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The skeleton was immense. At first, the bones seemed part of the plateau, hewn from the stone, polished by primitive tools. They glowed a little. But no, on second look, they were clearly bones, a whole skeleton, amazingly complete.

“An enormous bird,” said Rose, “that’s what it must have been. Prehistoric.”

The shape wasn’t precisely birdlike, but close enough. Rose dared to lift one of the wing bones. It was long and firm, lighter than she’d expected. She ran a finger along its surface, then carefully returned it to its place.

“I wonder why it landed here,” said Rose, “why it died here.”

“We’ll get in touch with someone back at the university,” said Ben. “We’re not even remotely competent to guess about this find.”

Rose agreed. They were on a walk, caught up in the beauty of the landscape, the pleasure of being together. They weren’t scientists or explorers. Even reaching the top of the plateau had seemed too hard. Rose had said, “Let’s turn back.” But Ben had coaxed, “It’s just a baby climb. We can make it.”

It hadn’t been a baby climb. By the time they reached the top, both were exhausted. But here they were. Hands linked, they walked around the bones. There seemed to be something familiar about the shape, the arching wings, the long body, the slender, slender legs, the delicate feet. Familiar, yet elusive. They gazed in silence.

Finally, Rose said, “we need to start getting back. Otherwise we’ll be trapped here for the night.” The air had become cooler, and she was trembling.

Ben nodded. He opened his knapsack and took a long drink from their canteen, then passed the canteen to Rose. “Drink as much as you can. It’ll be tricky to fish this out on the way down.”

Rose drank, staring at the bird.

“Maybe we won’t tell anyone,” she said. “I wish we’d seen it alive. It must have been a wonder.”

“We need to tell somebody,” said Ben, “somebody who can take a proper look, perhaps do a reconstruction.”

“It’s so peaceful,” said Rose, “I don’t think it’s ever been disturbed.” She flattened her palm gently against the head. “I wonder what happened to the beak.”

Ben shrugged. “Exposure to the elements,” he said. He took his camera out and snapped a photo of Rose kneeling beside the bird, dwarfed by the span of its enormous wings.

“The Bird on the Plateau” was published by Variant Literature Journal.


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