Home > All the Birds in the Sky(2)

All the Birds in the Sky(2)
Charlie Jane Anders

The sparrow, whose name was Dirrpidirrpiwheepalong, or Dirrp for short, tried to give Patricia directions to the Parliament of Birds as best he could, but he couldn’t see where he was going from inside the bucket. And his descriptions of the landmarks to watch for made no sense to Patricia. The whole thing reminded her of one of the Cooperation exercises at school, which she was hopeless at ever since her only friend, Kathy, moved away. At last, Patricia perched Dirrp on her finger, like Snow White, and he bounced onto her shoulder.

The sun went down. The forest was so thick, Patricia could barely see the stars or the moon, and she tumbled a few times, scraping her hands and her knees and getting dirt all over her new overalls.

Dirrp clung to the shoulder strap of her overalls so hard, his talons pinched her and almost broke her skin. He was less and less sure where they were going, although he was pretty sure the majestic Tree was near some kind of stream or maybe a field. He definitely thought it was a very thick tree, set apart from other trees, and if you looked the right way the two big branches of the Parliamentary Tree fanned like wings. Also, he could tell the direction pretty easily by the position of the sun. If the sun had still been out.

“We’re lost in the woods,” Patricia said with a shiver. “I’m probably going to be eaten by a bear.”

“I don’t think there are bears in this forest,” Dirrp said. “And if one attacks us, you could try talking to it.”

“So I can talk to all animals now?” Patricia could see this coming in useful, like if she could convince Mary Fenchurch’s poodle to bite her the next time Mary was mean to Patricia. Or if the next nanny her parents hired owned a pet.

“I don’t know,” Dirrp said. “Nobody ever explains anything to me.”

Patricia decided there was nothing to do but climb the nearest tree and see if she could see anything from it. Like a road. Or a house. Or some landmark that Dirrp might recognize.

It was much colder on top of the big old oak that Patricia managed to jungle-gym her way up. The wind soaked into her as if it were water instead of just air. Dirrp covered his face with his one good wing and had to be coaxed to look around. “Oh, okay,” he quavered, “let me see if I can make sense of this landscape. This is not really what you call a bird’s-eye view. A real bird’s-eye view would be much, much higher than this. This is a squirrel’s-eye view, at best.”

Dirrp jumped off and scampered around the treetop until he spotted what he thought might be one of the signpost trees leading to the Parliamentary Tree. “We’re not too far.” He sounded perkier already. “But we should hurry. They don’t always meet all night, unless they’re debating a tricky measure. Or having Question Time. But you’d better hope it’s not Question Time.”

“What’s Question Time?”

“You don’t want to know,” Dirrp said.

Patricia was finding it much harder to get down from the treetop than it was to get up, which seemed unfair. She kept almost losing her grip, and the drop was nearly a dozen feet.

“Hey, it’s a bird!” a voice said from the darkness just as Patricia reached the ground. “Come here, bird. I only want to bite you.”

“Oh no,” Dirrp said.

“I promise I won’t play with you too much,” the voice said. “It’ll be fun. You’ll see!”

“Who is that?” Patricia asked.

“Tommington,” Dirrp said. “He’s a cat. He lives in a house with people, but he comes into the forest and kills a lot of my friends. The Parliament is always debating what to do about him.”

“Oh,” Patricia said. “I’m not scared of a little kitty.”

Tommington jumped, pushing off a big log, and landed on Patricia’s back, like a missile with fur.

And sharp claws. Patricia screeched and nearly fell on her face. “Get off me!” she said.

“Give me the bird!” Tommington said.

The white-bellied black cat weighed almost as much as Patricia. He bared his teeth and hissed in Patricia’s ear as he scratched at her.

Patricia did the only thing that came to mind: She clamped one hand over poor Dirrp, who was hanging on for dear life, and threw her head forward and down until she was bent double and her free hand was almost touching her toes. The cat went flying off her back, haranguing as he fell.

“Shut up and leave us alone,” Patricia said.

“You can talk. I never met a human who could talk before. Give me that bird!”

“No,” Patricia said. “I know where you live. I know your owner. If you are naughty, I will tell. I will tell on you.” She was kind of fibbing. She didn’t know who owned Tommington, but her mother might. And if Patricia came home covered with bites and scratches her mother would be mad. At her but also at Tommington’s owner. You did not want Patricia’s mom mad at you, because she got mad for a living and was really good at it.

Tommington had landed on his toes, his fur all spiked and his ears like arrowheads. “Give me that bird!” he shrieked.

“No!” Patricia said. “Bad cat!” She threw a rock at Tommington. He yowled. She threw another rock. He ran away.

“Come on,” Patricia said to Dirrp, who didn’t have much choice in the matter. “Let’s get out of here.”

“We can’t let that cat know where the Parliament is,” Dirrp whispered. “If he follows us, he could find the Tree. That would be a disaster. We should wander in circles, as though we are lost.”

“We are lost,” Patricia said.

“I have a pretty reasonably shrewd idea of where we go from here,” said Dirrp. “At least, a sort of a notion.”

Something rustled in the low bushes just beyond the biggest tree, and for a second the moonlight glinted off a pair of eyes, framed by white fur, and a collar tag.

“We are finished!” Dirrp whispered in a pitiful warble. “That cat can stalk us forever. You might as well give me to your sister. There is nothing to be done.”

“Wait a minute.” Patricia was remembering something about cats and trees. She had seen it in a picture book. “Hang on tight, bird. You hang on tight, okay?” Dirrp’s only response was to cling harder than ever to Patricia’s overalls. Patricia looked at a few trees until she found one with sturdy enough branches, and climbed. She was more tired than the first time, and her feet slipped a couple of times. One time, she pulled herself up to the next branch with both hands and then looked at her shoulder and didn’t see Dirrp. She lost her breath until she saw his head poke up nervously to look over her shoulder, and she realized he’d just been clinging to the strap farther down on her back.

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