PodCastle 692: When the White Bird Sings

PodCastle 692: When the White Bird Sings

* Author : KT Bryski

* Narrator : Tatiana Grey

* Host : Summer Fletcher

* Audio Producer : Peter Adrian Behravesh


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Auger Magazine

Disordered eating, food deprivation

Rated R

When the White Bird Sings

by KT Bryski

Bones show best in cold weather.

Sharp lines cut under skin; bare branches crack against the sky; snow drives on snow. In a land wiped clean, only the essential remains.

The village freezes, and hungers.

Catja crouches at a stuttering hearth. Embers leak scant heat. She stirs a pot set amongst the ashes, a rusted iron belly filled with meltwater and oats and a segment of apple smoked long ago in the far-dead autumn.

At her shoulder perches a white bird. A clever fellow he is, with plumage so bright it hurts and a hooked little beak. His dark eyes never blink, shining like apple seeds flung against the snow.

“Go on,” the white bird says. “It’s all right.”

Catja brings a spoon to her lips; she suckles clouded water, tentatively welcoming its weight and warmth. She hunts the oats one by one, holding each upon her tongue.

She comes to the apple segment.

“Wait,” says the white bird. “Save that for later.” His voice pricks needle-sharp and needle-bright.

As she hesitates, he nuzzles her cheek, his feathers soft as dream. “Tomorrow, you’ll be glad you waited.”

Glassy morning shatters. In stillness so deep, snowfall kisses the windowpanes. Though Catja and the white bird wake before dawn, they do not leave until nearly midday, for she complains of weakness.

“Lace up your boots,” the white bird pleads.

Her fingers tremble, wooden. It takes too many tries.

“Put on your mittens.”

How her head spins. She clutches the bedpost, black spots blossoming across the floorboards.

“Without work, you cannot eat,” the white bird whispers.

And so, the woods.

The trees gape, toothed with icicles, famished in themselves. The white bird flits ahead, one more pale flash against the snow-blind expanses and snowbound branches.

The very air cuts.

Catja enters the glittering forest as she would a cathedral. The hard blue sky domes overhead; columns of birch and beech bend with the dying year’s melancholy. She dares not gaze skyward for long, keeping her eyes on her boots. The sun bites, and in such weather, tears freeze quickly.

“To work,” says the bird.

Catja peers through the thickets. Sloes show like bruises under a snowbank’s pallid cheek; she secrets them into a leather pouch. Between humped roots, she finds a squirrel’s forgotten cache: a few acorns, empty chestnut casings. And then—wonder of wonders—a branch of hawthorn berries, sugared with snow and gleaming like blood.

Her stomach growls. Before she’s realized, she has a berry pressed to her lips.

“Save it,” the bird says.

“But I’m hungry now.”

The bird fluffs his feathers. “Very well, if truly you suffer…”


She slips the berry into the bag.

The sunlight richens with the failing of day, melting buttery gold down the snowbanks. Beneath her tattered coat, Catja shivers, and she’s about to ask the white bird if they can go home—but then, she stops.

In the midst of the wood, a garden.

Inevitable, perhaps, as the winter itself.

Cragged grey stone cuts through the trees with a nursemaid’s primness,

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