The Tower Entrance
Ella sat in a treetop and watched the Broken Clock Tower and waited.
The Tower looked dark. It looked vacant and empty. It looked like a dead end. Ella flew past the Tower once, circled it twice, returned to her branch in the treetop, and counted to one hundred and fifty-six.
Nothing happened again.
Ella’s excitement faded. Her thoughts grew heavy, and she found that the longer she waited, the more her thoughts weighed her down. Ella’s thoughts grew so heavy she wondered why the branch beneath her didn’t bend and snap.
Maybe I’ve made another mistake, she thought.
Maybe I’ve made a terrible mistake.
Ella could see the clock face on the Tower, and below the clock face the shelf where the clock’s figures could emerge and parade. The shelf stood empty now. Behind it, a dark passage opened into the Tower. This was the only way in from above.
Ella stared at the entrance.
Maybe, she thought.
She waited some more.
The sun crept higher in the clear blue sky. Ella’s nerves buzzed and crackled and frazzled her to distraction.
Stay calm, she thought. Think calm thoughts.
Ella’s Calm Thoughts:
There’s the swish and rustle of the leaves, of course.
The see-saw sway of the branches.
I can’t think of anything.
Calm thoughts, thought Ella, are impossible at this moment.
Ella’s actual thoughts were anything but calm. They were all question marks and doubts, should-I-or-shouldn’t-I arguments and murky moments of indecision. She also felt a large dose of loneliness and a slight wave of nausea.
In short, Ella felt homesick.
What would my mother tell me? wondered Ella.
She tried to picture her mother sitting on the branch next to her. Ella remembered her speckled feathers and her wise brown eyes and her wings of kindness.
“See how the trees bend in the breeze,” said her mother. “Do you see how they bend to defeat the wind?”
But what if the wind blows too strong? wondered Ella. What happens when the trees can only give up and fall over?
“The gentle things in the world will always overcome the hard things,” said her mother. ”Do you remember what I told you about falling?”
Yes, thought Ella. The most important part is how we fall. And then you said: Do you really want to know how to fly?
And then what?
Ella looked at the empty branch next to her. The whispering breeze drifted through the Park and danced with the leaves. The trees bent in the wind and swayed and did not fall.
“I wish you were here to tell me,” said Ella aloud.
She looked at the clock. The time remained stuck at 10:32.
Ella counted to one hundred fifty-six and one-half.
There wasn’t anything else to do.
She tightened her scarf and flew to the Tower.
Ella landed on the Tower’s empty ledge and peered into the gloomy entrance. The bright morning made the interior look blacker than it should have been. All she could see was the darkness.
It was quiet at the Tower. The flocks below seemed faraway, along with the rest of the world. Even the tree she had sat in just a moment ago seemed like a distant country.
Ella took a tiny, timid step forward and paused.
Maybe this isn’t a good idea, she thought.
Maybe I should retreat.
She looked back at the Park, the river that lay beyond, and all the things she would leave behind when she entered the Tower.
This is what the birds in the Park knew about the river: it was blue and deep and full of fish and mystery. It bordered the city, and on the other side of the river lay more buildings, streets, and parks. They were not far.
This is what the birds in the Park knew about the far side of the river: it was the place they went when they felt restless. It was also the place they went when they felt crabby, cranky, prickly, crotchety, testy, tetchy, or any of the other 108 Known Varieties of Grouchiness. The birds flew across the river and stayed until they felt a tiny door of emptiness open inside them, and then they rushed back as fast as they could and felt the rich pleasure of returning home.
Ella looked across the Park, and the river, and she felt the lump in her throat begin to swell again and the trapdoor at the bottom of her heart begin to creak.
Maybe I’ve flown too far, thought Ella.
Maybe I will never find home again.
In the middle of the river lay an island, one of the many small enchanted places that exist a few steps away from the rest of the world. It was the kind of easy destination that people liked to aim for on bright mornings. You could row to the island, stay all day and explore, and return home in time for dinner.
On the island, a man stood and waved his arms and shouted. He shouted to a boy in a rowboat. The boat had slipped its moorings and drifted from the shore, and the boy worked the heavy oars and tried to row back to the island. On the boat’s bow, a rope hung limp and trailed in the water. The boy looked small in the middle of the boat. The oars looked large and clumsy. The boy pulled hard against the current, but each time he lifted the oars the river took him further away.
