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Rooks & Jackdaws: A Fable / Steve Lambert



Cruelty and Indifference fell in love and had a child whom they named Nature. Nature—good and beautiful, but the child of its parents—grew to have strange ideas. One idea was God. God grew, too, and, in some ways, became like a living thing, able to have its own ideas, the worst of which was Sometimes things do not get better.


Nature, still young, fell in love with Sky. They had four children: The Seasons, which were good. God grew jealous of The Seasons, as they were born of Nature, and made up complex untruths about them, and about Nature and Sky. But God, having no one to tell these lies to, did not know what to do with them.


God contrived to take these lies and hide them on the four winds, and there they would stay, God thought, until there were ears to hear them.


Much time passed and God forgot the lies, and forgot about his jealousy, and, at last, an unsummoned clattering of Jackdaws carried him away and he became a memory, and in time a myth. But God’s lies had been growing this whole time, and they grew so big that they became ideas, like their maker, and ideas are too heavy for the wind, so they fell down to the earth.


By now, people had appeared. And though they liked the people, Nature and Sky and their offspring, could not help poking fun at these strange creatures. Who are you? Where are you from? Why do you look the way you do?


People bore the jokes for a long time but, after a while, they grew tired of them. The jokes, well-meant, embittered the people. One day a girl was sent by an elder to confront Nature.


She asked, “How is it that you don’t know where we come from when everything comes from you?” Nature’s answers were not, at first, helpful. “Where did anything come from?” Nature said. “Do you know where you came from?” she replied. “Yes,” Nature said. “But I do not know where my parents came from. It seems that they have always been.” The girl thought that this was wise thinking. Knowing isn’t everything, she said to herself, as she walked back to her village. If Nature doesn’t know, why then should we know?


The girl told the elder but the elder was not satisfied. “Is it so important?” said the girl. The elder said it was. “The mystery is good,” she countered. “We are here and here must be better than not here.” The elder said, “But how do you know here is better than not here?” The girl did not answer. “Maybe not here is the best place of all. A special place, even.” The girl conceded that what the elder said was possible but added: “It’s impossible to know. It is irrelevant.” Not seeing wisdom in these words, the elder frowned and walked away and left the village.


The elder had nothing with him but a walking stick and a forage bag. It was windy and Sky grew dark. The elder found a cave to shelter in. The cave, instead of being dark inside, was bright, as if a large fire was lit in the back. The elder walked deep into the cave until he found the source of the brightness: a humming, intense brightness, like a small sun, ringed by a clamor of princely rooks. The small sun was brilliant and filled him with warmth. He stepped forward and the rooks scattered. He picked up the small sun, which did not burn him, and held it close to his eyes. The brightness adjusted to his eyes. He heard a chorus of whispers. He held the thing to his ear. The voices inside said, “Not Nature.” The elder was overcome with a new feeling. He cried. He felt filled up. He held the small sun to his ear again and the voices continued: “Take us,” they said. “More to tell.” The elder gathered up the bright, golden thing and put it in his forage bag and hurried back to the village.


So inspired by this bright thing and the voices inside it, he didn’t care that it was raining hard. He ran the whole way back and when he arrived he went straight to his dwelling and emptied his bag and looked at his quarry. In unison, on his table, the voices sang a powerful song, a beautiful song. He showed the small, bright sun to the other villagers. They listened to the commanding song. It was strange and unlike anything they’d ever heard. The song, it seemed, was about them. Most villagers took it to heart and said the song the voices sang must be the truth of who they were. It also seemed to tell of where they were from and where they would go once they left this place. (The elder told them, “We will call this place The Not Here.”)


Some people said that they weren’t sure. Some said they didn’t care about the song or that they weren’t interested in what it said or in any place called The Not Here. Some admitted that they could not hear the song. Eventually, all who were indifferent or denied the song or the existence of The Not Here were told to leave, and they did, and the rooks and jackdaws left with them.

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STEVE LAMBERT'S writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Saw Palm, Tampa Review, Chiron Review, New World Writing, New Contrast (South Africa), The Pinch, Broad River Review, Longleaf Review, Emrys Journal, BULL Fiction, Into the Void, Cowboy Jamboree, Cortland Review, and many other places. In 2015 he won third place in Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction contest and in 2018 he won Emrys Journal’s Nancy Dew Taylor Poetry Prize. He is the recipient of four Pushcart Prize nominations and was a Rash Award in Fiction finalist. He is the author of the poetry collection Heat Seekers (CW Books, 2017), the chapbook In Eynsham (CW Books, 2020) and the fiction collection The Patron Saint of Birds (Cowboy Jamboree, 2020). His novel, Philisteens, was released May 2021, and his second full-length poetry collection, The Shamble, will be out in October. He lives in Northeast Florida, with his wife and daughter, where he teaches part-time at the University of North Florida.


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