The idea of “The Sorrowful Bird” came to me in a dream. Of course dreams never make any sense so when I woke up I immediately began piecing the dream together to make it into this short story.
To say that the king and queen of Talabus lived happily together was certainly appropriate. Their reign over the land was in fact so compatible with their own people and even their surrounding countries that their had not been a war fought since Actar was crowned king.
King Actar and Queen Sieena were very much in love. Their daughter, Princess Courtney was eight years old and seemed to never be discontent with her parents. They had a dog named Kraft.
Actar was a friendly ruler, a king who would spend time with his people any chance he got but not putting them before his family.
The castle was not remote but actually within the city’s largest neighborhood. It was kept up by Roknow the butler. He would mow the lawn one day of the week and clean the first floor the next day. The following day he would clean the second floor and so on until he reached the master bedroom that sat on the very top of the mansion as its seventh floor.
It was in this city-overlooking room where Roknow would step out onto the balcony and enjoy the view. There was one old mansion directly across the street from Actar’s castle. It was disturbing to Roknow. No one was sure if anyone lived there or not, but if there were inhabitants, they didn’t care to keep up the old place. It had five floors and unlike the stone and marble of Actar’s castle, it was built of weather-beaten wood.
Roknow got shivers when he looked into the glassless windows. They were always dark, even in midday. There was always the feeling that there was someone or something in there looking out at you. The trees around the place never bloomed and were in fact dead but never fell.
Roknow brought his concern to the king. “My King, I am troubled by the house across the street. I think it only proper that we have it removed,”
“Roknow, my servant, someone lives there I believe. We cannot take the home of a living person!”
“Your majesty, I’m not sure it is a person that lives there! Whatever it is, its surly not good for your righteous kingdom!”
Perhaps the decision of Actar to not destroy the old house was his greatest mistake as king. He would never know the folly of this decision though. Several days after Roknow made his request is when it all began.
Actar got into bed next to Sieena and turned his lamp on to read a book as he ritualistically did every night. He opened the thousand page book to somewhere in the begging and as soon as he started to read the phone rang.
Sieena who had been reading the Talabus Chronicle sighed and said “Ac, will you get that my dear?”
The phone rang a second time. Actar peered over his reading glasses and picked it up. “Hello…”
Actar’s smile faded, his eyes went into a blank stare. After a moment of silence Sieena looked over at him.
“Hon, who is it?” She asked perplexed. No answer.
“Actar, who is it?” She questioned more sternly. This time when there was no answer she became slightly worried. Whoever was on the other end must have had a very important message, for Actar’s eyes were in a cold stare and his face like a stone.
Finally after about five minutes of this, Actar quite normally hung up the phone without a good-bye and settled back down to his book.
“Honey, who in all of Talabus had such an important message for you?” Her voice quivered ever so slightly.
“Just business my dear,” he answered without looking up. This was strange because Actar was normally more than happy to discuss business with Sieena if she so desired.
Sieena went back to her paper and forced the incident out of her mind. Soon she was tired and went to sleep. Usually Actar was asleep shortly after her and so he was tonight.
The next day was very normal and somewhat uneventful. The streets were being cleaned and the yards mowed. King Actar had his monthly meeting with the royal soldier knights. Sieena had tea time with her friends and little Courtney lost a tooth.
That night, though as Actar and Sieena were preparing for bed, the phone rang. Actar took his reading glasses off to get the phone. A chill ran down Sieena’a back. Actar picked it up.
“Hello?” Again his eyes glazed over.
“Honey, who is it?” Sieena asked in desperation. She went to him and put her hand on his cheek. “What is going on?”
“Actar!” She shouted it at him. Courtney heard and came running in from her adjacent room.
“Mommy, what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know honey, daddy’s acting strange,”
Courtney clinged to her mother. The two of them stared at Actar. It was as if he were being controlled by whoever or whatever was on the phone. Then as suddenly as it began, he became relaxed and hung up the phone.
