The Flight of Flea

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When he was young and heard the stories of the mythical birds and flying beasts of legend, he imagined himself as one of them.  Powerful, ferocious, graceful, wise, and heroic.  He imagined that one day, he would grow up to be like Phoenix, with its flaming wings and healing tears.  He dreamed of being like Quetzlcóatl, worshipped by the two-leggers who otherwise ruled over all other beasts.  When he heard the stories of Garuda, he was Garuda, flying the ancient gods to and fro on their quests.  The thunderbird.  The trickster raven.  The creator heron known as Benu.

He was in awe of them all.  And he wanted to learn to acquire their qualities.  Cleverness, strength, knowledge.  And wings so magnificent that all creatures great and small were gripped with awe at their sight.

But whenever he would voice such longings, he was always ridiculed, for he was so small that all who knew him called him the flea bird, and soon that became his name, “Flea.”

A bird named “Flea” was a pitiable thing indeed.  More pitiable was that he had truly earned that name, for he was the smallest bird in all the world.  And while other young creatures grew bigger and stronger as they aged, Flea grew smaller and smaller.

Flea was a fast flier.  He always won in races against the other birds, but he soon grew so small that no bird could see him, and it did not matter that he won every race.  He grew so small, that he could ride upon the back of a beetle.  He grew smaller still, until only beings with more than two eyes could see him.  And only creatures with the keenest of ears could hear him.  And no creature seemed able to smell him.  And he grew smaller still, so small that he feared he would vanish before ever he would die.

But there came a day when he stopped growing smaller, and he stopped fearing that he would vanish.  And he began to long again for a different change.  He longed to grow big, far, far bigger than the name he was given by others.  And that reminded him that he had not always been called “Flea.”

His mother had given him another name.  A name he loved, not just because he loved his mother, but because of his longing for greatness.  But none ever called him by that other name.

They did not call him by that name, because they did not know it.  He knew it once, but he had forgotten, and he could not ask his mother, the only other being in the world who knew it, because she had died.

She had died and the world had grown darker indeed when she had.

And nothing would make it grow lighter again.  But Flea believed that if he could reclaim his given name, it would restore some small measure of that light.  If nothing else, it would restore some measure of light to his own life, for his name had been her greatest gift to him.  And he had not meant to forget it.  He believed the knowledge of his name was not lost forever, that his mother had hidden it somewhere for him to find just in case he forgot it.  He remembered his mother warning him that he would forget all the things she taught him if he was not mindful.  She would hide the knowledge in various places around their forest home, so that if he forgot, he would stumble upon the knowledge and regain it.

When he asked her why he forgot so easily, she told him it was because he was so small.  He was small and so his memory was small.  And knowing this, he clutched tightly in his mind the memories of the things that mattered the most to him, his mother, his friends, and the stories of the most magnificent birds the world had ever known.

***

Flea began to take exercise every day to strengthen himself.  He would fly around and around a nearby manor where many two-leggers lived.  To test his skill, he would dodge the people and beasts moving about the grounds during the busy morning and afternoon.  He had stopped flying regularly and had lost much of his speed, so he was too small to make it all the way around the grounds in one day.  But he practiced and practiced until he began to fly faster and faster, fast enough to cover the grounds of the manor and the forest surrounding it in a fraction of a day, then a fraction of an hour, and soon the fraction of a flicker of a sparrow’s wing.

He searched and searched for the knowledge of his name, fully believing that his mother had hidden it somewhere on the manor grounds or the surrounding forest, where she had hidden all the other knowledge that he was prone to forget.  For many weeks, he made his circuit around the castle.  But he found nothing.  Then one day, as he sat resting upon a reed, bobbing up and down as the reed swayed in the breeze, he received a visitor.

He recognized the dog at once.  Her name was Stone and she lived in the manor.  Like most creatures in the world, she could not see Flea.  But her ears were keen, keen enough to hear Flea.  If she was in the manor when he took his circuit around it, she would greet him and even bring him some food, abundant food, but she would regret that it was only crumbs.  She never mocked Flea when he spoke of the great deeds he hoped to do someday.  But she did cast doubt and told him that he might do impressive deeds and not be renowned in the world.

Stone informed Flea that he had missed much of the news of the castle that day.  Flea listened absently, for Stone was not one to share gossip and rumors, so her stories were not as engaging as the stories told by the peppered cat who roamed the manor grounds.

