Plugs

Between densely gnarled groves, the ruins of Castle Noland rose on Spindle Mountain against the late sun like a needle one cannot spot in the carpet unless the light catches it or he treads upon it.  The mountain, though stunted, was steep and crumbled in Yul’s hands–a miracle it had lasted.  It would not bar him from his lost father.

Castle Noland lacked drawbridges and doors, so Yul made one, knocking down bricks, some of which decomposed to powder.  Sunlight streamed through the roof and holes in the mortar, illuminating dust motes.  One beam shone on a white-bearded, white-robed old man stooped atop his throne:  like God after the sixth day.  The beam moved, and the old man regressed into shadow.

Was this the same man who sent the child Yul on quests:  Track the Amethyst of Memory to the caves of Kaldan, wrestle the Ruby of No Regrets from the King of Cobramen, hunt down the Cape of No Tomorrows through the thorny jungles of Afterwine?

Yul had never put his mind to quests.  He’d set out but–heavy-hearted–stopped to rest on a stump.  Days passed like a clock’s pendulum.  Soon hunger roused his head, and he’d slink home.

Yet Yul fetched the Ruby of No Regrets by trading plastic beads he’d dubbed the Necklace of Deathless Dawns:  “Death slipped by if you gripped the necklace righteously.”  True, it’d fail, but had they held it right?

The Ruby had never ceded Yul the confidence needed to begin his own life.  Instead, Yul had worried over quests his father shipped him on.  Late in his third decade, he, still questing, paused at a village where the Miller’s daughter drew well water.  When asked for a draft, she gave without reservation.

Twelve decades later, he’s returned, to bring Father to a new home among sheep and grapevines.  Yul stood beside the old man:  his white contrasting with the gleaming ruby ring lolling on the right, wrinkled hand.

“Hello?”  The old man leaned forward, milky white eyes scanning the room.  “That you, Spot?  I’ve a doggy biscuit.”

Yul gritted his teeth.

“I shouldn’t have let you go.”  That last word was a sob.

Yul wanted to shake the man, ask if a lost dog was all he regretted.

The old man’s body shook violently.  His ribs rippled beneath robes, coming and going.  “I loved you like a son.”

Yul wrapped his arms around his father, shushing and humming a lullaby.

Marcus hiked out before dawn, over snow with just enough ice on top that it held his weight for nearly a second before he crunched through. He got the robotic crow into the tree well before dawn.
The flock of real crows came up from the river while the sky was still predawn pink, and alighted in the next tree over. The robot issued its preliminary croak. Marcus held his breath for the flock’s response. It never came — something spooked the birds. Wings slapping like applause, they disappeared into the forest dark.
Marcus swore and keyed “recall” on the control fob. The robot bird fluttered to his feet and went still. The cold metal stuck to his gloves as he put it back in the padded bag
He walked out by way of Highway 212 — a longer, but easier route. He had time. Of all Halverson’s raven trials, the only ones that had worked had worked on the first encounter between wild birds and the robot mimic. Marcus hadn’t had a successful integration yet, on any encounter. He’d have to find a new flock, maybe nearer to Agriville, where there was more of a farm and forest mix… He was trotting along the on the frozen gravel shoulder when the beep of a car horn interrupted his thoughts.
A small car pulled alongside, and a frosted window purred down. The driver leaned across the empty passenger seat. He shouted, even though the engine only murmured softly, “I can drop you somewhere!”
“Sure,” said Marcus, and he climbed in.
The driver was friendly enough, and said his name was Larry. “What are you doing way out here,” he said, “and so early?”
“Research,” said Marcus. “Ornithology.” He wrestled his notebook from his back pocket to jot some notes while he still remembered details of the non-encounter.
Larry nodded sleepily; sipped a styrofoam cup of coffee. “I’m meeting some folks for breakfast in Winslip,” he said. “Denny’s.” Another sip. “Join us if you want.”
He sipped again, the exact same pursing of the lips, a forward tilt of the head to the exact same angle as the last sip. The kind of thing Marcus would never have noticed if he hadn’t spent the last eight months trying to program that kind of uncanny nearly-lifelike quality out of the crow.
“Sure,” said Marcus. “Breakfast sounds good.” He could take notes later.

