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Hacktreks 2

First Chapters

Song Bird Deflated by
Heather Neale
Jumping frenetically over the crow massacre site, she moved toward him, her shoes making a clack-clickety-clack noise on the sidewalk.

The crow lying dead on her front step was Shar’s first clue that her luck had run out. It was seven o’clock on a Thursday morning and already her toast had burnt, her coffee was weak, and an invisible pool of water on her kitchen table proceeded to soak the Vancouver Courier she was reading, a paper she insisted on devouring daily, "for the stimulation."
But all of that seemed hardly unusual. It was the crow that did it for her.
"Oh God," she inhaled the words like overdone spaghetti, choking herself with shock. ‘Who did this,’ she thought. The crow was skewered on a foot-long children’s fishing rod. ‘Made by Mattel,’ it said.
A smiling plastic construction worker hung from the curled tip of the rod.
Three black flies sat trapped on the crow’s impaled stomach, buzzing away. Here was one dead soldier bird. No colleagues to mourn him. No honorable battle to fight. What the hell had happened here?

Shar’s apartment was a tiny ground level flat two feet from the road. She lived on the corner of Elm and Delilah, near an exotic fruit stand, two children’s bookstores and a Chinese noodle shop called Chin’s. Most days Shar could hear the mailman drop her letters on the step, so she was shocked that the crow had landed there in silence, without even a pip or a squeak.
It must have happened while she showered.

Crows… Shar tried to recall their symbolic meaning. According to Animalia: Symbols for the Everyday Nature Goddess by Cornelius Pum, a book Shar deemed to be on par with the Bible, animals were messengers. They carried important providential words for specific groups of people, and seeing one automatically registered you for the group. Shar ransacked her brain for the chapter on crows.
Thoughts sped by her mind, parallel to it, but inaccessible. The dead bird, its sadistic murderer, the war on terrorism she’d been following, Pum’s glossary. What did this mean, this impious message left just for her? The book’s glossary listed animal meanings in alphabetical order at the back, and Shar had taken the time to reread significant portions of it over the past rainy winter.
She had only experienced three episodes last year, luckily unbeknownst to Dr. Handford, so that left her ample time to read. Once when she mistook her gardener, Nick Consopoulous, for a nazi spy trying to rape her. Once at work when her desk radio started to talk to her, reciting personal ID information that she was horrified would be transferred to the Senate. And then once when she dreamt that her apartment was programmed by the Vietcong to explode at 7:43 in the morning-exactly- and she had to make it out before the blast.
The glossary started coming back to her now.
Anteater: suck it up, you can’t play the victim your whole life.
Black bear: meditation will be important for you over the next few weeks.
Eagle: (there’s a no brainer she thought,) you will experience a strength of high proportion, one that stems partly from those people who love you most, and partly from a higher power.
But crows…..what did they mean again? Shar’s temporary state of shock, the spaghetti-tongue-tied confusion of it all, caused her to forget.
And Shar never forgot.
She never forgot the phone list from her high school soft ball team, (Sally Petrowski, 737-6793, Gina Warden, 682-4545), or the license plate number of the baby blue ‘67 Chevy she had sex in for the first time with Billy Sacowotza, a frizzy-haired charmer type who ended up doing her sister in the front seat two days later. She never forgot her favourite childhood hiding spot near the ugly brown fence in the backyard, or the first time her mother held a cigarette to her flesh and watched it burn.
Burning mother.
Memories etched themselves in her like knives on tree bark, like their presence in her was the very justification they needed to exist. If she were to forget them, they would never have happened. She was a sum of her memories and delusions, and at times, felt nothing more than that. A cigarette, burning skin, a metal plate, a shortstop.
Short stop.

Shar felt only rage for her dragon mother. The woman she ran away from at age sixteen after waking up straight jacketed in her own bed, mouth duct taped, mother hovering over her with a smirk of triumph.
"You look so pretty that way Shar-baby." It was not until she turned seventeen that Child and Family Services flipped into action, insisting they remove her from her mother’s home. Two long years later, having lived with the fleet-sized Franchas family for what seemed like eternity, she could finally be deemed an ‘independent’’ according to Canadian law. This was her chance to run.
She ran.

Shar thought of her mother daily despite determined attempts not to. Over a staff room coffee, in the shower, and even sometimes while she worked. To distract herself, she would focus on things like the newspaper headlines, the men in her life, or the counting and cataloguing of various inanimate objects around the house. Twenty-four Venetians on a blind. Six black mugs. Lined up. Straight. Mundane things that were in her control.