He perked up when she told him that there was a logician visiting the castle and that he might be able to help Flea figure out how find his name again.  Stone shared some interesting observations that the logician made for the two-leggers in the manor and about the nearby town.  Flea wondered if he would be able to speak with the man even if he came into the man’s presence.  Flea had never met a two-legger who could perceive him.  Stone told Flea that the logician lived in the brightest star.

“I cannot fly fast but I can fly far.  And I will not stop flying until I reach that star,” Flea said.

As mad as it sounded, Flea was prepared to fly up into the heavens, until the dog explained that Brightest Star was the name of an inn located in the nearby town.

He hopped into her ear and she trotted toward the inn.

***

“There is one here who was not invited here,” the logician said, glancing toward Stone as she approached.

The logician sat at a table in the dining hall of the great inn.  Beside him sat a man of noble demeanor.

“That’s my girl, Stone,” the noble man said.  “She is welcome here”

Stone padded over to the noble man, who gave her an approving and affectionate rub of the head.  Flea hopped into her ear to avoid being swept away.

Flea wondered if the logician was speaking of him, perhaps even to him.  For the man would not stop staring at Stone, particularly at Stone’s ear.  Flea was not accustomed to being seen.  It was a prickly sensation to be held under the gaze of another.

The logician spoke and he seemed to be speaking to Stone.  He offered a private audience, which made the two-leggers who were present chuckle.  But Stone later carried Flea into the logician’s chambers.

“I cannot see you,” the logician said.  “But I know you are here.”

Stone barked at the logician.  She was telling him Flea’s story, though neither she nor Flea expected the logician to understand.  They had only come because they had been summoned.  But to their surprise, the logician understood.  Perhaps he understood the language of the dogs.  Or perhaps he read the many energies that flowed in the room where the three were gathered.

“A bird?” the logician said.  “The tiniest bird in the world.  A strange creature indeed.  And you seek to find your name?”

“My name was a great gift given to me by my mother,” Flea said, and Stone conveyed the message.  “For it was not a small name, like ‘flea.’  It was a great name.  And if all call me by the name that my mother gave me, then perhaps I will begin to grow into my true name, perhaps even grow into greatness.  If I only let everyone call me ‘flea’ for all my life, then I will remain as small as a flea—smaller even.”

Through the dog’s words, the little bird conveyed his admiration for the noble birds of myth, birds born of fire, birds riding upon thunder, birds with cries so loud they could shatter the bones of animals and the branches of trees.

The logician was silent for a moment.  The tiny bird was right to believe that there was great power contained in names.  And that knowing his name may reveal an inheritance that his mother left for him that he could not claim without the name.  But the logician had never known a name to cause any creature to grow in size as the tiny bird seemed to hope would happen to him.

“I know of a polymath,” the logician said at last, “whose wit is keen and whose hands are deft.  Some call him the greatest magic-maker in the world, but let it be known that this polymath does not make magic.  He perceives truths that others cannot perceive, and he can reveal those truths to those who seek his wisdom.  If any can discover your name, it would be this polymath.  But you must present yourself to him where he abides.  He lives on the highest summit of the highest mountain, where knowledge is profuse but the elements are scarce.”

“Is it dangerous?” Stone asked, for she worried for her tiny friend.

“How long would it take to travel there?” Flea asked, for he had already decided to embark upon the journey.

“As I said,” the logician replied.  “The elements are scarce.  The air will be thin.  There will be no water to drink or food to eat save what you can carry yourself—though I would advise not to carry too much, for the mountain is so high that even the most enormous of the mythical birds would take many days to travel there.  There will be no warmth, for fires will not burn well.  And though you may rest upon the mountain face, the rest will be troubled, for the mountain face is not made of soft earth or even hard stone, but of sharp needles and shards of alloyed metal and rock.”

Stone cocked her head, and her ears bobbed from the sudden movement.  “Then how can the polymath abide there?”

“What payment will the polymath demand?” Flea asked, ignoring his friend’s concerns as his excitement mounted.

The logician raised a finger.  “Ah there you are in luck, little bird, for the knowledge he gains from answering your question will be payment enough.”  He turned to Stone.  “Forgive me, friend. I answered the easier question first, for I do not know how the polymath can abide in such an inhospitable place.  I have heard that he has built tools and machines that we who live on the lowlands do not possess, and that it is with some of these machines that he can make his abode comfortable for himself.  For great polymath he may be, but polymaths are mortal.  At least…all the polymaths I have known have been so.”

