July 1930
The Bird of Happiness

1

" 'The Bird of Happiness.'

"Once, a girl found a big box.

"The bird of happiness was inside.

"The bird would take her to Forever Land, or so she hoped. Each box was smaller than the last.

"In a cramped, dark space, she finally found her little bird.

"But it was far too little, and far too late.

"The bird was long dead. It had met a bloody fate. The End."

A page seemed to be missing, ripped out at the end of the storybook.

2

~When the unlucky girl closed the storybook, she noticed that the cold Princess had entered the room.~

Jennifer blinked. She was standing in the First Class Guest Sector's Salon, but the room had seemingly suffered a drastic interior redecoration. The couches and tables had been pushed away to the side of the room, tipped over—the floor was sprinkled with red, vibrant feathers. And it was here that Eleanor was crouched, beside the bird cage she usually carried around, repeatedly opening and closing its little sliding door. The cold Princess, notably, was dressed unusually; garbed in an airy white dress that hung limply from her underdeveloped body, one single foot bare without a sock—the regalia of a special occasion. The red bird the unlucky girl had seen in here earlier, excitedly fluttering around the room, was gone.

Finally, the cold Princess seemed to notice the unlucky girl because she turned her head and stood, speaking softly, "... The red bird." Then she picked up her empty cage, and walked out of the room briskly, sending a final, strange statement over her shoulder: "Have you found what you're looking for? Something dear to you...?"

And the airship rolled on, and on.

The unlucky girl sat down on the one couch that wasn't overturned and threw her head back, staring at the beautifully paneled ceiling. Brown jumped up and laid his head on her lap, licking her hand sympathetically. Her head felt like it was stuffed with cotton, her eyes strained and dry, and her heart pounded in a strangely jittery fashion. She plucked a feather from the couch and tried to focus on it, but had to stop after a moment. It looked too much like blood staining her fingers.

"... If memory serves me correctly," a voice suddenly spoke out from behind. Jennifer yelped and toppled off the couch, bringing Brown with her. Bucket Knight was standing unobtrusively behind the couch, in a corner of the room. "You've met the cold Princess and seen the empty cage she carries... She seeks what you seek. I know what it is... Yet, you forget. Remember your forgotten promise... That's your only clue."

The unlucky girl grabbed a cushion from the couch and chucked it half-heartedly at the scarecrow. What kind of useless advice was that? She felt as lost as ever...

Jennifer left the Salon, entering the First Class Guest Sector hallway, but ducked away out of sight against a corner. Down the passage, in front of the gift box door, the strong-willed Princess and the wise-looking Princess were talking... The unlucky turned and leaned against the corner, discretely listening in on their conversation.

"She doesn't seem to be skittish at all, Diana."

"You're right, Meg. We had better push her a little harder."

Who? Who were they talking about? Jennifer? Or maybe...?

"We'll discuss the details later."

"Okay. Let's meet at our secret place."

Laughing, the two girls ran down the hall, past where Jennifer hid, toward the Sector 8 Stairway.

She almost didn't see it, but something small slipped off from Diana's shoulder as she passed by. A tiny, red thing that drifted to the floor in slow little arcs. A feather.

Jennifer picked it up from the floor, pincering it between two fingers. She herself probably had a few of the red feather stuck to her clothes (she had sat on the couch littered with them), but what did it mean that Diana also had had a feather on her? The red bird, Eleanor's bird, those two... They wouldn't...

The gift box door gave the unlucky girl another thing to worry about: "THIS MONTH'S GIFT: BIRDIE OF HAPPINESS." The posted message was taped over the previous month's gift signs, and the gift box itself had been reassembled, taped together into a shaky, fragile square.

Jennifer could already feel it, looking at the red bird drawn on the gift box poster. Events were proceeding grimly and the past and future were set. Her premonition was simple: this would not end well.

But what ever does?

