Chapter 1: [ecosystem]

Rats ash roaches with birds and cats and dogs in heats of the jungle. Cheetah print’s a pattern as common as camouflage, and both to better stand out. Butterfly tattoos poke out the edges of cotton candy-colored cotton tank tops and float down and around snakes that slither on the sidewalk. The asphalt streets are water where sharks and the other aquatic predators preside, and those same streets are borders and barriers to territories owned by land-dwellers, ownership in turn marked by blood from an enemy and paint from a spray can, like piss from a hyena. With some ingenuity, fire hydrants become geysers; wisps of steam rise off the face of tarmac savannahs.

Somewhere, a hunter’s shot rings out and echoes against the walls in the “projects.” The shot was fired by a lion looking for wolves; apt. Once discovered, stalked, and fired upon, some vultures, they scatter like gazelles, leaving their money and dice where they are. Then pigs, dressed in blue and unusually alert to the clamber, swarm the scene in a dozen minutes or so for a dozen minutes or so. Some of them snort; no report is filed. Dear does, as fatherless as Bambi, watch from the park across the street, while still fawning after their babies. Glassy-eyed urchins tend to cling to store’s storefronts, begging silently for sustenance: funds for fishscale. And any and all trees are wrapped in tobacco leaves, stripped of their stems, and deposed of their seeds. Mold and moss and ivy are in abundance in the many buildings abandoned. McDonald’s is there, in proximity of the gunshot, and oft where all the critters meet confluence.

Chapter 2: Grimace

A crock in red Crocs, with scaly arms and warts like a toad, croaks to the bewildebeast behind the counter. “I want a bacon cheeseburger, and I want French fries, and a soda.”

She, slowly, highlights the aforementioned items on her screen, and then hesitates and says, “Do you want the meal, or everything separate?”

He’s puzzled. She can tell and she points to the brightly lit menu above her. The “menu” is in fact a baffling schema of “deals” and “meals” and spiels, besides the obviously doctored photos of the food in quandary and advertisement.

“You save a dollar if you get the meal.” She: point.

“Yeah, I want the meal. Why wouldn’t I want that shit?” bellows the crock.

The bewildebeast shrugs and mutters, “I don’t know.”

She takes his money, in dollars and change, and counts it, returning three nickels and a penny to him, his change swaddled in the receipt. Aside from the crock’s red crocs, he dons grey Nike sweatpants and has a fat, marginally-exposed, margarine-inspired, jiggling belly, jiggling around in—and slightly out of—an almost—but not entirely—opaque polo wife-beater. He moves with it down the counter, more toward the section where you’re supposed to get your food.

Next in line, after the crock, a two-headed creature, crackhead and chickenhead. She drapes an acid-washed and bead-encrusted denim jacket, and beneath it pink crop top, atop the sagging skin of her top section (torso) and below a tight black skirt that ends just above her knees, to desensitize her bottom half to the public. Sometimes she wears white Nike sneakers, sometimes sparkly pink boots, a cheap Uggs alternative that look like they had belonged to a gay astronaut, and also sometimes she wears heart-shaped red sunglasses, on good days. Today, she wore the boots and not the sunglasses. She’d been around too, too many years.

“A coffee and a Sprite,” she clucked to the bewildebeast, before slapping a 20 on the counter.

Change and receipt received, she also moved down toward the end of the counter, leaving only one more in line. The lion.

The lion wanted a cheeseburger and French fries before he went to play golf. He needed an alibi for the shooting. Attempted shooting, that is: no one got shot as far as he knew and could tell, but yes, he was the shooter. So he decided to, for the first time, play golf, and had booked some course time at a hotel/resort for him and his friends. They’d been staying there for the past few days, still running back secretly to the neighborhood to do “errands,” of course: establish presence. They were already there, his crew, on the green at Evergreen, ready to vouch for him if needs be. Thoughts of his goonish pride in that environment made him chuckle, guffaw almost.

Nobody’d got hit during the shooting, and the wolf that the lion was gunning for wasn’t even present when he was supposed to be, but given that what went down went down in said wolves’ pack’s haunt, they’d still get the message. But how would they react now, the lion pondered. He still seethed a little underneath; he had wanted to kill that wolf. All this he thought to himself whilst strutting up to the bewildebeast’s monitor and menu and uniform and claw-like nails, painted ugly colors and mustache and badly-dyed, badly treated hair, dyed ugly colors and fake eyelashes and eyebrows and abrasive lipstick and (etc.).

The lion gazed at the menu as he strutted up to her and her counter and he said,” I’ll take a Number 3.”

“That’ll be ___,” she said.

He paid with cash, peeling a 20, the smallest denomination he had, from a wad withdrawn from his pants pocket. And she gave him his change. In the process, the bewildebeast or the lion—no one could tell—dropped a penny. It hit the tile floor. She apologized, and he accepted. Then he neglected the coin and moved down the counter. The bewildebeast stared at the penny and did nothing. The croc stared at the penny and did nothing. The two-headed monster saw it and thought about it, but chickenhead convinced crackhead not to. It stayed put on the floor, as food for an urchin, maybe.

Chapter 3: Charlotte’s Web

Pigs to the lion, in their blue uniforms with their gold badges and their black Glocks and hard rubber boots, made an entrance into McDonald’s.

