We last left Mike in the hooked claws of Ben the crazy bluejay, flying through the park to where the she tinkers might live.
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As Mike felt his feet leave the safety of the nest he thought for sure that he was going to die, after so many adventures to get this far, this one would be the one to end it all. He already imagined the hooked claws loosening their grip as Ben flapped up and free of the twisted crab apple tree.
Up flying in the clear Ben whistled a happy tune to himself, each note grating on Mike’s already strained nerves. How dare the bird be so carefree while he hung beneath fearing for his life? He gripped the bird’s scaly ankles until his knuckles turned white. If the bird forgot about him, which was a real possibility, and released his grip, at least he’d have a chance to catch himself.
The park unfolded under them like a map, each trail, each tree a perfect miniature from this far above. Mike searched for the two pines and the willow from the poem and tried hard to push his fear of heights aside. Each flap of Ben’s wings made his stomach clench tighter as he was pulled higher into the sky.
“Does little candy like to fly?” Ben whistled, giving Mike a little shake.
Mike held on tighter and squeezed his eyes shut. “No! Pay attention to what you’re doing!” Although it was a relief that bird hadn’t forgotten about him, he could do without any extra shaking. He was shaking enough on his own without the bird doing it to him.
“Don’t you trust a bird to fly? That’s what birds do best.” To demonstrate Ben tucked in his wings and plummeted spinning toward a wisteria arbor. Moments before striking the ground he flung his wings open again and soared through the tunnel of flowers, startling a flock of pigeons into flight in a flurry of feathers and angry screeching.
It took Mike a few moments to convince himself he hadn’t died in that very moment. A pigeon feather had gotten stuck against his neck, and it tickled at his face threatening to make him sneeze. He didn’t dare remove it. “Never do that again, I beg you.”
“Candy not having fun? Too bad. No worry, we there soon.”
The thought of arrival brought a whole new set of worries. Ben was going to have to set him down somehow, and he couldn’t use his claws. Images of himself falling and being crushed against the ground or thrown against an unyielding tree trunk flashed through his mind, and with each one his heart beat harder. As much as he had laughed off other threats to his life before, he truly didn’t want to die, not when he was this close to reaching his prize.
Ben banked between a pair of maples and a willow came into view. On either side was a tall slender pine tree, just like he had said there would be. The bird swooped low to the ground and then slowed suddenly, flapping his wings forward, before dropping Mike into the undergrowth.
Mike hit the ground and rolled end over end several times before stopping flat on his back staring upwards through the thin draping limbs of the willow.
Somewhere nearby Mike heard Ben land and scratch around in the thin underbrush before hopping over and peering at him from above. “Biscuit please.” He poked at Mike’s pocket with his beak.”
Mike climbed back to his feet and brushed himself off. “I’m fine, thank you.”
Ben missed the sarcasm in his voice entirely. “Good. Biscuit?”
“Here, take it.” Mike pulled the now smashed biscuit from his pocket which Ben snatched away.
“Where for the tarts?”
Mike described how to find Auntie’s burrow and Ben nodded vigorously, eager to leave. “Before you go you must promise me not to be a bother to her, she’ll love to feed you every once in a while but if you become a nuisance she will stop.”
“Not a bother, never a bother. I bring her treats too, you see. Good bird.”
Mike laughed and shook his head, Ben was a good bird at heart. Even if he tried to eat Mike in the beginning. “Yes, you are.”
As Ben flew off Mike sensed that he wasn’t alone. A twig popped behind him and he heard whispers from the branches of the willow above.
“Turn slowly stranger or I’ll gut you,” said a woman’s voice.
Mike did as he was told, keeping his hand on his cane. Behind him he found the most remarkable she tinker he had ever seen holding a spear leveled at his chest like she knew how to use it. She wore a walnut-shell breastplate and her hair hung free down her shoulders, reminding him of honey.
As their eyes met she narrowed her eyes and lowered her spear. “Could it really be? Are you what I think you are?”
To be continued…
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