One Thousand Beats of a Hummingbird Heart

“I bet we can see the girls skinny dipping from up there,” Cam said, pointing to the fire tower propped up on metal beams descending down to the lakeshore. As we climbed the stairs to the room with windows on each side, the wind rattled the chicken wire railing. Cam pulled down on the door handle until it burst open with a thud. From the room flew out sixteen emerald green hummingbirds, and one hovered between us briefly as if we had met him before, his scarlet throat feathers shimmering in the early morning light.

“Did you know that a hummingbird heart beats one thousand times a minute?” I asked.

“How would I possibly know that?” demanded Cam.

From the ceiling, fuchsia flowers hung down like rubies, while lavender morning glories peeked out from green vines blanketing the room walls. In the center of the wood floor, a toppled hummingbird feeder sat in a pool of crimson liquid. As I reached down to pick it up, I spied the muddy toenails against the wall. Then I noticed the calloused brown feet, the frayed shorts, and the gloved hands deep inside the pockets of the man sitting on the sill of the open, screenless window.

“Who told you about me?” he muttered.

“No one,” I said.

“Are you the ones projecting videos in the middle of the night?”

“Not us,” answered Cam, resting his hand lightly on my back.

“You know, I’ve seen that stuff before,” the man said, pausing while his fingers stirred in his right pocket. “But sometimes my niece spends the night here, and I don’t want her seeing it too.”

We didn’t say anything as his right hand emerged with something rusted. It was a chain, the other end of which dangled behind him. For a moment he closed his eyes, then suddenly he fell backwards out the window. We chased after him, leaning over the sill to see his muscled body swinging back and forth on the chain hooked to the metal beam. Then he let go and dropped down into the lake with a splash and faced us, treading water.

“Don’t hurt them,” he shouted. “They are innocents.”

He dove down deep, and though Cam never lifted his gaze from the water, neither of us would ever see him again. I turned around slowly and surveyed the room. Soup cans lined up against the wall while two bent dog tags stood guard over a tan boot in the corner. Inside the boot, a thick tree branch fit snugly, and under its wilted leaves I spotted a little green ball. When it twitched I realized that it was actually a hummingbird sitting on her cup-shaped nest. As she looked up, for the first time I imagined the terror that we must have brought to her tiny, fast beating heart.

Kasra Omid-Zohoor is a writer living in San Francisco, California. In his younger years, he studied modern American literature at Stanford University. His work has been published in Thick Jam, Postcard Shorts, and Apocrypha and Abstractions.