We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all beings are created equal, and have a right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of their Happiness.
(The Declaration of Animal Rights, Article 1)
( https://animalrights.org/declaration-of-animal-rights/ )
On a sunny morning in early summer, thirteen-year-old David McAdam turned his electric bicycle onto a bumpy logging road. Too narrow for more than a single vehicle, the rutted track zigzagged up the side of Jana Mountain in a series of switchback turns. In the past, the road had climbed through towering old-growth forest. A desolate clear-cut was all that remained.
The boy was riding towards a protected area, a park, but not through the public entrance off the highway. He wanted to be alone. This logging road led higher up to the backside of the park. There he hoped to enjoy the pristine forest unmarked by trails. Other people would not disturb him there.
The clear-cut looked like a war zone. Few plants grew above knee height. Many of the stumps were massive — silent testimony to the grandeur that was gone. Between them lay crushed undergrowth and the broken stems of saplings. Scattered stands of purple-flowered lupines brightened the devastated area. Green shoots and tendrils showed that nature, though wounded, yet survived.
Despite the devastation around him, David's youth and his joy in his new bicycle buoyed his spirits. He sped up the dirt road towards the green forest that marked the park boundary. For his birthday, earlier that week, his parents had agreed to match his savings, so he could buy the new e-bike he rode. After delivering a lecture on safety, they had given him permission to ride on the roads. He was no longer limited to bike trails. With the pedal-assist motor, he could travel into the mountains that shaped the valley where he lived.
For months, the boy had looked forward to this excursion into the high parkland. He loved feeling he was on the edge of an adventure, poised on the brink of the unknown. Usually he tried to generate this state of excited wonder by immersing himself in books about subjects he did not understand. He read, not with a view to understanding, but to delight in what he called 'the pursuit of ignorance.' He always tried to push himself beyond what he knew and understood.
He had tried to describe it to his mother once. "It's like you're out in space, flying along until you get to the end of the universe. There's nothing beyond that, just an empty blackness. Imagine what it would be like, Mom, standing there at the edge of everything that's known, then diving into the mystery, into that huge unknown."
"It sounds a bit gloomy to me," remarked his mother.
"It's not gloomy. It makes me happy. It's like freedom, Mom, freedom from all the stuff that everybody knows and thinks. It's the big adventure!"
The narrow road hugged the mountain's contours. Hairpin turns prevented him from seeing far ahead, so he heard the revving engine before he saw the red pickup truck speeding around the next bend. A shimmering black cloud enveloped the truck as it hurtled toward him.
David lurched off the road to avoid being struck. As the pickup zoomed past, he caught a glimpse of the driver. Scarlet spots like small wounds marked his fearful face.
The pickup skidded around a twist in the road, and the black cloud swirling around it thinned. David saw a rifle mounted on a gun rack in the truck's rear window. The dark cloud resolved into individual birds, starlings, hundreds of them. They flashed toward him and hovered overhead for a moment as if considering their next move. Then the birds soared into the sky like a single giant creature before descending into the forest.
David wrestled his cycle back onto the road but stood beside it before mounting. The near collision had shocked him, and he was stunned by what he had seen. The starlings had been chasing the pickup. It was hard to believe, but the scene was clear in his memory.
A quarter-hour later, he wheeled his bike into tall trees that marked the border of the park. He chained it to a tree out of sight from the road. The sharp scent of pine filled his nostrils. He listened to the whistles and trills of birds, and the crackling of grasshopper wings.
The purling of a nearby stream attracted him, and he walked toward the sound. When he reached its shaded, mossy banks, he felt he was in the place he had hoped to find.
He had come to the forest seeking a spot where he could be himself, where he could drop all pretenses without fear. He could not go to the edge of the universe, but in the ancient forest, he felt he was at least at the edge of civilization. He began to remove his clothing, folding each item and placing it in his backpack.
