I’d finally figured out how to control the birds. Not real birds. The birds that I made. Just because you made something doesn’t mean that you have control over it. I figured that if I made the birds, they’d worship and obey me. But they left droppings on my bike instead.
Here’s why I made the birds: I wanted to. That’s really all of the reason there was. Jordan claimed that he didn’t believe me. I wanted to make beautiful birds and put them out into the world and watch them live.
Here’s how you make a bird. Get good white clay. You need the kind from a stream that’s fed by one of the old springs. One of the springs people used to drink from and cure disease, or turn back death a few years. I know a spot.
Once you have the white clay, you have to work up some spit. It has to be mostly yours, but you can get someone to help you. This is where I got Jordan involved. He’s amazing at spit. It flows out of him. It makes him annoying to talk to, but extremely useful when you’re trying to create living, flying, breathing and singing birds.
Once you’ve mixed the clay and the spit together in one of those kitchen mixers, just sculpt a bird. It took me a long time to get good enough to make one that actually worked. It turns out that birds have to be perfectly designed in order to fly properly, which is perfectly obnoxious.
Then you do some other things that I’ll leave out, because you probably shouldn’t learn how to make birds.
Jordan also helped me come up with the idea for how to control the birds. “First,” he said, “stop making them. They’re covering everything with bird droppings. It’s gross. They’re also eating all of the insects, and it looks like they can escape from any animal that tries to eat them. They’re like super-birds.”
I smiled at this. I don’t really care what Jordan says, because he’s my little brother, but it’s nice when anyone notices that you really nailed something. Did it well.
“Second,” he went on, ”you have to hunt them down and kill all of them. Or break them. Are they even flesh and blood?”
“Don’t insult me,” I said. “Of course they’re flesh and blood.”
“Well, they’re going nuts. They need to be destroyed. They’re going to destroy the insect population.”
“Insects are annoying,” I said.
“Sometimes,” Jordan said. “But if the insects die, so do the crops. Bees and other flying insects pollinate plants. No insects, no corn. No corn, no tortillas. No tortillas, no quesadillas. Your birds are going to ruin Quesadilla Night.”
I ignored him.
One morning, I woke to the sound of my birds attacking a squirrel. I don’t know what the little guy had done, but it had really ticked off the birds. To be honest, I don’t even know if the squirrel had done anything wrong. The birds had begun to turn mean. He started out on a high branch in the big oak in our front yard. The birds were flapping up above the tree, flipping and dropping back down. They were graceful. So beautiful. And then they would slam directly into the squirrel. They were beautiful and utterly merciless. The squirrel fell. The birds dive-bombed him. Again and again. They dive-bombed him until he was still, and mostly just a red spot in the grass.
Over the next few days, the birds repeated the process with more squirrels. There were a number of red puddles around the yard. And that’s when I noticed the stink. This didn’t make any sense to me. Sure, there were a, well, a pretty healthy number of dead squirrels out in our yard. But this wasn’t the first time we’d had a few dead things around. A few summers ago, there was this crazy dog that became a big fan of killing cats and stashing them in various spots along our street, and in our yard particularly. The cops ended up tracking him down and putting him in dog jail, where I hear they executed him. He was messed up, so I didn’t feel too bad for him.
“Jordan,” I said. “Go clean up those squirrels. They smell horrible.”
Jordan looked up from his book. “I’m not going to do that,” he said. “First, they’re there because of your birds. Second, they smell bad because of your birds.”
“No,” I said. “They smell bad because dead rotting things smell terrible.”
“But they smell especially terrible when there are no insects, like flies and things, around to eat them and help them decompose faster without just rotting. Your birds are to blame. You clean it up. Also, you should destroy the birds.”
I’ll admit right now that I think this was a good explanation of what had happened. I’d made the birds. The birds had eaten the insects and killed the squirrels, and so this was clearly my problem. I should deal with it. But here’s the thing: your little brother shouldn’t be able to tell you what to do. Your little brother shouldn’t be smarter than you. I’m not saying that Jordan isn’t smart, which doesn’t mean that I’m saying he’s smarter than me. That’s for our report cards and test scores to decide. What I’m saying is that he shouldn’t treat me like that. Because he’s my little brother.
Was I going to destroy the birds? No way. I made them and they were beautiful. Instead, I came up with a real plan.