“Hello, sparrow,” said a voice behind Ella.
There was no one there.
Ella peered deeper into the gloom and spotted two tiny sparrows who peered back at her. They turned their heads as she turned hers, and they blinked when she blinked. The two tiny sparrows gazed at Ella and opened their eyes wide and gasped when she gasped. Ella realized that what she actually saw was her own reflection mirrored in two enormous dark eyes. The eyes peered at her from inside the Tower. They blinked as their owner slowly emerged from the darkness and stepped out onto the ledge.
Ella’s feet froze, and her legs froze, and her heart and throat and eyes froze and she found it impossible to turn away or move or speak.
The Captain’s words throbbed in her head:
There was no chance to run now.
Before her stood a raven, a massive bird four or five times her size. The raven’s head alone was as big as her entire body. This bird was nothing like the ducks or geese or any of the larger birds Ella had previously encountered. The raven looked wilder, more enchanting, more magical, and greater in every way. Her eyes were deep as caverns, and she gleamed with a shiny, starry darkness that hugged her black-feathered body and toyed with the light. The raven stood and stared at Ella.
Ella mumbled her reply.
“My name is Ella,” she said in a tiny sparrow voice.
“I know you well,” said the raven.
Her words rolled out in drowsy whispers.
“Family, Passeridae. Genus, Passer. You are a lovely specimen, my Passer Domesticus.”
The raven opened her bill, and from somewhere deep in her throat came a tck-tck-tck sound. Ella didn’t know if this was laughter.
“My name is Wednesday,” said the raven. “I am a bird with deep curiosity.”
“It was the jay,” said Ella. “The jay sent me.”
Now when she had at last found a raven, Ella wasn’t sure what to do next. Her plan didn’t extend further than this moment. She wasn’t even sure if she had found the right raven.
Wednesday leaned closer and inspected Ella.
“My heart,” she said. “Look at your eyes. It’s you.”
“They’re blue,” said Ella.
Everything she said seemed to come out wrong. Ella’s mind raced.
“I’m not a common sparrow,” she said.
Wednesday laughed again. “You are a lovely, lovely specimen.”
Ella turned back to the river. The current had taken the boy further from the island.
“Are you are looking for something?” said Wednesday.
“I am looking for something,” said Ella.
“Ah, they all are,” said Wednesday. “Every last one of them, and no one ever remembers what they’ve found. They only remember the things they’ve lost. And if they ever find what they’re looking for, then the next day they forget why it was important and go looking for something else.”
“Oh, but I won’t,” said Ella.
“Promise?” Wednesday’s eyes twinkled. “Other never seem to appreciate the value of collecting as much as I do.”
“I’m looking for a raven,” said Ella.
Again, she thought, this was not really the right thing to say.
“Poor you! You found one,” said Wednesday.
She winked at Ella.
Ella shuffled her feet.
Maybe it’s better not to say anything at all, she thought. At this rate I’ll soon give everything away. I don’t even know if this is the raven I’m looking for.
“I’m joking, my dear,” said Wednesday. “I expect you would like to see my collections.”
“Collections?” said Ella. “Yes, the collections. I heard about them down in the Park.”
“How lovely,” said Wednesday. “Did the jay tell you?”
“The jay sent me,” said Ella.
Ella had a feeling she had already said this.
“He’s a funny bird, isn’t he?”
“He does look unusual,” said Ella.
The raven laughed. “He’s got a lot of pluck,” she said.
“He spoke well of you,” said Ella.
This, she thought, was not true.
“Did he?” said Wednesday. “How strange. I don’t care for him at all. Most of him, anyway. Well, do come in, and I promise a complete and gratis tour of my collections. I have many fine things in here.”
The boy in the rowboat gave up and pulled the oars inside the boat. He waved at the man on the island, and the man waved back. The man pointed down the river. He made a motion with his hands that suggested two people meeting.
I will find you, he seemed to say.
We will meet again.
The boy looked at the man.
Will we meet again?
The man cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted something, but the boy made no sign of having heard him. Before the man could shout again, the boat and the boy drifted further down the river and disappeared around the bend.
“Do come in,” said Wednesday.
This is a work in progress, and to keep track of things you can subscribe to the update notifications. Readers are also encouraged to submit suggestions & edits through the Github repository (or old school email). Questions? Check the project announcement page for more information.
© 2018 Colin Lewis · Brought to you by Unlikely Objects