What started out as a snippet of news from a far off land, something that would surely be dealt with by the foreign governments, slowly developed into one of the worst pandemics the 21st century has known. The coronavirus, known also as COVID-19, came to dictate the lives of every person in the modern world, and the collective trauma experienced by Earth’s current inhabitants will determine the future for generations to come. As nationwide lockdown restrictions lessened in their intensity, people began to return to the outdoors, leading us to explore the story of the hiker and the birds.
The hiker had explored countless trails in their lifetime, venturing up cliffs in the summer seasons and skiing through unmarked trails in the winters. Along with many others, their favorite outdoor activity had been stolen from them by the virus, leaving them with a deep sense of unfulfillment. Their inability to traverse the great outdoors left a hole deep in their stomach, tearing away any and all sense of purpose. When outdoor activities were once again permitted, the hiker quickly packed their gear bag full of equipment, yet something pulled at the hiker. It was as if God himself were urging the hiker to remain within the safe confines of their home, far from the murderous woods. Yet, rather than listen to the warning they had received, the hiker set out towards the woods, ignoring the uneasiness building deep in their stomach.
The hiker finally arrived at their favorite trail just as the sun was beginning its quick descent. A challenging path, yet one that the hiker was familiar with, it led to a beautiful rock, the ideal location to watch the sun set on the small town below. As the hiker set out towards the rock, a twig snapped to their left, and they turned just in time to see a dark, withering crow take flight from in the center of a barely visible path, one designated only by the remains of ancient blue markings on the surrounding pines. Dangerously curious and desperate to erase the boredom of quarantine from their mind, the hiker set out towards this new path, letting their original goal drift out into the ocean of their thoughts. Guided as a puppet is by its master, the hiker was pulled through the path, up sharp ledges, and through fields of the most beautiful flowers the hiker had ever laid their eyes on. The air seemed abuzz with birds that curiously peered on, and insects that greedily swooped at the hiker in hopes of receiving some sort of nourishment from deep below their flesh. After two hours of traversing this strange, oddly familiar yet sharply foreign mountain, the hiker reached what they presumed to be the peak of the hill. The wind blew fiercely, throwing branches and leaves at the hiker, while the trees groaned as if in pain as they were violently shoved by the air. The hiker continued on the path, barely able to see the trail markers until, with their next step, they suddenly sank down into a cool substance.
Puzzled, the hiker looked to see that they had not stepped in a puddle, as they had thought, but rather had sunk into a large deposit of snow, covering a sizable portion of the flat. Unsure of how to process this abrupt change in temperature, the hiker searched for a branch large enough to pull them out of their cold prison, yet it seemed that every time they reached for a branch, a bird would land on it, as if scolding them for their feeble attempt to escape the cold fate they had created for themself. Quickly losing their temper, the hiker lashed out against one of the birds, pushing it from its perched position and yanking the branch out from under it. Suddenly, the birds all took flight, as if this act of violence had disrupted the collective species as a whole. The birds began to circle the hiker, and, as they rose towards the sky, quickly dispersed.
Unfazed by the oddity, the hiker removed themself from the ice and continued on the trail, unaware that the ice had suddenly disappeared, and in its place laid the corpse of a bird. Trudging through the dense woods, the hiker came upon a large tree, one that stood with such purpose that no animals dare come near it. Yet, the clueless hiker reasoned that from the top of the tree, they would be able to see if their rocky destination was anywhere in sight. The hiker reached towards the tree and speedily pulled their hand back as a bird swooped through the narrow opening between the hiker’s hand and the coarse bark of the tree. Somewhat startled, the hiker quickly credited their rising fear to the unfamiliarity of such a new path. Grasping the first branch, the hiker hoisted themselves towards the heavens as they ascended the tree. As if searching for golden gates, the hiker climbed all around the tree, wondering if there was an end in sight. Splinters and falling acorns discouraged the hiker from reaching any higher, yet they were determined to conquer the great oak. Birds hovered near the hiker, close enough for their calls to be heard, yet far enough to stay out of the oak’s deathly grasp. Squawking violently as if begging the hiker to abandon their quest, the birds began to peck at the hiker’s hands, yet the prayers fell on deaf ears and the hiker merely swatted at the birds.
As the hiker rose higher, the birds grew more violent, until one fateful peck threw the hiker’s hand off of the tree, sending the hiker tumbling towards the ground at a speed not even the fastest hummingbird could match. The locals would say that it was a freak accident, that the hiker was inexperienced and had made a deathly mistake in taking the trail, but the birds knew that he had been destined to end from the start.