bird bird bird

She tried to ignore the parrot’s preening on her shoulder. It wasn’t the grooming that bothered her as much as the occasional clicking sound at her ear. It no longer made her flinch, like when she was younger, but had only become obnoxious.

“Need any help?” she asked the bird. The twitter could have been a coincidence or a response. Taking it as an affirmative, she brought up her hand at a level above where her shoulder was and waited for him to step up onto it. When he did, she brought him around to her front and scratched behind his neck.

The sheaths on the new feathers had begun to fall off. She broke through them gently with her fingernails and rubbed them into a form of dissolution. It looked like dandruff on his back and she fought the impulse to blow it off. Afterward. Not yet, or else she would have to do that over and over with every bit she worked on.

A beak nibbled over the back of her hand and she pat the top of his head.

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Working the strings

He untangled the strings, fingers working with precision at the difficult knots. How it had become such a mess was a mystery to him. None of them could be cut, leaving this convoluted task to his mind alone.

“Is it done?”

“No,” he told his younger brother. “Not yet.”

His brother left him be, moving to the back of the wagon, likely sitting with his legs hanging off the edge to pick up the dust from the moving wheels. Those long limbs would catch a lot of dirt and later he would hear about it when his brother noticed and chose to complain. All of the things his brother could do, he still found time to make his own life difficult. Meantime, he had his own difficulties to deal with, such as these strings.

The hours passed by. His brother interrupted him occasionally and he would send him away. Sometimes his brother dropped out of the wagon, but somehow managed to catch back up and jump back in. He supposed they weren’t going too fast. Good. There would be enough time to finish this task before the strings were needed.

There were two left, nearly embedded with each other. Ragged nails could not pick them apart, almost as if they were one now and this was how the lines should be forever. That could not be allowed and he was running out of time.

“Done yet?”

He sighed. “No, it’s not. I have these last couple left and they are being…”

“Can I give it a try?”

He looked at his brother and knew he wouldn’t make it worse. “Of course.” Carefully, he placed the strings in his brother’s hands. With a deep frown, his brother fidgeted with the knots, longer fingers having just as much luck as his shorter ones.

“We’re almost to town.”

“I know. And I have to have these free by then.”

His brother nodded, though didn’t remove his eyes from his work. “They’ll like the show. They can’t not.”

“Double negative,” he said instinctively. His brother stuck his tongue out at him without looking. An easy smile rose on his face.

“Doesn’t make it any less true.” That said, his brother handed over two, long, separate strings. “Easy.”

His smile turned to a bigger grin. “You were struggling with that too. I worked out most of the kinks.”

“Not on that one! That was the most difficult and I worked it out.”

He patted his brother on the head. “Sure did, kiddo.”

Before they arrived, he had enough time to string the puppets. Tonight there would be plays.

Where everybody knows your name

They stopped at the bar, surprised to see the owner actually there. Making their way to the counter, they sat down on the far right. “I didn’t know you were back from your honeymoon. Have a good time?”

He nodded, the only response they expected to hear.

“Good you’re back. Your daughter did well enough in your absence, but she lacks the… experience, I suppose.”

The bartender shook his head, almost as though he said flatterer in his usual fond fashion, without giving mouth to the word. Only then did they notice his work, culminating in the chocolate shake placed in front of them on the counter. A cinnamon stick stuck out through the whip cream.

“How did you do that?

He looked back at them, quizzically.

“I don’t always ask for cinnamon. I was going to, this time. How did you know?”

“…you like cinnamon when you’re down.”

How he could see that, when they had done such a good job pretending otherwise, baffled them. Nevertheless, they took their drink and slipped at it, not getting in the way of the bartender and his other customers. They felt included, somehow. Despite the exclusion they had always taken for granted. Everyone greeted them, but didn’t push it when they didn’t do more than return the greeting. As they wanted, today. How did everyone know?

“Is it okay that I come here?”

The bartender paused, looking at them.

“Is it okay? Without anyone else… that it is only me.”

“You are always welcome here. With your friends and siblings, without your friends or siblings.”

It was true. When had it become true? They didn’t know. Somehow, sometime, they had just belonged. They hadn’t noticed, but it had happened.

They hid their eyes behind their bangs and regained their composure. Then, smiling, they greeted the next person to say hello.

Maybe for the best, but who knows

“It wasn’t me.”

It looked like no one believed the mage, except for the monk. She would have claimed responsibility, the monk knew. The mage wouldn’t have blown the horizon up and then deny it.

“This is worthless,” the rogue scoffed. “We came all this way, it’s gone now, fantastic.”

“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” the monk said.

“You are just happy you don’t have to decide what to do about the horizon.”

“You were on watch.” The monk turned, exasperated, toward the barbarian, knowing he would have an answer. “Did anyone near the horizon?”

The barbarian shook his head.

“We have to open our minds to what all could have happened. I know it seems odd, an explosion not caused by the mage, but she isn’t responsible for every explosion.”

“Sometimes it’s the rogue,” the ranger agreed, snark evident in her voice. The rogue glared at her.

“Let’s look around. Split into two groups. The barbarian will stay at our campsite, in case something happens here. The mage and I will go south, you two go north.”

The party agreed on this and began to examine what was left of the horizon.

The barbarian waited, knowing they would find nothing. Knowing all tracks were covered. With no horizon left, they would all finally start their trek back home.

One of many worries to have about living in space

“Maddy? What’s that?”

They looked at their child and then at the direction they pointed at. “They’re replacing parts of the air filtration on the ship. Those people are carrying the parts to do it.”

The child nodded as they both watched the labor force work quickly and efficiently to move the machinery through the crowd to wherever it was they were taking it to. They normally didn’t mind seeing this, it was always nice to know that repairs on the ship were being made immediately, but at the same time… They wondered how many times lately they had seen new parts for air conditioning. Not only in the ship’s city center, but down on the forest level, the business quarter, and even near their own apartment. They hoped it meant upgrades and not a sudden failure of all the systems.

“Maddy? Where is the air filtration?”

“Everywhere. You know there is no air outside of the ship walls. We have to create everything we need in here.”

As if that answered all questions in the known universe, their child nodded resolutely. “Okay.”

They took their child’s hand and continued to walk through the crowd, suddenly wondering if living here was safe.