IMPORTANT! This is the 3rd updated version of Rara Ava! So if you are a new reader please enjoy! If you're an old reader... Well, it might be better to read from the start again! The changes are subtle but you might get lost in later chapters so better to just go through it again!
Nest head. That was one cruel way to describe her short curly mud brown hair that stood in different angles. The fact that it presently hosted a small sparrow and a few white droppings made the description even more… appropriate.
Ava sighed as a number of boys her age snickered while pointing at her. Trying to ignore them, she turned around and picked a clucking but calm snow goose up.
"You're not supposed to be here," she scolded the goose lightly. "You're too young to be wandering around the place."
The goose, however, just looked up at her. Again, she sighed.
"She even talks to them! What a freak!"
Ava glared at the boys before marching off, seething.
Nest head. Poo head. Those were only two of the numerous ways they described her. What was wrong with helping her parents with their work? She was a good student that averaged on B's and her parents very rarely complained about her. Why does the rest of the world expect her to be like everyone else then?
"Besides," she murmured to her bird friends. "You're much better listeners."
It was true. People these days just never listened. Or maybe people in her school just enjoyed talking more.
Ava and her parents lived right inside a bird reserve that also doubled as a tourist attraction in order to raise money for the maintenance of the project. Entrance was free but people were expected to make donations. Watching the special shows also required payment. There was also a restaurant near the entrance/exit for those who could not wait to eat after taking their walk. But tourists were strictly forbidden not to feed the birds. However, not all of them obey rules. It was Ava's job to make sure that no birds drifted to the restaurant area to prevent them from eating human food.
Fortunately for her, not many birds drifted towards the eating area. But whenever they did, she had to be stealthy in catching them. The sparrow currently perched on her head was a regular troublemaker. Ava always had the feeling that the little sparrow only went to the restaurant for the chase. Whenever she caught it, it would just sit on her head and do whatever he wanted to her hair.
"Little monster," she muttered. As if the bird knew she was talking about it, the sparrow chirped gaily. Ava rolled her eyes.
As soon as her mother saw her, the woman laughed.
"That sparrow loves you, Ava," she told her scowling daughter.
"He has a nasty way of showing it," Ava retorted as she placed the goose down and plucked the sparrow from her head. The sparrow only gave her an innocent look with its beady eyes. Ava sighed and released it. Chirping, the bird flew away.
"Take a shower then," he father said, coming up from behind her mother. He, too, had bird droppings on himself. He seemed to have noticed her looking at one gigantic spot on his chest since he explained, "I just finished giving a show with the American Harpy Eagle. At least the audience laughed."
Ava grinned. Her dad continued. "You're done for today so go have a rest, all right?"
Grateful, Ava rushed off to their house. It was actually more of a cabin than a house but it was roomy and cosy.
On her way, she paused before a tall cage that suited a big bird, giving it movement. In fact, the cage was filled with a fake stream, three trees, many plants and perches.
A Whooping Crane was within. It was young but it was already an adult. The long pointed bill was inherent to cranes. This one had a dark bill and possessed a red crown and white feathers. This young bird had been found injured in the wild. It was close to healing completely but Ava felt a rush of sadness seeing it caged. She knew that it probably did not mind so much since it was fed daily and it had so much room but she knew the bird belonged in the wild, not in captivity.
The Whooping Crane was one of the endangered birds of the world. It saddened Ava greatly that there were so many that were upon the verge of extinction. She had always loved watching birds fly. To her, they did such magnificent things – being able to fly away and soar freely.
I wish I had wings, she thought with a sigh.
After giving the crane one final look, she started walking to their cabin.
But before she could get more than five steps away, she felt a tug on her dirty shirt.
Ava spun around and looked down, seeing a girl. She was a pretty thing with her wide chocolate brown eyes and lovely brunette curls – no older than seven or eight. Smiling, Ava bent down on her knees to place herself with the girl's height.
"Are you lost?" she asked kindly.
But the girl only stared up at her with wide blue eyes. "Your hair looks like a nest."
She said it without contempt so Ava let it slide and only nodded.
"A little sparrow loves making it his nest," she said in mock seriousness. The girl giggled.
"Do you work here? You look as old as my older sister and she doesn't work."
Ava gave the question some thought. "I guess I work here… Not really since I don't get paid, except by my parents and that's nothing big. But yes… I help around."
The girl's eyes brightened. "Really? Can you show me where the swans are? I just watched the Swan Princess yesterday and I wanted to see a swan!"
Ava gave her a light frown. Swans?
Did they have swans?
Ducks, they had those. Geese, sure. But swans?
Actually, now that she thought about it, they did not have swans.
Surprised herself, she said, "Actually… I don't think there are swans here."
The girl looked upset. Wanting to cheer her up, Ava thought of something.
"Well, we have geese… And a puffin."
The girl's eyes brightened once more.
"A puffin? Just like the one in Swan Princess?" she asked excitedly. Ava nodded with a smile. "Show me!"
"Marie! There you are!"
The excitement disappeared from the girl's eyes. She pouted slightly before turning around to look at the woman approaching them.
