“The very idea of an ordering of organisms, even if supposedly fixed,
laid the basis for the idea of transmutation of the species, for example Charles Darwin’s
theory of evolution”
The Barber lived a mostly peaceful life in the City of Nesher. The pink adobe walls of the old
town encircled the boundaries like a girdle on a beautiful woman. They kept everything in place
that desperately wanted to spill out, but also kept those outside of the boundaries in their
proper place, protecting the vulnerability within. That is not to say that the walls were
impenetrable, but they were certainly effective, at least to those creatures that walked on the
land, or swam down the rivers.
The walls, however, did not keep the birds in or out of the city. The birds had the freedom of
the skyways, and the city was full of birds. There was every single bird anyone could ever
imagine living in Nesher, that is apart from the birds of Prey, that stayed outside of the City’s
boundaries, as if kept out by an invisible sky-wall. No one ever worked out why. It simply ‘was’,
which was the case of much within the limits of the city of Nesher. The birds seemed to prefer
to live within the confines of the walls, and brought back and forth, in their birdish tongues
tales from outside and inside the walls. There was only one gate, and it was a one-way
proposition for the most part – only the thunderous voice of the master escaped it’s walls, and
even that returned in echoes. There was not even any trade between Nesher and the world
outside, no tourists or travelers, no exchange of culture or ideas. Nesher was a hermit state,
and once a person left, there was no way to ever return.
The people of Nesher envied the birds of the City. There were flocks of chitter-chattering
parrots that drove rainbow winds down the alleyways and through the streets, roosting in
ombre order in the little almond trees and balconies of the tenement buildings. The parrots
competed for attention with monochrome crows and doves who flew in morse code formations
spelling out their demands and desires, making up for in attitude what they lacked in plumage.
Perhaps the most terrifying of all were the gangs of angry fat robins, their best days gone by
the time they flew the nest, who went on marauding rampages against humble pigeons
minding their own business and eating breadcrumbs in the Qusefsini Town Square.
The birds ruled Nesher: they were its engine and its lifeblood. Nesher was known for two things
only: its intense hostility towards strangers and the beauty of its avian life. None were as
beautiful, though, as the birds of paradise that draped their improbable tails over the backs of
chairs outside bijou cafes, displaying outrageous ruffs and haute couture head decorations as
they strutted up and down the City streets. Sometimes these Birds of Paradise were driven
flapping off into the distance by old men who wanted to drink their pastis and water in plain
peacefulness, whilst staring at the chess boards of their ancestors trying to work out that one
final move that would make perfect sense of it all.
The people did not live in harmony with the Birds, but they at least tolerated each other. The
people had the power, or so it was said in Nesher, but the birds had all the freedom.
All the birds in Nesher were free, from the canaries that mocked the miners in the emerald
mines of the mountains, to the myna birds that hassled the boys in the bleachers for peanuts
and fragments of sandwiches, using extreme menace and sharp tongues. There were no pet or
tame birds. All birds belonged to the Master of the City, and it was for him alone to have a say
in their immediate and long term future. It was forbidden to own a bird within City limits. The
birds had free rein; it was mainly only the humans that were made to suffer.
The chickens had died out almost before living memory. It was forbidden to eat an egg from
any of the birds, and to consider eating the meat of one of these avian prima donnas, was
anathema. To be a free man in Nesher was to comply or suffer.
The Master of the City lived up in a box in the big mansion on the hill, remained a mostly
unseen but all-seeing presence. Those who were close to him told fantastical tales of his power
and reach. He was more than man, or so the Priests said. He demanded not worship, but
obedience, and in return he promised peace upon the City and her inhabitants, and for the
most part he delivered on his promises, and the City dwellers delivered on theirs.
No one approached the mansion without invite. It was forbidden to even
speak of the Master without permission. No eyes looked his way, but all ears were
bent towards the occasional sudden outbursts of fury and judgement that sounded out like
thunder over the hills and valleys, way beyond the City of Birds. Some say they could even be
heard in the plains of the Khan’s Steppe Kingdom, though the Barber never quite believed that
could be possible. It was a six week ride across hard terrain. Those men who attempted it in
the name of trade or diplomacy came back changed, hardened and scarred.
