The Singer by Tony Chandler

EXTRACT FOR
The Singer

(Tony Chandler)


The Singer

Prologue

 

"A great danger has come on the wind."

The largest and most distinguished-looking Barn Owl paused a moment to allow his words to sink in. Silence filled the air while he looked slowly around the gathering of birds. The silence grew more intense as every bird fixed their gaze on the Speaker.

"Many birds have reported death and sickness recently. Even animals and people are affected. This unseen danger threatens us all!"

"This poison is from man!" a single bird shouted from the crowd.

"Yes," another shouted. "It is man that kills us!"

"What can birds do?" a Robin shouted back from the ground.

"That's right -- what can we do?"

"We can find its source. Once we locate it, perhaps we can determine the next step," the Barn Owl said with confidence.

"Man must fix this problem!" the same Robin shouted again.

"Perhaps we can get some animals to assist us. After all, it is killing them too. Once we locate the source, we can analyze the situation and determine our options." The Barn Owl raised his white face and looked around at the gathering.

"Man must fix this problem that they created!" a Wren twittered angrily.

"Then we must help man to fix it. Somehow, we must try," the wise Owl replied.

Bluesky listened in respectful silence. As he pondered the Barn Owl's words along with the cries of those gathered in audience, he thought of KC. He remembered how KC had told him her dad's daughter had gotten sick with the poison the last time they'd experienced Death on the wind.

He remembered how KC had said that 'Dad would know what to do', would know how to protect them -- and he was a man!

Bluesky wondered how KC communicated with her dad and the other humans in the house. KC was his friend, and if somehow he and the cat could get the man to help them ...

"Who shall go for us? I propose we pick a special flock to seek out the source of this poison, birds of many feathers who shall combine their unique skills and go forth to save us. But first, there must be a leader, a bird of great insight and courage who will lead this flock on this most dangerous mission." The Barn Owl narrowed his eyes and gazed at the crowds with a stern expression.

"Who shall lead this special mixed flock of birds and find the source of this poison?" The Barn Owl and every Owl on the limb looked slowly around at the great gathering, but as their eyes passed over the thousands of birds gathered, not a single bird raised a wing to volunteer.

The thick silence of the thousands gathered filled the air with a heaviness, a palpable tension, as if a terrible storm were about to burst forth. The eternal seconds dragged on, and the very air seemed to vibrate with uneasiness and indecision. In the minds of all present, it seemed the problem had grown insurmountable -- impossible. The fear of everyone present seemed to come alive with a sudden blast of wind. While the trees swayed and the leaves danced, many birds cried out as if the terrible and unseen poison were attacking them that very moment.

The same thought occurred to everyone at once -- was death on this wind too?

Now their fear turned to an urgent need to flee!

The sound of hundreds of birds fluttering their wings as they prepared to flee added to climax of fear.

"I will go!"

Everyone froze. The bold words of the volunteer had somehow evaporated the climate of fear in a single instant.

Surprised murmurs filled the air, and everyone looked around for the brave bird who had spoken.

"Who said that?" the Barn Owl cried out as the strong breeze continued to ruffle the feathers across his head.

Nightwind turned and looked directly at Bluesky perched with the Mourning Doves on the other side of the ancient oak. The other Owls followed his gaze.

"Here I am! Send me! I'll go for all the birds!" Bluesky cried out courageously.

"Fly over here, my good Mockingbird," the Barn Owl said in a calm and deep voice.

Bluesky flew over and sat next to the large Owl.

"What is your name?"

"Bluesky."

"My name is Moonlight," the Barn Owl replied. "You are a brave bird to answer our dire call for help."

"I-I will do what I can," Bluesky said with a bow.

***

The cheering and chirping now rose to a new crescendo, and at that moment Moonlight leaned over and whispered in Nightwind's feathered ear, "This is the most bizarre mixed flock of birds I've ever heard of, Nightwind."

