The Bird Keeper

This is an old piece of work from about seven years ago that I recently stumbled upon.  Was interesting to come at one of my stories with fresh eyes.  There’s plenty of my trademark flaws – overly long sentences and paragraphs, dull descriptions and typos aplenty (I haven’t bothered to fix any, I wanted to leave it as is).  There’s also, I feel, a very tight, growing tension such that it’s almost a relief when things start kicking off at the end.  Also a very similar theme to Hitchcock’s “The Birds” (which I hadn’t seen at the time of writing this).  The last line is unforgivably corny and I apologise in advance.

The Bird Keeper

Another curtain twitched at the window across the way, all the nosey old dears were taking a peak at their new, young neighbours. They were a young couple moving into a neighbourhood populated mostly with the elderly and the retired but the house had been so cheap and with their budget they couldn’t refuse. 41 Colton Road had sat empty for several years, getting cheaper and cheaper as the layers of dust and the overpowering odour of must and damp grew thicker. The first thing Diane planned to do once they were in was spray every room with her deodorant to try and cover up that awful smell until they were settled. The estate agent had told them it was a common thing in houses that had sat empty for long periods of time, once they’d got all they’re furniture and clothes in and had lived in it for a week or two they’re own odours and scents would soon get rid of it. But first of all they had to get all of their furniture in and Nic had refused to pay for a moving company saying it would be a lot cheaper just to hire a van and move it all themselves but as they struggled to fit their new, second-hand sofa through the front door, Diane was starting to wished they’d just paid someone else to do the sweating for them. Finally once they’d managed to get it in and through the hall they dumped it in a corner of the living room and both collapsed onto it, exhausted. While they caught their breath, they looked around at the faded carpets and the drab, grey walls – Nic saw a dreary, box of a house – Diane saw opportunity after opportunity to put their own mark on the house and make it their home. They could paint the living room a nice, warm red with a soft, deep-pile carpet, the bathroom would be filled with a luxury cream colour and the bedroom striped with royal blue and a deep, rich purple with paintings on the walls and long, fancy curtains like you got in posh hotels on television. Yes, this bare skeleton of a house that had been empty for so long would soon be filled with colour and life again – just as soon as they had the money to do it.

“Well” said Nic “This is it.”

“Our new home,” replied Diane “I’m so happy” and gave him a big kiss.

While Diane set about emptying cardboard boxes and placing the contents in exactly the right places, Nic turned his attention to the back garden. The tiles were cracked and dirty; the lawn almost reached knee height with uncut grass and weeds. At the far end there was a large, rusting birdcage attached to a shed, maybe the previous owner had kept pigeons or perhaps something more exotic, Nic didn’t know much about birds but judging by the size of the cage, he must have kept a lot. On all three sides stood, a thick, towering hedge that badly needed trimming and cast most of the garden into permanent shadow. He didn’t think they’d be spending much time out here but he would sort it out anyway, it would keep him busy until they had enough cash to start on Diane’s extravagant plans for the inside of the once council-owned house. He thought, perhaps, there might be a lawn mower hidden inside the old shed and so he waded across the lawn and creaked open the door into the birdcage. Inside there was more than enough room for him to stand upright and stretch his arms, the concrete floor was stained with countless years worth of bird droppings. The shed, it turned out had been used for keeping birds in as well, going by the droppings and feathers inside it. There was no lawn mower and the only thing in the shed other than some wooden shelves, presumably for the birds to nest on was an old, rotting desk, pushed up against one wall, it’s drawers still full of hammers, nails, wires and the usual tools and bits and bobs. Oh well, it was just something else he would have to fork out on.

She had tried opening all the windows, spraying deodorant, putting those plug-in scent-spreaders in every room and even frying up a whole lot of bacon on the electric stove in the kitchen but the smell was still there. It was in every room and if she breathed too deeply it made her feel nauseous, it reminded her of something though she couldn’t quite think what. It was a horrible, organic smell like when she’d come back from holiday and opened her fridge full of, by then, out of date food and fruit, that she’d forgotten about – Nic had had to clean that out for her. It was starting to get dark outside now and she’d only managed to empty about half of the boxes, there wasn’t any real rush but the place still didn’t feel like it was theirs yet. She missed being at home with her mum and dad, she’d only lived in two houses all her life and always with her parents. This was her first time striking out alone and to be honest, she was a little scared. She’d snapped at Nic earlier because he didn’t know which drawers the clothes had to be put in so he’d gone outside to see what he could make of the garden. He’d come back in soon and she’d make it up to him and then make dinner, bacon rolls.