The logician told them which side of the highest mountain the polymath had chosen as his abode.  He wished the tiny bird good luck.  And when Stone and Flea asked how they might thank him, he only asked that Flea visit him at least once after learning his name.  For the logician believed that Flea would become visible to him then, and he only wanted to look upon the tiniest bird in the world with his own eyes.

***

“Do not worry, my friend,” Flea said into the dog’s ear as she trotted out of the inn and onto the road leading back to her manor home.  “I will take heed and take care as I climb the polymath’s mountain.  You need not fear for me.  You need not fear for my failure.”

At this, the dog stopped walking, and her whole frame began to shake with laughter.  Flea held on to her fur so he would not be tossed off.

“Dearest Flea,” she said.  “I have no doubt you will triumph in your quest to find your name.”  She calmed and began to slowly walk forth again.  “It is not for you that I feared, but for me, for the limits of my strength.  If any can climb this mountain, it is you.  If any can endure the scarcity of the elements, it is you.  If any can impress the greatest polymath in the world, it is you, the tiniest bird in the world.”

Flea should not have been surprised, for such was Stone’s way.  She always seemed to believe that a thing could be done, but that was why she always asked so many questions.  For believing was not enough.

Stone always sought and always had a reason to believe what she believed.

“That which you believe is your weakness will be your strength upon this journey,” she said.  “For you are so small that you do not thirst as much as others thirst.  Nor do you hunger as much as others hunger.  You are so small, that you can travel farther up into the skies where other creatures cannot, for there is not enough air to sustain them, but there is enough to sustain you.”

From the beginning of their acquaintance, Stone had tried to convince him that his size was an advantage, a gift.  She gave him examples and explanations aplenty.  He could always find shelter for himself, she would say, even when the others birds were shivering in the cold or sweltering in the heat.   He was so small that cold and heat were too big to grasp him.  And she was right.  He usually felt fine no matter what the weather.

He could go anywhere, she told him, for he fit anywhere.  If the window was closed, he could use the keyhole.  If there were too many birds on a branch, he could always find ample space for himself.

Her observations turned his mind toward observing himself.  And he found examples for himself of why his smallness was a strength.

If he fell from the sky when flying and struck the ground, he would never be hurt because he was so light he never actually struck the ground but floated just above it.

He always had plenty to eat for he needed so little food and his eyes were so small and his vision so sharp, he could always spot leavings of other birds and beasts.

Most creatures could not see him, and what could not see him, could not hunt him as prey.  On the contrary, Flea often behaved as a flea and would pester predators that sought the eggs of his fellow birds by pecking their hides with his beak.  Even the creature with the hardest shell could not resist Flea, for Flea could fit between their scales or plates of armor.

And though most birds did not know he was aiding them, they gave thanks to the friendly protector spirit of birds.  And in that way, Flea tasted a drop of the renown that the great birds of myth enjoyed.

But it had only made him thirsty for more.

“Truly, I can travel far, but not fast,” Flea said.  “Not fast enough that is.”

“Your speed is burdened by only one thing, little friend,” Stone said.  “Your mind.”

“It is not an easy thing to change my mind.”

Stone laughed again.  “Indeed, I remember how long it took for me to convince you to befriend me.”

“You were only a pup when you started,” Flea said.  “And a grown hound by the time you succeeded.”

“But succeed I did.  And so will you.”

***

Flea would have to succeed on his own, however, for his good friend could not go with him after all.  Stone had duties to tend to.  And unlike Flea, her absence would be missed, for the sight and sound of her would be missed.

But Stone had many friends beyond Flea, and she sent word ahead to them all asking that they assist Flea should they encounter him.  She was certain all would be willing, even if they did not know Flea, for her friends were good-hearted.  But the trouble was that most creatures could not perceive Flea.

Only those with the keenest of senses would sense him.  There was a fair chance that no creature between the manor and the mountain would perceive the passing of Flea.

***

Flea had never flown so far, and it had been long since he had flown so fast.  For many leagues, he zoomed through the sky above the trees faster and faster.  He flew so fast that he no longer felt the rush of the wind.  He flew so fast that the shapes and colors of the land around him and the sky above him blurred into streaks of brilliant blue, green, and brown.

Flea beamed with joy.  He began to laugh.  He would not have flown so fast if Stone had come with him.  He wondered if she had known this, and had bowed out of the journey knowing how much she would slow him.