Life in Nesher was mostly a dull turning of the days, each one much like the one that proceeded
and the one that was expected to follow it. The people tried to avoid the Master on the Hill
having to make any proclamations. Proclamations were generally bad news and meant that
someone had broken the rules.
Mrs. Ur had a particularly feisty little cat. It was a mouser of some repute, and as a result Mrs
Ur kept the most rodent-free café in Nesher. She did her best to make Miss Mousey left the
birds alone, but occasionally she would bag herself a pigeon or a songbird. This had never been
a problem. The Birds of Paradise were too big and too aggressive to ever be in any danger from
a domestic animal. However, Miss Mousey had clearly taken this as a challenge and after a long
and unsupervised game of bird and mouse, had managed to take a pale pink and navy blue Bird
of Paradise, and was found chewing on its iridescent feathers, and nibbling small strips of bird-
flesh. Mrs. Ur was worried but told herself that the Master would understand. After all it was
simply nature, and cats would be cats, just as birds would be birds. Unfortunately, Mrs. Ur was
Proclamation 10.14, 11.16am announced the cull. The words were clear, there was no
mistaking the message:
“Every feline, large and small, abandoned or beloved shall be culled before the sun goes down
on this day.”
It was not just Miss Mousey who had transgressed that day. The cats of the City seemed to be
rebelling and reveling in the hunt. The body of a brilliant emerald and yellow rare, if not
unique, Bird of Paradise quivered in the morning sun, one leg chewed off, her beautiful feathers
ragged and splattered with her own blood. One glassy eye looked up to the heavens as the cat
chewed contentedly and the sky boomed and the voice rattled doors and gates.
“…and any human who keeps a cat shall be put to the death also. Choose your cats, or your
lives. If any of you wish to leave the City, leave before the sun comes up. Bring the bodies of
the felines to the gate of my mansion and make an offering of burnt flesh there! I am a
reasonable Master, and this is my word!”
A crowd had gathered around the dying bird, her pink and orange tail with tendrils of pure gold
and silver twitching pathetically, while she rested her oil-spill colored head in the palm of a
young girl in a white dress, who cried inconsolable tears over this creature of great beauty. A
man held a large ginger tom cat in his arms crying. Tomas the cat licked one red claw
contentedly, sucking on his paw like a child with a piece of candy. His unblinking predator eyes
looking into the soft brown ones of his human friend.
“Oh Tomas, you have gone and done it now!” But Tomas didn’t understand. He didn’t even see
as the knife fell upon him. He would not have understood anyhow, why his body had to be
taken up to the gates of the mansion, nor the smoke that rose on the hill smelling of burnt fur
and sickly flesh. It had to be done. Tears filled the eyes of the old man. He knew what had to be
done. The last time anyone disobeyed the Master, it was them who was struck down and
incinerated by a cloud that moved over the landscape promising 10,000 volts to those who
refused to comply with what was best for them. The old man didn’t want to die. He didn’t want
to kill either, let alone sacrifice his little Tomas, but needs must….Happiness was not optional in
Nesher, and obedience was the only route to that state of mind.
II: The Barber
The Barber stood there watching the scene unfold, and noting who would soon need a haircut,
and perhaps a chat about the way things sometimes go. Even if their mamas didn’t tell them
that there would sometimes be days like this, the Barber was sure to remind them.
There were no windows in Nesher. The Master in the Mansion on the Hill shattered glass every
time he made a sound. Cups were hewn out of wood or baked in kilns. Windows were allowed
and simply covered with shutters, but remained devoid of transparent boundaries. In Nesher
there were no tricks and no mirrors (Proclamation 01.01, 6.01am). This made the barber a very
rich man. He was the plucker of eyebrows, the cutter of hair, the shaver of beards, the
extractor of pimples and the inspector of grey strands.
