Northern Lights


Aurelia came in on her day off to clean the outdoor cage. The empty pool had to be dredged of plant debris and scrubbed clean of the grime of disuse. The tree litter she extracted made even her retch with disgust. When it was finally clean, she checked the filters and pump system, making sure both were in good working order—bringing a sick bird to convalesce in dirty water was no option. She erected a makeshift shade partially covering the enclosure to ensure that her new Pelican friend had somewhere to retreat out of the sun.

As she pulled the final zip ties taut and trimmed their excess, Echo landed on top of the chain-link box, watching her with interest. She handed him a clipped piece to inspect.

Will he ever come home with us? The male crow wanted to know.
Aurelia gave a few casual glances around. Her coworkers worked primarily inside. Most were born and raised in this part of the country and felt that summer heat was too oppressive. “I doubt it. Where would he roost?” She asked.
Echo gripped the zip-tie with one foot, inspecting the length with a few gentle bites before letting it drop onto the tarp. Aurelia pocketed the discarded tie.
“No,” she finally said. “We have enough space for the five of us, and no more.” The flicker of worry that the conservatory couldn’t support a fully-grown pelican through the winter months tickled the back of her brain. That was a problem for later.

Climbing down, she let herself in through the exterior door and shuffled around the rock accents that bordered the pool. Arch flew up in a rush to grip the sides of the fence, the rattle echoing around the nearby structures. Aurelia turned to stare at the female crow.

I am glad he will stay away. Arch’s head tilted back and forth, getting a better view of the enclosure from all possible angles.
Aurelia gave her an exasperated look. “Where does this ire come from?”
The pigeon is enough.
“Jealousy doesn’t suit you. Go find your mate.”
Arch flew off. The pair of crows settled on a tree well away from the buildings, arguing over the best seat to watch the arrival of a new bird.

Shaking her head, Aurelia locked the exterior door. Arch grew worse of late—her unabashed dislike of Brook would grow to be problematic. Aurelia would have to work on her out of Brook’s sight. Viv at least cared for the pigeon, seeing what Aurelia saw in him—lost, lonely, and odd—all of which felt misplaced in a bird.

Sounds of a large engine driving up their access road caught her attention. Full of excitement and a bit of trepidation, Aurelia went back through the conservatory, calming the resident birds as she passed through the aviary and out into the vestibule at the front. She pushed into the sunlight awaited Riley’s approach.

Riley didn’t know why the zoo wouldn’t just let her just borrow one of their vans to drop off Rocky. She knew why but she didn’t want to acknowledge they were too poor to support this crazy idea of hers. She hardly knew this woman, but after some research Riley decided she was legit. She also couldn’t get over the fact that Aurelia was close to a crow.

Riley had never seen someone close to a wild, free flying bird like that. So of course she was curious and wanted to know more about her. Maybe she would learn something of value about birds! The idea was exciting and she had to remind herself not to speed to get there faster. She pulled into the sanctuary with her beat up SUV, Rocky squawking his disapproval of a terrain shift from the back.

A towel was placed over his large but well-padded cage, limiting movement to prevent further injury. She slowed to a stop when she saw Aurelia, giving an eager wave through the windshield before unbuckling her seatbelt and hopping out. "Hey! Nice, remote place you’ve got here." she said admiring the sanctuary as she headed toward the woman. She’d get Rocky out when she knew where he was going.

Aurelia could already hear the pelican like an air horn in her brain. What is this?! Where am I?! He demanded, trying to break free of the cage. Immediately, she shut the door to unfamiliar birds. It felt like deafening herself; everything was so quiet. Arch and Echo even kept silent, sitting in a tree near the entrance, watching with intensity. They didn’t even fight—just looked down at Aurelia as she waved back from the front entrance steps.

“Yes, it’s nice to be tucked away from everything,” she said as Riley drew closer. She glanced around the other woman, looking through the windshield to the dark shape at the back of the car. Covered with a blanket, probably, she thought—not a bad move for anyone transporting birds. She’d left the engine running, thankfully, and Aurelia immediately scolded herself for thinking that a veterinarian would do anything less for a confined animal. “How have you been?” She asked instead, forcing the rudeness out of her mind.