“Actar! You tell me who was on that phone right now!!” Sieena commanded. Actar looked at her with a confused sort of grin.
“Honey, what are you talking about?”
“Ac, you were just on the phone and you were-you looked liked someone just told you the dog died.” As if to reassure herself she looked down to make sure Kraft was sleeping at the foot of the bed where he normally was. To her great astonishment Kraft was not there.
“Si, I was just putting the sheets on our-”
“Oh my gosh, Ac, where is Kraft?!”
“Honey, what has gotten into you? You’re freaking out! The dog is probably searching the castle for a bite to eat!”
“Kraft!” she called, “Courtney have you seen Krafty?”
“I saw Kraft right after dinner, he went into that house across the street and I haven’t seen him since,” Courtney replied with a worried look, “Mommy is Krafty OK?”
“Honey I don’t know,” a tear dripped down Sieena’s face and she looked back at Actar. Actar had a somewhat bewildered look on his face. “Ac honey, you honestly don’t know what just happened, do you?”
“Si, let’s just go to sleep now, OK? Kraft will come back when he’s got a full stomach,” this was weird because Kraft was never hungry after dinner and Actar knew this as well as anyone else.
“I’m going to go find Kraft!” Sieena said as she took Courtney by the hand, “Come on Court,”
Actar, not sure of what to do, lie down in his bed. Sieena and Courtney searched the house. By the time they got to the first floor nearly three hours later, they were exhausted and empty handed.
Sieena put Courtney to bed. She was not satisfied but did not know what to do. She went back to her own bed next to her husband who was sleeping heavily.
The next morning at breakfast Sieena frequently shot concerned glances at Actar but he carried on with his usual morning activities seemingly oblivious to the previous night’s events.
At noon Roknow approached Actar once again. “Your majesty, if your servant’s intuition is of any concern to you, please my king, may we have that house torn down to its foundations?”
“Roknow, my servant, that house was once the home of a great man, a friend of mine. Madous. Madous would call me when his heart was troubled and I would call him when my heart was troubled. His room was on the top floor. In his later years, Madous acquired arthritis in all of his joints to the point where he could not dial my number anymore.
“So he taught his parrot to dial my number, pick up the phone and hold it for him while we talked. The parrot was a good tool but Madous hated the bird because its previous owner had taught it to talk. Madous said that bird depressed him more than anything because it sat there and told him sad stories day and night. Anyway, Madous died the year before I hired you. So, Roknow, he’s dead, there’s no one there,”
“Yes my lord,” Roknow’s head dropped and he went back to cleaning the house.
Later that afternoon Courtney asked,” Mommy, may I spend the night at Alice’s house?”
“Well, I don’t see why not, Courtney,”
Courtney’s face lit up and she ran up to her room. Shortly she was back with her pillow and sleeping bag.” Bye mommie,” Alice’s house was a block away so Courtney set out to walk there. When she got out the front entrance of the castle she saw the mansion across the street.
Remembering that was the last place she saw Kraft, she crossed the road and slowly entered the house.
Soon night fell on Talabus. Sieena was filled with fear. She knew the phone would ring again this night. She had an idea. Unplug the phone and it can’t ring. So she found the main incoming line and disconnected it. She then got into bed next to Actar who was reading his novel.
She looked at him and he turned toward her. He smiled and then went back to his book. She picked up the Talabus Chronicle and read until she fell asleep.
Actar finished reading and turned out his lamp. He was about to lie down when he suddenly felt an urge. He got out of bed. His eyes went into a blank stare. He was not fully conscious of what he was doing. He put on his slippers and walked to the stairwell. He continued down the stairs until he got to ground level and then proceeded outside.
It was an overcast and windy night. There were flashes of lightning on the horizon. Actar crossed the street and when he got to the steps of the old mansion he paused. He looked up to the fifth floor window and then entered the house. It was pitch black inside but some light from a soft street lamp found its way in. There was a large grandfather clock next to the stair banister that showed 1 a.m. and was still ticking. Actar made his way up the spiraling stairs bypassing the second, third and forth floors.
