“Hang on, Mr Director, let me get used to this form.”
“What’s to get used to, P’sheen? You’re a bird.”
“Yeah. I’ve seen that. First time I’ve been without manipulators, though. How am I supposed to hold things, carry things?”
“You’re not. Your assignment is simply to observe and to report back on what you see and hear.”
“I need to know how to use this body, though. I can’t just go straight in.”
“Because if I crash because I haven’t mastered flying properly, my cover will be blown. It’s easy for you; all you need to do is stand there and look like a tree. That’s really Acting 101. I need to spend time exploring what it means to be a bird. Once I’ve figured that, I need to find out what it means to be a … what species am I, anyway?”
“Look, P’sheen. You keep telling me how method you are, how you like to research your parts and so on. And yet you haven’t worked out what species you are. Explain.”
“Hold a mirror in front of me so I can see myself, then I’ll be able to work it out.”
“I would have thought your character would be flexible enough to look at yourself and work it out.”
“Yeah, sure. I can twist myself inside out so I can see the back of my head and look myself in the eyes. Come on, just hold up a mirror, or take a picture and let me look at it.”
“Okay. Picture coming up… [click]. How’s that?”
“Ah, okay. Male Green Woodpecker – Picus viridis. Right. I kind of guessed that, but wanted to be sure.”
“So you know what you need to do so as not to attract attention?”
“Yup. I hang around on the grass eating ants.”
“No, they’re fine. Remember that job in the deep south a while ago? They were into dipping ants in chocolate and eating them. Quite tasty. They put the ants in a jar with sugar to keep them happy until they wanted to dip them in the melted chocolate.”
“Why bother keeping them happy if you’re going to eat them?”
“I don’t know how true it is, but they said that the ants go sour if they’re not happy.”
“I think you’ll find, my gullible little friend, that they were pulling your chain.”
“Either way – it’s what they did.”
“So you’re eating ants. Do you have a long tongue, like a proper ant-eater?”
“Sure do. It wraps around the back of my head – and it has barbs on the end to help pick up the little critters. See how far I can stick it out?”
“Oh, wow. That’s cool. Now; the job I have for you—”
“Not so fast, Boss. Method, remember? I need to practise.”
“Flying, feeding, manoeuvring, the whole nine yards. I have to feel Green Woodpecker. I have to think like a Green Woodpecker. I have to be a Green Woodpecker – a convincing one. That takes time and commitment. When’s the caper coming off,”
“Caper? You’ve been watching too many B-grade detective movies! But the answer is: I don’t know. That’s why I need you to get into their lair and find out. Preliminary intel suggests soon.”
“Okay. Give me a couple of hours to familiarise myself with my part.”
“You can have one.”
“Why only one?”
“Because whatever you ask for, I’ll cut in half.”
“So if I’d said I needed four hours…”
“I’d have said two.”
“I need four hours, then.”
“Too late. I’ve said one already.”
“That’s not very fair.”
“You’re wasting your hour, P’sheen.”
P’sheen flew off, laughing raucously as he executed his undulating flight over the meadow. The director waited patiently.
Fifty minutes later, the laughter started again, stopping only when P’sheen landed on the grass in front of the director.
“Okay, Boss. I’m ready.”
“What’s with the laughing?”
“That’s not laughing, it’s my call.”
“Well, don’t do it when you’re working. Fly in silently, listen and fly out. Silently. Clear?”
“If you wanted me to be silent, why am I a woodpecker. An owl would have been more useful.”
“Oh, yeah. Hooting and screeching. Just what we need.”
“Silent flight, though.”
“I’ll grant you that, but you’re not in the form of an owl, you’re a woodpecker, so work with it.”
“Be nice to me Boss.”
“Why should I?”
I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 192, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.
“What’s your sister doing, Shereen?”
“Holding her hand up for a bus, Momma, so we can get you home after your appointment.”
“Where’re we at now?”
“Broadway and West 58th.”
“When’d you last see a bus on West 58th?”
“There has to be one, Momma. Them buses run every hour, by rights.”
“Last time I see a bus anywhere near Broadway was around nineteen-fifty!”
“That was only about a half hour ago!”
“I’m talking about the year, girl, not the time.”
“Momma says there ain’t no bus going past here.”
“I know that, Sher. Ain’t been no bus here in my lifetime. Yours neither.”
“So what’re you doing, waving like that?”
“Ain’t it obvious? I’m hailing a cab.”
“She says she’s hailing a cab, Momma.”
“I know that. I heard her. I’m blind, not deaf. What’s the time now?”
“I said the time, not the year.”
“That is the time. It’s just gone eight.”
“So why didn’t you say that?”
“I did, just in military time.”
“You’ve changed since you signed up for the military after nine-eleven, Sher. You’re not the same girl any more.”
“We all changed after nine-eleven. You didn’t see it, Momma.”
“No, but I heard it alright. Why’d they do it?”
“If we could have figured that out, we could maybe have done something to stop it. But it’s all religion and politics and you can’t talk to either, cause they’s both about what people have been told to believe, not what they know or understand.”
