Okay, this can stop now.
No, I mean it, right now would be a really good time for it to just fucking well stop, okay?
I mean, when I took the cloth off Beauty’s cage today and she said “morning”, clear as a bell, I was delighted. I’ve been teaching that damn budgie to talk for months, after all.
I was surprised when she fluffed up her little green feathers and continued “enjoy it while you can, sucker”, but I just figured that I’d left her alone in the room with Sky TV that once too often.
So, I went about my day, as one does. Headed off to the shop started shelving the boxes of musty old books that came in from that estate sale yesterday.
I was flicking through them, trying to figure out whether I had trash or treasure, expecting to have a little of both. There’s usually something genuinely rare in amongst all decaying mess if you look for it, and even the others can generally be sent out the door for a couple of dollars apiece, if you tell people they are “antique”.
I’d pretty much filled up the space I’d cleared in the “$2.00 and under” section, so I decided to stop for a while, sit, drink coffee – everything’s slack at the moment since people are all off in town Christmas shopping.
So, I settled into the chair at the back of the shop, kicked off my shoes and picked up the Stephen King I’m whiling my quieter periods away with. It was warm, and when I felt my eyes drifting shut, I thought “Darn it, why not have a doze?”
I didn’t expect to dream.
I certainly didn’t expect to dream of row on row on row of identical bird cages, each containing a replica of Beauty. At first they just sat there, thousands of little green budgerigars, peering and pecking at their little mirrors, preening under their wings, and chirping. Then the central one began to sing:
Some things in life are bad,
They can really make you mad.
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you're chewing on life's gristle,
Don't grumble, give a whistle!
And this'll help things turn out for the best...
And then they all joined in, I swear. There was this huge squeaky chorus of Always look on the bright side of life. But there was nothing cheerful about it. Oh no. It hissed and spat and spluttered like fat on a barbecue. And every last one of those little green buggers stretched out its wings in imitation of crucifixion, each staring at me with black, malevolent gazes, blaming me for something… something.
I woke up in a fever sweat of terror. A cigarette made me steadier, but I was still shaken. I dragged the smoke deep into my lungs, holding it there for a count of ten before releasing it, and the nicotine hit chased away the worst of the shuddering.
I decided to close early, because I was feeling not at all well; but I brought the three books I’d set aside as “possibly valuable” home with me.
The first of the three was a gem. A first edition of Behind the Tattooed Face in really good condition. I tissue wrapped it straight away, and set it aside for auction – it’ll pay the cost of the entire house lot with some to spare. The second was an old family bible, quite nice, very collectible.
The last, the leather binding was cracked, and the gilding had worn off, but it had that feel in the hand, you know? The one that says “age and antiquity”.
I picked it up, and it fell open. Most of the ink was fairly faded, but one quatrain stood out very clearly:
From a verdant flock
The voice of the serpent comes
Words unheeded, too late understood
Herald the great darkness
I knew then that it was a copy of Moloch. I didn’t need to look.
And now, from behind me, that bloody budgie has started to sing. If you’ve never heard a bird gloat, trust me, you don’t want to.
And she’s saying:
You'll see it's all a show,
Keep 'em laughing as you go.
Just remember that the last laugh is on you!
Make it stop, now.