Nic lay sound asleep beside her, he’d been out for hours but she just couldn’t drift off. The room was so dark and that awful smell was still hanging in the air, she tried pulling the covers over her head but then she got too hot and couldn’t breath so had to pull them back down again. She thought about going downstairs and doing some more unpacking down there but she’d didn’t fancy being alone by herself in the middle of the night, not here, not yet. As she lay there on her side, she started to wonder about who had lived in the house before them, probably another old dear like all the others round here. Maybe they’d died and that’s why no one had wanted to move into the house after them and that was why it had taken so long to sell, or maybe it had just been the smell. Maybe the estate agent had lied to them and really the smell wouldn’t go away and that was why no one had wanted to move into the house. Just then something flashed across the window outside, a dark shape into front of the dim glow from the streetlights. It made her heart beat a little faster but it probably just a bird she told herself. Or bats. Bats, urgh. She’d turned over and wrapped her arms around Nic’s warm body and lay there till she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer.

The next day Nic had to start back at work despite her pleading with him not to get up, so she had the house to herself for the day. The smell wasn’t as bad today – still there, but at least she was getting a little used to it, not that she could ever getting completely used to it that was, but at least she wasn’t feeling as dizzy anymore. She’d nearly unpacked all of the boxes and was doing the dishes in the kitchen when she heard something upstairs. At first she thought it was just one of the boxes falling over but then a few minutes later she heard it again. It sounded like a bird flapping around. Maybe she had left a window open. She dried her hands on the dishcloth and started up the stairs.

“Hello?” she called and then thought, it’s a bird – it doesn’t understand, stupid.

At the landing at the top of the stairs she listened and thought she heard the noise coming from their bedroom but when she went in their was nothing their and then she heard the flapping coming from the currently empty room. She slowly opened the door and peered in, they didn’t have enough light bulbs to put one in this room yet so it was pretty dark inside. She stared for a moment or two longer and decided that the room was empty; it must have been birds flying around outside or on the roof. She finished the dishes and then put her feet up and watched TV until Nic came home. She reminded him they needed another light bulb and he said he’d pick some up on the way home the next day.

That night Diane was so exhausted she fell fast asleep almost straight away. But at about three o’clock she awoke with a start, something had woken her up but what was it? She looked around her groggishly and then she heard, the flapping of wings. Wings flapping in their room. She let out a little scream and fumbling for the lamp on the bedside table knocked it off. The noise of smashing glass woke up Nic.

“What is it?” he said sitting up but still half asleep.

“There’s – there’s a bat in the room!” she said cuddling up to him.

“A bat?”

“Or a bird, or something – I don’t know!”

“Hang on,” said Nic getting up and in the dark he crossed over the room and turned on the room light. In the sudden brightness and after a quick inspection by Nic it was clear that there wasn’t a bat, or a bird or anything in the room.

“It’s probably just something outside” said Nic “We’d better get that glass cleaned up else one of us will stand on it.”

“Look I’ll do it,” said Diane now out of bed and going to the door “I’m sorry, you just go back to bed.”
Diane opened the bedroom door and then let out a scream as a black bird darted into the room from the dark hall, just missing her face and then fluttered around the room wildly.

“Get it out!” shrieked Diane, exhausted and on edge “Just get it out the room!”

Nic acted quickly and managed to open one of the bedroom windows and shooed the bird out into the cold night air and shut the window behind it before rushing to wrap his arms around Diane who had now collapsed onto her knees and was in tears. It took ten minutes and the promise that he wouldn’t go to work tomorrow before he managed to calm her down.

“How did it get in?” she asked, her eyes still watery.

“I don’t know, there must be a window open somewhere,” he said getting up “I’ll go find out.”

“No don’t leave me” pleaded Diane “I’ll come with you.”

