When Birdhead Father found the box baby (as his name in that moment went from being “Birdhead” to “Birdhead Father”) the problem was his (literal) birdhead moved independently as a (literal) bird’s might, and the more excited he got (and becoming a father for the first time was certainly exciting) the more wild became the thrashing of the birdhead. He was practiced in piecing together disparate images, but anything new to his well-pieced-together routine was an extra mystery, so images of his new son came to him in shattered pieces. Now was the time he most wanted and most needed to concentrate, but his head wouldn’t let him.
The other problem was no humans allowed in Brightness (except when exploited for business purposes). Brightness was a gated neighborhood where the only ones allowed to live there (with the sole exception of Birdhead Father) had flowerheads. Flowerheads were elegant and graceful and delighted in only beautiful things and delighted most in eating human invaders to Brightness. They were governed by the matriarch (some might call her more benignly the neighborhood’s taste maker) the 72 Petal Rose. She ruled through a silent judging gaze (silent by virtue of her head being a flower but everybody knew what it meant) and by being best at eating human invaders.
Birdhead Father’s adopted mother ran “Chrysanthemum’s Daycare for Humans” (flowerhead children needed no daycare, perish the thought, and loved to lord that over humans in ways humans were never clever enough to get) so Birdhead Father was practiced in human childcare/daycare and knew the rules well: 1) don’t eat the babies; 2) don’t let anyone else eat the babies, and so on. He knew the right sedation rhythms to bounce and music to make his chest buzz like blood pulse inside mothers, and making babies sleep came easy to him like any artist. It’s all he wanted to do in life.
Now this baby he found on the stoop: human head but no mother present, he had to keep this baby from crying and from hunger and all the flowerheads in Brightness who’d want to eat him and all other possible dangers eternally.
He needed to get this baby out of Brightness before one of the flowerheads ate him. The problem was he’d never been outside of Brightness since his mother found him in his own box and tried her whole life likewise to keep the other flowerheads from eating him (he didn’t want to take on his mother’s misery). The other problem was considering the piecemeal data of his birdhead: he relied on familiarity with Brightness to keep from stumbling over everything, so escape meant welcoming the eternal stumble of outside. Regardless, he walked along the wall around Brightness feeling for an opening, holding the baby in the other arm, dreading any flowerhead seeing him.
He stumbled into briers, got stuck, responded by curling inward like a fern’s fiddlehead, his bulk around the baby, trapped by such a small and brittle cage of briers but mostly by the fear of bringing any pain to this baby.
He could only slip into dreaming now.
There is this legend among flowerheads of the Stromach, a sort of messiah who could command Christmas lights to descend from the sky and cover the world (flowerheads were most fascinated by anyone who controlled light) but she was the sort of messiah who was most kind to lost and boxed up children. If only Birdhead Father could find her.
The flowerheads found him in the briers huddled like he’d compressed himself to be indestructible (and maybe he was). He released the tension of his bodyshell the moment the hand of one flowerhead touched his shoulder, failed to fight then in deference to the kindness they showed him all his life (but it was the sort of kindness born by a superiority too great to be unkind where they might still eat him if they chose one day he was more worthy of being their food).
The flowerheads took the baby (who was now named Boyhead Father since he was Birdhead Father’s son and had a boy’s head) to a secluded flowerhead nursery as if they knew better how to raise the baby than his own father. Birdhead Father curled up again (on the ground alone this time) trying to figure out how to free his baby.
Birdhead Father solved his problem with a machete. The nightbird machete given to him by God (the Stromach or whatever form she took).
Next problem to solve was the wall around Brightness which was mostly topiary, and his problem-solving machete could take care of that, but then the final layer was porcelain which he kicked at not knowing how thick it was. But it crumbled because he was amazingly strong and God loved him.
The world beyond the porcelain wall was in this weird state of blackness (like closed eyes) he’d never known (except in sleeping) the whole time he lived in the Brightness neighborhood. This, he’d later learn, was called “night.” The ground below him had the sort of cold and hard he’d never known. This, he’d later learn, was called “civilization.”
He may have been strong, but the problem was his heart was growing too big (thumping to keep Boyhead Father, now cuddled against his breast, asleep through the following madness). This may have let him kick down a wall, but now it was crowding out all the other organs: lungs to stomach to intestines to bladder: all the ventricles and arteries spread through his body like cancer. All the extra blood pumping made his birdhead, which moved independently anyway, go buckwild.
He saw in the piecemeal of his jittery birdhead lights darting around in the weird black canopy of this new world (the way blackbirds would sometimes clog the sky so thick he could finally see those lightning bugs he’d heard of in legend in his world that never became night)(but then again maybe this was night and these were only stars he’d heard of in legend)(he couldn’t quite tell sometimes if the world was jittering and shattered or he was).
