It was a bright, beautiful morning, the sun was gently shining, songbirds were gently singing somewhere probably, and the pigeons were already gently gathering in the park, vast armies of grey and purple and green waiting for the first person who would give them food, willingly or unwillingly. Of course, Jack was still asleep on one of the park’s benches, with his hoodie performing the double role of pillow and eye mask. His arm was dangling over the edge of the bench, a fact that might or might not be relevant to the story.
Jack was just twenty two at the time this story started, and, despite his young years, he had managed to achieve some truly amazing feats, which he had no trouble bragging about, or performing without any indication of interest expressed from the people surrounding him. (Jack was many things, and one of them was a bit of a tool.) Those included but were not limited to: sleeping anywhere, at any time, in any sleeping position, walking back and forth over a slug line without breaking a sweat, cramming for an exam in under three hours and still maintaining a perfectly respectable average, and chugging an entire pint of jaegermeister without throwing up.
In many ways he was a normal, basic kind of boy. Not too deep, not too shallow, handsome enough in a certain light, likeable by some and irritating to others. There wasn’t anything spectacularly special about him, no curiously shaped scars, no tendency to avoid garlic and write his name backwards, no heavy mantles of Destiny and Fate weighing his young shoulders. But there wouldn’t be a story to be written about him if that had stayed that way, and you know it as well as I do.
Jack didn’t make a habit of sleeping on park benches. He had a flat, that he rented with two of his friends, and the flat had a perfectly nice double bed, respectably clean sheets, and Jack’s second favorite pillow (the first having been lost in a freak accident involving said pillow, his roommate and best friend Dan, and a homemade flamethrower). But he and his friends had gone out the previous night, and drank, and only started heading towards home when the night was well past, and the sun was past breaking over the horizon and well into rolling across the pieces of it. It was possible that they had lost each other during the night, it was possible his friends thought he’d gone off with someone, it was possible they’d done so themselves. The result was the same: Jack had gotten lost, and, confident that it was a brilliant idea, had promptly found a bench and fallen asleep.
All that, of course, no more than three hours earlier, and we found him still there, the sun was shining straight on his head, his dangling hand, and the pigeons.
One pigeon skipped closer, curious or confused or maybe just cruel and pecked at Jack’s hand then, hard enough to scratch and draw blood. Jack jumped up, cursing, blind to the sun and deaf against the birdsong, glaring at the pigeons around him. He felt like kicking one. Preferably, one must assume, Jack felt like kicking the bird that bit him, and the pigeon, in an act of extreme consideration, pecked him again, causing a big, red, glistening drop of blood to well up and roll slowly down his leg and staining his shoe and sock.
Jack yelped and reached out to the pigeon when he heard the voices, coming from all around him.
BreadbreadbreadbreadbreadwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhowhowhowhowhatwhatwhatwhatWhat is he doing to LarrybreadbreadbreadbreadwhatwhatwhatwhatwhowhowhowhowhowhowhoWho does he think heisheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheHe’s still sitting in my spot
At that the pigeon, Jack found himself thinking of the creature as Larry from the start, reared up to peck him again, and Jack jumped just beyond its beak in some wonderful alliterative timing.
“What the fuck?” he said.
Whatwhatwhatwhatbreadwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat, said the birds.
Jack was pretty sure rum and pot weren’t supposed to cause that kind of persistent and continuous auditory hallucination, but Ares had handed him a shot that was an almost fluorescent blue and brought tears to his eyes so, all things considered, Jack wasn’t sure that this wasn’t some kind of extreme hangover.
He could hear birds talk.
That kind of thing didn’t just happen out of the blue.
He had strategically left the park by very bravely running for it, the cries of the pigeons almost deafening and his head pounding pounding pounding something terrible.
There was a dull throbbing or blood in his fingers, and a dirty scab over the tiny wound on his leg.
His hoodie smelled like smoke and beer.
And birds were talking to him.
It’s hard, dear reader, to imagine how a boy like Jack felt that day. The stories of the world talk either about boys like Jack being normal, or about boys unlike Jack being extraordinary. We know what the pariah, the outcast, the loner would do, we know the shape and form of the one friend they have, we know what they’ll talk about and how everyone will react. It’s the kind of stories we read. Or, in some cases, live. We know that they can end in victory or defeat, we know of irony and character development, we know, after living in this world for as much as each of us has, exactly how the story will develop.
But we don’t know boys like Jack, not yet, not as heroes.
Faced with the end of the world as he knew it, and half certain that he was going a little crazy, Jack walked into a coffeeshop and got himself an orange juice and two sandwiches, one turkey and one vegetarian, before heading back towards the park, determined against his better judgement, to face the birds.