Hirundo Rustica

It was the barn swallows I felt sorriest for. All the rest of us, the animals and birds that had come seeking the refuge Chernobyl offered after it had spat the humans out, we had come to an understanding. Even the crows had accepted its offer.

But the barn swallows, they had been here before the humans, and during the humans, after all the rest of us had been driven out by their streets and buildings, and they would not be moved. They had no allegiance but to themselves, they said, and no master. They would not be the pawns of whatever thing had crept into the city and purged it of men.

The barn swallows didn’t trust anything with that much power.

Chernobyl heard all this with the same quiet air of grace it had with everything. “Very well,” it had said, and it withdrew its protection.

At first it seemed nothing had happened. The barn swallows went on living, and from the way I heard it from the robins they lived in fear. Bravery is not an absence of fear, after all.

But the hammer did not fall until spring. When their clutches hatched, the wails of the hens could be heard for miles.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) that live in or around Chernobyl have displayed an increased rate of physical abnormalities.