August 1, 2015


Jeff Fleischer is a Chicago-based author, journalist and editor. His fiction is most recently published in the Chicago Tribune's Printers Row literary journal and Steam Ticket Third Coast Review. He is also the author of non-fiction books including "The Latest Craze: A Short History of Mass Hysterias" (Fall River Press, 2011), "Rockin' the Boat: 50 Iconic Revolutionaries" (Zest Books, 2015), and a civics book coming in spring 2016. He is a veteran journalist published in Mother Jones, the New Republic, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine, Mental_Floss, National Geographic Traveler and dozens of other local, national and international publications.

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For a bird, the idea of flying in the open air in search of a landing spot shouldn’t have been all that noteworthy. Honestly. He’d already done it thousands of times in his relatively young life, from the time his mother shoved him out of the nest to the time a few weeks ago when the net came down on him.

Forty-some days earlier, the dove could have been forgiven for thinking the idea of unfettered flight would never seem unusual to him. If he even thought about it. After all, the ability to fly was mostly instinct, and flight was his natural state of affairs. Of course, forty-some days earlier, the world hadn’t been totally covered in water.

Say what you would about the flood, the sheer amount of water never made any sense to the dove. He’d vaguely understood that it had something to do with humans being wicked, but didn’t see why that meant the rest of creation had to be wiped out. Certainly, no dove had done anything worthy of such vengeance. Why not a sickness that killed only people? Or individual smitings of those who deserved it? If there had to be a flood, why raise the water so high that even birds had to die? It was doubtful humans would have been able to survive in trees that whole time, had they managed to escape the waters in the first place. The whole ordeal seemed overwhelmingly unfair. Even with his literal bird brain, the dove had a strange premonition that, for all the flood’s seeming finality, it wouldn’t be the last time a bunch of misbehaving humans were going to cause trouble for every other living thing on the planet.

Logical or not, the waters came, and the dove had been one of a lucky pair caught by the old man’s sons. If he’d happened to be with his mate at the time of his capture, they probably would have wound up together. Instead, he found himself thrown in with a female he’d never seen before and didn’t particularly care for. Thankfully for his species, doves had never mated for life. He wondered how the swans would adapt.

Like all the others, the dove had been cooped up for forty days and forty nights. A lot of the insects didn’t even last the journey, though they all managed to procreate mightily before their demises. That also never seemed quite fair, why most species were reduced to a single pair while ticks and biting flies were busy expanding their numbers. Like most of the warm-blooded animals in the giant wooden craft, the dove had been bitten, stung and generally irritated by the increasing number of small pests. At least they took up little space.

The larger animals didn’t bother him as directly. The humans had somehow managed to pack enough food for the carnivores that they didn’t feel the need to hunt – or maybe their lack of sea legs made them too sluggish or nauseated to do so. Still, the bird was hard-wired to fear the wolves and owls, the big cats, the weasels and martens and stoats. He twitched nervously every time he felt too much time lapse after those animals’ most recent feedings, steeling himself for a flock of birds crashing into each other if a fisher began to climb one of the support beams. The big herbivores left the dove alone, but they still took up a lot of space, and their collective stench was unbearable. He’d smelled elephant dung before boarding the boat, but onboard, a month’s worth piled up quickly. As for the other birds, the dove found the very numbers daunting. He hadn’t known there were so many kinds of parrot or duck or finch. Or, that there were dozens of varieties of doves. Turtledoves, mourning doves, fruit doves, collared doves, ground doves, whistling doves, wood pigeons, imperial pigeons, crowned pigeons, rock pigeons, ordinary pigeons. They all felt both familiar and alien to him.
So much time in captivity had made all the birds rather stir crazy, and the dove was no exception. Even when the floodwaters had grown calm and the wooden boat had managed to stay stable, the birds remained trapped indoors, flying in short spurts where they could so that their wing muscles didn’t atrophy. The idea of freedom, still somewhere in his muscle memory, stirred in the dove as the old man opened the door and allowed a long-withheld beam of sunlight into the animals’ quarters. Rather than release them all, however, he chose the male raven, carried the black bird above deck, and closed the door behind him.

As he flew over the moist, recently flooded world, the dove understood something the old man didn’t get about the raven. It wasn’t that he couldn’t find a place to land. The ravens had always been outgoing birds who needed their flocks, miserable when by themselves. They enjoyed feeding off the other animals’ scraps, content to spend nearly as much time aground as spreading their wings. Even the dove's default mate, driven by her desire to breed, had returned after her release, carrying that fateful twig. A twig that represented hope to the people, hope that the world could be rebuilt. Even the dove’s simple mind grasped that, for his kind, the twig meant a return to the antebellum, and that any logic behind erasing all other doves from the earth had proven false. He lacked the raven’s intrinsic need to come back.

Seated on this new perch, the waterlogged branch of a waterlogged oak tree that smelled of must and ripened soil, he lifted up his head. Already, the dove could hear the footsteps, the hoofsteps, the pawsteps, of thousands of other animals, the last remnants of their own species, ready to spread across the world. To be fruitful, to multiply, to turn the empty expanse before them into a larger version of that cramped quarters aboard the wooden ship.

All he wanted was to fly far away from all the others, but there was nowhere to go.
~Jeff Fleischer

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