At the top of the stairs Actar faced the door to Madous’ room across a large white walled room. The wooden planked floor was devoid of any furniture. In his dazed trance Actar proceeded to the door.
Meanwhile Sieena tossed and turned. Suddenly she was awakened. She was immediately aware of the absence of her husband. She sprang from bed and turned the lights on. “Actar!” she called and was about to yell for Courtney but remembered she was at Alice’s. She realized Roknow was the only other person home. She ran down the stairs yelling for Actar and looking out the windows on every floor. When she got to the second floor she looked a little further across the street and that’s when she saw Actar’s reading glasses on the front steps of the old mansion which confused her. She reached the first floor where Roknow’s quarters were.
“Roknow! Roknow, where is Actar?”
Roknow woke up and groggily put on some clothes, “What is wrong your majesty?”
“I woke up and Actar wasn’t there,” all her thoughts made her panic, “and where is Kraft, have you seen Kraft?” Tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Your highness, aren’t you over reacting?”
“Roknow, listen to me. Actar has been acting strange the last couple of nights, like, the phone will ring and he’s completely controlled by whoever called,”
“Have you looked everywhere? Maybe he’s sleep walking,”
“I haven’t looked outside yet. I’m going to call and make sure Courtney is OK,” Sieena grabbed the kitchen phone. There was no dial tone and she panicked. Then she remembered what she did and ran to the corner where the phone line came in. She plugged it in and dialed. Five rings later she got an answer. It was Alice’s mother.
“I’m so sorry to call you at this hour…um, this is Sieena, I just wanted to check on Courtney,”
“Oh my, my dear Queen, Courtney never came here. I tried to call at about nine but the line was busy…”
“Oh no!” She shrieked.
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Call the royal soldier knights for me-tell them my whole family is missing!”
“Yes your majesty!”
Over at the old mansion Actar opened the door to Madous’ room. If he had not been in a trance, what he saw would have horrified him. There lying on the floor was Courtney-dead. Next to her was Kraft also dead. Among them were various dead animals including three rats, four bats and a raccoon. There was no blood, no wounds. The victims simply looked as if they had died in their sleep.
Actar turned to the window that faced his castle. Directly to the right of it was a knight stand with a telephone on top. And directly to the right of that stood a bird cage. In the cage there sat Madous’ parrot.
Actar was released from his trance when the bird spoke. He looked all around him and was filled with great sorrow.
The early morning glow of the sun lit the room enough for him to see. “Courtney! Oh my gosh, Courtney!” He put his hand on her face. He noticed her cheeks had traces of immense tears. He himself began to cry. “Oh Kraft…”
“King Actar, let me tell you a story,”
At that point Actar noticed two dead birds hanging off the side of the cage. “You, you did this!”
“I belonged to a pirate. His name was Cutlass. This pirate carried me on his shoulder day and night as we sailed to the remotest seas of the world-”
“Roknow was right, I should have had this place torn down-years ago!” Actar wanted to run but he found himself strangely intrigued by the story.
“One night the waters were stormy. From my perch I saw through the rain a blackness,” the bird talked as a human, not a parrot, “it was an encompassing darkness that enveloped the ship. The blackness came in and killed the entire crew. Cutlass and I were the only living left. The blackness found its way into our spines. The pain was unbearable, unceasing. We were taken to another world. A world without light or life,”
The bird talked into the morning hours and the sun barley penetrated the clouds. The room became bleak. The room was death.
“There we were placed and we walked upon the bodies of suffering people and animals. The blackness peeled our skin,”
Frightful tears rolled down Actar’s cheeks. His heart sank. Physically his blood seemed to slow. His breathing became weak.
“The blackness worked its way through our spines and into our brains. The unbearable pain spread through the veins in our brains-”
At that point Actar’s heart stopped. He fell in a heap next to his own daughter and his own dog. Then the parrot climbed out of the door of its cage and took the phone off the hook. It dialed the number of Actar’s castle.
