The Pigeons of Wheaten Manor
The abandoned mansion blended into its woodsy background so thoroughly that Josie and Adam would have slammed right into a wall if not for the pigeons.
The two teenagers ducked their heads when a swarm of about two-dozen multicolored birds flapped noisily toward their faces.
“Whoa!” Adam yelled. “Where’d they come from?”
Josie peered ahead at the chameleon cottage crouching in the overgrown brush like a lost toy.
“Found their birdhouse,” Josie said. “Look at this place. It’s really old.”
Adam, however, gawked at the surrounding cypress trees. The pigeons roosted all around them. They gazed down with red-rimmed yellow eyes. A few hopped back and forth on their branches as if uneasy by the presence of people.
Josie could feel those tiny eyes boring into her back as she moved off toward the house.
Flying with a thunder of flapping wings the pigeons soared quickly past her to settle on the porch roof. Their cooing and scratching unsettled Josie’s nerves a little as she ducked her head and stepped up on the porch. Adam, her best friend, wandered off to the back of the house, but the pigeons didn’t follow. Josie could still hear them pacing across the boards of the old porch roof.
A musty old rocking chair creaked when she touched it; just behind the chair lay a green plaid sleeping bag. The sleeping bag looked too new to be part of the original house, Josie thought running her hands over the soft fabric. A bump in the bag proved to be a fanny pack tucked down into the folds of the flannel. Josie gingerly slid out the fanny pack, which was unzippered – its contents fell to the porch floor. A pink girl’s wallet held some photos of a teenaged girl with a brown mottled birthmark running across one eye like an eye patch. Josie frowned at the photo. The girl would have been pretty if not for the birthmark.
Josie poked through the wallet and learned that the person in the photo was Marjorie Slate and that she lived at 36 Ford Street, here in Wheaten. Josie placed the contents back into the pack and had decided to take it with her to return to Marjorie, when a small gray pigeon floated quietly down from the porch roof. It landed on the top step of the porch and gazed warily at Josie. The pigeon had a strange brown streak running across one eye, just like . . .
Shoo, get out of here!” Josie shouted. The pigeon fluttered away quickly just as Adam came flying around the corner of the house.
“Hey, Josie, there’s an old pigeon coop in the back -- right next to about ten or twelve rickety gravestones. It’s so quiet back there that it’s creepy, ya know?”
“Yeah,” Josie said glancing at the spot where that last pigeon had flown to, “creepy!”
Josie quickly told Adam about the fanny pack and its contents.
“Maybe, she’s still around here somewhere,” Adam said, glancing at the sleeping bag. “Let’s look for her, maybe she’s hurt or something.”
The pigeons overhead whooshed off the roof and settled in the dusty yard. In a loud flurry of feathers they all breezed off into the woods at once leaving an eerie silence behind.
Josie felt goose bumps the size of thimbles on her bare arms. The hairs on the back of her neck stood at attention. She suddenly felt as though her breath had been knocked out of her. She looked sideways at Adam and was suddenly afraid of him. She could feel her eyes roll back into her skull.
Something pecked at her brain, a nibbling tickling sensation see-sawed through her consciousness – kill him so we can eat -- but she pushed the strange thought away with almost a giggle and followed Adam into the creepy house.
The interior of the house was not what Josie expected. Instead of emptiness and desolation, it was completely furnished with old-fashioned flowery furniture. It looked as though the folks who’d lived there had gone out to pick berries one day and never came back. Dirty dishes still littered the kitchen table. Old food on them would have long ago been devoured by rats, mice, and insects. Mouse droppings littered the floors and open surfaces. Their shoes crunched over the debris as they walked about. Cobwebs shrouded the rooms with an eerie filtered light.
“Josie” Adam said, “what do you think happened to the people who lived here?”
Josie could only shrug. She felt empty and sad?
“Something must have happened, they’ve been gone for a very long time. Should we check the other rooms in case anyone – like Marjorie -- is here?”
Adam nodded and they carefully creaked their way through the old house looking for clues to its abandonment or ownership.
All of the bedrooms were empty with neatly made beds – moth-eaten and grimy now – but in their day they had probably been neat. Old homemade quilts and braided rag rugs gave the two children an inkling of the way homes may have looked years ago.
As Adam and Josie tread gingerly through a workshop-like room in the rear of the house, pigeons swirled through the sky outside the window. Some of them landed on windowsills and pecked loudly at the glass.
With each new peck, Josie’s head pounded. Strange garbled words stabbed at her brain.
KILL – HIM!
WE MUST EAT!
Josie’s eyes rolled back in her head. She picked up a rusty hatchet and planted it in the center of Adam’s skull. She then dragged the body through the back yard and into the woods where the swarm of pigeons flocked to it and began to feed on Adam’s still warm flesh.
Josie screamed and passed out cold.
When she awakened, she fluffed her new gray feathers and glanced quickly around at her new friends. Then she pecked into the flesh with ravenous hunger.
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