He undressed as if performing a ritual, as a way of discarding his public persona. Clothed, he was David Alexander McAdam, son of Pete and Doreen McAdam. When he stood naked and barefoot on the spongy, humus-rich forest floor, he felt he was someone else, his true self.
He shook the waves of black hair that framed his face, and his green eyes flickered beneath his straight black brows. He filled his lungs and felt his penis stiffening as a faint breeze caressed it. It was a good feeling, and within seconds he was erect. He stroked himself, once only. He was more interested in exploring the forest than in indulging himself.
David knelt at the stream's edge and dashed some cold water on his face. Then he waded knee-deep to the other side and wandered deeper into the woods.
On the shadowed underside of a fallen log, an outburst of brilliant orange fungi caught his eye. He bent over, then lay down, so they were at eye level. In the cool shadows, dew drops glistened on the mushrooms' unblemished umbrella-tops.
Several of the mushrooms had rust-colored insects roaming over them. They ignored David as they scurried back and forth performing inscrutable tasks. At first, he tried to understand what they were doing. Then that part of his mind dropped away, and it satisfied him to watch them without seeking rational explanation.
He lay in that state until he became aware of twigs and pine needles pressing into his shoulder. He rolled then onto his back. The play of sunbeams that penetrated the leafy canopy was like a dancing image of the happiness he felt.
One of the rusty insects landed on the tip of his nose and regarded him. David laughed, and the visitor spread his wings and flew away. Like an answer to his laugh came the scolding ch-ch-ch of a gray squirrel. Homing in on the sound, David located the squirrel. They exchanged a long glance before the squirrel raced away into the network of higher branches.
Several minutes later, David felt the subtle sensation of another consciousness nearby. Someone or something was watching him. It didn't feel threatening, yet the sense of someone observing him was disquieting. It made him aware of his nakedness.
David shook his head to clear it of the odd sensation. It didn't disappear completely but remained as a feeling of acceptance. It seemed as though the forest was conscious of him, and it approved of him, welcomed him. He felt like he was arriving at his true home. He saw a brightness through the trees that suggested there was a clearing ahead, and he strolled in that direction.
Suddenly, a burst of musical laughter mixed with the forest sounds. A treble voice cried, "That tickles!" Then the laughter bubbled forth again, starting in a high squeal and warbling down like the song of a bird.
David ducked behind some undergrowth. Then he crept forward, determined to see who else had come to enjoy this forest. He crawled on hands and knees from one shrub to another, ever closer to the clearing. At the edge of the glade, he parted the branches of a huckleberry bush, so he could spy unseen. What he saw astonished him.
Deputy Pete McAdam drummed his fingers on the steering wheel of his cruiser. Traffic was light and speeders so far non-existent. That was alright with him. He was not required to issue a quota of speeding tickets. There was little danger here if drivers went fifteen or twenty miles per hour above the limit. The road was straight and ran through spring-green fields and parcels of woodland on both sides. There were no pedestrians. Scattered farmhouses were generally situated at the ends of long driveways
Most days, the deputy brought a book to pass the time while he lurked behind the billboard on highway patrol, but when he'd left the office, he'd forgotten the spy novel he was reading. He liked and admired the book's laconic, all-man action-hero.
His mind drifted into a meditation that was as persistent as it was unwelcome. His life seemed flat. He wasn't unhappy or depressed, but he worried that at age forty, he hadn't lived up to his own ambitions. He'd dreamed of an existence rich with adventure and satisfaction, yet he was sometimes bored with his life. He was fit, except for a growing beer belly, but he looked okay if he pulled his gut in. His eyesight and hearing were as sharp as when he was a kid.
He had a good home — the house was nearly paid for. He got along well with his wife, Doreen, but he had misgivings about their boy, David. The kid wasn't bad, but he was weird — 'sensitive' was how Doreen described him. That was a nice way of saying David was a sob-sister. He was always on the verge of getting worked-up over some insect, or mouse, or other vermin.
