Welcome to the fifth week of Short Fiction Wednesday, in which I feature the first 1.5-2k of a story from my ebook collection Night Bird Soaring and Other Stories, which features 17 different reprint selections ranging from fantasy to horror to alternate history. If you enjoy what you read here, you can purchase the full collection at Amazon or B&N for $2.99.
This week’s selection is “So Weeps the Thunderbird”, which originally appeared in a Lilith-themed anthology called Lilith Unbound. It’s a bitter-sweet story of love and betrayal, featuring the Thunderbird of Native American lore and of course Lilith, who appears here not as a demon but rather an angel. She’s every bit the selfish, manipulative creature of the old stories though and ensnaring the Thunderbird’s affections will not only bring great destruction on the world, but will see him lose everything he holds most dear.
Wakinyan the Thunderbird landed in the Kingdom of Heaven’s pastel-and-marble city center and shook the rain from his enormous wings. A couple of angels sitting on nearby stools, playing Takhteh Nard, protested the shower, but Wakinyan ignored them, ruffling his golden-brown feathers then smoothing them, making sure he looked proper for his audience with Yahweh. He then hopped toward the palace entrance, his talons clicking on the marble surface.
In the hallway he encountered the angel Samael—Yahweh’s eldest son—who appraised him with amusement. “Can I help you with something?” he asked the giant bird.
The Thunderbird blinked his impatient yellow eyes. “I bring greetings to your father from the Great Spirit. You will show me to him.”
Samael narrowed his icy-blue eyes but then turned and led the way. Wakinyan had met him the summer before, when the Great Spirit invited Yahweh and his young angels to watch the stick-and-ball games on the mighty plains. Samael spent much of the time comparing his wing color with Raven’s, absurdly stupid since they both had ill-kept, dingy black feathers that appeared to be crawling with lice. Wakinyan didn’t like how Samael smirked at his hopping gait. Not that Wakinyan ever liked anyone; he found it easier to be suspicious rather than cheery.
Yahweh sat in the Great Garden with the god Ahura Mazda and more of his sons, regaling them with enthusiastic details of his planned palace expansion. The angels lounged on stone benches or up on tree branches, so their wings didn’t drag upon the ground. The second eldest, Michael, sat next to his father on the chaise lounge, holding up his enormous emerald wings as if trying to prove his strength. He looked up when Samael and Wakinyan entered and he nodded to the Thunderbird. They’d spoken briefly at the games and Wakinyan had yet to find something to dislike about him, though surely given enough time, something would present itself.
Yahweh smiled brightly, his face shifting slowly through different patterns, always human but different in shape, color, and texture. The Great Spirit’s did that as well, though at an astounding speed. Such ability was the sign of a powerful god, something Yahweh was well on his way to becoming. Someday he would be beyond description and, like the Great Spirit, spend most of his time in a non-physical form. But for now he favored a strictly human form. “So good to see you again, Wakinyan.”
Wakinyan bowed, twisting his head under so as not to clink his curved beak on the marble. “I bring greetings from the Great Spirit.” He clapped his wings together and as he stood upright again, he spread them out and they rained white and pink flowers. Samael swatted the pedals with his hands and ruffled his wings, trying to shake them off. A swarm of flowers spun together in front of Yahweh, whispering like wind through tree branches.
Yahweh closed his eyes to listen until the petals fluttered to the ground and turned to pink and white dust. “We’re invited to attend the games again,” he announced with a smile.
“And what games would those be, Father?” inquired a soft, windy voice.
Wakinyan curved his neck around to see a female angel standing several paces behind him. Like her brothers, she looked typically human, but she seemed unusually curvy under that wisp of a linen dress, and her long, shining-black hair swirled down over her shoulders like cyclones. But her beautiful purple wings—the color of violas—stole Wakinyan’s breath. He turned around with a clumsy hop, nearly bowling Samael over with his tail feathers. She smiled as Samael cursed and though she met Wakinyan’s hesitant gaze, she didn’t say anything.
“The yearly stick-and-ball games over in the Great Spirit’s realm,” Yahweh answered. “You’ll come with us this year, Lilith?”
She stepped up to Wakinyan and asked, “You will be playing these games?”
“The humans play. We watch.” Wakinyan’s voice broke on the last word, and just to mortify him further, his eyes bugged in surprise. He slid his normal scowl back into place and turned away.
“A shame,” Lilith murmured. He felt her smile even with his back to her. “What’s your name, Thunderbird?”
Wakinyan grunted it under his breath, but allowed himself a quick peek at her again. He then asked Yahweh, “Will you be in attendance?”
Wakinyan bowed again and excused himself. He had many invitations to deliver. But as he hopped from the garden, he glanced back to see Lilith watching him, a smile on her sharply curved lips. Samael whispered in her ear and she glared at him while he laughed.
Would he still smirk like that if I plucked him? Wakinyan wondered.
Once he reached the open courtyard where he’d landed, Wakinyan spread his massive wings and took to the skies, cursing under his breath. He hoped Lilith wouldn’t come to the games. He suspected that those pesky little fluttering in his chest were the first signs of love, Heaven’s most needy, annoying, and unwelcome curse. If the Thunderbird took pride in anything, it was the fact that he loved nothing and no one, and thus far he’d been spared from such stupidity.
But sometimes Heaven had a strange sense of humor.
Of course Lilith was at the games, and she insisted on sitting next to Wakinyan. As the Great Spirit’s messenger, he perched on a thick tree branch behind his master, keeping watch over the small assembly of gods sitting on the platform of clouds, eating pine nuts and ambrosia.Of the dozen or so invitations Wakinyan had delivered, only Yahweh, Indra, Atum, and Nox and her flower-and-leaf-bedecked daughter Gaea were in attendance. Yahweh’s angels roosted on the other branches, watching the games. The humans on the field battled with sticks, trying to whack the rubber ball through the goal posts before getting tackled to the ground.
