The Avian Gospels

By Adam Novy

Hobart Short Flight/Long Drive Books
August 2010, Paperback, 278 pages
ISBN: ISBN 978-0-9825301-2-2

The Avian Gospels

Morgan and Zvominir stood by the fountains and waited to start the birdshow. Zvominir only allowed them because they made money.  He never asked the crowd to pay, but the audience stuffed bills into hats and gave them to the Swedes, which, even after soldiers dipped their beaks into these sums, the Bird Man and his son still had enough for food.

Jane, Morgan’s pretty, dangerous-looking girlfriend, stood nearby, as did Billy, her tall and sloppy brother. There was hardly any room for them to move, with the crowds and the RedBlacks and the Gypsies playing ska and selling bird food. Officers forced their way to Zvominir, and handed him commandments. He and the RedBlacks had a policy of circumventing Morgan, and they passed notes between each other, orders which invariably had him as their subject. Already, they’d admonished him to not engage his customers, to not respond to taunts, or even compliments. Each of these instructions had been given first to his father, and enforced by the soldiers who escorted Morgan everywhere he went, as if they walked him like a doggie.

Is that about me, Morgan asked.

Of course it is, said a RedBlack, who read the sheet aloud, in front of everyone, to Zvominir’s horror. He didn’t want his son provoked in public, but RedBlacks loved to push his buttons. That way, Zvominir figured, they’d have plausible deniability when they shot him forty times. He got angry! What were we supposed to do? It made the Bird Man sick; threats to Morgan multiplied with every  passing moment. Further: because these notes would pit the boy against him, he had no way to calm Morgan down. The power over birds had not exactly unified them.

 The sheet explained that birdshows should henceforth be positive, life-affirming, and most of all, Judge-affirming. Everyone is happy, went the orders, and birdshows should augment our happiness, and not give anyone ideas. Gloom can be contagious. Yes, the note belittled Morgan, and the audience, and human beings in general, and minimized our quarry as sentient beings, etc, but we would like to state for the record that we do not disagree with it.

In any case, the birdshow. Morgan tried to make some violent images, but Zvominir formed the birds into a giant orb, and curled a second layer of birds around the first. The orbs spun in opposite directions, and were lit up by the sun, which happened to be setting between buildings. The whole construction was a kind of magic lamp, and cast a shadow pattern on the audience. The outer level blotted out the inner as a story, but embellished it as a tissue of sensations. We could not have cheered any louder, but Morgan felt betrayed. The audience didn’t know the birdshow wasn’t his. Morgan called his father a sellout, and ran off with Jane and Billy.

I’m trying to save you, Zvominir cried, then he turned to the RedBlacks charged with the care of Morgan and said, Chase him.The RedBlacks shrugged, lazy, drunk and busy playing poker, while Zvominir tore off for his son. We are master killers, thought the RedBlacks. Why should we follow these con men through the city? We aren’t even bodyguards, we’re escorts. Anus. This job is demeaning.

Morgan ran through the streets with Jane and Billy, while RedBlacks and Zvominir huffed and puffed behind them, asking bystanders if they’d seen the Bird Boy. RedBlacks we answered; his father we laughed at, or even ignored, it was fun to watch him suffer; we considered him the artist of our bird-pain, and plus his limp was creepy, no matter how much he effaced it.

That which Zvominir had dreaded came to pass. Sitting in the square, at the head of a long table covered with fruit and various liquors, was Mike Giggs, surrounded by his RedBlacks, friends and girls, and also the band he’d corralled at the Steps, who played their festive Gypsy ska. Morgan stood across from them.


Goaded by Jane, Morgan dug a rock from the cobblestone square and gunned it at Mike. The rock flew wide and smashed a carafe, red wine and glass drenching  bystander girls, making them scream, their dresses stained and ruined. Mike ducked under the table, thinking he’d been shot at, and the band came to a halt.

Bitch, Morgan said. Rich bitch, Jane called.

Mike stood, relieved. Oh, he said, it’s you, I thought it was someone dangerous. I am dangerous, Morgan said. Yeah right, pin-dick, I’ve been meaning to kill you for weeks, you’re lucky I’m so, um, what’s that word my dad used?

Languid, said a RedBlack.

Yeah, languid. From getting laid all day, like.

Morgan’s steak knife pressed against his leg, and he wanted to use it.

Mike told his bodyguards to shoot him. He assumed the birds had come to herald his heroic stage, to facilitate his destiny of coolness, and he didn’t like the Bird Boy stealing his thunder. The RedBlacks explained they weren’t allowed to shoot the Bird Boy or his father. What the hell are you talking about, Mike said, and repeated his order. The RedBlacks continued that the Swedes were off-limits where violence was concerned, and were to be protected at all times, and that the city, and his father’s regime, required their powers, no matter how odious they seemed. You’re letting him throw rocks at us, Mike said, ducking as more cobblestones zoomed in, hitting other girls.

Zvominir arrived, seized Morgan by the collar, and ordered him to not provoke Mike. Jane shook her head in disgust, and called Zvominir a Judas. The Swede berated Morgan’s bodyguards, and too many people had gathered between Mike and Morgan for anyone to shoot. The square returned to drunken chaos. Mike stood on the banquet table, screaming his intention to kill Morgan, and the band began to play again, on orders from the guards, who went back to getting drunk..

We’re going home now, said Zvominir, shoving Morgan through the crowd while guards snuck booze from the table and gulped it on their way out of the square, and although the boy pretended he was angry—and, in many ways, he was—he also felt thrilled to go back to the storefront, because he had food there. Father and son returned to the storefront in silence, where Zvominir rinsed plates in the kitchen, and Morgan gorged on leftovers . Business was so good that they had leftovers now; Morgan ate five meals a day, though his youth kept him hungry, and food made him thinner, his appetite increasing when he ate, for food and for all things.

Father and son returned to the storefront in silence, where Zvominir rinsed plates in the kitchen, and Morgan gorged on leftovers. Jane says the Judge is cursed by the birds, Morgan said. Everyone has birds, Zvominir said, Since when do strangers tell you what the birds mean? She also say birds are my art, and my fate, I shouldn’t let them be censored. Zvominir did not respond. He used to think his son would get mature by growing up, but his hope was disappearing.

In the morning, before his lazy Morgan woke, Zvominir found the RedBlack officer whose job it was to bodyguard the boy. This RedBlack, Noah, was a furry-necked and grumpy stumpish little man whose bald head dripped with sweat, and who sneered from the corner of his mouth instead of speaking. What the fuck do you want shitface, was the greeting Zvominir received.

He offered Noah extra money to follow Morgan, to keep him out of trouble and protect him. Noah smirked, incredulous, and boasted to the other gathered RedBlacks of Zvominir’s offer. I’m serious, said the Bird Man, I have money. He produced a wad of bills from his pocket, which he hoped would make him look impressive. It was almost everything he had, this stack of bills; it was three hundred dollars. He didn’t know where he would get the rest.

He pleaded with Noah, and felt he didn’t have a choice. Safeguard my boy, he begged. Please. Sure, Noah said. I’ll take your money.