He did not tire for a long while.  When he finally did, it was not from weariness of body but from boredom.  He was flying so fast that the changing landscape looked much the same.  He slowed so he could enjoy the sight, and take some rest and have a snack.

As he sat upon a branch, stuffing himself with a crumb of bread, he felt eyes upon him.

Before he could turn to glance about, a voice spoke.

“You must be Stone’s friend,” the voice said, with a low purr.  And a cat came padding into the clearing below the tree.  To Flea’s astonishment, the cat was peering up through the branches, directly at him.

The cat sighed heavily, her head drooping.  She raised it slowly and said,  “Must I come up to you?”

Before Flea could answer, she sighed again.  “Very well, I can do it.”

Flea had watched cats climb trees before.  Kittens could be clumsy, but cats were typically deft and graceful.  This one—though she did not seem at all aged—climbed strangely and slowly.  She stopped halfway up, sighed, and then darted up the tree so quickly that even Flea’s keen eyes almost missed it.

Purring, she sauntered out upon the branch where he sat.  She was smiling now.

“Fear not, little bird,” she said.  “For I do eat birds, but I do not eat friends.”  She lay her body along the length of the branch, some distance from him, as if to show her good faith.  She crossed a paw over another paw.  “Or friends of friends,” she added.

The cat, whose name was Gate, was astonished and impressed with the distance that Flea had covered in so short a time.  In only one day, he had already traveled half the distance to the mountain.

Flea, in turn, expressed his surprise at her extraordinary eyesight, for only certain insects could see him.  But she, of course, could not hear him.  For her ears were not as keen as Stone’s ears, nor as keen as her sight.

The cat smiled.  “I see you are trying to speak, but alas, I cannot hear you.”  She frowned.  “My ears are not as keen as Stone’s.  But you can hear me, can you not?”  She peered at him as he nodded his head.

The cat laughed a murmuring laugh.  “I will help you, little bird.”

Flea wondered what help he might possibly need, especially if the rest of his journey went as smoothly as it had so far.  But he could not know what dangers might lie ahead.  He was small enough to escape the attention of most, but Stone and Gate proved that he could not escape the attention of all.  And while they might be friends, he might encounter a foe.

“Though I cannot hear you,” the cat said.  “Others may have ears as keen as Stone’s.  I will teach you how to speak and to move so softly that none can hear you.  Ah, I see that you are skeptical.”

Flea had been frowning.  He was unused to being seen, and his eyes widened with embarrassment at his rudeness to his newly met ally.

He bowed in apology and heeded Gate’s lesson.

After watching Flea practice her lessons a few times, Gate suddenly rose from the branch and climbed down the tree.

“I will trust that you have learned my lesson well,” she said.  “But I must go now.  Speedy journey, little bird.”

Flea bowed and as she padded away, he hopped up from the branch and flew onward.

***

He flew slower now, so that he might enjoy the journey. He also hoped to encounter another of Stone’s friends.

This he did when he stopped to rest again.

He landed upon a stone and stretched his wings when he heard a voice say, “Who’s there?”

Flea glanced about, expecting someone to walk into the clearing.

“Show yourself,” the voice said.

“If you do the same,” Flea said, “for I am already in the open, sitting on the stone.”

But as he expected, the one who spoke did not hear him.  And this time, it seemed, he remained unseen as well as unheard.

“Where are you?” the voice said.

Where are you Flea wondered.  He peered about the clearing with care.  And at last, his keen eyes saw the one who was speaking.

The lizard was perched upon the branch of a nearby tree, his skin shaded the same dusky tan and brown, speckled as the branch’s bark was speckled.

Flea took to the air and darted toward the lizard.

“Ah, that’s better,” the lizard said, as Flea flew closer.  “I can smell you now.  So faintly.  Are you the one?  The tiny little bird?  Stone’s friend?”  The lizard hissed in disbelief.  “She told me you were small, perhaps too small to see or hear, but I did not believe her.”

Flea darted away from the long stretchy tongue that flicked out toward him.

“You’d best keep you distance, tiny bird,” the lizard said.  “I don’t want to eat you by mistake!”

Flea obliged.  He realized that the lizard was a huge creature indeed, bigger than any lizard that Flea had ever seen before.  He seemed almost the same length as Stone.  And though his tongue flicked often to catch any insect that wandered by, and his eyes flicked in different directions, the lizard himself did not move.