3

The unlucky girl figured that Diana and Meg were her best bet for a lead in her search for the missing bird. She held out the crimson bird feather that Diana had dropped to Brown and allowed her loyal friend to lead her, down the Sector 8 Stairway and into the Sector 8 Cargo Bay. And here it was, walking into the hall passageway, that Jennifer saw that someone had drawn red birds along the passage wall, leading to the Sector 9 Turbine Area. Fluttering red birds, up and down and all around. Always out of reach, always leading her on—the free-flying bird.

And maybe that was something that Eleanor and the unlucky girl had always had in common—they always followed others around blindly; the rules others set, the expectations others gave them.

As Jennifer walked down the passage in the Sector 9 Turbine Area, she was sidelined when a door on the opposite side of the room opened and the cold Princess in her white dress and single naked foot walked out of the Starboard Livestock Room, murmuring. "No, it's not here either... The red bird... Where did it go...? The red bird..."

And, just like each other, they each gave up their special friends so easily when asked by others...

The girl did not stop to speak with Eleanor. The cold Princess swayed where she stood, head lolling back and forth slowly, and she appeared sick and lost and disoriented. The mere sight of her like this frustrated the unlucky girl. Frustrated because looking at the cold Princess like this was like looking into a frosty mirror. So no, the unlucky girl did not approach Eleanor (who already, was wandering off, dazedly).

She couldn't stand to look at her face.

Instead, she followed Brown into the Sector 10 Crew Cabin, along the passage graffitied with happy little birds, into the 3rd Passenger Corridor. And here red bird feathers were thrown about on the floor, down the corridor, forming a trail that begged to be followed. And as she walked down the way, more feathers began to drift down, slowly from above. At the end of the corridor, the crimson feathers were piled up the metal stairs, toward the "Clover Field." Upstairs, in the Guest Room Hall, the trail of vibrant feathers thickened, crossing to the one-leaf clover door. Beyond this sliding door, in the 2nd Passenger Corridor, the path was so strewn with feathers that it was almost completely red. Walking down the corridor, first straight, then left, then left and left again, while the streaming feathers descended all around, reminded Jennifer of her pursuit of the mysterious blue butterflies earlier.

The red trail ended in the Women's Lavatory.

The darkened bathroom was familiar. Wet and depressing and subdued. The abundant trail of feathers turned into a thin track, led along by the odd feather and dark drop of stained blood, across the cold floor to the middle bathroom stall.

Jennifer, terrified of what she might find on the other side, grasped the handle and pushed the door open, lower lip pressed with apprehension. Above the toilet, on the wall, another red bird was drawn, holding a fork and knife. Above it, a horrible smear was splattered, trailing downward, to the bird. And the unlucky girl was horrified by the very real possibility that it was blood.

The bird of happiness devours the blood of the hopeful.

The bird of happiness is a scavenger.

The bird of happiness doesn't bring happiness at all.

Someone was coming.

Jennifer ushered Brown into the open stall with the gruesome stain, quickly closing the stall door.

"Over here!"

It was the strong-willed Princess and the wise-looking Princess. They ran into the lavatory, trying to subdue their spasms of laughter, and opened the stall next to the one in which the unlucky girl hid. Suppressing their giggles, they shushed each other and stepped into the stall, into their secret place, closing the hanging hinged door behind them.

Jennifer hugged Brown, absolutely terrified of what the aristocratic girls would do if they discovered her here, listening in on their conversation.

"You know what, you know what?"

"What?"

"I don't like her, I'll never get along with her. No chance! Not ever!"

That was Meg. But who was she talking about? It was Jennifer, right? They were cursing her behind her back again, right? They couldn't possibly be talking about...

"She's such a pain!"

"Just terrible!"

"I can't stand the sight of her!"

And then, as Jennifer crouched in the stall, desperately holding on to her loyal hound in the dark, she listened as the conversation of the two girls turned from coherent speech into inarticulate giggling and breathing. Occasionally one would hush the others. But the atmosphere was suddenly so rampant with electricity that the unlucky girl suddenly wished she were somewhere else, anywhere else, because listening to these naked sounds seemed like a sin.

And then the talking resumed.

