WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE & IMAGERY. READ AT OWN RISK.
Jean stood outside her boyfriend’s door, hopping from one foot to the next as she debated what to do. Finally she just decided to get it over with and knocked sharply on the worn wood, glancing idly at the brass number hanging on the middle of the door, half hoping that it was the wrong door that she was standing in front of.
But her hopes were not assayed as she instantly recognized the tousled haired young man who had opened the door.
‘Jean!’ greeted the young man in a surprised tone, ‘What are you doing here? How did you find out where I live, anyway?’
‘I asked Horace,’ she mumbled, looked at his pajama-clad knees (he had obviously just gotten out of bed,a voice in the back of head noted), ‘Can I come in, Tom?’
Tom looked distinctly uncomfortable.
‘Um… yeah, sure,’ he said finally, ‘It’s a bit a bit of a mess though, I hope you’re okay with that.’
He stepped back and held the door open for her. Jean stepped through the threshold, and scrutinized the room. Despite Tom’s warning, the room was actually quite clean and organized, with a few dirty articles of clothing strewn over the back of a chair the only out of place items she could spot.
She moved forward again, only to slip as her foot had chosen a stray piece of paper as its landing zone. She waved her arms precariously to try and regain her balance, only to be steadied by Tom, who clasped her shoulders from behind.
‘Thanks,’ she threw over her shoulder as she bent to pick up what she had slipped on.
It was a slip of paper, with the words ‘PLAY WITH ME’ scrawled over it in big, childish letters, seemingly written in red paint. She touched it and noticed with a frown it was still slightly wet.
‘Oh, sorry,’ apologized Tom sheepishly, as he reached for a tissue for her to clean her hands, ‘That’s for my …uh…. art project, I must have left one of the drafts on the ground. I should have been more careful, ha ha.’
‘I thought you worked at a glasses store,’ queried Jean in surprise, accepting the tissue.
Tom froze as his face contorted slightly, eyes darting around the room nervously, before replying, ‘It’s complicated,’ in a near whisper.
Sensing it was a sensitive subject; she said nothing and moved further through the apartment. As she opened the door to what she assumed was his bedroom, she heard a strange clicking sound, like the impact of stone on stone.
Curious, she twisted the knob and opened the door. Only to recoil in horror as a flurry of movement coupled with a raucous calling greeted her with the force of a tidal wave. Inside Tom’s bedroom were numerous cages, each occupied with a squawking, flapping, avian resident.
‘Shit,’ snarled Tom, as he pushed her aside (quite rudely as well, she thought) and rushed to each cage, snapping his fingers against each one as he went along. Like magic, as soon as he touched each cage, the whirlwinds of terror inside them calmed down faster than if he had tranquilized them.
Jean pressed one hand against her galloping heart while using the other to support herself on the doorframe. She cats another look around the room to reassure that what she was seeing was real and not simply a byproduct of an overactive imagination. She could see many different types of birds- canaries and finches, sparrows and eagles, seagulls and falcons. But the most obviously predominant species of bird were ravens. Or they might have been crows. Seeing the size of their beaks, Jean concluded that they were ravens… but the point was that there were so many of them- there were like 10 of them in the small bedroom alone!
‘I collect birds,’ supplied Tom, by way of explanation, ‘Just whatever I can pick up off the street or whatever the bird recovery centres will give me.’
‘Where do you keep their food?’ asked Jean, sitting down on his bed.
Tom sat down next to her, and then pointed over in the general direction of the kitchenette.
‘I keep it in the freezer. Freaking smelly stuff too- the birds of prey and the ravens eat carrion, but I just feed them special meat that the butcher gives me. Bloody difficult stuff to use, too.’
There was silence for a few minutes as the pair tried to find conversation. Jean looked around the room in faux interest. Noticing a door with an attached mirror that looked… strange… Jean shifted on the bed to inspect it more clearly. Looking into her reflection, Jean noticed it was tinted slightly yellow. Ignoring this, she continued her scrutiny of the room through the mirror.
‘You have a brother?’ Jean asked suddenly, seeing the faint outline of the boy in the mirror.
‘What? Not that I know of…’ answered Tom.
‘Then who’s… never mind,’ Jean said.
Feeling this was a good place to broach the subject which had been occupying her mind and caused her to come over, she opened her mouth.
‘Hey Tom,’ she murmured without looking at him, ‘Who’s this?’
