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Chapter One: Alien Abduction

Fowl Weather CoverLinda sprang up from her chair to reheat her food in the microwave yet again. "Ollie, if you don't let me eat, I'm going to brain you." She was talking to a little green parrot slightly larger than a parakeet. "I'm not shaking the pill bottle. We don't fight with the pill bottle at dinner. We eat our peas."
            His squawking distracted me just long enough for my parrot Stanley Sue to twist the spoon from my hand, spilling mashed potatoes as it clattered to the linoleum and sent her flying across the room in fright. The passage of Stanley Sue attracted the ire of Howard the dove, who considered the dining room air space exclusively his own. From his perch on top of the refrigerator, he took off in pursuit of Stanley Sue, just as she chose the worst possible spot to make her landing, clinging like a thistle to the side of large Congo African grey parrot Dusty's cage.
            "Dusty, no!"
             I had no chance of reaching Stanley Sue before Dusty could bite her feet through the bars, so I snatched a placemat and hurled it toward the greys. Although the missile hit the parakeet cage instead, it succeeded in launching Stanley Sue a second time. Dusty banged to the floor of his cage, Ollie sailed haplessly toward the window, and a panicky Howard shot into the living room, where black cat Agnes lay observing the melee from the back of the couch.
            "Get Howard!" Linda hollered, but he wasn't in danger. Lighting on the coat rack out of reach of the bored cat, he flicked his wings and hooted his indignity at the inconvenience of it all. By the time I had extracted Howard's toes from Linda's scarf, Stanley Sue had waddled across the floor, climbed to the top of her cage, and clucked in anticipation of the next spoonful of food as if nothing unusual had happened.
            "Agnes!" Dusty called in a perfect yet somehow unflattering imitation of my voice. "Come here, Agnes." But he didn't fool the cat.
            As I stepped back into the dining room cupping Howard in my hands, my big toe failed to clear the two-foot-high plywood board that theoretically bunny-proofed the rest of the house, knocking it to the floor with a familiar thwack. Linda bent down to maneuver it back into position, but not before the tiny donkey-colored Bertie charged the breech and disappeared into the living room. I plopped Howard into his cage t then joined Linda in the rabbit hunt.
            "Oh, no, you didn't go there?' she groaned. "My back can't take this." But he had. Energized by his escape, Bertie had managed to scrabble over the TV tray which I had angled between a stereo speaker and the wall to prevent him from hiding behind the entertainment center – exactly where he had wedged himself.
            Taking advantage of our absence, Agnes bounded over the board and into the dining room for a closer look at the birds. Scolding chirps advertised her presence. "I'm watching you," I informed her.
            Kneeling in front of the almighty television, I flung open a cabinet door of the entertainment center, surprising Bertie just long enough for me to snatch him up with one hand and extend him toward Linda, who reached the dining room just as the board tipped over again in protest. Catching Linda's admonishing glare, Agnes fled down the stairs to the basement. I slammed shut the door behind her.
            "Can we eat in peace now?" Linda asked the room as she replaced the board for what she hoped would be the last time that evening.
            "I doubt it," I muttered darkly.

            The weird sounds outside the window didn't penetrate the haze of my bad mood at first. Stanley Sue's bell was still clattering around inside my head. Three times she had rattled her bell since dinner demanding a peanut. Three times she had refused to take it when I had lifted her cage cover. Finally, after I had cajoled her with baby talk, she deigned to pluck the nut from my fingers, only to hurl it to the floor of her cage.
            Immersed in gloom, I shut off the bathroom faucet, pouting because I hadn't wanted to watch a rerun of The Beverly Hillbillies featuring Jethro's female cousin Jethrine. I had wanted to watch Monster House, a decorating show where people lose control of their homes without the involvement of a parrot. Grousing to myself about the shocked faces I'd missed seeing, I flung a wet washcloth toward the bathtub, then froze and cocked my head at the window and a noise like bubbling water.
            I moved closer to the wall, careful to keep my skinny shadow from falling on the shade and frightening the visitor with the silhouette of a giant stick insect. As the warbling intensified, I decided that two animals were making the sounds. They were either conspiring against me in hushed tones right outside the house or, having just watched Monster House, they were whooping it up beyond the backyard fence down in the hollow.