Ava guessed that the woman was the girl's mother.
"Mama," Marie started. "This girl…" As if remembering that she hadn't asked Ava for her name, she asked, sheepishly, "What's your name again?"
"My name is Ava," Ava answered with a grin. "Yours is Marie?" The girl nodded happily.
"Mama," the girl continued. "Ava works here and she's going to show me the geese and puffin."
The woman gave her a sad smile. "Sorry, darling, we have to leave. We still have to start packing for our leave tomorrow."
Marie's face fell and Ava was scared to think that the girl would cry. "But Mama…"
As if sensing the oncoming set of tears, the woman quickly said, "If we have time, I promise to take you back here tomorrow." She turned to Ava. "Would you mind showing her around tomorrow then?"
Ava quickly shook her head. "Not at all." She turned to Marie. "I'll see you tomorrow then, okay? We'll even feed the geese together if you want."
"Promise?" Marie asked, holding out her pinky. "Pinky swear it."
Ava hooked her own pinky with the little girl's. "Pinky swear."
Marie beamed. "I'll see you tomorrow then, Ava!"
Marie's mother gave her a look of thanks before leading her daughter away. As Ava watched the delightful girl leave, she had a sinking feeling that she would never see the girl again.
Too bad, she thought somewhat sadly. I liked her.
Noticing the looks the other tourists gave her, she remembered where she was headed and continued on her way.
"Ava, you still stink!"
Growling, the girl gave her friend a sharp slap behind the head.
Fifteen-year old Calvin was her best friend. He visited her every day though he had inside motives. He, too, loved birds and wanted to be an ornithologist just like Ava's parents.
"I already took a shower, you idiot, and you know it," she growled. Calvin laughed.
"Easy! I was just messing with 'ya."
"Anyway… She then asked me if we had swans."
Ava was telling her best friend everything that happened to her that day over dinner. Calvin, having five other siblings, usually ate with the Nightingales. Their parents were already close so there were no such things as formalities between the two families. Calvin was the middle child of the six so he often claimed that he was ignored.
"Why don't you have swans?" Calvin asked, somewhat perplexed. "Yeah… Now that I think about it, you don't have swans. Aren't they beautiful birds?"
Ava agreed. She had seen a couple of swans in her life but her favourite was the Mute Swan and the legends that came with it, such as the swan song.
"We don't have swans because we do not have much space for them," her father answered. "Besides, they are considered least concern."
"But we have geese," Ava began. "And ducks."
"We also eat some of those and there aren't many of them," her father answered. "Sparrows and other tiny birds… You cannot stop them from entering the reserve."
They had a point.
"We'll show the girl around together," Calvin said, grinning. Ava, however, did not return his grin.
"I don't think they're coming back," Ava said slowly. "I don't think I'll see her again. I'm guessing they won't have time to go back here."
"Such a pessimist," Calvin tsked lightly. Ava gave him a light kick. Calving yelped in pain, obviously exaggerating.
"Why do you rejoice at my pain?" he asked in mock seriousness.
Ava smiled wickedly. "Because it's so much fun to hear you squeal."
"I do not squeal!" Calvin yelled indignantly.
Ava gave him a sharp stomp at the toes. Calvin squealed.
"You are a cruel harpy," he hissed, glaring at her as he nursed his toes. Ava laughed.
"Only with you, Cal my boy… Only with you."
Calvin scoffed and stood up, making a motion to leave. "I abhor you, you nest head."
"Says the boy with chicken legs."
"I do not!"
"Calvin has chicken legs while Ava has a nest head," Ava's dad interrupted without looking away from his newspaper. "Now go continue that yelling somewhere else."
The two stared at each other before shrugging. They left the dining table and went outside the cabin. Ava walked her friend to the reserve gate.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Ava?" Calvin asked as he looked at her.
Ava smiled and nodded. "Tomorrow. Remember to be early. I don't want to break a pinky promise to Marie."
Calvin grinned boyishly. "Sure thing."
Then, surprising Ava very much, Calving took a step forward and gave her a peck on the lips. Ava's eyes widened as she stared at nervous yet satisfied eyes.
"Good night Ava," he whispered before walking off.
Ava's hand flew to her lips as she touched them with her fingertips. As she watched Calvin's figure walking off, she felt a pang hit her – the same as the one when she watched Marie leave… only stronger.
She felt like…
She was never going to see Calvin again.
Before Ava could try to shake the thought away, a loud bird's cry rang through the silent night.
Ava quickly recognized it.
It was the Whooping Crane.
Quickly, she ran towards the cage. Once she reached it, she saw that the crane appeared to be thrashing about, its whoops getting louder and louder.
There was a black spot right next to the crane. It was slowly getting bigger.
Ava grabbed the cage bars. She fumbled with the bolt. "Mom! Dad!" she yelled as loud as she could.
But they did not come… They probably could not hear her.
She looked back at the crane. To her shock and horror, the black spot had already started to swallow the crane.
Not having the time to wonder what it was, she was able to slide the bolt and push the gate open. She tried to grab the crane before it completely disappeared but the spot suddenly doubled in size…
…And swallowed her up.