Meanwhile as Sieena searched the castle, Roknow came back in. “Your majesty, I saw the king’s reading spectacles lying on the front steps of the old mansion across the street. I fear he may have entered that dreaded old place,”
The phone rang. Sieena made a move for the phone and at that moment an aged man burst through the door. “DO NOT ANSWER THAT PHONE!”
“Who are you that you speak to the Queen of Talabus like that?” retorted Roknow.
“I am Cutlass. If you answer that phone you will die,”
“What on earth are you-” Roknow began.
“Wait Roknow,” she turned to Cutlass “My husband is dead isn’t he?”
“Did he answer the phone?”
“Yes,” she said shakily.
“Let me tell you what is going on. When I was in my younger years, exploring the ends of our world I got caught in another world. I cannot tell you what happened there for it will sadden you to the point of death. But my parrot was with me. After we were released from that other world my parrot would remind me of what happened. I could not handle it so I sold the bird to Madous, a man who lived across the street from you,”
“Yes, I knew Madous.” Sieena realized that Courtney and Kraft must have went to that house as Actar did. “So that bird is still over there?”
“And it knows our phone number,” completed Roknow.
“Anyone who listens to its story will surly die from sadness,” added Cutlass. The phone rang again. Sieena jerked the main jack back out of the wall. She could not stop crying.
“How can we kill the bird?” asked Roknow.
“No one can approach the thing except for me. I am afraid to. I have put that dreadful event behind me,” his eyes started to sadden as he even mentioned it. “I may be able to talk to the bird and keep it from talking to me though,”
“I’ve an idea,” Roknow blurted, “you talk to it and I’ll follow with a shotgun. While its occupied I will shoot it.”
“That sounds like a good idea, as good as any, “Cutlass replied.
“I’ll wait here,” said Sieena.
Cutlass tossed a small bag on the kitchen table, Roknow fetched a shotgun and followed Cutlass outside and across the street.
Shortly after, the Royal Soldier Knights arrived at the castle. Sieena told them that her daughter and husband had been killed but she didn’t know what they could do. The Knights decided to guard the house until Sieena felt safe again.
Roknow and Cutlass reached the fifth floor of the old mansion. They weren’t sure where to look but decided to try the top floor first. Cutlass walked across the empty room to the door of Madous’ quarters. He opened the door and his gasp alerted Roknow.
The bird saw Cutlass and began talking, “So, it is my faithful companion, Cutlass. You have left me all these years-alone! You and I were the only ones from this world to ever see into that black world, why did you forsake me?”
“You shut-up! The only way to escape the agony is to forget about it,” Cutlass found his own voice cracking and a tear uncontrollably rolled down his cheek.
Roknow raised the gun and aimed. Then he began to weep bitterly. He could not see trough his tears. He pulled the trigger and there was a loud bang. He wiped his eyes only to find he had shot Cutlass. Roknow fell to his knees weeping.
“Careful now. It seems your master is dead and now your only escape!” the bird chattered. Roknow tried with every muscle in his body to crawl to the door. “You think your world is crumbling-HA! Let me tell you of REAL pain! I was once in a world where the option of painlessness did not exist!”
Roknow wheezed and coughed. He grabbed the shotgun and put it to his head. He pulled the trigger.
Back at the castle Sieena was being counseled by a Royal Soldier Knight.
“Your highness, this bird you tell us about killed your husband and daughter?”
“Yes,” she said through her tears, “I want that place torn down over there! NOW!”
“Yes your majesty. I need to call in a destruction crew, where is your phone?”
Sieena frowned and said, “You’ll have to plug it back in, but don’t –don’t let it ring!” The soldier plugged it back in and immediately it rang. “Don’t answer it!!”
It was too late, another soldier answered it. “This is the residence of King Actar, he is not available-” his manner changed abruptly and he looked at Sieena, “It’s for you,”
It couldn’t be the bird. If it was then the soldier would be in a trance. Reluctantly she took the phone. “Hello,” she answered shakily.
