Chapter 3:Hollow Beings

A thick silence suffocated the macaw-filled hollow, with none of the birds able to move, as if frozen in place. After some time, tiny Rosalie pulled away from her siblings, waddling over to her mother slowly, hesitantly.

After planting herself next to Jewel's right wing, she looked up at her mother's face and asked meekly, "Mommy? Hello? Will you wake up?"

Rosalie's siblings watched in absolute despair as she lifted her stubby wing and tapped Jewel's stomach over and over. Seeing that no hint of a response came from the still form, Rosalie began nudging Jewel's wing with her head.

After a few repetitions of this, she looked back up at her mother's face, which began to blur from the veil of tears that covered her eyes.

"M-Mommy? Please w-wake up. P-please?"

The bewildered and sobbing Rosalie began tugging on Jewel's wing with all the force her diminutive body could muster, which only resulted in Jewel's body shaking slightly, despite her best efforts.

The world came crashing down on the little chick as she realized her mother would never react. Her sobs escalated into full-on cries of agony, which she muffled slightly by burying her face in Jewel's still-warm belly feathers.

"No! D-don't leave me, Mommy! I n-need you! Don't g-go away..."

The sound of her pleading phrases was pure torture to her brothers and sisters, a din that hammered home the sorrow and crushing loss of their parents' death even more.

With the tears flowing from her eyes as well, the mature Alexis hobbled forward and pulled her sister away from the still body of Jewel, stirring the loose feathers Blu and Jewel had placed on the floor before their departure.

Not wanting to lose the last keepsakes of her parents, she reached out with one foot and gathered them up, squeezing all six of them firmly in her foot.

"I am so sorry, sister... but Mommy is... gone..."

Alexis quickly pulled Rosalie against her chest, for the latter let loose a near-deafening wail.

As the macaws looked upon the bodies of their parents, the initial denial they had felt minutes before now morphed into pure despair. They realized that Blu and Jewel would never move again, speak again, breath again. Their lives were over, and would remain that way forever.

None of the macaws knew what to do, except sob and hug each other. The older birds gripped the younger ones tightly, doing their best to console them.

The youngest chicks could barely understand why their parents weren't moving, and thus the only remedy they could think of was to sob uncontrollably.

They had not yet learned the concept of "death" but seeing that their Mommy and Daddy were "gone" was a much simpler concept to grasp.

The gut-wrenching cries Blu and Jewel's children let loose filtered out of the hollow and flooded the general area, a constant noise that drowned out even the wind.

The wailing would have undoubtedly woken any nearby creatures that happened to live near its culprits, but the trio of trees were stationed in a relatively secluded chunk of the jungle.

Nearly five full minutes after Blu and Jewel's passing, one of their children broke away from his siblings, intent on paying a last tribute to his creators.

"W-what are you doing, Matthew?"

Without turning around, he sniffled and replied, "Saying g-goodbye to Mom a-and Dad, Carmen..."

After taking a few more tentative steps, he pressed himself up against his mother's cold body and whispered, "Goodbye, Mom. I love you... and I'll miss you..."

He nuzzled his salt-stained face into her neck – albeit very gently, so as not to disturb her – before moving on to his father. He gave the chilled body a tender hug, whispering, "I'll miss you too, Dad. I'll always... love you..."

He felt a slight release as he concluded paying his homage, knowing that he helped ease the spirits of his parents, wherever they had gone, however far away they were.

That release flared dimly in his soul, but did not last long against his collapsed internal state.

Feeling that his duty had been done, he stepped away from his parents and rejoined his siblings.

Drawing some confidence from his act, Carmen broke away from the small crowd. After creeping over to the pair of silent macaws, she imitated her brother, leaving another stain of liquid on their feathers.

One by one, the rest of the spiritually and emotionally shredded birds made their rounds, embracing their dead creators and muttering powerful words of remembrance into their deaf ears.

The ritual lasted nearly ten minutes, with Michael being the last to pay homage.

Moods were no better in the hollow in the wake of their performance, as that was not the only matter concerning the dead macaws that needed to be addressed.

