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Bewildering Stories

Ken Goldman, Of A Feather


Of A Feather
Author: Ken Goldman
Publisher: Horrific Tales
Date: January 2, 2014
Length: 402 pp.; 906 KB

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” — Leonardo da Vinci

“Truth flies into this world with two faces. One is sad with suffering, and the other laughs; but it is the same face, whether laughing or weeping.” — Oglala Indian Tribesman, Black Eagle, at the 1989 Grand Opening of Wellington Mall, Wellington County, New Jersey


Of A Feather is a horror novel. As a child Socrates Singer touches the sacred Oglala Indian mask that he later discovers gives him the power to control birds and to virtually get them to do his bidding. Initially this creates difficulty when he cannot seem to control this power because he doesn't fully understand it; consequently, a series of disastrous events result. There are sub-plots involving an antagonist (Frankie Bottinelli) who has it in for Socrates; of an ill-fated love affair (with Jamie Robinson, whose grandfather owns the local shop that sells exotic birds); and of Socrates' younger sister (Dorie) who knows his secret but is powerless to help him... or to stop him.


Tuesday, June 6, 1989

“Wakinyan's power is very strong.”

It was a pretty big deal, the new Wellington mall. Fun for the whole family, the ads promised.

Boasting one hundred and twenty two retail stores, three state of the art arcades, and the area's first twelve screen multiplex movie theater, the mall's Grand Opening brought out practically the entire community of Wellington County. In the main concourse, a large and ornate carousel, complete with calliope music from another era, served as the backdrop for the day's festivities. These included one tuxedo clad high hatted magician (the unimaginatively named Mister Fantastico, whose act kept the man about three checks ahead of welfare), several local rock bands (Acid Piss had changed their name to Acid Rain for the occasion), and Franklin Roosevelt High School's award winning cheer leading squad, (essentially a display of fresh young tits and ass on parade).

Notable among these attractions was an old Indian's traveling bird show, replete with a dozen of the tribesman's trained tropical parrots. The elderly Oglala warrior introduced himself as Black Eagle, but his entertainment came at a cost. His audience had to sit through the old guy's ramblings of Plains Indian folklore, in particular that of Wakinyan, The Thunderbird.

“This bird of legend represents the dual nature of our world,” the elderly warrior explained to a hundred parents whose children already were yawning.”You see, everything in nature contains its opposite. We move in and out of darkness. As thunder contains life giving rain, that same thunder creates fear and menace, lightning and flood. Wakinyan may serve as a protector of the Oglala, but also he may appear malevolent to those very same tribesmen. Truth flies into this world with two faces...”

Six year old Socrates Singer turned to his mother, who sat desperately trying to keep her overactive infant daughter from squirming out of her arms. While oblivious to his mother's quandary, the boy seemed engrossed with the event unfolding onstage.

“What does malevolent mean?” he asked.

Wendy Singer attempted a smile while wiping baby Doris' spittle from her shoulder.”It's like when little boys drag their mothers to mall openings to listen to some old injun ramble on like this fool. That's malevolent.”

The young mother sat close enough to the stage that Black Eagle probably heard her bitchings, and she shut up fast. But if the old man had heard, he didn't show it — or he didn't care. He continued without missing a beat.

“The symbol of The Thunderbird is the lightning bolt. Where this symbol appears, so may also appear both awe and fear--as I told, nature's duality. Life, it is divided. As is this...”

The Indian put on a bizarre mask that resembled a bird's face, some kind of sparrow or finch. But it was really two masks, and turning his back to the crowd Black Eagle revealed the mask's opposite side, the face of a hawk.”The mask of Wakinyan is sacred, not meant to be touched by any except the Oglala tribal elders. It has powers that all feathered creatures understand and respect.” Still wearing the mask, he extended his arms like a bird's wings. Immediately several of the perched parrots from behind flew to him, setting down on each arm. The old Indian searched the crowd of children before him, then pointed to young Socrates.”You, boy. Do as I have done. Stand and extend your arms!” The words seemed more of a command than a request. Socrates looked toward his mother.

