By Pancho Symes
The last bird flies like a fish out of water. It’s wings tremble, its beak judders, its starved, featherless frame quivers at the feeling of flying in a sky drenched in a dreadful paradox that confuses evil with good, death with life, falling with flying.
It sits beneath this pitiful little creature like a hungry snake. Its desirous jaws open wide… its forked tongue sucking in all the wind and the air and the daylight until the fateful feathered martyr is left floundering in the vacuum of a stolen sky. The last bird beats its emaciated wings like a lightbulb flickering and sputtering on the verge of going out. It flaps and frets in the gasping sky; parched air and desiccated wind. The doomed creature looks down and sees white. Looks forward and sees white. Looks up and gasps at death, and all its shadowy dominion.
The last bird falls from the sky that was once it’s lifeblood, now its poison. It plummets to the earth, its speckled grey body seemingly melting into the whiteness that submerged the sky. The last bird hits the ground and falls straight into a paper grave, a last breath of humanity folded and wrapped and bound; never to inhale again.
A kingdom of paper unfolds itself upon the skeleton that used to be London…
The grimy streets, the smog riddled sky, the greyness that settles itself upon the very daylight prevails at the pure white of fresh parchment…
A little girl looks out the window at a realm of pure white, fresh nothingness…
Where have all the birds gone? She ponders.
A man sits atop a paper throne. He wears a top hat like a crown, and a pile of parchment sits on his lap. The Prince of Parchment wields white sheets like a sword, his hands tying and folding, his fingers moving like many legged spiders. These long white spiders fashion a skyscraper to replace the stone remnants of a forbidden past, a cannon to keep it (the past) at bay, and a great wall to hide it (the past) from them…
The Prince proceeds to stand before his open window, chest puffed and arms outstretched, gazing down at his city like some sort of proud bird of prey. His eyes are white. They used to be blue-like the ocean. His hair is snowy. It used to be blonde-like the sun. His skin is transparent-like a ghost, and his heart doesn’t beat. It never did.
The trees were the first to go…Reduced to stumps and burnt alive. A paper city makes swift use of its trees. The sun is part of the forgotten past. Ever gradually, the centre of the universe got lost upon the relentless white, got confused and faded away and expired. The kingdom of Paperfold knows no birds. The earth is paper. Humanity is paper.
‘The Prince of Parchment has made everything better…’
The one form of history allowed to subsist in Paperfold was the age-old assumption that white was a better colour then dark. London-with its ancient black towers, and cobbled stone streets was a metropolis of shadows, a city of night. ‘Why should we live in a city with such negative colour connotation?’ This is what the Prince proposed. Humans reflect their world. Surely white must surmount black?
Now a colossal white sheet drapes itself over everything. Suffocating everything. It has already choked out the sun and throttled the birds. It’s strangled the trees and smothered the earth. Parchment stifles daylight and eclipses the night. There is no sun. There is no moon. The substance that circulates what used to be air is a whiteness; a blinding haze that is as equivocal and eternal as each breath we take.
The people trot around on paper streets, flanked by paper walls, enclosed by paper roof. They are walking upside down and side-ways and backward. Eternal white has confused everyone. No one cares because no one can see. Their eyes are milky white. They are ghosts. ‘Everything has been made better.’ This is what the people think…
A little girl visits the palace of parchment on a rainy afternoon; the last person in Paperfold with eyes to see. Teddy bear dangling in one hand, she cannot be older than seven. She has come alone. Her teddy bear is made of paper, creased and crinkled from a childhood of hug hiding, seven years of being squeezed and rumpled against an innocent body; eaten by the world.
Knock! The little girl knocks once. Only once. The Prince does not even get up from his throne, but merely swishes his hand. A strong wind whips the paper curtain open, revealing the little girl standing in a paper frame, her clothes damp, her sodden head bowed.
“Why are you here?”
“Where have all the birds gone?”
“What are birds?”
“You have forgotten what they are”
“I have forgotten what they are.”
“They used to roam the sky, with great wings. They raced the wind. They nested in trees. But I don’t see them anymore. I don’t see anything anymore. Where have all the birds gone?”
“My dear girl, what is it with your obsession with these things? Don’t you notice the very trees they nested in no longer exist? The wind they raced no longer blows?”
“The birds were all that was left, my Prince. They go after everything else. They go when there’s no trees to house them, no sunlight to warm them, no wind to race. So, I must ask, what is left?”
“Why, paper my dear! A single thing is now everything. It fixes humanity. It creates life.”
The Prince bends down to the little girl. His cloudy eyes piercing her chestnut ones. He takes off his top hat. Atop his head sits a paper bird. A small one. No bigger than the little girl’s fist.
“Here is your bird my dear. Here is life…”
The paper bird takes flight. It flies once around the room. Its wings don’t fold and expand though. There is something robotic and artificial about the way it hovers; in straight lines. It does not twist or twirl with the imagination of normal birds. It merely moves. With no integrity. It hovers straight out the open window, into the pouring rain. It soaks for seconds and then simply melts away, its paper body deteriorating and flaking… this frail little thing falling at the slightest touch of nature’s collapsing dominion.
The Prince smiles down at the little girl, his pallid being shadowing hers, imprinting itself upon hers, sinking its icy essence within her lukewarm soul. Her spirit is curdled like milk gone sour. Her heart ceases to tick, like an ancient clock in a forgotten wilderness. With no one to hear it, where time is meaningless, it can’t see the point in ticking.
“Do you understand now, my dear?”
The little girl nods.
Her eyes are white.