This week's [fiction friday] challenge is: Include a telepathic parrot in your story . . .
Charlie fumbled for his keys in the dim light coming from the street lamp. In his left hand, he tried to balance his coffee while gripping the tattered handles of his cloth shopping bags.
“There you are,” he said as his fingers finally grasped the tangle of keys in the pocket of his khaki cargos. Teetering a little, he steadied his coffee with his chin as the bags of supplies flopped against his chest. He managed to get the key in the lock, turn it, and pull open the heavy glass door. The bell tinkled above his head, beginning a flurry of flapping wings. Charlie maneuvered down the dark aisle, finally set his load down on the counter next to the register, and hit the light switch on the wall behind him.
Charlie tried to get in by six each morning to have time to wake the birds and take care of the nitty gritty details before opening shop at seven. On the side wall, the cuckoo clock’s minute hand was already at the nine and the hour hand was dangerously close to the seven mark. His expression soured and he involuntarily squinched his heavy brows together. He ran a hand through his thick, black hair and shook his head. His birds had already begun to stir. He could hear the canaries rustling beneath their coverings and the new bird that had come in last night’s delivery was making enough racket to rouse the rest of his sleeping pets.
Charlie walked through his morning routine, methodically removing the covering from each cage. He started with the canaries and then the parakeets, whose heads were still tucked into their wings. He pulled the dark cover off of the toucan’s cage with a flourish and the old bird squawked out a protest. As he made his way to the back corner, the racket coming from the new parrot’s cage got louder and louder. Charlie softened his steps as he approached, not wanting to scare the poor thing. Odd, he thought when he realized that the other birds had suddenly become silent. He stopped beside the parrot’s cage and slowly gripped the edge of the rust-colored cloth. Not wanting to shock his new pet, he tugged gently on the cloth. It didn’t budge. Charlie leaned around the side of the cage to see where the cloth might be catching. “Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” Charlie jumped at the sound of the clock and nearly tipped over the cockatiel cage behind him. He reached out to steady himself and the cage. Leaning against the wall, he couldn’t help but chuckle at himself as the clock finished up its seventh chime. He reached behind the parrot’s cage once again, found the snag, and finished pulling the covering from the cage.
“Well, what’s with all this flapping and rousing about, N’kisi?” Charlie said. “You might as well calm it down and get used to your new home, at least for now.”
N’kisi cocked her grey head and seemed to look right into Charlie with her beady, black eyes. Charlie shook off a shudder. He held up the covering and noticed a name stamped at the edge of cloth. “R. SHELDRAKE” it read. Charlie cocked his head and folded the covering before placing it on the shelf behind N’kisi’s cage. Charlie walked to the front of the store and plugged in the neon sign reading, “Birds of a Feather.” It hummed to life and flickered before coming to a steady green glow. He started to turn the lock on the door and realized it was already unlatched. I’m sure I locked that behind me when I came in, he thought, guess not. Better get these babies fed.
Charlie decided to start with his newest find: N’kisi, a Congo African Grey Parrot. She was a real steal. Charlie didn’t usually go through Craig’s List to stock his birds, but last week, an email had shown up in his inbox: “5 yr old female african grey $100.” He thought it was weird at the time, considering that he didn’t even subscribe to Craig’s List or any other email notification list. The price was too tempting to ignore. After a few phone calls, a quick PayPal transaction, and a few other minor details, Charlie’s $1800 African Grey was on its way. When the delivery truck showed up yesterday evening just before close, Charlie couldn’t believe his luck at scoring the new pet for just a hundred bucks. He was about to lock up, so he had cleared a spot for N’kisi in the back corner and didn’t even stop to remove the travel covering from its cage.
Now that N’kisi was good and awake, Charlie took a few minutes to inspect her. Her head was a good color. Striped shades of grey ran from her beak to her wings, a soft circle of white surrounded her eyes, and her wings fanned into a darker shade of grey. Her belly was a muddy white hue. The darkest grey was on her tail, which ended with a smear of bright red feathers. Charlie placed a new feed bowl and water bottle in her cage and started feeding the rest of the birds in his shop.
Charlie was up front finishing up with the canaries, when he heard a loud, “Cuckoo!” Charlie looked around for the culprit. “Well, looks like you’re a talker, N’kisi,” Charlie said, “I was hoping your last owner gave you a little training.” Charlie walked down the side aisle and caught a glimpse of N’kisi pecking away at her food bowl. “Cuckoo!” The call rang through the small shop. Charlie looked at the clock. It read 7:20. So the clock’s not chiming and that definitely wasn’t N’kisi, he thought. She couldn’t do that with a beak full of mango. None of the other birds did much in the way of speaking, but Charlie decided to make a pass of the entire place just to make sure. As he circled the shop, “Cuckoo!” rang out three more times. Frustrated at his inability to pin down the culprit, Charlie returned to N’kisi’s cage.
N’kisi stared right into Charlie’s eyes. Charlie stared right back. This staring contest continued for a full five minutes. The cuckooing had subsided and Charlie was just about to give up and get to work on the books when he heard a distinct voice.
“Who are you?” the voice said.
Charlie started, but refused to take his eyes from N’kisi’s. He knew the shop was empty. He hadn’t heard the tinkle of the bell since he opened this morning. Skeptical, Charlie remained silent, but his mind raced. Was his mind playing tricks on him? Was he even hearing a voice or was this some figment of his overactive imagination?
“Who are you?” the voice squawked again.
“Charlie,” he tentatively answered.
“Where is this?”
“My little shop,” Charlie said.
“I will require more mango. Orange fruit, sir. Orange fruit.”
Charlie walked as in a trance into the backroom. He opened the small fridge and grabbed the mango chunks. He brought them to N’kisi, unlatched the cage door, and set the bowl inside.
“Yes, now wait,” the voice said.
Charlie stood, staring at N’kisi in her open cage, unable to move of his own free will. He watched in silence as N’kisi polished off the mango.
“Open,” ordered the voice.
Charlie slowly walked to the front entrance and pushed open the heavy, glass door. He stood, back propped against the door. He could hear wings flapping. N’kisi was circling the shop, looking down on the other pets. She made one more pass around the store before flying towards the door. Charlie stood, helplessly watching his prize near the exit. N’kisi flew out the open door, up into the early light of the dawn, and circled the street lamp before landing on Charlie’s shoulder.
“Good boy,” the voice said as if talking to a small child or well-behaved pet. N’kisi lifted her talons from Charlie’s shoulder and flew towards the overgrown lot across the street. Charlie stood, holding the door open, and watched as the bird grew smaller and smaller. Soon she was merely a grey dot disappearing into the pink clouds of the dawn.