            I've heard this before, I thought. But not in our yard. I associated the sounds with the tropics, which didn't make a lot of sense, considering that I rarely got much nearer to the equator than northern Indiana.
            "Linda," I whispered, poking my head around the doorframe. "Come listen to this. Tell me what it is."
            Lying flat on the floor in her usual spot, Linda closed an old issue of Good Old Days magazine, kicked off her afghan, and clambered to her feet. The unreliable disc between the fourth and fifth lumbar in her lower back had gone out again as a result of the rabbit chase. I was reluctant to disturb her, but this struck me as a miraculous event.
            I popped back into the bathroom, squeezed my eyes closed, and concentrated. I'd heard the vocalizations before on an episode of The Crocodile Hunter perhaps — or on the CD of rainforest sounds I listened to during my pathetic attempts at meditation. But by the time Linda had clomped to my side at the window, the animals had clammed up. This was typical. I couldn't even count the number of times an incessant singer like a Red-Eyed Vireo had shut its beak the instant she had stepped outdoors to hear it with me.
            "What is it?"
            I raised a finger to my lips. "Monkeys, it sounds like."
            She flashed me an exasperated look.
            "Or baboons," I told her. "I haven't quite gotten it yet. Listen. They'll do it again."
            We stood quietly as air hissed through the furnace duct at the base of the sink. The bathtub drain gurgled right on cue.
            "That?" she asked. I shook my head vehemently, frowning and wiggling my hand toward the window. "Something outdoors? An animal?" she quizzed me, as if we were playing charades. "It's probably just a couple of raccoons."
            "Raccoons?" I followed her into the living room. "In February? They're hibernating."
            "So are all the Michigan monkeys."
            I threw a heavy jacket over my powder blue pajama shirt, then stuffed my bare feet and green plaid pajama pants cuffs into a pair of boots. Rummaging through the back of the pet supplies closet, I fished out a flashlight that, quite unexpectedly, lit when my thumb clicked the switch. "I'd better take a peek at the ducks," I announced. "If those are raccoons, I want to make sure everybody's safe." As I pulled a stocking cap over my ears, I told her, "I know what raccoons sound like, and those things aren't raccoons."
            I didn't worry excessively about our backyard birds. Barring a grizzly bear attack, they were secure in their pens – and I hadn't tangled with a grizzly since the Ice Age of 1967. Thinking back, it had probably been a snarling Sister Rachel who had chased me underneath a desk in my Catholic Central High School English class. In those days, I'd paid scant attention to animals. But after I married Linda fifteen years ago, we slowly started accumulating critters, and I had grown fond of even the most ill tempered ones.
            Much of the accumulating was inadvertent. Our first duck cropped up when my brother-in-law, Jack, rescued her from the parking lot of an auto parts supply warehouse whose employees were peppering her with stones. We had bought another duck to keep her company and within a scant few years had also taken in orphan geese, turkeys, and hens. Similar chaos had unfolded inside the house. We had naively begun with a belligerent pet bunny, added a canary, a dove, and a tyrannical parrot, and soon found ourselves providing a home for the winged and unwanted – including the abandoned baby songbirds that Linda raised and released each summer.
            At first, the joys and jolts of caring for thirty-odd oddball animals had worn me down into a nubbins. Gradually, however, the relentless grind of countless clean up chores, endless home veterinary tasks, and limitless feedings had become as easy as falling off a log and sustaining contusions from head to toe. My unusual life had ceased to strike me as extraordinary any longer. I longed for the unexpected, and that was always a mistake.

            I didn't seriously expect to discover a troupe of primates cavorting on the back deck. That just didn't make sense. But I did hold out hope that a supernatural animal might be paying us an inter-dimensional visit. I'd been reading John A. Keel's Strange Creatures from Time and Space and Loren Coleman's Mysterious America about anomalous critters that show up where they don't belong. Phantom kangaroos bounded across Chicago suburbs, panthers roamed Michigan's Oakland County, and birds the size of ponies buzzed Ohio Valley farms. The breathless possibility that the miraculous could leak into even a life as dull as mine was all there in matter-of-fact black-and-white. So if a saddle soap salesman in Saskatoon could surprise a Sasquatch, I surmised, why couldn't I astonish an ape in our apple tree?
