Short Fiction

The Cormorant and the Afterlife Coach By Leila Allison

At age six, Gordon Cormorant suffered a midlife crisis. Sensitive and melancholy, Gordon believed that he’d explored every mystery that life had to offer a Brandt’s Cormorant. It seemed that the only thing left was to while away his remaining seasons on Cormorant Piling, with similarly disillusioned members of his species, gleaning hollow accomplishment from ferryspotting and offending humans with the frequent and hoselike power defecations peculiar to his kind.

Cormorant Piling stood fifty yards out in Philo Bay. There were other pilings, but the one taken over by the large black birds was by far the largest. It was composed of twenty steel-banded telephone pole timbers sunk deep into the floor of the harbor. The human reason for its existence was to correct the crooked approaches of incoming ferries to the terminal dock. The large vessels brushed their sides against the piling several times a day, with varying intensity. Most times there’d be a slight bump, on rare occasions the boats would strike with such force that the piling would rock violently–sometimes even cracking the timbers.

Ferryspotting required at least two burned out Cormorants standing atop the piling. They’d watch a ferry come in and all involved would predict just how hard (if at all) the ferry would strike the piling. Each bird had to make his/her prediction the moment the heavy boat’s engines were cut while it was still well out in the bay (past expensive dock vs ferry disasters made drifting a requirement). One of the few kicks left in life came from the infrequent direct collision. But, mostly, humdrum won the day

Then one afternoon something–if not new, at least different, happened. It was summertime, and the nearby boardwalk was thick with adult humans, their noisome hatchlings, dogs, fatty food vendors and bad music. And as the 12:25 from Seattle entered Philo Bay, Gordon heard a human ghost on the boardwalk “sing”:

“Just what makes that Cormorant

Think he can move that rubber tree plant?

When everyone knows, he Cormo-can’t

Move no rubber tree plant.”

Something inside Gordon’s tiny brain groaned. All Birds can see and hear and communicate with human ghosts; in fact, the season before Gordon had produced a Bird musical on Philo Bay (Ghostbeak, which got rave notices) in which he slyly cast a discordant Misophonyx ghost in the role of the heavy. But after Gordon’s next few productions had produced messages that not even the Pigeons would carry, he gave up show biz and retired to Cormorant Piling.

Gordon excused himself from the game, for the ferry was still a good five-hundred yards offshore. He flew to the little dinghy dock from where the voice had come. And it was the Misophonyx, whom Gordon hadn’t seen since the early close of his revival of Destination Defecation (nearly all Bird musicals center on fecal matters).

The dead are far more advanced than the living when it comes to interpersonal communication. Ghosts (they prefer “Spirit”) do not speak languages unknown to them in life, yet the things they say are perfectly understood by the fauna (Birds and Dogs, especially; Cats are hit and miss, mainly due to their attitudes), and they readily understand the yips and chirrups and bleats and squeals and so forth created by the so called lower beings (who like humans produce a Spirit upon death, yet unlike people their Spirits do not linger in the old world). Still, Gordon was not big on making sounds, and he seldom spoke other than during ferryspotting. Mostly he got himself across with little honks and pantomime.

“Maestro Gordon, I’m so happy to see you,” said the Spirit.

“Hello, Misophonyx,” “said” Gordon via a clipped honk and power squirt out his backside.

“No, no longer in that class,” the Spirit said. “I’ve changed my specialty. I’m now an Encourager.”

That something in Gordon’s tiny brain groaned again. He knew that the human Spirits who returned to the world could only do so as specialists. As a Misophonyx, the Spirit had been a music class Spirit, even though he had no musical talent whatsoever. Casting him in Ghostbeak had been a gimmick that had paid off. And now the guy had returned as something even dumber: an Encourager–a motivational speaker for the dead, as in “Afterlife Coach.”

“How interesting,” Gordon lied through a tilt of his long narrow head. He glanced back out at the approaching ferry. Based on his quick calculations of the wind and current, something exciting was about to happen. He had to rid himself of this bozo and toss in his prediction within a few minutes. (Birds that fly at a high speed just centimeters above the unforgiving sea are experts on windage and current).

“Word has it that you are discouraged,” the ex-Misophonyx, now an Encourager, said.

