Dead birds, p.1
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       Dead Birds, p.1
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           Chad Inglis
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Dead Birds
Dead Birds (A Newt Run Module)

  By Chad Inglis

  Copyright 2012 Chad Inglis

  He found the first bird in an alley, half-buried in the snow next to a dumpster. He was drunk, and bored, but the sight of what had been done to it cut through both of those, leaving him hollow; the bird's head was torn off at the neck, and its breast feathers and wings were covered in dark, matted blood.

  For a moment he thought it wasn't real, that it was just some plastic toy or wax replica, but no one would make a toy of a headless pigeon. Besides, the blood was real, he knew that much, and so were the torn veins and the bones showing at the wound. Those were very real, and looking at them his insides began to twist until all at once he threw up what little he had in his stomach and began to back away.

  He didn't know why the sight had upset him so badly. In his time he'd seen much worse, but there was something about the bird that shook him. Looking at it was like staring into a pit, a dark, formless hole, and all he wanted was to get away from it. He left the alley and turned onto the street, trying to lose himself in the crowd and the sound of traffic and flood of neon, but all of it was dulled for him, and he felt he might as well be walking in a dream.

  "My name is John Hollister and I've been on the street off and on 5 years now," he says. "Was in a program for a while, but I couldn't keep it up. Fact is I like drinking. It's as simple as that. Them at the center say it's going to kill me, but as far as I'm concerned that's no big waste. We all gotta die of something. But I guess finding that bird had an effect. Sobered me up some, maybe. I started asking myself who'd do a thing like that, and what for. I know, who gives a shit about pigeons right? Well I didn't either, until I found out that I did. Sometimes life is like that."

  He was leaning against the railing halfway across 3rd Bridge, smoking. When he was done he flicked the butt away and watched it disappear in the sluggish, icy water. Not far away, caught in a clump of trash floating downstream, was another dead bird. Its head had been removed at the neck, and one of its feet was missing. Seeing it, a sharp, metallic shiver passed through Hollister, and as the bird slipped beneath the bridge, he turned and darted across the road to the opposite railing. A second later the bird and the knot of garbage emerged, but Hollister stayed where he was, staring, until it was out of sight.

  The next week, stumbling into an alley to piss, he saw his first ring; in his haste to relieve himself he hadn't noticed it, but now it held him, a perfect circle painted on the wall in blood. He stepped back, nearly stumbling as his heel caught something on the ground behind him. He bent down, blinking through a haze of cheap wine, and discovered the bird. Like the others, its head was torn off, and he realized then that the ring had been painted in its blood. The thought struck him as absurd, and he laughed once, thickly, before his stomach turned over and he had to repress an urge to vomit.

  He thought he should bury the bird, but it didn't seem right without its head. He spent some time groping around on his hands and knees, and at last he across the head in a nearby trash can, as if the killer made a point to clean up after himself, but had forgotten the body, or didn't think it was worth throwing out. The bird's head was small and very soft, and nearly weightless in his hand. Hollister took it and the body with him when he left the alley and buried it in the park on Felt Street. From there he went to the shelter and found an open cot, where he lay awake for a long time, staring at the gray expanse of ceiling, and the faint, blue/white after-image of a ring that hovered in the air above him wherever he pointed his eyes.

  He spent the following afternoon walking in the alleys behind the central station. The day after that he patrolled Nascent Street, and the tight confine of back entrances and parking garages in the banking district, but it wasn't until the third day that he saw another ring, scrawled on the side of a two storey home near 4th Bridge. He looked everywhere for the bird or birds that had been killed to paint it, but all he found was a single feather lying in the gutter half a block away that he wasn't even sure belonged to a pigeon.