He spoke, telling Flea how ridiculous he felt at speaking to the air, but at the same time, peering at the spot near where Flea hovered, even when Flea moved.  The lizard could not see or hear Flea, but he seemed to sense that Flea was there.  His tongue must have been keen indeed to smell a bird so small that almost none others ever smelled him.

The lizard, whose named was Iron, asked Flea to stay for a while, for he would grant him a favor for the sake of their mutual friend.

“I will teach you how to change your colors,” the lizard said.  “To match your surroundings.  Then you can be invisible.”

Flea politely thanked the lizard and accepted the favor, though he was not certain he needed to learn the skill, for most could not see him.

“I will assume you have thanked me, for Stone said that you are polite and humble.  Now, heed my lesson.”

So Flea heeded the lesson and he practiced for a while, but as Iron could not see him, he could not tell Flea whether or not he had succeeded in mastering the skill.

Flea began to dart back and forth, hoping the lizard would understand that he was ready to move on.

“You’ve been a most enchanting guest,” the lizard said.  “Fare thee well!”

And with that, Flea flew onward.

***

Flea had reached the mountain at last, and it was so high that when he looked up and up, even his keen eyes could not see past the sheets of cloud to the summit above.

Though he did not feel as if he needed rest, he took a day to practice the skills that the allies he had met along the way taught him.  Remembering the logician’s warning about the scarcity of elements, and Stone’s confidence in his speed, Flea decided to take one final refreshment before flying up all the way to the abode of the polymath.

He heard the trickle of a nearby stream.  He wanted to lower himself into the water, but he feared he would get carried away.  He dipped a beak into the waters, and as he did, he was startled by a sudden splash.  A fish came bursting through the water’s surface.  He arced back down toward the water and splashed back in.

As Flea watched, the fish burst out of the water again and spoke, “I feel your presence in my scales!” he said, before disappearing beneath the waters again.

Again he leapt out of the water.  “You must be Stone’s friend.”  And again he dipped back below the surface.

Then, as he swam against the current, he poked his head just above the water.

“I cannot see you, brother bird,” he said.  “But I welcome you.  Come into the water to fortify and refresh yourself from your journey.”

The sunlight seemed to dance upon the gentle sweeping waves of the stream.  Flea smiled, then hopped up, and jumped into the water.

He made no splash, of course.  He did not change the course of the water, but neither did it change his course.  He was so small that it swept around him.  But he still reveled in its movement.  And though he did not feel cold or hot, he sensed the coolness and freshness of the water as he never had before.  As the fish swam toward him, Flea wondered if perhaps his newest acquaintance was the cause of his delight in the waters.

The fish, whose name was Vale as he later learned, swam around him and beside him.

Flea could hear the fish speak even underwater, and Vale understood this after a while.

“You likely need not learn to swim,” Vale said, “as you are a creature of flight.  But I will teach you to swim.”

Flea heeded the lesson as he had heeded the others.  He did not need to undulate his body as Vale did.  But he learned to flow through the water so well that he was soon swimming alongside Vale, and even keeping up with the fish’s abrupt turns and leaps.

“I’ve never thought I would so enjoy swimming with someone I can’t see, hear, or smell,” the fish said, when they at last took a rest.

The fish laughed, but then he grew solemn.  “I do not envy the climb that is ahead of you, but I feel certain that you are ready for it.  Best of luck to you, brother bird.”

With that Flea gazed up at the mountain face, and he darted upward.

***

Upward he flew, faster and faster, until all was a blur.  He would not stop to gaze at the sights this time—if there were any.  The mountain was higher up than the distance he had traveled from his home to reach its foot.  He would have to fly at top speed for many days to reach the summit.  He had a single crumb and single drop of water to sustain him in that time.

And he longed to be rid of their weight as soon as he could be.

As he focused on his flying, he recalled the lesson that Vale had taught him.  There were tiny bits of the mountain that sometimes broke off and fell over the side.  Some were so small that they would not have bothered a larger creature, or perhaps at the speed Flea was going, they would have.  But for Flea they were more than mere nuisance.  If he hit one, he would be be knocked down or at least knocked off course.  He darted past and around them, maintaining his speed, which only seemed to be increasing as he flew higher, past the burden of atmosphere.

Though there seemed to be no monsters or beasts to contend with, Flea encountered a hindrance and a danger he did not expect.  For he had flown so high that the clouds had grown thin and the air had grown thin, so thin that the rays of the sun sliced fiercely through what remained and struck Flea with such force that he began to slow.

