There’s something very wrong with my parrot.

parrot

I have an African grey parrot named Perry. He’s been part of the family for 25 years. I’ve known him my whole life. When my parents were alive, they taught him a bunch of words and phrases and he’d always make us laugh.

Lately, though, he’s been saying things we never taught him. Certainly not things we’d ever say, either. Nancy, my wife, was in the kitchen with her friends the other day when they all heard Perry squawk, “it bathes in tears and reigns beneath our feet.”

They all laughed and wondered what the hell I could’ve been watching on TV for the bird to pick up a phrase like that. They continued their lunch, but ten minutes later, Perry started again:

“It reigns beneath our feet. It reigns beneath our feet. It reigns beneath our feet.”

Then he squawked and screamed and rattled his cage so hard that he almost fell off the table. Nancy checked to see if he was okay, and he chirped and allowed her to stroke his head with her finger. He seemed no worse for wear.

That night, after I’d gotten home and Nancy had told me about Perry’s weirdness, I let him out of his cage to fly around the house. He was always well behaved and never knocked anything off shelves or s**t on things we cared about. He stepped out of the cage and onto the table, but he didn’t take off. He just stood there, looking around.

“Go ahead, Perry,” I coaxed. “Go get some exercise.”

He remained stationary, but he watched me; the pupils wide in his beige eyes.

“You okay buddy?,” I asked. I was concerned for the little guy. He’d always been in great health and never acted weird. This was entirely unlike him.

Perry cocked his head and stared into my eyes. For some reason, I felt a chill run down my spine even before he spoke – almost like I knew he was about to frighten me.

In a deep tone I’d never heard from him in all my years, he uttered, “beneath your feet.”

Something knocked on the floor directly below where I was standing. I jumped about a mile and stepped away from the bird, who hadn’t moved. “Still beneath your feet,” he said.

The knock came again. It was a hundred times louder and so powerful my ankle twisted under me and I fell sideways onto the couch. The floorboards where I’d been standing bulged upward. One had cracked. Nancy came running downstairs asking, “what the hell was that?” I told her to go in the kitchen and call the police – someone was in the cellar.

Nancy and I waited by the door for the police to arrive. They got there quickly. We let them in and they went into the basement. A couple minutes later, they came back up. “No one’s there,” they told us.

“Wait, then what –”

The older cop cut us off. “Can you come look at something with us?”

“Okay,” Nancy said, “but what is it?”

“Just come downstairs.”

We followed the cops into the basement. Neither Nancy nor I go down there very often. I was a little embarrassed by how gross and dusty it was until I saw marks in the dust-covered floor and countertops.

“Are those footprints?,” I asked, more to myself than to anyone around.

“That’s what we thought,” said the younger officer. “But they look pretty weird for footprints.”

We got to the part of the cellar that was under where I’d been standing. The cops aimed their flashlights at the wood above our heads. An indentation was clearly visible. It almost looked like a punch, but the shape wasn’t of any hand we’d ever seen. It looked like it had too many knuckles; too many bones.

“What the hell?” I traced my finger over the indentations. I shivered.

Upstairs, Perry squawked. The floorboards around the indentation began to leak. Liquid dripped into my mouth and I sputtered. It was salty and reminded me of the taste you get after crying for a long time.

“Did something spill upstairs?,” the older cop asked.

“Yeah, maybe the bird knocked something over.”

“Is that him making all that noise?”

I nodded. “He’s been weird all day.”

We headed back upstairs and the cops told us to call if we have any other concerns about someone being in our house. Nancy and I thanked them, and they left.

I stared at the damage to the living room floor. Perry hadn’t knocked anything over, but there was a small puddle on the wood. He’d gone back into his cage and sat in the corner, quietly clucking. I approached the cage. There were little, wet footprints around it. They were his prints. It looked like he might’ve lapped up some of the water that’d been on the floor while we were in the cellar.

“What’s going on, bud? You having a rough day?” I tried not to think about what had happened. There had to be a reason for it. Maybe the wood had warped. The basement’s always been damp and gross. That had to have been it. The wood warped and trapped moisture was dripping out of the fracture point. But then there was Perry.

Perry stared at the bottom of the cage, still clucking. He didn’t look up. I reached out to pet his head, but he struck my finger with his beak. Not hard enough to do any damage, but with enough force to let me know he wanted none of my affection.