Riley tore her eyes from the surrounding area back to Aurelia. The drive would have been a comfort were she not so worried about Rocky. It reminded her that she needed to go camping some time soon. Hiking would do her some good.

"I bet. Especially with such a wonderful purpose you have in life. Not many people would dare do what you do just because birds aren’t your typical companion or “fluffy and cute” creature, " She put up her figures to signal air quotes, a small, nervous laugh sounding. Riley was not the best at conversation. Thankfully, she was genuinely nice and cared for animals.

"I’m good. What about you?" she asked, feeling the heat rise in her cheeks. Conversation definitely wasn’t her strong suite. Well... a lot of things weren’t but at least she had Jasper and the zoo. That was all she needed in life. She bit her lip, to keep from talking, but it failed. Miserably. Epically.

"Thanks again for being willing to watch Rocky. Sometimes he can be a handful. I’ve been trying to talk the zoo into releasing him but he came in with a slightly deformed wing so they aren’t sure he’d make it. He has the hard for it though and can still fly just fine."

 Aurelia barely listened to Riley as she continually glanced through the windshield of the car to get a look at the pelican. She smiled at the other woman’s compliment but didn’t acknowledge it further. If only she knew the connection to birds hadn’t been any kind of conscious choice.

 He is very loud. Echo didn’t speak to Aurelia, but she heard him well enough.
 Very annoying. Stuffy. Arch preened, fluffing her feathers and standing straighter on the branch.
 May we say hello? The male crow had noted Aurelia’s presence. Not to Stuffy. To her?
 Arch cawed disagreement with her mate, knocking him from their branch and startling the smaller birds in the trees around them into frenzied flight.

 Later. Aurelia told him.

 “Of course. I’m always happy to help those reluctant to thrive.” She opened one leaf of the entry doors. “Come on. I’ll show you what we’ve got set up for him, then you and I can coax him out of the back.” Perhaps he would calm down after some time alone. That, or Aurelia would practice focusing her calming energy on a single bird on the walk back to the car.

One of the birds that hung around Aurelia seemed to fall of the branch, startling other birds around it... and Riley. To be honest, birds were not her forte and she was more than happy to have Rocky be rehabilitated elsewhere. She knew her strengths and weaknesses and she was not afraid to get help. Plus she was always happy to learn more about what every other animal lover in the area did.

Riley straightened her jacket, watching the birds as they flew away from their perches on the trees before settling down on a different branch. Weird. But okay. They all seemed to be content in this sanctuary, Riley not judging them for it. Everyone needed somewhere they belonged. Unfortunately, Riley was still looking for that "somewhere."

"Uh. Yeah. Sounds good to me. I'll follow you," Riley said, stepping to the side, her back almost pressed again the vehicle, no doubt getting dirt and dust all over her clothes. She was used to grime... having lived in worse than that every day. Nothing a shower couldn't fix.

 Aurelia led her through the aviary. It was an impressive space, not richly appointed, but organized for a sanctuary, not a zoo. Narrow paths were set against the walls, leaving the central area undisturbed for the growth of brush and trees—perfect camouflage for the room’s residents. Birds of all kinds—mostly the drab-colored locals—came to watch the two women pass. Accustomed to this behavior, Aurelia ignored them. Their bird-chatter was obvious to anyone with ears, however, and there was nothing she could to drown out their tattle other than walk faster.

 “I hope we’ve got enough room for him,” Aurelia told Riley over the noise, attempting to distract the woman from the attention they received as they traversed the outside of the tall-ceilinged room. “Ducks are usually the most water-fowl we see in your average season. The owner allowed me to dredge one of the outdoor pens meant for a small family group for Rocky.” Leading Riley through another set of doors in the back, they passed through another small vestibule; this one packed to bursting with tall shelves of supplies. Out they went into the outdoor space. She halted beside the chain-link box that would enclose the pelican while the weather was still warm.

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