He dispensed compliments and gentle suggestions to the people of the City. He was the only
Barber, and chosen for the job because he cared more about how others felt about how they
looked, than he ever could be persuaded to care about himself. The Barber grew a beard and a
head of hair of tremendous length and luxuriousness. After all who is going to cut the hair of
the Barber? With no mirror or reflective surface shaving himself led to some nasty nicks and
cuts, so he simply grew out his head. More than the primper of hair, the Barber was the City
Counsellor, and dispensed both haircuts and good advice in equal measure.
It was not that Nesher was an unhappy place. Nesher was peaceful and prosperous. It was
beautiful and safe. No armies every got near, and no man starved within its walls. The women
were both beautiful and chaste, and the marriages between families were permanent and
strong. The will of the Master was everything. Happiness was prescribed like a pill. “The Master
knows what is best” was the phrase on each and every person’s lips, and those that felt that
urge to kick against the pricks had to leave the city. Evaporation was not a good alternative, and
some freedom loving souls could not live under the rule of the Master, it made their souls
squirm, and instead sought freedom, if not happiness, in exile.
The night fell to the dying screams of felines big and small. The tigers in the sideshows and the
lions of the circus put their heads on their paws and submitted to the knife. Two white cats,
with not a strand of colored hair on their little furry bodies were dangled before priests by their
tails, ready for the offering slab.
Kittens were plucked from their mother’s teats, and old friends bludgeoned round their
triangular heads with shovels. The streets ran red with blood. By the time the sun came up all
the cats that could be found were dead and burning on funeral pyres in the Town Square.
Praise the Master! His will was done!
Still, when the Barber opened his store the next morning there was a whole line of people who
didn’t particularly need haircuts or their beards shaved, not even their eyebrows plucked or a
pimple extracted, however did really need to talk.
Mrs Haddeus walked in, her neat bright red curls sitting perfectly decently around her
shoulders. “Just a trim, Barber!” She looked at the Barber with a look of exasperation on her
“You know I had Azher since he was a kitten. Tiny scrap of a thing. I fed him out of a medicine
dropper and kept him in my pocket. Such a baby. He used to sleep on his back with his front
paws resting on his back rabbit paws, mouth open. He still did, even though he was an old boy
The Barber paused, then spoke loudly: “Praise be to the Master! Heiz is always right!” Mrs
Haddeus responded furiously: “Heiz knows best. The Master knows everything. I am on my
knees for the power of Heiz is undeniable!”
A bird of paradise looked in through the window, cocking his sleek black head to one side then
the other. A curly mass of gold and silver coils dangled from the top of his head, surrounded by
a luxurious deep blue brush of fluffy feathers. He pulled his tail around his body and started
purring furiously, as if mocking Mrs Haddeus and her sadly departed Azher. The Barber shut the
window screens making sure not to trap the toes of the precious bird. Then he dipped his finger
in water and wrote on the steam of the mirror, the following words:
IT WAS WRONG. SO SORRY TO HEAR ABOUT AZHER. HE WAS A GOOD CAT.
The Barber then wiped the words off the mirror with a cloth dipped in vinegar, and continued
cutting her hair. The line of customers for his little one seat shop, that only fit two people at a
time – himself and the customer – stretched out round the pretty little downtown block of pink
and yellow, tan and mint green adobe buildings.
Mrs. Haddeus began to cry.
“Of course, I had to dispose of the outside cats that I had been feeding every single day for
years.” He motioned towards the empty bowls that he had not yet cleared away from the front
door. “At least I have Rohinger.” His sweet little mutt sat scratching an imaginary flea and
looking out the window, hoping to spy a cat.
“I should get myself a little dog.“ Mrs. Haddeus stated sadly. “The house is so empty and cold
now. Since my husband passed I have not had much company. The children left to go outside
the gates as soon as they turned 18. They never did make good decisions, I suppose.”
The Barber nodded diplomatically but tried to tell her with his eyes, that he suspected that all
of this had gone way too far already, and perhaps she had indeed raised three intelligent young
people who knew exactly what was best, and perhaps the fools were himself and Mrs. Haddeus
instead. Mrs. Haddeus didn’t seem to get his drift, but his little comfort was better than no
comfort at all. She left with an inch taken off her hair, and a weight taken off her shoulders, but
the Barber felt heavier and heavier as the day wound on.
The rest of the day passed with customer after customer coming to visit, without the need of a
haircut, with the need to talk to someone else they suspected would keep their counsel. After
all the bond of privacy between Barber and client is unbreakable. The final customer was a thin
woman with short hair, who wore an oversized green raincoat and sensible boots. The Barber
recognized her from the farm up on the very outskirts of town.
He had gone to school with her father. They were a good family and ran a pretty little farm that
was a bucolic heaven of their own. Her pocket moved slightly. “Hello,” she said quietly. “My
father sends his regards.” Then she opened her coat pocket slightly to reveal two tiny cats, one
a brown and grey tabby with a little mackerel striped face, the other a rakish ginger piratical
character, one boy and one girl.
She closed her pocket and said nothing more. The Barber cut her hair, and before she left she
passed him a small crumpled note that read Please come and see my father as soon as possible.
He didn’t see the lightning strike her, but he did see the cloud travel from the Mansion on the
Hill, and he heard the screams of the faithful as they watched the pretty young woman with a
heart of pure gold and a pocketful of kittens be transformed from young woman to a pile of
smoldering ash in the town square. And the birds let out a cry of delight as they forced the
people to mourn inside their houses, and tormented them every time they stepped into the
A few days later Tafir’s golden retriever came back to him with a dove in his mouth, pleased
with himself, and the whole ugly business started up again. The winged creatures took
precedence over those of the land. The Master loved his feathered creatures so dearly and
ruled his people so absolutely that there would be no hearing of pleas, nor mercy given. This
time the people baulked a little more at putting to death clownish corgis, beloved family mutts
and the dogs that herded the sheep on the mountainsides. Everyone’s hands were shaking as
they looked down into soft and trusting doggish eyes and brought the blade down into soft
canine throats. Some people, old and young, families and single citizens packed up the mules
a few belongings and provisions and led their dogs right out the gates and into exile
together, shaking their heads at the senselessness of it all. The Master’s plan for happiness was
said to be above the thinking of mere townsfolk. The Barber suspected that the Master simply
liked birds more than humans.
As the barber brought the blades of his sharpest pair of scissors down into the neck of
Rohinger, his barber’s shop mutt, seeing the dog’s confusion and betrayal on his sweet little
face, he realized that he could not take more killing. He might work with sharp things but he
was not even the kind of man who liked to kill spiders that sat in sinks or mice that scurried
across the floor at night.
There was a whole lot more mice now the cats had gone. His little dog had been doing his best
to keep some of them away but with him gone too, the place became foul with droppings
and overrun with the incontinent little bastards. He gently took his dog’s body into the town
square and placed it on the fire, and as he did, he resolved to go visit the farm on the outskirts
that was mourning the loss of their daughter. Every day he resolved to go do so, and every
night he realized that he could not face his old friend, nor look him in the eye. If only he had
taken those kittens and put them to the knife, she might still be alive. The Barber resolved to
kill no more. He would find another way. After all, in the end, he knew the killing would come
for him in the end, and moreover, more importantly come for the innocent of the town, and
that did not seem like the route to happiness for anyone.
The Barber had never married. He had his books and his work. He had his silly little forbidden
paintings that he made of the hills beyond the City that he kept locked up away from prying
eyes. He even considered leaving the City and the control of the increasingly despotic Master,
but there was little point in leaving. At least not quite yet.
The Master did not sway from his edits. No more cats, no more dogs, no more creatures that
hunted his precious birds. Whole flocks of birds of paradise flew out of the bell tower of his
mansion, sending luxurious feathers falling to the earth. Poison and pretty feathers, sharp
beaks and intelligent judging eyes peered into the lives of those who remained in Nesher.
The birds whirled around the City like tumbleweed. The Birds of Paradise were cleansing the
city of any other Avian life, using the Robins as their winged thugs. The pigeons were the first to
go, pecked to death by the Robins, led by one large slender bird of paradise with an orange
updo and a tail of the colors of oil on water. The gentle doves were next, all torn to shred in
their cotes. The extravagant beauty of the Birds of Paradise overwhelmed the city. They
became known simply as The Birds of Nesher. There were no other birds in the City other than
them. Talk drifted out of Nesher about their birds and the edicts of the Master who remained
unseen in a box in the Mansion on top of the hill, and the people outside the walls
chattered, wondering how many in exile to expect.
A few days after the slaughter of the dogs, the Barber had fallen into a deep and dark pit of
depression. His barber’s shop was doing a fine trade in the business of pretending to cut hair,
and instead talking about the problem of the birds and the Master who loved the avian
residents more than any human.
A week had passed. The Barber had even put away his dead dog’s water and food dishes. The
birds were strutting around town like they owned the place. Mice and rats ran rampant in the
city, but no proclamation came to extinguish them. The Barber did the best he could, but it was
getting out of control. The birds had taken to gathering in the Town Square in order to scream
the day in, and then again at the end of the day to squark it out. They poked their heads
through doors, they hopped in through windows and pecked sleeping children.
The birds of Nesher let long and liquid shits fall from their bodies onto the people below, and
what was worse some of the townsfolk had begun to see even this shit as a blessing upon them.
It was certain to the Barber that he had to leave, but it was just not possible. He made excuses
to himself like the business he had built up over the years, the fact he didn’t want to leave his
comfortable little home (which now was a lot less comfortable thanks to the rats and mice),
and his sense of duty towards the locks and gossip of the city. He admitted the truth to himself
one night over coffee, as he stared at an old photo of himself and his classmates, and
remembered the sweet young girl, the daughter of a farmer, who had been incinerated by the
Master over a pocketful of kittens. It occurred to the Barber that the real reason he could not
leave was that he cared for his friends, and not just their hair. He resolved to only walk out the
gate when the last of them had left.
Some of the townsfolk had started to worship the Birds as emissaries of the Master, who still
remained up in his Mansion on the hill, rumored to live in a gilded box, waited on hand and foot
by Priests and servants. These Bird People allowed the Birds of Nesher to peck their flesh and
eat them, falling into raptures and the birds fed on their blood and the meat of their bodies.
They bathed in their excrement. Only the truly righteous were allowed to wear fallen feathers,
which they worshipped as pieces of nirvana, fallen from the Blessed Birds. After all, they could
not have slaughtered all those dogs and cats for no reason, no! It made no sense unless these
birds were in some way holy. These birds had transformed from birds to objects of worship.
They were beautiful after all. These devotees of the birds started to wear bird masks and strap
wings onto their backs in order to get closer to the Birds. The birds regarded them coldly and
with no affection.
A few weeks after the slaughter of the dogs the barber was lonely and sweeping the floor of his
shop for the fourth time that morning, before he had even opened for the day. He could think
best when he swept. The shutters rattled with a sense of urgency. “Not open yet! It is not even
8am!” The Barber yelled firmly. The shutters rattled again. The barber ignored the shaking, until
one hard rattle threatened to pull the shutter right off its hinges. The Barber sprang forward
angrily. “I told you!…” His voice trailed off into the air as he realized the offending knocker of
shutters was actually a small, injured monkey, with a hole pecked right through the meat of one
of his delicate paws. A haughty Bird of Paradise stood there haughtily chattering in bird
language, blood dripping from its pale silver beak. This one had developed an orange ruff
around its neck, and white splotches around its eyes. He never saw any muted colored females,
just the extravagant and brutal males.
Without thinking the Barber grabbed the injured monkey, pulled him quickly inside and closed
the shutters. The monkey shivered pathetically, nuzzling into the shoulder of the Barber as if to
The Barber opened late that day. He took the monkey upstairs and cleaned his paw, bandaging
it with soft gauze and stroking his soft monkey head. He didn’t entirely trust the monkey, but
the monkey didn’t care. He sat there and stared up into the Barbers gentle brown eyes,
occasionally pulling his beard and chattering softly. “You need a name. How do you feel about
“Charles”? The monkey shrugged his shoulders. It was as good a name as any. You are a free
man, Charles. Freer than me, but I would say in just about as much danger. You can’t touch
those birds, Charles. I am so glad you didn’t rip his head right off. You could you know!” The
monkey agreed readily.
