Bozartene Molting Festival

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"Based on centuries of cross-cultural research across multiple star systems, feasting is a deeply rooted behavior in all sentient beings and many semi-sentient fauna and flora. In whatever form feasting occurs—a nuclear family tearing into the flesh of a hard-earned prey, a cohort diving in tandem to lay waste to a densely packed swarm of krill, or elites attending a stately dinner with ambassadors and chandeliers—people instinctively gather together to share sustenance and practice the art of intra- and extra-species detente." Severata Roggerta 3582 AF.

“Helmie!” the exo-anthropologist Professor Helmstrung Stilts’ principal spouse Coco squawks at him. “Wait for us!” She leads her chick by the flipper into the Exhibitionists Hall on the edge of the Bozart University campus. The little girlchick is momentarily awed to silence by the scent and sweat of the crush of people in the room. “Now Candy,” her mother says. “I know this is all new to you, but your papa and I will be close by.” She grabs Helmstrung’s suspenders and hisses into his ear. “Where do you think you are going? This is the first chick we’ve had in years; if you’re not careful she will be your last!”

Helmstrung Stilts in typical ritual regalia. Image credit Kris Hirst and MidJourney.
Helmstrung Stilts in typical ritual regalia. Image credit Kris Hirst and MidJourney

“Yes, dear,” says Helmstrung.

“Oh, look at all that food piled up on the tables!" enthuses Candy. “Do we get to sit at the buffet with all those young people?”

“No, sweetie, that’s the undergraduate table. We’ll sit over here with the other faculty,” says her mother, selecting a child’s booster seat from the stack at the side of the room.

Alice, Molly, and Stella are all seated at the graduate student table. Alice taps her feet with anticipation: this is the first year she has attended the department molt. A waiter bearing a tray of the Bozart national drink, the Beaux Artes blue martini, stops by Alice's chair.

"Hi, Yobo," Alice whispers.

Setting a Beaux Artes in front of her, Yobo whispers, "We'll miss you at the waiter's ball tonight!"


"No, no, good luck to you!" Yobo says enviously, and he passes out of earshot.

Stella, finely tuned by years of training in anthropological method and theory, is watching the people as they mill around and pick seats. "Ah, I see that pecking order is manifested in feather decoration," she mutters into her communication device, hidden beneath a decorative kelp. She pats her modestly ornate head decoration and takes a nip of kelp, breathing in the lovely scent of salt and seaweed.

Molly, a secret refugee from the Bozartene royal court, greets her best friend and roommate, Dumpling, who sits across the table beside her partner, Knucklehead. Dumpling and Knucklehead met during the last molting festival, and sitting next to Knucklehead is his handsome brother Knick Knack. Molly can’t wait to meet him, but she knows they will be at the same event for the next ten days, so she has no fear that it won’t happen. “I’ll make it happen,” she vows to herself. She takes a sneaky sip from her Beaux Artes, and Dumpling tsks at her. "Can't you wait like everybody else?"

Annual royal re-enactment of the ancient Bozartene molting ceremony. Image credit Kris Hirst and MidJourney.
Annual royal re-enactment of the ancient Bozartene molting ceremony. Image credit Kris Hirst and MidJourney

“You’re playing with fire,” says Dumpling, leaning forward to stage-whistle across the table and getting a smear of horse mackerel jelly on her chin. “I notice that you have your radar aimed at Knick Knack. He’s not the most upstanding Bozart you’ll ever meet.”

“Who cares! I just want to have fun before the school year starts up again.”

“Welcome!” says the master of ceremonies, a tall, weedy individual with an elaborate plumage on his head. He tips the ceremonial top hat over his do and announces, “I am honored and proud to be The Great Bozo this year.”

The Great Bozo of Bozartene University's College of Social Sciences. Image credit Kris Hirst and MidJourney.
The Great Bozo of Bozartene University's College of Social Sciences. Image credit Kris Hirst and MidJourney

“For the fifty-second year running,” grumbles the faculty adviser Glitterbug, a Bozart with a not-un-elaborate plumage.

“Shh,” hisses Coco. “Not in front of the young ones!” Glitterbug looks offended, but Coco is the designated termagant of the department, so he suppresses his annoyance.