She raised her phone and flicked her finger across the screen, which changed appropriately to reveal a photo. It was a photo of Tom and another girl- a brunette, very pretty- laughing and enjoying a drink.
‘Madeline?’ said Tom in surprise, ‘Madeline’s my girlfriend!’
‘What?!’ yelled Jean, outraged, ‘I thought I was your girlfriend!!’
Tom looked at her in a puzzled fashion, ‘Well yeah, until last week, you were, but we broke up last Monday!’
‘Why the hell wasn’t I informed?! Did you think you can just break up and not tell me? Are you retarded?!’ Jean snarled, half angry, half sarcastic.
‘What? I wrote you a letter, emailed you, texted you, and I also called you like a million times!’ shouted Tom, starting to get angry.
‘I had exams last week! I needed to study! Don’t you think something as important as a break up requires face-to-face interaction? You cold-blooded asshole!’ Jean retorted, fists clenched into tiny balls at her sides.
Tom’s face went red.
‘I was really busy at the store!’ he roared, ‘Antonio just got a massive bulk order from Mexico or somewhere, and you know how he does it! He makes you handcraft everything! It takes ages! We pulled all-nighters almost everyday that week to stay on schedule!’
Jean glared at him as he trailed off, mumbling something about ‘doors’ and ‘blood’ and ‘paper’. They sat in an uncomfortable, angry silence, each refusing to look at the other. One of the ravens croaked sinisterly, a low, angry sound that pierced the tense silence.
‘Well,’ muttered Tom tersely, ‘That’s that, then, isn’t it? We’ve broken up now, officially, face-to-face.Happy?’
At that moment, Jean snapped. Leaping up, she slammed her knee into his nose with such force that it snapped audibly. She then grabbed him by his throat and shook it viciously as she yelled at him.
‘Fuck you!’ she shrieked, spittle flying out from between her lips and onto his blood smeared face, ‘Fuck you and your goddamn smarmy ways! You think it’s all right now? That’s fucking it? What about me? Did you ever think of me while you were cavorting with that whore? Melanie, was it? Well fuck Melanie, and fuck you too, you ungrateful prick! Do you know how much I cared for you? How much you meant to me? DO YOU?!’
The birds around the room immediately kicked up a racket, wings beating and steel shaking, until the entire apartment was a cacophony of sound. Tom gurgled unintelligently, his hands scrabbling futilely at her own iron-hard grip around his windpipe. His face, going blue, contrasted with the crimson fountain pouring from his nose. It bubbled out from his mouth, as he tried desperately to form words with no air and no teeth. His eyes widened until she could see the little red veins, seemingly getting bigger with every second they were deprived of air.
It was not until about half a minute after Tom died that Jean realized and stopped ranting and throttling him.
With shocked, wide eyes, she stared at her blood soaked hands, taking no notice of the clamor of the birds, and then to the motionless body of her ex-boyfriend, laying prone on his bed, bathed in blood.
‘No, no, no,’ she moaned, ‘This can’t be happening! Why did this happen? Why did I just do that?’
She brushed her bloodied fingertips together and then brought it to her face, as if to check its authenticity. She glanced around the room once more, the leering, enraged faces of the birds jumping out at her like a vivid montage of hatred and accusation, screeching and squawking- a discordant symphony of sound.
Oh god, she thought frantically, I need to get rid of the body. Only last month, she had been arrested for shoplifting, and her mother had raised such fuss, revoking all her privileges, and almost disowning her. Jean was desperate for the situation not to be repeated, with only a month in between.
Half in a daze, she stumbled over to the freezer and yanked the door open. It’s all those damn birds’ fault,she thought, if it weren’t for them making such a din, I would’ve been thinking more clearly. She snatched a bag labeled ‘Raven feed’ and staggered back to where Tom’s corpse lay.
She carefully dropped some of the foul smelling meat onto his neck, before throwing the rest of it back in the freezer. Jean then inched over to the cages scattered around the room. Their tenants screamed at her as she neared, feathers and wings flurrying in the space. As quickly as she could, Jean flipped open the cages and then ran out the door, only pausing at the threshold to see the results of her actions.
It looked like a scene from hell. A pack of all sorts of airborne creatures, a hideous ball of wings and talons and ripping beaks, clustered on top of Tom’s dead body, tearing and shredding at his neck and face.
Excellent, thought Jean as she closed the door, the birds will get rid of my fingerprints, and hopefully the police will think that Tom spilled some meat on himself and those damn birds attacked him because of that!
