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November 22nd, 2020
In the sky a dark wave unfurled and lightened as it thinned, the birds resolving as tiny dots in the evening light. The whole mass of them turned up on end like an undulation of water commanded by some ethereal force. And there they twisted tight and dark before collapsing down and spreading out again.
“What is it?” The boy asked Lucilius.
“It’s called a murmuration.”
The boy slowly repeated the new word, before looking to Lucilius again.
“Why do they do it?”
Lucilius breathed deeply and then sighed. “Oh, well, there’s a piece of the puzzle that you can’t see right now.”
“What’s that?” The boy asked.
“Well, if we were to go diving in the sea, we’d eventually come across a school of fish doing much the same thing, tightening up together like that.”
“The fish do that too?”
“Well the fish do it because there are much bigger fish in the sea trying to eat them, so they gang up together to stay safe.”
“Does it work?”
Lucilius nodded his head from side to side. “Sometimes, but often it just makes them an easier target.”
The young boy watched the birds dancing together in the sky, squinting in a bit of confusion. He looked around at the rest of the sky.
“But there’s nothing hunting the birds.”
Lucilius smiled gravely at the young boy. “A long time ago there were much bigger things floating through the skies, much bigger things that needed to eat.”
The boy wore an unbelieving look as he studied Lucilius’ face for other signs, but when a fish jumped far down the shore the boy started and quickly looked before gazing up and around him for anything else that might be in the sky.
“Where are they now?”
“So why do they still do that if they aren’t in danger?” The boy asked, looking up at the thousands of dancing swallows.
“That’s an excellent question. And you should remember it as you get older. You’ll find a lot of people continue to do strange things because they were once in danger but aren’t in danger any longer.”
“It sorta just looks like they’re dancing.” The boy mused aloud.
“Well here’s a good question: why do things dance?”
“Because they’re afraid?” The boy offered.
Lucilius shrugged. “Maybe. It’s certainly a good strategy that some people have figured out.”
“To dance when you’re afraid?”
“Sure, people often sing to themselves when they’re scared. It can help calm yourself down.”
The boy sat with a look of odd surprise, digesting the notion. Then slowly the boy grew curious, confused. He looked to Lucilius.
“When did those big birds go extinct?”
“Oh, long time ago, real long ago.”
The boy grew suspicious. “How do you know about the big birds that went extinct?”
Lucilius gave the boy a knowing smile. “Maybe I saw them?”
“That’s impossible, you’re not old enough.”
“How do you know? I was here before you.”
The boy considered with more suspicion.
“Kiddo, you have to realize, it’s a strange tradition, but adults are constantly lying to kids about stuff.”
“About everything?” The boy nearly shouted.
“No, not everything, but for whatever reason, a lot of stuff just doesn’t get properly explained, and often you just get something that’s wholesale off planet.”
Lucilius shrugged his shoulders. “Ya know, I’m not really sure why. I think maybe it has to do with the fact that other adults are often so unwilling to believe or accept what other adults say, and maybe it’s just refreshing to have a kid around who will believe any old thing, and adults just have a bit too much mindless fun with that freedom, or they’re just trying to make a short cut so they don’t have to explain something all the way.”
The boy was a bit dejected, looking down at the grass, till he noticed again the rolling murmuration in the sky. He smiled at it, and then tried to imagine a bigger bird diving at the flock, trying to eat some of the smaller birds. The murmuration seemed to split and move in a way that would dodge the attack. A light smile formed on the boy’s face.
“Wait.” The boy exclaimed, pausing for a moment to gather his words as Lucilius looked to him.
“Are you lying to me?”
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