The Raven and the Writing Desk
A short story by T. R. Stoddard
One seemingly bleak December Adam found a fallen tree in the Aves Forest, the prize tree for carving; trees like this were special, far and few between. He spied the fallen cherry oak and went back to his home at the edge of the Aves Forest to fetch his trusty axe. When he returned, axe in hand, the tree couldn’t be seen because it was covered entirely by a flock of ravens. He tried to shoo the birds away with a feigned sweep of his axe, but they didn’t so much as ruffle a feather. Once more he brought his axe up and made a dramatic sweeping motion in the air, closer yet to the ravens. But nothing, they didn’t make a move. He lowered his axe and approached the birds, reaching his hand out to see if they’d budge this time. Nothing still. He reached out and stroked the Raven with the back of his hand, but the flock remained seemingly paralyzed. He gingerly plucked a tail feather from the raven he touched and withdrew his hand with particular speed. However, the flock and the plucked bird did nothing.
Today was obviously not his day to retrieve his prized wood; there was always tomorrow, or the next day, or the next. Living on the edge of the forest had its advantages, sooner or later, that tree would be his. He would finally have the last piece in his furniture set—a writing desk. He retreated from the army of ravens, feeling slightly defeated but also determined. He stashed the feather in his pocket and walked the 200-something yards to his house. When he entered his cozy abode, he took off his heavy coats and sat by his fireplace. He looked and dressed similarly to a lumberjack, but he would never consider such a violent profession. They robbed the forest of its trees; Adam had never done that in his life. He’d simply gone in and cleaned up after fallen trees. His work was good, and it was pure. Not like those tree hungry lumberjacks that he’d had the misfortune of running into more times than he’d care to remember.
Although he cared not to remember he did exactly the opposite:
It had been years ago, he was just a boy at the time when he had first run across those dastardly lumberjacks. He had been in the forest a few acres away from his childhood home, gathering good sticks to whittle, these were his pre wood working days. His family had been wood-workers for as long as there was written record of them, and before that stories were passed down from one O’Brian to the next. Adam had gathered a decent sized bundle of whittle-worthy sticks when he heard the cacophonous whir and grind of a chainsaw for the first time. And then he saw them: big, burly, hairy, chainsaw toting men. A few women were among them but they blended in with the men flawlessly.
Adam had always heard stories of these people, coming into forests and wreaking havoc with their power tools, but he never dreamt he’d encounter them in person. They came to defile the forest and to destroy Mother Nature. Adam had always been taught never to kill a living thing unless it was in defense or for survival. He cringed as he heard the astringent sound of screeching metal on wood and watched in horror as the Jacks made quick work of the once beautiful forest. He wanted to say something, to stop them—but lumberjacks weren’t renowned for their kindness or understanding. He stayed quiet, silently strengthening his vow never to ruin nature in such an indifferent, careless manner.
He watched as each tree went speeding toward the ground, impacting with a resonating thud. Breaking branches, crunching leaves and thud after thud could be heard with each impact. They were approaching, one fallen natural monument at a time. He saw a nest next to one of the newly fallen trees and feared the worst for the inhabitants of it, if there were any. Not caring about the lumberjacks, Adam made his way to the nest. There was more bad news than good, but at least there was some good. A family of birds had occupied it. Two large black birds and one baby black bird were dead, but there was a smaller black bird that made it. They appeared to be ravens; he put his sticks down and picked up the nest, carefully placing the baby bird back in it. The lumberjacks noticed him doing this and they all turned their saws off and crowded around him.
One of the women (if you can call them that) sneered and said “Ohh did we kill some precious little birdies? That’s too bad.” She rudely laughed as she said it. One of the men said “It’s a shame we didn’t get them all, better luck next time, eh fellas?” They all joined in with a sort of grunt that he guessed meant that they agreed. The wind whispered a gentle thanks before it began to roar with a vengeance at the merciless lumberjacks. Adam took his coat off and sheltered the baby bird as the wind joined with the rain, thunder, and lightning to deliver Karma at its finest. Not a foot away from the lumberjacks lightning intensely cracked and set a dead log aflame. When they heard the sound, they all jumped, and one of the men’s clothes was alight.
The fire made quick work of his garments and he was left freezing and unclothed in the unforgiving conditions. Adam should have hurried home, but he sat and watched in delight as Karma was dealt out. At that every last one of them dropped their chainsaws and ran off from the site of the lightning strike, and as soon as they left the weather turned beautiful again. Normally, Adam would have never dreamed of stealing or destroying someone else’s property, but these people made his young blood boil. He would be back to fetch these chainsaws after he saw to it that the raven was properly taken care of.
He made the short trek to his home and brought the baby bird inside with him, determined to care for it until it was old enough to care for itself. He debated showing his mother, but he figured she would know best how to take care of it. Even if she didn’t want the bird in the house, he knew she wouldn’t have the heart to leave the orphaned bird in the cold, alone and uncared for. “Ma, I’m home, I brought a baby bird with me. The lumberjacks cut the tree down and this little guy is the only one who survived. Can we keep him? Without us he will surely die.” He pleaded to his Mom at the kitchen table.
“I’m so proud to have a boy like you, you know right from wrong. Let me see the bird, Adam.”
He gently handed his mother the nest with the baby bird in it, concern radiating from his chocolate brown eyes. Unkempt ash hair swept over his forehead and freckles kissed his cheeks. He was normally a happy kid, his soft pink lips always smiling, but at the moment they were creased with worry. “Is he going to be okay, Ma?” he asked timidly. “Yes dear, he’s lucky you came along. Those lumberjacks will get what they have coming to them.” He couldn’t help but laugh when his mother said this and his face brightened up with the smile that normally calls his face home.
"What’s so funny, Adam?” “The lumberjacks did get what was coming to them. I had my coat over the baby bird and it started raining and then a log got hit by lightning! Then one of the lumberjacks caught on fire and it burned all his clothes off! They were all so scared they all ran away!” He laughed again, recalling the incident. “Are you okay?” she asked sounding worried. “Yes Ma, I’m fine.” Knowing that her son was fine, she allowed herself some laughter over the fate of the lumberjacks. “Why don’t you go outside and look for some bugs and worms that we can grind up for him so he can get something to eat.” “Okay Ma.”
Adam remembered the chainsaws and ran back in to ask his mother if his father could help him get the chainsaws so the lumberjacks couldn’t get them. “Normally I would say no, stealing is wrong after all, but what they did is worse than that. They deserve to have to work even harder to do their disservice to nature. When Dad gets home I’m sure he’ll help you get them.” He was slightly shocked by his mother’s answer and said “Thanks Ma.” and went back outside to find food for his bird. He went to the side of the house and found a particularly moist patch of dirt that looked like a worm haven. He began digging and hit the jackpot. He found three worms and various bugs and he’d only been out there a few minutes. He ran back in as fast as he could so that the baby bird could eat.
“Adam, will you watch the bird while I go get a syringe for it to drink from?”
“Sure thing Ma, where do you want the bugs and worms?”
“Just set them in the bowl on the counter sweetie.”
He went back to sitting at the kitchen table with his bird. “I need to name you something. Something special, because you’re special. How about Lightning?” The baby bird made a noise. “Lightning it is. I can tell we’re going to be best friends, Lightning. Mom is looking for something for you to drink, and we have your food. You’re going to like it here.” The bird made another chirping sound like he agreed.
His mother came down the stairs holding a syringe full of water. “Look, Ma got you some water.”
“His name is Lightning, Ma. When will his worms be ready?”
“I just need to mash them up.”
She went to work mashing bugs and worms, not the most glamorous job, but it was vital to Lightning’s survival. “Come here and watch me so you know what you’re doing, he’s going to be your responsibility.” He made sure Lightning couldn’t fall out of the nest and then went over to the counter to watch his mother. “Ew, gross.” he exclaimed as he looked at the bowl of mush. “What did you expect, strawberry pie?”
“I guess not. Lightning will probably like it as much as I like strawberry pie though.”
“Probably. Here, watch what I do.”
She went over to lightning and offered him the syringe. Instinctively he stretched his head up and opened his mouth wide. She squirted a bit of water in and waited before giving him anything to eat. She grimaced slightly and grabbed a finger full of worm goo. Lightning eagerly took the goo like it was the best thing in the world, and to him, it probably was.
“Do you think you can do it, Adam? Were you watching?” He was watching his mother the entire time. “Yes Ma, I was watching. Should I give him some more water or just more food?”
“Try giving him some food first, and then go for the water.”
