Thunderbird, They Cried
There’s a man. Well, that in itself isn’t surprising, it takes people to create a story. No, what’s different about him is that this man is alone. Completely and totally alone.
He didn’t start out that way, of course. He had a family, a brother, a father, a mother. The family was happy and kind and loving, living in a big house on top of the hill. They had everything they could wish for, and they were grateful for it.
And as the man and his brother grew up, as streaks of gray appeared in his mother and father’s hair, the young man decided that he wanted to know more of the world than just the large house on top of the hill.
So he hugged his parents and his brother goodbye, and hopped on a plane that went somewhere far beyond his home. He went to a land of vibrant green trees and swelteringly sweet heat and people with sun darkened skin that dressed in strange and beautiful clothing, dripping with color. He missed his family, of course, as any son and brother would, but the foods and music and people all kept him from going straight back home.
He smiled and laughed and danced with those people, learning everything he could, until he decided that he’d like to go somewhere else and learn from there, too. He will miss them too, he thinks. He bid them farewell, and went on another plane, this one bound for a frozen north with crashing waves.
Except, there’s bad weather, and-
(He wakes up just before it starts, long-dormant animal instincts telling him to flee, just as the birds fled Pompeii, just like rats fleeing a sinking ship.)
Except, the plane can’t land, and-
(Flashing lightning, brighter than the sun, and roaring thunder, cracking and growling and ripping through the air, and he is stuck in a metal plane high in the sky and the pilot is shouting at him in a language he cannot understand, not when white adrenaline is flooding his veins with the icy touch of fear.)
Except, the plane doesn’t make it.
(Screeching metal, and a high, keening, piercing noise that is colored with the kind of terror that is ancient and cold and unknowable. A sound of agony, of a pain so terribly human it’s horrible in its own right.
He later learns that it was him making that noise.)
He’s falling, falling, with no control whatsoever and he flails around in the air, spinning this way and that and underneath all the panic something breaks in him, something wild and old as time.
(He hears a voice, one that he will later think is the delirium he felt. It is not.)
Lit tl e
THu nde R b I rd
dont you remember
how to fly
fo r g o t t e n
my little Thunderbird
y o u w i l l r i s e
y o u w i l l l e a r n
y o u w i l l L I V E
i will h e l p y o u
(The voice is huge and booming and a tiny whisper in his ear and everything makes sense and yet it doesn’t and the shock of it all makes-)
The world goes dark.
The man dreams. He dreams of the frozen north that he never got to see, of the crashing waves and screeching gulls. But he is just standing on the shore, watching a storm roll in from the ocean while a voice whispers little thunderbird.
He dreams of his mother, embracing him with tears in her eyes and love in her heart, but something is different about her. Her eyes more gold than brown, her nails like gentle talons instead of carefully manicured, and she whispers my little thunderbird.
He dreams of his brother, with his laughing eyes and daring him to do something, and they are young again, running by the steep edge of the hill that they live on. Except, except, it’s a cliff now and his brother looks at him with laughing golden eyes and jumps.
And then a massive bird with fiery golden eyes soars up and above, lightning trailing from its tail and thunder sounding with every beat of its wings, and a voice roars thunderbird.
When the man wakes up, it is on a forest floor. Not the forests of his youth, with pine needles and familiar birds chirping. No, the leaves here are broad and huge and the trees stretch up, up, up and above. There are strange noises, chittering and shrieks and calls and it is the most beautiful place the man has ever seen.
He wonders what he is doing in this paradise, in this Eden, and then it comes back to him as suddenly as the bolt of lightning that struck him down.
(little thunderbird, he remembers and he tells himself that the shudder is not one of fear.
he is lying)
He is lost, he realizes. The pilot is gone, and what remains of the plane is twisted and blackened metal. Water, shelter, food, the man remembers. All three seem to be relatively easy. The man can hear running water in the distance. Perhaps a river or a waterfall? He will still have to boil it, but the water will be cleaner than if it was stagnant. One of the metal pieces will be sharp enough to use as a knife or axe. He can construct something that will keep the sun away and the rain out in time. As for food, he learned what plants were edible, what plants were not, and plants to avoid at all cost. He will be able to survive for now.
