It was a gorgeous summer morning. The sun was shining smartly and all of the forest animals were gathered at the local lake enjoying the water and time to chat with friends. The younger animals and birds ventured only to the edge of the water for fear of what lie beyond the calm ripples that tickled their feet. Their parents lounged lazily on the bank soaking in the sun's rays as they shared the latest gossip.
But this is not where we find our characters for this story, Cardinal and Pigeon. They had lived in the forest their whole life. When they were just chicks, they too splashed and played in the cool water with their mutual friends Sparrow and Mouse. But as they grew, new friends began to pull Cardinal apart from his former friends. Pigeon still spent most of his time with Sparrow and Mouse, while Cardinal hung around Parrot and Woodpecker. Cardinal had long since grown tired of his other friends whom he thought were as dull as the feathers they wore. When Parrot and Woodpecker moved into the forest, he immediately sought them out and became their friend. These are our characters; now let’s go back to the summer day where our story takes place.
While it indeed was a most glorious day to spend at the lake, Pigeon, Sparrow, and Mouse were not enjoying a day of leisure. Summer was drawing to a close and winter was creeping up close behind. During the beginning of summer, Mouse had sprained his ankle and was unable to store much food. As a result, the long days that were perfect for work were slipping away at an alarming pace, and his food supply was not growing in the least.
Calling his friends in desperation, he asked them if they would be so kind as to help him find and store food for winter. Pigeon and Sparrow eagerly signed up to help. But Cardinal, Parrot, and Woodpecker informed Mouse in no uncertain terms that storing food for winter was much too boring and that they were much too cool to participate in such a degrading activity. Working valiantly to store food for poor Mouse is what Pigeon, Sparrow and Mouse were doing that fine summer day.
In the meantime, Cardinal, Parrot, and Woodpecker were off entertaining themselves at the expense of others. Spending the day at the lake was much too juvenile for these hip birds so they amused themselves by pestering and teasing the beavers that were hard at work repairing their dam. After they had gotten their laughs and were through vexing the water rodents, they took off to find some other poor creature to harass. As they were flying above the forest joking and kidding with each other in a most absurd way, they spotted Pigeon, Sparrow, and Mouse hard at work. Winking at each other they swooped down to have a little chat with the harried creatures.
“Well, well, what have we here?” asked Woodpecker in his most condescending manner.
“It appears to me that our very un-cool friends here have no concept of the fact that summer is for fun!” Parrot sneered as his friends erupted into outrageous hoots and snorts.
“Pigeon, I didn’t think you to be so stuffy!” exclaimed Cardinal as he wiped his eyes. “Why don’t you leave these boring workers and come to play with us?”
Pigeon looked up in surprise. “Why, Cardinal!” he cried, “I did not think that you were like these friends of yours. You’re much too good for them. They always tease the younger birds and bother the elderly. They are foolish and stupid! But you have always had such a good heart. You know that Mouse cannot possibly survive the winter if he doesn’t have sufficient food! Come, help us. The more wings, the faster it goes. Then we could go play like old times.”
Cardinal scratched the floor in embarrassment. When he raised his eyes he looked deep in Pigeon's pleading brown eyes. He opened his mouth to say that they could help for a little bit when he saw the vicious, angry stares of his other friends. He shut his mouth quickly and mumbled, “Sorry Pigeon, another day maybe”, and promptly began to scrutinize the floor to hide his discomfort.
“Yeah, he doesn’t want to hang out with you guys anyway. Cool birds don’t hang out with losers.” declared Woodpecker, as Parrot clapped him on the back.
Cardinal peeked at Pigeon and watched his wings droop as a look of betrayal crept into his eyes. With one final insult from Woodpecker, Cardinal and his friends flew quickly away. Once in the air, Cardinal bid his friends farewell and headed for home, afraid his heavy heart would cause him to crash to the ground at any moment.
Later on that day as the families at the lake packed up their belongings and headed for home, Cardinal stood at the edge of the water gazing at his reflection in the water. He didn’t understand the gnawing in his heart or the churning of his stomach. All he knew was that he would do anything to keep the friendship of his cool friends.
