Chuck’s challenge this week: The Opening Line Challenge. I used the opening line posited by a member called, simply, Nikki.
This was a fun one, and not nearly so dark as some of my other flash fiction. But still pretty weird.
1000 words exactly. Enjoy! As always, I welcome feedback and comments if you’re out there reading.
There was a dead bird on the porch again.
When the first one had shown up, Gerald thought that the family tomcat had simply started bringing him gifts again. Trouble was, the second day there was another, and the day after that there were two, and tubby little Snuggles had never been much of a hunter.
Flummoxed, Gerald had called Animal Control. The man who answered the call had poked around the property for thirty minutes, inspected the crawl space, and stuck his nose under some of the bushes before telling him that he had no idea what was causing the deaths.
On the Monday that followed (and the eighth bird) Gerald had bagged a few of them up and taken them down to the University, where a raccoon-eyed grad student named Samir met him at the veterinary building and took them in for testing. Tuesday arrived (birds nine and ten) and Samir called back to say that physically the birds showed no signs of illness or trauma. They certainly hadn’t been killed by any cat.
Now, Wednesday. Bird number eleven. Burying them had gotten too tedious, not to mention all the unsightly little patches of dirt on his immaculate lawn in back of the house, so Gerald took a shovel and dumped it in the corrugated trash can next to five of its little feathered friends.
That night, in his dreams, Gerald heard the sound of a deep humming. It penetrated the walls of his mind, it reverberated behind his eyes, it pulsed deep in the soft tissues of his brain. He woke to a ringing in his ears. The clock read 2:30. A disoriented minute followed, in which he realized that the ringing was outside his head, not inside it. He followed it, to the bedroom door, down the hallway, to his son’s room. His son, twelve years old, fascinated with trains and clocks and electric things. A dim light shone underneath the doorway, brilliant against the dark of the night. Gerald cracked the door, making as little noise as he could, planned to see little Simon snoring away, tuck him in, and return to bed. Instead, he saw Simon silhouetted against the tiny desk in the room, hunched over the makeshift desk of milk crates and plywood, earphones clamped to the sides of his head, scribbling madly on a notepad while he fiddled with the dial of a radio with the other, twisting it this way and that, a lunatic safecracker dialing until his fingers bled.
“Si,” Gerald whispered, but Simon did not waver in his work. “Simon!”
Simon stopped, but not because he heard Gerald: the noise-canceling headphones made that nigh impossible. No, he had stopped because he had heard something. A phantom wavelength, a rogue echo of a noise which should not have been there. It had only been there for a moment, an infinitesimal crackle of static in a sea of white noise, but it was there. He stopped writing, craned his neck, and twisted the dial back in the other direction. There, again, and gone, just as quickly. He focused his entire being on the noise, gripped the dial as delicately as his clumsy adolescent fingers would allow, and ticked it by the tiniest of degrees back toward the noise.
Gerald had crept up behind Simon, his hand outstretched to shake his boy’s shoulder, when Simon found the frequency, and this time he held it, letting go of the dial as if it might shatter. Behind him, his father clutched at his head as a lance of sound seared his ears and burned his vision hot-white. He fell to his knees, and the noise was gone. Simon, still oblivious, tapped and banged at his receiver, checked his notes and began to spin the dial again, chasing the lost frequency like a rabbit into the brush.
A thump at the front door. Fatherly instinct pushed all else aside and Gerald dashed downstairs, stopping at the side door to the garage to grab a worn and polished Louisville Slugger off the wall. He crept to the door and peered through the keyhole. Nothing. Flexing his fingers on the bat, he unlocked the door with his free hand, stepped back from it, and used the end of the bat to shove it open wide. Nobody there. He stepped out, in bare feet and boxer shorts, ready to swing for the fence at the sight of anything moving.
He jumped back in horror. Another goddamned bird. This one had hit the door so hard its neck was bent in the wrong direction, as if it had been built of Legos and put together backwards.
Then it clicked. Simon had brought his science project about radio frequencies home from school the night before the first bird showed up. Something about how sound frequencies, properly amplified and directed, could alter living tissue. Gerald hadn’t really paid it that much attention — it was a sixth grade science project, for god’s sake — but Simon had been engrossed. Obsessed.
Breaking out in a cold sweat, Gerald ran back upstairs, taking them two at a time. “Simon?” He called, rounding the corner into Simon’s room — where the boy jumped in circles, pumping his fist and shouting, the headphones still clamped to his ears. Gerald yanked them off. “Stop it! You’ve killed them!” And if the sound had killed all those birds…
But Gerald caught a glimpse of the radio equipment, as Simon stared at him, open-mouthed. It wasn’t a receiver. It was a transmitter.
“Dad,” Simon said, tugging at his sleeve, “I’m not killing them. I’m saving them.” Simon pointed to the window.
With trepidation, Gerald peered out the window. Something had set off the motion sensor in the driveway. The light was on; he saw a cloud of birds spilling from the trash can and from his lawn like swarming bees, twisting and writhing as one like some great dark winged beast, spiraling out of the light and ascending into the darkness.