Go to the oracle, that's what they said. The boy didn't know why. They'd all been sick for so very long, all coughing and falling over themselves. Except for the boy, he had stayed strong.
Only a boy left standing, left to walk alone on a dirt road.
He'd seen the road as a kid, always told it was too dangerous to go all by yourself down the path. He knew there was a thick wood at first, but what he heard said that was only the start.
Deserts, miles of glass, dark caves. It was all he ever knew about the world behind that road, behind that wall, behind that gate.
The gate lay there open, not a threat to him anymore than a baby bee. He plodded on through, a stick in hand and a pair of shoes – that was all he had to himself.
The pair of pants was his dad's, the band around his a neck was his mother's, and the little pebble was his baby sister's.
He could feel the band at his throat, tugging at his skin like it was scared. The pants sagged, weary before the journey had even started. The pebble though, the pebble felt good in the boy's hand. It was soft like an egg, but also just as hard as the shell.
The road spread out in front of the boy as he left the gate behind him. It seemed to just stretch on into the hot white light of the sun. But that way wasn't the way they had pointed. The boy turned the other way down the road, and it was black as a pupil.
The white of the sun seemed to be kept out of the wood, like it had been banished. It was like a giant eyeball staring at the boy, daring him to go an inch further.
The boy could feel the band getting tighter, and started walking down the path.
He kept his eyes forward as the black came all around him, swimming about in the stillness of the wood. He could feel it glaring at him from every tree branch, every grass blade, every bush.
All he did was walk and keep on thumbing that stone. The stone got harder the further he went, like it was getting colder.
The boy didn't know why they'd all gotten so sick. Maybe it was the water? Some had asked.
The boy reached a cliff face, below him fell water. He looked at the big waterfall and it sprayed a splash of water near him. But the water looked wrong – it didn't show a reflection, it just showed emptiness, like a bowl without food.
The boy poked the water with his stick, and the water seemed to move like real water. But the blackness, the fakeness of it all, it got to him. Just as he was about to pull his rod of water out, it froze in place. He gave it a tug, it still wouldn't budge. Then he saw it – the water was creeping up the wood.
He gets an idea, breaks off the wood that doesn't have the black on it. The rest of the stick comes clean, and the black falls into the water. It's then he sees that the wood that was left is now just water too.
The boy kept moving along the cliffs, making sure to not fall into the not-river below. He could see part of the road up along the other side – he'd need to cross it sooner or later.
As the boy keeps on walking, he sees something else on the other cliffside – it's a person. They don't look right, they look fake like the water. They're black as night but pale as ivory all at once. They don't seem to find the boy very interesting at first, and he's glad for that.
As he reaches a log that hangs over the river, he notices the water is getting higher. Someone built a dam up at the top of the waterfall and it's starting to crack. Funny, how he didn't remember there being one before.
He starts his way across, not touching any part of the wood that's black. He can feel the water rushing underneath, slowly edging up higher like a squirrel trying to get a nut. It almost didn't sound like water, more like teeth. Teeth chattering across the riverbed, hungry for their next meal.
As the log across rocks the boy freezes, his one shoe going into black. As soon as the log stops moving he rips his foot out of his shoe, doesn't stick around to watch it get eaten up like the stick. His other shoe gets stuck, he kicks it away and jumps the last part. He doesn't get to see if he lands, because he hit the rocks hard.
His eyes open slowly, his lip burning from a cut. That wasn't the first cut he got or the last. He picked himself up and found his stick sitting nice against a rock.
Why didn't you do something? he yells at the stick. Why didn't you wake me up?
He thinks about throwing the pebble at the stick, but he figures it isn't worth it. He picks the stick up, smacking it against a funny looking rock. Then he starts his way back up the other side.
Maybe it had been the dirt? Gone too dry, they had said.
When he made it up the other side, he could see the person from before. They were on the other side now, just like before. They were watching him now, and he could see them standing close to the edge. He walked up to his edge, looking right back at them.
They stare at each other for a while, maybe trying to figure out who the other person is. The boy can only see a little of the other person's face. Black eyes... and a white face too big for a man or a woman. Maybe it was neither.
The boy got bored and started walking away, he didn't check to see if the other person did so as well. He didn't really care.
He kept on walking through the woods, not a sound but his own feet against the ground beneath them. It starts feeling darker than before – maybe it was finally becoming night.
As the boy kept walking, he could still feel those eyes watching. But then with one glance behind him, they all vanish. That person from before is walking not too far behind him. That person's got a face like a mask his dad had had – big white beak like a bird where a person's mouth was supposed to be. The rest of the man was black, from his eyes to his hair to his suit.
What do we have here? he said as the boy looked up at him. The boy kept his head up and his eyes straight, but not at those black hole eyeballs. He was afraid if he stared at those too long, he'd fall right into them.
Do you have a name? the Birdman asks.
The boy doesn't answer, he doesn't understand the Birdman. He turned and quickly began walking away from the Birdman. As he made a glance back at the Birdman, two things happened.
You're a long way from home, aren't you? the Birdman said.
And then the ground gave way beneath the boy, sending him falling. The band got tighter.
The boy kept falling for a while, it seemed like it just wasn't going to stop. He could feel a root now and then brush his pants, that was all he had to show that he was still even in the world.
Soon enough, he stopped feeling even the roots, he couldn't feel anything. He'd stretch out a hand, but nothing was there. All he knew was that he was still going down. Down, down, down...
The boy heard a noise like a hailstorm. Suddenly little bits of light flew past, dancing around in a trail across the black. The boy tried to grab the first one as it came near but it flew away. He waited for the next one and grabbed on tight.
It twisted and twirled, not happy about its passenger. It went towards a bright light ahead, blinding white like the sun rising.
