This story is by Jun Tsang and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Crows were cawing. Dogs were howling. Inside a wooden aviary, Kasumi, a northern goshawk, was pecking a defrosted and half-rotten Japanese quail on the floor.
“Why don’t you leave?”
Hearing the voice, Kasumi turned around. In front of the open door, a sparrow glared at her and said, “You know you can leave and you have to leave, don’t you?”
“I don’t want to.”
“You have to!”
Kasumi hopped forward, fixing her orange eyes on the sparrow. “You know what? I always wonder what you taste like.”
“What do you mean?” The sparrow gulped, still glaring at Kasumi.
“You know what I mean, Nagi.”
The sparrow froze. Kasumi stared at Nagi, stretching her broad wings. Nagi immediately flew up and shouted, “What are you doing?”
“Leave me alone.” Kasumi turned around, flew up and rested on a wood perch.
“The earthquake will knock down this place and you’ll die!” Nagi cried.
“Get out of here!”
After a short silence, Kasumi heard the flapping of wings. She tilted her head back. Nagi had already flown away through the open door.
Drops of moisture drifted down and hit the top of Kasumi’s head. She raised her head and looked through the nylon net. The sky was tar-black. There was no moon or stars to light up anything. A freezing wind swept past her, but she just clenched around the perch, staring at the darkness.
Even if she left, she would still die someday.
The cawing and howling voices didn’t fade away. Until the golden rays of light lit her face, Kasumi hadn’t realized that she stayed awake all night.
The air was filled with a pungent smell. She glanced around the aviary. Several leftover Japanese quails and rats in the corner were soaked with rainwater. She sighed, flew down and drank from a water dish.
She knew no one would bring any food for her anymore. She knew what was going to happen in the next couple of days. She also knew what she would be if she kept staying here.
A loud swoosh of flapping wings broke into her thoughts. Kasumi turned to glare at the Eurasian black vulture which was pecking the leftovers.
“Why are you here,” Kasumi asked, “and eating my food?”
“I don’t think you can still eat them.” Yuka tore one of the rotting Japanese quails apart and pecked. “Um, not bad.”
Yuka raised her head, narrowing her eyes. “Oh, someone is heartbroken.”
“I didn’t say someone is you.” Yuka continued to peck at the quail.
Kasumi flew up and rested on a perch. “You better leave right now.”
“Then why don’t you leave?”
Kasumi lapsed into silence, staring into space. Someone suddenly came across her mind. She lowered her head. “Did Nagi ask you to come?”
“Answer my question.” Yuka started tearing another quail apart.
Kasumi fixed her eyes on the vulture. “So she did ask you to come.”
“If you’re not gonna answer, then I’ll guess.” Yuka stopped pecking as she cocked her head. “You’re scared, aren’t you?”
Kasumi tilted her head to the left, relapsing into silence.
“Hey, are you really a hawk? I’ve never met a hawk like you before. Every hawk likes flying up to the sky and hunting. Why do you prefer staying in this stuffy, cramped cage?”
“‘Cause I’m utterly crap, okay?”
“Don’t listen to what that asshole told you!” Yuka flew up and rested on the perch beside Kasumi, glowering at her. “Why don’t you believe in yourself?”
“Why should I?” Kasumi turned to scowl at Yuka. “I literally don’t know how to hunt.”
“You just haven’t tried!”
“I mean haven’t tried hard enough!” Yuka shouted.
A sudden silence fell over the aviary. Their eyes locked together. A spark burst into flames and began burning in their eyes, but soon the goshawk dropped her stare.
“Stop acting like you know me so well,” Kasumi said, turning around. “I don’t want to fight. Please leave now.”
Kasumi was surprised at the quick response, but then she heard—
“By the way, Nagi hasn’t left yet.”
Kasumi jerked her head back. The vulture had already glided through the sky. Kasumi rushed and flapped her wings. As she reached the entrance, she froze and crashed onto the floor. She gradually picked herself up, but coldness was running through her entire body as her muscles tensed up.
She stared off into space, getting lost in thought.
Since she was born, she had never been a capable hawk. She lost her mom when she was still a baby. Luckily, her master found her and brought her home. She had been lived in this aviary since then. Her master trained her, hoping she could one day become a falcon.
But she could only let him down.
He had left her alone with a bunch of frosted Japanese quails and rats, and left the door wide open. He must have thought she would fly away like other birds, and yet she didn’t.
A soft voice broke into her thoughts. Kasumi quivered, gaping at the sparrow standing in front of her.
“Come with me, please,” Nagi whispered.
Kasumi slightly dropped back. Nagi hopped towards her as she took wing and perched on the highest wooden perch.
“Why are you still here?” Kasumi asked in a deep voice, glaring at Nagi.
Nagi sighed. “I’m not coming to fight with you.”
Kasumi’s eyes narrowed, fixing on the sparrow. “Then you’re coming to be my prey, huh?”
“I won’t fly away this time.”
“Are you looking down on me?” Kasumi fumed.
Nagi raised her head, gazing at Kasumi. “I won’t leave you alone again.”
All of a sudden, Kasumi felt jolted. She clenched the perch, seeing the floor and walls rippling, and hearing the wood cracking. It finally came. She exhaled, gradually closing her eyes.
A loud crack blasted into her ears. The perch started falling. A force dragged her down, ripping her heart out of her chest.
The world blacked out.
Gliding through the sky, she closed her eyes. The wind was carrying her wings, caressing her face. Nothing was going to stop her, or hurt her.
She knew she was born to fly. To fly up to the sky.
But she only wished…
Slowly opening her eyes, Kasumi felt as if everything was spinning around. She blinked a few times, seeing Nagi standing in front of her eyes and staring at her in silence.
Nagi cried, “Why didn’t you fly away?”
Kasumi glanced around and narrowed her eyes. “Are we trapped under the net?” Numerous diamond-shaped holes were surrounding them. Kasumi looked at Nagi, but Nagi only lowered her head.
Kasumi sighed, slightly stretching her wings. “Ow!”
“What’s wrong?” Nagi jerked her head up.
“No-nothing.” Kasumi stood up and used her left wing to lift the net up, stepping forward. “I remember there are a couple of holes. You can get out of here.”
“Are you hurt?”
Kasumi kept looking around. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Why are you shouting at me?” Kasumi turned to glare at Nagi.
“Shh.” Kasumi raised her head, hearing humans yelling in distance, mingling with the caws of crows and the barks of dogs. After a while, the sound of waves smashing reached her ears. Her eyes dilated, meeting Nagi’s widened eyes. “Is it…”
“It is…” Nagi answered feebly.
Kasumi hurried and looked all around. “Ah, there it is! Hurry up!” She pointed at the egg-sized hole on the right side and turned. “Don’t stare at me! Go now!”
“I’m not gonna leave you.”
“Tsunami is coming! You’ll get drowned if you stay.”
“What about you?” Nagi cried.
Kasumi was pulled up short. After a second of silence, she tilted to the right and whispered, “Wish me get reborn as a sparrow.”
Kasumi turned to look at Nagi. “Please, go. I’m begging you.”
Kasumi sighed, tearing her eyes away. “Don’t be so stubborn. I don’t want you to die.”
“I don’t want you to die either!”
Nagi hopped forward. “Kasumi, I love—”
Kasumi stretched her wings to cover Nagi. The sound of waves crashing drowned out Nagi’s last words. Slightly preened by the sparrow, Kasumi closed her eyes.
The entire world blacked out.