The Stork That Drank the Stars

Digital drawing. A bird-like creature perched on a tree branch. The body faces left, the head is turned to look forward. The bird has two large rodent-like ears, rodent-like legs, two antennae emerging from the head above the eyes, a large wide beak like that of a shoebill stork, and segments of fur along the chest. Large feathers drape over the bird’s back. Part of the tree is visible at right with one branch arcing over the bird.

Romy climbed up the steps to the stage of the outdoor amphitheater, holding the megaphone in her right hand.  The late afternoon was overcast but mild.  She’d already checked to make sure that the snacks and drinks had been delivered, and the ice, and the t-shirts that read, “I Summoned the Stork with a Handstand.”

Her parents were there, one of them openly proud, the other one trying not to look terrified on Romy’s behalf.  Her friends had all told her not to be nervous, or to focus on them if she got nervous, or to picture the audience in their underwear, or other advice that she appreciated but didn’t need.

Romy was not nervous. 

Not about speaking to the eighty-eight volunteers in the grassy arena.  Or the dozens of people sitting in the audience.  All of whose gazes were now following her up to the stage.  She wasn’t nervous about all that, because all of that seemed to be under control.  She kind of liked all the attention actually.

But she did feel a twinge right in the middle of her chest when she thought about what might actually happen over the next half an hour or so.  However long the volunteers lasted.

Everyone else thought it was stunt.

So she had started thinking of it that way too over the past few months, as she and her friends spread the word, gathered volunteers, found and secured permission for a place to do the thing.

Romy introduced herself, thanked everyone for coming out, prompted the audience to give the volunteers a huge round of applause, and then she took a deep breath in.

“Volunteers, ready?”

A cheer erupted from the arena.

“Last chance to back out of it,” she said, smiling and laughing, and hoping that no one decided to back out.  She had a few back-ups present.  But only a few.

But no one moved.  They were ready.

“Okay, great.  One the count of three, everyone.  One, two…”


It started with a school assignment.

On a subject she had previously thought was the most boring and pointless, the study of mythology.

She had to find a myth that their teacher had not already presented to them, and learn enough about that myth to give a five-minute presentation to her class.  Not a presentation actually, but more like a storytelling session.

Romy’s resistance was high.  She asked her teacher if she could give a presentation on the meaning of myths to a specific people’s culture, or maybe she could interview a mythologist and ask them questions about their job.  Anything, anything but getting up and telling an outdated story about how lightning appears in the sky because some god got angry, or whatever.

Her teacher wouldn’t budge.  Romy’s online searches didn’t help.  Though she didn’t put much effort into them.  She went to the library, and complained to the librarian about the assignment.  Ms. Li, the librarian, handed her a book that might give her some ideas.

And while flipping through a book of creature and animal myths—sighing every other flip or so—Romy started seeing drawings and paintings that actually looked kind of interesting.  One in particular made her stop flipping.

It was a bird, some kind of bird.  There was something slightly off about its legs.  And also it had these huge ears, like a bat or a mouse, and its feathers kind of looked like scales too.  And it had two things on its head that looked like antennae. 

Romy started to read about it.  The section, the story, the myth, was titled, “The Stork That Drank the Stars.”


This stork-creature was enormous.  So big that when it flew overhead at night, it blocked the light of the stars.  Its beak was big and wide and deep.  When it opened, people could fit inside, and the stork could carry them up into the sky.  And even into the space above the sky, beyond the moon, and between the stars.  The stork could handle being in outer space.  But people couldn’t, except the people who were granted special powers by the ancients, a race of god-like beings who were in charge of the earth-world back in those days.  The ancients could all handle space travel.  They rode around in the stork’s bills to different worlds warmed by different stars.

Romy was charmed by that fact, that the colossal storks were capable of faster-than-light travel.

She’d already decided to do her presentation on this mythical stork-like creature.  There were a good number of stories she could tell, including the one that made her slam the book closed, fuming.


There was once a hero, Romy read, a human hero who befriended one of the colossal storks.  And this hero didn’t earn the stork’s friendship the one time he saved her, when she was a hatchling who was only as big as an elephant, and a pride of lions tried to eat her.  And he didn’t earn her friendship when they met again, at a feast where he told jokes and stories that made all the other peoples and creatures present laugh and cry. 

No, the colossal stork decided to be the hero’s friend when she was flying overhead and saw his feet turned toward her.

Curious, she landed and saw that the hero doing a handstand.

She’d never seen anything like it before.

She was young and foolish.  She thought it was a power that only the hero possessed, and wouldn’t believe him when he said there were lots of people who could do a handstand.

The stork spread the word among the other colossal storks about this amazing ability that some humans possessed.  And she told the storks that from that point on, if a human being could do a handstand, that human should earn the favor of any stork who saw that handstand.


It was ridiculous. 

Not everyone could do a handstand.  Did that mean those people weren’t worthy of earning the favor of a colossal stork? 