The monkey seemed like an intelligent fellow. He responded to the Barber’s attempts at
conversation, and was animated in his demonstrative physical answers. The Barber went to a
drawer and took out the book that was forbidden within the walls of the City. “The Origin of the
Species” by Charles Darwin. This was dangerous talk. This was forbidden explanation. This was
insurrection. As he flipped through the pages the Barber had a pressing idea. It was ridiculous
of course but if the Barber could make a man out of the monkey, he just knew he had a chance
of persuading people to leave the City of the Birds, to get out of Nesher and leave the Master
and his birds to their own business, before anyone else had to die.
He proposed his bargain to Charles, pouring him a cup of strong coffee and cutting a slice of
olive oil cake and presenting it to his new friend….”So you see, young man, if this works you
could save a lot of lives…”
The monkey looked back at the barber with tears in his eyes, staring down at his injured paw,
and up at the Barber, and with that, he took a small bite out of the cake and sucked up the
coffee through his rubbery and expressive lips.
The monkey nodded his head, passed the Barber back the empty plate and motioned towards
the cake that sat on the table, making the barber laugh. “The very least I can do for you is cut
you another slice of cake, Charlie. The very least…” The Barber held out his hand, and Charlie
gently rested his head upon it, cooing quietly. It struck the Barber that this might be what it felt
to have a son.
The first order of business was to dress the monkey decently. One of this clients had given him
a Chinese doll. It sat in the corner of his bedroom, wearing a neat tang suit of red and gold, with
neat embroidery and wearing a cute little hanfu hat with a black tassel on the top. The monkey
hopped across the room, grabbed that hat off the head of the doll and plopped it on his own
head. It suited him handsomely. The Barber stripped the doll and put the collarless jacket on
Charles. It burst at the seams, as it stretched over the monkey’s muscular back. The pants were
never going to fit him, but the Barber always believed that a man never feels quite himself in
clothes he does not like, and resolved to have him made a tang suit that fit him properly.
The monkey was a hit with the patrons who missed their pets very much after the bad business
of the proclamations. He brought them their coffee and passed them their jackets. The monkey
let himself be petted and gave hugs to anyone who asked. Charles became a part of the life of
One day when the Barber was preparing a bowl of foam so he could shave Mr. Quefisi, the
monkey dipped his paw into the suds and daubed his own face. The Barber looked at the
monkey sadly. It was time. It was now or never, and besides, the monkey seemed willing. He
always liked to give the customer what they wanted.
The barber’s monkey sharpened his claws on the stone floor, as if to prepare himself for the
change to come, steeled his will and looked up at his Lord and Master. The man sharpened his
silver blade, dipped his hand in the soap and began to shave.
And the monkey tipped back his head, exposing the tender whiskers on his monkey skin and
bade the Barber, my Friend, make me look just like him. The monkey pointed to the handsome
Mr Quefisi with the short and neat moustache and clean shaven cheeks.
The Barber’s monkey reached up and felt his smooth check, and then the hairy one on the
other side, contemplated his predicament, and his semi shorn face. The barber was gentle and
kind; he fed him, he loved him, he let him sit at his table. But he was not like his master, even
with his new Chinese suit and smooth monkey skin. Barber, he sighed, with Monkey tears
running down his face. “I am NOT like him,” the monkey thought, and the Barber caught his
The Barber patted the photo of Charles Darwin that he kept in his jacket pocket and said,
“Don’t cry son, let me finish the other side.”
A bird looked in through the window and saw the monkey sitting in the Barber’s chair, and flew
off to tell the Master on the Hill.
The Barber looked towards Mr. Quefisi and shook his head, emboldened by his efforts with the
monkey, and infuriated by the town going to the birds and being taken away from the dogs,
and whispered, whilst closing the shutters: “The Master is a fool. Not many proclamations, not
A voice rang out from the Mansion on the Hill. Proclamation 211. 9.01am. A man shall not close
his shutters on the birds. All windows and openings shall be kept open from henceforth. There
shall be no hiding from the birds.
