A story by Patty Kyrlach
A sorrowful wind moaned across the moor. Patches of dirty snow clung to clumps of weeds and to the roots of bare, mournful trees. Gray skies threatened rain.
On the way home, his steps were leaden but his mind was racing. How was it possible that Humphrey Bogart's life had been cut off so soon? Unfair it was that others, less deserving, should live while his worthy friend lay cold in his grave. It seemed but yesterday they had supped together and shared a cup of wine--a California claret, Bogie's favorite.
Of course, wine usually made Bogart sick, and Jeremiah did have rules about "No putting your feet in the glass," and "No blowing bubbles." But Bogart had a mind of his own. For Bogart was an aristocrat, even in his cups. He was a rare breed of bird, was Bogart--a ring‑necked, crimson‑crested cockatoo to be exact. And the unworthy world would not see his like again.
It was Philip's fault, and no denying it. Philip Farnsworthy, Jeremiah's best friend, had been left in charge of the bird when Jeremiah went to South Glaston on business. And when Jeremiah returned, the bird was dead.
Jeremiah was distraught, but he tried bravely not to show it. He and Philip had been friends since childhood, and there was no sense in letting this tragic accident come between them. "Don't worry, Friend," Jeremiah had told Philip, "all is forgiven."
But walking home from the cemetery with an ache in his chest and the wind whipping his coat, he had to ask himself, "Did Philip really remember to mix the sunflower seeds with hemp, millet, and peanuts? Did he give him grit? And what about the missing chew stick?" Jeremiah might never know the answers to these haunting questions.
It had started to rain.
+ + + + +
That night Jeremiah dreamed that Bogart rose from his grave and was pacing back and forth on the mantelpiece, holding a key‑ring in his beak. As he paced, the key‑ring clanked and rattled like the chains of the damned. He was, no doubt, looking for the key to the liquor cupboard.
+ + + + +
The next day, business took Jeremiah by train to North Haven, but he returned in time for tea. Philip joined him.
"I brought you some honey," said Philip. "Three jars."
"I see Bess has been busy," said Jeremiah. Bess, Philip's wife, was always busy. "That's very kind of you." He's probably trying to make up for what he did to Bogart.
"And say, while I'm here, could I borrow your hedge clippers? I want to trim the hedges back before the sap runs. Never got to it last fall."
"Of course. But. . .you will take good care of them, won't you?"
Philip gave Jeremiah a knowing look. "You mean, will I take better care of the clippers than I did the bird?"
"Don't be ridiculous. That's all forgiven," said Jeremiah. He slapped Philip on the back. "Just take care of them, that's all."
"I'll do my best. Oh, by the way, Bess wants to know if you'll be there for dinner Saturday night. Lamb stew."
"Wouldn't miss it."
Jeremiah watched through the window as Philip crossed the street. He remembered the feather. There was, after all, a perfectly reasonable explanation for the feather on his window ledge last night. There must be countless white feathers lying about the place--hidden in chairs and under bookshelves--for Bogart had been with him for many years. And with that he put it out of his mind.
Until a week later. He awoke again in the middle of the night. Again there was a mysterious scraping at the window. Slowly, cautiously, he crept to the window and carefully pulled back the curtain.
As he did, he screamed. A sudden flurry of wings startled him, and an ominous white blur fluttered away. What was that? A bird? But it couldn't be Bogart. Bogart was dead. Dead and buried. What was this madness that had seized him? What melancholy spirit? But, no--there on the ledge lay concrete proof that he was not losing his mind. Droppings! The distinctive droppings of a ring‑necked, crimson‑crested cockatoo. He slumped into a chair, a vein throbbing in his neck.
Over breakfast the next morning, he contrived an explanation for the ghostly visitation. Bogart must have had a girlfriend! Some bird fancier's pet had escaped and lived in the trees nearby. She had heard Bogart singing and had taken to visiting at the window where the cage used to hang. To think that Bogart had night visitors I knew nothing about! The sly bird. No wonder that rascal loved his wine so much.
Jeremiah felt that he must put the bird out of his mind. Once and for all. He took the cage out to the garage and put a blanket over it. He put Bogart's toys away in a chest. He found the jar of seed mix in the cupboard and started to throw it away. But then he thought of all the hungry birds in the world. Including Bogart's girlfriend. I could give the seeds to Mrs. Dibble for her bird feeder. Or. . .I could just spread some of them out here on the window sill and feed the birds myself.
He was pleased by his sudden burst of altruism.
+ + + + +
A few days passed. He had dinner again with Philip and his wife. Philip put Jeremiah's hedge clippers by the door so he wouldn't forget them. Jeremiah did not remember a large chip in the wood on one of the handles, but he said nothing. Friendship is more important than clippers, he told himself.
"Three helpings! Aren't you supposed to be watching your weight?" asked Philip, when Jeremiah passed his bowl for more dumplings.
"I'll work it off tomorrow, trimming the shrubs. I expect the clippers will be a bit stiff, since you didn't oil them."
"I oiled them. I should think you never oiled them. They wouldn't even open when I got them."
"You just don't how to work them properly."
"I know how to work them as well as you."
"Then what's that chip on the handle?"
"What chip? Oh--that? That was already there. Jeremiah, you are a fuss‑budget."
Jeremiah dropped his fork. He bolted up from the table and grabbed his hat and coat on his way out the door. At the porch, he paused only to scream a parting malediction. "Bird killer!"
He forgot the hedge clippers.
+ + + + +
When he got home, Jeremiah stood by the window, looking into the spring night. The snow was all gone. "I could use some fresh air tonight," said Jeremiah out loud. He left the window open.
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.
Tune in next week to Stark Raving Mythopath for the soul-stirring conclusion to this bone-chilling tale of terror, zombies, and things that go squa-a-awk in the night. . . .