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A Man’s Friend

Life in a small town is disrupted when a special bird disappears

Once there was a town named Schnitzelberg, and every morning a bird would fly over the town singing a four-note song. The bird was soon named after the town; everyone called it the Schnitzelbird. Not one person through the whole town of Schnitzelberg had an alarm clock. The bird woke them up every day, and everyone loved it. That is, everyone except Jack.

Jack was a middle-aged man who loved his sleep. He thought the bird woke up much too early every morning and that the people of Schnitzelberg might feel better if they slept more. So he devised a plan.

The next morning, when the Schnitzelbird came around for its wake-up call, he caught it and put it into a cage.

“Oh, don’t complain,” said Jack to the bird. “It’s your fault you wake up so early. My people will be happy to have their sleep, you’ll see.”

But everyone woke up late that morning.

“Mommy, where is the Schnitzelbird?” A little girl asked, clutching her mother’s arm. “I’m late to school!”

“Oh darling, I’m sure the bird will come back tomorrow—probably just needed its sleep. It must be exhausted flying around like that every morning.”

Murmurs like that were heard all over the town. Everyone was telling their kid that it was going to be ok, that the bird would probably be back tomorrow, but worry was spread across all of their faces nonetheless.

“They’ll thank me soon,” Jack muttered. “Just let them see how life can be without that bird.”

After work, Jack was back in his room eating his dinner, and the bird started shaking the bars.

“Oh, calm down, you!” he hissed. “You can live here with me, and no one will bother you. No responsibility, either. You’re a lucky one.” The truth was that Jack really did believe that. He had bought some bird food at the store so the bird could live with him. He hated his job and envied the bird, but the bird felt a responsibility to the town and shook the bars of the cage anyway.

“Quit that racket!!” Jack shouted at the bird. It stopped. Jack knew birds couldn’t make expressions, but if they could, this bird would look hurt.

“I’m going to sleep. Goodnight,” said  Jack sternly and lay down, ready for a peaceful night at last. Unfortunately, that’s not what he got.

At two in the morning, the bird woke him up by banging on the cage with his long, slender beak.

“Stop that!” Jack yelled. He had been having the most pleasant dream. “I’m up! I’m up!” he said, waving his hands around, searching for his glasses, which now rested on the nightstand.

“Why isn’t the bird here?” asked little girls and boys all around the town.

“I don’t know, dear,” said the parents, not hiding their sadness.

Everyone returned with alarm clocks that night, grief spread across their faces, and Jack moved into his guest room because of the bird’s racket.

“You’re not doing anyone any good, you know!” Jack yelled at the bird before shutting his door.

The next day everyone woke up on time, but all of their glum faces could prove to anyone that something was wrong. The bird couldn’t have affected these people that much, could it? Is it affecting their work? Is it affecting their life? No, silly me. They’ll thank me soon. It’s just an old bird, nothing more than that. An annoyance; yes, that’s what it is. I helped my people in a way that the bird could never help, Jack thought. And with that, he left for work.

*          *          *

It was Saturday, Jack’s favorite day. No work, nothing he needed to do. Nothing. It was perfect. But when he walked outside, no one was there to greet him. Where did they all go? Jack wondered as he walked over to a sign stapled to a tree next to a walkway. The sign said,

Group Gathering at the Three Trees.

The Three Trees was a popular place to have a gathering in Schnitzelberg, but they hadn’t had one in a long time. Wonder what this one’s for? he thought as he walked to the three trees. Once he arrived, however, he was completelyoverwhelmed by surprise.

Hanging from the three trees were gigantic banners of the Schnitzelbird that read:

To the great Schnitzelbird, we give you our hearts.

And the whole town was there! They were all listening to a man standing on a pedestal. The man was the mayor, Sir McMuffin (at least that’s what everyone called him). And Jack would never forget what he said.

“Our bird was the greatest of all. We all loved him with all of our hearts, and I am sorry to tell you that we believe that his absence from this town could only mean his death. We believe that our bird was shot by a hunter and is now dead, but I warn you, our bird is not!” proclaimed the mayor. A murmur went through the crowd.

Jack was astounded! It was a funeral! A funeral for the bird, and not only that, every single townsperson had come!

“He is not dead because he lives on inside each of us! He is not dead because he is still here! He is in you!” and when the mayor said “you,” he pointed to a lady standing in front of him.

“And you!” he exclaimed to a man. “And you and you and you and you!” He said, pointing every which way. “He lives in all of us!” cried the mayor. Everyone screamed their applause, but tears were still in their eyes. Jack knew what he had to do. He ran back to his house, up the stairs, and into his old room.

“Hi, you,” he said, reaching out his hand and petting the bird. Then he opened the cage. The bird just stood there, stunned.

“Well, what are you waiting for? You’re free!” said Jack. The bird turned his head to Jack, and once again, he knew birds couldn’t talk, but if they could, he knew exactly what this one would be saying.

“You’re welcome. Now go give my town a show,” said Jack. And with that, the bird took flight.

Jack ran outside and could see the bird flying toward the funeral. He had to run to keep up with it, and then he heard gasps. He saw kids pointing and grown-ups staring. And then, just like that, the world snapped back together, and everyone started cheering.

The party lasted so long. Everyone burned their alarm clock and danced around the fire while the Schnitzelbird sat on a throne that kids had carved themselves and sang his four-note song till the very last second of the day.

That night, everyone went to bed with full tummies and happy thoughts, and Jack not once ever again wasn’t happy to wake up to the Schnitzelbird, and his life, a little early every day.

Elaina Heinitz
Elaina Heinitz, 10
Falls Church, VA

Hanna Gustafson
Hanna Gustafson, 13
South Burlington, VT