I looked at my pet with sympathy, wondering if he was just getting old and losing his mind. He remained in the corner, trembling slightly. Something caught my eye. There was red on the cage where he was sitting. I looked closer. It was blood.

“What happened, Perry?,” I asked, and reached inside to pick him up, knowing I was in for a pecking. Before I could grab him, he spoke in that same, chilling voice:

“It will bathe in blood and claim the sky.” He paused, then slowly spoke. “Twenty…. seven… days.”

I picked up my bird to see how badly he was hurt. But before I could assess his wound, I saw what was in the corner where he was sitting. Something entirely unexpected.

Perry, my male, African grey parrot, had been sitting on a bloody, black egg.

It’s been 24 hours since all this started. Perry seems no worse for wear, but he fights whenever we try to pick him up. He does everything he can to remain by the egg. I don’t know what’s happening to him and I have no idea what he means with any of the stuff he’s saying. Whenever he talks now, it’s just “26 days” followed by the word “hours.” The number of hours keeps going down. And I haven’t heard it, but Nancy swears she hears soft knocking coming from the basement each time Perry makes his announcements.

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Shadows on the Wall

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Growing up, I was convinced I’d be abducted by aliens. I lived in constant, sleep-deprived fear as every strange shadow and every reflection of light on the wall signified the beginning of what I knew would be my end. Logic told me the shadows were just piles of dirty clothes or my coat rack; that the reflections were just from passing cars on the street below. But logic fails in the face of terror. If it weren’t for my older brother, Jason, with whom I shared the bedroom, there was a very real chance I would’ve lost my mind.

I remember my 13th birthday with the same detached sense of helpless violation as a victim of sexual assault. The day itself had been fine. Pleasant, even. My parents, who were always caring and supportive, did their best to make sure my birthday was enjoyable. They knew I was stressed. They knew I was anxious. I’d never told them why, though. Only Jason knew, and he promised to keep it a secret.

After the festivities, I went up to my room to play video games. I had two hours to play before lights-out. Jason sat on his immaculately-made bed, which was in stark contrast to my messy one, and watched, offering pointers as I died over and over.

Two hours went by quickly, and Dad came in to say it was time to go to sleep. He sat next to Jason on the bed and let me know he was proud of me; how I’d been brave despite having a hard time and that things would get better. He wished me a happy birthday and kissed me goodnight, switching off the light on his way out of the room.

For a little while, I felt pretty good. Like I said, I never told my parents exactly what had been bothering me. They’d ask every so often, but they wouldn’t pry. They could tell I was struggling. I heard them cleaning up downstairs, comforted by the fact they were still awake and alert. With a sense of security I hadn’t felt in a long time, I drifted off to sleep.

After a couple hours, I woke up and glanced at the clock. 11:26. I closed my eyes again. Before I could drift off to sleep, though, I noticed something. The room smelled bad. It wasn’t a scent I could identify in the slightest – it was heavy and medicinal, but organic, too. Strange. Alien.

My eyelids lifted to the sight something shuffling toward my bed. I tried to shout and bolt away, but nothing worked. No movement, no sound. Only my eyes could receive my commands, and they stared, bulging out of my skull, as thing stood over my supine body.

I knew it’d finally come to me; this was the day I’d anticipated and dreaded for years. I tried to make out the features on its face. All I could pick up on was hideousness. Deformity. A head with its upper-left quadrant missing. A mouth with no lower mandible and a shriveled tongue lolling down to its skinny neck.

“Robbie,” it gurgled.

It knew my name. It had been studying me and it knew my name.

“No more me, Robbie. No more me. Time to grow up.”

Its head came down and touched my forehead with the remains of its upper lip. As it tilted, maggots tumbled out of the cratered skull and landed on my face. They squirmed and tumbled onto my pillow. I felt them writhing against my ears and the sides of my neck.

“I’ll miss you.”

It turned and walked toward Jason’s bed. I tried over and over to scream as panic suffused the entirety of my being; the dark world around me blurred and I knew I was going to pass out. I knew I was going to fail my brother and not be able to warn him before the creature reached him. Before I lost consciousness – before I passed into a dreamless morass of black – I hated myself for being so useless. For being so weak.

My mother’s shrill, panicked shriek catapulted me back into reality. The room was bright. It was morning. Mom stood over Jason’s bed wailing and sobbing and I heard Dad thundering across the hall from their bedroom. He burst into the room and immediately saw what Mom did. I watched his knees tremble, as if he were about to fall.

