The Machter Bird
By Kala Séraphin
Waking up with an empty stomach was not easy for one so young. At the age of ten, Erick did not quite understand why he had to abstain from giving his body what it needed in order to purify it.
“Can’t I just ask my body to clean out what’s dirty?” He had asked his aunt Anaïs the day the fasting started. She had answered with a hit on the back of his head. Nothing severe; just strong enough for Erick to conclude that asking a question wasn’t a good thing.
Every year, Erick’s aunt would force him to fast, in order to purify their bodies and also, as a demonstration of gratitude to the Oracle, who was the messenger of the gods they worshipped. For ten days, Erick and Anaïs would stay at home to worship at their altar. The fast would also be accompanied by a full house cleaning. Erick was always too tired and hungry to finish his tasks. With the fervor of her beliefs, aunt Anaïs would always accomplish her goals before the completion of the fast.
Locked up in his home, Erick would spend long hours looking out of the window of his bedroom and watch his friends play the many games he enjoyed. Because they were not followers of the Faith, they did not fast. Erick resented his aunt for this forced segregation. He blamed her for imposing a world on him that he didn’t understand or enjoy.
“If it’s not fun, why should I do it?” He has asked one night while lighting incense at the altar. That was another question where his aunt Anaïs pinched his arm to the point of leaving a bruise.
What angered Erick above all was how nothing ever changed. Once the fast would finish, he would go back to the same world he left behind. His mother would never come back, his father wouldn’t acknowledge him, his friends still made fun of him for being a follower of the Faith and his aunt Anaïs would not let him have a puppy. For Erick, there were no benefits to fasting. He was cranky, tired, dizzy and nauseous all ten days. If he was going to be uncomfortable for ten days, he wanted something in return.
This year, Erick’s tenth year and fourth fast, there was something different. He didn’t know how or what was going to change. Erick’s heart would wake him up with whispers of challenges and journeys. But he was too young and angry to understand what his body was telling him.
Sitting in his room, Erick was looking out of his window when his aunt Anaïs came in.
“Erick, there’s someone here who wants to talk with you,” she explained. Her eyes were red and swollen, as if she had been crying. She stood with her arms crossed and shoulders hunched. Anaïs usually had a glow when she fasted, yet on this day, she looked worn out.
A man walked in the room and sat facing Erick. He was very confident in his demeanor. He wore a black business suit, his collar buttons left casually undone. He smiled at Erick, feeling familiar and comfortable with the young boy.
“Hi Erick, do you remember me?” He asked.
“No.” Erick had no interest in this stranger. He imitated his aunt’s body language and crossed his arms over his chest.
“My name is Aeron, I’m your uncle.” He declared.
Anaïs’ sadness made sense to Erick now. This man, her husband, had left when Erick was three years old. All that he knew was that his uncle Aeron had heard the wind call his name and so he left the next day. He abandoned his pregnant wife, infant nephew, stable job, friends, comfort and security for the call to adventure. Anaïs had never had the baby for it died not long after Aeron’s disappearance.
“It’s been seven years Aeron! You can’t expect the boy to know who you are.” Anaïs complained. His uncle ignored her.
“Erick, you know that as a follower of the Faith, there are responsibilities to keep, yes?” Aeron started.
“You mean like this stupid fast?” The boy asked, building a barrier to his uncle’s kindness.
“Yes, like this stupid fast. You’re beginning to be a big boy. I think it’s time you were given another responsibility.” Aeron’s smile grew wider and warmer.
“What is it?” Erick was curious. He was weary of the same torture of empty worship. His uncle was opening the door to something more.
Anaïs’ distress could be felt. Though she held tongue, her energy was bubbling with the protests that she was holding back.
“Everybody that follows the Oracle’s guidance must make a sacrifice to prove his purity and unity to the gods. Women do this with their first blooming flower. Men’s bodies are different so we don’t have a first blood to give,” Aeron explained. Erick was a bit confused. He had only vaguely heard of this tradition through his studies. However, most traditions of this nature were obsolete and deemed too old-fashioned.
“What do boys have to do?” Erick asked, his youthful curiosity stirring.
“You must hunt the Machter bird and bring it back.” His uncle’s smile faded and became stiff with severity.
“Aeron, no! Too many boys have died looking for the Machter bird! It doesn’t exist.” Anaïs yelled, placing herself between Erick and his uncle.
Erick had heard of the Machter bird from other relatives. It was suppose to be an immortal bird that would fly across the world, looking for the Oracle. The stories claim that if its heart is pierced with an arrow, the hero may be granted any wish from the Oracle.
“I found one…and I think Erick should kill it to redeem himself.” Aeron explained.
“Who his parents are does not condemn him! We have evolved from superficial beliefs like that!” Anaïs would not back down. She stood her ground, being protective of her nephew.
Yet Erick had thoughts of his own. At the idea of going out, hunting for a mythical bird, his whole being got excited. It roused him from his sleepy existence. There was a light feeling in his heart as he contemplated leaving the security of his world for the unknown.
“I want to go.” He declared, looking out the window and seeing his friends playing together.
Aeron smiled while Anaïs looked mortified.
