Volume 4 Number 3


Summer 2006

The Fallen Safat

by Sophie Playle

The Safat live in the sky. Unlike any other bird, they never set foot on land and never rest -- their whole lives are spent soaring above the clouds, riding high thermals and feasting on stars. Every year, the females lay their eggs while still in flight and, as the eggs plummet towards the earth, they hatch and the tiny birds dart into the air before the shells smash to pieces on the ground.

One year, however, a little Safat did not manage to break free from his shell and landed painfully against the crashing ocean. There, his shell shattered open and he was thrown into the waves, which twisted and broke his tiny wings as he screeched for help.

For three days and three nights he was tossed upon the reckless waves before he was washed exhaustedly to shore. His soft, white feathers were tattered and salt-encrusted; his pitiful wings dragged limply by his side. Crawling beneath the shelter of a rock, he looked up at the sky and the distant shimmering of bright feathers reflecting the sun as the birds glided blissfully into the heavens, and he cried himself to restless sleep.

When the little Safat awoke, he awoke with an idea: he would climb to the sky. Directly, the bird set off, his limp wings dragging behind him, upwards and into the mountains. As he climbed, many animals with jaws of jagged teeth slinked past him with curious eyes, but strangely nothing ever ventured close to the weak, unarmed creature. His tiny stomach burned with hunger; he could not reach the sky to gorge on burning stars. Nevertheless, he ventured on.

Soon, the trees were becoming dense and leafless and the little Safat found his forked feet sinking into numbing, white snow. He shivered and shook as he willed himself forward in the lifeless land, in spite of the ice freezing between his feathers; the only thing remaining unfrozen was his fast-beating heart -- until a nearby scream froze him in his tracks.

Turning fearfully, the Safat saw a huge dog devouring the bowels of a wriggling human. Catching sight of the trespassing bird, the dog barked and galloped towards him, blood and saliva dripping from its fang-filled mouth.

The Safat's eyes bulged in horror as he pitifully tried to flap his frozen, broken wings in a desperate attempt to escape. Moments before the beast was upon him, it seemed to melt before his eyes, dripping upwards as it shifted into a figure as tall as the barren trees. The Safat blinked dumbly in shock at the Wendigo, a giant monster of ice and mud, before him.

The Wendigo stopped short of the infant Safat and cocked the upper part of its mass -- which could only be considered the head -- on its side, tilting the dead branches entangled through its body like great antlers. Then slowly, it gargled and creaked as it stooped down upon the innocent Safat, widening a gaping hole in its shifting flesh lined with rows of uneven teeth, and swallowed it whole.

Screaming deafly in the drowning medium of the Wendigo's flesh, the terrified Safat fell past bubbles of blood and tangles of meat, until it fell all the way out of the Wendigo's back and into the freezing snow.

The confused Wendigo pivoted silently and with uncanny speed to face the troublesome snack. Lying crumpled in a tangled mass of mud, ice, and blood, the Safat looked up wide-eyed at the faceless monster. But swiftly the Wendigo swallowed the Safat whole once more, and once more the Safat fell right through the creature.

Frustrated and puzzled, the Wendigo contemplated this, towering above the tiny bird like a shadow of impending death. After several unmoving moments, it began to snow -- but the Safat was now too cold to shiver and didn't dare breathe as the Wendigo peered eyelessly down on it.

Finally, the mass of the Wendigo shifted and a sharp crack came from within it, like the breaking of a stone heart. The Wendigo deflated down into a merciful bow, its antlers reaching the snow just before the Safat. Though relieved, the Safat dared not move. Then a sighing, strangely human moan resonated from the pit of the Wendigo, as though expressing its calm submission.

Cautiously, the little Safat stepped up onto the offered antlers. No sooner had his clawed feet left the harsh snow than the Wendigo had risen up to its ten-foot height and was sliding so speedily uphill through the trees that the broken Safat was nearly knocked backwards by the rush of air.

In almost no time, they had reached the top of the mountain where the Wendigo stopped as abruptly as it had started. The ice within it grinding as it stooped, the Wendigo let the Safat hop from its perch before drifting silently away down into the deep woods, alone.

The Safat looked about itself. It had finally reached the sky. The air was thin and fitted comfortably in his fluttering lungs; he looked down at the clouds for the first time, at the great altitude he had finally reached. But the blue sky shined with a splendour he could not quite reach, and when night fell slowly about him, the stars twinkled in painful temptation. And all the while, the sky was void of movement: his family was not here, and for the first time he realised he was truly alone.

Turning in defeat, the Safat was greeted with the silent, unmoving figure of the Wendigo. It had returned to watch the powerless bird with the cursed life; the tiny creature who had survived the mighty force of the ocean, a life of continual famine, all the predators of the woodland, the freezing cold, and the wrath of the Wendigo itself. And now, the Wendigo watched as the Safat survived the breaking of its heart.

Gliding noiselessly toward the little creature, the Wendigo stooped once more, expectantly, before it. The Safat stepped onto the antlers with a heavy, melancholy grateful heart.

The strangest sight of all is not the ever-flying Safats in the skies, nor is it the wood-spirit Wendigo hunting its prey -- it is a fallen Safat perched on the antlers of a merciful Wendigo, haunting the woods in unison.


Bio: Sophie Playle is a student living in the South East of England. She has just completed her A-Level qualifications and will be attending the University of East Anglia to study English Literature with Creative Writing next year. An ambitious novice writer, she has so far had works published in UK horror magazine Thirteen and US magazine Night to Dawn.