The Master sat in the Garden of his mansion, tinkering with his sound system, his wizard’s hat
perched on top of his head, and his birds sitting around him. Their mechanical smiles and
pecking beaks, pitting the land around him. It had been a good run, the townsfolk had indulged
him for over three hundred years now, but he had been too kind to them, he had been too soft
with them, and he knew those schools were a bad idea. The flow of information into and out of
the Kingdom seemed to happen like osmosis, not matter what he did. His errant children were
now so learned they were given over to monkey barbering and magical realism, and he
sighed. “I tried to tell ’em!”
A Bird of Paradise flew over, bowed down on one bony knee and began to talk in a thin, high
reedy voice. The birds only ever spoke to the Master and only out of earshot from even the
most high of the Priests. Their voices were for the Master only.
“Master”, said the Bird…”can I go get that monkey? He’s so cute in his sailor’s hat and Chinese suit.
He might make a good friend. He might make us all laugh. Come on, have a sense of humor!”
And the Master sighed so loud that the whole world shook in fear and terror.
“Nevermind,” said the Bird….and went off to find a mouth-harp and a safety pin..”.I heard some
folk singers know where’s it’s at, Adonai..Ill go get my hat.” He put on a headful of spiked
feathers, colored in red and gold, and arranged in triangular upright spikes on his head. With
that he flew right out of the City, some say he made it all the way to New York, bought himself a
guitar and stole a pick and began to play. The Master was furious. He jealously guarded his
remaining birds, promising death and destruction to any who left his beloved City. Things were
about to get rocky.
No one knew if young Zakieri had meant to hit the bird with the stone from his sling, or if he
was just hunting for the rats who had broken into his family’s grain silo and spoilt all the grain.
Whichever, whatever, the result was the same. The Bird of Paradise, one of the most beautiful
ones with the green throat, yellow head and pink feathers on his body and wings, that had a
complicated pattern of dots and dashes on his breast, lay dead, killed by a stone to the head,
shot from Zakieri’s sling shot. The cloud came over the field where Zakieri’s mother lay over her
son, protecting him with her own body, and incinerated the two of them without even pausing.
Then the next proclamation came down over the city. The voice of the Master was so loud that
the walls of the City shook with its fury.
“All boys in the city of the age of 6 must be killed by the hands of their own father. The mother
must sacrifice the boy if there is no father to do so. The bodies must be presented at the gates of
my mansion by sun up tomorrow. No one else must touch a hair on these boys heads. Only the
parents of the child may do my bidding.”
The cries of outrage rang out throughout Nesher. Roving bands of Bird People screamed at
parents, demanding they fulfill the Master’s wishes immediately. Father’s were shamed, and
mothers were ridiculed. “What are you? Do you not care about others? Do you not care about
How could you be so ignorant as not to care when the Master has given us his all!” Some
parents proudly presented their 6 year old sons, and slit their throats in the town square to
cheers and congratulations from the assembled zealots. “The master knows best!” The voices
rang out, and the birds started to peck on the little pile of broken bodies that piled up on the
cart to be taken to the gates of the Mansion on the hill.
Some mothers grabbed their boys, bundled up their children and saddled the mules, running
for their very lives from their husbands who chased them wielding silver blades and vicious
grins. They bolted for the gates of the City, and into exile. Those that made it left weeping tears
of relief. Those who didn’t were murdered alongside their sons, struggling to the last to protect
those they loved the best. Some father’s spat on the ground, picked up their families, and
walked to the gates, holding their hands, and ignoring the rabid demands of the Bird People, all
the while the Birds dive-bombing and crowing as they left.
A few brave souls went on mercy missions, and saved boys from the knives of their parents,
running for the gates. Some were struck down by the cloud of lightning, others made it past the
gates and the realm of the Master and wondered quite what to do next.
The Barber stood there in his shutterless shop, and looked deep into Charles’s big brown
monkey eyes. “Son. It is time. I know you are not ready, but we have to do something.”
The monkey nodded, and cleared his throat, his voice ringing out high and pinched in fear.
