by patrons of the Kill Devil Hills Library in collaboration with Susie Wilde, 2009
Ace’s purple feathers were as wild as the wind. Peppered with green-polka dots, they matched the bird’s free-spirit While other birds nestled in perches above the library, watching people come and go, Ace preferred to swoop, loop, and somersault through the sky. With the wind as his teacher, Ace grew so fast and strong, he was sure he could win a race against lightning. He became known as the fastest bird at the beach.
But one day the winds became angry and howled over the rough ocean. Ace knew he’d better head home to his nest. The sea oats bowed their graceful stalks to the sand and Ace gasped as he powered through heavy, humid air, then pouring rain and blowing sand that pelted his wings. He flew over fallen branches, tipped trash cans, and seaweed washed onto the land by the high tide.
The sun came out just as Ace reached his tree. Many of its leaves had blown away and several of its branches were gone. The air was still. Ace searched for his nest.
Below him he heard a loud meow. It was Harriet, the cat who lived in the woods between the post office and the library. What was she doing prowling around the trunk of his tree? Ace shuddered.
Harriet looked up at him. Her eyes shimmered like little moons. She circled once more around his tree, flicked her tail, and headed back into the woods without saying a word.
“Now that my nest’s gone, where will I live?” Ace shivered. Then he noticed a book drop, its boxy shape dented by a strong wind. Around the back was a crack just big enough to invite a small bird inside. Ace huddled against the side of the cold metal box. It would do for a while, at least it kept him out of the weather and safe from Harriet.
The next morning Ace woke to a gust of wind that carried a sing-song voice. He slipped out of the book drop and followed a gentle breeze towards the calming sound. Outside the library window he listened and watched, observing an amazing sight. Inside, a woman was holding a book and reading to a circle of children. Ace had seen children running on the beach and zipping in and out of the ocean waves, but he had never seen them sit so still. After he’d listened for awhile, he understood why. Her voice soothed him like evening birdsong and for the first time since he’d lost his nest, Ace relaxed. I wish I could read like that, he thought.
Later that day, as he rested in his shabby shelter, a heavy green book crashed through the slot and hit him right on his head. “What’s this?” As if the book were answering, it flopped open to an illustration of a happy starling family living in a safe, homey nest. Ace reached out and touched the colorful picture with his wing. The book’s pages were as soft as his mother’s feathers. Seeing that welcoming nest and cuddling up against the smooth pages gave Ace a marvelous idea.
For weeks, Ace never missed a story hour. He hovered outside the library window, listening and watching as the librarian turned pages and showed pictures to the children. Ace stared at how her finger slid underneath the lines of the story and he learned that the marks that squiggled across the pages meant something. He kept listening and watching until he understood that letters made words and words made stories. And one day, Ace realized he could read the words before the librarian said them.
Every day, after story hour Ace gathered all the pages he could find. He scoured the beach for forgotten magazines and found children’s stories on deserted playgrounds. Every page went into building a nest as big as a beach ball, a nest overflowing with stories and words that Ace could read aloud as he snuggled down and waited for sleep. Stories helped him forget about how Harriet paced beneath his tree, or curled up in its roots.
One foggy dawn a sweet puff of air woke Ace. “This is a perfect day for flying.” He had been so busy learning to read that it had been weeks since he’d flown just for fun. He stretched his wings so they could capture every bit of wind. He started to glide, then twisted in the air, and even backflipped on a stiff breeze.
Looking up, Ace saw that the clouds were traveling even faster than he was and they had turned dark gray. The air, once warm, turned chill, piercing Ace’s feathers right down to his bones. “I’m wet and cold and I’ve got to get out of this nor’easter,” Ace told himself. He thought of his word-filled nest and the new story he’d plucked from the recycling center just yesterday.
Nearing home, Ace sighted his tree. It was swaying and Ace sighed as bits of paper swirled away like they were dancing in the blustery weather. Words scattered in the squall. Letters had become nothing but litter. The sky darkened and razor-sharp rain sliced into his feathers. “I can’t see a thing,” the bird said. And then, far in the distance, he glimpsed two golden points of light.
“What are those?” Ace flapped his trembling wings as he headed towards them. He struggled to keep aloft in the angry gale. He concentrated so hard on the lights that he was totally surprised by the sound of a sudden whoosh and an unpleasant squeeze around his middle. Before he knew it, Harriet’s sharp claws had snatched him out of the air and pinned him to the ground.
Harriet grinned, yowled a raspy growl, and tightened her grip.
“Let go of me, Harriet, you’re hurting me! Your claws are sharper than sand spurs.” Ace beat his wings, wiggled his body, and pecked at Harriet’s paws.
“I’m not going to hurt you, little Ace. I just want you to read me this story.” Harriet grabbed a book in her teeth and dropped it near the bird she’d trapped. Holding Ace down with one paw, she batted the book over to him with the other. A giant-sized cat crouched on the cover. “This cat looks just like my mother. I want to know what the story’s about.” What else could he do? Ace began to read with a quivering voice.
In the quiet of the passing storm, Ace’s voice strengthened. He relaxed as he told the tale and when Harriet removed her paw, he kept reading to her. During a pause, he noticed sounds far above him. Ace looked up to see birds peering out of their nests. He realized that they were twittering at the exciting parts, chirping when the story surprised them, and singing sweetly at the end.
That was only the first of many nights that Ace read aloud. It wasn’t long before birds began to trade their twigs for pages and swap leaves for stories, until all the birds had feathered their nests with words.