  Over the next few weeks he spent the greater part of each day combing the town for rings. Sometimes, finding one, he might also come across a bird, or a part of a bird, but not always. There was no pattern that he could see, no sense in any of it. Some of the sites, like the one near 4th Bridge, were clean, as if a team of forensic experts had been contracted to remove any trace of what had been done, while at others the evidence was everywhere: trails of loose feathers or a spattering of yellowish shit on the snow, a body or maybe a head, its black on red eyes like thin soap bubbles, already deflating. Hollister never found anything that might lead him to the person responsible, but it was clear (to him at least) that whoever was killing the birds was someone who'd spent time on the streets; they knew the alleys too well, the entrances to the unnamed spaces between buildings, and the iron-grilled stairwells that could be scaled, at night, to roofs where thin columns of steam rose from faulty pipes and the only views were those that overlooked the back of apartment complexes, other roofs, further alleys.

  He canvassed the people in the central station, mostly men, who lived in shelters built of cardboard, or else dozed in sleeping bags while all around them swarmed the morning commute and the sound of leather shoes pounded the linoleum like a hard fall of rain. He asked the men he met at the shelter and the staff members there, and any panhandlers he came across on his daily walks, scouring the streets for a killer that no one but him seemed to care about, or even wanted to acknowledge; people were reluctant to talk about the rings, and if they did they usually blamed them on stoned teenagers, or conceptual artists with too much time on their hands. One man, a graying former soldier he met in a park, told Hollister that it was all just a marketing stunt.

  "You'll see," he said. "In a few months they'll be on billboards, hocking shoes."

  "I don't think so," said Hollister. The man shrugged.

  "You're really worried about it you should talk to Maria."

  "Maria who?" asked Hollister, lighting a cigarette.

  "Who knows?" said the man. "Just Maria. You never been to talk to her?"

  "Should I been?"

  The other man shook his head.

  "Not unless you were looking for something. She lives up in a shack by the river, just before Last Bridge. Ask her."

  "Yeah? How's she gonna know better than anyone else?"

  "She has a way," said the man. "You think I could get one of those cigarettes off you?"

  Hollister handed him the pack, and they smoked in silence until they day grew too cold and they left the park, heading in opposite directions.

  The next morning he woke up early and walked to Last Bridge. He had no trouble finding the place, a small shack built of plywood with a sheet of blue tarp for a roof. There was another, nearly identical structure on the opposite side of the river, and a third, a little smaller than the first, crammed into the narrow gap where a concrete embankment met the underside of the bridge. Hollister had no way of knowing which of the three Maria lived in, and chose to try at the first one only because it was the closest.

  A crow was perched on the shack's roof. It watched him approach and only hopped away once he reached the door, taking to the air in an indifferent flutter of wings. Hollister knocked, feeling stupid, and wishing that he'd brought something to drink.

  "Come in," said a woman's voice, very muffled, as if her mouth was full or the walls were much thicker than they looked. Hollister opened the door, and ducked his head under the low roof.

  There was almost nowhere for him to move: the interior of the shack was packed with bundled stacks of paper and plastic bags filled with what looked like garbage. There were dozens of chipped and mismatching dishes and cooking utensils, butcher knives, a broken clock radio and something t
hat might have been the hollowed-out interior of an air conditioner. There was barely room to stand, and the smell, of mould and damp paper and unwashed skin, nearly sent Hollister reeling from the door.

  A thin laugh stopped him, and an old woman emerged from the room's dim corner. She was much older than he'd expected, older than a homeless woman living alone had any right to be. She was dressed in layers, a large black coat with fraying cuffs and a brown woolen cardigan with at least two t-shirts underneath it. Her hair, a dark, smoky gray, was piled in a loose coil at the back of her head.

  She sat down on a garbage bag and smiled, the skin of her forehead creasing.

  "Was expecting someone but wasn't expecting you," she said, rocking herself back and forth with her thin arms around her knees.

  "Sorry."

  "You sit down," she continued, and taking it as an invitation Hollister cleared a space and sat down on a stack of old newspapers, which caused the old woman to laugh. She swayed slightly, looking at him, waiting.

  "I came about the rings," he said, and the old woman nodded.

  "Yes," she said, waving a small hand in front of her face. "I see them, time to time, in the cracks, but also once when I was walking, not far from here. You can
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