Beamo’s Gold part 26
Desperate, Beamo and Little Bit crash a bizarre party.
After wrapping our feet in my rough-cut caribou fur slippers, we started hiking. We slowly picked our way first down our mountain then began the arduous trek up the next. Whoever was up there wanted protection.
No frostbit fingers or toes but it had been close. Tromping up the steep slope brought out soreness, just like after a wreck on a cycle. Better than the burning feeling of freezing to death. Whoever said freezing your way out of this world was the least painful never went through it. I probably lost ten to fifteen pounds during the ordeal.
We stayed quiet as we worked our way up the slope. It grew steep and then steeper. The last part we had to climb over ice-glazed boulders using our hands, the caribou meat slung over my shoulders under my rawhide poncho. No trace of a trail for cycles. It’s like they had wings to get up there, went through my head.
When we climbed close, I stopped and looked at Little Bit. The wind died and a strange chanting rose. Her eyes grew wide in the faint firelight. The voices strong and high-pitched, some eerie, yet beautiful solo singing bounced back and forth. They were not Mutant Angels. Their timbre could not be human.
Out West there are geemo nations called Escapists. Just before Doomtime, their ancient human progenitors willfully changed their offspring’s essence soas to escape the tragic failures of humanity. Some were more or less friendly like the Highsters. Another one of those self-designed nations was known as the Minis. They lived up in the desert foothills around the Vada country we were trying for. But that was still six hundred miles southwest. The Minis didn’t like it this cold. I saw the mummy of what was claimed to be a ten-year-old Mini boy at a circus when I was a kid. The scary being was only fifteen inches tall. The teeth in the big-eyed, clown-faced skull were all pointed. Whether filed down or they grew in that way naturally was not told to me.
The Minis were known to be vicious, worse than the Mutant Angels. They did not trade or interact with other peoples. They hunted trespassers for food. Demon fast, silent, you never caught them prowling and almost no one ever survived an attack, even though those small-frys only used poison-tipped arrows and spears. Some believed they were the decedents of a set of the Nils Brigands, those ancient firebugs who helped bring down the global empire the Mericans created. Short life spans by choice, brain cases about the size of a grapefruit, hating who or what they thought of as over-sophisticated, they wanted it primitive so they made their bodies and their world primitive.
When we reached the last rock outcrop before the bonfire, the chanting halted. I was reluctant to peer over the edge. Whoever was over that crest was going to shock me. When I finally peeked, my eyes had to adjust to the bright firelight. The mixed odor of burning bones and offal in fragrant red cedar wafted about. The glimpse I got made me lower my head. Little Bit clutched my right arm, her grip telling me she wanted closeness to my Bowie.
Relaxed my breathing then lifted my eyes back up over the crest of the outcropping ledge. Facing us, there were ninety to a hundred two-and-a-half to three-feet-tall feathered figures in a half circle on the other side of the bonfire. I blinked but the image stayed. Real grey-bodied birds, not Minis in bird costume. Birds eating venison, pulling out the smoky hunks using their grey clawed hand-feet with opposable thumbs, bringing the cooked flesh to their broad, hooked beaks. They must have hunted the other caribou, drove them into the slush-slide.
The type of bird I did not recognize at first. They had different shades in their long head and neck crests, some crimson, some goldfinch yellow, some bright blue. They reminded me of the little green or blue akeets sometimes kept as cage birds that live wild on the Orida Isles in the Carib Sea. Bigger types of those birds I now remembered seeing in illustrations in an ancient nature book. Parrots, they are called, but instead of eating fruit and learning how to talk like a mocking bird or a pet crow, these new parrot people kept fires and cooked animals they hunted down with extreme sharp, obsidian-bladed pikes. Like the one now pointed at the left side of my face.
The wing beats made me look up. A guard had me. I stood and slowly pulled out the greasy meat; Little Bit put her hands up over her head. The pike thrust didn’t happen, so I climbed up onto the ledge and faced them.
“You’re having a lot of bird hassles this trip,” Little Bit quipped out the side of her mouth after she climbed up to stand next to me.
I just kept smiling like an idiot. The warmth of the fire was drawing me into their world. Did they eat people? Almost didn’t matter, I just wanted to be warm again. If it was on a spit then so be it.
Their head feathers rose up and down in astonishment, or maybe in some cases fear and anger. The most disturbing thing about them was they looked at you with human eyes. Below their bulging foreheads their eyes set together in front of their face like an owl or a person, not on each side of their head like most birds. Overall, they seemed calm for a flock of birds; any other gathering of feathered beasts would have been all ruckuses.
Two high-status parrot people started debating, and I knew it regarded us. One was silvery and old, but still eloquently chatty. The younger, warrior bird gave long, musical speeches containing rolling r’s and sharp t’s. At the coda of each of his speeches was a loud, stressed word, “todemater!” I kept looking back and forth; worried the debate wasn’t going our way.
A rangy parrot person guard dragged away my caribou haunch and tenderloin meat. I watched him expertly carve the meat with an obsidian knife then skewer the venison on a stick spit. He turned the spit with his beak to cook the meat evenly. The smell of the cooking caribou put me in a better but now famished mood.
Then I made out that away from their dozens of intricately woven domed stick huts were five stakes. Five half-alive ravens, all pinned by a long-handled pike through each wing. The suffering, self-aware black birds weakly rolled their heads around, beaks open, tongues lolling out, looking for relief that was not coming.
I focused back on the crowd around the bonfire. In between the adult parrot people came glimpses of big-eyed fledglings that I knew could not fly. This was a permanent base. Their young took longer than a season to learn, so the flock-tribe could not easily leave before winter. They were torturing to death the also-sentient ravens for stealing their food or attacking their young. We knew the location of their base now and that made us the same threat. I had to try something wacky to save us.
A song came into my head. I Can’t Wait was the name of another age-old, bass-heavy tune I used at dances when I didn’t like what was playing. Threw the rawhide cape off of my shoulders, started clapping my hands and swaying my hips, whirling around in a four-step combo. Little Bit looked over at me like I was ready for the kookoo house.
“If all else fails, dance naked, girl!” I said out the side of my mouth.
Some of the parrot people whistled and burst out in awwawawas as they shook their tail feathers. Others bobbed their heads around in circular motions, somehow picking up the beat thumping inside my head.
When I let off my hoarse singing, Little Bit threw down her rawhide cape and started dancing too. The naked, blooddrenched girl glided around a little stiffly, but still vigorously shaking her tush. Kensey Sal taught dance as well as Zark language arts. Like her mother, Little Bit had once followed the teachings of the Source so she knew which song I boogied to. We didn’t look too out of rhythm.
Two parrot people flew over and around, winding us in cord with tiny bells and chimes attached. They turned us into human tambourines. Our strength barely lasted the length of the song. We both collapsed into each other’s arms after just a few minutes. The parrot people cheered our finale by flapping their wings in unison. The rangy parrot chef reluctantly dragged over some of the cooked caribou meat. The caribou tasted more like braised veal than whitetail deer venison. We feasted with the parrot people until we fell asleep together under our rawhide capes.