Once a flock of swifts hit a wall at high speed. Most of the swifts weren’t aware at first that they’d actually hit the wall. To them it seemed merely a momentary pause, such as they sometimes experienced just before making an especially sharp turn in flight and darting off in a new direction. A few realized something else had happened instead, but even they weren’t sure exactly what it was or why it had happened to them. After all, the swifts had become so accustomed to a life of successfully pushing the limits in any direction they chose that the notion of a full stop seemed a denial of the very essence of being a swift. If they were not a byword for nonstop nimbleness, what else mattered? If there were limits to their flight, why bother taking wing, to put it bluntly? They had always considered themselves born to own the air and regularly flaunted their ability to leave the rest of the world far behind. The rules of gravity simply did not apply in their case. No rules at all seemed to apply as they soared and swooped through thin air. Wherever they chose to fly, they made a conspicuous display of having the right stuff to outwing the wind and to leave no doubt they were a law unto themselves when it came to escaping what looked to be certain misfortune. Then, as if to ensure that their devil-may-care risk-taking would inspire dumbfounded admiration far and wide, they might do it all over again. And again. What was remarkable about the entire wall-smacking episode was not that the swifts went down in a shower of feathers, which could have been predicted sooner or later, or even that they were a bit hazy in the head about the exact reason why. Rather, it was the amount of hooting, clucking, and cackling that the sight of these onetime highfliers drew from other birds that came from everywhere for a glimpse of their undoing. “Served ’em right for considering themselves above the rest of us.” “They had so much going for them, and what did they do with it?” “Not much.” “What a waste.” “Self-indulgent excess, that’s all they knew.” “Thought they owned the sky. Look where it got them.” “If I was in their place, you wouldn’t see me running into walls.” “Me neither.” “Nor me.” These were just some of the sentiments expressed over the sudden fall of the swifts. After the full catalog of schadenfreude had been repeated in one variation or another many times, interest in keeping up the hooting, clucking, and cackling gradually died away amongst all but a few of the other birds. Most of the rest of them were now to be seen down below, poking around in the scattered feathers and trying to add as many as they could to their own wings.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans