I awoke groggily, not feeling much at all like myself. I was trapped, my arms, legs, torso gone, leaving only a head. My skin was green, and porcine, and I had no mouth. I tried to speak, to cry out that I was innocent, but only horrid, gloating grunting sounds came out. I was at least safe, but I was scared. My fortress wouldn’t hold – after all, it was a few vertically placed pieces of timber with some stone slabs on top. Why, if someone knocked out one of the walls, it would be a matter of seconds before I was crushed.
I looked down a terraced hill below me. I could see two other green heads like mine, also bailed up in rudimentary defence work. But beyond them, over a small hill, lay three more green heads, with no defences. They had cowered together in a close line. They made little but the same grunting sounds I made, but I knew them to be terrified, waiting in mortal terror for an inexorable punishment they hadn’t deserved. They were only children, innocent and trapped by whoever it was had put me here, and they were frightened and vulnerable.
In the other direction, I saw a structure that filled me with terror. A large Y shaped frame with a rubber strap tied between the outstretched posts. A slingshot. A catapult. An executioner’s game.
And then it dawned on me. This was a game. I had no memory of how I got here, no recollection of anything up to waking up inside my “fortress” – which I now realised to be a prison, set up to be knocked down. This was death row, specialising in cruel and unusual punishment.
In the terrible structure before me, I saw a creature hoist itself up into the strap. An unseen force pulled it back, and then released it, flinging it forward towards my fellow captives. The creature had aimed for the poor lost souls below me, and all I saw was a streak of crimson, and two white, soulless, hate-filled eyes.
The creature struck the wooden upright of the lowest cell hard, and it tumbled inwards in an instant. The poor soul within was obliterated under the weight of the slab, and the same unseen force seemed to be awarded for his destruction. Beyond the Y-shaped structure I heard the cold, cruel laughter of more creatures, as they congratulated each other on their slaughter. I watched with dread as a new creature hoisted itself up into the strap.
Again, the same unseen force flung it forward, only this time at a higher trajectory. It flew over me, heading towards the poor, defenceless children. As I watched in abject horror, I tried to find comfort that maybe only one would die. The other two might live on. But that comfort vanished, as I saw the creature descend. A bizarre flash of blue, and the creature had separated into three, smaller versions of itself. Each version hit its target dead on. I turned away, unable to watch the merciless slaughter before me anymore.
But already, a new creature had taken their place in the strap; a yellow, vaguely triangular looking beast. As it flew forward, it seemed to be aimed at the poor fool below me. But what was this? The unseen force hadn’t pulled the strap back anywhere near enough, and the creature had nowhere near enough velocity. But out of nowhere, it suddenly rocketed forward, mid-trajectory, and careened into my fellow captive below me.
Again, the same miserable, evil laughter echoed from beyond the catapult, and I resigned myself angrily to my fate.
This time, the creature was larger, darker. As he flew forward, guiding himself directly towards me, I fully comprehended him. He was a bird. An evil, deadly bird. The other creatures were birds also, and all of them had taken part in our slaughter. This was a game to them. A sick and twisted game of cruelty, killing imprisoned beings. They chose not to fly as other birds do, but to be flung forward from a slingshot, in an elaborate and drawn out method of cruelty. What had I done to deserve this?
Then I remembered. I had been on my way to see them, to apologise. My brother didn’t receive enough oxygen at birth, and he has always struggled with the concept of possession; if he wants something, he will take it, like a plastic crown he once saw in a costume shop. We tried to explain that he shouldn’t have taken it, but the store didn’t want it back, and he wasn’t harming anyone by wearing it.
But he’d found these birds’ eggs. He had taken them, and had no concept of the graveness of what he’d done. I had removed them from him, put them safely out of his reach and set out with a few friends to explain the situation. The last I remember was being struck from behind.
And now I understood my situation. This was a horrible revenge. A sick plan to torment us, for a slight committed by someone who didn’t know he was doing anything wrong.
As the big blackbird grew ever closer to my cell, I steadied my gaze. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t roll away, but I would meet his eyes and make him know that I was calm. I was no longer scared, but angered by their intolerance and I would not give them the satisfaction of a panicked death.
When the bird was some distance from my cell, he exploded. I had bare milliseconds to perceive the blast, before I noticed the vertical upright splinter and give way, and I felt the crushing blow of stone above me.
In my dying seconds, I hoped that my brother would be able to get away, that they would not find him and slaughter him as they had done to my friends and I. And as the world around me grew dark, I heard that familiar, cruel, evil chirruping laughter of the birds, who were having their fun in this sick, demented game.