He grabbed a small glop of worm goo and was disgusted by how it felt, but it was worth it to help Lightning, who ate it with no problem and eagerly drank some of the water from the syringe. “I think you’re going to fit in here just fine Lightning!” He carefully picked up the nest with Lightning in it and asked his mother if lightning could sleep in his room. “Sure. Just make sure he’s in the middle of your dresser. We don’t want him falling off.” He carefully climbed the stairs, making sure the baby bird was securely in the nest. He set him in the middle of his dresser and was glad he was able to help the bird.
“Adam, your father’s home. You should go ask him about those chainsaws before it gets too late.” Adam told Lightning he’d be back soon and trampled down the stairs to go meet his father. “Dad! Will you help me get the chainsaws? Some lumberjacks were ruining the whole forest and the birds fell out of the tree but Lightning survived and the lumberjack caught on fire and then they all ran and they left their chainsaws.”
“Easy now, kiddo, breathe. Does your mother know?” The furrow between his eyebrows grew deeper with suspicion. “Yes, she told me to ask you. She’s okay with it. She said normally she wouldn’t be but they’re bad people and deserve what they get. This way they can’t cut down the forest as soon.”
“Okay, okay. Tell you what. Let me get a glass of lemonade and then we can go get their chainsaws. What exactly do you want to do with them, Adam? I’m not exactly comfortable with my seven year old playing with chainsaws.”
“No, no Dad. I don’t want them for me. I don’t care what we do with them as long as those mean lumberjacks don’t have them. I’ll be waiting for you.” Adam sat on the wrap-around porch while his father poured himself a cool glass of lemonade.
His father came back out and said “On second thought, son. That’s a man’s job. How about your Uncle Shaw and I go and do that and you go play with your bird.”
“Okay Dad, as long as the lumberjacks don’t get them I don’t care what happens.”
“I’ll be up to see your bird when I’m done. I can’t wait to see him.”
Adam rushed back to his room to be with his bird, which was still safely in the nest in the middle of his dresser. Before long his Dad made his way up to see the bird. “Now what have we here?” his father approached Lightning. “His name is Lightning, Dad.”
“That’s a strange name for a bird, why lightning?”
“Because of the lightning we saw hit the ground. He liked the name.”
Lightning gave another chirp of approval and his father looked amused. “Lightning is welcome to stay as long as he wants, he’s part of the family. But he might want to leave us when he’s old enough to fly, birds generally leave their nest pretty early, and this might not be an exception. “I know, Dad. I’m just glad I saved him.”
“What a trooper. I’m glad to have you as my son, Adam.” And with that he walked out of the room leaving the boy and his bird.
The pair of them grew up together, day after day, Lightning growing more rapidly than Adam. He stuck around longer than birds typically do in the wild, and the pair was inseparable. The two of them had a special bond. This went on until the O’Brians had to move: with all the commotion from moving, Lightning flew off and didn’t show back up in time for the move. Adam was absolutely devastated and tried desperately to put his beloved friend and companion out of his mind completely.
He stared at the crackling fire. That’d been the first time in many, many years that Adam had thought about Lighting. He missed that bird; the move was the worst thing that had ever happened to him. He continued to stare aimlessly into the fire when it hit him. Lightning was a raven, and the flocks of birds in the forest were ravens too. Could they possibly be connected? It was all too strange. Just then his bloodhound, Storm, pulled him from his thoughts with a soulful howl. “Alright buddy, I’ll feed you.” He made his way to the pantry and scooped some dry food for his canine companion. “Here ya go. I’m going to head back out. I’ll be back.” He put his coats back on and headed back outside to take another look at the tree.
When he made it to the site of the tree only a single Raven remained and a pile of perfect feathers were spread around the tree.
“Lightning!? It can’t be. It simply can’t. Do ravens even live this long?”
“You saved me many years ago, all of the ravens in this forest feel a strong connection to you. I am here to answer a question that has alluded so many for quite some time. It has remained a secret between the trees of the forest and all of raven-kind. By saving me all those year ago you have been renowned by all of the ravens that I have had the opportunity to tell of your heroics. You are sort of a hero in the raven community. “
“Lightning. You’re talking to me. How can you possibly be talking to me? You’re a…you’re a…well…a bird.”
“We can all talk, Adam. We are just selective as to who we reveal our secrets to. You can never be too careful who you tell. Most humans would reveal our secrets and make carnival acts out of us.”
“I would never…that’s something someone like a lumberjack would do.” He sounded outraged that people among his species would sell someone, or some bird out like that so quickly.
“We know that, Adam, and that’s why I am going to tell you the answer to the age old question. You may pass the knowledge and a finding off as your own, it is the least we could do to repay your valiant efforts in the forest that day.”
