Caged bird badgeCaged Bird is the prompt for this months’ WEP+IWSG short story competiton. It’s a blog meme, but it’s also a competition, since there are winners, although nobody is a loser. The standard is generally impressive.

This month was a great prompt as I wanted to weave in my #30DaysWild Challenge as well. The Wildlife Trusts in the UK challenge everyone to do something wild every day in June. It doesn’t have to be much, or take a lot of time – it could be as simple as gazing at the clouds. That’s a Random Act of Wildness!

For me, I decided to take a jungle hike with my wildness link. It was also inspired by some friends who used to work at WWF UK. One was responsible for answering questions on the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) rules, as well as promoting projects to support communities that helped prevent trading in endangered species to the West and to China. Like the trophy hunters you’ve seen pictures of on the net, these countries host the main purchasers of wild animals, trophies and ingredients for Chinese ‘medicine’. I’d like to make every trophy hunter a caged bird!

Caged Bird is 989 words. I hope you enjoy them. All comments are welcome.

Caged Bird - flash fiction for #WEP+IWSG 'I'd like to make every trophy hunter a caged bird!' #flash #CITES Click To Tweet

Caged Bird

He was the epitome of the upperclass naturalist explorer. From his fedora with the leopard-skin band, through the fashionably long hair curling round to frame strong cheekbones and a well-made jaw, crowned with a medium-sized hawk nose, past the khaki safari suit with the long cream socks to the best walking boots money could buy—it all said ‘Trust me, I’m an explorer’.

Carla thought it also said: ‘Trust me with your night life’ to certain clients, but she was not one of them. She could see through his plumage, where many would be dazzled.

The jungle of the Indonesian island was hot, crowded with leaves and buzzing insects, and mostly humid. She slapped the occasional mosquito that got through her face net. Their leader’s arms, knees and face seemed to be immune.  Carla wondered what brand of repellent he used.

“Garlic pills,” he responded to the question posed by one of the other four members of their party.

Carla gave herself a crooked smile. Their local guide just ate garlic, that much was clear. She stuck to face-net, long sleeves and trouser legs tucked into puttees.

“Watch for snakes in these trees imitating vines,” he called back as they pushed through towards a more open area, sliding on the wet roots that stretched like fingers reaching for a lover.

.

They crossed the river on some convenient stepping stones that looked just casual enough to be natural. For a journey into unmapped territory to find these particular birds of paradise, the route looked remarkably well-tamed. Yes, it was overgrown, but in this climate, that was only a week’s growth at most. Carla called his attention to some monkey noises in the forest canopy, and the mini-lecture began.

Carla carefully manoevred her camera to take general shots of the clearing that included him when his back was turned. He was camera-shy, he’d informed them. He preferred not to have his picture taken. She’d sneaked one at dinner, a good face recognition shot. The back view was good enough to place him in this scene, with a trail that was clearly in regular use.

He finished telling them about the grey-backed monkey lemurs, and someone asked if they could get a shot of them. Carla flipped to the page in her island wildlife guide to get a picture to share with the speaker. It occurred to her that, as well as the sideline of her guide she was there to prove, he might have other add-on services for those willing to pay privately. Like trophy hunting.

.

Another day into the forest and they arrived at the bare bones of a camp. The local guide chivvied the three bearers to set up quickly, while the fourth unpacked his kitchen around a rocky fireplace and started on dinner. Carla toured the campsite, noting other ways in and out. The advertised ‘wilderness safari’ came with nearly all mod cons.
bird of paradise
The night was what they were all hoping for. Sounds of birds of paradise whooped through the jungle as twilight fell. Their leader consulted the guide, and then told everyone to be ready to leave in ten minutes. “Keep one hand on the string at all times. It will help you find the way out.”

He reminded them of the need for stealth: “any person to make a noise will be returned to the camp, with no argument.”

When he’d first briefed them, he’d made them each sign a disclaimer that allowed this treatment. Carla wondered whether it was just a get-out so that nobody actually saw the birds of paradise. But then, somebody must, or the trip wouldn’t have gained its stellar reputation.

They filed through the undergrowth, trying not to swish a branch or step on a twig. In the near-dark it was a virtually impossible task. One by one her companions were turned back, the use of a torchlit flash card showing them a reason for their ejection.

.

The sounds of the birds were louder now; Carla’s heart beat faster, she took extra care with every step. She was the only tourist left. But the bird sounds troubled her. Too regular, too similar. Underneath she could hear more distressed sounds, chacking and screeching.

The guide stepped in front of her, and flashed a card ‘you broke a twig – go back’.

Carla knew she had done nothing of the sort. She glared at the guide, who stared impassively, just as he had the others.

She sighed and turned around, one hand on the string, following it, very slowly, listening to the leader.

With no tourists left, what would he do?

He went on without her. Just him and the local guide.

Carla waited, counting to herself. She checked the special camera she’d been issued with, attached it to her shoulder, and turned it on. Then she turned back, to follow them.

By the time she reached the edge of the clearing where the birds were supposed to display, the leader and guide were using their flashlights to release several males from a sticky branch previously left as a trap. Some were still displaying for the female, despite the fact that she’d fled with the arrival of the humans.