He began walking across the bank that was now deserted by all but a few creatures that were still lingering. As he rounded a bend on the lake he sidestepped to avoid a huge formation of rocks. Gazing at the rocks reflectively, he brought to memory the many times he and Pigeon had frolicked across those very rocks believing they were affronting the very heart of danger. As he stood in silence he thought he heard voices. Tilting his head, he was most assured that there were voices and that they were coming from the other side of the rocks. He turned to leave, not wanting to invade the people’s privacy when he heard Woodpecker’s voice. In spite of himself he drew closer and stood perfectly still, scarcely breathing. The next few moments shocked him speechless. Feeling dizzy and positively sick, he staggered away from the rocks and with faltering motions succeeded to just barely lift himself away from the ground. Flying unsteadily, he grazed a few trees with his wings because of the tears that blinded his eyes. The hours blurred together as he pushed on, flying precariously through his treacherous journey. He spotted his destination and dove to the ground. Smashing into tree limbs, rocks, and trunks of might oaks, he landed with a thud in front of the house and slipped into blissful nothingness.
Cardinal willed his eyesight to clear as he attempted to place his settings. He was very soon remembered of his fall because of the throbbing pain in his leg and beak. He groaned and cried out for help. Very quickly, a soft wing was brought to his head and a soft cooing lulled him back to sleep.
Hours later Cardinal awoke to a gentle voice calling him. He awoke with a start and jumped a bit.
“There, there just relax now. Everything will be just fine. You had a little fall there.”
Cardinal’s eyes focused in on a Dove with a chubby yet kind face. Her sweet smile and compassionate eyes made Cardinal want to cry.
“How are you felling?” she asked with a soft English accent.
“A little beat up I guess”, Cardinal answered hoarsely. “Where am I?”
“You’re in Sheriff Eagle’s home. I’m his wife.” she answered while pouring him a glass of water. “You came to us about two days ago in a poor state indeed. What would cause a young boy like you to be out and about so late at night?”
Urgency filled Cardinal’s very being as he remembered the magnitude of his errand. “I have to talk to the sheriff!” he said earnestly. “Is he home?”
“No, I’m afraid not. He was called away early this morning on urgent business. It seems that some cruel individuals attacked a so- called Mouse late last night. They broke into his home and destroyed all that was inside before burning his food supply. They left him lying on his floor barely alive. They wrote a terrible message on the wall-- ”
“ ‘You're the stupid fool' ” Cardinal finished for her, his face ashen and eyes dazed.
Mrs. Dove’s eyes immediately became suspicions as she backed away a bit. “And how do you know this? You were passed out when it happened.”
Cardinal shifted his blank gaze to meet her scrutiny. “Because I know who did it. That is why I was coming to the sheriff… to warn him.” Cardinal then proceeded to recount to the kind women all that had transpired, beginning with the severing of his friendship with Pigeon and ending with his account at the lake not two days earlier.
When he was done, he sank into the pillows weary and emotionally exhausted. Mrs. Dove placed a loving wing on him and said, “I know you will do the right thing, Cardinal. For Pigeon is right. You DO have a good heart. Now it time for it to shine through. But, you are not left without consequences. For your face will always be deformed because of your perilous fall. Not only did you manage to break you poor leg, but you also broke your beak and scarred your face. Your beak will never be the same again.”
Cardinal looked at her and with a sad smile and said, “You know, I don’t really care. I’ve learned that colorful feathers aren’t everything in life. Even the coolest and nicest looking birds can harbor a heart full of evil and malice. I’m only sorry that I had to learn it the hard way, and injure a dear friend in the process.”
Several days elapsed before Cardinal recuperated enough to hobble about on his own. Under the careful care of Mrs. Dove, his leg began to heal as well as his heart. When Sheriff Eagle arrived home he heard the story told again from the injured beak of Cardinal, and he only nodded and asked one question. “Why, my boy would these cruel friends of yours harm Mouse if it was Pigeon they were angry at?”
Cardinal acknowledged the question with a sigh, “The most effective way to wound Pigeon’s dear heart is to hurt his friends. He will endure any personal hardship but he is devastated when anything happens to those he loves.”
With a tender face Sheriff Eagle accepted the explanation and moved the conversation to other topics.
Finally, after many agonizing days wondering about Mouse, Cardinal was finally told that he was well enough to leave when he wished.
Concluding a tearful good-bye, Cardinal began his slow and tedious journey toward his forest home. Resting often, he made it to the beloved forest in less than a day. Tired, and fighting the urge to collapse from the pain, he lifted a tattered wing a knocked softly on the door to a humble home. After some rustling inside, the door was hesitantly opened by a very weary Pigeon who gaped in shock at the poor, beat image of Cardinal barely standing up at the threshold of his home.
“Pigeon,” Cardinal said between gasps of breath, “could Mouse still use some help gathering food for winter?”
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