"[Charles] belted out several "teacher, teacher, TEACHER, TEACHER" phrases, his orange crown rasied jauntily." Pencil drawing by Neil Gilbert


When Charles awoke, he was lying on a perfectly smooth, flat rock. He stumbled to his feet, bewildered. Suddenly, he realized that he was surrounded by countless Enemies, the two-legged bellowing ones.  They were striding all around him, some nearly crushing him with their feet, yet they didn’t seem to notice him.  Dizzily, he hopped into a row of small shrubs a few feet away and shook himself. The shrubs were nearly devoid of food, but he managed to find a few small flies to eat. When he felt more alert, he flew out of the safety of the shrubs to seek better habitat.  He eventually found a large expanse of thick woods with abundant undergrowth to hide and forage in. Charles still felt sore and dizzy, so he ignored the pulling of the Instinct that night. The next day he fed heavily and lifted off yet again.


Lit-up skyscrapers pose a very serious hazard to birds migrating at night.  The birds seem to be attracted to the lights and strike the building.  Many die.  The ones that survive still must avoid being stepped on by humans or scooped up by predators.  If they manage to survive these dangers, they still must find food.  The concrete jungles of cities don’t offer much foraging habitat for migrating songbirds.


Charles fell into a rhythm. Fly all night, forage all day, and then fly all night again.  He came to another Vast Water. He paused in a swampy woodland right on the shore of the Vast Water for two days to build up his fat reserves for his crossing. However, no cold front bogged him down, and he easily crossed the Vast Water. The Instinct was as strong as ever, and Charles knew that he would soon reach The Breeding Grounds. One morning, he landed in an odd habitat. There were thick bushes and lots of flowers, but also large expanses of short, barren grass.  Charles quickly found plenty of insects to eat in the strange habitat, and for the first time during his whole wretched journey he began to feel content.  He was only a night’s flight or so from the Breeding Grounds.  He belted out several “teacher teacher TEACHER TEACHER” phrases, his orange crown raised jauntily.  As he sauntered through the bushes, however, a terrible Enemy leapt out at him with a snarl.  A terrible Enemy, indeed; black as a shadow all over, with horrible green eyes.  In the second before it was on top of him, Charles reflected on the thousands of miles he had come over the past two months: crossing the Vast Waters, the Breeding Grounds that he would never reach, and the female Ovenbird that wouldn’t have a mate.


Mrs. Watson heard the muffled meowing of her cat outside her door. She was a short, plump old lady who treated her cat as if it were her child.  She shuffled to the door and opened it.  “Oh!” she exclaimed in her high voice. “Bad Kippy! You drop that birdie at once!”  Kippy obeyed her, purred, and rubbed against her ankles.  She banished him to the garage with the promise that he would receive no supper.  Donning rubber gloves, she reluctantly picked up the mangled corpse of Charles and tossed it in the garbage can. “Dirty little sparrow!” she muttered.  By dinnertime, she had forgotten the incident and fed Kippy his dry kibble.  The next afternoon, she opened the door for the complaining Kippy as always.