Carla watched and recorded the scene as five males were carefully placed in inidividual sacks and slung about the local guide. Their leader reached up into the tree and the calls ceased.

Carla slunk into the side of the forest, behind some large leaves, so they didn’t see her as they left.

.

Indonesian customs let them through with their goods, but Australia picked them out of the ‘nothing to declare’ line, and pulled the full weight of the CITES agreement down on them.

Their leader spent six years in prison, considering the waste of his prime as a caged bird, just as he had wasted the gorgeous plumage of the birds he had stolen.

© J M Pett 2019

 

Caged Bird | Flash Fiction #WEP+IWSG
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22 thoughts on “Caged Bird | Flash Fiction #WEP+IWSG

  • 17 June, 2019 at 6:23 pm
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    Hi Jemima – I could see it … really well written – and I’m glad he ended up behind bars … those poor beautiful, birds and animals that get taken this way … so so unfair … good for you for taking a very different wild tack -cheers Hilary

    Reply
  • 17 June, 2019 at 10:25 pm
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    Aaargh.
    I too would love to see trophy hunters (permanently) caged. My worse self wonders how they would look as trophies.
    A great take on a topic which is very, very close to my heart.

    Reply
  • 18 June, 2019 at 1:11 am
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    The guy tried to trick everyone. He got what he deserved.

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  • 18 June, 2019 at 4:31 am
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    I guessed you would go for something ‘Wild’ and you delivered. Great topical use of the theme and the CITES offender got his ‘green desserts’ plus overalls to match. Nature for the win. I just wish people like him were caught more often.

    Reply
  • 18 June, 2019 at 11:10 am
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    A great story, well written. So glad he was found out and punished for his cruel deeds.

    Reply
  • 18 June, 2019 at 12:41 pm
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    Great use of the prompt. I’m with you 100% on the sentiments expressed. Prison is the only place for poachers. It’s a shame that they get away with such light sentences even when they are caught.

    I love the idea of doing wild things everyday through the month! – so neat.

    Reply
  • 18 June, 2019 at 2:25 pm
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    I’m so glad she figured it out and caught him! Too many rotten people in this world who do exactly this kind of thing.

    Reply
  • 18 June, 2019 at 9:35 pm
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    I’m glad they got caught. It’s a sad state when humans can’t respect other species.

    Have a lovely day.

    Reply
  • 19 June, 2019 at 12:51 am
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    Hi Jemima! I love the idea of Random Act of Wildness. I must do it every day. This was a great story, if sad. One of the frustrations of being Australian is how little you can bring into the country. I see other tourists buying up big and wish I could. But seeing these people bringing in ‘caged birds’ and being caged themselves is a good thing, right? Apparently a lot of incomings try to get all sorts of weird stuff past immigration. But poaching is a way of life for so many, I was saddened to see some African countries have lifted the ban on ivory – the poaching of elephants. Madness!!

    Thanks for raising this issue in your story. Wild!

    Denise

    Reply
  • 20 June, 2019 at 12:12 am
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    Your descriptions are rich and painted a vivid image in my mind. Those who try to take wildlife like this for their own selfish reasons deserve to be caught, and I’m glad they were. Thanks for sharing this story with us!

    Reply
  • 20 June, 2019 at 12:46 pm
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    Excellent, Jemima. I like the way you built suspense in the story. I thought the female tourist was going to be kidnapped and abused by the guide. I never would have thought they were stealing birds.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

    Reply
  • 21 June, 2019 at 7:17 pm
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    Great job doing something different with the prompt. You also did a nice job of balancing the issue with the story, which is probably the best way to get the point across. I’m assuming she went there to catch him poaching, and the idea that he was defrauding his customers was a side-line, not the other way around.

    Reply
  • 22 June, 2019 at 7:10 am
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    I like your take on this! It was a fun story to read.

    I didn’t like that Carla couldn’t respect someone’s desire not to be photographed. But that’s me, and it’s an important issue in an area I raised in.

    Then again, these were some bad guys. Disrespecting nature and ripping people off. Glad they were caught in the end.

    Don’t often see stories opening with a character description.

    [ Carla thought it also said: ‘Trust me with your night life’ to certain clients, but she was not one of them. She could see through his plumage, where many would be dazzled. ] — I feel like there’s an end quote missing there.

    I’m not sure with American/British spellings, but I think manoevred is missing a letter u. https://grammarist.com/spelling/maneuver-manoeuvre/
    And inidividual doesn’t look right to me, either. (Again, might be a dialect issue.)

    Thanks for a great story. You rock.

    Reply
  • 23 June, 2019 at 2:43 am
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    Your description is excellent from the mosquito netting to the over used path. I guess the guides didn’t get away with their plotting, bird catching, evil ways.
    Nancy

    Reply
  • 24 June, 2019 at 4:06 am
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    Great use of the prompt to bring an important issue to light in a fictional story. Excellent.

    Reply
  • 30 June, 2019 at 12:42 am
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    I loved your take on this theme. I really liked the opening description of the “explorer.”

    Reply
  • Pingback:Why I'm not writing about a Red Wheelbarrow ~ Jemima Pett

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