By Dawn Vogel
Seagull groaned as she cocked an ear toward the forest floor below. Her cousin, Raven, hopped along the trail, whistling as though he was just minding his own business. Seagull knew better–Raven was never up to any good. And lately, he had been up to even more mischief. Seagull reached for the cedar box she had been given, the one that Raven wanted her to open so that everyone could see the contents. She tucked the box snugly into a crook in the tree and sat atop it, as though it were an egg that needed protection and warmth.
“Good morning, Seagull,” Raven called up from below. “It’s a lovely day today. Or, at least, I think it’s a lovely day. It’s hard to see, but it feels just perfect. At any rate, won’t you come down and enjoy it with me?”
Seagull folded her wings across her chest and huffed loudly. “I can feel the lovely day, as you call it, just fine from here, thank you.”
“Then how about I come up?” Raven asked. Without waiting for his cousin’s response, he flapped his wings with a mighty WHOOMP and landed directly beside her.
Seagull considered getting up and moving to a different part of the tree. But she had found that it was impossible to fly, and difficult to walk, while she clutched the cedar box tightly shut under one wing. It was also a significant chore to move around in the complete darkness that covered the world. She shifted her body away from Raven, trying to ignore him, but her cousin was known for his persistence.
“So. Aren’t you even the tiniest bit curious about what you’ve got in there?”
“No.” Seagull sighed. “I know exactly what is inside of this box. Just as you knew that the box you were given contained the Trees, and just as Salmon knew that the box that he was given contained the Sea.”
“Then what is it?”
“It is called Light. It is…” She trailed off for a moment, unsure about how to explain something that even she had not yet seen. She understood what Light was meant to be, but she did not have words that could describe it.
She continued. “It is the opposite of this.” She waved her other arm, the one that was not tucked around the box, at the darkness surrounding the two of them.
“What does it look like?” Raven asked.
“Like… Light. I do not know how to explain it to someone who could not possibly understand it, like yourself.”
“Dolphin is good with words. Why don’t you take it down and show it to her? Then she can tell me, and all the other animals, what it looks like. We’re all terribly curious.”
“I am sure that you are,” Seagull muttered. “But, I do not want to show it to anyone. It is mine. It was given to me. I am going to keep it in this box for as long as I live.”
Raven fluttered his wings as though he was preparing to take off. “You know, all of the rest of us opened up our cedar boxes and shared the things we were given. You’re the only animal who has refused to open yours.”
“And that is my choice,” Seagull replied. “Each of you chose to open your box, and I choose to keep mine closed.”
“Fine,” Raven spat back. “Enjoy sitting up here with you box. I’m going to go find something to eat.” He squinted into the darkness and muttered, “That is, if I can find anything to eat.”
The next time Seagull awoke, Raven sat beside her in the tree, wedged between her and an upward reaching branch. She could not see him, but she could feel his feathers shifting as he breathed. She had fallen asleep sitting on the box, and repositioned herself slightly to make sure that Raven hadn’t snuck it out from under her during the night. The hard edge of the lid against her underside relieved her worries. The fact that it was still dark meant that he had not removed its contents and then put the box back beneath her.
Raven smelled different today, and Seagull did not understand why. But something about his scent made her think of Salmon and Dolphin. She tried not to think about her friends as her insides churned, empty and cold.
“What do you want now?” she asked.
“Oh, I just wanted to tell you about the thing I found in the sea. It was so delicious. I don’t know what it looked like, but it had a hard outside with thorny parts. And it was chewy and wet on the inside. It tasted like the sea.”
Seagull’s stomach rumbled softly, but she ignored it. “That sounds disgusting.”
“No, it was really good! Mmmm… just thinking about it makes me hungry again. But I can’t tell you what it looked like, because I really couldn’t see it.”
“What a shame.” She turned her head away from Raven, hoping it would take his strange scent away.
“You know, if you wanted to come down to the beach with me, I might be able to find more and let you try one. Of course, it would probably help if I could have just a little bit of Light.”
Seagull slid off of the top of the cedar box to interpose her body between the box and Raven. She nudged him gently at first, trying to get him to move away. When he stayed in the same place, she gave him a bit of a firmer push with her hip. Raven stood his ground.
Seagull picked up the cedar box and threw her other wing up in exasperation. “Why do you keep bothering me about the Light, Raven? I have told you that I will not open this box for you or anyone else.”
“Not even for food?”
Seagull shrugged. “I am not hungry. I do not need food. Neither do you, to be perfectly honest.”
“But it’s so yummy!” Raven exclaimed. Seagull could hear him rubbing his belly with one wing.
Seagull’s stomach rumbled, louder this time, but her expression did not change.
“Alright, fine,” Raven said. “Suit yourself. But know this. I will find a way to make you open that box. Just you wait.”
“I am very good at waiting,” Seagull replied. And with that, she stared in Raven’s direction until she felt his weight drop off of her branch. She heard him laughing as he plummeted downward. The sound of his wings unfurling came from far away, moments before he would have otherwise hit the ground.