Even other kids must have thought David was weird. He didn't seem to have any friends, at least none that ever came over to the house. When the boy was small, his weirdness was easier to ignore because he was a cute kid. Now that he was growing up, it was irritating.
Pete recalled taking the boy fishing when he was eight years old. He had been happy when he planned the excursion, and he looked forward to a classic father-son bonding experience. He rowed them out to the middle of a local lake. Then he demonstrated how to bait a fish hook with a wriggling worm. The demonstration horrified David. When the pierced worm continued to writhe in pain, the boy burst into tears and begged to go home.
Pete had ignored the boy's tearful protests while he baited the other hook. He looked on it as a teachable moment and remarked that David needed to learn life was hard. Pete had insisted they fish for a while, so the boy could see the point of putting the worm on the hook.
Pete wanted his son to appreciate the fishing tackle he had bought for him, especially for this trip. When Pete was a boy, he had yearned for such classy fishing gear, but David handled the new rod and reel with obvious distaste.
They fished without speaking for a half-hour, and the boy's sobs lessened. Then Pete got a bite, gave his rod a jerk to set the hook, and reeled in a struggling three-pound trout. The fish thrashed in distress on the floor of the boat. David burst into tears again and implored him to unhook the fish and put it back in the water. Pete had explained that they were going to take it home and eat it.
"But he's hurting!" the boy had cried. "He's hurting so bad!" He knelt on the floor of the boat, grabbed the fish and attempted to remove the hook. Pete pulled the slippery fish out of the boy's hands and pushed him away.
David thumped onto the deck, then got up and jumped into the lake. He tried to swim for shore. David was good swimmer, but Pete dragged him back into the boat. Angry at how everything was being ruined, Pete had insisted they sit beside each other and watch the trout die. He hit the fish several times with an oar, but it still took a long time to die. It flung itself around in death agonies as it suffocated.
When the fish had stopped bouncing up and down, Pete picked it up and said, "See, it's dead now. We'll take it home and clean it and get your mom to cook it for supper. Mmm good!"
David had sat in sullen silence for a long minute. Then he fixed his eyes on Pete, and said, "That's a bad thing you did."
"Well," Pete said, "you'll learn. There's some things we have to do to survive. Get used to it. It's part of life."
"I'll never do that," said the boy. "and I won't ever get used to it. It's bad and wrong, and I wanna go home."
It would have been so much more fun to have a son who liked to go out into nature and hunt and fish. He wanted a son who would learn to accept or ignore the sufferings of animals, or even to laugh about them with his dad. Instead, fate had saddled Pete with this weird worry-wart.
Things were never the same between them after the fishing trip. Doreen said he should apologize to David. Pete couldn't imagine apologizing for catching a three-pound trout. That would be crazy. So he had a fight with Doreen too. They had patched it up, but afterwards there was always something unsaid between them.
David had always been difficult at mealtimes, a picky eater. But after the fishing incident, he began to ask about the food they were eating, where it came from. One night at the supper table, he announced that he was no longer going to eat anything that came from an animal — no meat, chicken, eggs, fish or dairy products.
Doreen, as usual, was ready to let the boy have his way, though she worried about him getting enough protein, but Pete felt insulted by the boy's rejection of their normal food. He had responded, "You should eat what we eat as long as you're living under my roof."
Pete had told Doreen not to bother with any special dishes. "Just cook like normal and put it on the table, meat and potatoes and a salad or some vegetables. Do like you been doing since we got married. You're a great cook. Or we can get pizza or KFC. If he eats like that he'll grow up fine and maybe forget these dumb ideas. If he doesn't want to eat like us, it's his look-out. I don't know where he gets this crazy stuff from."
Recalling those events, Pete saw himself as a petty tyrant. He shied away from that thought. Nobody obeyed him, so clearly he wasn't a tyrant. Doreen made two suppers every night, one for the kid and one for them. He noticed that she often ate what she had cooked for David instead of what she had prepared for Pete.