“Welcome to the PreMolting Feast,” continues The GB, “the glorious opening of our traditional ten-day-long Molting Festival. I want to thank the university administration for providing the facilities again this year. And, isn’t it wonderful to have the entire College of Social Sciences in the same room together as we celebrate this truly heart-warming fortnight of the Bozartene year!

“Before we get started on what smells to be an amazing feast, and once again, thanks to the Bozart City Caterers for their delicious variety of sweetmeats, we should all take a moment to greet the new children this year. Please, everyone, turn to the fledglings at your tables and salute them in the time-honored fashion.”

Candy is one of six children at the faculty table. Each of the adults in attendance at her table stands up, and waddles in a line clockwise around the table, patting the heads of each of the new chicks as they pass; then they turn around as one and march around counterclockwise, this time softly pinching the neck flesh of each of the chicks.

“Ow,” says Candy, as one of the participants pinches somewhat painfully. “Shh,” warns Coco. “They do you a great honor.”

“Hmm,” says Candy.

“A few notes on the facilities,” continues The GB. “After the feast, all unmated Bozarts will go to their designated dormitories.” A low-level mumbling is heard from the undergraduate table. “If you do not have an assignment yet, see your team leader before you leave the ballroom tonight. The buses will start loading at 22 hours. Resident Assistants should arrive at the dormitories at least a half-hour early to go over the rules and bunk bed assignments. Married faculty and students may retire to their homes with their young ones. Secondly, we will need you all back here at 6 hours sharp to begin molting. Please be on time because the distribution of the combs, brushes, and brooms must be completed first. The card game tables will be set up before you arrive, and please feel free to waddle about the hall. If you must brush your fur at the card tables, please sweep your castoffs into the designated area as soon as feasible. By popular demand, a pageant will again be held on the last day to select the Queen and Kings of the New Year's Plumage. Any Bozartene social scientist may be elected any royal role; the four kings have smaller crowns. You can sign up in the Gift Shop to participate in the pageant once emerging has begun. And yes, you can nominate someone else!"

"Tickets to the Big Burn can be purchased in the gift shop until next Wednesday or until they run out. Remember that you don’t need a ticket to smell the burn; sit down near enough to be warmed by the fire's holy heat. Profits from all Molting Festival sales go to the Abandoned Orphans Society. Poor things."

Participants in the Big Burn watch bundles of shed feathers float up toward the Great Awk in the Clouds. Image credit Kris Hirst and MidJourney.
Participants in the Big Burn watch bundles of shed feathers float up toward the Great Awk in the Clouds. Image credit Kris Hirst and MidJourney

“Finally," says the BG, "and I will remind you again as Completion Time grows near, after the feast today, no one may eat or have sex until everyone has regenerated their fur and feathers and the glorious Big Burn has taken our cast-offs into Awk territory—and that includes you, married people. Abstinence is one way we show our holy adoration to the Great Awk and the Powers that Be Bozart.”

More low-level grumbling occurs, and one wit at the graduate tables remarks, “Don’t worry. We’ll remember to have sex again without your say-so,” but The GB ignores them.

“Let us joyously begin the time-honored Molting Festival, together and in the truest ways of kindness and conviviality of the university climate, beginning—but not ending!—with the Pre-Molting Feast. Let the feasting begin!”

A skittering sound catches the ear of The GB, who turns and spots a small footperson who has darted through the crowd to find him. The GB tilts his massive head to listen, then says, loud enough to be heard over the noise of the feasters, "All, I have been reliably informed that the College of Social Sciences has been awarded a massive exploration grant that will begin in the coming year. Our own Exo-Anthropology Department will explore three new planets! A round of flapping to the Exo-Anthropology unit and Professor Stilts!" Hoots and squeaks and other random noises rise from the crowd. Molly nods her head knowingly. "At last!" she whispers. No one notices her.

"And now," shouts The GB over the crowd noise, "Let us all raise our cups and sing the Bozart National Anthem, '"Tis Better to be Filthy Rich Than Not to be Rich at All!"

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Created by KKris. Last Modification: Sunday 15 of October, 2023 08:48:07 EDT by KKris.