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The Feathering

A Speculative Fabulation | Architecture in the Chthulucene

[ Scroll down to read the short story ]

“Altair, look! What is that?”

I stopped in my tracks.

A breeze came and carried my basket of brightly-coloured feathers away with it. Kai and I have spent the last three weeks in the forest secretly gathering these feathers in the moonlight. The ones that glowed in the night were the easy ones, but we both knew the ones that did not glow were the rarest of them all. They were the ones from the Pre-syms.

“Hey Al! Watch out! I risked my flight time to sneak out with you all those nights for these babies! You’re lucky we kept the exotic ones at the bottom.”

I instinctively covered my feather basket as Kai ran after the rest. At that moment, none of these mattered. My eyes were fixed at a circular white object that was protruding from the ground. The Elders have always warned us to not go near things that were peculiar or unfamiliar, but this object was emitting an energy that I have never sensed before. I pulled it out from the ground and stuffed it in my pouch before Kai came back with a disgruntled look on his face.

It was Day 104 of our secret project – an underground hideout that Kai and I were constructing at the edge of the northern cliffs. The idea hatched after we completed our final course in Sym training, and this project was truly putting our knowledge to the test. We built the burrow like our Elders did, and connected with the land before we started to agitate it. Although we were doubtful during the first few nights of digging, we were more and more convinced as the energy felt right. Our confidence grew when the aura around the land recalibrated itself each day. We were certain that this was the perfect spot for our hideout.

We proceeded with our plan for the day. We had to move quickly to get back to the Central Burrow before the Glow disappears under the horizon of the Atlantic. We crawled underground with baskets of feathers hanging from our shoulders. The soil around us felt fresh and damp after the Pour two days ago, the first strands of mycelium are finally emerging between the crevices of our compacted walls. Our webbed feet relaxed as we tread gently across the grass-padded entrance tunnel into the main burrow space.

Today was finally the day of the Feathering.

Kai and I were both symbionts, otherwise known as Syms. We were brought up by five parents, whom we loved dearly. Four generations ago, our Elders decided to diverge from the Pre-syms to start a new colony, and chose the Atlantic Puffins as our critter partner. The puffins were threatened and uncared-for as their numbers declined drastically after the Age of Fossil Fuels. New children of the colony became symbionts with the puffins, our genes were modified to entangle with those of the puffins, allowing us to experience Gaia through their senses. Webbed feet allowed us to dive great depths into the Atlantic for fish. I was gifted with puffin vision, allowing me to have an increased visual field and exceptional foraging skills to care for pufflings (and I dare say that I was the one who spotted all three rare Pre-sym feathers during our late night foraging). Kai was gifted with puffin flight, with wings that allowed him to ward off Pre-sym sky hunters. As Pre-syms were not biologically modified, they still relied on occasional hunting to sustain themselves. We learned to maintain the balance of Gaia through Sym training, a wealth of knowledge and experience passed down from generation to generation.

This was the only wealth we needed to feel content in life.

“See! What did I tell you? Five was just what we needed.”

I shrugged as I knew I could not argue with Kai. Five glow tubes punctured the roof of our underground hideout, flooding the room with warmth and life. We placed our baskets on the ground as we attuned our senses with the energy of the space. The aura was a fine balance of growth and decay: Mycelia-threaded whale bones and wood formed the structure of our hideout, folded butterfly Sym-wings hung from the ceiling which created informal partitions, a network of mushrooms sprouted around the edges of our grassy floors as they slowly devoured the sawdust skirting. The living sensed our presence immediately; the dead continued steadily along the path of entropy. We were grateful to Gaia for tolerating and accepting us and our secret hideout.

All that was left was the Feathering.

The damp soil was the perfect consistency for this process that marked the end of our build. We carefully lined our walls and ceiling with an array of feathers, these delicate blades of plumes transformed the space with hues and vibrance. The Elders taught us that feathers carried the memories of those who once bore them.

The importance of the Feathering was revered as a ceremonial etching of stories on the walls of spaces for the living. Each blade marks a soul that was connected to the next; every pattern that was created was as unique as life itself. Kai and I conducted the Feathering in silence, with the familiar scent of the ocean lingering in the air. The three exotic Pre-sym feathers at the bottom of the pile were used to mark the direction of the Glow, honouring the source of all life.

As evening approached, we smiled and gleamed with satisfaction, treasuring the knowledge and experience that we have now gained. We flopped backwards into the soft grassy floor, feasting our eyes upon the kaleidoscope of feathers that surrounded us. I felt a soft crack behind my back as we landed, and all of a sudden, everything changed.

Within seconds, signals of danger were coursing through the network of mycelia around us. The grass and wood released a sharp scent of agitation that filled the room. Kai and I leaped up instinctively and fixed our gaze upon my pouch in the centre of the room.

It was the foreign white object. It had to be.

Using a branch, I pushed the object out of the pouch to examine it. A thin crack had split the front of the shell-like object in half, and a faint hissing sound was heard as air was slowly escaping through the slit. I flipped the object to the back and a sense of revelation swelled up inside us. We turned and stared at each other in horror.

The object was engraved with the ancient characters of Sapiens.

The Elders sometimes spoke about a dark age, a time when Sapiens once roamed Gaia. Their hearts were filled with ignorance and greed, which disabled them from truly connecting and sensing the energy that flowed around them. They did not understand that they were the guardians of this energy, and instead imposed their self-proclaimed authority over all that were different from them. Sapiens tore the earth apart and learned the inner workings of Gaia through their own intellectual means, with only a few that still held on to their beliefs through limited spiritual senses. The majority labelled the minority as “primitive, backwards and uneducated”, quieting their cries to a whisper.

This was a time when the wrong stories were told; this was a time when the wrong stories were believed. Gaia made sure that their stories ended along with the Age of Fossil Fuels.

“Al, it stopped hissing. What should we do?”

We held each other’s gaze in silence as our hearts and minds raced uncontrollably. I gripped the branch in my hand tightly as tears welled up in my eyes. Kai screamed and kicked the baskets in anger as he also understood what needed to be done.

I admired the colourful pattern of stories that surrounded us in painful silence for the very last time, and the one story in its centre that had to be buried forever.

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