“Queen Sieena! What a privilege!” the voice on the other end of the line said.
“Who is this?!” Sieena demanded.
“You should ask ‘what is this?’,”
“You’re the bird aren’t you?”
“Oh I once was a parrot, yes. But if you will come over here I will tell why that is no longer true,”
“You kill people-why?!”
“I don’t kill, I torture. It is the will of the blackness that all worlds be assimilated into it. Come, come Queen Sieena.”
She fought the force but was overcome by sorrow. She began crying.
“Your majesty,” bellowed a knight, “shall we go there and kill the bird?”
“NO! It will kill you!” she cried.
“Come, Queen!” The bird pulled her concentration to it. Sieena strained her eyes hard as they pulled into a stare. She managed to see the leather bag that Cutlass left on the table.
“Should we pull the phone cord?” The soldiers were not aware of what was happening.
“Come to my room, Queen Sieena,” the bird repeated slowly. Sieena fought and struggled against the bird’s strange hypnotism. She was able to pull the bag to her.
“Your majesty what shall we do?” The soldier knights were alert and at her service.
She read a small printed single word: “BLACKNESS” Maybe this could do something to the bird. She would have to get it to the bird. She would have to risk her life to try the only thing she thought might do something. Tears streamed down her face.
“Come on-Si!” Its voice was Actar’s! She screamed and threw the phone down. With the small bag in one hand she ran out the door and across the street. The soldier knights were on her heels. They stopped when she went inside. By now they were afraid for their own lives.
Sieena was sure she would die. The house itself crushed her spirit. Nevertheless she had to continue on or this bird would continue killing. She thought of the people of Talabus. She and Actar had had close friendships with many of them. She thought of how she might be saving their lives and this lifted her spirit ever so slightly.
Sieena made her way up the five floors. She got to the empty room and saw the door to Madous’ room. Her tears flooded her vision. The trance led her all the way. She opened the door and entered the room.
The horror was overwhelming. Her husband, daughter and dog lay in heaps among many dead animals. Near by were two more bodies with most of their heads missing and blood all over the floor and walls. Sieena’s face went pale and she vomited.
“Queen Sieena! Would you like to hear the story of how Cutlass’ bird lost its being? I thought you would!”
“NO!” she screamed. Her heart slowed. She felt as if an elephant were sitting on her chest. She felt extremely lonely as if she were the only human being left in existence. Her breathing was slow.
“The Blackness! It crept in like a flood! It moved into every part of my body! I was simply an explorer. I was sailing the great ocean and one night my ship was drowned in dark! I found my self in a land where light was not. The pain tore through my body. I saw a pirate screaming in agony, he had a parrot on his shoulder. The pirate was thrown back into reality and me too but not before I was assimilated by the blackness! I and the pirate’s parrot. So horrible was the blackness that the story itself squelches a soul! I escaped it’s world and now I do the will of the blackness. The blackness still seeks me,”
Sieena lost all strength. She cried out in agony as she untied the leather bag. She fell to the floor lifeless. The darkness crept out of the bag and filled the room.
“NO!” The parrot shrieked. The blackness oozed up the walls and made it’s way into the bird’s cage. The bird tried to fly out but became sorrowful and lost all of it’s strength. It wheezed for ten minutes and then as it clutched the cage it fell to its death. The blackness swirled around the room and back into the leather pouch.
At that moment the old mansion shook as though it were in an earth quake. The old trees fell. The siding on the house broke away and landed on the ground. The walls creaked loudly as they tumbled down. In a matter of seconds the old mansion was a heap on the ground.
As quickly as the house came down, grass began to grow there. A tree spouted up and then another. The morning sun shone brightly upon that point. And that point became a memorial in Talabus. It was a reminder that all evil should be purged from among the people before it became a cancer that could destroy even the mighty. Even as mighty as King Actar and Queen Sieena.