“Aw, what the heck, sport,” she said.”Can't hurt.”

Socrates rose to his feet, extended each arm.

“Which of these beautiful birds do you choose to serve you, young brave?” the Indian asked.”Like our world, these birds come in many colors.”

There were quite a few birds on the old Indian's arms, and Socrates seemed confused concerning what the Indian meant by any of his tropical birds serving him, but one emerald parrot caught the boy's eye.

“That green one with the yellow neck,” he said.

No sooner had the words left Socrates' mouth that the other parrots returned to their respective perches while the emerald bird took flight, landing on the boy's extended forearm. The crowd applauded, and Socrates laughed. When the applause died down, Black Eagle gestured the bird to return to him. But the parrot stayed put.

“Jasmine! Return! Now!” the old man ordered.

The bird didn't budge.

“My Jasmine, she seems to have selected you, not the other way around,” the old man said from behind the mask.

The Indian approached Socrates, and during that moment the boy's eyes darted around the crowd. He looked about to cut and run, but the parrot named Jasmine remained on his forearm.

“I don't think she wants to—”

Black Eagle reached for the bird, but she stood fast. The Indian removed the mask. He wasn't smiling, and his eyes looked troubled. For a long moment the old guy stood before Socrates as if studying him. Then he held out the mask.

“You may touch this,” he said. ”Just a quick touch. Wakinyan's power is very strong.”

“But you said only the old men of your tribe—”

“Just a quick touch,” Black Eagle repeated.”My young Jasmine, she requests it.” The Indian attempted a laugh that fell short of genuine.

Socrates turned to his mother.”Can't hurt,” she told him.

The emerald parrot advanced to the boy's shoulder and nibbled gently on his ear as Socrates Singer reached out to touch the old Indian's sacred mask. He placed his palm flat on the side that displayed the hawk.

Black Eagle now easily removed the parrot from young Singer's arm. The crowd applauded, and Wendy Singer patted her son on his back. Even little Doris was smiling.

Wendy's own smile evaporated fast. She stared at her son.

“Hey, sport. You can sit now. Your part of the show's over.”

But Socrates remained on his feet without moving, his eyes dead ahead and opened wide.

His arms remained extended like the wings of a bird.

Part One

Philosophy and Feathers

“A bird is three things, feathers, flight, and song. And feathers are the least of these.” —Marjorie Allen Seiffert, (1881-1968), “The Shining Bird”

“A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever feeling sorry for itself.” — D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

“I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment... and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.” — Henry David Thoreau (1812-1862)

“I've learned a thing or two about our feathered friends, and you won't find it written on any plaques.” — The Pigeon Lady (2000)

(1) Tuesday, June 6, 2000 : Socrates Flying, Running, and Standing StilL

“They'll have to catch me first.”

Socrates Singer again had the dream. Tonight it came with high definition clarity, an all night feature playing Booga-Booga inside his brain. The familiar fantasy appeared real, although at seventeen young Singer's rational self understood it for the illusion it had to be. Even while asleep the boy knew that his body remained earthbound and was not floating in midair, despite the surround sound effects and George Lucas visuals. Believing otherwise seemed a certain path to Do-Not-Pass-Go lunacy. Maybe he would discuss the dream with Dr. Groener when he felt ready, but that time had not come.

Another part of him felt differently, felt certain that his dream was real. How could images so elaborate not be? The sights and smells from on high seemed complete to the last detail, although Socrates had never stepped into an airplane nor even rode a ferris wheel. Somehow the youth's sleeping mind accepted both conflicting beliefs of reality and illusion. Logic did not enter into the equation. If these subliminal excursions proved only a figment of a boy's overactive imagination, well, then, big fucking whoop. Socrates did not want to see the dream fly off and become lost forever. Allowing it to fill his subconscious, he embraced it... again.