Only last week, the kid had found a spider in his bedroom. Any normal boy would have squashed it and thought no more about it, but David had captured it in a glass jar, so he could take it outside the house and release it.
When David came back into the house carrying the empty jar, Pete had remarked, "Yeah, great! I bet you killed about forty ants tramping around in the yard to let that spider go."
He hadn't expected an answer. In the past, the kid had let jibes like that go unacknowledged. This time, David had looked up with a thoughtful expression. But when he spoke, it was like he was talking to himself.
"Yeah," he said, as he left the kitchen. "I'll have to think about that."
An hour later, David came down from his room and said, "What's important is the intention. I didn't intend to kill any ants. If I did, it was accidental."
Pete snorted. "Tell it to those poor dead ants and their wives, who are crying their little ant-eyes out."
"Ants don't have wives," said David.
"Yeah?" said Pete. "Well, they don't have tofu either, do they?"
The kid had no answer to that one.
It all seemed unfair. It wasn't right that he should have a kid who disagreed with him about everything. He and David didn't argue much anymore, but they had drifted apart. They looked at each other like strangers.
Pete missed doing things together with his son. He didn't believe it was his fault, but he wished he could think of how to make it better. It would be easier if the boy wasn't so stubborn. David had grown secretive and distant. He was defensive about ideas Pete dismissed as kooky.
A red pickup streaked past, thirty-six miles per hour above the speed limit. The deputy turned on the flashers and burped the siren as he accelerated in pursuit. The pickup slowed and parked on the shoulder.
Pete ran a quick check on the plates but found no outstanding warrants or unpaid tickets. He grabbed the citation pad and strolled to the driver's window. A beardless teenager sat there with an intense expression on his face. There were small wounds on his head and hands. The blood had dried on most.
"What happened to you?" asked the deputy. "You look like you fell on your face into a blackberry patch."
"You wouldn't believe me." The boy's voice shook.
"Well, try me. It's gonna take me a few minutes to fill out this citation. Lemme see your license, registration and insurance, please, then get on with your story. And while you're at it, you can tell me why you don't clean your windshield more often. It looks like you parked under a chicken-house."
"It was birds," the driver said.
Pete scanned his documents.
"They just come outta nowhere and attacked me, up on Jana Mountain."
"Birds attacked you?" Pete spoke in a neutral tone as he handed the documents back. "That's a pretty strange story, for sure. You been smoking something?"
"No, I wasn't smokin' nothin'. I'm just tellin' you what happened."
"No need to get riled up. You're one of the Jameson brothers, aren't you?"
Townsfolk knew the two older Jameson boys, twins Ricky and Nicky, as rowdies. They drank too much on weekends and were loud and obnoxious, but nothing violent or criminal. The deputy had had a few run-ins with them in the past, but he figured they were okay, just young guys with more energy than sense.
"You the youngest brother?" asked Pete.
"No, there's my little brother, River. He's about twelve."
"Okay, so tell me about the birds."
"I was up Jana Mountain, just mindin' my own business, when suddenly a whole goddam flock of birds attacked me. So, I jumped in the truck and took off, but they followed me down the mountain too, pecking at the windows and shitting on the windshield. Hundreds of 'em, black birds, sort of shiny. Crazy!"
"Crows?" Pete tried to visualize what the boy described.
"No, smaller, maybe the same size as a robin, but there was hundreds of 'em. That's why I was driving so fast, to get away. It was self-defense. They'd like to kill me if I'd stayed there! I never saw anything like it."
"Maybe blackbirds, or starlings," mused the deputy. "But they don't usually flock till September, October." He glanced at the 30-06 rifle racked against the back window. Another smaller rifle rested on the floor of the cab with the barrel leaning against the seat. "What were you doing up there anyway? It's not hunting season, and they've finished logging up there."
