving me my check.
“Look, you just drive there. Drop me off. Forget about everything. That’s all I’m asking.”
“You’re asking a lot. For all I know, you could be leading toward a gang who’s going to jump me and take my purse and rape me and…” She started to hyperventilate.
Yeah, I should’ve been more compassionate. After all, she was doing me a favor. But I had my own nerves jumping around in my gut. So I turned to her when we hit a red light. “You think you know anything? A month ago, birds started talking to me. Out of nowhere. Once I was sort of convinced I wasn’t completely insane, I went out and bought all this crap,” I gestured to my sweaty costume, “in order to make a buck so I don’t have to keep living among crack addicts. And now, some eagle, with the consent of every other damned bird with a brain in this city, has sent me on a so-called mission that will either prove me insane, or end with me fried to a crisp. So shut up, okay?”
Her eyes went wide, and she stopped tapping her fingers. I turned toward the opposite window and glared out of it.
“So…why are you doing this?” she asked softly.
“Because.” Because I’d grown up being told I was nothing. I ran away to prove them wrong, but ended up proving them right. At this rate, I’d just be another homeless bum some cop would find dead on the side of the street one morning. As much as this wing-talking freaked me out, it meant I was someone. And I wasn’t going to let that go without a fight. “Because I have to.” She didn’t need to know anything else.
Thankfully, Bethany shut her mouth after that. She pulled up to the city garden. Located directly in the center of the city, it was the board’s way of shutting up the environmentalists. A few hundred square yards of grass and trees with spots of bright flowers and a little brook that ran through an impressionist fountain. It was also where the centers of the freaks storms had been.
As I got out of the car, Bethany flashed me a nervous smile. “Looks like it’s going to storm again.”
When I didn’t respond, she added, “Well, be careful.”
“Thanks,” I muttered. I turned and walked into the garden, letting her get on with her normal life.
Thunder rumbled overhead, softly at first, but it picked up steam. The sky grew dark. Rain began splattering down, making the entire garden one big mud pit. Lightning flashed overheard. I cringed. One of those bolts could easily be meant for me. If it turned out I wasn’t crazy and this whole ordeal was real. Honestly, I was kind of rooting for insanity at that point.
Garden patrons ran out as they pulled umbrellas over their heads. The warning siren screeched. Thunder boomed. My boots squishing, I made my way to the oak tree at the center of the park. I wrapped my robe tighter around me as wind blew cold rain into my face. I was soaked before I had taken twenty steps into the park. The tree loomed in front of me.
Lightning flashed again, and I jumped as it struck not ten feet behind me. My arm hair stood on end, and the air fizzled with electricity. The crack of thunder that followed was loud enough to make me go deaf. But in it, I heard the voice.
It was so unlike the pigeons I was used to talking to that I couldn’t believe both belonged to remotely similar species. Even the eagle, in all its magnificence, couldn’t begin to compare to the voice I now heard in my head.
<WHO HAS COME BEFORE ME?>
I fell flat on my face. Spitting out mud, I remembered the eagle’s words, I am not the one you need to humble yourself before. I was never very good at ass-kissing. <Um, it’s me. Laura Many Suns, Your, um…> I couldn’t think of an honorific. Did it have a name, or was it just “The Thunderbird?”
<ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ALWAYS SO INSOLENT, LAURA MANY SUNS?>
The ‘yes’ froze in my mind as the Thunderbird landed before me.
I will always remember this day as the day I did not shit my pants in front of a powerful elemental being. I didn’t pass out either, but that was a near miss. I think my reaction was something like, “Uggghhhh…”
The Thunderbird stood taller than the oak tree with wings that spanned the park. Talons deadlier than a shotgun dug six foot furrows into the mud. Each beat of his wings sent a mini tornado across the park and into the street. Grey eyes stared through me. A beak large enough to swallow a bear clacked. Each time it did, lightning hit nearby.
But the Thunderbird wasn’t…solid. His body was composed of storm clouds that swirled and stormed within him. I wondered if anyone on the street could see him. I didn’t know whether I wanted them to be able to or not.
Staring up at him, I realized something else. This wasn’t his true form. This was for my benefit. At that thought, an image entered my mind. And it wasn’t from me. A great shadow, spanning states, with wings that could cause another Katrina. I swallowed.
<YOU HAVE COME BEFORE ME, WING-TALKER. WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WANT? I HAVE WORK TO DO.>
I now understood what the eagle had meant, about the past storms being warnings. This guy could take out half the city. <I come to ask you something.> Before my courage, or stupidity, failed me, I added, <The birds of this city sent me. They want you to…stop.>
I waited to be fried by lightning.