“This jibber-jabber ain’t getting us home, girl. Has Donna found a cab yet?”
“Not yet, Momma.”
“Why can’t she just call an Uber?”
“It’s only twenty-oh-two, Momma. Uber won’t exist for another seven years.”
“Well, I can’t wait that long to get home; you father’ll be expecting his dinner.”
“Yes, Momma. Here comes one now. Donna!”
“I see it. Hey, he ain’t stopping … oh, he’s got a fare already.”
“Shereen, I need caffeine. Take me inside and buy me a coffee.”
“What about me?”
“You keep waving your arm, girl. Come tell us when you got us a cab.”
I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 191, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.
Yes, it’s routine, and every day is the same, but it’s a job. The hours suit me and the pay is not too bad. I make enough to keep my wife and kids fed and clothed and everything; we’ll never be what I call well-off, but we get by.
Yeah. I’m getting to that. It was an ordinary working day in that nice time after the monsoons but before it starts to get really hot. There are always a lot of tourists around at that time of the year, and this day was no different. It started off normal enough: come to work at eight to clean and check my vehicle and a quick breakfast before the visitors start to arrive.
The first run is at nine. I picked up the passengers and got ready to take them up the hill. So far, so good.
Give me a chance, and I’ll tell you what happened next. Listen, is this your story or mine?
Well, let me tell it then. My way, okay?
Right. I’d noticed the white couple when they got on the bus.
No, it’s not a thing, and I’m not a closet racist. I’m surprised you should even think that. We get a few visitors from Europe or America most days, even some Australians, so I thought nothing of it. Just another couple wanting to savour for a moment the beauties that we are blessed to enjoy every day of our lives.
We are. I’ve always said that we are beyond lucky to be able to live here. That’s why I do what I can to help keep our land clean, safe and unspoilt.
Well, yes. There was. I looked into my mirror before starting off, to make sure everyone was in a seat. A couple of women were still on their feet at the back of the bus, so I waited for them to sit before starting. That was when I saw that the white guy was holding something up to his eye. I thought at first that it was a camera—
Correct. Nothing unusual about that at all, but this didn’t look like any camera I’d seen before.
That’s just it. I didn’t know.
Yes, I do know now. Not what it was, but what it did.
Will you stop asking questions and let me tell my story?
Thank you. Anyway, I remembered reading somewhere—
Yes, You know how much I love to read what I call speculative fiction—
Yes – science fiction is part of it but there’s more. Anyway, I keep up with science fact as well – you know, the news and a few scientific journals I pick up in waiting rooms. So I had read about a small device that looks a bit like a camera from a distance, but it does a very different job. I’m sure it was in a technical journal of some kind, but as I say, I read a lot so…
I’m coming to that. The guy was looking through the machine. It’s all a bit hazy now, but I remember feeling … I don’t know … threatened by something, maybe the machine, or maybe it was just the look on his face.
Hard to say, but it wasn’t the kind of look you’d expect from someone who’s about to take a holiday snapshot. So then I saw that his female accomplice must have spotted my worried expression and whispered something to him.
Yeah, I was facing forward, but she must have seen me in the mirror.
No, she spoke quietly and in any event, the engine on this bus is so noisy I wouldn’t have heard anyway.
I’ll tell you what happened next. Through my mirror, I saw a flash from the camera-looking thing. It blinded me for a while and left me disoriented – a bit like one of those flash-bangs they talk about in American movies only without the bang. When I looked around again, everybody on the bus seemed to be unconscious; or maybe even dead; except for the white couple, who had somehow transformed into … I don’t know what they were. They were still in human shape, but with skin like snakes’, and forked tongues that seemed to be tasting the air.
No, really. The female said something to her mate – I couldn’t understand it because I don’t speak lizard, but the device flashed again and everyone in the bus had suddenly turned into nuns.
Yes, they were all wide awake. In fact, they were all singing – O come, Immanuel, I think it was. Plainsong. Whatever they were chanting, it was beautiful to listen to.
I fell asleep during the second chorus, which was a pity as I was really enjoying the singing. I tried to join it at first, but my falsetto is rubbish;
Well, that’s the strangest thing. I remember feeling someone touch my shoulder and thinking it was an unusual thing for a nun to do, especially one with five more verses to sing, but when I looked around, everyone had changed back to the way they were before, and it turns out it wasn’t a nun, just a normal young girl. Pretty, as I recall. She asked me if we were going up the hill, or was I thinking of staying at the bottom all day.
Well, you tell me. Maybe it was. One of the passengers was smoking when he got on the bus. I told him it wasn’t allowed, and he blew a great mass of smoke into my face before stubbing the cigarette out on the floor of the bus, burning another hole in the carpet. That really annoys me. Don’t youngsters have any respect for other people’s property these days?
Yeah, probably mid-twenties. Oh, the smoke; unusual it was. Didn’t smell like regular tobacco smoke; much sweeter and kind of cloying.
Oh, that? Yeah. It was just a camera.
Thanks, Doc. I think so, too. Same time next week?
I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 190, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.