“Mama, where did I come from?” the little boy asked, his large dark eyes fixed on his mother’s face. She smiled and ruffled his golden brown curls, brushing them back from his forehead.
“From Heaven, of course,” she said lightly, smiling at the earnest expression on the rounded face upturned to hers.
“How did I get here, then?” he asked, his little brow furrowed with thought.
“Why, the angels brought you, dear,” she said, her smile growing thoughtful.
“How do you KNOW they were angels, Mama?” the child asked, his voice drifting and muffled against the crisp white sheet. His eyes were already closing, the long dark lashes fringing his cheek.
“Because I heard their wings,” she said softly. Settling herself on the low stool next to the bed, she began his favorite story.
Once upon a time in the high and misty redwood forest, there lived a husband and wife who kept three dear little parrots. The winged-trio of Linus, Pippin and Gaugy were nightly called to the far reaches of the starry realms, during the dark-time hours whilst Grace and Don slept.
They journeyed there in a large wooden vessel, the very image of a large wooden shoe. Fitted with a mast, sail and rudder, the railings of the sailing-machine had the expected nibbles and chunks artfully nicked out of its wooden sides. There, they gathered the stardust in nets woven from gold and silver threads, the glittering stuff sifting through the mesh and drifting to earth as they traveled, bringing sweet dreams to the people sleeping below. The Milky Way was the sea they sailed, avoiding the Major Constellations and dodging the occasional shooting star.
The Celestial Starshooters, as they called themselves boldly, were as different in personality as they were in appearance. Linus, an African Grey parrot, was the thinker, brains and master-mind of the bunch. Easily reading the star maps, he was their guide as they went about their nocturnal duties. Pippin, a dapper and handsome Aru/RS Eclectus, created a nightly ‘mission’, making the simple work of fishermen into a dazzling adventure that kept them entertained all night long. Last but not least - Gaugy, a hulking, strong and forceful Aruensis, cast the nets far afield and drew them, heavy with their burden of comets and stardust, back to the stern of the ship. This combination of features harmonized well, enabling them to make their evening journeys with safety, swiftness and accuracy.
One crisp and chilly night in late December, the trio was going about their nightly labors when Gaugy felt a tug and a curious movement in the nets he had just cast. He signaled the others, as Linus steered the ship to the quieter shallows, while Pippin hurried to add his strength to Gaugy’s, pulling in the laden and moving golden net.
Upon drawing it up to the side of the ship, the three were astonished to see Aquila, the Eagle, clutching in his talons a snowy white bundle. His right wing drooped at an awkward angle, pinioned by a shining arrow made of stars.
“Help me!” he gasped, as the three helped him over the side. His huge glittering bulk dwarfed their tiny craft. He stood awkwardly on the bow, one foot held to his breast, the long feathers shielding what he held.
“What happened?” Captain Linus asked, head atilt and pale eyes full of questions.
“You’re injured,” said Pippin, seeing the sparkling trail, which leaked from the arrow’s source.
Gaugy reached forward with his beak and with a tug, freed the arrow from its target. It crumbled to stardust in his beak, dissipating on the celestial winds. “Orion,” the eagle whispered, head drooping low with fatigue. His mighty wings hung low over the bow, trembling perceptibly.
“But why?” asked Pippin, ‘All the constellations work together, the Major and the Minor.” It was unthinkable that one could attack another.
‘To stop me from delivering this,” Aquila said, as his mighty talons moved forward from the massive breast, opening slightly to reveal within the wrappings of white, a tiny sleeping face.
“I thought delivering babies was the Stork’s job,” Gaugy puzzled aloud.
“It IS,” Aquila assured the three, “but with all the deliveries he had to make, there was no way he could be in so many places at once. I offered to help, thinking it an easy enough job, but found my way barred at every turning, until at last the arrow from Orion’s bow sent me tumbling down. Who knows what might have happened, if your nets hadn’t stopped my fall?”
“You won’t be able to complete your mission,” Pippin said, his reddish eyes twinkling with the thought of adventure. ‘WE’LL deliver this baby for you, sir!”
Aquila opened his great beak to protest, but Linus raised his wing and motioned him quiet. “It’s really no problem, sir, with my maps and knowledge of the earth and the heavens, we can easily finish the job for you.”