I went back into making mode. I got my pure white clay. I got Jordan involved again. Spitting. He was a slobbery baby. Now his mouth is like a flipping river of spit. He didn’t want to help.
“This plan is either full of stupid, or empty of clever. I can’t decide which would be worse,” he said.
“If you don’t help me, your belly is going to be empty of quesadillas. And green curry. And fish-sauce chicken wings,” I said. Jordan doesn’t have a weight problem, but he’s not skinny. I’m good at making living creatures and amazing plans and food. He couldn’t resist.
When we were done, we had an army of spiders. Bird-killing spiders. Huge spiders. I made sure that they knew to leave people alone. And they worked. The bird droppings ceased to be a problem. The birds weren’t completely killed off. The best ones survived. The spiders were a success.
Why use huge spiders? Why not use something that actually kills birds naturally? Well, some spiders do actually catch birds. Also, when spiders kill something, they suck it dry. There was nothing to rot. Nothing to make a terrible smell.
Now I’d gained control over the birds. Like I said, the best ones survived. And now we had these amazing, huge, and, I would say, beautiful spiders. A lot of folks, including Jordan, didn’t think the spiders were especially beautiful.
“There’s plenty of beauty in useful things,” I told him. “These spiders are useful. They serve a purpose.”
“But you built the birds simply to be beautiful,” he said. “And the purpose of the spiders is to control the beautiful, useless birds. The spiders wouldn’t be useful if they weren’t there to control the birds. If you’d just get rid of the birds, we wouldn’t need the spiders, and we wouldn’t have to have their gross webs all over everything.”
In my heart I had to admit that the webs were gross. They covered everything. They made the neighborhood look like some old horror movie. And I was also terrified by the spiders themselves. I knew I was safe. They wouldn’t hurt humans. But I didn’t go outside after dark, so I wouldn’t have to hear their clicking and snipping, and feel their eyes on me.
“Destroy the spiders and the birds,” Jordan said. “It’s all so messed up.”
I ignored him.
And then the next day, I found pet dogs in the webs. What was left of the pet dogs. It wasn’t that gross, the dogs just looked deflated and empty, but it bothered me. And it definitely bothered other people in the neighborhood. The spiders had discovered that anyone’s pet dog would gladly pursue a piece of meat left on the ground, and that the dogs never noticed the sticky carpet of web they were standing on, until it was too late. The spiders dropped silently, and did their work.
I’d been out early and seen all of this. I ran home before Jordan could get up and out the door.
“Hey,” I said. “Let’s just hang out around here today. We should play that card game you like. The one with the fairies and elves and gnomes and stuff.”
“You hate that game,” Jordan said. “And why are suddenly trying to be nice to me?”
He ran for the door and made it outside, just in time to see a spider land on the terrier puppy that lived across the street. He yelled and ran across the street. The spider was readying itself to plunge its poison drenched fangs into the puppy. Jordan leapt at just the moment when the fangs came down. I ran.
When I got there the spider was jumping off of Jordan’s arm and looking worried and guilty. Two bite marks, full of green fluid, showed large and clear on his arm.
I knew what to do. I grabbed the spider and did my secret ritual in reverse. The spider became a lump of white clay. I smeared the clay, full of healing water from those ancient springs, and spit, on Jordan’s arm. I knew he’d be fine in a few minutes.
I walked around the neighborhood, coaxing the spiders from their nests and turning them back into clay. I have to say, I felt better. I felt relieved to watch their webs melt away. It seemed like the sun came out more and shone brighter.
When I was done, I went back to the yard where Jordan sat, looking tired, but healthy.
“You were right about the spiders,” I said.
“That’s not what this is about,” he said.
“But you were. And you were willing to actually do something about the messed up stuff you saw,” I said.
“I should have done it sooner. I was just thinking about those chicken wings,” he said.
“And I was just getting annoyed with you. I didn’t want you to be right. You’re annoyingly right. You’re a better person than I am,” I said.
Jordan made a confused looking face and said, “Shut up.”
We sat there and looked at the sun melting the few remaining webs. One of my birds landed on my shoulder.
“Are you going to deal with them?” Jordan said, pointing at the bird.
I took a deep breath.
“I really don’t want to,” I said. “They’re beautiful.”
Jordan shook his head and stared at me.
“That’s not enough,” he said.
I thought about what he said as I unmade the birds, turning them into clay and water and spit again, and I think about it now. And I think I’m willing to admit that he’s right.