Song of the Red-Legged Birds: Chapter 8: For the birds
Last week, in chapter 7 Takeda experienced deja vu at work
Chapter 8: For the birds
Holly and Triscuit lounged on the couch for a while after Takeda left. They drifted off to sleep watching the Netflix Classics Channel. Currently, it played a Seinfeld rerun. The one where Kramer tests his oil tank bladder idea by pushing a ball filled with oil out of his apartment window. Triscuit let out a loud snore slobber that woke Holly.
"Ugh, gross, Tris."
Triscuit cracked an eye open and wagged her white-tipped tail.
"Let's take you for a walk and get me a smoke."
They strode down the steep apartment steps. Holly sat on the concrete front stoop, lit her cigarette, and leaned back on the doorjamb.
"Have at it, Tris."
The dog hurried down the few steps that mashed into the sidewalk like an accident. Triscuit shuffled over to the lone tree poking out of the broken asphalt. It was surrounded by a handful of grass that attempted to grow but always remained the same height.
Tris finished her business and started to trot away.
"Hey! Wait up!" Holly crushed her cigarette out on the steps and scrambled after the wandering pooch. Triscuit picked up speed with determination as she drifted into a left turn down the apartment alley.
“Cut it out!" Holly yelled, catching up to her. She made a note to quit smoking soon, not feeling nearly as agile as the dog looked. When she turned the corner, there was Seamus, the apartment super. He scratched Triscuit behind the ears, to the dog's obvious delight.
"Holly? You're on puppy patrol?" Seamus said.
"Yes," she said, shrugging. "Sorry, she never runs off like that. I know you prefer dogs leashed."
"Ah, no problem. I don't prefer it at all. It's that we have a few tenants who aren't big fans of our four-legged friends. You'd think they wouldn't live in a pet-friendly building, but I guess the rent is right. Heck, maybe they're angling for a lawsuit. That's my worry. I like things peaceful, you know. And speaking of peaceful, or rather, not so peaceful, there's that." Seamus pointed down the alley at dozens, maybe hundreds, of dead birds.
"My god," Holly said, her mouth agape.
"Well, it sure as heck ain't my god." He nudged a bird with his foot and let out a self-satisfied chuckle. "I assume that you heard the commotion this morning? Of course, my phone has been blowing up non-stop since. Most folks are concerned. Others think I'm in control of birds and could have kept this from happening. I'll never understand people," he said with a sigh and a grin.
“By the way, don't look up. We're being watched."
She immediately looked up.
"Dang it, Holly!"
"I SEE YOU DOWN THERE, SEAMUS! WHAT'S GOING ON? ARE YOU GOING TO CLEAN THAT UP? WE'LL ALL GET SICK AND DIE FROM BIRD FLU IF YOU DON'T, SEAMUS! SEAMUS, I KNOW YOU CAN HEAR ME!" The voice came from several floors above. An older woman with a bright multi-colored scarf that covered her head like a turban leaned out of a window.
"I'M WORKING ON IT, MS. EMERTON; LIKE I SAID I WOULD FIFTEEN MINUTES AGO AT YOUR FRONT DOOR, REMEMBER?" Seamus yelled, turning his face up to the sky.
"I DON'T KNOW WHY YOU HAVE TO BE SO RUDE! THERE USED TO BE A NICE YOUNG MAN WHO WORKED HERE BEFORE YOU! WHY HE PAINTED MY FRONT DOOR JUST LAST WEEK!"
"That was me, Ms. Emerton. I'm the only one who's worked here for the last thirty years!" Seamus yelled back, not quite as loud.
Ms. Emerton made a grunting noise and slammed the window, which dislodged one of the dead birds from a sill above. It thunked to the ground between Holly and Seamus, startling them. Triscuit came over, sniffing her investigation.
"I'm sorry about your mom, Seamus. Are there times when she remembers you?"
"Fewer and farther between, Holly. It sucks, but I've learned to deal with it. When she's lucid, she remembers that she's the owner and landlord and gives me shit for not helping her take better care of the building. When she's not lucid, she still gives me shit for not taking better care of the building," he laughed.
"That sucks. I'm sorry," Holly touched his shoulder.
"Ah, it's all right. I've gotten used to it by now, you know."
"Want a smoke?" Holly offered the pack she had tucked into the waistband of her boxers.
"No thanks, hmm, well that's interesting..." he said, looking down at a bird.
"That bird, its left leg and whole foot are red. I ain't no bird guy, but I don't think I've ever seen one like that. It's so black, like super black, and then that bright red leg." Seamus cocked his head, examining it.
"Huh, yeah. I don't think I've seen one like that either," Holly said as they squatted down over the tiny body. Triscuit waggled her way back up the alley and dropped a drool-covered bird between them. It was black with a bright red leg.
"Nasty, Tris," Holly grimaced. Triscuits tail fanned the air.
"Looks like the same kind of bird. Probably they're all the same. Let's see what the internet thinks it is." He snapped a photo and uploaded it. After a moment, he said, "Nothing. At least nothing close. I'll look into it later. Who am I kidding? I'll forget about doing that. Got enough shit to deal with."
"Yeah, it looks like you've got a lot to do, must be a hundred more down there." She motioned down the alley to the red and black feathered mess.
They walked down the length looking at the tiny black and red corpses on the way. Triscuit followed along, pausing to sniff each one.
"Hey, Seamus, isn't this something to report to the ASPCA or like a hazardous waste disposal company? I mean, your mother may not be all that wrong. These birds could be sick. Obviously, something was wrong with them. I'm getting the feeling that we shouldn't even be near them." Holly turned around, looking for Triscuit.
"Fuck it. You're probably right," Seamus said. I don't feel like doing this anyway. Plus, I can catch the end of the Sox game while I make some calls. You want to come upstairs and grab a beer?" Seamus didn't disguise a hint of flirtation.
"No. Thanks, I'm meeting Tak in a little bit. It's his birthday. We might hit The Center later on for some fun," she noted his flirting without insult.
"Ah, the birthday boy. I hope he's enlightened enough to pay the rent on time - this month," he jabbed with a laugh. "You go on, I've got calls to make, and a fuckload... is that the proper term for a lot of birds, fuckload? I've got a fuckload of birds to get rid of before Ms. Emerton reports me to… me."
"Later," she said, looking around. "Where'd Tris go? She was here a second ago." They twisted toward the far end of the alley. Triscuit was in a full sprint, growling.
At the end of the alley was a ten-foot-tall skinny tree devoid of leaves and black as night. Triscuit barreled at the tree as fast as she could. As she closed in, the tree spread its trunk apart as if taking a defiant stance.
The air crackled with the sound of grinding lumber as it grew taller. Two crimson-red glowing slits resembling eyes opened and flared like flaming red coals.
Holly and Seamus were running and screaming her name.
None of this slowed her down as she threw herself at the tree at full speed.
The black timber let out an ear-piercing screech and turned to liquid, splashing to the ground and collecting into a sizzling puddle. Holly and Seamus caught up to the dog as she whimpered over the liquid dissolving into hot steam.
Thank you for reading the eighth chapter! To receive new chapters when I post them and to support my work, please consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. And please, don’t chase the screaming trees.
Next week in Chapter 9, “Oh come on,” a little story about Jack and Diane