There was one bird that often visited Fluttershy’s cottage in the evenings, when the trees enveloping her home cast long shadows through the windowpanes.
At first she tried to see what kind of bird it was, but it flew away when she got close. The next time it came back, she tried saying hello, but it wouldn’t reply. Neither would it respond to singing. All she could ever see of it was its shadow when it perched on the bird feeder. She wanted more than anything to learn about it, but she figured it would all come in good time. The bird always waited until the evenings to arrive, until all the other birds had come and gone. Fluttershy could be patient too.
The wings were beautifully curved. That much she could see. The body was short and powerful, and the tail split at the end into two. When it alighted on the bird feeder, it swayed back and forth like the pendulum of a clock.
How she imagined the bird’s color changed depending on her mood. On days of hard work it was an earthly brown with robust red spots on its breast. On days when she saw her friends it was a lively green, like grass after a good rain. On bad days, it was a deep purple with black wingtips. She must have imagined hundreds of different colors for the bird, but deep down she hoped its real hue was better than anything she had thought of before.
Nature had a way of surprising her. It was something she had come to expect. A bird she had known its entire life could sing a song she had never heard before. Mysterious lights and sounds in the Everfree forest could rouse her from sleep with no earthly explaination as to their source. She could be walking through a grassy field only to find rocks beneath her hooves. Nature was strange and irrational. She loved it.
It became a little joy to return from her work, curl up on her couch with a book and some tea, and wait for that wonderful moment of surprise when the bird arrived. It landed on the tree branches closest to the feeder first and made the shadows dance up and down the wall. Then it would carefully hop from branch to branch until it arrived on the bird feeder. It never stayed more than a few minutes. It was, in every way, fleeting.
The truly strangest thing about the bird was that it came in every kind of weather. It saw fall and its cascade of colors, the cold procession from life to death and the many colors in between. It saw the hush of winter, when raw sunlight came through the cracked, dry air. It saw spring’s rebirth through rain. It saw the height of summer, when the sunlight streaming through the leaves formed kaleidoscopic patterns on the interior walls of the house. It watched every season go by from its perch by the bird feeder.
Many times, she wondered why it kept coming back. The obvious answer was the food, but it had to run deeper than that. There were many bird feeders along the exterior of the house. There must have been something about that spot in particular, though she could never figure it all out entirely. It came back to eat at its favorite feeder, or to avoid the squirrels, or to get out of the wind.
What mattered was it came back. Not always, but always when it mattered.
In the second spring of the bird’s time at the cottage, disaster struck Fluttershy. While returning from her duties tending to animals deeper in the Everfree Forest, she cut through a field near the treeline only to trip over a concealed patch of rocks hidden beneath the tall grass. There was nothing to stop her fall but the rocks. Her rear leg broke, and her left wing twisted horribly.
Pain was a shade unique to Fluttershy. It was hardly a color at all. Bright, lancing, translucent--it tinged the world around her. The lines of its silhouette were sharp, while the lines it touched grew blurry. It was like a shadow in negative.
The forest seemed to come alive when it heard her shouts and curses. As she crawled along the forest floor, strange otherworldy shadows played across her periphery. Forest magic, no doubt. The shadows flew across the ground, as if a great flock of birds were circling over her. The color of the forest seemed to shift beneath them, scattering the light of the descending sun.
The closer to the forest’s edge she got, the weaker the magic seemed to become. A dozen became six, then three, then one. Then none.
She pulled herself from the treeline to her cottage alone.
By the time Fluttershy made it inside, it was evening. She collapsed on the floor, and between her own labored breaths listened to the sounds her house made around this time of day. The sounds went on like a perpetual drone, then slowly, bit by bit, boiled away into pure silence. The hardwood beneath her felt cool, like the sun hadn’t touched it in days. She felt many set of eyes on her, but felt no inclination to move.
A gust of wind made the house groan softly. Fluttershy looked up at the shadow of the tree branches playing across her wall. The pain ebbed momentarily.
And there it was.
She whistled a single shrill note, and immediately half a dozen birds of all different colors flew to her side. She politely asked two for a pencil and paper, two for string, and two more for her favorite pillow from her bedroom. After collecting herself, she penned terse letters to her friends and attached them to the legs of her fastest birds.
Once she sent them off, she settled into her pillow for a long wait. She was glad she chose this pillow over the plush one from the living room couch. Something about its smell calmed her down, and it was firm enough to not crumple in her grip when she made the mistake of moving her broken leg too much.
The sun moved further along the wall. If the bird was still there, it was as rooted to the spot as the tree itself. That shape could have been a wing--or maybe it was a crooked branch with a knot at its joint. Was that a beak or the edge of a leaf? The shapes shook every which way. Fluttershy just couldn’t be certain.
In a moment of calm some time later, she heard the voices of her friends coming up the path towards her house. The branches shook again, but there was no wind.
Fluttershy started to cry.
Night shadows had fallen across the forest, though the sun still lingered on the horizon. It had been a month since the accident in the Everfree, but the place still hadn’t lost its sinister edge. There had been accidents before. This wouldn’t be the last. Fluttershy knew to give it time. Fear gave way to acceptance, just as night shadows gave way to moonlight.
Mobility returned to Fluttershy, albeit slowly. In the initial days of recovery, she could barely get out of bed. Her friends, animal and pony, took care of her then.
Once she regained enough strength to move around, her goals were simplified significantly. “Get well soon” became “Walk to the kitchen and pour some cereal.”
The little list of goals she would make for herself each day would usually end the same way. Get a book. Make some tea. Carry it over to the couch (in two trips, if she had to), and don’t move your leg too much when you sit down.
This was where she would wait most evenings for her friend to appear. Waiting for that moment of joy when the sunlight on the wall flickered, signaling its arrival.
This evening was no different. The sun and the shade came through the windowpane, bringing the warmth of the outside near.
Could she call it a friend? It felt more like a piece of herself--intangible, abstruse, impossibly present. Immovable and ever-moving all at once, like a beam of light. Like courage.
As Fluttershy watched, a shadow flew up the wall. A flash of color passed over the windowpane.
It was even more beautiful than she had ever imagined.