"Yes, she had it coming."

"Yes, she deserved it."

"Are we too cruel?" the strong-willed Princess asked, laughing.

"Heavens, no!" the voice of the wise-looking Princess immediately chimed in.

"You're right, it's her own fault!"

And then they were gone, their sordid giggling transformed into obscene cackling as they burst from their stall and fled from the room.

4

"Eavesdropping, eh Jennifer?" the strong-willed Princess said. "What a bad girl."

Outside of the women's lavatory, Diana and Meg blocked the corridor way, glaring accusingly at the unlucky girl, who froze, discovered in her snooping. Frightened, Jennifer looked back and forth between the two, body tensing for the punishment that was assured to follow.

"I know what you're doing... You're looking for the bird of happiness, aren't you?" the wise-looking Princess said. "It's in a room nearby, but I don't remember the room number..."

"The bird will die if we don't hurry," Diana said, "and that will make Eleanor cry."

Meg turned to the strong-willed Princess, shaking her head, frowning. "No, I bet she'll be furious. She's going to go insane."

Diana snickered. "Then, let's make a wager... on whether she'll cry or get angry..."

"It's a bet!" Meg declared.

And then the two girls turned and walked away, leaving the unlucky girl, who couldn't believe her sudden luck at being left without punishment.

Poor, unlucky girl. She should have known there was no such thing as luck for her.

5

After wandering around the corridors for awhile, Jennifer got a hint in the form of a song. Along a corridor lined with windows, she heard the quiet sound of a bird singing. The music led her to a Cabin Room 26.

Inside the cabin, Jennifer did not find the bird of happiness... but she did find a large safe box labeled "Land." Beside this, there was a sketch on the floor of an island with trees and rivers. It's legend was simple: "Land of the birds. Population 834."

The unlucky girl looked from the sketch to the safe, back and forth, finger trailing the word "Land" on the page. Well, Jennifer huffed, this wasn't exactly a mystery deserving of Sherlock Holmes, now was it?

Jennifer inputted the numbers 8-3-4 into the safe's dial and it opened readily enough. But instead of delivering the bird she had expected, the unlucky girl only found another, smaller safe box inside. This one labeled "Village." The safe box was accompanied with a torn strip of paper that seemed to be half of a graph entitled: "Birdie Town Major's Dietchart." The girl groaned, remembering the storybook's line about finding a series of boxes inside of boxes. This might take a while.

6

As she walked, the unlucky girl found that she had time to think. Disjointed thoughts danced around the periphery of her mind, the blind whispering of a hushed child.

Sometimes, Jennifer thought that Eleanor was the strongest person at the orphanage.

Brown led Jennifer into a disgustingly defunct looking shower room. Many of the stalls were boarded up and grafittied with strange numerical symbols. In one of the stalls (a stall which seemed to be out of order and missing its showerhead and faucets), the unlucky girl found the second half of the diet chart which revealed: "this morning's weight: 124 kg."

The cold Princess was not strong because she was knowledgeable, like Meg—or fierce, like Diana... The cold Princess was strong because she was a mystery. An unsolvable enigma. A high ranking members of the aristocracy. An indifferent expression of apathy. Neither hate nor love. Just cold indifference, and maybe that was the strongest attitude of all.

Back in Cabin Room 26, the unlucky girl input 1-2-4 into the "Village" safe. The smaller safe inside was not titled "Family," and the accompanying scrap that served as a hint was a series of descriptions: "Daddy is/Mummy is." But whatever it was that daddy and mommy were was impossible to decipher because the rest of the message had been smeared away by a dark red liquid.

But the cold Princess was not without emotions or desires. Eleanor was not without hope. Eleanor wanted to be happy. Eleanor loved her bird.

In Cabin Room 15, Jennifer found the second half of the description list scrap on the floor. Combined together, it seemed to be creating some sort of symbolic arithmetic equation: "Daddy + Mummy + Daughter = Family?" But it seemed that this hint was still missing a third segment—a part of the message was still unreadable.

