The Last Bird
The arena becomes tense as the boy drinks the poison.
The crystal ceilings shine red.
Father speaks: “He stole, breaking one of the codes of order. This is justice, and we have one heart less to drain our insufficient air.”
And a few yell, ‘Justice!’
The boy drops dead.
Father is a tyrant. The boy only stole a few tablets of Nutrilets.
The black crystal hours, I sneak away through the high palace walls.
My torch pushing back shadows, I find the sewer that leads to the Rejects Section. They are waiting, starved citizens, thin as stick drawings.
The air here is hot and stuffy.
I distribute the Nutrilets and compressed ice cubes I’ve come with. They cry and thank me as they swallow.
And I smile.
The golden crystal hours, I hide the creature I found in the sewer in my robe and head for the Temple.
It tweets just like the others, the ones father kills. He believes they take people away.
At the Temple, a giant metallic clone of the creature stands. Myth says there used to be many, that our ancestors sought answers here. I bring it out and pray. It flutters its wings and flies and tweets.
I watch in awe.
I whirl to see father’s blazing eyes.
“What have you done?”
The metal god creaks and takes to the air. It twirls and drills through the crystal with its metallic beak. Soon, we are bathed in warm, golden rays.
#WriterPrompt is a flash fiction event run on our Facebook page. Writers post stories, then workshop them with other participants and members of the SSDA team. In an exciting new twist we've added the element of a guest African writer who also comments on the stories and chooses the winner.
2015 SSDA Prize winner, Cat Hellisen was this #WriterPrompt 11's Guest Writer. She elaborates on why she chose "The Last Bird" as the winning story.
"Reading the entries for #WriterPrompt has been very interesting—both in the way the prompt was interpreted and in the varying styles writers use to get their story across. There were snappy, punchy pieces, lyrical ones that bordered on poetry and everything in-between. While not every story worked for me, even in the pieces that would benefit the most from guidance and reworking there were lines that stood out: surprising and delightful metaphors and sentences of rhythmic beauty.
Submitting to magazines and reading slush piles has taught me that a story can work for one person and be completely broken for another. As you can imagine, this made choosing a winner a difficult task. I narrowed it down to three, and finally settled on Ishola Abdulwasiu Ayodele's "The Last Bird". There are several reasons for this. On a personal level, "The Last Bird" is specific, and that's my field of interest. Science fiction and fantasy stories tend to draw me in more.
When it comes to craft though, Ayodele was able to give us the sense of world and time in few words and without resorting to extraneous explanations that don't serve the story. He trusted his reader, and that's an important skill as a writer.
Where Ayodele can improve is by looking at the cadence and poetry of some of the other stories, and breathing some of that lyricism into his work in the way that Olakunle Ologunro did in "Here Lies Ra..." and CN Ndubuisi in “Finding Life."
Now, some thoughts from the winner himself, in conversation with Jason Mykl Snyman, one of the #WriterPrompt co-ordinators.
I mentioned your strong world-building during the workshop, how you managed to take us to a new world complete with myth and lore in a short amount of space. It certainly went down well with our guest writer, Cat. Have you always fancied yourself a writer of fantasy and science fiction, or how did this particular story come about?
ISHOLA: The unknown and the mysterious fascinate me. And I discovered Fantasy and Science Fiction have a reasonable dose of mystery. My early stories were very fantastical, thanks to Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth Series. So I could say fantasy, science fiction and mystery genres have always been a part of me.
On how the story came about: a flying bird generally denotes freedom, so I wondered what it would be like if a bird were to be the key to the freedom of an isolated civilization.
Your story feels as if it’s but a snippet, just a glimpse into a larger, bigger world you’ve already created. I think fans of this piece would love to know more. Can we expect something bigger from you in the future? Is a short story in the pipeline, or a novel perhaps?
ISHOLA: It was after I finished writing that I knew this was just a snippet. I became curious about the warm, golden rays which I intended to suggest sunlight. What was outside, above the Crystal Sky World? How did they come to be? Why were they isolated? To answer these questions, I expanded the myth. There could be a novel in the future, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi with a touch of fantasy.
What is your favourite opening line from a book, and what does it mean to you?
ISHOLA: My favourite opening line would be from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: “The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.”
This line is beautiful writing to me. It is short, sharp and mysterious. And it paints a scene that draws the reader in quickly.