“Father, I do not know how to help!” The Barber looked back and declared. “You are evolved.
You are changed. How could a simian such as you not help, merely by being yourself?”
The monkey walked to the Town Square and raised his voice as best he could. “Stop! Stop! Stop
this senseless killing! You do not have to obey the Master or his cruel and heartless Birds!
Stop!” The Barber looked on proudly. People dropped their knives and ceased mid stabbing
motion to look at Charles.
“My name is Charles and I want you to stop this!” Some fell to their knees, others called
Charles, Master. Others formed evil thoughts about murdering the monkey where he stood.
The monkey carried on.
“You do not have to do this. This is insanity. The Master loves the birds like his own children,
and wouldn’t anyone who loves their child do no more and no less than protect them with their
very lives? Why don’t you be like the Master and protect your young ones?” The monkey
panted with the difficulty of talking.
Some of the townsfolk killed themselves that evening, right there in the square. Others made
that final run for freedom, but more importantly, the Barber realized what he had to do. He
took Charles and a few good men, including his old friend from the farm on the outskirts of
town, whose daughter had been murdered over a pocketful of kittens, and they broke down
the doors of the mansion and hunted for the man in the box they called master. They found no
man in a box, full of light, but instead a wizened and ancient wizard, whose wrinkled hands held
a stone in one palm. He looked at the men and monkey who stood before him and sighed.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “I searched for a hundred thousand lifetimes for this philosopher’s stone,
when instead I should have been hunting for the holy grail.” The Barber was carrying his cut
throat straight razor. He and Charles strode towards the Wizard, and Charles held him down
and the Barber took off his head. “No more proclamations!” He declared. The Wizard made
motions with his hands and proclaimed strange words, but they had no effect on the Barber or
his monkey. The Wizard cried for his loud hailer and the Orgone conductor that made lightning
come from the sky, but the Priests had all fled. He was alone in his misery. Without his tricks
and trappings of power the Wizard was just a man of magic and cruelty after all.
The Wizards head continued to blink and talk after it was separated from his ancient body, so
the barber chopped off his tongue and minced the head and body into fine pieces, scattering
them to the four corners of Nesher. Some say the boxes they were buried in rattle from time to
time, as the pieces try to reassemble, but the Barber mixed them up well and few of the pieces
could find their matching parts. Four lead boxes were found, so the parts could not burrow
their way to each other. Even men can be dangerous to this world, a man does not have to be a
God to be capable of ultimate destruction, thought the Barber to himself.
Charles moved into the Mansion on the Hill with his best friend, the Barber. The City folk
insisted upon it. Charles became beloved of the City and was in much demand as a talented
public speaker. The bird people left the City and spread their Avian worshipping ways telling
stories of the Master to anyone who would listen, and a few who did not want to. The birds of
Paradise simply disappeared the second the master died, or so the people say. Occasionally a
few stray feathers of strange and improbably hues were found littering the hills and valleys of
Nesher, but the people ignored them and carried on about their business. The Barber
continued to cut hair and listen to people’s problems in his spare time, not that he had much
spare time. Running a city is a lot of work after all.
As the Barber looked out of the window, down at the city below he saw a solitary Hawk riding
the thermals, hunting a crow that was diving and ducking like a fighter pilot with an enemy
missile locked and loaded onto his tail. As the hawk tucked his wings in, and plummeted
towards the crow, hurtling towards the Earth in the perfect image of the most perfect predator,
his muted brown feathers standing out dark against the blue sky, the Barber realized that in
every victory there was loss. Charles stood beside him. “I was thinking, Barber, some things
need losing, just as much as the skies of Nesher welcome hawks and just as much as a Barber
and his simian friend ever needed a City.” The Barber nodded, and walked over to the table to
cut a slice of olive oil cake and pour the tea.
“Yes, Charles, no doubt that is right. The only trouble is trying to make sure that we don’t
become that which we fought against.” Charles patted the hand of his friend. “I think it might
be time to open that gate, don’t you, my friend?” The Barber nodded. “It might well be,
Charles,” he agreed. “It might well be.”