            I was shocked to walk out the front door and leave behind a house on the edge of slumber and enter a world in turmoil. One moment I'd been sinking into the nightly lull after tucking in a dozen indoor animals. The next moment I found myself immersed in swirling snow. The storm had moved in without so much as a polite rap on the door to inform us it was coming. Five hours ago when I had changed the water in the duck wading pools, I hadn't seen so much as a feather in the air. But six inches of snow had piled up in the dark like compounded interest on a credit card.
            Leaving the glow of the house behind, I trudged toward the silhouette of our barn. Raising the flashlight beam from the ground encased me in a blinding capsule of confetti. Next to a fenced in area where Linda grew sunflowers in the summer, I hurried a little. That part of the yard always felt creepy after dark, as if space aliens regularly picked me up, wiped my memory clean, then plopped me down among the seed hulls. I coughed to announce my presence to any entities within earshot.
            The barn door was securely shut. Nothing could have gotten inside, but I gave the interior a check with my flashlight, throwing shadows of roosting hens around the walls and annoying our Muscovy duck, Victor, who was instantly at my side panting and hissing with menace. "You're okay, hon," I told him. I swept past the amber eye of a chicken, slammed the door behind me, and headed for the pen behind the house. As far as I could tell, the snowfall was fluffy and unbroken by the tracks of a giant hairy hominid. The ducks muttered as I checked the latches of their pens. Our goose Liza croaked an inquisitive honk, urging her sister Hailey to second the question, but I moved on before they decided to erupt.
            As I followed my footprints back to the front yard, I realized, to my amazement, that I had actually enjoyed my walk – somewhat, more or less, at least. I hated winter and any other season that made me lace myself up in thigh-high boots. But the disorienting aspects of the storm had won me over. The snow camouflaged the landmarks of our property by adding rounded, flowing corners to the shrubs, mailbox, and porch steps. The sidewalk, gravel shoulder, and asphalt road had completely vanished. Ten feet from my own front door, I was in terra incognita. I stared at the streaming snowflakes, doing my best to hallucinate that they were static, and I was shooting upward, but the house and Linda's car shot upward with me, and that ruined the illusion. I gave up and retreated indoors.
            "Did you see it?" Linda asked as I stomped my boots on the floor mat that read: THE TARTES. Stripping off my coat in the living room, I felt chilly for the first time. It took a moment to recall what she was asking me about.
            "No," I said. "Nothing. Not even a raccoon."

            Back home from work the next day, I walked into the kitchen to find Stanley Sue settled comfortably on the countertop. From the fresh set of chew marks decorating our wooden breadbox, I could see what she'd been doing. For months she had made the tops of Bertie's and Walter's cages her base of operation for launching attacks on the already decimated window sill and floor molding. And if the bunnies were foolish enough to rouse from their daylight hours naps, she might snap ineffectually at them through the wire mesh while strutting above their heads.
            For reasons only known to Stanley Sue, the afternoon arrived when she abandoned her obsession with rabbits and woodwork, marched across the linoleum, and attached herself to the kitchen instead. She attached herself by the beak, opening and slamming shut any cupboard doors within reach, then beveling the corners to suit her artistic sensibilities. Climbing a ladder of drawer pulls, she gnawed her way up to the countertop, adorning the Formica edge with a signature chip, before sculpting the front of the silverware drawer. We tolerated all this destruction, because it unfolded slowly over time. But Stanley finally went too far when she tested her athletic abilities by picking up Linda's cow-shaped ceramic spoon rest and giving it a discus toss.
            We already limited her out-of-cage hours to circumvent problems with the other birds. We rarely let Howard loose at the same time as Stanley Sue, because the defenseless dove would foolishly pick a fight with our winged whittler. We couldn't trust Elliot the canary and our parakeets to keep clear of her as they buzzed between the rooms like colorful bumblebees. And the incessantly squawking Ollie proved too tempting a target for any of us. More than once, I had lunged at him myself. Remarkably, our two African grey parrots barely acknowledged one another's existence, though Stanley Sue had enjoyed ambushing her previous owner's macaw. That would have been a bad mistake with Dusty, who came out twice a day to play with Linda and menace me.