He found himself among cardinals as anyone (birdhead freak or not) walking down the city street holding a baby and a machete must end up either in a church or with police.
The cardinals treated him decently considering they clearly had little experience dealing with a birdheaded man wielding a machete: “We can handle this, my son. Hand over the baby” and all that. They must’ve thought their God (or whatever puppet version of the real Stromach God they worshiped here) knew more about giving this baby love than his own father (like the flowerheads believed though nobody should ever believe such blasphemy). He wanted to see the real Stromach, but they refused to understand his squawking (and the birdhead squawked independently anyway, so they didn’t actually mean what he meant them to mean if they meant anything at all except “Free me from this man body”) so he put down the machete, grabbed a drippy candle to draw because this wax must work like crayons. He didn’t know what the Stromach even looked like, so this candlewax depiction of a God he’d never seen must have been total nonsense to these cardinals.
This (when he put down the machete) is when the secret policemen standing behind the billowy red of cardinals used their tasers to bring Birdhead Father down to his knees while one of those billowy red men caught the baby and seemed very pleased with himself (all predator smiles and red).
But Birdhead Father grabbed the cardinal’s arm and lightening bolted it, poppop and redundant blood on red robes. He grabbed his baby back and met little resistance from this screaming cardinal. The cops shot him with more tasers, but it made little difference, his heart was too big now, tendrils all the way down his arms.
The cops loaded him up with more and more tasers but his nightbird machete freed their hands from this burden, gave everyone present a sort of red baptism.
Out on the sidewalk, the cops unloaded bullets in his back (because when you start chopping off cop hands with a nightbird machete, they no longer care about restraining themselves) but Birdhead Father’s heart was too big, so shooting him made little difference, but blood shot out of his back like fountains. He got to see it, the block-length blood spray covering everyone, because blood loss made the birdhead slow down and focus for an instant. He saw his reflection in the building across the street.
The blood spray made wings. They were so glorious all unworthy must avert their eyes.
Birdhead Father surrendered only then to darkness.
He woke up in a hospital bed chained to the railing by a dozen handcuffs and surrounded by cops. He knew exactly where they were holding his baby and his nightbird machete. He knew them like he knew his own heart. His independently moving bird head always made it hard to focus on anything with the precision and purpose that seemed to come natural to humans with normal heads, but now the love he had for his baby and his nightbird machete gave him a focus beyond the capacity of any other human.
Birdhead Father freed himself from his fetters with little resistance. His heart was too big now. He had to only touch the cops and they collapsed. They had his machete in the blood lab for testing, so he pushed open the blood lab door like melting butter. Lab techs grabbed their ears and collapsed like ear drums popping. Nurses on the baby ward grabbed all the babies and bolted at the moment he intended to head there, all the babies but his, like this new power made the universe comply to his wishes.
Later, below a Drakulak Billboard, made bright by gratuitous floodlights, was the little apartment of the Stromach at the top of a narrow wooden staircase (he knew how to find this like he knew everything else) (surprising that a goddess lived in such a small apartment). The stairs wobbled under his weight and his legs likewise wobbled as he ascended to meet his god. His heart had grown too big and no longer made him strong, crowded out all other organs. He fell to one knee. His arm felt too weak to even hold his baby. He had to hand the baby off to the Stromach soon. There was nothing else left to do.
“Are you here to get your machete sharpened?” the Stromach said when she opened the door. But Birdhead Father didn’t answer because he couldn’t. His head was a bird. She seemed to get the impression he was just a invalid were-bird because she said, “Come on in and take a rest, Mr. Invalid Were-Bird.” She didn’t seem a lot like a goddess.
Birdhead Father collapsed on the floor of the Stromach’s apartment, tried to hand her the baby. “No, I can’t,” she said and backed away like the baby was some creature weirder than a birdhead. His vision went to final darkness with this image of his god disgusted at the thing he loved most.
The world God made was so unkind. Her unkindness only made sense.
But no, this wasn’t the end. When the light returned, he saw the Stromach whirl her hand and a blue blanket behind her whirled into human shape. She handed the baby to the blanket golem who rocked him like a kind nanny. The blanket golem was the color he imagined outer space being.
The Stromach told him, “I healed you, brought you back from the dead actually. I also made you a world to live in peacefully forever. I’m an inventor of worlds.” She opened a door to a flowered meadow with a little cabin at the center. “Don’t be skeptical about an ending that’s too happy, by the way. There’s no catch at all. You can live in this happy place forever. It’s kind of what I do.” But Birdhead Father wasn’t even thinking about that. He had just come back from the dead after all and only thought of Boyhead Father.
He took his baby and even took his sharpened and shined up night bird machete (one last grateful small touch on the shoulder of the Stromach) through the door to his place of always happiness.