“Then let’s go,” Aeron joyfully suggested, giving Erick his hand. The boy took it and they walked out together. Anaïs followed close behind.
“Just like that, you’re going to take him away with no preparation?” She asked, worried for the safety of the young boy.
“There’s only one chance, Anaïs. The boy needs to go tonight before it flies away or someone else gets it,” Aeron explained as they walked to his car. The driver was waiting patiently with the passenger door open.
Anaïs was at a loss for words. Her fear robbed her of any reasonable arguments. She raised her hand and slapped Aeron’s cheek hard, leaving a bright red mark.
“This isn’t about us, Anaïs. I’m trying to teach the boy to love his gods and respect the Oracle.” Aeron whispered, keeping his expression neutral.
Anaïs wanted to let all her grief out. More than anything she wanted to rage against her sister for abandoning Erick, to reveal the pain and sorrow that she harbored for Aeron’s betrayal seven years ago. She burned with hateful words, pressured by her daily struggles. She wanted Aeron to know the darkest part of her soul that blamed all her misfortunes and struggles on the gods and Oracle, who was nothing more than an image to her. Instead, Anaïs turned away and shut herself up in her modest house.
“Why is aunt Anaïs so angry?” Erick asked. Aeron went into the car. The driver quickly shuffled to his seat and drove off.
“Because your aunt does not recognize the gifts she’s been given,” was all that Aeron could say.
They drove in silence to a destination far removed from Erick’s village. He enjoyed watching the houses go by, then replaced by a thick forest that kept its secrets well hidden. He felt like a hero from old tales, searching for gold and treasures. He imagined himself in a fierce battle, covered in blood, standing on his enemy’s dead body. He thought that if he could accomplish this impossible task, then the gods would finally see him and grant his wish.
When the sun started to set, Aeron commanded the driver to stop by the side of the road.
“Where are we?” Erick asked.
“This is the forest where you’ll find the Machter bird. Here, I have a present for you.” Aeron said, as he gave Erick a bow with two arrows.
“You’re not coming with me? How will I find it?” Erick’s questions were laced with panic. He took the antique weapon, pleading his uncle with his eyes.
Aeron smiled kindly and replied:
“No Erick, this is your task. Just let yourself be guided by what’s light.”
Erick walked out, slowly making his way into the forest. He looked back every other step, looking for reassurance from his uncle. The fading sunlight guided him into the heart of the forest. He was going to find out for himself the secrets of the woods.
He had never walked in a forest before. Erick stumbled over roots and branches, using the trees to hold himself up. Flies and other insects quickly buzzed around his head. When a snake slithered past, the young boy could not help but scream and stumble back, dropping his tools. He started to cry as he groped to find the arrows.
“I can’t do it! How can I be so stupid?” He wailed, looking at the creeping darkness. Where there were old gnarled trees before now stood monsters and specters waiting to capture him. Sounds of crunching leaves and ghostly wails surrounded him. Erick started to shiver as a breeze picked up.
“I want to go home,” he complained, feeling all too aware of his empty stomach. The boy felt too weak to get up to find shelter. He closed his eyes, breathing deeply like his aunt Anaïs had taught him. Soon, the tears subsided.
Erick opened his eyes to a strange sight. A woman stood before him, looking very worried. She wore a green sweater and brown leather pants. Her hair fell wildly down her back. Erick noticed that she had no bags or any other supplies.
“Are you alright?” She asked with a thick accent.
Erick’s heart fluttered and he knew he found what he was looking for. He didn’t understand the sense of joy he felt but he let it flood his being gratefully. With his bow and two arrows, Erick stood up, brushing leaves from his pants.
“I’m lost. Can you help me find my way out?” He asked, his voice trembling.
The woman looked around, uncertain. When she noticed the bow and arrows, she looked a bit terrified. Erick noticed and tried to reassure her:
“I don’t know how it works! I won’t hurt you. My uncle sent me here to find a bird.”
“Why are you hunting alone in this darkness?” She asked. Erick shrugged.
“It was an opportunity that I missed.” He answered.
She gestured for him to follow her. They walked together, following a trail only she could see.
“What are you doing in this forest?” He asked.
“I like to explore.” She answered, clearing the way of stray branches.
Erick felt his senses sharpen. He could smell the rich marriage of forest life. The moss, trees, water and animals tickled his nose. The outline of trees became clear and he could also see creatures crawling on the trees. Sounds of small animals scuttling through the bushes came clearly to his ears. As Erick inhaled, the taste of dirt and grass crept into his mouth. A spider web trailed on his arm and felt like a hand brushing him. Loudest of all was the voice that whispered It’s her! Erick finally felt connected and whole with his existence.
“Why can I see you?” He asked, struggling to keep up with her.
“Because you’re open to the possibilities. You just know and you’re letting yourself know.” She answered, never slowing down.
“You’re right.” Erick took one of the arrows and stabbed the woman in the back. She let out a soft scream of surprise as she stumbled to the ground. Erick watched as she tried to grab the arrow in her back. He wrapped his hand around the weapon and pushed it in deeper. She let out one more whimper of pain then dropped to the ground.
To find out what happens next, visit www.storiesonfire.com and join the journey of a lifetime
Stay connected, leave a comment, share your impressions in a land much like yours and mine