And because the cold Princess had hope—hope for the bird of happiness that she thought would lead her away—the unlucky girl thought that she was ultimately the weakest person at the orphanage. Fragile. Eleanor was always melting. Always easily melted by the passions and fiery desires of others.

Brown led Jennifer into a stairway area. The unlucky girl followed as her friend led her upwards, over a series of steps that culminated several stories. A pathetic whistling resonated within this barren area and soon Jennifer found the source: Susan, the impetuous Princess, stood atop a chair, whistling over the side of a railing, trying to signal to the bird of happiness. "... Why won't the birdie fly to me?" Susan asked no one in particular, before turning to glare at the unlucky girl. "... Why does it have to be you? Stay away! I said stay away!"

A little birdie told me your parents hated you.

A little birdie told me that no one loves you.

A little birdie told me what you did to the bird of happiness...

The unlucky girl ignored the impetuous Princess and continued on, up the stairs. Pathetic whistling following her all the way back.

7

The stairway opened into Central Stairway C, and it was here that Jennifer was attacked by the bird imps. They were towering figured wrapped in sacks, large, thin mock bird heads tied to their tip, little sallow legs sticking out from underneath, struggling to waddle forward under the weight and constraint of their avian guise.

They jumped out at the unlucky girl, a horde of them, hooting a terrible mimic of owls before swooping downward to smack at the unlucky girl with their sharp beaks. They clamored eagerly forward, trying desperately to get at Jennifer. But they were slow and immobile, tripping over each other as they hurriedly shuffled forward, caught in their momentum, but a few managed to jump far enough to stab the unlucky girl as she scurried past. To her horror, they managed to draw blood wherever they made contact with her skin.

The unlucky girl chased after Brown, who had escaped down a dark suspended passageway. She didn't like the dark, but it was a million times preferable to remaining here and becoming human bird feed to the jostling imps. So Jennifer followed the dog down the dark way and she ended up tripping over her loyal hound when it stopped unexpectedly. The last scrap of the hint was lying here, on the passage floor. The unlucky girl retrieved it and put it together with the rest of the scraps, hoping to find the "Family" safe's opening combination. But, to her disappointment, there was no final answer. Instead, the final scrap added two colored birds to the bottom of the sketch, totaling three birds: an orange Daddy, a green Mummy, and a yellow Daughter.

But the unlucky girl was no closer to the three digit number that she needed, and from behind her, in the direction of the stairway area that she had entered from, she could hear the approaching scurry of little imp feet coming forward, accompanied by excited hooting.

She had to go back.

She patted Brown's head for courage, and the loyal friend snugged its head against her side, sympathetically. And then, she was running.

Down the dark corridor again, through the hooting bird imps which moved around her and swung down on their front desperately, hungry to catch her with their mock heads. But the unlucky girl's fear gave her steps a vital bounce and her terror fueled her fight-or-flight response. She chose to fly—and so like a bird, she dove between the imps, moving in quick diagonal turns and twists to avoid them.

Fight-or-flight.

Flying is running away.

Chasing after the bird of happiness is to give up on life.

Suddenly, Jennifer had a fleeting image that chilled her to her core. She imagined that she was feathered red—that she was Eleanor's red little bird, and that the imps around her were the children at the orphanage, grasping desperately at her, trying to catch her and offer her up for the monthly—

And then the unlucky girl was pushed to the floor. Dazed, she glanced up, and realized that she had run smack into a bird imp. But this one in particular was not like the others. This one was larger and darker, with something that looked like wired spikes running along its neck. Jennifer looked up, at its mock bird head, and became lost in its black eyes. It was silly. They weren't real. They couldn't be. They had been drawn on with crayon. Each of the bird imps had a single dark line to indicate a closed eye.

But when the unlucky girl looked into this imp's mock head, its drawn eye sprung open. And in this impossible pupil, she could see hate. The most pitch black hate in the world, all for her.

The large bird imp dove.

Jennifer screamed.

