Song of the Red-Legged Birds: Chapter 11: The News
two friends, two beers, and two stories
Welcome new subscribers! Get started with Chapter 1 or learn more about this book. You can also browse the full archive of my fiction. Each Friday, a new chapter will arrive, just like the one below! Thank you, Bill
Last week, in chapter 10, Takeda met Chimera again for the first time
Chapter 11: The News
“Seamus saw this too?” Takeda said to Holly with a shocked and questioning look.
Holly had texted him that something “f-ing weird” had happened. She wanted to meet for a drink at The News, a local pub that they both liked. The News was barebones in decor, except for touches of 1980s and 90s flair. That meant the furnishings were old as hell and the music on tap was mainly unrecognizable to people unless you were a retro freak.
The Huey Lewis band had inspired the bar’s name. That fact was lost on most except Holly, who happened to be a huge fan, as was her old college roommate Claire who owned the place. When Takeda walked in, Holly wasn’t sitting at the bar like she usually did, catching up with Claire. She was halfway into her second beer in the back corner at an out-of-order Ms. Pacman tabletop game. Blue Monday by New Order filled the air with maudlin retro post-punk beats in the sparsely populated tavern.
“Yes, that’s what I said; Seamus saw it too. And thank god or whatever for that, or I might have checked into the hospital. Tak, I saw a fucking tree man, A TREE MAN, dissolve into a puddle. What even is that? That’s not a thing. That’s not even a sentence. And once I could compose myself and speak again, I asked Seamus what he saw, and do you know what he said?”
“He said, DID I JUST SEE A FUCKING TREE MAN DISSOLVE INTO A PUDDLE!”
Holly was visibly shaken, something that he hadn’t seen before. She was one of the toughest people he’d ever met and didn’t suffer bullshit or fools. Typically, even detecting a chink in her armor was a notable miracle.
She’d been a smoke jumper for several years, parachuting in to put out fires in the Pacific Northwest. Her most recent stint was in the Rutland, Vermont area. In her downtime, she worked as part of the trail crew in the Appalachian Mountain Club. That job involved hauling heavy packs and logs up and down rugged mountain paths. It also involved digging drainage ditches, repairing bridges, moving rocks, and hiking ten to seventeen miles daily.
Holly was stronger than Takeda, and they both knew it. But there was another side of her that he knew well.
One weekend she worked alone in the White Mountains clearing a downed tree limb with a hand ax, and it sprung back, knocking her down. She landed hard on her side and tore a deep gash in her thigh. Holly bandaged herself up with a t-shirt and finished clearing the trail.
Before heading back, she noticed a squirrel with a limp of its own. It began following her - squirrels often sought treats from hikers. But this one seemed desperate, and upon closer examination, she saw that it had a wounded leg. Holly wrapped the little guy up into a sling on her chest. She sprinkled in a bit of granola saved from the day’s lunch. The squirrel rode along in the pouch for the nine miles she hobbled back to base camp.
Over the next few weeks, she nursed the squirrel back to health. When both of their injuries healed, she brought her little grey friend right back to where she’d found him. Takeda heard that story from Claire. It wasn’t the kind of thing Holly would share.
“Ah, right, wow,” Takeda said, with an air of acceptance but a whiff of disbelief. “Hey, what’re you drinking there?” He motioned to her half-drained beer.
“Hoppy to be Stuck with Brew. It’s new; they make it here.”
Takeda rolled his eyes at the play on the Huey Lewis song title.
“Tak, don’t. Not tonight. I’m fuckin weirded out.”
“I’m sorry. Look, I have to ask, is there a chance, any chance, that you both saw something that wasn’t a tree man but maybe looked like it? Like some shadows or something, or steam, or something projected from an apartment?”
‘Blue Monday’ gave way to ‘You Spin Me Round’ by Dead or Alive.
“No,” she said quietly, gulping down the rest of her beer in one pull.
“Claire, can I get two more specials here?” Takeda yelled over his shoulder towards the bar, not breaking eye contact with Holly.
“Hey, I’m glad you’re okay. That story it is… well, it’s something. What did Seamus do afterward? Heck, what is he doing now? Why isn’t he here?” Takeda grew more animated and reached to touch her hand.
“He was disturbed but mostly chalked it up to all the weed. Even though he said he’s never hallucinated from it before and that it still wouldn’t explain why I saw the same thing. Then he just went back to work; I think to cope, you know, do some normal shit to balance you back out. I went upstairs with Tris and stared at the wall for a while before texting you.”
Claire brought over two beers from the bar. “You two okay? It looks all serious over here. Hol, you need me to bounce this guy?” She grinned at Takeda.
“Real nice, Claire, thanks,” he said.
“I’m fine. Just a rough day is all,” Holly smiled.
“Oh honey, come here,” Claire said while she crouched to hug her. “Come see me before you head out, okay? This place is about to go off, and I’ve got a few kegs to tap before then,” she said while walking back to the bar.
“Will do,” Holly said with a smile.
Takeda envied their relationship. They were such comfortable and supportive friends with a connection that he’d never had with anyone.