            Once we had made the decision to keep Stanley Sue out of the kitchen, barring her way seemed ridiculously easy at first. She was inexplicably afraid of intimacy with many common household objects, including cardboard wrapping paper tubes. We placed one of these across the floor in the space between the refrigerator and the dishwasher where the dining room became the kitchen. It made a most effective gate. Whenever Linda inadvertently squashed a tube underfoot on her way to the microwave with a heat pack for her back, she would simply replace the tube with another from the top of the refrigerator. A cluster huddled there awaiting duty for thumping to drive the bunnies back into their cages when their morning or evening liberation came to an end.
            Although Stanley Sue could fly, it apparently never dawned on her that she could effortlessly sail above the cylindrical sentinel. The tube's terrible power extended from floor to ceiling in an impenetrable curtain. Her timidity lasted just over a week. One day my emailing session upstairs was interrupted by the clunk of a drinking glass downstairs. I found Stanley Sue at the sink in an animated mood. The cardboard tube lay at a confused angle across the floor, the upended glass darkened the rug with spots of water, and all was right with Stanley Sue's world again. She had finally mustered the courage to shove the tube aside.
            A barricade of three tubes seemed promising. But its deterrent effect petered out after only an hour. Shooing Stanley Sue back to her cage top, I placed our stuffed sock monkey Ed on the kitchen counter. At first sight of his face, her pupils dilated in distress and her feathers flattened against her body. She elongated her neck and stared at Ed with deep suspicion from across the room. The doll, which my Grandmother Ordowski had made for me decades ago, was now reborn as a scarecrow. To reinforce Ed's menacing potential, I would occasionally lift him a few inches above the countertop, and flop him back in forth in a madcap monkey dance. From Stanley Sue's cocked head and taut posture, it appeared that she was genuinely relieved to have resumed her post at Bertie's cage.
            She had even invented a new project for herself. By poking her beak between the cage bars at just the right spot, she could grab the bunny's food dish and dump it upside down. It was a black afternoon when I headed to the kitchen for coffee and encountered Stanley Sue, who wasn't merely sitting on the counter, but was further elevated on top of a gallon jug of spring water as if to underscore her newfound primacy over the stuffed primate. Ed slumped ineffectually against the breadbox.
            "You're not doing your job," I informed him.
            "I chased her off there 15 minutes ago," Linda told me as she rolled in the vacuum cleaner to tidy up the dining room for the ninetieth time that day. "She just goes right back up there again. We'll either have to keep her in her cage, or get something with flashing lights to keep her off my counter."
            "What do you mean, 'something with flashing lights'?"

            A horrific howl close to the house jolted me awake — a long, descending banshee call resembling a siren. Clear, unquavering, and downright scary, the sound had the same round-toned 'whoop' quality that I had heard on the night of the furious snow. It wasn't the wail of a dog or a coyote. It was primate-like rather than canine. An ascending howl followed, briefer but just as window rattling. I reached out a reassuring arm to Linda that was actually intended to reassure me. But her place in the bed was empty. I remembered that before we had turned in, she had told me that her back was bothering her, and she might move upstairs so as not to bother me. In her absence I hugged my pillow.
            Although I had wanted another chance to hear the mystery animal, this was too much of a good thing and far too close besides. It might, after all, be how Bigfoot announced his presence before peeling the wall off a house. In full light of day or by the flickering light of The Beverly Hillbillies, the howl would have intrigued me rather than compacting me under the covers. But this wasn't a mere counterpoint to a host of familiar noises. It was the classic cry of a monster in the dark that creature-feature movies had warned me about since childhood. Only a bit-player slated for first-reel extinction would get up and investigate.
