Little black eyes watched box after box rumble underneath him. His head, black to the beak, twitched in anticipation.
Air rushed around his little head, his wings dipped and metallic scents filled his nose. Another sparrow drifted near, resting on an updraft. He watched. He waited. The first sparrow imagined a titter, a laugh … a challenge.
The game was simple. Dive towards the black rock and miss all the metal boxes passing in the way of it. The rewards were bragging rights and the large chest plumes. The risk was death.
It all seemed so simple, even if the scoring was a bit more complex. If more boxes went by without a bird being hit, they would be awarded more points. However, it also mattered how big the box was.
Don’t underestimate the sparrows. For seemingly simple birds, their games were more intricate than they appear.
There it was. The twitch. Fear, maybe. Fear of dying, of losing or worse, fear of embarrassment. A sparrow could not live with embarrassment, not if it was looking for a mate. That was out of the question.
They played this game of theirs. Waiting for the bird before them to go, hoping they would falter or fail so they would turn all eyes away, focused on the still mark on the pavement instead of the next one in line. Very few faltered, and so eyes flicked from featherweight sparrows to looming crows high above. The black monsters were just biding their time until carnage struck or until the sparrows thinned out enough for an assault.
As tense as the wait was, once a sparrow survived or was in the midst of the rumbling metal boxes, its little heart raced with excitement. It was alive. It was living in ways it could never live again. This game was a drug. The results were addictive.
Sparrows were euphoric, full of adrenaline, their hearts pounding against their hollow ribs. None of their small birdbrains remembered the risks, the darker results. None of them seemed to care. It was all fear or ecstasy. When something bad happened, it remained in their minds only long enough for the next flight.
His black throat wavered, a faint warble swiftly drowned out by the quick succession of metal boxes. His head, so small in the blue sky, twitched once more.
Thin brown wings tucked in, and his body dropped. From that height, he looked like a small rock falling from the sky. He was just a blurb on the immense sapphire surface.
Air whooshed past him, warm and stagnant from the black surface. Spirals and turns lead him to avoid box after box. He skirted around the fleshy rubber underneath the boxes, gaining bonus points for bravery.
He flapped frantically, rising just enough to miss a metal cherry. He knew in his little birdbrain that he needed to get out. In the middle of the black river, it was harder to maneuver, to avoid, to stay calm.
Sunlight glinted off silver, clear pools of silver. A black mountain hurtled towards the little sparrow.
It looked, it saw, it feared.
From above, it wasn’t even noticeable. The black mountain didn’t slow. It sped past to destinations unknown.
There was silence from the sparrows. A feeling akin to sorrow brought their thoughts away from the game.
Then a twitch. Anticipation. A dive.
The game went on.