He is uninjured somehow. He wonders at this. How?
(he does not not not remember the cries of thunderbird around him, of invisible hands or wings slowing icarus’s fall at the hands of zeus.
thats not how the story goes in the myths, but the man does not know or care)
a l l alone
dont wo r r y
i am h e r e
The man survives. He learns.
The stream water is good to drink. He has no way of determining the sea level of where he is, but he remembers that at a level of 5,000 feet (1,524 meters and he doesn’t know exactly how he’s doing the math, but it’s right) the boiling time is three minutes. He’s considerably lower than that, certainly, but three minutes isn’t all that long of a time, and better safe than dead.
The fruit he finds is sweet and juicy and he knows that he cannot keep eating it forever. He uses the plane metal knife to sharpen a stick and make it into a spear, and he learned how to fish using it. Now, he’s sick of both fish and fruit, but he figures that the same meal is better than no meal at all.
His shelter is simple enough, but well hidden. Layers of sun-dried mud and leaves for a thick barrier to the outside world. He has lived through at least two storms in his little lean-to, and it weathered them beautifully. It is large enough for him to lay down in and be completely hidden, and there is also room for the tools he has made and things that could be useful to him.
He has been there for two weeks when he is challenged. He should’ve known that he was not the only predator in this world.
He is watching the waterfall from his lean-to when the large spotted cat strolls into the area like it owns the place. He cannot tell what it is, either a leopard or a jaguar, and the only reason he knows it is not a cheetah is because he knows that cheetahs live on the savannah.
Moving slowly, silently (he has learned, he has, over the weeks, to be still and silent as a shadow, and his footsteps now are lighter than air), he reaches for the knife he made from the plane and the wooden spear. Pitiful weapons. What are they in comparison to claws and teeth?
He has an idea. A stupid, dangerous, hail-mary idea.
He takes a length of rope that he made and ties his knife to another long and straight stick. Now he has two spears.
He will throw one at the cat, hopefully wounding it. He has gotten skilled with spearing fish. He hopes this will be no different. Then, if all goes to plan, the cat will charge. And he will hold the longer of his two spears out and the cat will impale itself.
He might die.
There is no waiting for the cat to wander off. It clearly smells something it likes, and if it finds him, he is dead. He hates to kill such a beautiful creature, but he wants (needs) to live.
(the world snaps into focus, he can see every spot on the cat, see the glint of the eye. it is a novel feeling, to be the predator of a predator.)
(he does not hope. he does not pray. he aims with the most certainty that he has ever had in his life. it is a novel feeling, to know that the hunt will be successful.)
He throws, and it flies true. The spear sinks into the cat’s side, and it yowls in pain before turning rage-filled eyes on the man and letting out an awful, coughing roar before charging at him with the power of a locomotive. He readies the spear, and before the cat knew what had happened, it was dead.
(it is a novel feeling, to kill.)
Little thunderbird, an ancient voice coos silently, sharpening your talons.
look how youve g r o w n
you are starting to s p r e a d
p r o u d of you
There are people, wherever he is. There are people, and he might have rejoiced at this fact had they not been carrying guns and wearing body armor. They speak in a language he doesn’t recognize, and the animal part of him that has grown this past month makes him avoid them at all cost.
He is prey to them. He slinks through the shadows and hides in the leaves, and yet, he is not stalking them. He is hiding from something that he knows is danger, even without half of him screaming it every time he catches a glimpse of black.
But no matter how hard he tries, he cannot erase all signs of his presence. The dead cat is a testament to that. He had hoped he had dragged it far enough away that it wouldn’t lead back to him, but every day, the men dressed in dark colors (seriously, this is a jungle, how are they not dying of heatstroke or something) and carrying guns inch a little closer to his campsite.