She smiled grimly as she exited the apartment, taking great care to lock the door behind her as she left.No-one will ever know…
Jean smiled as she walked through the park, whistling a cheerful tune to herself. It had been three days since she had killed Tom, and no one had arrested her yet. The murder had been reported only a couple of hours after it had been committed, with Tom’s roommates, Horace and Wilbur, coming in to find the horrific scene.
She saw a raven perched on a park bench, picking at someone’s discarded lunch. Feeling happy at the world, she reached into her pocket and threw a piece of her sandwich onto the ground in front of it.
Surprisingly, it didn’t immediately jump towards or away from it, instead opting to look at it curiously. It suddenly turned it’s head almost 180˚ around to stare beadily at Jean, it’s abyss-like eyes glaring balefully into her soul. The lunch it had previously been picking at must have had contained tomatoes or flavoured tuna or something, because its beak was stained red.
I know what you did to Tom, the raven seemed to say. I know, because I participated. Suddenly, to Jean, the red coloured beak had an altogether more sinister meaning.
She leapt towards it, and kicked at it, yelling, ‘Get away!’ in anger, kicking up dirt and food as she went along. A few other park goers looked at her strangely, but for the most part ignored her.
The raven flapped in the air, croaking angrily, before suddenly swooping at her, its talons spread wide. Jean screamed as the raven pecked and clawed at her, beating its wings hard against her head.
This torture thankfully only lasted for a few seconds, before a nearby jogger came to chase the bird off.
Ignoring the kind man’s question of if she was all right, Jean instead glared at the retreating bird; her eyes alight with suspicion and fear.
Jean stood in an empty street, the streetlamps flickering eerily, casting sinister shadows that danced over cracked asphalt and concrete. She turned around warily, trying to get her bearings. She had no idea where she was.
A niggling feeling of being watched started to prick at the back of her head, and she spun around again. A sudden cawing caught her attention, as a treeful of ravens took to the sky in a mass of black shapes and blurred edges.
Woosh… woosh… woosh… several other flocks of ravens took the sky, turning the night into a spectral illusion of flickering gloom and wavering light.
The dark airborne shapes then coalesced into a giant mass of darkness, a singular, enormous raven head. Its beak clacked sinisterly, evilly, like the porcelain chink of a blade on a whetstone.
Jean screamed as it bore down on her, but unexpectedly, it did not engulf her in its cavernous mouth- instead, it merely stopped, folded its legs and placed its beak on the ground, as if it was ready to roost and go to sleep. To Jean, it looked like a mountain had just materialized in the middle of a street, leaving her with nowhere to go but ‘back’.
Suddenly, the raven’s beak opened and out of that lightless void dropped a body. A very familiar body.
Tom stood up and cracked his neck, his fingers brushing through his messy hair.
‘Heya, babe,’ he grinned, ‘Did ya miss me?’
Jean stared in shock, one hand covering her mouth as she struggled to comprehend the sight that met her eyes.
‘You… You should be dead!’ she stuttered, ‘I killed you! The birds… the damn birds pecked out your damn neck! I fucking saw it!’
Tom, who had been walking towards her with his arms outstretched, as if he was going to give her a hug, stopped and tilted his head in confusion. He closed his eyes briefly and when he reopened them, they gleamed with an enigmatic, maniacal light.
‘Yes,’ agreed Tom smiling with a strange intent in his expression, ‘You did. You killed me, Jean. You killedme. I died. My beloved birds partook of my life because of you, and through my birds, I will live again, and I will have my revenge, on you.’
As Tom spoke each sentence, he took an extra step forward, until he was right in Jean’s face, prodding at her chest with every punctuated point. She could smell a rank odour on his breath, but despite the terror and disbelief she felt, she couldn’t bring herself to step back, couldn’t bring herself to move away from this vengeful apparition yelling in her face.
‘Yes,’ continued Tom, ‘My birds and I…. we are one.’
He gestured upwards with a dramatic gesture, and 16 jet-black raven wings exploded out if his back. Jean fell back with a cry, surprised at the unexpected movement, only just managing to catch herself with her hands and avoid being injured by the curb.
Tom turned his head to look at her, and Jean shrieked in fear and horror. The once-pristine, tanned flesh had been horribly mangled. Bloody chunks of flesh, stark under the now steady moonlight, lay carved on his face, large pyramidal divots pecked out across his face and head. His once playfully wavy hair sat on his skull, matted with blood and even wrenched out in places. One eyeball hung next to his cheek on a macabre optic fibre. The other span around senselessly, the pupil viciously removed. Dull white bone shone through in especially brutal lacerations.