Gaugy made fast the nets at the stern of the ship, then looked over his shoulder at the mighty Eagle. “Just let anyone TRY to stop us,” he said with finality.
As they swiftly set off for planet Earth with their precious cargo, the three feathered delivery-boys marveled at the exceptional beauty of the glowing, precious treasure they had tucked into their star-ship wooden shoe. Gaugy easily pushed the boat free of the fluffy cloud where they had docked, with a whisk of his powerful wing. Linus unrolled his yellowed and frayed map of the Earth, as he squinted through his dusty spectacles to plot their quickest course across the skies. Dear Pippin, with his beautiful voice and kind nature sat by the baby-child, and gently sang all the lullabies to the tiny traveler that he could remember from his childhood.
Aquila watched them sail away, until they were no more than a tiny speck on the horizon, and then he touched the weeping wound with his beak. With a flash of light, it closed.
“God speed you on your journey,” he rumbled, then unfurled his enormous wings and lifted off into the heavens.
Linus squawked out directions, Gaugy steered the boat and manned the sails while Pippin tended attentively to their tender cargo. Their ship passed smoothly down the River of Crystal Light, gliding along in sparkling silence. When they reached the great and more turbulent and very ominous, grumbling-grey Sea of Dew, they inadvertently took a sharp turn to the left, as a result of bumping into a large, stray starfish.
“Hold everything,” exclaimed Linus nervously, “I think we have been seriously knocked off course!”
Gaugy flew up to the top of the mast to get a better look at their location. “Can’t see a thing from here,” he observed. With the back of a wing he scrubbed the stardust from his eyes, emitted from the collision with the stray starfish.
“Oh, but I’m sure we will all be just fine and back on course in no time,” Pippin optimistically chimed in.
In reality, the starship with its slumbering cargo and the three delivery-parrots had indeed been knocked a long way off course. They were headed for the fierce and unrelenting realm of the Winter Constellations. The parrot-boys had heard numerous frightening stories about the horrors fellow travelers had encountered when they lost their way and ended up in the jaws of the ferocious rulers of the Constellations.
Bumping along furiously, first plunging into a deep wave trough, then riding the crest of a still fiercer wave, almost immediately the parrot-boys met their first obstacle. At the top of the starry wave crest, they were amazed to see a massive assemblage of stars coming toward them in the shape of a raging, pawing bull. It was Taurus, and he was furious at the intrusion. “No one is allowed to pass through my constellation and get out alive!” Taurus bellowed out at the top of his amazing lungs, blowing minor stars clear into the next galaxy with his powerful breath.
Gauguin clung to the mast of the Star Ship for dear life, shouting back ferociously, “Mr. Taurus Bull, I challenge you to a fight.” The others stared at him in amazement, wondering if he had temporarily taken leave of his senses. Gauguin knew he was the strongest bird in the crew, but also that he had a secret advantage.
As the two competitors squared off for the fight for the right to cross the Constellation, Taurus Bull tossed his massive shaggy head and snorted out to Gauguin, “You’re dead meat, you little pip squeak bird!”
To which Gauguin calmly replied in his coolest voice, “Yeah? You wait and see who will win, Mr. Pompous Bag-of-wind.”
They paced off ten minor star lengths and faced one another for the big showdown. As Taurus Bull rumbled toward Gauguin, the brilliant green parrot lifted his wings fully to show the huge red patches of feathers under each wing. God had given Gauguin the equivalent of a red bullfighter’s cape! Mr. Taurus Bull’s eyes filled with red rage, becoming maddened yet confused as he charged the scarlet shape, fluttering so temptingly before him. With his typical swiftness, at the last possible minute, Gauguin pulled his outspread wings up and watched as Taurus Bull rumbled past, fell swiftly off the cloud-bank and tumbled off into the next constellation, disappearing in a sea of stardust.
“Quick, my fellows, let’s get through here before Mr. Taurus Bull recovers and finds his way back.” Gauguin breathlessly shouted, as he shoved the Star-ship shoe back onto its voyage.