Seagull was beginning to miss flying. She had been sitting in her tree for some time now. She had no way of measuring time other than by Raven’s occasional visits. But it seemed that Raven had left her alone for some time now—longer than he had ever left her alone before.
Her hunger had been sated when some insects had crawled too near to her perch. They had not smelled nearly as good as whatever disgusting thing Raven had found in the sea. She suspected that Raven’s catch had tasted infinitely better as well.
Seagull began to pass the time by seeing how far she could move while keeping hold of the box. Every time she got too near to the end of a branch, vertigo threatened to overtake her, and she moved quickly back to more stable terrain. She thought of the way that Raven always left the tree, his laughter pealing as he dropped like a stone, before he righted himself and flew away. Even if she could make herself take that leap, she was fairly certain that with one wing around the box, she would not be able to make the quick adjustment to horizontal travel.
She had nearly worked up the nerve to try when Raven returned.
“Still holding onto that box?” Raven asked. Seagull did not respond, and he continued. “Look, I’ve been talking to some of the others, and they’ve all agreed that you are really very strong and thoughtful, holding onto your cedar box for so long. The rest of us, we were all reckless to open ours so quickly. And now we’re all envious of you and your treasure, which is why we’d really like for you to open it.” He glanced around. “I’m not supposed to tell you this part, but the others want to throw you a big party, if you’ll come down and open that box for everyone.”
Seagull scowled at Raven, but knew that he could not see her expression. She ruffled her feathers a few times, and her cousin got the message.
“Okay,” Raven continued slowly. “No party. You got it.”
“I do not care if the others want to throw me a party. But if they expect me to open this box, just because they have celebrated my strength and thoughtfulness, they are horribly mistaken. How many times must I tell you that I will never willingly open this box?”
“Probably a few more,” Raven replied. “Oh, were you wanting to get down from here? Kinda looked like you were thinking about jumping.” He chuckled. “Nasty way to go. But I find it’s not that easy to fly with one bad wing.”
Raven leapt from the tree and cawed, to let Seagull know where he was. She heard his wings flap lazily for a few minutes, his voice coming from various places around the tree’s trunk. Then the rhythm of his flapping wings sped up. The leaves rustled in the wind created as Raven made his way between them. He came closer and closer to Seagull with each pass. Finally, he landed. “Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot you can’t exactly follow me with that box under your wing. Hmmm. Yeah, it sucks to be you. Well, if you change your mind about the box, let me know!” He fluttered off again without a sound.
Seagull had peeled pieces of bark from the tree and wound them around the cedar box. She had poked at the lid with her beak and claws, and it seemed secure. She picked up the end of the bark rope and tested the weight of the box. It weighed nothing at all. She moved away from the center of the tree and finally allowed herself to drop from the outstretched branch.
After all of her time spent cooped up in the tree, flying felt amazing. She wanted nothing more than to linger in the sky, but as she flew, tree branches kept swatting her across the face. She could feel their presence only mere seconds before she was upon them, leaving her no time to dodge. Exasperated, she circled her tree one last time before landing on the forest floor.
Pain shot through Seagull’s foot. She squawked out loud, unable to hold in the sound. Her foot felt as though something sharp had stabbed clean through it. Stumbling, she set the box down and hopped up on top of it. She sat back on her haunches, off of her injured foot, but the pain continued. She tried to touch what was causing her so much misery, but she could not reach her own feet.
Swallowing her pride, she called out loudly. “Help! I need help.”
Far sooner than she expected, she heard Raven hop up the trail again. “Sea urchin!”
“What are you talking about? I have an awful pain in my foot.”
“Sea urchin is the name of the thing that I found in the Sea when I was hungry.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Seagull cried. “Why can’t you just help me?”
“Sea urchin is also the name of the thing that has little spiky parts, like the spiky part that’s sticking out of your foot right now. I don’t know how it possibly could have gotten all this way from the Sea!”
Seagull looked around, wondering how Raven knew what was in her foot. “Can you see it?”
“Oh, no, I can smell it. Can’t you?”
Seagull moaned. “It hurts too much. Can you take it out of my foot?”
“Well, I can try. But it’s so dark here that I’m going to have a difficult time of it.”
Seagull felt Raven’s wings on her foot. At first, their gentle touch helped her to take her mind off of the discomfort. But then a new lancing pain shot up her leg and she screamed.
“No, no! That’s not helping! That’s hurting.”
“Seagull, I can’t see what I’m doing. It’s dark, in case you haven’t noticed. I can tell that you stepped on a sea urchin. I can only assume that you have at least one spiky part in your foot. Maybe there’s more than one.”
“Just take it out, please,” she begged.
Raven prodded Seagull’s other foot for a moment, and then returned his attention to her injured foot. Again the feeling of being stabbed increased and Seagull cried out.
