Chapter 1 - The Map
Page 2 - Mad Bird Misery
Mad Bird Misery
Chowderhead knew where Dead Skunk Hill was. It got its name from a famous skunk who once led a rodent army in a rebellion against the dread tyranny of the evil bear king. The skunk vowed to rid the land of all tyrants and create a world of peace and prosperity for creatures of all sizes, species and olfactory categories. The bear king agreed to spare the lives of all of the skunk’s followers if the skunk would face the king in single combat. The skunk enthusiastically agreed.
The skunk lost the fight of course, and although no one could remember the skunk’s given name a generation later, everyone agreed it would be nice to name the hill in his memory. Legend has it that the bear king got sprayed in the face, and although he won the battle, he smelled so bad that nobody wanted him around. He eventually left the hills and wandered off into exile on the plains. The bear’s legacy of tyranny quickly dissolved, and the hills returned once again to their natural state of peaceful animal anarchy.
The hill was a mile from Chowderhead's tent, and she set out at first light, down a dirt road that curved into the sunrise, past wheat fields and a pasture where all the cows mooed a good morning to Chowderhead. She replied in fluent cowish, which earned her a strange look from a nearby farmer.
She left the road and climbed to the top of Dead Skunk Hill, looking for any sign of a tree with a mad bird, a stream, or a walnut. She couldn’t find any. Must have just been a crazy dream, she said to herself. She enjoyed the hike, and the valley below was beautiful in the morning light. She pulled the map out of her pocket, examined it, then stuffed it back out of sight. Start at the tree of mad bird misery. She wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, but the hill was full of trees, and none of them looked like they’d cause a bird particular misery.
She stood beside a pile of rocks. She reached for one, drew back, and threw it as far as she could. It soared over the trees and disappeared somewhere in the valley.
Chowderhead was well practiced at throwing rocks. She once knocked the champagne glass out of the hand of a wealthy hotel baron from across a busy city street as he sat on his balcony. She had learned that the man's greedy business partner had poisoned his drink, and it was the only way she could think to save his life. When the business man found out that Chowderhead had saved him, he promised her a free room at any Burbleton Hotel anywhere in the world whenever she wanted.
She rarely stayed at the hotels. They were too fancy for her taste, but she carried a promissory note from him wherever she went, just in case of emergencies.
She threw another rock. It was a good day to throw rocks. Perhaps she’d spend the morning honing her throwing skills. She spotted a neon green patch in an otherwise dark green tree. It looked as if an avocado were perched on one of it's branches. Chowderhead selected the smoothest stone she could find, cocked her arm, and hurled the stone as hard as she could.
The stone hit the neon green, but instead of the hollow thump of a falling avocado, the contact brought out a scream of anger. Green feathers flew everywhere. Curse words that would shame a sailor shook the leaves and sent chipmunks and rabbits scrambling away in all directions from the tree.
“Who threw that,” the voice cried. The green shape that Chowderhead had mistaken for an avocado turned out to be the back side of a wild berserker parrot. He was all green other than his yellow beak and a few red and blue feathers in his wings and tail. His wings thrashed around as he spun, scanning the woods for his assailant. “Which one of you miscreants threw that rock?”
When he spotted Chowderhead, she shyly raised her hand. “That was me.”
The fact that she was many times bigger than the little bird did not intimidate him in the least. He swooped down, wings fanned, feet jutting forward, talons ready for violence, a falcon poised for the kill. As he dove, he muttered under his breath. “…pink haired…giantess brat…smells of salami and…stupid flightless ninny…”
Chowderhead watched him approach. When he was within five feet, she deftly stepped aside. The bird had only a split second to show alarm before he slammed head first into the broad trunk of a pine tree.
He slid down the bark and fell on his back, wings spread, feet pointed upward. He stared, dazed.
Chowderhead stooped over him. “Are you in pain?”
She imagined little birds flying in a circle over his head. She asked, “Would you say you were in misery?”
The bird shook his head. “What?”
“I said, are you in misery?”
“I am Misery.”
Chowderhead frowned. “I don’t understand.”
The bird groaned, rolled forward and hopped back on his feet. He scowled up at her. “I mean that’s my name, you dunderhead.”
She thought about reminding him that she was much bigger, but then she remembered the story of the Bear King and the skunk.
“First you throw rocks at me, and then you trick me into flying into a tree. Are you trying to kill me?”
“Well, no, I…”
“I may not be big, but I know big people. People who could crush you like you were a speck of nothing. If you get on my bad side…”
The bird was named Misery. That meant the map might be real. Maybe it wasn't just a dream.
“…because if you think you can just waltz up to my hill and assault me, let me tell you that I’ve had bigger people than you for breakfast. I’m the king of this hill, and…”
She pulled the map out and studied it. If it was right, she was at the beginning. From Misery’s tree, she’d just have to walk down and find three dead walnut trees.
“…and don’t you ignore me! I’ll rip that paper of yours to pieces and ram the pieces down your throat if you don't mind me. What is that, anyway?”
“A treasure map.”
Misery dropped his wings. His angry bird brow relaxed a little. “A what map?”
“A treasure map. There’s a treasure somewhere on this hill.”
Misery stared for a moment. Then he tried to smile. It was not a look he was accustomed to. “Treasure, eh?” He flapped up and hopped on a pine branch so he was face to face with Chowderhead. “Well why didn’t you say so?”
“It didn’t come up,” she said.
“Well, this hill can be treacherous. There’s plenty of pitfalls for a little moron … for a young girl like yourself. Would you like a guide?”