Languidly, Carmen chose a spot in front of her siblings, waving her wings with meager effort. The motion garnered the attention of the others, at which point she folded her flying appendages against her sides.

"Look," she moaned, "we can't... leave them here. We need to tell... Linda and Tulio. They'll know... how to handle their bodies."

Without voicing their replies, a few of her siblings nodded, if lifeless shells of her parents, and then faced her siblings and said, "I don't know about you guys... but I can't bring myself to carry them... to the sanctuary building."

Without another word, she launched herself into the velvety night sky, forcing her wings to keep beating under the gravity of the recent events.

A small cloud of macaws followed in her wake, the chicks being guided by their older brothers and sisters.

Alexis brought up the rear of the formation, for she had stowed her parents' feathers deep in the nest before her departure, wispy relics of the two birds she had loved most in her entire life...

The flight from the site of their parents' final moments to the sanctuary was prolonged, for none of the macaws felt truly ready to announce the grim news to the humans. When they finally filed in through the slot in the door and clustered themselves just inside, masks of heavy sadness were apparent on their faces.

When they realized no other souls were present in the room, some of the older macaws issued a series of hoarse squawks and chirps. The desperate noises echoed throughout the room, causing Linda and Tulio to shuffle from their bedrooms, still half-asleep.

Once the macaws had Linda and Tulio's undivided attention, they re-enacted the grisly scene from earlier, with Alexis and Matthew playing the parts of their creators.

Seeming to understand the charades they played, Linda and Tulio hastily urged them to lead them to the site, without even bothering to change out of their pajamas.

The array of macaws slipped through the now-open door, taking to the sky and flying at a steady pace so that the trailing humans could keep sight of them.

The macaws knew that the grief in their spirits would be conveyed to the terrorized humans, a fact that all of them found nearly impossible to stomach.

Drearily, the flock of birds guided the humans down an unseen trail, ending up at the tainted hollow in under ten minutes.

Fearing the worst, Tulio had brought along a pair of white lab towels, along with a step stool to reach the elevated opening of the hollow. The nine macaws poised themselves on the ground next to the base of the tree, motioning with their wings toward the shadowy hole in the trunk.

Tulio rooted the stool firmly, making sure it was stable before climbing to its highest step. He was roughly above eye level with the hollow, yet still able to reach in with his hands and feel around.

The moment his smooth appendages brushed over a chilled, plush body, his heart plummeted to his feet.

Barely managing to keep his eyes open, he scooped up the pile of feathers and brought it out into the moonlight, stepping back down the stool carefully.

The wash of silver light from the orb above rained down on the form in Tulio's hands, yet the figure never twitched. Tulio's expression cracked as his eyes fell upon Jewel, limp and lifeless.

Linda's eyes were the next to roam over Jewel's body, still failing to detect signs of movement. She sluggishly stepped forward and placed her hand on Jewel's chest, feeling no heartbeat or the gentle rhythm of her breathing.

"Tulio," she moaned, "she's... she's..." the words never made it past her lips.

"She's no longer with us, Linda," replied Tulio. "I am so sorry. She was a beautiful bird..."

He gently pulled the towel from his left arm and draped it over Jewel before ascending the stool one more time.

When he emerged, a male being was clutched in his right hand, no more responsive than the female.

Linda's reaction to seeing Jewel no longer living was strong, but upon seeing Blu, an explosion of tears soaked her face.

Reaching out, she slid Blu from Tulio's hands, cradling him like a mother with her newborn child.

"Oh Blu, why did you have to leave me? How will I... go on without you? How can I live, knowing that you're... you're... dead?"

Still wailing, she ran her fingers down his slender neck, brushing off some of the blood that had drained from his eyes. Linda then squeezed him up against her chest, hoping that he would spring back to life – yet certain that he would not.

She knew without a doubt that he and Jewel would never stir, trapped in eternal slumber, the slumber of death. The sense of denial over his and Jewel's demise had long since faded away, for the evidence that they were gone lay swathed in her and Tulio's hands.