Socrates is flying. No, he is soaring. The wings behind him beat in a calming rhythm while the cool air rushes past. His wings are all that matter, snapping at the rushing wind like the sails of some great sea vessel, the feathery appendages all he is and all he will ever want to be.

His back muscles flex with the effort that takes him high above the ground. He feels the effort, of course, but sweeping into the sky does not require much of one. The sensation is pleasurable, even exhilarating. With flight there is freedom beyond description, an ecstasy bordering on sexual.

He has only one destination, and that is to soar higher, to no longer be a prisoner of the earth. Here destinations seem irrelevant, the world below small. Flying exceeds every pleasure he knows. In the immense forever of blue sky, all that matters is flight and his ability to climb higher.

Up and up and up...

He flies until he feels the pain, that same pain that always comes near the end of the dream. One part of him knows it is coming, yet always in the ecstasy of flight another part of him forgets, or at least wants to forget. A loud and sharp POP! from somewhere far below, and then the pain comes so suddenly that for a moment he fails to realize that he is plummeting to earth like a stone. His wings no longer will work...

No, that isn't true — only one of them will not work while the other flaps uselessly at the brisk surge of wind. The ground is rising to meet him like some whirling corkscrew, and it comes in such a rush he feels incapable of rational thought. There seems nothing he can do but fall downdowndown to certain death. And then...

And then Socrates Singer awoke. It was not a pleasant emergence back into the real world. It never was. Bathed in sweat while experiencing a discomforting jolt like some massive shot of electricity injected into his veins, the boy practically flung himself upright in his bed. Breathing came hard and he waited several minutes before his heart quit trying to escape his chest. From his left shoulder blade the phantom pain of one torn wing ached. Despite the sweat beading his forehead, Singer felt chills.

The digital clock read 6:18. Already sunshine struggled to make a decent showing while from the surrounding elms a dozen warbling birds began their whistling chorus. A new spring day awaited all fresh and green. Singer offered the morning a singular greeting, his usual.

He mumbled, ”Shit.”

The last few days of his formal public schooling awaited. And maybe so did something else. Singer pulled himself from the covers fearful it was coming again on this otherwise beautiful

morning, that it waited in ambush just a few minutes from the security of his front door. The anticipation felt excruciating, and preparing himself for the assault practically every day, still Singer never felt ready for it. Standing before the bathroom mirror he almost understood why his was a face that demanded schoolyard beatings.

No parent waited with breakfast on the table. Those days belonged to bad '50's sitcoms or to more fortunate households with something in their cookie jars. Most mornings, both Wallace and Wendy Singer were out the door before the first hint of dawn. Socrates popped a couple of Eggos into the toaster for Dorie. Knowing what was coming he didn't feel like eating anything,

but he forced down some orange juice in case he had to run. If Dorie's bus were late, that was practically a guarantee. His sister came down the stairs and spoke her brother's thoughts.

“That Little Frankie prick and his jerk-off friends from St. Clotilde's are going to knock the shit out of you again, aren't they?”

Singer almost smiled at the potty mouth the thirteen year old had.”They'll have to catch me first.” She took the Eggo he held out and stuffed most of it into her mouth before she reached the refrigerator to drown the waffle in milk.

“I heard that Frankie kid once killed someone. He's one bad ass, isn't he?”

“He's bad and an ass.” Changing the subject seemed a good idea.”I had the dream again.”

“The flying one? How many times this week?” She put her elbows on the kitchen table and leaned forward like a curious school girl. Christ, she was cute.

“Practically every night. It's like I'm some kind of bird. And then I get shot.”

Dorie chewed as she spoke.”You've got issues, you know. Everyone says so. I think you'd better tell Dr. Groener about them so he can put you in a nice rubber room where those St. Clotilde pricks can't find you. I'll come visit on Sundays with cake.”