He gathers all the food he can, dismantles his lean-to, and puts everything in a pack he made from those massive leaves and sets out in the dead of night. He climbs trees when he hears movement, disregarding the fact that both jaguars and leopard climb trees, and snakes also live in them. He’d rather a large and hostile cat than a bullet.
He travels miles under the cover of darkness, following the sound of running water, hoping to find civilization.
why are you h i d i n g
t u r n and f i g h t
i will help y o u
y o u are s t r o n g
They find him first. He has fallen asleep by a pond, thinking that he was far, far away from them. He was not. They had been following him.
He wakes up from half-remembered dreams of golden eyes and cries of thunderbird, thunderbird to a net, wrapping around him, tangling his legs and binding his arms. He breaks through it (he does not consider how he has the strength to do that, the net is well-made and he has never been that strong before) and reaches for his spear, only to be shocked.
It is agony, pure agony, brighter than the lightning, and he hears that voice, that ****** ancient and all-knowing voice, the one that knows him better than he does himself.
my l i t t l e T H U N D E R B I R D
they know n o t what they d o
STAY sT ron g
i w i l l come and
rain down f i r e and p a i n
I HE A R y o u r
s u f f e r i n g
t h e y
w i l l
for what t h e y h a v e d o n e ,
my little thunderbird
(i am sorry)
He wakes up, and it is dark.
He wakes up, and he does not remember the now-comforting dreams of the voices that cry thunderbird with love and sorrow and indescribable joy, like a long-lost family member that has been found. Like he has been found. But he is not home. He has been captured.
And it is dark.
That strikes him more than it should. He is so used to the light of the sun, to the light of the stars and moon and the campfires that he makes. It is a physical thing, the dark, and finds that he does not like it.
As his eyes adjust to the suffocating blackness, he sees that he has a branching, twisting scar on his right shoulder, and his entire right side is numb. He doubts that he could stand, much less walk.
Nothing else appears to be broken or hurt. He just got poked with something a few watts short of a lightsaber.
He hears noises and drags himself to his feet. He will stand and face his captors. He will be strong. He’s survived this long. He’ll do it a little longer.
(he hears little thunderbird once more and this time he does not shudder.)
The door opens, and he hisses, and he relishes in the way it gives the men standing in the doorway (flooding the room with too bright light, shut the **** door-) pause. But he is weak, and he can’t do much to prevent them from dragging him to his feet and hauling him out of the tiny dark room. `
They speak harshly in the language that he does not understand, and he tells them as such in every way he knows possible. In Spanish, French, German, English, even in sign. He doubts they know Latin.
(the only reason why he knows it is because his parents insisted.
what he wouldnt give to see them again.)
They drag him past other cells, cells that have people with dark bruises and dead eyes in them, people who’ve suffered far more than him. He hasn’t had a decent meal in over a month, and yet, he’s in better shape than most of the people here. If the jungle is more hospitable than where he is now, that doesn’t bode well.
He gets his legs under himself so instead of being dragged, he’s stumbling along with the two other men. As they snarl at him in gibberish, he snarls back, hissing and spitting out words. He snaps at them, twisting and writhing in their iron grips, trying to thrash himself free. He’s wiry, always has been, and quick as hell. If he doesn’t want to be in their grip, he won’t be.
He breaks free, socking one in the gut and slamming the other’s head against the wall. The dead-eyed prisoners perk up, life sparking in their eyes, rising forward to see what has caused their tormentors to fall. The man grabs the ring of keys from the unconscious guard’s belt and tosses it to one of the prisoners. The one wheezing on the floor gets a kick to the ribs and a snarled warning to stay the hell down.
The man turns and runs, with thunderbird, thunderbird, echoing in his ears.
Outside, a storm howls and roars. He thinks he’s home free. Well, back to the jungle, at least. He dives and ducks through the concrete halls, running without a clue where he’s going. He’s faster than the men that chase him when they see him. He loses them easily.
(he doesnt question how he does that, just like with the net. he runs and runs and runs some more, searching for a way out.)