“Seagull, I want to help you, but I can’t unless I can see what I’m doing,” Raven pleaded. “Please, can you let just a bit of Light out of the cedar box? Maybe then I can do a better job.”
Seagull hesitated, but her misery made her reconsider her earlier position. Slowly, she rolled over on top of the box so that she could chew through the bark strips that held the lid on the box. As she worked, she noticed a scent like the Sea lingering in the area. Although she could not see them, she realized that Raven was probably right. They were everywhere, these dangerous sea urchins. And they didn’t smell nearly as good as they had after Raven had eaten one.
“Can you eat it?” she said, craning her neck back toward her cousin.
“Eat it? What, you meant the part stuck in your foot?” Raven scoffed. “No way. The good part is after you get rid of all of the spiky parts, and get to the inside. No, the outside part you just throw away.”
Seagull sighed and lifted the edge of the lid of her cedar box.
Tiny specks of Light flew from the box, whizzing past her like Raven did when he was showing off. The specks spread out across the Sky above, covering it with a blanket of twinkling little pinpoints of Light. The Light illuminated the forest floor, and Seagull could see the outline of Raven’s head, which he had moved very close to her hurt foot.
“Thank you, Seagull. I can see a little better now. Hold on while I try again.”
Seagull gripped the edges of the box with her wings. Raven’s wings brushed across her feet again, and then the excruciating sting blossomed yet again. “No,” she gasped. “Not better.”
Raven frowned. “It’s still very dark. Can’t you let just a little more Light out?
“Surely, you can see by the Light that I have given you. I see all sorts of shapes now. I even see your sea urchins all around the base of my tree.”
“Yes, I see things a little more clearly now as well. But I can’t see well enough to tell you why this spiky part won’t come out of your foot. I think it’s caught on something. Please, Seagull, I just need a bit more light.”
Seagull shuddered, barely able to move. Finally, she gripped the lid tightly enough to slide one corner off of the box.
A pale glow slid from the corner, forming into a shimmering pool of silver. The pool lifted from the ground and shaped itself into a round disc that flew higher and higher. When it reached the level of the Sky, it stopped and affixed itself amongst the smaller specks. The silvery glow shone across the forest, and Seagull could now see Raven’s face for the first time. Her cousin looked concerned.
“What, what is it?” she breathed, barely above a whisper.
“There are smaller spikes on the side of the spike. That must be why I couldn’t get it out of your foot. This new Light helps a little. Perhaps now I can do it.”
Seagull lay on the lid of the cedar box and gripped it tightly. Raven wrapped one wing around the foot that had been pierced by a sea urchin. The Light from the silvery disc outlined the edge of the feathers on his other wing as it moved slowly toward Seagull’s foot. She squeezed her eyes shut, anticipating the jolt of pain.
Though she thought she had readied herself, nothing could prepare Seagull for the burst that seemed to pulse through her entire body. She cried out, a long, drawn out squawk, but the agony did not subside.
“More light!” Raven shouted, just barely audible over Seagull’s wailing.
Seagull clung to the lid as though her life depended on it. The tips of her wings dug into the sides of the box. The pain was so intense that she could only barely understand her cousin. She could feel him move the sea urchin spike around in her foot. It almost felt as though he was playing with it. She slid her body off of the box and steadied herself on her uninjured foot. With a quick twist, she swung the box around and slammed it into the top of Raven’s head. “I’ll give you more light,” she snarled.
As the box shattered, brightness suffused the entire area. Seagull had opened her eyes a bit as she moved, and now she squinted against the Light. It was so bright that she could not even see the form that the Light took, but its radiance bathed the entire area. Raven stood in front of her, reeling from the impact of the box, covered in downy white. As she watched, his feathers smoldered, singed black by the burst of fiery Light that had come from the box when it broke.
Raven shook his head to clear it. “You just hit me!”
“I am sorry,” Seagull murmured, hiding her amusement. “The pain drove me out of my mind for a moment.”
At the end of one wing, Raven held a slender white spike, far thinner than even the finest feather.
“That is all that was in my foot? That caused so much pain?” Though the pain had now vanished, Seagull’s voice was shrill and sounded as though she was still crying out in agony.
Raven nodded. “So much easier to see, now that we have Light. Now I can warn you to watch out for the other spiky parts.” He waved one wing across the forest floor, gesturing toward the sea urchins that carpeted the area.
Seagull looked around at the sea urchins, now blanketed with shards of cedar from her box. Any momentary sadness she might have felt over the loss of her treasure was replaced with the relief she felt now that her foot was not a constant source of misery. Still tender, though, she kept that foot raised to her body and balanced on the uninjured foot. She pecked lightly at one of the sea urchins until she was able to flip it over and expose the softer underside. The scent of the Sea wafted from the creature, and Seagull leaned forward to eat.
She stopped herself and turned to Raven. “Thank you, Raven. You have saved me.”
“You’re welcome. Oh, and thanks for the Light.”
Without another word, Raven flapped his wings furiously and flew away from his cousin towards the brightly lit sky.