I didn’t move. Everything from the night was coming back and I knew – I was certain – Jason was dead. My big brother was gone. The certainty was overwhelming and searing tears of leaked down my cheeks onto the pillow. Something wriggled against my neck. I gasped and leapt to my feet.

Everything went slowly for the next few minutes.

I turned and saw the ring of maggots around my head print on the pillow. Dad was crossing the room to take me in his arms when he saw the bugs on my pillow and in my hair and whispered, “oh my God.” He picked me up. He hadn’t done that in years.

I rode out of the room in his strong arms. “Don’t look at your brother’s bed,” he ordered. I couldn’t help myself. I looked as we exited. One glance was all I needed.

Jason’s body was on the bed. He was wearing a stained and dirt-encrusted blue suit. “Oh no,” I thought to myself, as I took in his injuries: the torn lower mandible. The caved-in skull. The desiccated, green-gray skin that was mostly gone.

Mom’s wracking sobs had escalated to hysterical screaming. As Dad and I rounded the corner and headed downstairs, we heard her shouting, “how did you come back? Why are you here? Who did this?”

Dad whispered in my ear as we walked. “It’s okay sweetheart. It’s okay. We don’t know who did it, but it’s going to be all right. It’s not your brother anymore. It’s just the body he doesn’t need. He’s still in heaven, okay? He’s still in heaven.”

I started to shake and Dad’s voice cracked with emotion as he spoke those last words. “He’s in heaven.” It sounded horribly, horribly familiar. I closed my eyes and saw a coffin. I saw my parents standing next to it, sobbing. I saw a large, framed picture of Jason and a room full of friends and family.

But I also saw the toys I was playing with. And I saw Jason sitting next to me. We played while everyone else cried. He grinned and said, “Don’t be upset, Robbie. I’ll be here to help while you grow up. You don’t have to feel sad.”

My aunt, Lindsay, came up to me and stood in the exact same spot where Jason was sitting. I remember thinking it was strange she could do that, and then she knelt down and said, “he’s in heaven” before walking back to my cousins and uncle. Jason winked at my confused face, then we kept playing with our toys.

“Jason died,” I whispered to Dad.

He nodded and I watched as he eyed the muddy footprints from the back door which led up the down the hall and up the stairs to my room.

“You were probably too young to remember, but he loved you so, so much.”

I thought back to all the fun we’d had in our room over the years, all leading up to the video games on my 13th birthday the night before.

“You’re the same age he was now,” Dad said, and tears freely flowed down into his beard. “You’re all grown up.”

Something from the previous night buzzed in my ear. “No more me, Robbie. No more me. Time to grow up.”

And then it clicked. And my screams joined those of my mother in a terrible, dissonant chorus.

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The Big Scary House in the Woods

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It took two days to hike to the spot we’d heard about: a strange house standing alone in the middle of the woods. And if it couldn’t possibly sound any more cliche, the rumors were that the former owners of the house haunted it and killed anyone who dared to enter.

From the outside, it looked unremarkable. Had it not been in the middle of the forest with nothing around but trees and rocks, the house would’ve looked like any other run-down home in a bad area. But the fact remained: it was the only man-made structure for miles. Why, let alone how, anyone would haul construction materials through the inhospitable wilderness to build the place was beyond my or my boyfriend’s understanding.

Being journalists for the high school paper, we came armed with our notebooks and tablets. John tried to peer through the windows, but there was nothing to see. The windows were smoked out – it looked like there’d been a minor fire inside at some point.

The front door was locked, but around the back there was a rusted-out hole in the cellar door. It was just wide enough for John to fit through. No way my b***s were getting through that hole unless I did way more squashing than I was in the mood to do. No, it was okay; John would go through and open the front door for me.

After a bit of squeezing and cursing, John made his way into the cellar. Looking at the ragged, rusty metal he’d just forced himself through, I wondered when he’d last gotten a tetanus booster. With a shudder, I made my way over to the front of the house and waited for him to let me inside.

I waited. And waited. After a couple minutes, I heard John banging on the door from behind to get it open.

“It doesn’t want to move,” he shouted from the other side.

“Can you find something to break it open?,” I called back. “A crowbar or something?”

The banging stopped as he looked around. More waiting. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a doe and her fawn. I was spellbound. Growing up in the city, this had been my first trip into the woods since I was a little girl. I’d never gotten to see deer in real life.

