A Bedtime Story

There are no more caterpillars now, for the rest of the day. Even Rak has closed his greedy beak at last. We are all settling down, fitting ourselves comfortably into the warm hold of our home. I look out over the top of the nest and watch as the upper tree branches turn as dark as my claws, while the sky turns blue-grey like the top of a pigeon’s head. Rak and Kree are pushing each other and starting to argue; suddenly a large black head looms over the side and they both realise it doesn’t matter.

A slightly smaller head joins him and both our parents are looking down at us. They must be the strongest, cleverest birds in the world. And their shining feathers fit together so perfectly, not like ours—especially Kree, whose pink skin still shows in patches. “It is almost time to sleep,” says my father. “But you can have a story first.”

The three of us stand up, our legs a little shaky, and all talk at once. “Can we have the story of our ancestor Roc, the first to leave the ark?” says Rak. “No, no, I want Kira, the beautiful crow who helped brave George kill the dragon,” says Kree. “Oh please, how Korax fed the great prophet,” I say.

“The story of Kira and the dragon may not be entirely historical,” says my mother. “Whereas there is no doubt about the other two. Tonight I will tell you the story of how Korax our ancestor and his family fed the prophet.”

It is getting darker and our father is turning into a great shape on the edge of the nest. I know that nothing could get past him. My mother is making a kind of purring noise at the back of her throat.

“Many years ago,” she says, “Korax and his family lived in the land of Israel, far from here. It was a good land, a beautiful land, with tall trees and plenty of food. They had everything they could want, and they prospered. However, where the humans lead, the creation must follow, as all birds and animals know. And the humans led them badly.

“The humans had a king,” she continues, “and the king was named Ahab. He was an evil and stupid human, and he married an evil wife. Of course they both knew about the Creator of all, the Maker of heaven and earth. But they loved destruction, death and deceit.

“They followed a religion,” she says, “they followed a false religion, which taught them not to love and honour God the Creator of all, but to love and serve a false and deceitful shape, an idol. And the humans of Israel followed them. They even—they even …” she hesitates and then says very quickly, as if the words taste bad, “they even killed their own offspring for this idol.”

My father’s form is drooping slightly, as if his thoughts are heavy. My mother is shaking her head. “Certainly one hears of birds that steal the eggs of others,” she murmurs. “But one’s very own offspring…”

She takes a deep breath. “Anyway,” she says very brightly, “there was a great and mighty prophet of the true God, and his name was Elijah. And he told the people that they should stop serving the shape of deceit and death. Some of them listened, but most did not. So he prayed to the true God and Maker of all, and God stopped the rain. It did not rain on King Ahab’s land for three and a half years. That is much longer than you three have been alive. It is a very long time. And so the humans and the other creatures suffered from the drought. And Ahab was very angry, because he was too bad and stupid to see that it was his own fault.

“Now Korax was in his nest, near a little stream which was still flowing, just minding his own business. And suddenly God spoke to him. He said, ‘You and your people must feed my servant the prophet Elijah. You must bring him bread and meat in the morning and in the evening.’ Imagine how highly our ancestor Korax was honoured! To hear a direct command from God, just like that. And to have the great servant of God relying upon him for food!

“So Elijah came to live next to the stream, and he drank water from it, as Korax and our people did. And every day our ancestors brought meat and bread to Elijah. At first they worried about where they would get it, but God helped them find it every single day. There would be a wild goat, or an antelope, and they would bring nice big chunks back to Elijah. He was very polite and always said thank you. He seemed to prefer the meat hot, so he would make a little fire. And there was always bread to be found around the human houses.”

We are all quiet for a moment, grateful to be corvids, glad to be descended from Korax, the helper of the servant of God. My father’s shape is very straight on the edge of the nest.

“And not long after that, Elijah the prophet had a great contest with Ahab and the priests of his idol, and he won. God brought rain on the land again. And Elijah never ever forgot that he was kept alive by the corvids.

“This is the story of our ancestor Korax, which is the birthright of all corvids, including you three. Now sleep.”

The nest is a very deep place and the warmth is all around me. There is a faraway sound of water bouncing on the leaves—it is raining. There is something special about rain … Oh yes—there will be snails tomorrow.

Corry Macleod lives in Brisbane. Her stories “Remembering Sandsville” and “The Baby Licence” appeared in the April 2022 and July-August 2023 issues respectively.


4 thoughts on “A Bedtime Story

  • Gary Furnell says:

    Corry, I enjoyed this story – an enjoyable, imaginative retelling. I read it twice, then read the OT episode in I Kings 17, and then read your other stories, The Baby License, and Remembering Sandsville. Long live satire!

    I referenced Elijah and the ravens in the story The Ravens Fed the Prophet, Quadrant October 2013.

    I look forward to more of your stories appearing in Q.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    A beautifully re-told Biblical tale. So enjoyable. And evocative to me of the cosy nest of Currawongs we watched hatch and fledge in the crooked branch of a big tree a metre from our high up verandah. I had many a conversation with mum Currawong about the demands of a hungry brood as I assisted with a little spare meat and we meditated on past nest-sitting together. Dad was a bit of a rotter, not much around for the fledges, but he was young and did his best at the start.

    I think there may be more to the ‘assisting St. George’ story than mum Crow in your tale allows. But you’d have to read my 2018 Quadrant article on ‘Decoding King Arthur’ to see why the Corvidae had a role in St. George’s enduring tradition. .

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    Perhaps dad Currawong was applying a little ‘tough love’. Get out you lazy young fledgies. Find your courage and go after those snails if you’re hungry. .Don’t expect me to feed you forever. Push forward and upwards over the next as nature directs and fly, you little buggers, fly.

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