"I wasn't hunting. I just went up there to do some target practice." He gestured at the smaller gun. "I bought that little .22 last week, and I wanted to try it out."
"All you were doing was target practice?"
"That gun loaded?" asked the deputy, pointing at the .22.
"Why don't you unload it and rack it with the other one? It's dangerous to have a loaded gun like that loose in the cab with you."
The young man did as the deputy had suggested. Then he looked up. "You know, I don't think I should get a ticket for self-defense. That's why I was goin' so fast. I mean, what was I supposed to do? Just hang around and get pecked to death?"
"You can try that on with the judge. It won't wash with me. I didn't see any birds chasing you when you zoomed past me at a hundred miles an hour." Pete completed writing the speeding ticket. He handed it through the window.
"I clocked you at thirty-six miles an hour above the posted limit. I could ticket you for that dirty windshield too, but it seems to me you already had enough trouble for one day. Get out and clean that crap off your window. Then get those peck marks tended to by a medic. They don't look serious, but there's a lot of them. If they get infected, you'll wish you'd been more sensible. Okay?"
"Okay," said the young man.
What David saw through the branches of the huckleberry bush was a naked boy lying spread-eagled in the sun, a naked boy the same age and size as himself. Long, tangled hair so blonde it was almost white framed a tanned, laughing face. A mule deer fawn straddled the boy's torso. The young deer was no more than a few days old. The spots on his coat glistened like new-minted coins. The fawn bent his head over the boy's shoulder. He bumped and licked the boy's armpit, making him chuckle and squeal. Through peals of laughter, the boy shouted, "Enough!"
The fawn nudged the boy's cheek with his nose, then bounded away to join a doe at the edge of the clearing. She nuzzled the fawn, and they sauntered into the forest. The boy lay without speaking and glanced down at a gray squirrel who stood at his elbow. He reached over and stroked the squirrel's head and back. The bushy tail oscillated, and the squirrel trembled, enjoying the attention. The boy's hand caressed him. The squirrel lifted his head and pushed up against the boy's fingers, emitting a low churring, akin to a cat's purr.
David watched, mesmerized. The boy sat up and turned his head, so that he was looking at the bush where David was hiding. Then he looked down and gave the squirrel a little pat. "Thank you, Chirko," he said. "I'm happy he's here. Do you think he's going to come out?"
As the boy finished speaking, a starling landed on his shoulder. He reached a hand up to preen the bird's back feathers. The starling moved over and pressed his head against the boy's cheek. With his eyebrows raised, the boy gazed at the huckleberry bush that concealed David. The starling turned his head in that direction, and the squirrel paused in his departure and looked there also.
Except for the frantic beating of his heart, fear had paralyzed David. He knew they had discovered him. Again he sensed that other presence in his mind. What was happening? He felt shaky and afraid, and skittered away behind a tree. Then he stood and ran to where he had crossed the stream. He splashed to the other side, grabbed his pack, and sprinted to his bike. He stopped there to scramble into his clothes and shoes before continuing his flight.
While he wheeled down the road with the bicycle's pedal-assist on high, a flock of starlings dropped from the sky. They didn't dive-bomb him like they had done with the red pickup; they accompanied him like an escort. He didn't feel threatened by them. They chirped and trilled as they flew, so close he could have reached out and touched them. Then they sped ahead of him, swooped up over the road in a compact mass, and headed back to the forest.
When David reached the junction of the logging road with the highway, he dismounted and sat on the grassy shoulder. He still felt nervous but found the sound of cars whizzing past oddly comforting. He pondered his panicked escape. A half hour passed before he got on his bike and pointed it toward his family's house on the outskirts of town.
High in the sky, a single crow traced David's route home. While the boy garaged his e-bike, the crow roosted in a tree near his house. Shortly afterwards, David was visible for an instant through an open upper-floor window. The crow unfolded his glossy wings and launched himself towards Jana Mountain.
Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]
* Some browsers may require a right click instead