“You know I don't like telling people about my stuff. It's too personal, and some things I prefer keeping to myself. My therapist already knows enough of my business.”

Dorie pointed her finger at him like their mother did whenever she felt pissed.”To you everything is personal. You need a friend, a pet, something. Christ, Socker, I bet you go through the whole day at school without talking to even one person. You're like Norman Bates in that old movie. Blood, Mother, blood!!”

Socrates kissed Dorie's cheek.”I talk to you, don't I? And no one seems to want to be my friend, on top of which dogs don't like me. Maybe it's my breath.”

“Nah. Your b.o. covers that up.” His sister slurped her milk through a smile. If little Doris Singer spoke with an adult's wisdom, still she went at her food like the kid she was.”Dogs sense fear, you know. So do people. You're afraid of everything, Socrates. A week until you graduate, and have you ever even talked to a girl? I mean, besides me and Mom?”

Socrates worked on a grin but gave it up.”Last week I asked Patty Ochrach to a movie, smart ass. I told her I was getting the Perfect Attendance Award, and she told me to get bent. I don't even know what that means.”

Leaning forward, Dorie whispered,”It means Patty was politely suggesting you go enjoy sex with someone who isn't her. But don't take it personally. I have it on good authority that Patty Ochrach prefers girls. So good choice, big brother. Next time you might want to consider a nice friendly sheep - - assuming by then you're not too old to still get it up.”

Socrates found his grin. Dorie was about the only one who could help him do that.”My problem, oh ye of little height, is that I'm not able to get it to go down. Finish up and grab your books, okay? Your bus is not going to wai—”

He heard the horn, ran to the door. The bastard driver liked to pull out after the customary five second wait, probably enjoying the view of another arm waving loser in his rear view mirror.

Today Socrates did not disappoint. He flapped his arms like he was hailing an aircraft.

“Goddammit! Hey! Wait! Hey!”

The bus disappeared at the turn down Mooreland Drive before he and Dorie made it to the front curb. Socrates waved his middle finger, a reaction that lately had become a ritual. Never caring if she were late, his sister laughed behind her milk mustache, but for Socrates there were not enough synonyms for 'fuck' in the English language to express his thoughts at that moment. He would have to walk Dorie the fifteen blocks to Wellington Middle School on Wesley Boulevard, then another ten down Wesley to Roosevelt, and that meant he would be late himself unless he took the short cut through Gustav's Park. It wasn't an easy decision. Socrates knew what waited for him there.

“Sorry, Sock. That old fart driver is an asshole.”

Socrates said nothing. He hoped Dorie was up for a good run.

And he wondered if during the next hour he would be keeping his teeth.

* *

Of A Feather (Horrific Tales Publishers)

Here are a few snippets from the reviews Of A Feather has received during its first month of its release :

Of A Feather is a diabolical and absorbing tale that takes wing early on and pulls the reader through the darkest of skies. The journey is astonishing and the destination, unforgettable. — Benjamin Kane Ethridge, Bram Stoker Award winning author of BLACK & ORANGE and NOMADS

What makes this book so special is the way in which it straddles two generations of horror writing, while still maintaining its own voice, and more importantly being fresh. — Gingernuts of Horror

This is one of those stories that you really can't stop during the last few chapters because you have to see what happens, and it probably won't be what you expect. —

The depth of all of KGs characters comes up on you subtly. Each one adding just small elements which go from bad to worse as the plot thickens on this race-along thriller with a horror twist. — Fluffy Red Fox Reviews

Take one part Christine add one part The Birds, throw in the legend of the Thunderbird and you have yourself a fast paced, fun read that you can't put down! With sympathetic characters and hilariously sarcastic humor your in for a real treat. A great book that I would highly recommend. — Horror Web

A bloody horror story that will continue to haunt the reader long after they put it down. — Books and Booze Blog.

Copyright © 2017 by Ken Goldman

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