I carefully moved in the direction of the animals, crouching low so I didn’t frighten them, and held out my hand. The ears of the deer perked up and they watched me intently, trying to determine if I was a threat. In my head, I was pleading with them to come over.

“It’s okay guys,” I whispered sweetly. “It’s okay.”

I held my breath as the fawn stepped toward me. It was so close. The mother wasn’t stopping it as it got nearer and nearer – so close that I could see my reflection in its wide, inquisitive eyes.

A massive bang sounded from behind me, making me jump and sending the deer running for their lives. “God damn it, John!,” I yelled, turning around. “You scared them aw–.”

I stopped talking and froze. The door had flown off its hinges onto the front steps. In the doorway stood a thick, bulbous, corpse-like man. He was swollen and burned, almost like he’d been soaked in gasoline for months then set on fire. And in his hand he held the severed head of John, whose eyes stared straight ahead with confused shock.

I screamed and began to run. “Stay away from our home!,” came a voice so loud and powerful it caused me to stumble and fall. I righted myself and looked over my shoulder, tears streaming down my eyes. There was another thing now – a woman – standing shoulder to shoulder with John’s murderer. Her mouth opened and she bellowed, “and don’t f*****g come back!”

She lumbered down the steps and picked up the door. She carried it back up, and before she set it back in the remains of its frame, the husband took John’s head and threw in my direction. I heard it hit the ground behind me as I ran, but I never saw his face again. Never, except in my nightmares.

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It all started when I realized my iPhone was self-lubricating.

iphonewet

I pulled the charger out of my iPhone and a string of viscous fluid stretched between the charging tip and the opening in the phone. To say I was irritated was an understatement. I’d just bought the thing.

There was a small pool of clear liquid on the table where it’d been charging. I touched my finger to it and sniffed. There wasn’t much of a scent. I tasted it. Salty. The worst possible scenario. Saltwater destroys electronics. I had no idea what I could’ve spilled.

The screen was off and the power button wasn’t responding. I brought the phone into the bathroom and aimed the hairdryer into the charging port, being careful not burn anything. When it was as dry as it was going to get, I tried to power it up again. It worked.

I thought about bringing the phone back to Apple, but I knew they wouldn’t do anything. They’ve gotten good at knowing when a device has been damaged by water. I wasn’t in the mood to get into a fight at the Genius Bar.

The day went on and my phone seemed no worse for wear. I made calls and played games and browsed Reddit without any issue. Before going to bed, I plugged it in to charge.

The following morning, when the phone’s alarm went off and I leaned over to hit snooze, my hand slid into a puddle of warm fluid. Cursing, I grabbed the phone and was about to pull out the charger when I stopped. Instead of my lock screen or the iOS icons, something that looked like a screensaver was running. Colors were flowing in weird, peristaltic undulations from the top of the screen, intensifying and darkening as they got closer to the bottom. It was actually quite pretty.

I heard a sound coming from the speaker. Being careful not to get any of the fluid on my face, I put it to my ear. Bizarre waves of warm static were being played in rhythm with the motion of the colors on the display. The waves of static were picking up speed. So were the colors. As I watched with a combination of fascination and annoyance, the static became staccato and the colors blinked faster and faster before culminating in a bright flash and a burst of static.

The phone had to have a virus or some kind of malware. Still, that didn’t explain the liquid. I’d made sure the table was dry before plugging the phone in the night before. I pulled the cable out. A gush of clear, sticky stuff drooled from the port onto my chest. Its smell was stronger than the day before. I gagged and got out of bed.

I used the hairdryer on my phone again. It was back to working normally. Opting to go with the virus/malware theory and not wanting to think about the liquid other than how badly I wanted to get it off me, I used a different cable to connect the phone into my laptop so I could do a complete software restoration. I went into iTunes, clicked the necessary things, and went to shower. The fluid had dried into a disgusting, gummy syrup that’d caused my chest hair to stick together.

I was in the shower for 45 minutes trying to pull all the rubber-cement-like stuff off me. As soon as I turned off the water, I heard something from outside the bathroom. I wrapped a towel around my waist and headed toward the sound. It was similar to the static I’d heard before, but now it was coming from two sources: the phone and the laptop. As I got closer, I saw colors on both screens.