Cornelius and Matthias sat at Flamingo Airport’s tiny departure gate with the flock of antsy tourists. Cornelius nervously ate crackers out of the box one after another, while watching a sun burnt family play a game of Yatzee in the uncomfortable molded plastic seats as if it were the World Cup. A green blur whizzed past the bar where the security guard was standing. Matthias gripped his case tighter and cursed the Buyer. But it was a false alarm- just two American kids throwing their stuffed toys around.

Sedated and wrapped in damp towels inside Matthias’s carry on bag were three baby yellow headed parrots. The endangered birds were worth a fortune, at least to his Buyer. He and Cornelius had come to Bonaire to track down the nests in the secluded North shore of the island. Only seven hundred remained on the planet. Exactly the sort of thing his buyer liked.

Cornelius was one of the best in trackers. Matthias had the knack for smuggling. Getting things through customs came naturally for him. All they had to worry about were those things… the Sentinels the Buyer called them. These days it seemed every animal they tried to move had one of those mystical protectors. Matthias wasn’t scared of ghosts. But Cornelius was frayed to his core. Matthias had considered passing on this job.  But the Buyer said he’d take care of the Sentinels and he had something big lined up for them after this. He couldn’t resist.

#
Pre-boarding for the flight began and Matthias thought they were home free. Then a green blur swooped across the terminal. As it glided toward them it took on the shape of a green parrot. He was glad Cornelius hadn’t seen it; he didn’t need him panicked.

The parrot hovered in front of his face. At least this Sentinel didn’t look so bad. He still had bad dreams about the snakes and spiders from past jobs. So much for the Buyer taking care of things. He braced himself for what came next. Nothing happened. The parrot-god, Sentinel thing was just hovering there. Like an image stuck on pause on a television screen.
“Something wrong?” Cornelius asked.

“Nope,” Matthias said.

He heard the wet rags inside his bag crackle and sizzle. So the concoction and magic words the Buyer had given him weren’t bogus. You came through after all, Matthias thought.

“I’m looking forward to what comes next,” Cornelius said.

Matthias liked the look of the parrot thing, frozen there. Powerless. Taken by surprise and unable to stop them.

“So am I,” Matthias said. “So am I.”

-END-

For parts one and two of this story please visit my author archives or click here:

 http://www.dailycabal.com/2009/12/unanchored/

#

Belinda and I walked along Merrick Road. Passing the site of the where the old Cajun man’s shoe repair store had been I felt a pang. I had only been away a day but now I knew I could never touch anything here again.

 The ghost of the old Cajun man was sitting on the bus stop bench outside the house with the telephone pole with flower wreath on it making motions like he was feeding the pigeons. The birds poked in the sidewalk cracks looking for anything edible.

 “His name is Roland,” Belinda said. “Call to him.”

 My pang worsened. I didn’t know where it was I was feeling it. There was no “me” left to have a pang in the gut. I had been shopping in this man’s store for years and I did not know his name. The dentist’s office and chain store sandwich shop, which now stood in the stores place, added an unsightly insult to my injury.

 

“Call to him,” Belinda repeated. “He needs you. He is too far gone for me to reach him.”

 

“Roland?” I asked. “Hello. How are you today?”

 

As he looked up the pigeons took flight in a disturbed flutter.

 

“You can see me, mon cherie?” he said. “I never knew you knew my name.”

 “Ask him to come to you. Take his hand,” Belinda said.

 I slowly extended my palm.

 “You must be lonely,” I said. “Come.”

  He stood, walked over to me, and took my hand.

 As his fingers closed around mine Belinda removed her crystal rod from her pocket and waved it in the air. Roland, Belinda and I disappeared and reappeared in the cave. Men and women in trench coats like Belinda surrounded Roland. With crystal rods they directed him, like an errant cattle to a dark alcove of the cave. Roland ambled into the darkness with a strange obedience. There was a flash of light and I knew he was gone. Where I did not know.

 “Why did you do that?” I screamed.

 “We were only helping,” Belinda said. From the look on her face I knew she was lying. They were only helping themselves and using me, I realized. But why? I only knew it had to stop. It had to stop now.

 -End of Part Three-

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