They were soon on the way again and all felt quite relieved. They congratulated Gaugy for his battle won, but before they had finished speaking they found, planted firmly in their path, the Gemini twins Castor and Pollux, whose colossal outline was traced delicately by the shape of many scintillating stars. Although they were twins, they seemed to speak as one entity and stood firmly in front of the tiny ship, making it impossible for the birds to pass.
Linus, his pale eyes narrowed with determination, knew it was his turn to come to the rescue. “Ahem,” he cleared his throat and summoned up the deepest voice he could muster, “I just so happen to have my riddle book along with me. Would you gentlemen care to answer a few riddles?” Linus knew the Gemini Twins loved anything involving mental challenge.
Astonished a mere Grey parrot would know anything about riddles, the Twins nodded in unison. Castor rolled his eyes and yawned. Pollux sarcastically replied, “We know the answers to every riddle ever thought up for all eternity.”
Linus cockily removed a bright red tail feather and inscribed the first riddle across the sky in bold strokes. ‘Mountains will crumble and temples will fall, and no man can survive its endless call. What is it?’ Castor immediately exclaimed, “I know the answer to that one!”
As Castor had half the answer out of his mouth, Pollux said, “No, you are all wrong. The answer goes like this…..”
Linus saw the disagreement he had so brilliantly caused was working well. He climbed back into the Star-ship silently as he could, and whispered to Gaugy, “Shove off fast, mate!” The Gemini Twins were in a very heated discussion. It even appeared they were taking the disagreement to physical proportions as the wooden-shoe-crew silently slipped away, enveloped in a dense and dark storm cloud which had conveniently appeared out of nowhere.
Bumping along the universe, the star crew was pretty sure they could make their destination within the next hour or two. The infant was beginning to make tiny baby noises and stir a bit, even with Pip’s fond attention and soft lullabies. And as his expertise did not extend to diapers, speed was of the essence.
As luck would have it, they entered a group of stars that resembled a field of seaweed. The peculiar flickering group of stars seemed to undulate as kelp does when hit by currents. “Oh no!” exclaimed Linus, “the Cancer or Crab Constellation, last of the Winter Constellations, and the toughest to crack, too.”
Sure enough, Cancer the Crab emerged from his seaweed star den and hastily sidled up to the parrot delivery crew. Beady red eyes emerged from his starry brow as he stretched his enormous claws and legs as far as the eye could see, into the next galaxy it appeared.
In a voice almost lower than God’s, he rumbled, “This is MY constellation and you cannot pass this way.” Linus hurriedly checked his old star map again but found no other way to Planet Earth except straight through the Crab Constellation.
Pip was listening to the others discuss the right to pass problem, but took his attention away from his tiny precious charge long enough to offer his help. “I have an idea, mates.” Pippin offered, as he gracefully flew from the star ship toward the menacing claws of danger.
With a flourish Pip reached under his wing, pulled out one of his red feathers and quickly fashioned it into what looked like the outline of a fish. Knowing crabs look for bits of food that resemble a fish, Pip waved the morsel in front of the Crab. Mr. Crab was very smart, but the winter months provided little food among the stars.
Pippin wiggled and waggled the fish-decoy in front of Mr. Crab, taunting him mercilessly. “Come and get it, Mr. Crab. You know how hungry you are.” (Astrologically speaking, Cancer sign rules the stomach.)
All eyes were amazed to see the Crab inch out of his shell-home. In reality, Mr. Crab had a very soft, nebulous inner body, which only lived in a protective shell. Inch by inch the vulnerable inner body came forward, mercilessly tempted by the red feather and extreme hunger. When Cancer Crab had almost reached the decoy feather, Pippin, quick as a wink, flew over to the empty shell and slammed the celestial door shut on the entrance. Of course Mr. Crab panicked, but with the strong wing beats of Pippin on his way back to the Star Ship, the immense Crab’s remains were scattered all over the universe. The little crew of three parrots and their valuable cargo were easily on their way again.
Linus peered through his stardust-streaked spectacles and squinted to get a latitude and longitude bearing. He blinked his beautiful gentle eyes and announced, “Why, all we need to do is take a turn at that next blue-blinking star and the River of Twinkling Light will carry us downstream into the Ether-of-Brilliant-Blue-Earth.”
“But that’s the way to OUR house!’ Pippin said, startled. “Is this baby coming home with us?” Gaugy looked from one face to the other, as the dawning realization that they had no delivery address, not even a name, burst upon them.
