Running as fast as he could, the boy chased the small bluebird through the open field behind the houses.
The bird would fly low and land down in the tall grass, and when the boy got close it would lift off again in a flash of bright blue wings. The boy ran towards the creek, and the bird flew across, a patient measured flight towards the edge of the pine and scraggly oak forest. The boy took off his sneakers and socks and waded across the muddy, unmoving water, stepping fast in the deepest parts because he knew there were snakes in the water. On the other side, he sat down in the sandy soil to put his sneakers back on. The bluebird was gone, and he felt a sadness without the musical, chittering song as the bird took flight.
Sammy walked west towards the pines, looking up waiting for his bluebird, but there were only the branches and pine needles. He looked back, and he could no longer see the creek he crossed, so he tried to remember which way it was. Everything was covered in that pinnacle of light just before the fading sun of dusk. The boy thought about heading back, but something kept him walking further. He passed a rusted fender and what was left of a tire from an old car someone had dumped back there a long time ago. The boy had come so far that he was in a new part of the forest where he had never walked before, and he just wanted to see the bluebird again.
Samuel still remembers how the bluebird came back, flying right over his head and perching in the low branch of an oak tree.
After a moment, the bird flipped off the branch back into the air, the bird’s blue wings and amber throat shined brilliant in the light that sank through the trees branches. The bird hovered in the air, its wings beating a thousand times a minute, or more, if the boy could count exactly. It would circle around the light in the air, and then fly back to the branch, before flipping back off into the air. All of this was an explosion of amber and blue color blending together.
The boy would later read that the bird was flying for insects that it would catch in his small beak. He would read that the bluebird like other gnatcatchers would sometimes switch his tail swiftly to scare up hidden insects, especially at dusk. The boy looked up in awe. Back on the branch, the bird switched its tail quickly from side to side, and then it flew away.
The boy followed.
His felt the rush of blood and he kept his eyes on the bird flying low and then up between two small oaks. The bird landed in another oak, this one with branches that shut out the light. The boy looked up in the branches, but the bird was gone. The clouds moved above, moving steady. The boy sat down in the grass and dead leaves under the tree. He held his thumb and finger up as a window into the clouds, which moved an inch a minute. The boy waited, but nothing moved besides the clouds and wind and a bee that landed down on a yellow-orange flower growing from the crumpled leaves. It got cold. The boy picked up a leaf and threw it up in the air so it drifted down in the wind.
The boy heard the chittering song again, and saw his bluebird, joined by another one that was paler, with more gray and only a blue tinge on the wings, perched on the highest branch. “There you are,” the boy said softly.
The pale moon had risen through the oak branches, and the boy knew his mom would be looking for him, so he turned to head back, and he walked though the forest, past the rusted remnants of the old car, across the creek, and through the open field behind the houses.
When he was crossing the field, he heard his worried mom calling “Sammy. Sammmy!”
As he walked up to the back door patio, his mom asked where he had been.
The boy said he was lost.
That summer he started drifting even further in the woods, armed with a small birding guide that his mom gave him. He walk out to the patio and put on his worn sneakers as soon as he ate breakfast. He would soon learn the rich call of the Eastern Bluebirds, the Robins, Cardinals, and the Blue Jays.
One morning he was out in the forest past the creek when he saw the black clouds coming. He could see the rain coming down in the distance. Those black clouds were moving closer, the forest pale under the moving shadows. He hiked fast back towards the creek, and he didn’t get too far before it began to rain. He realized he was nowhere near the creek. The boy was scared and cold.
He saw a big pine tree, the top half bent and folded over, and the boy sat under it where it twisted down like a giant shredded toothpick.
He sat low with his head just under the bark etched deep with wrinkles. The rain beat down on the branches over him. He tried to think of a story he read about a far away place a boy had escaped to. He tried to think of what his father would do. The boy hadn’t seen his father for a long time. He used to think of him as a cowboy in a movie, courageous but always having to leave and not so good with people, but the boy didn’t think of him like that anymore.
The boy thought the rain would have to stop, but it rained harder. The boy felt like he would cry, and he didn’t care what anyone would think about that. It felt like all the rain in the clouds was emptying out.
The bluebird perched on a branch of the downed tree, perched firm and shaking his feathers, not more than ten feet from the boy. The boy smiled because right then he loved that tiny bird. The boy and the bird waited out the rain.
Roger Real Drouin is an MFA student in creative writing/fiction at Florida Atlantic University. His short stories have been published, or are forthcoming, in the print journals The Potomac Review, The Litchfield Review, and Grey Sparrow Journal and online at The Northville Review and Pindeldyboz. His Web site is www.rogerdrouin.com. Roger also writes an outdoor blog at www.rogersoutdoorblog.com.
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