So they stepped into the hall and after Nic turned on all the lights upstairs (except the spare room which he had to check in the dark) they checked all of the windows only to find them all firmly shut. So they continued down the staircase and again after turning on all the lights, they checked all the windows, they too were all shut tight. The last place they checked was the kitchen and there they found the back door open, swaying gently in the breeze. One of them mustn’t have closed it properly. Nic closed it, making sure it was shut properly and locked it, had it not been so dark outside he might have noticed that the door to the birdcage was open as well.

They slept with the bedroom light on and in the morning they had a good, long lie. Nic had phoned in sick to his work, it was like in the old days when they would both pull a sickie at work and spend the entire day together, maybe go for a drive or something. Today they drove to the local hardware superstore and wandered among the paint aisles looking at Windsor Reds and Pacific Blues till finally Diane found just the right colour for the living room. They couldn’t really afford it yet but Diane needed something to perk her up, the whole moving to a new house and being away from her mum and dad and taken quite a toll on her. She was smiling again by the time they’d had lunch and got back home. They started straight away, Diane not even bothering to put on some old clothes before ripping the lid of her beautiful new Dark Nevada Red. It was tiring work but rewarding, by 10 o’clock they finished all four of the living room walls and Nic had to admit, the place did look a hell of a lot better with a good lick of paint on it. After some cheese on toast they both snuggled up together and watched TV till they both drifted off right there.

Nic was in the middle of having a great dream when he felt a tapping on his arm. He tried to keep dreaming but the tapping kept happening.

“Nic!” Diane hissed “Nic!”

Nic opened his eyes, Diane sounded petrified and indeed she was frozen, her arm still round his shoulders but her face was pale and her eyes fixed straight ahead of her. Nic followed her gaze to the TV which they’d left on, it was now just showing static but then he noticed a raven or maybe it was a rook perched on the top of the set. Not again he thought, sure it was a little freaky when birds appeared in your house but at the end of the day they were just – Nic stopped short as the bird turned his head and he saw that most of the right side of it’s head was missing with just bare skull showing and then pale, white bones protruded from it’s wing. How could that bird still be alive let alone sitting there so calmly staring at them? It was unnatural. And then the flapping started, coming from behind them. Not just the flapping of one bird this time but the terrifying beat of hundreds of birds’ wings like some kind of awful tribal drums. The beat got louder and faster as it pasted over them and soon it was all around them, it was as if the house was full of hundreds of birds flapping around and yet there was nothing there, just that raven sitting there, it’s beady eye gazing at them. Diane was shaking terribly in his arms, his heart felt like it wanted to burst out of his chest. What the hell was going on? Diane was sobbing now. The noise was getting so loud that it was deafening. This wasn’t real, it couldn’t be real. They both sat there clutching each for what seemed a lifetime before Nic’s instincts took over; he grabbed Diane and stood them both up. He looked into her terrified eyes, full of tears.

“Listen to me!” he shouted, “Listen, this isn’t happening!”

“What?!” she shouted back.

“It isn’t real!”

“Well then this is one pisser of a nightmare!” she yelled.

“No, I mean the noise and the bird, they aren’t real! I can’t explain it, it just can’t be real!”

“Explain that then.” said Diane pointing in newfound horror.

Nic looked around and saw, several dark shapes evenly spread out on the wall behind him; he looked around and saw that they had appeared on all of the walls now. They were birds, birds stuck somehow on the walls. What the hell was going on? And then Diane started to scream; it seemed loud and piercing even with that din of the demonic beating. And then the birds on the walls started to move, they all flapped their wings around madly, trying to get off from the walls but they couldn’t because each one had a nail hammered through its’ chest and into the wall. What the hell was going on?

“Oh God Nic” sobbed Diane “They’re in the walls. They’re in the walls and the floor and the ceiling, they’re everywhere!”

“You’re right!” shouted Nic suddenly realising.

He looked around for something heavy and grabbed a large pot of paint, still almost full. He swung it back behind him and then forwards, slamming it into the wall in front of them, cracking the new paint and the plaster beneath it.

“Don’t!” shouted Diane behind him “You’ll let them out!”

