The River of Birds
By Jeff Baker
At night he rode around the city on the River of Birds.
It usually happened just after dark. Usually in Fall. The birds would flock and fly around the houses. Vinnie had been sitting on the roof just outside his bedroom window when the birds had swarmed by in the dusk. He’d felt them calling to him; he’d understood and stepped out off the roof onto the birds. Barefoot. In another moment, he was soaring with them around the houses, as if he was standing on a fluttering flying carpet. He learned quickly that he had to crouch like the surfers he’d seen in pictures, making himself more aerodynamic. One of the first times he had fallen off into the bushes. Luckily that time the birds had been swooping low and the bushes were thick. He was fifteen now and was more experienced. At night he would fly around the city, see the looping highway and the lights beneath him, and be eye-to-eye with the darkened windows of the few tall buildings downtown. Usually, he made it back home, but one night the birds swooped low by the lake and dispersed. He’d learned to carry a pair of sneakers with him in case he found himself having to walk anywhere. He ran as he saw the birds flocking and swooping over the lake in the near dark and dove for the flock. In an instant he was swept up and into the sky again.
When it was cold he had to make sure he bundled up to ride the bird river, sometimes only for a short turn around the neighborhood, shivering in his bare feet. Sometimes he avoided the trips in winter until spring. In summer, the river formed only infrequently, and these weren’t always crows. One night, Vinnie had been out on a river of bats, which flew erratically and dispersed too easily, chasing after bugs. But the birds still came and he could sometimes ride them until late evening, sometimes high in the sky sometimes out of the city over the countryside. On those nights, he sometimes heard a voice calling to him from above and he would look upward.
There above him streaked the starry Milky Way. On it rode a boy of his own age, but not quite his own species. They smiled and the Milky Way boy called out: “Ho, there! Join me on the starry ride and we can see the universe!” But Vinnie could not control where the birds went and they would not take him high enough to join the stars. So, he would ride the bird river home, and ever after when he would be dozing off, he would wonder what it was like to swoop over the heavens on the Milky Way, a ride that must take centuries, not just an evening.