"Don't Fly" by Kamran Muthleb

A quail sat lazily in a meadow, her legs obscured by her feathery body. She was surrounded by tall grass, and the breeze tickled her crest as the clouds drifted by. She was about to fall asleep when she heard a loud rustle.

"Hello? Is someone there?" the quail asked.

Suddenly, a stampede of quails and pheasants burst into view, the grass dancing as they bolted past the resting quail. She could only stare in confusion as they chattered amongst themselves.

"Run!"

"Take cover!"

"Everybody hide!"

"Don't fly!"

The birds continued throwing commands at each other as they scattered across the meadow, clambering for cover in the thick greenery. It wasn’t until the ruckus died down that the quail decided to speak.

"What's going on? Is the fox back already?" she whispered, hoping someone would hear her.

"No," answered a pheasant that she couldn't see. "It's the Deathcrack."

"The Deathcrack?" the quail asked, bewildered. "I thought that was just a story for little chicks?"

"No, it's real," the pheasant said curtly. "Now be quiet. And don't fly!"

"Why not?" she asked. The pheasant didn't respond.

The next minute was agonizing for the quail. Previously, the silence had brought her comfort, but now, it was unbearable. Had her parents really told her the truth? Was there really a beast that could command thunder?

The quail lowered her head when the grass rustled again. This time, it was too loud to be a bird, and too graceless to be a fox. She listened closely and heard a heavy breathing some distance away. It was just like what her mother had told her: a monster with no subtly and a lusty breath.

So they are real, the quail thought. But can it really-

The quail flinched when the creature let loose with a riotous bark, scaring a luckless bird into the air. Seconds later, a thunder crashed as the fleeing quarry exploded into a mess of feathers, much to the horror of the quail. The bloody remains dropped to the ground like a stone, and the panting reaper was quick to claim them.

"The.. The Deathcrack…" the quail stuttered as the fearsome animal trotted away.

"It's going to come back," said the pheasant. "It never stops at one bird."

"How many of us does it want?" the quail asked, shivering.

"I don't know. Just hope that it doesn't find you," he said.

Unfortunately, the pheasant's prediction came true. Soon, the creature was prowling through the grass again, and it wasn't long before another bird tried to flee, only to fall victim to the Deathcrack. The quail was truly terrified now. She wanted to run, but she was afraid the beast would spot her.

"Do… Do you hear that?" she asked the pheasant. The beast’s breathing was growing louder, as if it was moving in her direction.

"Yes, I do," said the pheasant. "Remember, don't fly."

"Why not?" the quail asked.

"Because the Deathcrack only happens when someone flies," he explained. "Just stay still and hope for the best."

The quail shook her head, not satisfied with his advice. As the breathing and rustling drew closer and closer, she lowered her head as much as possible, practically shrinking into her hiding place. Her heart raced as the creature finally came into view, pointing its ugly snout in her direction

Then, the sound of flapping wings echoed through the meadow. Surprised, the quail looked skyward and saw that the pheasant had taken flight, a wild look in his eyes.

"Oh, no…” the quail gasped. A moment later, the Deathcrack roared and the pheasant was struck. His mangled self spiraled through the air and landed between the beast and the quail in a pitiful heap.

And to the quail's shock, he tried to speak.

"The… The Deathcrack… It's…" the pheasant breathed, his voice faltering. "It's not… It's not the…" He died before he could finish.

The quail gazed at the pheasant, momentarily forgetting that the beast was right in front of her. Flicking its tail, the creature barked again, shaking the ground with its clamor. The quail stood transfixed with fear, expecting the Deathcrack to happen at any second.

But nothing happened.

"Please, just get it over with!" she begged. But the beast stood in place, bellowing but not killing. The quail didn’t know what to do, or what to think.

And then, the grass shifted once more, prompting the beast to move aside. The quail's fear was eclipsed by sheer awe as a second creature approached. The strange new entity towered over her, its body adorned with an alien pelt, its eyes blue like the sky. The quail had never seen anything like it, and she didn't dare move as it studied both her and the dead pheasant. Silently, it raised a metallic stick and leveled it at the quail, and in an instant, all was clear to her.

The barking creature wasn't the Deathcrack. This was. It had found her, and there was no place left to hide. And yet, two words still lingered in the quail’s mind:

Don't fly.

The quail spread her wings and flapped them as hard as she could. Reflexively, the giant creature aimed its metal stick upwards, preparing to unleash the Deathcrack.

But the bird had not flown.

By the time the creature realized it had been tricked, the quail was already gone, never to be found again.