Holding him a few inches from her face, she stared at his closed eyes and said, "I'll miss you... Blu. I wish I could... revive you and Jewel, but I can't. I just hope that you and her are happy... wherever you both are. I'll always... love Jewel, and I'll always... love you. I helped you grow from a tiny chick into a healthy adult. I watched you find a mate and raise a family... I watched you do everything you wanted to. Once again, I love you, my big brave boy..."

Unable to bear the feel of his icy skin in her hands any longer, she held him out towards her husband, who deftly wrapped the male in a stark white towel and removed him from Linda's grasp.

The cloth perfectly hid his tattered, aged body, but seeing his outline molded against the cloth, along with his frayed tail hanging out of one end, sent another arrow of piercing emotional agony through her heart.

Tulio's weak voice said, "I am so sorry, Linda. They were the most loving birds I've ever known, but they were so old. This would have happened one day or another. The only thing we can do now is figure out... how to honor them."

She threw herself against him in the wake of his convicting words, sobbing into his shoulder.

"I know, Tulio, but I'll never see them living and breathing ever again. I'll never get to feel their love for me..."

"That's why we have to... give them a final act of farewell, so that their souls can rest peacefully. That is how... they will know... that we truly loved them..."

"Okay," she mumbled, "let's go home now..."

Linda released him as he turned away from her, marching off disparagingly back the way he had came. Linda jogged to catch up, sobbing to herself as she trotted along behind him.

The macaws saw no need to fly due to the humans' preference of a snail-slow pace, and so they trudged along behind Linda, just out of reach of her sadness-weighted feet.

Tulio led the procession back towards the sanctuary with Jewel's concealed shell in his left hand and Blu's obscured body in his right.

As he walked, a brisk breeze swept through the jungle, as if the rainforest was sighing to mark the passage of the once-noble birds who called its lush confines home. That very breeze dislodged a curved feather from each of their tails, which were then lifted up and up on a never-ending journey into the velvet sky.

Their fine surfaces glowed in the moonlight as they rose ever-higher, soon fading out of sight as the dome of stars swallowed them up...

Upon this arrival at the ivory structure, Tulio led his wife and the flock of birds into the sheltered aviary, the very first place Blu and Jewel met.

With the lights dimmed and a rainforest ambiance track playing in the background, Blu and Jewel were tucked away in a tree hollow and given a few parting words.

Tulio and Linda spoke first, yet their speeches were ironically short, due to the agony they felt in their souls.

Though vastly less important than the fact that the ancient macaws were now deceased was the fact that they were no longer able to repopulate the species. Their surviving children would only be able to find other species to reproduce with, and eventually, their species would hybridize out of existence.

With Blu and Jewel's passing, the fate of the Spix's Macaw had been sealed.

It was only a matter of time before their children perished as well, and would only live on in textbooks and the IUCN's records.

Nonetheless, that fact was ignored, for the emotional and physical toll enacted upon the surviving creatures was fare more devastating and acute.

Once the husband and wife had cast out their heartfelt goodbyes, the traumatized macaws followed, entering the hollow one by one to inject their own final words of love and farewell to their deceased parents.

Once all was aid and done, the infinitely disheartened humans crawled from the room and headed off to bed, too weary and distraught to stay awake for much longer.

The avian party somberly remained in the aviary, finding whatever spots they could that were comfortable enough to allow sleep.

Both the humans and the macaws alike experienced some sort of crushing dream regarding the death of Blu and Jewel, but their interconnected dreams eventually morphed into something slightly more pleasing.

In death, Blu and Jewel had been freed from their spent bodies and given new lives in some other invisible plane, where they would remain forever.

Though their death was devastating to no end, they were finally separated from the weakness of earthly life, liberated, able to be in each others wings until time itself came to an end.

Though motionless collections of cells they were, devoid of spirit and energy, their legacy would live on, both in the hearts and minds of Tulio, Linda, and the nine thriving macaws.

They, two hollow beings, had once met under strange circumstances, escaped from the clutches of earthly evil, and at long last, forged a new beginning for themselves.

They had maintained a lovely existence, bringing forth nine offspring of their own, and at the same time, watching Linda's family grow along with them.

They had loved and been loved, and their existence was as cherished as any other.

They, two hollow beings, had given the world something to remember them by, a persistent memory that would be forever entrenched in the city of Rio...