Writing inspired by the SWC creative writing prompt:

We Are Heading South For Winter – Write a story or poem about someone (or something) who doesn’t like the cold weather.

The Cormorants’ Danube Sojourn

By Connie Phlipot

Igor stretched his black mantel of wing, sending droplets of sleet shimmering into the fog hovering over the canal.  The others turned their haughty beaks toward him, then resumed watching the lazy dingy ducks letting the current carry them down stream.  They were the four cormorants, like heads of Vishegrad states, settling for the winter neither in the sunny south nor the frigid north, but in the damp, chilly Danube basin.  The heartiest of their lot stayed up in the north, seeing virtually no sun for months at a time, the gloominess dampening their already somber mien.  But as soon as the vernal equinox touched their days with light they were ready unlike the migrants had a long flight ahead of them to hunt, to glide above the melting earth, to procreate.

The weakest of the cormorants went to the Med.  Perhaps it was not fair to call them weak, given their arduous journey following the meandering rivers, dodging electric lines and hang gliders, keeping away from the thundering packs of geese — those self-obsessed, noisy, single-minded nuisances.  Igor and his friends chose the middle ground — Central Europe —as  had their parents and their parents before them.  He had been happy about that choice from his first flight as soon as he experienced the thrilling beauty of medieval castles. Those buildings perched on mountaintops would become for him the sign that they were nearing their winter home.  That excitement laced with fear still rippled through his body when the sun barely lifted itself above the tree tops and the ground was packed hard with frost.  The signal for him that soon they would be on their way.  No one discussed their plans ahead of time.   One crisp morning they would lift their wings, rise into the air, an internal mechanism in the ganglia of their nervous systems keeping them on track.

Some of the larger group settled on the Danube itself, but Igor and his troop preferred the gentle canal.  No large tourist boats to ruffle the water, few arrogant swans proclaiming their superiority with the upward tilt of their ridiculously long necks.  Those elegant creatures didn’t realize how absurd they looked with their pale butts sticking up from the water as they fished.  Actually there was a swan pair in their territory, but they were different, humble and kind.  Igor had heard that they lived in this area year round, but always went up stream a few kilometers to breed in that overgrown drainage ditch called the Vienna River.  By then, the cormorants had headed northeast, but Igor knew from canal gossip that the swan pair lost a number of their brood each year to rats or floating garbage.  Yet they still went back to the same spot to nest.  Crazy perhaps, but who was Igor to criticize a stubborn attraction to a place?

The sleet was thickening, covering the rocks in a slippery, shiny film.  One after another, the foursome opened their wings wide in a futile attempt to dry themselves off.  Igor turned to look at the bank.  Despite the weather, joggers and dog walkers paraded along the walking path.  Dogs barked at magpies chattering from the trees, and raced after the pelting wet snow.  A woman stopped and pointed out the large black birds to her skipping, jumping children.  Igor stretched his wings wide so the woman could take a memorable photo.  He liked to please them.  What else did they have to look forward to on such a miserable afternoon?

I’m going to fly around a bit, Igor told his mates.  They maintained their ministerial grim postures.  The cormorants didn’t fly much when they weren’t migrating, preferring to save energy for their longer journeys.  He settled down a few hundred meters south where the highway was close to the canal.  The roar of traffic reminded him of the excitement of travel.  Funny thing about  migration — it was tiring, a little frightening and he was always so happy to arrive home again the next spring that he didn’t want to leave again.  Never.  Until the light changed and the little feathers on his tummy tingled, the guide feather in his wings trembled and then more than anything, he wanted to fly south high above the central European plain.

A gaggle of magpies were eating something from the ground.  An old man was tossing hunks of bread to those scavenger birds.  A dog—the fur on his head, like the man’s thinning hair faded to a dusty grey— accompanied him.  He had seen this man many times over the years — usually when the sun was at the highest point of the day.  It was silly, of course, to feed that riffraff.  The birds could do fine on their own, and if not, well, there were too many of them anyway.  Yet, he admired the man’s kindness. 

The man stumbled and fell to the ground, the bread crumbs spilling from his bag along the walk way.  The magpies swooped down, fighting over the bread, paying no attention to the provider of their food.  The dog lifted an arthritic leg to paw the fallen man’s chest.  Igor hopped up on the bank and approached the man and spread his wings.  The magpies screeched, fleeing up to the tree branches.  The dog barked hoarsely.  The man opened his eyes, a beatific smile on his face as he looked at Igor’s  black magnificence.  Then he spread his arms wide in an imitation of Igor and sank into the softening earth.  

Connie Phlipot

Connie Phlipot

Sunday Writers' Club Member

Connie draws upon her experiences as a former U.S. diplomat in her short stories, flash fiction and creative non-fiction.  Her novel-in-progress is loosely based on her grandparents’ lives as Belarusan immigrants in the coal mining community of early 20th century America.