A FREE RIDE IN THE SKY
Since the old king had recently departed this life, the birds of the forest were holding a competition to choose his successor: he or she who was able to fly highest would be crowned and rule the birds’ kingdom hereafter. Not all the eligible signed up though. Many were either complacent with their inherited social station or self-aware enough to know that they didn’t have stronger wings than their neighbors’. So they just disappeared contentedly into the troop of common onlookers.
The common people are common, partly because ordinary people are destined and determined to be, well, just ordinary, and so were the birds. While many commoners had waived their right to give kingship a shot, the horde of contenders, a thousand-odd of them, was still impressive. At the dawn of the big day, all the participants, along with those carefree onlookers, congregated at a secluded clearing girded by skyscraping trees, the de facto convention center of birds from near and far. It had been arguably the most massive gathering of a generation, piquing even the curiosity of some big animals: a family of crab-eating macaques came crouching in the nearby trees, watching; a black bear sat on a stump, leaning against a tree trunk, one foot on another, watching too.
Then with a long, resounding squawk of Complainer the Crow, the flying competition officially kicked off. All the contestants, young and old, drab and brightly-colored, shot up at once like a huge fishing net dotted with numerous knots being cast out into the skies, and the whoosh of their flapping wings could be heard from afar.
Soon enough, the weakest and least determined flyers were left far behind, then seen no more; serious contenders held on, struggling against not only the opponents, but an overwhelming sense of exhaustion and self-denial. An hour into the competition, only ten remained. Then only him, Bold the Eagle was still ascending, slowly but steadily—he had outlasted all the challengers for kingship. I am the winner and king of the birds, Bold smirked to himself. He soared proudly in the skies, now with the long pinions fully open, gliding, now fluttering rapidly, embracing the greeting winds. Down in the foliage were the losers he had beaten; the canopy resembled a greenish, rolling mass of cotton candy, randomly studded with countless specks of Oreo cookies.
Just as Bold was about to dive down to claim his crown and meet his subjects, he heard a “THANK YOU, BUDDY” so faint and freakish that it were as if coming from Above. Well, the voice did come from above, but it was from somewhere on his back, rather than from Heaven: a little puny bird was being carried piggyback, taking a free ride from the very beginning! The proud Bold was thus outwitted by such a midget whose wingspan was almost twentieth of his. Bold didn’t wake up from his shock and confusion until this little puny bird had opened his little puny wings and jumped out, spiraling up, and up, and up, higher than Bold the Eagle, higher than every other bird in the kingdom.