“The Sparrow, The Pelican and The Bear: A Christmas Tale”
by Mark Hayter
Piper was a sparrow as out of place as a sparrow could be. She was lost and alone and standing on the railing of an ice-covered pier at the edge of a frozen lake. Getting herself there had taken about all the stamina she had. She barely had any strength to shiver.
Taking a last look, she closed her eyes to sleep her last sleep, when she was suddenly startled by the sound of a loud "Plunk!" followed by a "Flop!" Piper looked down at the lake, tilted her head slightly and focused her gaze on a rather large and very old pelican. She thought he was dancing on the ice, but he was actually just trying to stand up.
Piper laughed as an old memory began to surface. She hadn’t found a memory since flying headfirst into the windowpane of a house in a town that she couldn’t remember. She said, “You’re a Flybag! I remember seeing you once. It was over large water and you were flying in a bunch!”
The pelican, dancing again, thought hard on the words before saying, “Flying in a bunch? We usually fly in a ‘Vee,’ And, there are so many of us, I doubt one was me. By the way, I am Bogart, that is my name. If you don’t mind awfully, would you share with me the same?"
Piper said, “My name? I don’t remember mine. I flew into a window at a house in the pines. Oh, and Mr. Bogart, could you tell me, please, why are we talking in rhyme? It’s not fun for me.”
The words caused Bogart to slip and land on his rear with a thud. This time he just stayed seated. “You mean this is not a storybook story? We don’t have to rhyme?”
Piper informed Bogart that she had never heard of a storybook, and if she were in one, she’d just as soon leave it. Bogart was so relieved. He hated talking in verse. He had been in two stories and in one he was cursed. – Sorry. Rhyme is hard to leave.
The pelican saw that Piper was near frozen and completely exhausted, so he suggested she jump down into the sack of his beak and let him fly her to a small enclosure that sat atop an old church building. “There are lines of lights strung all over the building and a nice scene on the ground of statute people standing around an open boxed bed,” he said.
“There’s a small person inside the bed, and all the people and animals seem to be happy about seeing him,” Bogart said. “It’s really a nice thing. So, come on, jump down.”
Piper wasn’t sure. “Do flybags eat songwings?” she asked. Bogart said that he never had, but he was so hungry that he probably could eat a songwing. However, he promised that he would not. Piper couldn't remember if flybags were trustworthy, but she knew it would be warm in Bogart's mouth if only for a few seconds. She smiled at her only friend and said, “It’s okay, Mr. Bogart. You can eat me, that’s all right. That way I can find out if there is anything at the end of time.”
“Don’t talk like that, Little Songwing,” the Bogart said. “Now, jump! Or drop down here and I’ll catch you.” Bogart made a great catch of Piper, and as soon as he closed his long, bagged-beak the sparrow fell asleep.
The old pelican started out in a walk across the frozen lake. The walk soon became a trot and eventually turned into an all out charge. Bogart left the ice three times before managing sustained flight. By the time he made it to the old church building he was panting just like an old pelican flying around on a frozen night.
After flying once around the building, Bogart realized that he was not going to make it to the belfry. He didn’t feel well enough to negotiate a balanced slide over the roof and a safe dismount into the small enclosure. He had so hoped to save the sparrow. His only recourse was to slide to a landing on the snowy road in front of the church.
Bogart had no idea how far he would have slid had he not hit the snow bank heaped around the town’s only public mailbox. The pelican was done in. He didn’t know how he was going to explain it to the sparrow, but he knew there was no hope for either of them.
The jolt at the mailbox awakened Piper, and she began pushing against Bogart’s beak until he opened wide. “Are you okay, Mr. Bogart?” Piper asked. “You’re not broken or anything are you?” Bogart explained that he was not broken; he was just old and cold and too weak to save either one of them. But he asked that she let him stay with her until they both found the end of time.
The little songwing, nodded and thanked her near-savior for trying so hard and for caring so much. “By the way,” she said, “During your landing, another memory hit me. An important one, too. My name is Piper. And I know where I’m supposed to be, and I know it’s too far away to reach. But, I am happy that I get to be with you.
It’s hard to tell when a pelican is smiling or crying, but Bogart was doing both. The sparrow nuzzled against the pelican’s wing and yawned a small yawn. Bogart nudged her under his wing and closed his eyes. That’s when the roar came. Such a roar that Bogart thought it would wake the entire town.
Piper explained how Bogart and she both had problems that kept them from flying south. She then asked, “Mr. Clapperclaw, what are you doing awake this time of year.” The bear explained that he didn’t care to be called “Clapperclaw,” that he preferred the name humans gave him. “When humans see me, they always holler, ‘Bear!’ So, I’m a bear by the name of Taber.”
Taber said he had trouble sleeping, so decided to visit the town. He told them that he had eaten so much in preparation for hibernation, that he probably wouldn’t eat the both of them. He seemed to be joking, but Piper wasn’t sure.
When Bogart explained that they were both waiting for the last sleep, the bear said, “Nonsense! I think I can get you out of this.” He went on to explain that many humans are nice. They just get mean and thoughtless on occasion. He told Bogart and Piper to grab hold of him, that he wanted to show them something.
The bear dragged the pelican and carried the sparrow to the old churchyard, and stopped in front of the nativity scene. He said, “You two get over there next to the opened wooden box with the little person-doll in it. No matter what you see or what you hear, do not move.”
A strange command, but neither bird cared to question Taber. Neither of them had ever seen a clapperclaw try to help a flyling. Piper sat on the edge of the manger, and, on the eighth try, Bogart managed to sit atop a fake donkey. Then they waited. Taber stood in the middle of the road, drew a deep breath and then let out a roar that could be heard all the way to Willow Avenue. He waited for a moment before taking a run for the snowdrift in front of the mailbox. When he plowed into the drift, snow went flying everywhere. The last thing to hit the ground was the mailbox. Once it landed with thud, Taber started pounding on the metal contraption, all the while roaring.
The lights in the nearby houses started coming on one by one. Most of the humans took time to cover themselves with suitable materials before coming outside, but one man came out wearing only striped thin clot with a flap on the back which appeared open. Piper heard Bogart mumble, "This is getting curiouser and curiouser." Several of the humans, including the one with his pink backside showing, came out with rifles. They each started shouting, “Bear! Bear!” Taber led the people into the churchyard, and ran right past the nativity scene. As he passed by the pelican and sparrow, he yelled, “I just may get sleepy after this!” The crowd never made it past the nativity scene. They stopped, looked and wondered about what they were witnessing.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, the front page of the Timmins Daily Press, had a picture of a large pelican sitting atop a snow-covered fiberglass donkey, and a tiny sparrow resting on the edge of the manger. The town people had been made aware of the spectacle while chasing a huge bear that was trying to demolish a mailbox. The story that accompanied the photo explained that the bear got away, but the old pelican and the sparrow were easily captured and placed in the back of Esmer's Western Feed and Supply on the south side of town. The two would have a warm place with plenty to eat, and they would stay there till spring
Bogart and Piper located Taber in early spring. By that time, all the critters in the wood had heard the miraculous story of the sparrow, the pelican and the bear; and how the little toy person in the wooden half box had inspired a town to spare the bear and give two birds some much needed care. – The tale became a favorite Christmas Story for animals and children all. Piper, Bogart and Taber were never aware that not only had they become heroes in the animal kingdom, but they had also become famous as characters in a Christmas tale -- a tale that served to instill the sense of hope, peace and goodwill for all. And the Christmas tale didn't even rhyme. – Merry Christmas.