Romy realized that this kind of nonsense was why she did not like mythology.  It made no sense.  And why did the other storks listen to the one stork who said handstands were amazing?  Sure, they were, but why did she get to tell every other stork what to do when it came to human-stork relations?


But there was more to the story.  Romy had stopped reading before she got to the parts that might have saved her from feeling so frustrated.

Might have.

The other storks did not, in fact, listen to the one.  They did think it was silly, or at least strange, that she was so enchanted by this one thing that some humans could do.  They did wonder why it should be the only measure of a human’s worth.  They did consider the human hero a kind of pet to the stork who loved his handstands so much.

It was a silly story, but one that a lot of colossal storks came to know.

That’s why one day when a colossal stork flew over a village and saw dozens and dozens of feet facing his way, he took note.  He didn’t stop or land, but he went to find the strange stork who was friends with a human hero, and he told them what he saw.

The strange stork and her human hero friend flew to the village as quickly as they could.  The storks couldn’t fly as fast in the air as they could in space, but it still only took a few minutes.

They found out that the people of the village had heard the story of the strange stork. 

There was a deadly ghost haunting their village.  It was killing anyone who tried to approach the village, and anyone who tried to leave.  Without trade, the people of the village wouldn’t last long.  They would starve or freeze to death once winter came. 

They had done everything they could to try and get rid of the ghost. 

They tried sending word some other way.  They sent a messenger out who was supposed to be protected by charms and spells, but the messenger never came back.  He was either killed by the ghost, or maybe decided to just escape and never think about the village again.  They tried sending out pigeons.  But the pigeons too never returned.  The villagers feared that the ghost must have killed them too.

Finally, one of them suggested something that seemed so silly that the villagers had almost driven him out, into the clutches of the deadly ghost.

But then he did it.  He did a handstand in the middle of the village, pointing his feet to the sky.  And soon another person joined him, and more and more people.  They were trying to get the attention of the strange stork, knowing that her friend, the human hero, would help them.  And maybe the stork would too.

By the time they were seen, eight days had passed.

The human hero and the strange stork did help the people of the village. 

The ghost was too afraid to attack the colossal stork, so she flew all the villagers out to safety.  Then hero and stork both flew around to find some sorcerer or holy person who could rid the village of the deadly ghost.

They figured it out, and the ghost was vanquished.

The strange stork and the human hero flew all the villagers back to their village.

The story spread.

And even when there were other ways to contact the strange stork and the human hero, people would still gather a crowd to do a handstand.

But people were using the gesture as a way to summon the stork, instead of as a signal that a stork would have to be flying overhead to see.

So the human hero and the strange stork tried to figure out some way that they could indeed be summoned by that signal, no matter where they were.

The best way they could think of was to place colossal storks far above the earth to serve as watchers.  If the watchers saw the signal, the handstands, they would send a signal of their own, and when it reached the human hero and the strange stork, they would swoop in and help. 

In time, other colossal storks would sometimes fly down and help too, with or without a human friend.  In time, those storks who stood watch in the skies began to change shape.  Without the earth weighing them down, they grew bigger and bigger.  Their feathers shifted color to hide them, from blue sky to night sky, from storm cloud to white cloud.  And their eyes grew as big as moons.  So, fewer of them needed to hang in the sky and watch. 

In time, some of the storks liked being closer to the earth.  So they began to grow smaller and smaller.  They learned to shift their shapes to protect themselves. 

The strange stork never shifted her shape, even after the human hero died.  Some of the accounts said that he became an ancient and that he and the strange stork flew up past the moon and out to the stars.

The ancient didn’t need air, or food or drink.  He didn’t get cold or tired.  And when the strange stork needed energy, she would take a sip from a star, and not need to eat, drink, or rest for centuries.

They would return to their home someday, far into the future.  But until then, there were plenty of storks and humans on the earth.


Romy had tried not to think about the myth as she watched all eighty-eight people bend down, put their hands on the ground, and push their feet up, balancing until they were doing a handstand.

For some reason, the myth had gotten to her.  Maybe it was because she dreamed of going out past the moon and into the stars someday.

And even though her friends, family, and teachers all knew that, they didn’t really know.  They only saw the strong shiny surface of her dream.  They didn’t see the fragile bud that lived in the deep and desperate part of her heart, ready to bloom and afraid to bloom.

Romy kept busy roaming around the amphitheater, keeping an eye on the handstanders.  There was security present, and first responders who had volunteered to administer aid.  Everyone had filled out forms, lots of forms.  Her mom had helped coordinate that part.

After a little while, most of the handstanders started falling.  They got a cheer for their part in the effort.  Romy handed each of them a gift bag herself, with that t-shirt inside, and a handwritten “thank you” card from her, and a few other treats.  Her dad had helped her put that together.

People had started playing music, playing games, bringing and eating food, goofing around. 

Maybe this is wrong, Romy thought, sitting among her friends.  We don’t need help.

The colossal storks were not real.  At least they weren’t real anymore.  But if they were, then she and the volunteers she’d gathered were telling a lie.  They weren’t supposed to summon a stork just so they could see it.