They were defeated. In their impatience to be on their way, their desire to taste true adventure, their kindness in wishing to aid a fellow creature, they had forgotten the most important question of all. There was no tag or receipt to be found in Pippin’s careful search of the infant’s wrappings. Their heads hung low, their hearts heavy; they slumped around the makeshift hammock of nets that cradled their tiny passenger. A pair of very large dark eyes, darker than the space between the stars, gazed solemnly back at them. And as they watched, the eyes began sparkling, twinkling, filled with light and the deck about them became as bright as day.
“Where on earth did THAT come from?” Pippin queried, as his gaze moved from the baby’s eyes to the brilliant star overhead that they were reflecting. Bathed in light, Gaugy stood staring, his head tipped back and beak open with wonder. Linus paged frantically through his star maps, shading his eyes as he looked upward, then down, as he attempted to find the blazing star on his charts.
The gently rocking motion of the shoe-craft changed suddenly to a spin, as a vortex opened beneath them. Pippin made haste to secure the sails, while Gaugy struggled futilely with the rudder. Captain Linus flung himself across the precious maps, just as the solar winds lifted them from the edge of the bow, and only Pippin’s quick retrieve kept him from being swept overboard with them. All their best efforts useless, the three struggled to reach the main mast, where their cargo lay peacefully watching the stars wheel overhead. They surrounded Him, raising high their wings to protect the tiny form from the star spray, determined to protect this baby with their lives, if need be.
Down, down, the ship turned and twisted in the waterspout of light made by the tail of the magnificent star. Their ears popping and ringing with the quick decent, the trio stood fast, braced against the violent motion.
Their journey came to an abrupt end as they struck a wooden object with great force, the star ship shuddering to a halt. The force of the blow tore loose one end of the golden net and it unfurled itself upward, over the grasping beaks and wings of the startled crew. The baby laughed joyously, the chubby cheeks dimpling with merriment. Up and over the side of the ship the net flew, the baby rolling in its meshes, to its fullest extent. The silver net, its cargo of stardust spilling in a radiant waterfall in its wake, followed.
And then, there was silence.
Linus was the first to move, shaking his head and racing to the railing to peer over in horror, which quickly changed to delight. His pale eyes glowing like twin moons, he called, “Gaugy! Pippin! Quick, come and see!”
They had landed on the roof of a low building, with other, taller buildings all around. One side was open to the elements, and what they saw within caused them to rub their eyes and gasp in wonder. For the baby they had carried lay looking serenely back at them, safe and sound in a low box filled with straw, his white linen wrappings still snug about his tiny form. Around the box, a donkey, back swayed with age, a chestnut-brown horse, a hen and her chicks, and two soft grey pigeons in the rafters bowed reverently, while in the straw heaped in the back, a young woman and an older man slumbered, stardust twinkling on their closed lids and cheeks. A young boy with a shepherd’s crook peeped shyly into the building, two young lambs peering around his legs.
They looked at one another in speechless awe, then grasped the mast again as the whirlpool began to spin again, this time lifting them higher and higher in the sky. Flung here and there amidst the asteroids and comets, they quickly lost all sense of direction, and all gasped aloud in horror as the precious star charts were hurled over the side into the ether. One by one, the twinkling lights vanished from their view, and they slept, exhausted, and knew no more.
The morning light slanting in to the cage woke Gaugy. He could hear Grace stirring something that smelled marvelous in the next room. He nudged Linus.
“Hey, wake up!” he squawked. ‘We’re home, boys!”
“Was that real, or was it a dream?” Pippin asked, looking from one to the other.
“Does it matter?” Linus asked, grinding his beak with contentment. “We’re home”.
And so they were.
The dark lashes fluttered, then stilled against the rosy cheek. The mother quietly rose from the stool, stepping light footed through the doorway. She continued into the kitchen, pausing to stir the fire on the hearth back to roaring life. She took down a jar of flour, reaching into the cavity beyond. A small long box she withdrew, held for a moment to her breast, then opened the lid and gently stroked what lay within.
A single long lapis colored feather, with a smaller silvery gray and an emerald green companion feather lay within. Who would have thought that the Hope of the World would be borne on parrot wings?