The lion’s phone started to ring. It shook his pocket, he picked up, the pigs moved, they moved in. To the phone he said, “What?”

“Where—“                                                                      The two-face looked up.

“You’re coming with us.”                                             Croc mutters, kinda.

Handcuffs.                                                                    The bewildebeast kind of cowered, but also                                                                                                  smiled while the lion was led out.

An interrogation room is walls and a table and a chair for you and chairs for the cops, but there are ceiling lights embedded in the ceiling behind a pane. Oh, and top left corner: a camera.

Detectives enter. The lion’s crutched on his pride, in the chair he was put in, head high. They close the door behind them. Two: curious, a hawk; ginger stubble, dark, narrow eyes, cropped ginger hair, brown trenchcoat, blue collar, nice shoes. And then a jackass: tall, gruff, grey hairs. A photo (slammed on the table) of a boy of maybe seven, eight, nine, ten years? The boy is wearing a green sweater with a stripe on it; short hair, big smile; the photo’s from about five feet away, taken outside, railroad tracks go overhead in the distance; disposable camera film, not a reprint, the real thing. Dramatic.

Too bright in the room for this, thought the lion. He was nonplussed. He’d been rightly and wrongly accused before; he knew the routine.

“Ricochet.”

“Your car, witnesses…”

This was sudden. He wasn’t prepared, but he rallied. The first plan had gone down. He couldn’t claim to be in the middle of golfing at the resort anymore, because then why would he have been back at the McDonald’s; too many questions. Or could he? Reason:

Abruptly: “My grandmother needed me to move her couch.”

“Your what?!” said the jackass.

“And my car, it’s very common.” (He’d switched the plates, so he knew that was fine.)

The weight didn’t bother him. This was always the contingency, should he ever be in need of an out from the police. He’d never had to do this, and she’d told him—when she told him he could—way back then, when he was a kid hiding from his mother at her house, he’d only ever get one. It worked though.

The hawk called the grandmother. He said, “Hello.”

And she answered, harshly, “Who is this?”

Harsh enough to have the hawk immediately answer back “This is Detective XXXXX, I work for the New-New Jersey Cornflake Police Department.”

Cornflake: a quasi-suburban mini-city outside of New-New Jersey City that most people try to avoid.

“Is there a problem?” the grandmother, still harshly.
“Sorry to bother you, we just need to confirm whether or not your grandson, the lion, was with you today between 11am and 4pm.”

“Oh, Stanley?” A change in tone. “Is he okay? Is he there? Yes. He was helping me move my couch and then we got to talking…”

“Thank you.” He cut her off; the frustrated hawk hung up.

Chapter 4: Interrogation Room

His grandmother pulled her sedan over to the curb. She’s white leopard print all over, dark but electric eyes, but she looks sad. A little abashedly but mostly domineeringly, the lion tells her thanks, but she’s stone-faced. Something’s up.

“What’s wrong with you?” when in the front seat.

“Why did the police need to talk to you?” she asked, as if she didn’t know, hoping that she was wrong.

“A boy was killed,” a pause, “by accident. They wanted to know if I knew anything.”

“And?”

“And I had nothing to say! Where were they when anybody else got killed? What good have they done besides locking up people we know for doin’ nothing. I didn’t tell them shit.”

“You know who got killed, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, some little boy, I said, it was sad…”

“That was Jennifer’s boy. You remember her? Her husband?”

“Holy fuck.” He put his head in his hands, pressed his palms to his temples.

“What happened, Stanley?”

She was driving now, there wasn’t any traffic, they glided through intersections and stood briefly at stop signs. The strip mall, the fast food chains: they went in and out of view. He was angry now.

“Nothing. I don’t know. The cops said it was an accident.”

“You know they’ve been looking for Jen’s son for a few days now, since she died. I guess it did only make sense that he wandered over here…”

Stanley stayed quiet.

***

For all installments from 30 Birds, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. “Velvet” by the Bloody Eyes
  2. “Subtle” by Yukio Mishima
  3. “Geronimo Sunset!” by Jun. 27
  4. “My Hero” by Annie Wonoffate Million
  5. “Gender” by Jun. 27, Part 1
  6. “Gender” by Jun. 27, Part 2
  7. “Eel Dogs ‘Til Stupid” by Jun. 27
  8. “Pleasant Town” by Jun. 27
  9. “Daffy” by Herman Barker
  10. “Classic, Ecstatic, and Shocked (My First Kiss)” by John Robert Barnes
  11. I Would/Would I?/Wouldn’t You?
  12. “Fabled” by Jun. 27
  13. “Simpatico Starring Matthew McConaughey” by Harrison Ford
  14. “Tarantella” by Jun. 27
  15. “That Time a Toucan Was in Our Backyard/The Very First Thing I Can Remember” by John Robert Barnes
  16. “Gutwrenching (Sadism in Palindrome)” by the Bloody Eyes
  17. “Maraschino” by John Robert Barnes
  18. “Church and God” by John Robert Barnes
  19. “And a Phanta?smagoria” by John Robert Barnes
  20. “Velvet (Cont’d)” by the Bloody Eyes