Note: To read The Wishing Map from the beginning, click here.
The Wishing Map
Chapter Three: Aviar (continued)
Previously: Like her brother, Gina stood on the Map and promptly disappeared.
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Zack slept like a stone. During the early hours of the morning, his bed of sticks became warmer and softer. Something thick and furry was pressing against his body. He nuzzled into it. It felt like an animal. He’d always wanted a pet he could sleep with, a cuddly cat, or a snuggly puppy, or…
His eyes yanked open. In the morning light he could just make out the face of a huge dead rat, its bulging eyes staring vacantly into his. He jerked, brushing his cheek against the rodent’s warm, saliva dripping snout.
It wasn’t a rat, it was a greb, a human-sized scavenger that lived high in the Northern Mountains of the Kingdom of Gerd, leaping from ridge to ridge on oversized ostrich-like legs. It was covered with scraggly black fur, except for its face and legs, which were white and pimply. It had jagged, nasty-looking teeth and an even nastier smell, and would almost certainly have killed him if it hadn’t already been dead itself.
“Aggghhhh!” Zack’s response was primal and spontaneous. He’d have thrown up if he’d had the chance. He didn’t, because at that instant a huge rumbling voice complained:
“Hrrrmmmhhh! Not dead? Great Uol!—forgive me, Lord—thought I’d properly killed them all!”
Before Zack could move a muscle, an immense foot with claws the size of tree limbs reached into the straw and squeezed the greb. Its head rolled forward and its eyes popped out onto Zack’s lap. He suppressed a scream, then dumped the oozing orbs and began scrambling through the straw, until one of the huge claws came down with a heavy FOOMP in front of him.
Zack froze. He peered up through the straw at a bird the size of a two storey house. It looked something like an eagle, but was twenty times larger. Its head was as big as Zack’s bedroom, its curved amber beak the size of his bed; its unique v-shaped wings could have covered the Dore’s front yard. Its feathers were wheat-colored, but tufted a dusky pewter at the tips, and its neck and chin feathers had all gone gray; it was not a young whatever-it-was.
What it was was a Sheya, one of the great noble birds that watch over Ismara from on high. The Sheyar are the oldest living beings, apart from the High Faeries, and this was the oldest of the Sheyar. His name was Aviar, and he’d turned 1,097 just last week.
Aviar reached down and picked up the extra-dead Greb, one of six he’d caught for breakfast. He absent-mindedly brought it to his beak and bit into it. There was a crunch like the noise Arman made when he ate corn chips, only multiplied by fifty.
Am I the next course? Zack wondered. The monster ground the greb’s haunches in his beak, then spit tail, toenails, and rump into a steaming glob three inches from Zack’s face. Ecccccchhhh! I’d rather die from falling than be eaten!
Aviar reached forward to turn the page of a large manuscript. He was reading. A twenty-three foot tall bird—reading! Zack could just make out the cover of the manuscript. It was written in Zshinian, the same cryptogramatic language as the Map. It read, Annals of the Great Council of Ismara, Season of Growth, Year 1,000 of the Ismaran Epoch—Blessed be the Name—Volume 3,000.
It suddenly occurred to Zack that he could understand the giant bird, even though it wasn’t speaking English, another result of Zack’s bond with the Map. Maybe I can talk it into not eating me!
“Hrrrrmmmm,” Aviar said in a deep, irascible rumble, “Man-print! Tiny, man-sized, Uol-cursed—forgive me, Lord—man-print!” The immense creature had long ago formed the habit of cursing in the name of Uol, and since he couldn’t break the habit, had adopted the policy of immediately asking for forgiveness when he did, which was roughly once a minute.
With his clawed foot the old bird picked up what, despite their unique design, were unmistakably reading glasses! “Hrrrmmm, errrhrrrmm,” he continued with the glasses perched on his massive beak, “Whereas the Prime Regent Melcarhassen, servant of Ismara, on this, the 116th day of the ten hundredth year of the Ismaran Epoch—blessed be the Name—did declare that…”
Zack was so amazed at the sight of a two storey tall bird wearing glasses that he temporarily forgot to watch for Aviar’s claw. Aviar reached down without looking and, somewhat off course, picked up not another greb but a twelve year old boy.
Zack tried to scream, but his lacerated throat failed him. His body went rigid in expectation of being bitten in half. But the moment of unimaginable horror never came, for although Aviar was a carnivore, he was not a human-eater. In fact, the moment he placed the repulsive, hairless thing in his beak he noticed the dry, pungent taste and spit it out with a disgusted, “Plooouuupppphahhh!”
The very thought of eating a human was utterly revolting; he turned his head away and scooped up a beak-full of snow in an effort to get the nasty taste out of his mouth.
There was hope! The behemoth didn’t like human! Zack scrambled sideways like an uncoordinated crab, but before he could cover any real distance, the Sheya’s immense claw slammed down, forming an instant cage over him.
The monstrous face leaned in, turning sideways for a closer look. Zack stared, frozen with fear, into the gray-blue eye that, even without the magnification of giant reading glasses, was bigger than a basketball. It blinked.
“OhGodOhMomOhDadOhGodOhMomOhDad! Please don’t let it eat me!”
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Thoughts: Has your life ever been in another person’s hands? The way we respond to others can determine whether we live or die.
To read The Wishing Map 15, click here!