Guest Writers

This is one of a large number of Scottish related articles by Guest Writers which have been added to Rampant Scotland. The pages were previously part of the "Scottish Radiance" Web site and there are many more articles in this series being added over a period of months.

The Flight of the Pepper Shaker Bird

By Toby Speed

Background to the author: Many of Toby Speed's children's stories have been published in Highlights for Children, Jack and Jill and other magazines. She is the author of a number of picture books, including "Whoosh! Went the Wish" and the best-selling Two Cool Cows. You can read more about Toby by visiting her Web Site.

The Flight of the Pepper Shaker Bird

On a shelf in the china closet sat the salt-and-pepper-shaker birds. They were made of porcelain and painted blue, and they perched on a porcelain tree stump. For many years they had been in love. But they were sad, too, for they sat back to back and couldn't see each other. Only their tail feathers touched.

From time to time Pepper said to Salt, "Tell me about the world to the east."

And the saltshaker bird, looking to the left with her left eye, replied, "I see wheat fields ready for harvest." Then looking to the right with her right eye she said, "I see sunshine on a frozen pond." For on her left was the grainy oak wall of the china closet, and on her right the kitchen table.

Then Salt said to Pepper, "Now, my love, tell me about the world to the west."

And the pepper shaker bird, looking at the same oak wall and the same kitchen table, said, "Over here I see the earth full of sweet worms. And there, a shining river."

"Oh, I wish I could see your world," said Salt.

"And I yours," said Pepper. But what he really thought was, "One glimpse of you, and I'd be happy forever."

One morning a slice of bread whizzed out of the toaster and flopped onto the kitchen table.

"Did you see that?" said Pepper in excitement. "There's a raft in the river!"

"What?" said Salt. "Something landed in the pond just now, and I wasn't listening."

"A raft!" said her mate. "It flew! And I just remembered something. We flew, too, you and I, a long time ago. We flew when we came here for the first time."

"What do you mean, 'for the first time'?" said Salt. "We've always been here. We've been here since the beginning of the beginning."

"No, we were somewhere else before," said Pepper. "And we flew here, I'm sure of it. I remember hurtling through space upside down, and then feeling something pouring into me through a hole in my chest and rattling around inside me. Whatever it was, it filled me right up. And then I was flying again -- right side up -- over to this tree stump. Plink! A perfect landing." He paused. "I've been trying to remember how we did that."

"We can't fly," said the saltshaker bird.

"But we did," insisted her mate.

"Anyway," said Salt, "it sounds terrifying."

"No, it was wonderful," said Pepper. And he kept trying to remember.

He worked on remembering all that day and the next. By the third day his head ached.

"Your tail feathers are trembling, my love," said Salt. "Are you still trying to remember?"

"If only I could," said Pepper, "I might be able to fly again."

"Is that what you want to do?"

"Of course! Don't you?"

"Perhaps. I don't know."

Pepper went on, "It's just that now that I've learned -- now that I've almost remembered --"

"Maybe you're not happy here," whispered Salt. "Maybe you want to leave."

"No," said Pepper. "I'll never leave you. I may fly away, but I'll be back."

The saltshaker bird gave a little sigh. "Tell me now about the world to the west," she said. And so he did.

The next day a new suncatcher appeared in the kitchen window -- two bright cardinals on flowers.

What pretty birds! thought Pepper. How lucky they are to be flying together!

Suddenly he couldn't stand the unfairness of life one minute longer. Fly! he ordered himself. But nothing happened. His wings were pasted to his sides, and as for his feet -- well, he couldn't feel any, just the roundness of his belly where it met the cool hollow of the tree stump.

Fly! he told himself again, and he pressed all his concentration forward. There was a scraping sound. The world shifted. Rocking dizzily, the pepper shaker bird fell off the tree stump and landed on his head. Clunk! Something powdery streamed out of the top of his head and down his beak.

"Oh! cried Salt. "What happened? Where are you?"

"It's all right!" said Pepper. "I'm starting to remember!" Indeed, he did seem to be able to think more clearly upside down. He looked at the bright river that was now in the sky. He felt the cool air flow over his body. Fly! Fly! he told himself, trying desperately to open his wings.

But it was no use. He couldn't budge. The powdery stuff streamed out of his head and piled up around his eyes, and he was in darkness.

"It must be night," thought Pepper. "I like nighttime the best, because that means the day is coming."

So he waited for day, and he tried to fly. He tried until he was too tired to try any more. When he had all but given up hope, he was startled by a booming voice that filled the room.


The pepper shaker bird suddenly felt himself moving. He moved up and up, out of the darkness, until the world was far below him. And then an amazing thing happened. He began to fly. He flew at tremendous speed through the world, high above the earth full of sweet worms, high above the shining river. A road flashed by beneath him. Grain elevators and groves of trees appeared and were gone in an instant. All the colors and shapes of things in the world zoomed close to him and shot away. He could hardly catch his breath.

He landed in an unfamiliar place and felt something pouring into his chest and filling him up, as it had that time before. Then he was speeding through the air again, back to the china closet. Out of the kaleidoscope of colors Pepper saw one bright eye gazing back at him.

Then the glass doors slid closed, and there he was, back to back with the saltshaker bird again. Everything was the same. But everything was different.

"I was so afraid," whispered Salt. "I thought you'd get hurt. I thought you'd like the world so much you'd never come back."

The pepper shaker bird wasn't listening. "I saw you," he said. "I saw you in the wheat fields!"

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