“Tak, you know when you’re watching a weird movie? The kind where some fantastical shit happens, and the characters never respond the way you know actual people would? Like a dude will see a person change into a werewolf, and somehow the next day, he isn’t talking to a therapist about it? Or, locked up by the police, babbling to himself in a cell, or jumping off a fucking bridge?”
He nodded, taking a sip.
“There have to be things that could drive you instantly insane, is what I’m getting at—most movies kind of skip that. Oh, aliens showed up in my kitchen; isn’t that a bit odd! Think I’ll make a note of it and have some toast.” She took a pull from her beer and wiped her mouth.
“Well, dude, what I’m struggling to say is, I don’t understand how I’m not crazy right now. Because what I saw… isn’t possible, couldn’t be, isn’t a thing, am I making sense? Tak, am I crazy?” she whispered and lowered her head.
He opened his mouth to answer.
“Don’t answer that,” she said.
He closed his mouth.
“I know I’m not crazy. I’ve been hiking on trails in the wilderness for miles and miles, alone at night, in the rain. I’ve had moments when I was sure that I heard someone calling my name. Times when I’ve whipped my head around because I knew someone had to be following me. But even in those moments, as sure as I was, I knew it wasn’t possible. I’ve had moments when I hiked for so long, my footsteps so repetitive, that I fell asleep while walking.”
“It’s a strange experience, kinda like when you drive somewhere and forget steering. Once I saw my father hiking in front of me, he turned around to shout something that I couldn’t hear.”
“Wow,” he traced circles around his glass, eyes fixed on her.
“The thing that woke me up was calling him ‘Daddy, I can’t hear you.’ That messed me up, but I saw it for what it was. I was tired, fell asleep on my feet, and I miss my Dad. Tak, I’m saying this because that wasn’t what happened today. Today I saw something real. Look...” She grabbed her half-full beer, drained it in two gulps, and put it down. “You saw that, right?”
“I couldn’t convince you otherwise, could I? What did you see?” she said, her eyes flaring.
“You chugged your beer like a champ.”
“Well, today I saw a tree man dissolve into a puddle, as sure as you saw me drink that beer.”
He nudged his glass to the side and folded his hands.
“Holly, I’ve been told that my parents loved to tell stories. Embellished’ is what they called it. Every story had a grain of truth, but they just had to make it better or something. In some sense, they became their stories, maybe even convinced themselves of them. The embellishments were never over the top, just a slight tweak to make them more interesting. Why did they do this? Because they were insecure, because it was part of what made them a couple? For fun? Fuckall if I know.”
He shrugged and blinked slowly before continuing.
“Many of these stories I’ve watched over and over on video. The thing is, I can’t put my finger on how I know when a story isn’t real. But when I watch them, I can tell when something isn’t quite right. I don’t think I have a gift for knowing when someone is bullshitting me; I’ve kind of had training from a young age. Look, you know I love my Mom and miss my Dad terribly, but they made up a lot of stories.”
He paused to make solid eye contact and saw a hint of confusion in her eyes.
“H, what I’m struggling to say, is that I know you’re telling the truth. The only question is, what do we do now?”
“Thanks, Tak,” she leaned across the table, her shirt dragging across the wet circles left by their glasses, and hugged him.
“GET A ROOM!” Claire yelled over the growing din as the bar started to fill up. Holly smiled and gave her the finger. Claire blew her a kiss.
Holly sat back down. “I have no idea what to do next, if anything at all. Maybe I’m a little worried I’ll see it again or something worse. For now, I’ll make it a point not to pass the alley on the way into my apartment and be glad my window isn’t facing that side.” She paused, rolling her empty glass on its edge. “I know we were supposed to go out for your birthday tonight, but do you mind if I bail? My brain is mush from the day, and now I’m a little buzzed. I want to go to sleep early, like an old lady or like a drunk girl who saw a tree man,” she laughed.
He loved to hear her laugh. She didn’t do it all that much.
“Of course, no biggie. You rest, and we’ll talk tomorrow.”
“You want to catch a Flyer back home with me?” she said.
“I’ll go with you, but I think I’m going to head over to The Center by myself afterward,” he said almost as a question.
“Really, by yourself? That’s not like you.”
“Well, today has been kind of weird for me too. The whole bird thing this morning, a couple of bouts of deja vu, and then there was Chimera.”
“What’s a Chimera?”
“She’s a who. I’ll tell you more tomorrow.”
“She, huh? Sounds like a stripper’s name.” Holly said with a smirk.
“Holly, she’s probably five years old.”
“A five-year-old stripper, gross!” she yelled with a smile as heads turned their way.
“H, don’t make me summon the tree-man.”
“Too soon, Tak, too soon.”
“Sorry,” he touched her hand.
“Come on, let’s take off before you have to carry me out of here, and Claire gives me more shit,” she said, standing up.
Takeda located a Flyer on his phone while Holly said goodnight to Claire. They both headed out the front door, letting the sound of Michael Jackson’s Thriller spill out of the bar and into Boston’s evening air.
Thank you for reading the eleventh chapter! To receive new chapters when I post them and to support my work, please consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. Beer helps wild stories go down.
Next week in Chapter 12, “Learn to fly,” Takeda parties at The Center and blends with the universe