OF THE DAMNED
A "Parroty" by Sally Blanchard
Off The Road Parrot Aviaries was isolated — nestled in the mountains that hug the California coast. The only grocery store for miles knew to order extra produce. At first the locals couldn’t understand the truck load of vegetables and fruit that Jim hauled back to his ranch every week. But once they got to know the Reeds, they knew they were all right sort of folks even if they did keep their property full of squawking birds. The town nearby was quiet — the kind of place where everyone minded their own business even if they knew everything there was to know about everyone.
It was late in the season and Jim had pulled most of the nest boxes to give the breeders a rest. He was in town at the grocery store when it happened. A slave to the routine, Ann had been feeding the birds. As Jim pulled onto the road that wound up to the house, he knew something was wrong. It was the silence. There were no parrots hollering, screaming, yelling, or even talking. Suddenly panicked, he accelerated. As he approached the complex, the sound of Ann’s wailing became thunderous. She came running towards the truck - “they’re dead, all dead, every one of them, every one!” Less than an hour before, as if struck by blind lightning, all the birds had suddenly fallen off their perches and were in motionless heaps on the floor of the aviary. Nothing had happened to cause this catastrophe. Ann only remembered the wind rustling in circles around the barn as she entered. Nothing had changed.
They ran from aviary to aviary and every bird seemed lifeless, limp on the bottom grates. Jim reached into one of the aviaries and picked up the red rag-doll body of Samson, his favorite Green-wing macaw. “Ann, he’s still warm, I’m not sure he’s dead?” Suddenly, Samson exhaled a long arduous breath and came to life in Jim’s hands. As if by command, all the birds twitched, righted themselves and climbed groggily to their perches. Other than being slightly dazed, they seemed perfectly normal. But there were changes. Ann couldn’t keep their ravenous appetites satisfied as each parrot immediately consumed every bite of food she fed them and with imploring eyes begged for more. This was not the breeding season yet all the parrots busied themselves with nesting behaviors. The ones without nest boxes began to collect mounds of chewed wood and food remnants in the corners of their aviary. The mature hens in the large aviary all went to nest. However, this was no ordinary breeding season - with all the nest building activities, the Reeds never heard the frenzied groans of psittacine copulation.
Ann called the local veterinarian but when she tried to explain the situation, he acted as if she was one of those drugged out ex-hippies who had settled in the area. He exclaimed, “I don’t understand birds, I don’t treat birds, and I certainly don’t understand people who keep them!” Jim took three of the hens and drove over a hundred miles to have them checked by an avian specialist. He did not mention the occurrence the day before for fear rumors would start that he was going crazy. After close examination, the vet pronounced the birds perfectly healthy but puzzled at the fact that all three appeared to be very close to laying eggs.
The next day, each hen in the large aviary laid one egg. Each egg was perfect although larger and rounder than normal. The pairs dutifully tended their one egg - no others were laid. Jim and Ann decided not to candle the eggs or even check on them because the parent birds became excessively agitated and protective when anyone was near. Not knowing what was happening, it was easier to steep themselves in denial. Other than that, they didn’t talk or think about the strange events and went about their chores mechanically as if it was a normal breeding season.
One month later, the Reeds were awakened at sunrise by a sonorous cacophony. Throwing on their clothes, they ran to the large aviary to find all of the eggs hatching in unison with the exception of one which had apparently had been damaged by the parents. Incredulously, as the chicks pipped their way through the shell and hatched out, Jim and Ann realized these babies were not blind, helpless and naked like altricial psittacine neonates. Within moments of struggling from the egg, the fully feathered, sighted chicks started moving about on wobbling legs begging voraciously for food. Despite this most unnatural state of affairs, the stunned parents acquiesced and fed them as if it was normal procedure. Within a few days, when the rapidly maturing chicks were able to feed themselves, the adult birds were relegated to the lower perches where they stood in zombie-like obedience.
The Reeds knew these chicks were not mere psittacine chicks. With large Amazon-type bodies, long macaw tails, and blonde crests which they used to accentuate the intense controlling glare in their eyes, it was difficult to determine just what species the 11 birds were. Behaviorally, they were polite enough to allow the humans to handle them but only if it was for their purpose. Soon the young parrots would not be contained in the aviary, but came and went as they chose often flying throughout the countryside in pairs with the smaller single chick lagging behind. Strangely the little one without a partner seemed to crave attention from Jim and Ann and when he was not with the others, he was an enjoyable companion for them. In fact, the others seemed to dismiss him as if he was incomplete and no longer a part of their mission.
Their apprehension escalated as the Reeds observed the parrots developing their unique skills. The parrots choose an area of the barn - no one else was allowed to enter. If Jim came too close, he received their unifying evil eye that paralyzed him in mid-step. He realized they were capable of much more and was not willing to test their limits. Jim and Ann left them to their own devices, realizing they would have no determination in the fate or intention of these creatures.
Exactly one year to the day after the strange occurrence, the Reeds watched as the ten birds gathered in pairs, gazed at Jim and Ann in farewell, and disappeared into the sky. Off The Road Parrot Aviaries returned to normal and they never told anyone what had happened for fear they would never sell another baby parrot.
The Reeds were even more afraid of the disruption in their lives if someone did believe them . . . and what about the ten special parrots. What would happen to these birds if - no, when, people knew about them?
The smaller chick stayed with them as a pet and was quite precocious but lacked power and intensity without the others. He was a challenge but clearly realized without the collective, he depended on the Reeds for care and guidance. For those who asked, he was an interesting hybrid - the parents had “fallen in love” and Jim chose not to separate them.
They often wondered if they were alone and why they had been chosen. Had others shared a similar experience but also decided not to reveal any details out of the same fear? Of course, any explanation they offered each other about the events of the last year was pure conjecture. With both curiosity and apprehension, Jim and Ann often watched the sky for the ten parrots to return.
There was a connection and an emptiness in not knowing their fate. Somehow they knew the story would continue. They knew someday they would hear about an extraordinary flock of parrots ... perhaps just their ten, perhaps their ten joined by others, maybe many others. Someday the Reeds would know the reason for the strange occurrence in their aviary. They could only hope the world would survive the intention of their special parrots.