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The Birds that Grow from the Ground 

 by Paul Kesler

The birds that grow from the ground are trees. They surround the house, looking like owls, grey wings clamped to their sides like the shields of grim Centurions. They are large, swaying, bartering their resistance to the wind.

Strange sounds emerge from their beaks --- a language inscrutable, though one they understand --- no sooner does one tree speak than the whole circle erupts in conversation, odd scraps of verbiage dispersing like feathers when storms come over the land.

The rain delivers silence. Their beaks swing shut like visors, as if the storm would distribute their gossip and a private taboo would be broken. They shift slightly - as they do, their black bark writhes grotesquely like the skin of contortionists.

Their sap is red. It does not flow; it wanders. I have seen it travel the ground in lizard-like streams, as if seeking parts of themselves long vanished --- as if purloined by the ground, or by one of their own circle. 

Are there conspirators in their midst?

The birds may move. Look from a third-story window, expecting to see them. You notice one missing, like a tooth suddenly gone from an old man's mouth. You climb downstairs, out the back door. A surprise --- the tree, with feathers intact, stands motionless by the fence. Its beak opens  --- convolving from the middle of its trunk, a sound like barely-controlled digestion may be heard. You slip through the gate, glancing over yourshoulder. It watches. 

There are no signs the growing will cease. The birds crowd the house, their feathered branches twined. Owl wings form a canopy, a vast inverted hammock overhead --- feathers sometimes drift in a wayward snow through the windows.

In the attic's octagonal room I watch them grumble, their gossip confecting the floor. It builds slowly, this archive of tongues  --- one day, perhaps, they will sift this storehouse for mysteries, wondering what happened to this room, this dwelling, this skeleton of a watcher. Is it my fate to curry their approach, to watch as, first the basement, then the rooms, play host to their dark invasion? For now I merely watch, calculating how long it will take before the house is commandeered. 

The windows adapt to their gathering. They were white for some time. Now they are dark.

Sap, red and wandering, leaks under the door.

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