Even as Jean watched, a massively curved, cruel beak emerged from where his nose had been, and black feathers started to sprout up over his head.
With a large jump, the anthropomorphic raven leapt up and landed on Jean’s shoulders, pinning her down with only its feet. It crouched down, much like a bird does after landing on a branch, and leaned down to glare at her. Jean stared, petrified, into the beady black orb, dimly noticing that there was a spark of intelligence in there, but being too scared to try and make a plea for her life.
The raven clicked its beak, and then opened it in an impossibly wide smile.
Jean woke with a start, cold sweat adorning her brow. Thank god it was just a dream, she thought with relief. She sat up, flicking on the bedside lamp and regarding the familiar surroundings with reassurance.
Thinking over the events of the dream, Jean shivered and shrugged her shoulders. I’m being stupid, she thought, dead people don’t come back to life, and birds are just dumb animals. I’m safe. The police have no leads, and I just need to get back into the flow of things. I’m just a little shell-shocked, right now. It’s my first time killing someone, after all.
For some reason, this last thought brought on an overwhelming desire to laugh. Jean did her best to stifle the emotion, but let out a few chuckles anyway. Suddenly feeling slightly suffocated, being wrapped up in her blankets like a caterpillar as she was, in a stuffy room on a warm summer’s night, Jean stood up (disentangling herself from the intricate web of blankets first) and walked over the window, with the intention of letting some fresh air in.
With a click, the window snapped open, and Jean leaned out, her eyes closed and enjoying the fresh scent of the night and the refreshing wind on her sweat-covered body.
But as she leant out further, she recoiled in shock as her face met something soft, something feathery.Dreading what she was going to find, Jean opened a single eye, looking straight into the corresponding ringed eye of a Great Horned Owl.
‘Hoot,’ it tooted softly.
Jean relaxed and retreated back into the warmth of her comforting room.
Eyes wide, Jean rushed back to the window and threw it open again. Surrounding the house were hundreds, no thousands, of different breeds and types of birds, sitting on fences, on roofs, on electrical wires, on tree branches.
Everywhere Jean looked, there were birds, all watching her. All waiting for an opportunity to avenge the murder of their friend. All silent witnesses to a crime, all impassive executioners waiting to strike.
Panicking, she ran from her room and straight to her mother’s.
‘Mum, mum!’ she cried in terror.
‘Mmm… what, Jeanie?’ mumbled her mother drowsily.
‘There’s a bunch of birds outside the house! There are thousands of them, and they’re everywhere!’
‘You’re not a little girl anymore, Jeanie. Birds always do that. They find places to roost and stay there all night. Go back to bed. The nasty birds won’t hurt you.’
Jean shook her head in exasperation, but steeled her nerves in iron-hard determination. These damned birds, she thought, they won’t leave me alone. It’s Tom’s fault, too. That smug bastard. I bet he’s laughing at me from hell. Well, fuck him. I’m not going to let him win. Him and all his goddamn airborne rats.
Jean strode over to the locked chest in her mother’s bedroom, quickly opened it, already knowing the combination lock. Sliding back the lid, she grinned in satisfaction as she spied the mother lode of treasures hiding within.
Jean’s father had been a weapon’s manufacturer, and had stored a cache of his finest in his own home, as a last-ditch security measure.
Now, Jean, his daughter, intended to put them to good use.
Jean stepped out of the house, clad only in a thin nightgown and wearing a cool look of determination and desperation, in perhaps equal measures. In her hands she held a machine-gun (which model, she wasn’t quite sure), and at her feet lay a box of grenades and explosives.
She grinned viciously and waved the gun around at the emotionlessly watching birds, yelling, ‘COME AT ME, YOU GODDAMN FUCKING BIRDS! EVEN IF I KILLED THAT BASTARD, DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN FUCKING WALTZ INTO MY LIFE, AND RUIN IT! EAT LEAD, SUCKERS!’
Jean pulled the trigger.
Damn, thought Jean, half in a daze, forgot to flick the safety lever. I think I just screwed up that dramatic moment pretty bad.
With a raucous cawing that was as undeniable as the roar of the ocean, a wave of bodies came rushing at her all at once, an unstoppable force of nature.
‘I knew it,’ breathed Jean, ‘You did something, Tom, I know it. You brainwashed the birds, didn’t you? You cursed me. But I’ll go down fighting. You’ll never take me ALIVE!’