Brown saved his master, the loyal hound leapt at the imp, sidelining its trajectory and sending it crashing into the side, missing the unlucky girl completely.

Jennifer crawled away on all fours, finally reaching the stairway. She bounded down the steps eagerly—too eagerly. She ended up rolling down the last half. But she was safe, the bird imps could not follow her down the looming stairs.

At the base, she grappled for Brown, unable to see him through her tear stricken eyes. She held her friend like that for a long time, until her nerves returned, and her quiet weeping stopped.

8

It was the cold Princess who finally gave the unlucky girl the hint she needed. And when she finally saw it, she almost smacked her forehead for not having seen it earlier.

Eleanor was standing in the 2nd Passenger Corridor, looking at a wall. "That's not the right color..." she said. "It's a RED bird..."

Jennifer joined her side and realized that she was looking at a stylized purple bird colored into the wall. Below it was the number 37. Confused, the unlucky girl looked along the corridor walls and was surprised to find that there were more of the colored birds drawn with accompanied number. A yellow bird with 45. A blue bird with 16. An orange bird with 55. And a yellow bird with 12.

And then it was obvious. The family sketch paper that she had reassembled had come into a form of an addition arithmetic problem. The orange Daddy + the green Mummy + the yellow Daughter = Family. All she had to do was take the numbers that accompanied the colored drawings on the walls, add them together as instructed on the torn hint, and she would have the combination for the "Family" safe box. It was so obvious, it hurt her pride a little to have missed it for so long.

The unlucky girl input the numbers 1-1-2 into the safe box. She pried open the lid, but again was met with a smaller box tucked inside the larger safe. This time, the shredded hint was a newspaper article from the Daily Flamingo that read: FAMOUS COUPLE TO DIVORCE? Man swipes 60 pounds from Wife's 365-Pound Bank Account."

Brown led Jennifer away from the 2nd Passenger Corridor and into the 1st Passenger Corridor. The dog began to paw the door for Cabin Room 9. Distractedly, the unlucky girl remembered that this was the dark room in which the disembodied voice of a witch had spoken to her—

Jennifer shrieked. Inside of the lit room, a large supple body was hogtied with thick ropes, squirming helplessly on the floor. Disgustingly bloodied, the face was obscured with a thick sack, but it was impossible to not tell that it was Martha who gasping for ragged breaths from the floor. She didn't seem to hear the unlucky girl's approach, but she shuddered away when Brown began to dig its nose into her side.

Slowly, Jennifer tiptoed into the room, carefully approaching the injured housekeeper. Finally, she could see what Brown was trying to direct her attention to: stuck between the ropes that bound Martha and made her helpless was a newspaper. She couldn't bear to touch Martha, so she dropped to her knees and twisted her head to read the prominent article: "July 1930 Daily Flamingo. Husband 'Borrows' yet Another 30 Pounds from Wife's Bank Account—"

\ Martha gave a quiet little sob.

And then Jennifer was gone. She couldn't bear any more; the unlucky girl bolted from the room, back toward the 2nd Passenger Corridor. Inside of Cabin Room 26, she did the math and inputted the numbers 2-7-5 into the "Couple" safe box.

The top lifted open to reveal the smallest box yet, with the caption: "Alone." But this was not a safe box like the previous boxes had been. This was simply a box—its contents readily available without any form of protection. It was Eleanor's clothes, her usual amber-brown dress with rose hem detail on the skirt.

Jennifer reached inside, confused, and lifted the folded clothes. There was a bundle inside. The unlucky girl unfolded and revealed the dark secret: a lifeless red bird, tucked away inside of the cloth.

Footsteps from behind.

Jennifer gasped and turned around—the cold Princess stood at the door, her cage in her hand, the little bird seat inside swinging longingly.

Eleanor entered the room, her white dress hanging limply from her body, still wearing only one shoe. Her apathetic eyes surveyed the room in a slow drawl before finally coming to rest on Jennifer and the dead creature in her hands.

The unlucky girl tried to explain. "It wasn't me," she said. "Honest!"