Flea had never been bothered by the sun as other creatures were, creatures who were drained and dizzied by heat, creatures whose outer coverings were so delicate that even a few moments under the rays of a smiling sun would burn them.

Flea did not feel the heat of the sun’s rays, nor did he feel he was burning.  But he could not seem to bear the brightness, the white hot brightness.  Strangely, it was not the rays of the sun themselves, but the way they reflected off him, or so he perceived.

If only I could change the color of—

He hesitated mid-thought.  For he could indeed change his color, or so he hoped.  If he had heeded the lizard’s lessons well, he could shift his own color.  He tried, shifting the color darker and darker.  And it seemed to work, for the sun’s rays felt more bearable, and he began to speed up again, and as he rose higher and higher, he kept shifting his colors.

With renewed vigor, Flea soared upward.

***

Flea had been slowing down for many hours so he could gauge his progress.  When he spotted the landmark that the logician had advised him to look for, he knew he was almost there.

At last, he reached the summit.

It was quiet on the summit.  So quiet that when he landed upon the ground, he heard the sound of his own landing.

He gasped and the sound of his tiniest of voices echoed across the flat plain.

Without hesitation, Flea recalled the lessons of the cat, and he moved as quietly as she had taught him to move.

He had to walk slowly to move so quietly.  And because he was so small, he was walking too slowly to be able to reach the house he spotted in the distance.

Flea sighed.  He saw no one about.  He decided that he would fly closer, and then he would walk quietly for the last distance.

As he leapt into the air and darted forth, he heard the thrumming of his wings. They sounded like the thrumming of a hummingbird’s wings.  He delighted in the sound for moment, for he had never heard the sound of his own wings.

The door to the humble house opened, and Flea gasped once more and dropped to the ground.  He stood still and shifted his color to match the earth and grass on which he was standing.

“Show yourself,” a voice said.  It was the voice of the woman who had exited the house.  “I must know if you are intruder or guest.”

Flea was afraid, though the woman bore no weapon.  But he had not come this far to bow out now.  Here was the polymath.  Flea had expected a two-legger man from what the logician had told him, but even logicians made mistakes.

Flea took a breath to speak when the door to the house opened again.  A two-legger man came out to join the two-legger woman.

“Has whoever made that racket a moment ago revealed themselves?” the man asked.

Flea shifted back to his natural shade as he leapt into the air and hovered before the two.

The woman and the man gaped at him.

“Most wondrous,” the woman said.

“Most magnificent,” the man said.

The woman smiled.  “I name you ‘guest’, little friend.  Do not fail me.”

“What is your name?’ the man asked.

Flea glanced between the two people who could clearly see and hear him.  “I was hoping you would tell me,” he replied.

***

The man and woman invited Flea into their house.  They did indeed treat him as a guest, providing rest and refreshment after his long journey.

They were both polymaths.  Rarely did they descend from their home, and so rarely did any succeed in reaching them that few—if any—in the world below remembered that there were two of them.

“So, you have come here seeking knowledge,” the woman said, setting aside her teacup.  “What would you like to know?”

“I want to know my name.  The name my mother gave me.  Can you discover it?”

“Suppose we can discover your name,” the woman said.  “What would you do with it?”

“I would first cherish it as a gift from my mother.  And I would do all I could to live up to it.”

The woman raised a brow.  “Ah, so you are hoping that knowing your name will help you discover your nature.”

“Yes, and I want to be bigger than I am.  Much bigger.”

“Why? A great many birds’ forms are vast.  There was one so large it’s wings could encircle the moon.”  She pointed to the pale glowing crescent in the sky.  “But I have never seen a bird as small as you.  What a wonder you are.  Why would you want to change that?”

“Being different is not always useful,” Flea said.  “I cannot do what even the common birds can do.  I cannot lift a worm up into my beak.  I cannot sign songs that anyone can hear.”

“What can you do?” the man asked.

“Nothing,” Flea said, dismissively.

“You must be able in some way, or you would not have made it this far.  Few have.”

Flea sighed.  “That was not all my doing, honored hosts.  I was helped by many kind friends.”

The woman smiled softly at him.  “Tell us.  Tell us about these many friends.”