She had let everyone else convince her that it was just a stunt, a fairly harmless one.  And she’d even gotten a few sponsors, because the number of volunteers she had gathered would break some kind of record for their region—or at least their town.  She had told every adult she needed permission from the truth.  She wanted to summon a colossal stork.  None of them had given her any lectures about messing with ancient powers.  She had even worried there might be protestors, at least a handful, picketing against the evils of conjuring mythical creatures.

Evening approached quickly.  A few of the handstanders were still holding on.  Romy had gotten her parents to agree to let her stay until the last person fell to their feet.  They had agreed, mostly because they had looked up how long the average person could do a handstand, and realized they wouldn’t be there for days.  The people in the myth had held on for eight days.

But that was just a myth.


When full night fell, Romy realized it was colder than she’d expected.  Even with a jacket over a hoodie, she started to shiver, and to worry about the last few handstanders.  She decided to announce that they could stop.  And she decided to convince her parents to give those last people some gift certificates maybe, for hanging on the longest.  The money could come out of whatever gift they would be giving her for her birthday—maybe the next few birthdays.

A lot of people had gone home.  But a lot were still there.

A few barbecues were still going.  Music was still playing.  People were taking advantage of the event to gather and spend time together.

Romy stood up to go find the megaphone.

Then the half-moon vanished.

And all the stars winked out.


There was still plenty of light.  The amphitheater floodlights.  Lanterns people had brought in the adjacent parking lot.

But all that light was anchored to the earth.

The sky above was completely dark.

Romy heard people gasp, and look up.  She looked up too.  She held her breath.

She noticed the music had stopped.  She only heard the sizzling sound of forgotten hot dogs on a grill.

And the soft sounds of traffic on the closest street.

She heard someone whisper, “Do you see anything?”

Romy didn’t know how long she stared up at the sky, trying not to blink too much, straining to see something, the gleam of an eye gazing down at them.  Or maybe to hear something, the flapping of a colossal pair of wings.

But she didn’t see or hear or feel anything.  And then, between one blink and the next, the stars returned.

The half-moon reappeared. 

The hush that had descended on the crowd started to fade.  Someone cursed, probably in response to the smell of burnt hot dogs.  Others laughed and chuckled in nervous excitement.

“Was that it, Romy?”

Romy was still staring up at the sky.  She looked down and found the person who’d asked the question.  One of her friends. 

More people were looking at her.  And she noticed that all the handstanders were back on their feet.

Romy grinned and shook her head.  “I don’t know,” she said.


Eight nights later, after Romy had been featured in their local newspaper for helping their town set a record for “most number of people doing a simultaneous handstand,” and after she’d given her presentation about the human hero and the strange stork, she still hadn’t shaken the feeling she’d felt when the sky went dark.  And she didn’t want to shake it.  Even though she couldn’t really put it into words.  She had tried to write down a number of words to describe it, “wonder,” “awe,” “amazement.”  It was those things in a way.  But it was something else too. 

She almost asked her mom one day.  “What is it called when you feel so big and so small at the same time?”

She didn’t ask. 

Romy tried to spend at least a few minutes every night looking up at the sky.  It wasn’t because she thought the sky would go dark again.  She just wanted to see if she felt that feeling again.  If the usual night sky made her feel it.  A few times it did.

It wasn’t quite dark enough for her to do that when she went to the back patio door to close the blinds.  She glanced out at the tree that grew in the middle of their yard, and saw a bird sitting on one of the inner branches.  It was big enough to be a falcon maybe. 

Except that it’s beak was not small and curved down in a point.  It was big and broad.  And when the bird shifted its head, Romy’s eyes went wide. 

What she had thought were leaves drooping over the bird’s head were actually stuck to the bird’s head, like two big wide feathers.  Or ears.   

And she couldn’t quite tell because the sky was getting dim and the tree was too far away, but she thought she saw two protrusions in the front of the bird’s head.  Like antennae.

She wanted to reach for her phone, so she could snap a picture.  It was just on the table behind her.  She reached her arm back without looking away from the bird. 

The bird turned its head and looked at her.

Romy felt her throat catch.  She gulped.  “Hello,” she said in a quiet voice, as if she might startle the bird and drive it away. 

“It’s my fault.  I made them summon you,” she explained.  “I just wanted to see you.”

The bird looked away from her, and she saw its head in profile.  She saw the furry segments along its chest.  The bird glanced at her again as it raised its wings, covered in large precisely shaped feathers that almost kind of looked like scales.  That great wide bill opened and snapped closed.

And then the bird leapt off the branch and winged away.

Romy wanted to throw open the door and tear after the bird.

But she didn’t.

Instead she wrote it all down.  And when full evening feel, she looked up at the night sky.  The moon, she knew, was the moon. 

But there were other orbs in the sky just as big, invisible to her.

The eyes of a strange colossal bird who would forgive her for being young and foolish.

And who maybe someday, maybe, when she was wiser, would want to be her friend.

Copyright © 2023  Nila L. Patel

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