And then, the voice sounds, a terrifying roar where it once has been gentle, a war cry, a scream of grief.
m y t h u n d e r b i r d
i a m C O M I N G
H E R E
There is crashing thunder and the lights snap off, leaving them in darkness. It’s no problem for the man. He has spent over a month learning how to see when there is no light. He hopes that the armored men do not have that experience. He continues running, as sure-footed as ever.
The lights flicker back on, briefly, a backup generator appearing to power on. There is another clap of thunder, and the lights turn off again.
He has already re-lived the crash, re-lived the shrieking agony of the lightning, of the plane breaking apart around him twice before. He has not completely recovered, not by far. He doubts he ever will. But this is not the same. He is kith and kin with this storm, shares the same blood with the lightning, the same bone with the thunder.
b l o o d of my b l o o d
b o n e of my b o n e
W I T H
He reaches the door, to see that it is guarded by a platoon of guards. They level their guns at him, and for the first time, a flash of fear lights up in him.
What the man doesn’t see is his eyes have gone from brown to gold, sparking with lightning. He does not see the scorched footprints he left in his wake, does not taste the ash in the air.
(thunderbird, thunderbird, echoes in his ears.)
my little t h u n d e r b i r d ,
y o u are my ch o s e n
I P R O T E C T MY O W N
He screams, and they scatter like cockroaches. The wind howls, and the doors slam open, allowing a wall of rain to rush in. He can barely hear himself anymore, and he loves every second of it.
He’s outside, and it’s pouring, and the wind is trying to pick him up like a piece of paper and blow him halfway across the world. And yet, he’s able to forge through the tempest, even as trucks that weigh over ten times as much as him are picked up and thrown about like toys.
(he doesnt question it. he doesnt have to.)
He screams, a wild thing that is shocking in its challenge. Here he is, half-wild with fear and joy, half-feral after a month with no human contact, shaggy hair and scruffy beard and all.
And he is answered.
T H U N D E R B I R D
WE A R E H E R E
Not in so many words, of course. There is the kree of a bird of prey, only as loud as a jet engine, rising over the thunder and the wind.
And then he saw it. The golden eyes, the sparking talons, thunder rolling with every beat of massive wings.
There is lightning trailing from its wingtips, reaching out to the man. One bolt touches his left shoulder, opposite the one with the Lichtenberg scar, and yet, all he feels is a warm hum.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees black figures ready their guns, probably not sure about what they were seeing but knowing it was a threat. Suddenly, the bird wraps its wings around the man, while dull thuds sound over and over again. He is vaguely horrified that they are shooting at them, but golden eyes show no sign of pain.
And then they are high, high above, soaring with updrafts and shedding lightning, and the man is being held in gentle talons the size of his arm. They’re above the storm clouds, and he can see the flat tops of the anvil-shaped storm, and somehow, he can breathe up here.
They fly for hours and hours, and then the man is set down on an island. He doesn’t know if it is his island, the one with the waterfall and the dead cat. But it is land.
The bird ruffles its feathers, blinks its golden eyes, and then takes off with a clap of thunder and a bolt of lightning. The only thing to prove that i was there are the huge gouges in the sand and a single, golden-brown feather that still tingles with electricity.
The man is rescued a week later.
A passing ship saw his fire and docked, finding a ragged young man in possession of only the clothes on his back and a single strange feather, a feather that matches the strange golden-brown color of his eyes. They almost seem to spark.
The young man says that his plane had gone down in a thunderstorm about a month ago, and that matches with a report of a missing young man, with desperately worried parents and an almost hysterical brother. The young man’s face lights up at the mention of them, of home.
He is delighted to be going home, he says. But there is a strange sadness in his eyes, one that the captain can’t quite place. When he asks the young man about the sadness and the strange feather, the man smiles, something sly and mysterious and secretive.
“It’s from a friend,” he says, “one that I’ll dearly miss.”
He doesn’t elaborate.
His eyes, those strange golden-brown eyes, seem to spark with lightning.
And then the captain hears a whisper.
He doesn’t question it.