One more glance down at the pathetically martyred bird and his smiling plastic suicidal counterpart, and she flung her hand over her eyes. Stood there unmoving, warm breaths escaping her lips like fleeing convicts in the night. She wanted to leave behind the memory of this front-step-scene that was now carved into her retinas: purple, black, red…blood red.
"You playing hide-and-seek with your cats again Shar baby?"
It was Cameron. Joking. Despite the morbid events of the moment, Shar’s carpool-to-work group was still here, ready, and they were waiting for her in the loading zone on the opposite side of the street ten feet away. Cameron’s blood red VW beetle vomiting blue smoke onto the pavement. He was Shar’s dream. A tall laid back guy, muscles bulging out from under his blue collared dress shirt, he looked like a Ken doll, only less plastic. Organic Ken. Cameron had been working with Shar now for almost a year. After barely completing his degree in finance, he took three years off to ‘write and experience life,’ but when his bank book hit empty, he reconsidered his plans, taking a job with the firm. And there was Shar, lurking behind her desk, smiling.
"Hey you’re lookin good Shar," called Lonna, admiring her pink suit. Lonna was the sweet old pear-shaped lady who worked in the back of the office. She had been there living in her fruit-basket corner longer than anyone and was due to retire any time.
"Oh, uh. Thanks. Umm. I’m not feeling well today you guys. I think I’m gonna have to stay home. Sorry I didn’t call. It just sort of, um, came on… just now." Shar spat the words out uncomfortably, awkwardly, "Ptu", trying to avert Cameron’s eyes from the mess at her feet. Dead crow. Bad luck. Psycho.

He looked confused. His tin foil face crinkled as he walked towards the building. He stared at her face, sallow and withdrawn under ebony curls. Her hair unruly, framing her face like windy sand on granite stones. Pink suede power suit tight around the hips and loose in the chest. Cameron liked her chest.
"What’s going on Shar?" He was closer now, stepping through the gate.
"Wait," she stammered. Cameron could not be witness to the killing. That would implicate him later. Jumping frenetically over the crow massacre site, she moved toward him, her shoes making a clack-clickety-clack noise on the sidewalk. She almost threw up from the nerves doing a barn dance in her gut. "I’ll come to you," she offered. When she got to the gate, eyes darting left and right, searching, suspecting, Cameron’s eyes were big and curious.
"Yeah, I should have phoned to tell you I wasn’t going to make it, but, well, I was fine when I first woke up."
"Are you sure everything is ok Shar? Do you need anything? Is it serious?"
Now she just wanted to curl up and disappear. Like a wood tick. Bury herself deep into the skull of someone else. Someone safe. She’d had enough of fear.
If she confessed, at this point, to being overly superstitious, to her obsessive compulsive need to hide in her bedroom if even the mere possibility for disaster loomed, she would be the topic of the lunchroom gossip circle for the next six months.

She lied. Some story about how her cold medication was causing her to feel woozy and was keeping her up at night. Some lame-ass excuse as to why she could not meet Cameron for dinner that evening. Ass-lame. A slam, in the ace-fey.
Ten debating minutes more and they were gone. Disappeared into a cloud of exhaust left over from the beetle. For once, the weekday morning was free of rain, a rare occurrence for Vancouver, and one that made Shar suspicious.
She went to her room, grabbed Pum’s book off the shelf and plunked herself down in the bowel of her closet. Musty clothing everywhere. There sat the scissors she had been missing. Tucked in behind a set of shoe shelves that held photo albums, records, history books, and files and files worth of research she had done in her former years as a poli-sci grad student, before she’d had the breakdown. ‘The Journal of Nathan Churkan, United States Senator from Philadelphia, 1795-1799.’ ‘State of the Union Addresses, 1990-2000.’ ‘Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul.’ Oops, that one got filed wrong. Move it. She got up to put the soupy sappy book back on her shelf of crap and that’s when she saw them. Outside her bedroom window on the street. A little red haired boy playing with jacks. And a man, parked in a seedy low ride sedan on the opposite side of the street, staring down at his lap.
Must be the man.