And then the raven, that had until then been sitting quietly on the TV, started to squawk loudly. Nick turned and swung the paint pot at it, but it took flight and he missed it, knocking the TV over onto it’s side. The bird started to fly around in circles above his head, still squawking insanely. Nic turned back to the wall and swung the pot at the same place, the plaster cracked a lot more this time, leaving a large dent in the wall. He swung again and again till he broke a whole through the thick plaster. He dropped the pot and started to pull away at the plaster with his bare hands, ripping a larger hole in the wall. And then bird feathers started to tumble out from the wall, as he ripped more, the decomposing bodies of dead birds started to roll out from the wall. Diane understanding at last what was happening joined in and as the two of them ripped like animals at the wall, more and more rotting feathers and dead birds fell from the wall. They saw robins, canaries, magpies, larks, pigeons, owls and more. And with every chunk they tore from the wall the quieter grew that infernal beating of wings until finally when they had ripped open almost half of the wall, the noise stopped altogether and the raven that had been flying around them seemed to turn into nothing but feathers, which then floated gently down to the ground, the same happened with the birds that had been nailed to the walls. Suddenly it seemed deadly quite and all they could hear was the hiss of static from the TV and the panting of their own breathes. They looked around them, the floor around their feet was covered with the horrible contents of the wall and they could see there was still more inside. It seemed as if a second plaster wall had been built in front of the actual brick wall, leaving a hollow space between the two, now filled with dead birds.

“I don’t understand,” whispered Diane finally “How did they all get here?”

“I don’t know,” said Nic “But I bet that’s what was causing the smell.”

Diane was still shaking.

“I, I have to get out of here.” she said and then turned and ran through into the kitchen and out of the back door which was already wide open. Nic ran after her and found her down on her knees in the deep grass of the garden. She vomited and then started to cry again. Nic knelt down beside her and threw up as well. There was a dark shape in the birdcage but he couldn’t tell what it was, perhaps it was just a trick of the light, or rather the lack of it. They both sat there in the grass until the morning light finally came and then Nic went back inside to make some phone calls.

“Seems like it was almost every wall in the house” said DI Patrick, a round, middle-aged detective “And under the floorboards too. One hell of a job he’d made of it.”

They were standing outside the front of 41 Colton Road. Two weeks had passed since they had last stepped foot in that house but there were still officers working busily inside. The neighbours’ curtains were twitching again.

“What did you say his name was?” asked Diane.

“Brown” said the detective “Arthur Brown.”

Arthur Brown had been the previous occupant of the house until some three years earlier. He and his wife had lived there all their lives till she had died of leukaemia. After her death Brown was a different man and became an avid watcher and collector of birds and had the large birdcage erected in the back garden. Previously a friendly, welcoming man he became bitter and short-tempered, he would often shout at children in the street and at his next-door neighbours. It wasn’t until two young boys had ventured into his back garden to retrieve a lost football that it was discovered that he wasn’t keeping live birds in the birdcage anymore. At some point he had had a mental breakdown and had started torturing and mutilating his birds and then started capturing and buying more to perform the same horrific acts on. After several visits from the police and the possibility of time in jail he had gone out to the birdcage and hung himself. Again it was boys recovering a lost football who had found him. It had appeared that that was the end of the story but afterwards the estate agents couldn’t get anyone to buy the house since nearly everyone who came to look at it somehow or other found out about it’s past. Until of course one day they’d come across a young couple, buying a house for the first time and who had somehow managed to remain oblivious to it’s dirty little secret, the young couple of course had been Nic and Diane. Also the police hadn’t been aware of just how many birds Brown had massacred and had failed to notice the home improvements he’d slowly been performing over the years. And so it was that they’d moved into a house filled with secret compartments packed full of the rotting corpses of nearly a thousand violated birds. The estate agents had immediately offered a full refund and their deepest of apologies. As for the overpowering flapping of wings, the birds nailed to the walls and mysterious raven, the police couldn’t offer any explanation. Diane had always believed in spirits and ghosts, Nic on the other hand had been a lot more sceptical, that is before they’d moved into that house on Colton Road.

Title image courtesy pagedooley

Published in: on November 23, 2010 at 7:39 PM  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. It’s gratifying to re-read work that’s been tucked away for a few years. To me, it almost feels like reading someone else’s work.

    I agree that there’s a tight, slowing growing tension and a strange sense of relief when Nic and Diane begin to see what’s really going on.

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