Chapter 1: A Healthy Glow
In the dark of the night, Malachi felt his companions were really in their element. He was tan and silver during the day, and just slightly dark tan and silver at night. His companions, however, were far more dazzling under the jeweled summertime sky in the light of the lanterns they had packed along.
Vidar had busied himself with collecting glassware that had long since been buried in the dirt and paid little heed to Malachi’s observation. His feathers shimmered with blues in the darkness and his head looked as if he had dipped it through the currents of the galaxy painting the sky above. Starlit, on the other hand, was a dark cloak that had swept down the stars onto her feathers, a massive form that flitted on the edge of the meadow, barely visible.
Malachi glanced at his own feathers and then at the tiny yellow lights that bobbed through the air around them.
"Do you think if I ate enough fireflies I would glow?” he asked.
Zeb cocked an eyebrow at him. “Do you want to glow?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Malachi picked halfheartedly at the lip of the glass bottle wedged in the packed ground near his feet. The dry top layer of dirt crumbled away to reveal a damp layer. Zeb slowly helped him clean around it, casting glances at the other two birds busy with their scavenging efforts.
“I bet we could find some bacteria that glows to smear on your feathers, if you wanted,” Zeb said.
Vidar harrumphed. Malachi and Zeb shot him a questioning look. The slickly feathered Corva picked up a tiny glass flask which he examined with a narrowed eye and then tossed haphazardly onto his growing pile with a clank.
“Glowing is nice and all when you’re trying to show off, but practically?” Vidar stretched his wings above his head and flashed his iridescent patches. “You turn into a neon sign in the sky that basically says, ‘Here I am! Fire all your arrows up at me or rain down fire on me from above!’”
"I’ve heard it said that glowing feathers mean you’ve been touched by Nokt,” Starlit chimed in from where she was busy unearthing something on the north side of the meadow at the treeline, apparently having impressive hearing as well as impressive size.
“Tell that to my cousin who consumed thirty pounds of glowworms and glowed from both ends for a week,” Vidar said. “He was touched alright, but I’m not sure it was by Nokt.”
Zeb pinched the bridge of his nose despite Malachi finding the image rather hilarious.
Malachi hopped the short distance between him and Vidar to see what the Corva was excavating now, leaving Zeb to finish pulling up the glass bottle he had started to dig around. Vidar had collected a truly unique assortment of glass odds and ends. Everything from miniscule bottles that were good for holding a single dandelion tuft to jars large enough to fit an entire human skull. Or perhaps a lot of pickles.
He wondered what sort of skills the Corva had developed to locate so many bottles in a short amount of time. Malachi hung back and watched for a moment.
Vidar scratched at the dirt much like Malachi did. He overturned rocks that were in the way with his talons, or if they were stuck or too big he dug his beak under it and flipped it over. He also would tilt his head to the side and eye the freshly churned dirt. At last, he saw something shiny moments before Malachi did. His heart always started to race when he spotted something cool, but Vidar merely plucked the green glass vial from the ground, shook the dirt from it, gave it an appraising look, and then chucked it onto the pile.
All in all, Malachi was unimpressed and concluded the other Corva simply had found a better spot to scavenge.
“What’re you planning on doing with all of those?” he asked.
Vidar shrugged. He yoinked a tree root up and another bottle popped up with it. Malachi frowned as he spared it barely a glance before adding it to the pile.
“What do you think they used these bottles for?” he asked instead. He casually scraped the ground away with his talons.
"Who knows what humans used these things for,” Vidar said. “They create all sorts of things for everything. And then they just leave it.”
“Could perhaps be an old landfill,” Zeb said.
A form moved at the edge of the meadow and glittering eyes looked towards them. “On the maps it appeared to be the site of an old settlement.”
"What kind of settlement?” Malachi asked.
"Judging by the age of the glassware and some of the wooden planks and nails I’ve dug up, I’d say it’s from the era of what the humans called the Wild West,” Starlit said. She held up a faded and rotted hunk of wood. White moonlight spilled across the ragged edges and bullet holes, giving the impression it had maybe been part of a sign at some point in its life.
Vidar chuckled. He held up a clear glass bottle. “I don’t think Jesse James was chugging Corona Lite.”
Starlit huffed a laugh. “Perhaps not.”
“Well, I know humans aren’t taking this anymore,” Zeb said. He walked over to Malachi and Vidar with the bottle in one hand and the lantern in the other. “Fowler’s Solution from St. Oliver Druggist.”
Vidar leaned over Zeb’s shoulder to read it. “Most of that label is about how to not die when taking it.”
“At least it’s accurately labeled as poison,” Zeb said.
“What is it?” Malachi asked.
“I believe Fowler’s was an arsenic based tonic,” Starlit said.
Vidar whistled. “Take two and don’t call me in the morning, I guess.”
Malachi snickered then paused. He hadn’t realized he was still scraping the ground until his talons hooked on the smooth edge of a bottle. With great care and more excitement than Vidar showed, he pushed more dirt out of the way until the bottle was free and clear. He brushed the label off with his feathers. Using his wing thumb, he held the bottle under the light of the lantern.
"Calomel,” he read off.
Starlit’s head whipped around. “Don’t open that.”
Malachi gingerly set the bottle back on the ground. “Do I even want to know what’s in that one?”
“Mercury,” Zeb and Starlit answered.
"And that is why I’m baffled that humans have even survived for as long as they have,” Vidar said. He glanced at the Calomel bottle and then back at his pile. “I think I’m calling it a night before we dig up something radioactive.”
“Not entirely outside the realm of possibilities,” Starlit said.
Zeb nodded. “Radithor. They used to believe it was a cure-all for almost everything in the 1920s and 30s.”
“One guy drank so much of it that when it finally killed him after riddling him with cancer and eating away his jaw, they had to bury him in a lead lined coffin because his bones were so radioactive,” Starlit added.
“Should I even ask why someone thought that was a good idea?” Vidar asked as he sorted through the glassware pile. He selected a single Coke bottle to take with him.
“Surely something that glows must be good for you,” Zeb said and gave Malachi a cheeky look.
Malachi ruffled his feathers. Vidar rolled his eyes.
"Alright. I’m checking out. Hopefully the next time I run into you guys no one’s glowing from ye old medicine.”
"Later, Vidar,” Malachi bid him goodbye as the Corva took off into the night sky, vanishing amongst the bands of stars and moonlight. He turned to Zeb. “You know how I said I wanted to glow?”
Zeb cracked a grin.
"Not so much anymore.”
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