The Willow Wren

I decided to try a writing challenge from the Terrible Minds blog. This one was to rewrite a fairytale in a different genre as flash fiction piece (1,000 words, maximum). The story I picked is The Willow Wren. I wrote it as young adult contemporary. Let me know what you think.

Willow Warbler also called Willow Wren, from Aviceda wiki commons
Willow Warbler also called Willow Wren, from Aviceda wiki commons

The Willow Wren

By Betsy Miller

I used to hear everything, and everything I heard had meaning. The sound of a jackhammer outside, its machine gun staccato said, “Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah, no puddles, no potholes, ah-ah-ah-ah, you lumps and bumps, I will tear you to pieces.” The tamper said, “Ooh, ooh, ooh, I will press you smooth, press you smooth.” And the quiet stride of the worker holding the stop sign said, “All I have to do is hold this sign, hold this sign. No heavy work for me, overtime or double-time, it’s all good.”
Back then, the birds spoke too, saying things like, “Get out of here, you stupid cat.” But all of that is gone now and their language has no meaning. Back when the birds still spoke, they didn’t mind if I was around. I never chased them or threw stones, so they’d forget I was there and talk about bird-things. Like on this one day, they decided that they needed a leader.
Plover hated the idea. Plovers don’t like structure, you see. They can’t stand constraints. “What’s the point? Can’t we just do what we’ve been doing?” she said. But the rest of the birds shouted her down. Plover’s face disappeared into her green hoodie and she shoved her hands into the pocket. “Where the hell am I supposed to go now?” she asked, but no one was listening—no one but me. I shrugged and watched her flip her skateboard down and head to the rail yards where the damp settles in deep. “Sorry, goodbye, sorry, goodbye,” the wheels told the concrete.
The next time I saw the birds, it was May Day, contest day, and everyone was by the fountain at the empty office park where we skate—everyone except Plover. I hardly saw her anymore, but the rest of the birds didn’t seem to miss her. Eagle stood tall and proud, confident as always next to a little bird I didn’t know. The finches hopped from one foot to the other next to the goth-crows all in black. The owl said, “Who, who, who?” and beautiful Lark sang in the day. “It’s May, it’s May,” sang Lark. Mother hen was blown away by the size of the thing, saying, “What? What? What? No one tells me anything!” So her cocky boyfriend said “calm down,” and filled her in.
The birds decided that whoever could fly the highest would rule the roost. Tree frog said, “No, no, no.”
But a crow told him, “Back off, it’s good because there’s no fighting this way.”
So they had me count one, two, three, and the whole flock lifted off, flying crazy high, whirling and turning. The finches didn’t have a chance, they couldn’t get enough air. Before long, Eagle was sure of the win and said, “It’s me, it’s me!”
“Ea-gle, Ea-gle,” chanted the birds, but the little bird was drafting right behind Eagle. He grabbed Eagle’s shoulder and pushed off, sailing over Eagle’s head and touching the sky. “I’m king! I’m king!” screamed the little bird.
“No fair!” shouted Eagle, and the crowd of birds said, “Cheater, doesn’t count, no fair, no fair!” So they decided to have another contest—whoever could go the lowest would win.
I didn’t want to count again, but Eagle stared at me, and then I did it. “One, two, three,” I said, but quieter this time.
The birds took off, sliding under pipes, a lightning fast game of limbo, going lower and lower. The finches did better this time, being small. Duck took a fall and limped away crying. In the end, the little bird went down a manhole and shouted from down below, “I’m king, I’m king!”
“King of the manhole,” shouted Eagle with a lethal look in his eye. “You, owl,” he said. “Keep an eye on him. If he comes out, we’ll get him.” Owl settled himself down with an energy drink and watched while everyone else left to get some sleep.
I kept watch on Owl, but he didn’t see me because he kept looking at the hole. The little bird peeked out, saw Owl, and went back inside. Cold crept around us, and Owl put on his parka. After a time, he must have fallen asleep because the little bird slipped out without a sound and disappeared into the shadows. I could have stopped him I guess, but I didn’t.
Owl stays away from Eagle. He hates manholes and spray paints skulls on the covers when no one is looking. The little bird never did shut up, but he stays away from the rest of the birds. When they aren’t around he calls himself king, but the other birds call him King of the Manhole. I call him Willow Wren because he’s bright and quick and hangs out at Willow Park.
The birds never did choose a leader, and Lark was the happiest of all. She flies in the sunny blue sky and cries, “Ah, how beautiful that is, beautiful that is, beautiful, beautiful, ah how beautiful that is.” And all I hear is music without words.

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