The Thunderbird cocked his head at me, but no lightning came. <I COME, AS I HAVE DONE SINCE THE DAWN OF TIME, TO CLEANSE THE LAND OF EVIL. IT HAS GROWN WORSE SINCE MY LAST FLIGHT. CERTAINLY, THE WINGED ONES SHOULD KNOW THIS.>
I couldn’t look him in the eye. Instead, I stared at his talons. Not much better. <They do. But they also have seen the changing times. They, um, think that your time is over.> My mental voice grew softer. <That the world’s problems were caused by humans and must be fixed by humans.>
Lightning struck the ground a foot from me, smoking my hair and singeing my face. The thunder blasted me back ten feet. I hit a tree trunk. Damn! My ears felt weird, the sounds of the storm lessened quite a bit. I touched one and my fingers came away with blood.
<I AM THE KEEPER OF THIS LAND. I WILL SCOUR THE EVIL FROM HERE. IF HUMANS ARE THE PROBLEM, THEN THEY WILL PAY FOR THEIR CRIMES. THIS LAND HAS NO VOICE BUT FOR MINE. AND I WILL MAKE IT HEARD.>
<But they won’t hear you.>
The Thunderbird paused, grinding his beak like he was considering whether to fry me where I sat. But I was going to have my say, and this oversized pile of feathers would just have to listen.
Not caring if the ‘insolence’ of my thoughts offended him or not, I stumbled to my feet. <You’re wrong, don’t you get it? Things have changed. No one believes in creatures like you anymore. You throw a storm and destroy the city, they’ll say it’s global warming. You fry some people with lightning? They’ll call it an act of God. They won’t know it’s a punishment, and they won’t know what they’ve done wrong.>
Before he could say anything, I walked right up to him. My gut hurt like hell, but I plastered a smirk across my face and ignored it. <You’re outdated. The world’s changed. Storms won’t solve any problems. You can throw a windy temper tantrum for as long as you like, but that won’t ‘cleanse the land of evil.’ It’ll just piss off some farmers.>
<How dare I tell you the truth? Because I know it. Because I’ve lived it every damn day of my life. I know what it’s like to be so hungry you can’t walk up a flight of stairs. I know what it’s like to have someone you love beat the crap out of you because he’s drunk. I know what it’s like to give someone a fuck in order to avoid spending the night outside in the snow. I’ve seen everything that’s wrong with the world, Mr. Thunderbird, and I know that a couple of storms aren’t going to fix the problem. So, go ahead, kill me. Reduce me to ash and start your war on humanity. But don’t forget that I told you so.>
I was wheezing now. My hands shook with adrenaline. The chill from the rain and wind was replaced with an inner fire that warmed me to my fingertips. I stared up at the massive bird and waited.
The smiting never came. Instead, he lowered his head until his eyes were on level with mine. I braced myself for that maw to open up and snarf me down.
<YOU ARE BRAVE, HUMAN.>
More like stupid.
<I…UNDERSTAND WHY THE ANCESTORS CHOSE YOU FOR THE GIFT OF WING-TALKING.>
Now, that I didn’t expect.
<YOU KNOW THE WORLD. YOU LIVE IN THE WORLD. YOU ARE RIGHT.> He sounded resigned even as his voice battered my skull. <THE WORLD CAN NO LONGER HEAR THE VOICE OF THE THUNDERBIRD. BUT YOU CAN.>
He straightened. <YOU WILL BE MY VOICE.>
I tried not to laugh. <You’ve got the wrong person, okay? You don’t know anything about me. I’m a nobody. They won’t listen to me any better than you.>
<PERHAPS NOT AT FIRST.> His voice softened. <YOU HAVE A CHOICE, LAURA MANY SUNS. YOU CAN RETURN TO YOUR ADDICT-FILLED APARTMENT OR HOME TO THE RESERVATION WITH YOUR HEAD DOWN. YOU CAN CONTINUE DRESSING UP LIKE A FOOL FOR MEALS AND CHATTING WITH PIGEONS. OR YOU CAN BECOME SOMEONE.>
Damn. I stared up at the impossible sight before me. A creature out of myth asking for my help. The winds died down around me. A creature who apparently did know me better than I knew myself.
I had a meeting with Dorothy Kramer tomorrow. Fifty bucks for making up stuff her dumb parrot supposedly said. Wearing this idiotic costume. The more I thought about it, the more I knew I would kill myself if I had to listen to another story about Sir Nightingale.
<What the hell,> I told the Thunderbird. <It’s got to be better than talking to pigeons.>