Picture it and Write: A grain of hope

by joetwo

Hi there! This is my offering for this week’s picture it and write from Ermilia’s blog here. Once again the picture is not mine, I only use it for inspiration. Anyway, Enjoy!

A Grain of Hope

There are some Ideas that you just know, right from the beginning, that they are going to succeed. There are others that you know, right from the get go, that haven’t a hope in hell. But there is a third option, the ideas that on analysis scream their impossibility to you but that still have an aura of possibility, the idea that maybe  just maybe, if you get things just right, it can be done. They are the cruelest ideas of all, they give you hope, hope enough to keep trying whatever the cost as once happened to John McGonigle.

John McGonigle was a Scottish Inventor back from the days before the Wright brothers when flight was just a dream. There were ideas aplenty about how flight could be achieved and a palpable sense that fame and fortune awaited those who could finally did it. John’s idea was, shall we say, unique.

His reasoning was thus. People could train horses to pull weight and they could train birds to do things so what was stopping some person from training a load of birds to lift things into the air. Sounds plausible, John thought so. It was the beginning of his downfall.

He first decided on an appropriate Bird. Most were just too small and stupid (birdbrained if you will) to work and after some experimentation he decided on Ravens, a large bird that was smart enough to be trained for John’s plan. He put the local huntsmen and boys to work and within a  month every raven within ten miles of his country home, two hundred birds in all, where caged up in McGonigle’s barn.

Training was surprisingly easy. For the promise of grain or a choice morsel of meat the birds could me made to follow shouted commands to fly in unison. Locals claimed there was some kind of black magic afoot and that John was cursed. He didn’t mind of course, it meant that people stayed away, leaving him free to work in peace.

John’s first idea was to get the birds to lift a boat-like assembly. Enough to hold ten people or nearly a ton of cargo. But his first experiments showed that to lift that much would require over a thousand birds and enough rope to lash them together that the whole process would not get off the ground. He was forced to think smaller.

Jason MacDiarmaid was an orphan who worked as a stable boy for John. The Ravens were used to him, seemed to like him and most importantly he only weighed five stone. Seventy birds would have been sufficient to lift him but John was cautious on the first test flight and strung together eighty. 

John’s notes from that day ring with wonder. It was an indoor test and he wrote that the large barn was filled with the noise wings flapping, raven calls and the screams of Jason as the birds lifted him four feet off the grounds. With a string of commands John was able to tell the assembly of birds to move ponderously with their huge weight. They turned left and right, lifted up and down and even hovered for a spell. After the birds settled back down again and Jason was convinced to let go of the ropes John decided that it was time to try the full version.

The full complement of birds was too great to deploy in the barn so John and his assistants came to a headland that jutted out to the sea. It was remote enough that they figured he could preform the test there without being spotted by nosey people.

He was attached to the custom harness and every bird that had been captured was released into the air. Yelling to be heard over the noise of wing beats John got the birds to stop at ten feet. There he tested his suite of commands and the birds once again proved more pliable than he had hoped. Then looking at his assistants a glint formed in his eye and a smile came to his face. “Up! Up! Up!” He shouted and John, birds and all soared into the sky.

His assistants’ notes record that as John McGonigle flew higher and higher, squeals of delight could be heard above the sound of birds. “I’m free!” They heard him shout “I’m free as a bird!”

That is where things went wrong.

You see; birds are efficient fliers. They can carry their own weight for hours, even days at a time. But they are not designed to carry much in the way of extra weight. With John and all the ropes, they had reached about the limits of their endurance and they tired quickly.

At over 2000 feet John’s assistants saw the first of the birds begin to stop flapping. As each one dropped the more weigh was forced onto each remaining bird and exhaustion cascaded through the birds’ ranks some kept struggling on the end of their rope others somehow broke free. John stopped rising and began to accelerate towards the ground.

McGonigle’s assistants watched as their master fell back to Earth, trailing birds in his wake. They strangest thing though is what they claim they heard as they looked on.

They swear he did not scream, not even as the ground rose up to meet him. Instead they claim that he shouted out notes on the test, ways he thought it could be done better. Pointers for the next man.

That is how insidious that grain of hope can be. Even when all had failed, even when his life was forfeit, John was still convinced that it was a good idea, that if they used more birds or alternated their use it could still work.

The grain of hope killed John McGonigle but it did not die. It lived on, ready to infect the next willing soul the next dreamer, hoping to achieve the impossible.