“I wasn’t expecting anything for doing it. I’m just glad I could save you, I wish I could have saved the others.” his face was full of remorse.
“At least you saved me. And you took the chainsaws away from those lumberjacks. You are a good human, Adam.”
“Thanks Lightning. I’d do all of this again in a heartbeat if I could.”
“Now let me get started and I will tell you why a raven is like a writing desk:”
Trees and ravens have had a symbiotic relationship ever since they began occupying the same forests. The mighty tree has always provided the raven with shelter and in turn the ravens help take care of the tree. Ravens often warded off dangerous plants, animals, and humans—keeping the tree safe. This pairing has proved to be beneficial for both parties. This is the story of the pact made by the first of the ravens and the first of the trees.
The time of the story isn't entirely known. It happened well before the written word, and stories evolve. According to the trees and the ravens, the time itself doesn't matter. It is all about the lesson one takes from it. Somewhere around the beginning of forest life as we know it there was Arthur the Oak Tree and Remington the Raven. The forest was still new and it was prime time to form alliances, and none of the forest creatures were wasting any time. They all hoped they'd never have to depend on their alliances for back-up; but Grayson, the groundhog prophet spoke of a day where their home would be invaded. They would all have to work together to remain safe in case the legendary "human" monster was actually real.
Arthur and Remington were the best of friends- they spent nearly all their time together except for when Remington was off getting food. As soon as he finished hunting, he brought it back to keep Arthur company. His roots ran deep, so he could never leave the spot he'd sprouted in. Remington wasn't the only raven making friends with the trees, it had been sanctioned by the tribes that they all pair up. Many others paired up, but no bond as strong as that between a tree and the raven or ravens that kept it company.
In exchange for the company, the trees would provide the ravens with shelter. The ravens would ward off any unwanted animal, mineral, or vegetable. It was the perfect pairing. Remington and the other ravens his age began to die off, but the trees were left behind to thrive. Remington's family were all loyal to Arthur, and they kept him company, and thus each raven family had a tree it always returned to. Birds of a feather flock together, and all go back to their family tree. The two are fated to always be together in one form or another.
"Wow." Adam said, half-amazed and completely honored that they would share their secrets
"I'm glad you liked it, Adam. That wasn't just a story. We sadly just lost Arthur, he's been a part of my family since the beginning of everything." Lightning said, proud and somber at the same time.
"You mean, that's...Arthur?" he said dumb-founded.
"Yes. There were only a few descendants of Remington left, myself being one of them. You helped me carry on the family. We were destined to be with Arthur until the end."
"Wow. I'm so sorry..." Adam said, sadness sweeping over him.
"Don't be, you made it so that the Remington family could be with him until the end, like we wanted to be, and don't fret. Arthur too has descendants, a sapling not far from where he sprouted," the raven said with hope.
And then he was gone.
Adam woke up in his bed, unsure if what he had experienced was a dream or reality. He couldn't recall getting to his bed. The sun shone brightly through the window, he'd obviously slept off the rest of the afternoon and the evening. He got up, fed Storm, and went back out to see the fallen cherry oak once more.
The dream had felt so vivid, if it was a dream. He still had his doubts, but it didn't make any sense. Talking birds? Legendary trees and forest animals and groundhogs named Grayson? It was all too strange, but somehow it felt real. Shockingly real. This feeling was confirmed when he approached the tree and saw the mass of feathers around the fallen oak. The descendants of Arthur, they were protecting him--even in death. They had all flocked around and wouldn't budge for anything. The story seemed more and more real by the second. It made sense that they would protect someone, or some tree that had been part of their lives (and their descendants’ lives) for so long.
By saving Lightning, he had earned the right to incorporate Arthur into his own life and the life of his family by making a table out of Arthur. What better way to honor the life of such a great tree than to make something out of him, something that would unite him with his family. It was far better than letting him sit in the forest and rot. He went back to his house, grabbed his ax, and began turning Arthur into the perfect writing desk.
It took Adam a lot of time and hard work to fashion an amazing writing desk out of Arthur. After the last bit of polishing he set a handful of feathers into a cup and set it on the writing desk. Now, whenever anyone would ask why a raven is like a writing desk, he would know. Not only would he know, but he would be a part of the magic.
And he would never tell anyone, and instead keep it as his own: an untainted, unspoiled, unbelievable secret.