Railway Sleeper – Calvin Westra

  1. He found a sparrow lying on his porch, mildly injured, and it spoke to him in English and he replied in kind, learned the bird was seeking his lover, and together they traveled until they met a condor suited in strips of linoleum and smelling of mildew and gin from the martini he was sipping; the condor knew her whereabouts but when asked he simply shook his head—it’s a lost cause, he swore—the vulture king’s personal guards shackled and carried her away and when they asked where, he laughed and described an impregnable mountain of scrap metal and rubber, barbed wire and dead refrigerators.
  2. Our hero held a recruitment mission disguised as a dinner party, prepared blood pudding and a large ham, nuts and birdseed, and invited seven people he trusted, but when presented with the talking sparrow it is just a regular sparrow to them, its gibberish not language they tell him, and our hero is christened the Bird Talker, an invaluable skill when an ostrich pokes its head in the window, because this ostrich is an assassin from an obscure order of ostrich monk killers who assures the newfound party he can rescue the captive lady sparrow.
  3. Chained to a bedpost, quiet, looking terrified, the lady sparrow watches as the vulture king shouts obscenities at his limp member, visibly disgusted with his own inadequacy, he tries to compensate by bragging to the frightened sparrow that her lover has no chance of traversing the mountainous passages, that the sun-cooked rubber and rusty metal will scorch his bird claws, and he’s still shouting about this when the ostrich assassin, having just slung himself through the window, stabs the king through the heart.
  4. All seems well until the ostrich staggers back into the vulture king’s chambers, visibly fucked up and talking mad about ruling the world, popping Percocet and shouting to the vulture guard to throw the rest of the party into the dungeons, which they immediately do, and there is chaos, eight human voices and two birds squawking and everyone confused why these vultures are taking their orders from an ostrich.
  5. Eight friends bicker in a cell, our hero relaying information to the birds, all in agreement that this is “fucked up” and that the guards pacing outside should join them in revolt and while this is happening the sparrow pecks at a small hole, straight through to the other side, allowing him to call to other birds, to share information, and to learn that the ostrich who helped them break in was once the king’s personal assassin.
  6. Twenty years prior, a small ostrich leaves his family behind to study the science of murder.
  7. A sick robin has heard our hero’s story and shares it everywhere she goes, her watery eyes and missing feathers not stopping her from convincing others of the ostrich king’s wrath and cruelty and soon a revolution forms, they take flight and attack the castle, imprison the ostrich king, free seven humans, two sparrows in love, and the hero of our series who, having never assumed himself of any value—and this is key to any fantasy series—is elected king of everything.
  8. All hail our benevolent leader who speaks to birds and humans and does not abuse prescription pain killers, the lands are peaceful for the first time in memory, and birds sing the king’s praises until one day a chicken hen arrives at the throne with a baby chick in her wing, claiming the king is the father and the entire kingdom is put into an uproar.
  9. Could the human king really impregnate a bird, everyone wants to know, and people keep repeating, “if he can talk to birds, maybe he can impregnate them too,” and no one stops to ask why the baby isn’t half human or half anything but chicken and the birds feel betrayed their human king is sneaking off into chicken coups at night and his guards turn on him and he is thrown into a cell he occupied once before.
  10. Alone in a dungeon, bearded and malnourished, furious and confused, our hero claws his biography in the walls of his cell, working by a sliver of light that peaks through a hole his sparrow friend once pecked into the wall and then he quietly dies in his sleep, the guards discovering this by shouting, “Hey, king bird-fucker, wake the fuck up,” and when there is no response, “Hey, I think king bird-fucker is dead.”
  11. By now the bastard chicken spawn is full grown and pissed off, having never known his father, never enjoying the luxuries of his rightful position in the kingdom, and so he spends his days outside with a bow, pondering what could have been and firing arrows into trees and rodents and—once—into the neck of a king’s guard and this triggers more guards to visit and sets into motion the final series of events.
  12. No fantasy series is complete without a bastard king of no real importance somehow seizing power after a long montage of violent archery and a pile of dead soldiers, so that happens, and many birds rise up behind their bastard king.
  13. Ten years of war later, millions are dead but the bastard takes the throne.
  14. He elects ten of his most loyal birds to a Committee of Order, trusting a coterie of loyal birds will serve him better than an apathetic king’s guard, as the vultures have a tendency of throwing their kings in dungeons on flimsy claims; he feels safe.
  15. A cardinal mops the dungeon floors and dusts the window sills, finding his way to the cell that once held eight humans and two birds, and a while later a single bird-fucker king, and he reads the entire biography the king carved into the walls, about how he was born to over-the-road truckers, went to a community college to study heating and cooling, and died a virgin, which at first makes the significantly more prolific cardinal chuckle, then think to himself, and then tell his friends, and in the final moments we witness birds everywhere squawking to one another about the pretender king who currently occupies the throne, who has no idea what comes next.