Finally disengaging the safety lever, Jean lifted the surprisingly heavy piece of metal and yanked on the trigger, letting loose a rapid spray of bullets. Unfortunately, she wasn’t quite prepared for the recoil, which skewed her aim quite severely. As a result, bullets went everywhere from into nearby residences, into the ground, or into the incoming mob of animals.
Grinning as she saw a few birds fall from her deadly spray of bullets, Jean tightly depressed the trigger, spinning in a manic circle; the metal orbs pouring down like a lethal rain.
But her aim was terrible.
She managed to hit more houses and cars than birds (which was quite hard considering the sheer size of the bird attack force) and this added screams and the wails of car sirens to the din of the regular machinegun rattle of gunfire. This is your requiem, Tom, she hissed in her head, adding her own demented squeal to the cacophony.
Then the birds were upon her. Ripping claws and stabbing beaks, the bludgeoning wings and blinding feathers, the birds were merciless as they mutilated the girl. Despite the vast numbers of them that fell from the point-blank bullets, their numbers were not affected in the slightest.
‘AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!’ screamed Jean through a mouthful of blood and a haze of red.
The inevitable had happened. One of Jean’s haphazardly aimed bullets had ricocheted off the ground and buried itself in her belly. The red-hot pain felt like it was carving itself deeper and deeper into her stomach the longer she endured it. And all while this was happening, the birds ripped and tore at her body, butchering and mauling her. Her dress was now only a mess of bloody rags and her hair was a carpet of red.
But even through the pain and terror, Jean finally smiled. She lifted her left arm from where it had been shielding her face from the vicious bird attack, and brought it down on the crate of explosives she had brought.
Her left hand held a lighter, and as the flame met the crate, she laughed.
‘JOKES ON YOU, TOM!!!!!!!’ she shrieked into the unforgiving night.
The world let up in a blinding flash of red and white, followed closely by the thunderous boom of displaced matter.
‘So,’ asked the butcher’s assistant, ‘What did the policeman give you? A dead body for you to mince up and give to the pie lady?’
The butcher gave a hearty laugh.
‘No, son,’ he replied, ‘Apparently, some guy died, and they found a bunch of ‘faux carrion’ in his freezer. They gave it to me, because you can’t eat it yourself. It’s been made especially to give to animals- scavengers, you know, like hyenas and vultures and stuff. There’s all kinds of nasty stuff in there, like offal and eyeballs and shit. Birds love it, especially. They’ll flock from miles around to get a bit of this. Surprisingly, it doesn’t smell very bad, but birds seem to have a sixth sense for it- they just know when you’ve faux carrion, or touched it, or something.’
He took a moment to take a breath before continuing.
‘Listen closely, now, son, because this is important. If you want to be a butcher, then you’ve got to know how to handle faux carrion. Now, birds love this stuff so much that they’ll be extremely vicious in order to get even a nibble. So, if you ever make faux carrion, with your leftover offal and eyeballs and stuff, you need to be able to get rid of your scent, or birds’ll flock towards you like women to a 20% off sale on clothes. Thing is, faux carrion is a little like skunk juice- you can’t get it off with water alone, son. The secret is … coke. If you get a bottle of coca-cola, and wash your hands in it, then you’ll be scot-free and won’t have to worry about no bird attacks, hey? But never forget, because if you leave the scent on your skin for too long, it’s start to fester and intensify, and then you’ll be neck deep in birdshit, no matter how many times you shower! Ha ha ha!’
Throughout the piece, primarily at the start, I have included a couple of references to another of my short stories, The Door. It can be found on the Competition Writing Blog athttps://unicornexpressmhs.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/the-door/
The reason for this was that because of the time restraints that I was under when writing The Birds, I did not really have enough time to conjure up a plausible enough character with a credible back-story, so I simply used one from my other story. I placed The Birds into the same universe as The Door, in other words. Despite this devious bit of trickery, reading The Door is not needed to comprehend The Birds.
It was quite graphic and vivid in regards to imagery and description, as well as having quite strong language and vocabulary. In particular, it is aimed at older teens and young adults. At first I was a little leery about using such strong language on a submitted piece of work, but my considered alternatives lacked the emotion I was trying to convey. And without the appropriate emotion driving their action, the main character lacked a sufficient motive to commit the crime, which leads to the amount of guilt featured in the piece.
Hope you enjoy
Kevin Tang 10F