Michael sat on Wakinyan’s right side, keeping silent watch over Yahweh.Samael sat three branches below, picking the leaves from his feathers that Lilith kept dropping on him.
And thus far Wakinyan’s attempts to ignore her had failed. She wore the most fascinating perfume, lilac or maybe lily—the Thunderbird knew nothing about flowers—and he couldn’t help but stare at her when she wasn’t looking. She was so small, so delicate, so easily crushed by clumsiness—
“Are you always a bird?” Lilith asked as she reached up to pluck more leaves from the branch above her.
She laughed. “Can you take human form? Most gods I know can do that.”
“Of course I can.” Wakinyan bowed his head then lifted his beak with his wing, pulling his bird head back like a hood, revealing the man underneath. He shrugged off his feathered coat and rested it on the branch above him.
“Ah, and he’s handsome too,” Lilith said with a smile.
Suddenly feeling hot, Wakinyan looked around for Coyote. Sometimes the trickster turned up the sun’s heat, just for mischief.
Lilith threw her leaves on him and laughed. “Have you no idea how to say thank you when a lady compliments you?”
Wakinyan scratched his nape and muttered, “Thank you?”
“You really should be human more often. It suits you.”
Personally, he preferred to be a bird, soaring among the clouds, the wind caressing his feathers. If he had to choose only one form for eternity, it would be that. Yet Lilith’s words had him reconsidering.
Michael cleared his throat and glared at Lilith, but she ignored him. She gathered more leaves and handed some to Wakinyan. “Let’s see who can get the most on Samael’s wings.”
So they dropped leaves on the dark angel until even Wakinyan found himself chuckling. When Samael glared up at them, Lilith laughed and clung to Wakinyan’s arm. Perhaps I’ll spit on him too, he thought, but Samael flew off.
“He’s such an infant,” Lilith said. She smiled innocently when her father looked at her. Wakinyan averted his eyes under the Great Spirit’s intense gaze.
“It looks as if it may rain,” the Great Spirit said. “Why don’t you go sweep away the clouds?”
Wakinyan donned his feathered coat, reforming into the Great Thunderbird, then took to the skies. He’d hoped Lilith might join him, to keep him company, but she remained behind. When he returned from his duties an hour later, she was gone and no one knew where she’d gotten off to.
For the first time in several million years, the Thunderbird considered doing something nice for someone. Ever since the games, he could think of little else besides Lilith’s silky purple feathers and soft smile, and he’d hoped for days that the Great Spirit would send him to the Great Garden on some errand, just so he’d have an excuse to see her again. So when the Great Spirit asked him to deliver a thank you note to Yahweh, Wakinyan decided he should bring Lilith a gift.
He’d had no intensions of bringing up the subject to anyone, but in his new insanity he’d blurted it out to Raven, Coyote, and Kokopelli during a sweat lodge ceremony. Naturally they were surprised but they all encouraged him with advice, in hope that maybe now he’d stop being so cranky all the time. Raven told him women favored flowers, but Coyote recommended alcohol or maybe peyote, because it “makes it easier to get to the good part.” Kokopelli recommended playing some flute for her. “Humans love music and, well, angels are part human.”
Undecided, Wakinyan swooped over the plains and forests, thinking and searching. In the southern swamps, he saw a magnolia with purple flowers that reminded him of Lilith’s wings. Perfect, he thought, and ripped it from the ground. He cradled it in his claws as he flew the three-hour journey to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Upon landing, he hid his gift among the marble pillars then hopped off to deliver his message. Before taking his leave, he asked Yahweh where his daughter was, explaining that he had a message for her as well. Her father hadn’t seen her that day. Wakinyan hopped back out to the courtyard and retrieved his magnolia, unexpectedly depressed.
“So you’re looking for Lilith?” Samael spoke up behind him. The angel smirked at the tree before turning his icy blue gaze up at Wakinyan.
“Where is she?” the Thunderbird demanded.
Samael walked past, looking slyly over his shoulder at him. “I can take you to see her.”
“You will take me to her.”
As they flew down to earth, Samael told Wakinyan, “She comes down here every day, pining the days away, longing for what she’ll never have. You do know she was human once?”
“And how’s that any different from you?” Wakinyan snapped.
Samael laughed. “I may have been born of human flesh, but I was never human. Father created her of mud and made her human, for his little play garden.”
Yahweh’s experimental garden was no secret to anybody. It was his own little microcosm of creation, practice for when he was older and more powerful and would no doubt leave earth to create his own world from scratch. But Wakinyan hadn’t known that Lilith had been a part of that. “How did she become an angel, then?”
“She and Adam constantly fought,” Samael replied. “She thought him domineering, so Father took pity on her and gave her wings. She flew away from the garden and she’s been our only sister ever since.”
They landed in a clearing not far from a small village. Wakinyan set down carefully as not to damage his gift any further than the trip already had. The wind had stripped most of the branches and only a few of the purple flowers remained.
Turning to Wakinyan, Samael said, “May I give you a word of advice?”
“No,” Wakinyan replied.
“Lilith’s not interested in you,” Samael said, undeterred. “She’s only interested in what she can’t have, and anyone she thinks might be able to get those things for her.”
If you enjoyed this excerpt and want to know how the story ends, consider picking up a copy of the anthology at Amazon or B&N. (for non-US editions, please visit the Novel and Collections page for links)