The bars of the cylindrical cage were a crude framework of femur and humerus bones, an assembly of ribs forming the dome of its roof. The bones had been spray-painted gold, a clumsy hand and gravity conspiring to leave streaks which ended in sticky globules.
Whenever the moon was eclipsed by a passing airship, Corvus moped around inside the cage, picking at the golden spheres with unkempt fingernails before excavating the paint from beneath them with his incisors and swallowing it. Since being bushwhacked and inculcated to believe he was a bird of passage, Corvus was expected to lay golden eggs, but knew whilst gold is one of the trace elements present in all animalis, excessive levels are fatal.
When the bugle sounded reveille, the silent scenes of Corvus’ death reveries faded, his winged and gilded sarcophagus adorned with lapis lazuli, rubies and sapphires floating in a haze of chartreuse neon effaced by the nightmare of consciousness; an aural snafu of flushing toilets, concubines crying over spilt milk, the rumble of the Promethean conveyor belt chugging into action, the electrical crackle as communications broke down.
Tumbling reluctantly from his hammock, Corvus donned the black leotard which was the basis of the crow masquerade he was forced to indulge in. The head was a mask of crows feathers with bright glass eyes and an ebony beak. Layers of iridescent black plumage formed the wings he strapped to his arms, the ensemble completed by moulded rubber feet with claws.
Attempting to look busy during office hours, he fired up the computer at the rear of the cage and feigned working until he heard muffled footsteps in the sand. ‘’Tis I, he that feeds you.’ The shrill timbre of the swine that Corvus deemed responsible for his plight. Mano approached the gilded cage, kicking aside jetsam littering the sand. By sporting different disguises, Mano believed he was fooling Corvus into thinking there was more than one interlocutor who visited him, but fiery red hair sprouting from his various wigs and headgear belied his ruses.
In his latest posturing he wore an ermine trimmed cloak, quilted tunic and tasselled béret. Hands dripping with printing ink, he claimed to be Gutenberg. ‘Cuttlefish,’ Mano barked, throwing a mollusc into the cage where it fell between the desk and its chair, ‘a self-respecting crow keeps a sharp beak.’
‘Caah-caah-caah.’ Squawked Corvus. He had learnt to his detriment that expressing himself otherwise than with the caah-caah-caah phonetic associated with the crow genus, his mailbox would soon be crammed with bogus invoices, menaces from bailiffs and anonymous death threats scrawled by Mano’s arthritic hand.
‘Caah-caah-caah.’ Corvus cried, stifling a perverse guffaw at the similarity the birdcall had to an infantile scatological reference.
‘Eggs?’ Mano sighed, drawing the word out in a lengthy exhalation.
Corvus hung and shook his head at the same time.
‘A crow who layeth not...’ Mano snarled, lighting a clay pipe as he began to pace back and forth before peeking into the mailbox and grinning. ‘...a crow with vertigo...’
Corvus knew what he was supposed to do next, and that failure meant no bread on the table. Head spinning, he began to mount the chair. Of the swivel seat variety, balancing on the seat was difficult, and even at its negligible height Corvus was tetanised by his phobia.
‘Flap!’ Mano bellowed. ‘Flap, sire, flap!’
Corvus wobbled, flapped and fell, head glancing off the chamber pot in the corner of the cage. His maelstrom was founded on doubts as to whether he had been a crow in another incarnation as Mano insisted. Yet he did experience a fleeting déjà vu each time he fell from the chair, an exhilarating sensation of free falling through the aether.
‘All good things come to he who waits.’ Mano bleated, tapping the clay pipe against the bars of the cage. ‘On the other hand, procrastination be the thief of time.’
A prostrate Corvus heard footsteps fading away, the hydraulic whirr as the CCTV camera followed his every move, and blaring from the computer loudspeaker, a chorus of parrot-like female voices singing a ditty in the manner of Tamla-Motown.
‘Hi-ho-hi-ho, and off to work we go, hi-ho-hi-ho-hi-ho...’
The wearing of wings impeded Corvus from using his hands on the computer keyboard and mouse. Working with his beak was frustrating. Under his breath, he praised the unsung heroes who had invented the eraser and smudge tools.
Waking the next morning, he was nonplused to find he had slept in the crow’s outfit. A dull, plumbeous ache in his lower abdomen caused him to wince as he yawned and stretched. A bout of turbulent flatulence as he urinated in the chamber pot was equally unfamiliar. As was the new object nestled in his hammock, a golden egg, still warm to the touch. He stood still for a moment. No reveille, flushing toilets, lachrymose concubines, no rumble of the great conveyor belt or crackle of communications breakdowns, a novel series of omens he hoped heralded change.
Blustery gusts of wind carried a tinnitus, the ring-ring of a small bell: when the bane of his current embodiment came racing over the dunes towards the cage on a bicycle, Corvus hid the golden egg in a tense fist.
‘Eggs? A fool’s quest, no doubt.’ Mano grumbled, brandishing a folio of blank pages. ‘There’ll be the devil to pay when the next edition isn’t put to bed. Any party bearing a noose asks if you’ve seen Gutenberg, your lips are sealed. I’m taking to higher ground. Charles Darwin, perhaps. Or Dolly Parton.’
Corvus cocked his head to one side. ‘Caah-caah-caah.’
Casting the blank pages to the wind, Mano laughed. ‘Come the inquisition, you’ll be blamed for the hiatus. Sitting duck in that cage.’ With that, he gallumphed away in search of a new identity.
Soaring on the thermals of change, Corvus flew upwards, circling the interior of the cage in graceful arcs.
‘Caah-caah-cage?’ He cried out after Mano. ‘ Penitentiary to your eyes, citadel to mine. Caah-caah-caah.’