Herein and forthwith--the blood-curdling conclusion of our tale of a zombie cockatoo, an English teacher, and some really creepy music. If you missed Part I, scroll down to last week's blog entry--or Click here. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha.
It should have come as no surprise when later that night there was an eerie scraping at the window and a scratching, scratching on the sill. As if in a dream, Jeremiah went to the window and pulled back the curtain. What he saw there made his blood run cold. For on the window ledge, only inches away from his hand, perched a gruesome zombie‑like cockatoo. He was beginning to show signs of decay, and his eyes shone like burning sulphur.
Jeremiah stood transfixed for he knew not how long. He came to the next morning on the floor. He did not remember falling.
Throughout the spring, the bird returned more and more frequently. Jeremiah moved the cage back out of the garage and set it by the window. He left the window open all the time and put fresh seeds on the sill every day. He no longer got up to look at the bird when it came or took much notice of it. But there was some strange cold comfort in its night visits. Especially since he no longer had dinner with Philip and Bess or tea with any of their old friends.
One morning in June Jeremiah looked at himself in the mirror. There were deep circles under his eyes. He hadn't shaved in a week. His nose was running and he had a cough--probably from leaving the window open, even on cold nights. His skin was sallow, and his eyes red. He had a nervous twitch, and he had trouble looking himself in the eyes. He knew he needed help.
+ + + + +
And so it was that he found himself sitting in a dark, smoke‑filled tent across a folding card‑table from Madama Belusha, a black‑toothed gypsy with eyebrows so bushy she must have moussed them--and makeup so thick that he wondered what horrible secret it was hiding.
She looked strangely past him as he poured out his long tale of terror. When he had finished, he hung his head and began to cry. The smell of the dead bird hung all about him.
She clapped her hands together and shouted "Bl‑lyuck! That's the most pathetic story I've ever heard--and I thought I'd heard 'em all."
"Madama Belusha. . .you're my last hope. Can you help me?"
"I think so." Then to his amazement, she raised her wizened hand with the long black nails and peeled off one of her eyebrows. "To start with, I'm not Madama Belusha."
"You're . . . not?"
She peeled off the other eyebrow and pulled the black gum off her front teeth.
"I want my money back," demanded Jeremiah, rising from his chair.
"Sit down. Do you want help, or don't you?"
"Well. . .I guess so." He sat down and watched an amazing transformation. Madama Belusha, by pulling off things that were glued here and there and by wiping off the thick makeup, was changed from a hideous hag into a rather attractive middle‑aged woman. Her short blonde hair turned under at the neck. Even her voice was different. She no longer cackled when she talked.
"My name is Doris Murdock."
"I teach English at the community college."
"You're. . .a teacher?"
"Yes. But in the warmer months, I supplement my income with this gig."
"Couldn't you just teach summer school?"
"Oh, sure. You've never had to grade student themes. Run‑ons, double negatives, misplaced modifiers--it's horrible. Horrible!"
"Okay, okay," said a confused Jeremiah. "Uh, did you say you could help me?"
"Oh yeah, sorry. Let me ask you this. Why did you put birdseed on the windowsill?" Her new voice, though pleasant, had a hint of accusation.
"The birds are hungry. Have you no compassion for helpless little creatures?"
"Mr. Grosbeck--may I call you Jerry?--let's be honest, Jerry. Why did you put birdseed on the window? Why did you bring the cage back into the house? Why tell your friend that you forgive him and then go digging up the dead bird every chance you get?"
"I dig up the bird? It just comes. I have absolutely nothing to do with it."
"Sometimes when I'm angry at someone, it helps me to remind myself that I'm not perfect either. Haven't you ever done anything wrong--perhaps to Philip?"
"What kind of question is that?"
She looked at him impatiently. "I have another appointment soon. Can we hurry?"
"Well, once I borrowed his hunting dog, and--look, this was a really long time ago--it's not important."
"Just tell me," said Madama Belusha, aka Doris Murdock.
"Well, the dog got caught in a trap, and we had to shoot him. I guess it was sort of my fault, I mean if you want to get nit‑picky about it, but that's been years ago."
"No matter. Just remember that we all need forgiveness sometimes. Uh, now if you'll excuse me, my next client is here."
"But you're not dressed."
She shrugged. "Theme conference."
"Oh. . ."
A gangly young man swinging a nylon back‑pack entered through the beaded curtain. "Hi, Mrs. Murdock."
When Jeremiah stepped out into the night, he felt better for some reason. "We all need forgiveness sometimes," Madama, uh--Doris--had said. He started walking toward Philip's house.
Philip didn't mean to let Bogart die. Of course, he was never that fond of the bird. . .but, best not to think of that now. He used to joke about making cockatoo stew. And what was the one about "Ring‑necked? I'll wring his neck for you." Always joking, that Philip. I've missed his sense of humor. . . .Not as much, of course, as I've missed Humphrey Bogart. He stopped in his tracks. I wonder if Philip could have given him. . .bad liquor?
Jeremiah almost didn't notice when the hideous creature fluttered down and landed on his shoulder. Except for the smell. The smell was stronger than ever.
He walked to Philip's house and went around to the back porch where the light was on. I was coming here to apologize, thought Jeremiah, but I may just give him a piece of my mind instead.
He stopped again, just short of the porch. That's odd. When did Philip get a dog? There's a dog dish on the porch. And fresh meat in it! He heard a strange sniffing and scratching but saw nothing. Then suddenly, before him stood the ghastly apparition of the dead hunting dog. When the dog saw Jeremiah, he began to bark, and the barking brought a haggard‑looking Philip to the door.
"What do you want?" growled Philip.
"Friend," called Jeremiah desperately, "may I come in?"
"We've got to talk."
+ + + + +
A sorrowful wind moaned across the moor. In the old church yard, dead leaves rattled among the tombstones. And the creaking organ continued to wheeze under the assault of Toccata in D.
Outside the church, the parson eventually erected a simple hand‑painted sign: "If you've come here to bury the past, we recommend cremation."