"It is true. Who would have ever dreamed it possible?"

"And yet, the skills and talents of each of these different species may be needed to face this terrible poison at its evil source," Moonlight acknowledged.

"I am sure of it." Nightwind nodded somberly.

"But as surprising as it is that a Hawk and a Sparrow, a Hummingbird and a Crow -- as unthinkable as all these wildly different birds joined together, it surprises me most that a cat and a man may also join!"

"Not really, if you knew Bluesky." Nightwind chuckled.

"Really?"

"Yes, but all the other birds are most surprised over the one thing that should not matter at all," Nightwind said.

"What is that?" Moonlight asked.

"The fact that ... a one-legged Mockingbird will lead them all."

 


 

Chapter One

 

Bluesky sang with a golden voice while the first rays of the sun streamed through the trees.

He felt so happy inside! In fact, he was filled with such pure, unbridled gladness that it even made him feel a little giddy, like he had eaten one too many overripe berries. And yet he wasn't quite sure why he felt so wonderful. All he knew was that his heart was filled with joy and he just had to sing out for the entire world to hear.

The sky grew brighter as the golden orb of the sun rose steadily higher. The sky gradually, almost imperceptibly, transformed to a deeper shade of blue. In the distance, a line of large, mountain-like clouds became visible in the west. The eastern flanks of these sky mountains glowed pure white from the light of the morning sun, but underneath they were swollen and purple-black with the promise of heavy rain later that day.

The sky finished its transformation into its normal blue, but the distant storm clouds grew more ominous. The air quickly grew laden with humidity, soon becoming sticky with a pervasive wetness that blanketed every creature it touched. The air itself grew heavy, pressing against each living thing like an invisible vise from the pressure of the impending storm growing ever closer. A brisk morning breeze caressed the leaves and sent them wildly dancing as the world fully awakened.

Every creature knew these signs; this would be a day of thunder and lightning, a day of storm and high winds fueled by the blazing heat of the summer sun.

As the sun rose above the tree tops, Bluesky flew up and perched on the highest branch in the tallest tree and then sang even louder. After an especially long and melodic trill, he looked down and noticed KC watching from the ground far below. He flew down to talk with his friend.

"Guess what? I'm part of a team that is going on an expedition! And a lot of my bird friends have joined me!"

"That sounds like fun," KC purred.

Bluesky's expression turned serious. "Well, actually it won't be that much fun."

"Oh, why not?"

"Our mission is to locate the source of the poison that is killing so many birds and animals."

KC stopped purring. Her green eyes narrowed as she leaned closer to Bluesky. "And it makes humans sick too. It might even kill them. You're right -- this could be very dangerous." KC paused a moment, obviously thinking things over. "Yes, very dangerous indeed! Why were you picked?"

"Well, I ... uh ... I volunteered."

"That was very brave thing to do," KC said with awe. "I am proud of you."

"Thank you... and, um, I have a favor to ask of you too ..."

"Oh really? Go right ahead."

"Um, didn't you say your dad would help you -- if you needed help? And protect you?"

KC purred a moment in contented thought before she spoke. "Of course he would -- he's my dad."

"And didn't you say Katie got sick from the poison?"

"Yes, it made me very sad. It made everyone sad in our house. Buddy and I stayed near Mom and Dad all day to provide them comfort."

"Do you think you could get your dad to help us if we found the poison?"

KC froze in shock.

She raised her paw and carefully licked it for several, long seconds as she considered the matter. The silence continued for so long Bluesky began to wonder if she had heard him.

"I don't know. I mean, I'm not sure. What do you have in mind?" KC asked.

"Our mission is to find the source of the poison. That is the first step. We hope after we find it, a solution will present itself." Bluesky wagged his long tail as he gazed hopefully at KC.

"That is a good plan. Hmmmm." KC continued licking her paw, deep in thought.

Bluesky waited nervously, wagging his tail faster with his growing excitement.