“Not at all,” Gordon began to chatter (for him) by shuffling his feet, clicking his beak and raising his wings in various positions. “Hearing that even a dead man can change has inspired me to write a new story…” which was another lie. But Gordon had discovered long ago that only humans believe lies, and lying got rid of them more quickly than the truth.

The Encourager exploded with joy. “I’ve done it! I’ve finally done it!” he bellowed, mostly to himself…”I’ve brought light into darkness…”

He said other things as well, but Gordon didn’t stick around to listen. He flew back to the piling in time to squawk “Direct hit.”

And as the large boat bore down on them, the other Cormorants lost their nerve and abandoned the piling when it became clear that the superferry was going to drill their roost harder than one had ever hit it before. But Gordon waited. He felt the old rush pulse through his hollow bones and

when the ferry struck he shot directly into the air, hooted with renewed energy, and power defecated to the disgust of the passengers gazing out the windows.

It was a joy to be alive.

The Amoral(s):

Disgusting Amoral: A Bird in a Band Most Likely Shaves Her Bush (I apologize; but not to the point of omitting it)

Elevating, Mind of a Child Amoral: We Are Free to Be You and Me; Even if That Means Living in a Van Down By the River

Honest Amoral: (See Disgusting Amoral)

Leila Allison

11 thoughts on “The Cormorant and the Afterlife Coach By Leila Allison”

  1. The ideas that the dead spirits and Cormorants (may as well add gulls into the mix) have teamed up to shit on us is believable. I have stopped putting food out for the birds in the summer; it’s the violet swoop from crows, pigeons and gulls that make a pungent mess. Leaving toilet paper for them is a waste of time and I have to wash the area with a bucket of bleached water.
    I have now taken to hiding food in the hedge for the little birds , isn’t life a buzz!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, James.
      You sound as though you live very close to the water, as do I. I’ve been feeding a feral cat dry food under a box hedge out front. What he leaves behind becomes the property of the little Song Sparrows and House Wrens who know about the dry cat food. I never knew that they preferred Friskies Seafood and Chicken Medley over bugs. Ain’t nature wonderful.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I grew up working on the land and when the fields were being ploughed flocks of sea gulls would follow the tractor to get at the grubs and worms. I live 30 miles from the coast, it seems the gulls like variety in their diet.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Leila,
    I know that you’ve read this but for the case of transparency!

    What I have always thought about your writing is that the reader can get so immersed, that some of the more observant lines get swept away in the inventiveness.
    For example we can take the idea of a bird musical as an image of fantasy but when you think on the dawn chorus, it is more an observation.
    Same with the idea of an after-life coach – Is this fantasy or a fecking nightmare if attendance is compulsory!
    And I especially loved the double meaning line, as in line for the story and observation – ‘One of the few kicks left in life came from the infrequent direct collision. But, mostly, humdrum won the day.’
    You can take that as an observation on the daily. Sometimes if we are hit with something different, even if it is negative, that is what makes life, life. Routine can be our comfort-blanket, but it is never challenging or uplifting. Challenge and being uplifted is what makes us feel human and realise who we are as a human being.
    I continue to be in awe of your work Leila!!


  3. Thank you, thank you. Today is a fine day for birds. While on my walk a little while ago I observed a crow dropping a nut of from the top of a telephone pole, as they are known to do, But I swear this one was aiming it at a squirrel (a species that practically carpets this area) directly below.
    Maybe we are more like the critters than they are like us. Thank you. (Oh, I saw your comment about the Bailey’s–the coffee cup prevents the neighbors from talking about my habits at nine in the morning!)


  4. Oregon is the home of cormorants as well. Talents – Flying a foot above the water over long distances, buzzard pose in trees and dirty old man pose. Editor tells me they stretch wings to the side to dry (don’t have oily feathers to avoid getting wet) rather than gross out other fauna, but I’m not sure.

    On the subject of amorality – favorite amorals – Disgusting and honest..

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you, Doug.
    Cormorants are almost as common as gray squirrels anymore. I don’t think I go two days without seeing at least one. I Hope you stay cool in Oregon. Supposed to get obnoxiously hot around the Sound for the next couple days. Autumn can’t come soon enough.



  6. Oh my, I had no idea that Commerants led such interesting and productive lives. I always thought of them, and other birds, as contemporary abstract artists and or musicians and now you confirmed it. And we all have to poop someplace. Very imaginative story. I hope Gordon puts on another show.


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