The crow-killing, child-molesting man who visited her doorstep in the wee hours of the day to perform the act of merciless cruelty.
Don’t stare, she told herself. She pulled the tatted lace curtains all the way shut. Shar could feel her breathing quicken and her throat swell up. Here was the man who had left the impaled bird at her door. To scare her. He must be a CIA affiliate or an undercover investigative reporter testing to see whether the operation is set up in the back room. This apartment used to be a spy op. after all. Back in the 1950’s when the country had their soldiers back, housewives were no longer happy house suffixes, and Trudeau was just thirty something. But why would he come to her place and not try to contact her at work as is standard procedure?
Must be safer.
The sedan-man seemed to be content sitting there, staring at his lap, looking up occasionally to eye up the red haired boy, she thought. Shar was still watching through translucent lace. ‘Make your move Shar,’ she told herself.
But then the phone rang.

Let it ring she decided. It was probably her boss wondering why her desk sat empty. Papers stacked like dead bodies, inbox bleeding onto the floor. She couldn’t leave the house today now that the perpetrator was right outside.
Four RING-RING-RINGs and the machine clicked into super-hero-action. No personal greeting message though. There was just a robotic monotone voice over: "please.leave.message." Shar thought it ludicrous to leave her own voice on a public device. Out there for anyone to hear. Vulnerable. The answering machine clicked on and off for over an hour, capturing the same drunken, mildly aggressive words, again and again: "Ou est mon pantalon? Ou est mon pantalon?" After the first two alien messages, she crouched down into the corner of the kitchen, folding her hands around her knees, rocking on her tailbone. He was just trying to scare her, she thought. But she stayed there for the whole hour anyway, listening. He was uttering nonsense to throw her off his track. She would not indulge him. What did he want anyway?
Finally, it wasn’t him. There was someone else on the line.
"Shar, it’s Doctor Handford," the emery board voice filed down her fears. It spoke with conviction, calculation. "Shar, I noticed you missed your appointment yesterday and the pharmacist phoned to report you not refilling the prescription I ordered for you." Yeah, prescription for a rubber room maybe. She hated doctors even more than spies. They kept referring to her fears as ‘delusions’, or ‘dissociative strategies.’ There was no time for condescending pedagogical bullshit. There was a CIA agent outside. And she supposed the doctor wouldn’t believe that so she ignored his request to call.

No time.
Six days later, she was still at home, sitting in a velvety blue arm chair by the front bay window, watching a photo like it were television. The photographed body was plump, curvy, hidden under a pink striped bathing suit, and a sunhat the size of Texas. Huge Diana Ross sunglasses in the shape of infinity, a Marilyn Monroe leather handbag, and toes, tucked in sand like kids in bed. The image was smiling. A perfect vision of happiness. The sun making patterns on her shoulder, was approving of her, assuring her of her bliss.
Beside her stood a little girl, aged five maybe. Two pony tails standing straight up on top of her head like antennae to send her to the moon. The little girl was slouched a little, standing under pressure. Hurt, or ashamed, or in need of a pee. She still felt that way.
Shar felt the tears oozing down her face before she realized she’d been crying. Waves splashing onto cheekbones. Why did God let people love parents? The people who hurt them the most, the people who’s very hint of disapproval could crush them like flies on pavement, transform them from well adjusted adults to blubbering babies with one discerning glance. She wiped the tears with her t-shirt sleeve, leaving Rorschach inkblot proof of her sorrow that somehow wouldn’t fade away.

Then a scream. Shrill and heated, to the top of the oak trees, to the gods, to the businesspeople downtown. She wailed like an aria gone wrong until she could breathe no longer. Until her voice died. Every last inch of her stomach, her kidneys, her esophagus was emptied and concave.
A song bird deflated.
"Why the fuck can’t I just get it together." She held her hand to her mouth, as if to hide her remorse from the walls. Her mother had been smiling in the photo, like she enjoyed her power over Shar. That’s it, Shar thought.
She walked slowly into the kitchen and pulled out a large brown envelope from the drawer. Addressed it to ‘Mother.’ Clutching a fork in one hand and the envelope in the other, she opened the front door. Wincing, she lifted the skewered, forked-crow and plopped him into the envelope. Shoved him in the outgoing mail box- a corpse amid flyers- and went back inside. The morbid crow was outward bound now. She could relax.
The very next day, she went to work.
© Heather Neale 2003

Previously by Heather on hackwriters
Chasing Rainbows

Heather is a Hackwriters regular now and contributes to the 'Bolts of Fiction' group on Commercial Drive.

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