Finally, KC spoke. "If the poison is not too far away, I think I could lead my dad to it. He will follow me, and when I show him the poison, I'm sure he'll know what to do."

"That's great!" Bluesky shouted.

"But what if it is far away?" KC asked.

"I'm not sure. We'll have to fly over that tree when we get to it." Bluesky shook his head slowly. "But you will help us no matter what, right?"

"You tell the other birds this exact message, okay?" KC purred louder. "Tell them, 'KC the kitty cat will help the birds!'"

"That's wonderful!"

"Do you want me to go on the expedition with you today?" KC asked.

"No, we're going to fly far and fast and try to cover a lot of territory, but when we find it, I'll take you to see it. Then we can decide how to get your dad to follow you to it."

"Sounds pretty easy," KC purred.

"We can only hope."

Bluesky felt even better. KC had agreed to help, and it seemed she could get the man she called her dad to follow her to the poison. Bluesky felt deep inside that KC was right -- if her dad saw the poison, he would fix it and everyone would be safe.

Bluesky flew off to find one bird in particular -- Dancingleaves.

He soon spotted a familiar flash of bright blue feathers against the green leaves. Bluesky was happy he had found his friend so easily, but Dancingleaves sat on the branch looking lonely and sad.

"Hi, Dancingleaves." Bluesky settled on the branch next to the Bluebird. "I kept looking for you at the Council of Birds. Were you there?"

"Yes." Dancingleaves averted his eyes.

"I was hoping you'd join us yesterday."

A pained expression filled Dancingleaves' face. He stared at the ground far below for a long moment. The Bluebird shook his head and spoke in a trembling voice. "I'm ... I'm too scared."

Bluesky put his wing around the shoulder of his friend. "I'm scared too. See, we're both scared."

"But you volunteered -- and I thought you were very brave for doing so." Dancingleaves looked straight into Bluesky's eyes. He smiled a brief moment before quickly turning away.

"Believe me, I was scared when I did it, but I kept thinking -- I want to help. I want to do something." Bluesky shrugged. "I thought about my sister, Songjoy, and her eggs that will hatch soon. And Treeflower has eggs. So, although I felt scared, I also felt determined to help them and their babies. I don't want any more birds to die!"

"You were scared?" Dancingleaves asked in disbelief.

"Yes, but I focused on my desire to help, and somehow, I wasn't quite so scared anymore."

"You're a brave bird, Bluesky." Dancingleaves smiled with a sparkle in his eyes.

"And today, we fly our first mission." Bluesky smiled hopefully at the Bluebird.

"But how will you find the poison?"

"We're going to search off toward the eastern fields and woods first. After that, well, we'll just have to wing it." Bluesky chuckled at his play on words.

Dancingleaves nodded absentmindedly, oblivious to Bluesky's pun.

"I'd like you to join us. KC said she'd help too." Bluesky squeezed Dancingleaves' shoulder reassuringly. We need another good bird, like you."

"I'm too nervous around birds I don't know. I'm too shy, and... I'd just get in the way."

"You flew with Tootight and Coolbreeze when we all went up inside the clouds! You weren't scared then," Bluesky said in a warm, encouraging tone.

"But there are lots of birds on your team. There's a huge Hawk, and a Crow, too! I-I just couldn't do it. I would be so scared the whole time. I wouldn't even know what to do ..."

"I'm not going to pressure you, but if you decide you'd like to join us, you can." Bluesky patted Dancingleaves on his back. "I would value your help."

Dancingleaves stared in puzzlement at Bluesky a moment. Then he smiled. "I'll think about it."

"Good! I'll come back and tell you what we find ... if you want." Bluesky looked at him with hope.

"Y-yes. Let me know what you find."

"I'll see you tomorrow then."

"And Bluesky ..." Dancingleaves' eyes grew wide as if some terrible thought suddenly frightened him.

"Yes." Bluesky replied.

"Please be careful.