The Bird and the Cage Introduction

He sat high above on the branch of a tree, his legs stretched out in front of him and back up against the thick trunk, listening to the gentle song of the wild: the chirping of the birds, the churning of the river, and the rustling of the leaves mixed with the calm whistle of the wind. All of it combined to create a sweet melody that soothed the boy’s tired ears long sore from the din of the farm and village. He leaned his head against the hard bark and shut his eyes, a small smile forming on his face as the calm melody continued to play. The woods were his getaway from the bustle of the village and allowed him to be free of the eyes of other people. Out here, he could just reflect and be free of the wants of others. However, he supposed he couldn’t escape everything’s eyes, he thought smirking as he looked up above him at a nest twisted together by twigs, leaves, and mud. In it was the lean body of hawk, it’s piercing, yellow eyes staring at him with a menace that only a mother could have.

He chuckled, the poor thing must’ve panicked when it saw him climbing the tree, and he would admit he was a bit surprised too when he suddenly heard it screech, almost causing him to stumble from the tree. Luckily, the hawk hadn’t tried to fly down and strike at him, having only spread her wings menacingly and screeched at him until he got the message. Normally, he would have gone higher to admire the scenery around him, but he stopped himself and decided it was better to not push his luck with the bird; he didn’t want any cuts or bruises from a fall. He perched himself in the spot he had now and, gradually, the hawk lowered itself back into its nest, calmer now that he had stopped his ascent, though its piercing eyes never left him.

The boy felt a sudden wave of drowsiness wash over him as he turned his gaze away from the hawk and towards the ground below him. He figured it was about time he got back to the village before it got too late. He’d never hear the end of it from his mother if he came in well after the sun had set–she was already against him going out into the wilderness by himself and he didn’t want to push his luck any further. So, with a wave to the mother hawk above who answered with narrowed eyes, he started climbing down.

The boy guided his feet effortlessly down the branches of the tree, noting which ones could take his weight and maneuvering his body nimbly to account for this. He had learned how to climb long ago from his dad who had shown him, behind his mother’s back of course, where the best spots to place your feet were and how to best grip onto the tree’s bark. After all these years or practice, with and without his father, climbing things became second-nature to him and he found an odd joy out of climbing. He remembered the look of terror on his mom’s face the time he scaled the village church, having made it near the top of the steeple before any onlookers finally noticed him. He smiled fondly, his father and him got a tongue-lashing after that, but it was all worth it when his dad privately told him that it was the greatest thing he had ever seen. He even confided in him that he had hoped one day to do the same thing before he had married his mother.

His feet touched the ground, an abrupt heaviness in his chest and his good mood soured–that day was coming up soon. He sighed and glanced down towards the path to the village, and a sudden feeling crept over him and he felt like staying out for a bit longer. Feeling the waterskin hanging loosely on his belt, having been drained from his earlier work on the farm and his stroll through the forest, he decided it was a good enough reason to make one final detour before he went home. Turning away from the path, he headed down towards the river, moving slowly through the thicker underbrush. The churning of the water grew louder and, before long, he could see the clear blue water spread out before him.

He kneeled on the edge of the bank and untied the waterskin from his belt, undoing the top and emptying the older, lukewarm water onto the wet bank. Satisfied once it was empty, he dipped it in and waited for it to fill, casting his senses to the outskirts of the forest to make sure nothing decided to sneak up on his while he was crouched along the banks. Once filled, the boy stood up and glanced up and down the riverbank, noting the various animal prints that frequent along it: meaning many of the animals were slowly waking from their long slumber. He could tell many of the tracks were from deer and rabbits, but there were a few that came from wolves and bears, though they were much rarer to find. His eyes narrowed suddenly at one set of tracks, however: they didn’t seem to be from any animal that he knew of that lived in the woods. The tracks were bird-like, but the imprints were bigger than any bird that he knew of. Curious, he placed his hand next to the track and saw they were almost the same size, with the tip of his fingers being the difference. The way the tracks were spaced was odd as well: instead of the typical straight and parallel nature of most bird tracks as they hop along the ground, these tracks were spaced as if the thing was walking like a man–one in front of the other, albeit, if the man making them was drunk.

The most jarring thing was how recent the tracks were made: the mud seemingly having only been pressed in recently and he could see the slick wetness around the indents of the track, as opposed to the other tracks along that bank which were harden and dried. Whatever this thing was, it had only just left.

He looked over his shoulder as a shiver went up his spine and a lump began to form in his throat. He rose to his feet slowly, his breathing becoming heavier as he scanned the tree-line along the bank. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was watching him, but he couldn’t see or hear anything but the rush of the water as it flowed and clashed against the bank. However, as sudden as the feeling had fallen upon him, it as quickly faded away and he began a relative calm returned to his mind. The pricklings that went up and down his back faded away, and he turned cautiously towards the forest’s edge, seeing nothing but the thick darkness of the wilderness.  

Shaking his head, he glanced down once more at the odd print before walking back through the forest. He began to rationalize the track-mark in his head as he moved through the underbrush, figuring that the mud must’ve been distorted by the river or that other animals could have stepped over it, creating that image in the mud. He could imagine a smaller bird had flown down and the river splashing along the banks widen the tracks to such an unnatural size.

It must’ve been perfectly natural or maybe even another person trying to scare someone–a silly joke, but he could think of a few people in the village who would try to scare the other townspeople. He shook his head and berated himself for growing so scared at some silly track; he has lived out here his whole life and he knew every creature that lived in these woods. No tracks were going to make him question himself because they didn’t appear to be something he knew, especially if they most likely had some natural origin or cause. Smacking himself on the head for being so silly as to be scared of some odd-looking tracks, he took a swig from his waterskin and started back towards the village.

The sun beginning to set over the mountains in the horizon, he hurried down the path once he was free of the underbrush, casting a look over his shoulder every so often as he pushed his way through the darkening forest.  

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