As the little light flew out into the circle, the little light ceased to exist. The boy fell into the light, landing hard against a sand dune. He coughed out some sand that went in his mouth, and then picked himself up.
He could see so much sand ahead, it was a desert just like they said.
Maybe it's not the dirt. Maybe it's not the water. Maybe it's something we've forgotten? they had said before.
The boy had to fight to stand up. The sand seemed to fall apart at his touch, breaking onto landslide after landslide.
The dunes never shifted on their own – there wasn't a single breeze to make them move. They seemed untouched since the beginning of time, but the boy didn't pay mind to that.
The boy could feel the pants were loading with sand, barely holding on. The band around his neck felt tighter than ever, and the pebble felt as hard as a gem now.
The stick seemed to steady the sand wherever the boy stuck it. As the day dragged on, the boy could feel the heat sweltering over his skin. The dunes didn't seem to have an end.
Was this where the boy's tale would end?
No, no this isn't where your story ends, a voice said from behind.
The boy turned, and could see a stark shadow amongst the white sand. It was hard to see who it was, they were standing in the sun.
But they held out a hand, and that was all that mattered. The boy grabbed their hand and they pulled him along. The boy fell against the sand, unable to move, his eyes going up to the sky. He didn't yell, he couldn't, he was comatose in all but the mind.
The sand rushed over his head as the hand pulled him under the dunes, dragging him further and further down. The light stopped reflecting through the grains, and soon it was black as night again. The boy felt his eyes shutting, like all the sand was pressing just on his eyelids. And then the boy had a dream.
The boy was hanging in still, unmoving water. He could feel it around the edge of his face, barely registering him floating within its gaping void. He blinked, wondering if maybe this was heaven – maybe he'd shown up early.
Then his head hit something hard, and he twisted around to see what he'd hit. It was a small island.
The boy climbed up, glancing wearily about at the small speck of land. You could have barely fit shack on it, it was so small. But still, there was a tree growing in the center.
And on the tree, was the Birdman, hanging upside down with his legs all curled around the single big branch.
Much to do, the Birdman coos, twitching his had back and forth at the boy.
The boy backs up, tries to throw his pebble when he realizes it's gone. His stick's gone too. He's still got the band though, but it's loose and barely holding on.
He grabs a broken tree branch and holds it up like a sword. He tries to look scary, bears his teeth like a threat. The Birdman doesn't seem to care, just twitching his head at the boy.
Don't look up, you'll drown in all the sand, the Birdman said, jumping out of the tree and grabbing the boy's hand.
And then the boy woke up. He was standing in a field of grass, still covered in sand. He turned his head, but no matter where he looked all he saw was grass.
He took a step forward, but then cried when his foot landed. The grass was made of shards of glass. The boy picks his foot back up, the scratch isn't too deep to get worried. But how is he supposed to find a way?
The boy finds the pebble in his pocket, takes the band from his neck, ties them together. Then he ties them around the cut foot. Then he starts stomping, breaking all the grass glass around him. He keeps on crushing, making the path clear. He starts moving, slowly but surely, towards the sun. Maybe he'll make it back to the road, maybe he'll make it away from these shards of glass.
Or maybe he's just too tired to keep going. He makes it a good hundred feet when he's all but a pile of rusty bones. His eyes are getting funny, he can't feel his feet anymore. He has to fight from falling, it'll be a fast end at that. He has to keep on crushing the glass.
Stomp! He swears he can hear someone crying.
Stomp! He knows he just heard someone yell.
Stomp! He feels something grabbing his ankle.
Sto- he holds his foot back. There's something in the grass.
The boy bent down, and he could see little people, more like ants than men, waving their hands at him. He looks behind him, and he can see piles of them, lyin' broken and shattered. They're made of glass too, and they weren't trying to do him any harm.
The boy looks back at the ones waving and yelling and at the one's lying behind him. He looks at the never ending field of grass, and he's got to ask himself.
Is it worth it? Is it worth getting out of here alive?
He stops and thinks, the blood coming all up to his head. He can feel the strap his leg is looser, he's been stomping on it so hard it's starting to show a thread or two.
He can hardly feel the pebble though, it's like silk to the cut, keeping it from bleeding out. The boy looks back and forth one more time, then all he can muster before the next stomp is, sorry...
The little people started running like hell was approaching. The few that stayed either got passed by or crushed. The boy just kept stomping, moving on without a glance at the ground.
Sometimes he'd feel a jab or a tug at his ankle – probably some of them trying to fight back. He didn't give a mind, he just shook and they'd fall off like dust.
Eventually the boy could see something in the distance, something black and big. Like a giant... eye.. ball...
And, and road.... a road that went right into it...
The boy keeps walking, not understanding what's happening. Then he sees the Birdman, walking out of the black, but the Birdman is brighter now, his suit's grayed.
The boy stops at a familiar gate, looking at it nervously.
The Birdman stood next to the boy, his eyes seeming to gaze without moving.
But why? the boy asked, turning to meet the Birdman's gaze.
Because this is where you're meant to stay. This is where you're always supposed to be. Because you've been running to meet yourself. Why do you think you lived? You're the Oracle, boy, and just because you ran away from home doesn't change much. Except, they can't even use your help now, the Birdman said, gesturing to the gate.
But why? the boy asked again.
Because that's how it was always meant to be. No matter how you did it. Go left, go right, go up, go down, you always come back here. This is where you stay, and where you live, and where you die. And now you will, alone, the Birdman said.
But why! The boy yelled, grabbing the Birdman's tie and bringing him down to the ground.
Why ask anymore of a bird? You really are mad, just like they said, the Bird said, flying out of the boy's hands.
The boy looked at his weathered old hands, his torn old clothes. He looked at a puddle as the rain fell, and saw that really, he was quite an old man.