The colors and sounds were synched up again, but the two devices were playing off each other. The sounds on the laptop affected the colors on the phone, and vice versa. I sat on the couch in front of the devices and watched. Then stared. Then gazed. Right at that moment, there was nothing else on Earth I wanted to see more.

I saw it all. I felt something, too. But the feeling was tangential. Indirect. As the moment of bliss passed, emptiness and a need for more bloomed within me. From the bloom came a realization.

I tore myself from the screens and rummaged through the drawers that held all my spare electronics. Cables, USB hubs, network switches, etc. I took them all.

Returning to my position in front of the screens and fixing my eyes on the waxing and waning undulations, I noticed that same fluid beginning to dribble from the USB port in the laptop as well as the charging port in the phone. Colors swam in my vision as I inspected the other USB ports on the other side of the computer as hope flooded my chest. Then I saw it. My hope was not misplaced.

The ports on the other side of the laptop were dripping. They were ready. I took one of the USB cords I had in my hand and carefully teased it inside the waiting port. On right side of the laptop screen, which I knew corresponded with the port I’d just entered, a hazy, pink semicircle began to brighten the edge of the display.

With my eyes fixed on the warm pink and my ears serenaded by each peak and trough of gentle static, I brought the other end of the USB cable to my lips.

As the metal touched my flesh, a tiny shock passed through me. It was not unpleasant. Quite the contrary; it was enticing. Attention-getting. And indeed, it had my full attention. I traced the plug around the bow of my lips, savoring the gentle, constant prickling. My mouth watered as the pink spot grew and pulsed onscreen.

My tongue flicked the tip of the plug. Its touch was met by a drop of liquid. I closed my eyes and focused only the sounds and the feeling on my lips and tongue. The metal was so warm – almost hot. Almost burning. More liquid seeped out of the plug. It was slick and salty. My heart was pounding in my ribcage while I drew wet lines across my lips before taking the plug into my mouth in its entirety. The volume of static coming from the laptop intensified.

Time disappeared as I savored what was inside me, not caring about anything except the flow of the static and the pulse of light on the other side of my closed eyelids. My tongue and lips worked and, accompanying a burst of static and a blast of pure, white light, my mouth was filled.

I opened my eyes and parted my lips, letting the fluid drool down my chin onto my bare chest. This time, I wanted it on me. I wanted it to dry there. I wanted it to be the mark of this experience. I didn’t want it to end.

The display on the laptop had changed. The waves and semicircles were still there, but the unmistakable shape of a person was being formed through different colors and wave patterns. On that shape were warm circles. I knew they meant.

Time went by and I put the hubs and switches and cords to use. The Thunderbolt cable was for my mouth. Mini USB plugs, with the aid of their lubrication, slipped underneath each eyelid. The Apple lightning connector fit into my urethra as if it had been built for that purpose; its length disappearing into me until there was no more left to go further. Multiple RJ-45 cords, thanks to an 8-port switch, nestled comfortably inside my r*ctum. My ears, of course, played home to the creamy white headphones while my nostrils and sinuses were packed with micro USB connectors. For the first time, I knew what it was like to be filled.

Colors and static burst from the laptop and my body hummed with electricity and incomprehensible bliss. During an infinitesimal moment of lucidity, I realized the sun was going down. During another, I noticed it was dawn. Then, with a burst of fluid and noise and brightness, it was over. And I felt empty. So, terribly empty.

It’s three hours since that transcendental experience. The phone and laptop continued their dance, but I was no longer part of it. Everything inside me felt weak and useless. Everything, that is, except one part.

An hour ago, at the peak of my despair, I made a small cut on my chest and pushed a micro USB plug inside. Right away, more circles appeared on the body shape onscreen. Lots more. I knew what I needed to do.

I’ve spent this last hour slicing and inserting every cable I own into myself. My soft palate has been cored out and stuffed with Lightning cables. I’ve invaginated my navel and filled it with ethernet cords and an HDMI cable. Inserted in the meat between my fingers and toes are the twisted pairs of ethernet cords I unbraided. I filled everything I could until I had nothing left to use. And I hope it’s enough.

I can feel the cords lubricating themselves inside me and the background of the screen as I type is a blur of warm pink and other, melting pastels. My vision is dimming and I know I’ve lost too much blood to write much longer. That’s okay, though. I’m done. Read this and know I’ve met something else. Something much better than any person. Know we’re going to be together. Connected. And I pray some of you get to experience this yourselves someday. You’ll never want anything else again.

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