From behind Eleanor, outside of the cabin room door, Diana and Meg's heads appeared, peeking into the exchange, their eyes afire with a sadistic glee.

The cold Princess approached Jennifer slowly, and the unlucky girl didn't know what to expect.

Eleanor's hand sprang out and quickly grabbed the dead bird by its hind feathers. She reached down and opened the bird cage's sliding door before flinging the dead animal inside. Then, without so much as even a word of accusation or anger, she turned around and marched out of the cabin room and into the orphanage hallway.

The unlucky girl and her loyal friend followed the cold Princess as she made her way through the small hallway, past a scuttling rat, up the stairs, and into the dusty attic. Past Diana and Meg, past windows where luminous moonlight filtered into the aged room, and right up to the broken gift box door which hung pathetically, held together with tape.

Without any hesitation, Eleanor reached into her cage, retrieved her precious bird, and threw it into the gift box.

Diana smiled and shrugged from around the corner. Meg mimicked her action and shrugged too.

The gift box door opened and the cold Princess stepped through. Quickly, the strong-willed Princess and the wise-looking Princess followed her through the portal, pausing only to give the unlucky girl fleeting smug smiles that they dropped as soon as they turned back to Eleanor.

And then the cold Princess slammed the door in the unlucky girl's face.

9

Jennifer blinked awake.

Again, she found herself in the First Class Guest Sector's Salon with its furniture in a state of upheaval and turmoil—sprinkled red feathers still littering the floor.

From the corner of the room, the Bucket Knight spoke again: "...If memory serves me correctly, you've finally found a piece of your previous oath... Now, weave together the memories that shall server as your beacon of light. Your beacon of light..."

Well, Jennifer did feel as if she were on the verge of remembering something truly important. She looked around the room and on the couch found Eleanor's usual amber-brown dress, and tucked underneath it was a long slip of paper. The missing page from the "Bird of Happiness" storybook.

10

" 'The Bird of Happiness.'

"Once, a girl found a big box.

"The bird of happiness was inside.

"The bird would take her to Forever Land, or so she hoped. Each box was smaller than the last.

"In a cramped, dark space, she finally found her little bird.

"But it was far too little, and far too late.

"The bird was long dead. It had met a bloody fate. The End.

"The moral: everlasting happiness is a joke."

11

The last line, added with the new found slip of paper, swiped at Jennifer's mind eagerly. The word, "everlasting" in particular seemed to wriggle every time she read it. It seemed important. No, more vital than even that, it simply needed to be.

~The unlucky girl remembered the promise she made to her dear friend... and so she wrote it on the chalkboard, so she'd never forget it, ever again...~

Yes.

Feeling that this was something she couldn't afford to forget again, the unlucky girl approached the Bucket Knight in the corner of the saloon and used a piece of chalk to write a word on the chalkboard at his base: "everlasting."

And then Jennifer slipped away from this dream.

12

The grinding of gears, the wailing of machinery, and the creaking of metal was the greeting that awoke the unlucky girl again. She had been brought again to the darkened airship's mock throne room, surrounded by candles on all sides, and faced with the cruel boy seated atop the high throne chair.

"Good morning, Jennifer!" he called down to her. "Do you remember anything new?" But he quickly seemed to become disappointed with the unlucky girl's confusion. "... Hmmm, I see. You remember one of them. But, that's still not good enough." He reproached her scornfully. "You're such a silly girl!

"Hurry! Hurry!" the cruel boy began to urge her. "Read the story, Jennifer!"

And then he laughed his husky little jostle of a laugh.

Jennifer arose from the red carpet and saw that there remained two more storybooks laid upon the mock throne. She chose quickly, the storybook in the center, directly beneath the cruel boy. This story was titled, "The Goat Sisters."

Unaware even to herself, a new desire had appeared within the unlucky girl. The desire to remember whatever it was that she had forgotten. She did not want to be like Eleanor—an undecipherable enigma; she did not want to be weak. She wanted to understand herself, she wanted to be truly strong.

Jennifer closed her eyes and began to read.