Flea began the tale of how he came to find the polymaths.  They both listened, saying not a word as Flea spoke of his adventures, surprising himself with how much he spoke.  He had expected to prove to them that he was worthy of receiving the answer to his question.  But he did not stop with the tale of his journey.  He told them of his mother, what little he remembered.  He told them of how she had many children, more than any mother in all the world. When she died, they scattered to the four winds and beyond. He was the only one left.  He was her youngest and his memory was the smallest, and so he didn’t remember his siblings at all, only his mother, and only vaguely.  He had gone to live with his aunt in the new realm, his new home.

“You have had quite a journey in reaching us,” the woman said.  “You have earned the answer to your question.”

“We knew your name the moment we saw you,” the man continued.  “We will grant you this knowledge, for it was yours to begin with.”

“Knowing will change you and change how others perceive you,” the woman said.  “You are correct in that. Though it will be your will what you do with the name your brought into our home, the name you’ve grown to disdain.  I hope you will be kind to it.”

“Yes,” the man agreed.  “I wonder if it is because you forgot your name that you have lived differently from others of your kind.   You see, your kind does not typically commune with other beings.  You pass by.  You pass through.  And even if you touch, we do not feel you.  Even if you speak, we do not hear you.  Even if you stand still before us, we do not see you.”

“But you are different,” the woman said.  “We can perceive you.  And we are not the only ones.”

So, they told Flea his name.  For a moment, nothing seemed to change.

Then the name bloomed in his mind, unfurling petal upon petal of knowledge.  It was knowledge he already held within him, but could not quite clutch.

He looked around at the humble home, gaping with his newfound vision.  He cast his gaze toward the polymaths.

“You are mostly empty space!” Flea exclaimed, astonished.

The woman crossed her arms.  “Yes, now that you see this, you will be able to travel even faster than you have, faster than all creatures, because you can travel through them—through us.”

“Though I beg you to refrain,” the man said.  “I would not feel you, but I’d rather you did not.”

Beaming, Flea vowed not to pass through the polymaths.  He wondered aloud if he would be able to pass through the mountain, and the earth below it.  Cutting through the world instead of curving over it, until he reached the the place where he began his journey.  His home.

The polymaths agreed that he could.

Flea hopped up, ready to thank them and be on his way, excited to reunite with his friends back home, for he suddenly felt a wrenching longing for home in his tiny gut.  But he hesitated.

“I’m not sure that I know what I am supposed to do with his newfound knowledge of who I am.  I am indeed like one of the birds of myth, only I am real, and rather than being great for being great, I am great for being small…or I hope that I will be.”

“Well, you know where we abide, should you have more questions,” the man said.

“But if you plan on stopping by often,” the woman said.  “We must devise a system so you do not startle us each time.”

Flea agreed.  He would indeed visit them again.  He bid the polymaths farewell and dropped to the ground and through the ground.  He saw the spaces—wide open spaces—within the mountain now.  There was no need for him to dodge anything.  He easily zoomed down through the mountain and dipped below the surface of the earth.  Though he moved faster than ever he had before, he did not see blurs.  His eyes were now quick enough to see as quickly as he flew.  And he still saw the spaces.  He passed by many strange sights, but was too eager to return home to note them.  He would return to them sometime.

***

In a blink he emerged from a well in the center of the manor grounds where his good friend Stone lived.  He zoomed around the manor and found her sleeping near a fireplace.

“Stone!”

The dog’s head perked up at once.  “Flea?”

Flea laughed at the sound of his old name, where once he had cringed at it.  The sound was a sweet one when spoken by a friend.

But that was not the best surprise he was soon to discover.  For Stone raised her head and turned it toward him, and her eyes widened.  She seemed to be looking right at him.

Flea darted to the left and landed on a stool.  Stone’s eyes tracked his movement.  Her head turned toward him.

“You can see me?” he asked.

Stone smiled.

“What do I look like?”

The dog rose to her feet and laughed.  “You are bright, my friend, and sparkling.”

Flea briefly relayed the story of his journey and of the crucial help that Stone’s friends had given him, promising that he would give her the details later.  He told her of the wonders of his flight through the earth.  He told her of the polymaths.

Stone shook her head, laughing.

“Well?” she said, wagging her tail impatiently.  “Did they answer your question?”

“It is a strange name, but I like it.  It reminds me of my mother.  Of suns and stars.  Of skies both bright and dark.”

“What is your name then, my friend?  What should we call you henceforth?”

The tiniest bird in the world beamed then, casting a light that shown so bright that even though he was small, his friend squinted her eyes.  And he spoke his name.

“Neutrino.”

 

Copyright © 2018  Nila L. Patel

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