By Mike Braswell
Home, locked in a world of despair and depression, it was difficult for Harrison Keith to comprehend that there was still a world out there. He knew that he had already missed a deadline. Even the adrenaline of waiting till the last minute hadn't broken through the apathy. His stories hadn't gotten much attention lately. Doubt crept in along with the pains of life, both real and imagined. He'd overcome so much. God had spared him on so many occasions.
Perhaps he was even a little angry at God. 'How could God let this happen?' Oh, but here he was again, thinking of 'it' instead of focusing entirely on completing a story. He was convinced nobody would bother to read it. Oh well, to escape the despair that was now a constant predator, he just began typing. 'The shadows always loom above'....
The shadows always loom above that part of 'The Hoopee.' That spot where them two ole boys disappeared many years ago. The short, snotty one was maybe named 'Dilbert.' The big ole giant of a teddy bear fellow who spoke to the animals? I don't reckon the legend kept hold of his name. Old folks who have all died off now just called him Mr. Birdman.
The nights when there is no moon are the darkest, and things come out on those nights. Often these creatures prey on the inebriated or folks otherwise handicapped by their methods of survival. I assure you that I was neither intoxicated nor infatuated on that particular occasion. Many of you who 'knew me' will find that difficult to believe. Those that know me now are much more reliable sources.
We have established that I was thinking clearly. Well, that has never really been confirmed, but I was behaving. So, when I tell you that I met that old fellow they call Mr. Birdman, you are bound to take it as the whole truth. Yes, he would have to be over a hundred and fifteen, but he looked to be in his late thirties. He was so pale and frail that he appeared as a mere vapor reflecting upon the black water on the Ohoopee River. At my first glimpse of him, he did anyway. His stained yet fantastic regal white flowing robe stood out. It seemed to drain away all other colors in the universe momentarily. So white was it that it forbade my own eyes to stair into that shimmering countenance. His frail but lanky body, no doubt, set the look upon a skeptic's eye in a less than favorable manner. He found no skeptic in me, for I reached out, and he took my hand into his boney swollen fingers.
They were warm and inviting, and knowledge was as much a part of them as was flesh and bone. And the scars, how could I ever forget those hands and feet. That horrible slash upon his side will never leave me.
It was undoubtedly him, the big man who spoke to birds! The man who was so tall that he had to 'stand up in sections.' The man that disappeared into a swamp seventy years ago now. That man that my dad wrote his first story about. What was his name? I'll have to try and find that old story. I never gave a thought to asking this entity for a name. I knew him, don't ask me how, but we had spoken on many nights when I was a child. I had long forgotten those warm evenings back home before it got hot enough to use a ceiling fan and way before dad made sufficient money to put in an air conditioner.
In those days living outside of town was awesome. Our windows were open at night, and if lucky (blessed), we had a screen. I'd lay in the dark on those special evenings trying to fall asleep. I spoke with those Whippoorwills on those memorable nights. Well, I only listened.
Only after this story began to unfold did I realize that is undoubtedly why I was honored with the company of this man who they all say is dead. A man who is certainly more alive than he is dead. Their stories to me, I can only now appreciate; the quail, I mean, of course. They spoke of a gentle caring man who was as much bird as a man. They said of the day when we would cross paths, "He will reveal what should already be known."
I stood in awe as this giant of a man seemed to drift in and out. He swiftly and silently transported himself gracefully along the bank to where the shadows provided more cover. He was so gentle and at ease that I knew he was possibly 'more' than I would ever know. I surmised that last statement. It was based on a gut feeling, though. He didn't want to be seen. I understood somehow. I didn't want to be rude, so I held off asking him about the day he and Dilbert went missing.
We spoke for several days in a matter of minutes.
Through hearing the story so often, I had gotten the idea that Mr. Birdman wasn't really 'blessed in the head.' Until meeting him, I didn't believe he was authentic. I thought he was just another creation of my dad's active imagination. I knew dad had smoked weed when he was young. Figured it might have short-wired something. Well, anyway, That Mr. Birdman wasn't anybody's fool. He knew things that all people need to know. "People decide what they want to know. The Earth teaches you what you need to know," his booming voice echoed deep into the forest where the cypress limbs busted it up so bad that it sounded like birdsong. From deep in the swamp, somewhere beyond Robin Creek, came a roaring/growl that sounded half human and half ape. I was more than half ready to haul butt up out of there.
When I turned my attention away from our Mr. Birdman to investigate this new visitor, I heard a great flutter from above. Shadows reminiscent of those old ceiling fans in that place where Durdens first cut hair in Emanuel County slashed across my peripheral. Quickly turning my head toward my guest to assess this new threat, I saw that he had vamoosed. I can't describe the cold grasp of loss and heartache clutching my soul. The cold, creepy hand of fear and doubt stretched out before me, or that is to say. Nobody was reaching out as far as the yearning in my soul could detect. Loss has destroyed me twice, only to bring me back an even stronger person.
Its lure was more potent than ever, but so was my resolve.
This wasn't the entire reason for my despair. I had an overwhelming desire to simply walk off into that swamp where a man might live forever. There was much more to it than this old fellow walking away. When he left, a part of me went with him. I am ashamed to admit that I did, in fact, walk into that swamp with the intention of not coming out. Thank you, God, for allowing that Big Foot Sum Beach to roar that last time. I was in bed at my house in twenty minutes.
Before I left, though, something caught my attention on the ground where Mr. B had stood. It was a curled-up piece of paper. That's when that evil growl administered a triple shot of adrenaline. As I said, I was home in record time and in bed, but I remembered that piece of paper. I tried to forget about it and go to sleep, but when I got something in my head, it grates on me.
Ten minutes later, I dug into the dirty clothes. Insulting my hearing-impaired wife (under my breath) for putting her dirty clothes with mine. 'Bingo!' I hit pay dirt on the second pair of dirty Levis. As I suspected, the tightly wound wad of paper had a message written upon it. In what looked like bird-scratch, a note was written. 'The answer to your question, the one you forgot to ask.' "Your work is not done here. His (your son's)work was completed. You should know that his work is done because His work was finished. His Son sits beside the throne, be comforted for your Son has set his eyes upon the path that so many neglected.'
Some may have realized this story was a continuation of one of my favorite stories. There, however, is a slight twist. Somewhere I became a character in my own story, and with that, I also brought you into it. I don't know if that occurred by happenstance or if something besides my feeble mind guided my fingers to type. I know that I have left the door open by including you in my story. What character were you? The main character, of course, my readers.
If you read any story in which you are not immediately aware of your part, you may be reading someone else's story.
We should hear from Mr. Birdman again. Only if I hear from his fans. Maybe even a reprint of the original story?