            I lay quietly as the clock ticked off my fears, hoping to hear telltale thumps from above, indicating that Linda had gotten out of bed and was on her way downstairs. She would be worried about the safety of the ducks rather than a mythical being. Checking on the animals was exactly what I needed to do, even if it involved nothing more physically compromising than glancing out at the backyard pen. If I were fortunate, I might merely witness an unearthly apparition that would doom me to spend the rest of my days on talk shows trying to convince jaded studio audiences that hairy humanoids were real. I might not get off that easily, though. I might witness a scene so unimaginable — such as a peanut-shaped spaceship piloted by an African grey parrot — as to crack my poor brain open like an egg.
            Marshalling my courage, I swung my legs over the side of the bed and sat for a while. Then I sat for a while longer. Having pretty much mastered sitting, I forced myself to my feet. Turning nervousness into momentum, I marched through the dark into the living room, then into a dining room flooded with moonlight. Our birds and rabbits snoozed peacefully in their cages without a care. Through the window, the ducks and geese at the bottom of the hill appeared unfazed as well. The pen doors were safely closed. The wire walls and roof remained intact, and the wooden uprights hadn't been splintered like so many matchsticks by a raging behemoth.
            The outdoors looked ominous in the glow of the nearly full moon. The woods was a confusion of inky shapes reaching up and thrown back down to the ground in sinister shadows capable of concealing a particularly skinny intruder – such as my evil twin. Each ditch and depression in the softly glowing snow hosted dark areas that a mouse-size being could have made into a hiding place. The spectral quality of the scene and my giddy state of mind created an inverted sense of seeing that pushed the familiar further away rather than bringing it closer, as if I were staring at an x-ray of our property. I found myself actually hoping for a bit of a scare. Even so, I wasn't able to psych myself into projecting a mystery animal onto the landscape. A deer in the right spot might have helped. I would even have welcomed a skunk.
            Aware of my presence, Stanley Sue flapped her wings inside her covered cage. In another moment she would ring her bell, annoyed that my worried lurking was disrupting her sleep, then Howard would awake and start to coo, Dusty would whistle and imitate the ringing of the phone, and the curtain would crash on my brush with non-ordinary reality. Taking one last dispirited look, I shuffled back toward the bedroom, only to collide with a colossal white shape in the hall. It turned out to Moobie, the overweight cat that was straining our feed bills and floorboards until we could find her a home.

            "What sounds?" Linda asked the next morning as we sat on the edge of the bed drinking cups of acid-free coffee. "Did that raccoon come by again?"
            In full light of day it was difficult to convey the mystery and fear of the wee hours I had spent cringing under the covers. My description of the unsettling howl piqued her interest only slightly.
            "Are you sure it wasn't an owl?"
            I knew the voices of the common Michigan owls — Barred, Great Horned, and Screech — and they didn't in the least resemble this piercing clarinet wail from hell. "I think it was a howler monkey," I told her. "Or maybe some sort of gibbon."
            "Funny you're the only one who seems to hear these things."
            "That's because you don't fascinate the space people the way I do."
            "It was probably an owl. Owls make all sorts of sounds."
            I protested this ridiculous suggestion with dignified silence.
            After breakfast I hopped onto the Internet and began downloading sound files of owls, along with other types of bird that might have ventured out into the Michigan night no matter the time of year, from goatsucker to nightjar to Long-Eared Owl. I listened to hoots, groans, croaks, whinnies, barks, gasps, and whistles, along with a whip-poor-will, chee-chee-chee, and even a pee-ant. But nothing with wings filled the bill.
            If a Bigfoot-size creature had paid us a visit, it would have plowed a hard-to-miss path through the snow. A multi-tentacled extraterrestrial might have left sucker prints behind for a sucker like me to find. I felt almost intrepid as I suited up for a tracking expedition, donning a pair of barn boots fitted with ice cleats in case the terrain got rough, and pulling rubber work gloves over cotton gloves to keep my hands dry should I need to rummage in the wet for clues. As a finishing touch, I slung my binoculars over my shoulder, in case, I suppose, I wanted to spy on suspicious squirrels on the bank of the Grand River.
            I never made it as far as the river. The soft ground cover of a few days earlier was truly a thing of the past. Thawing and refreezing had created a crunchy surface that collapsed and threw me off balance with each lurching step. The cleats were useless under these conditions, though they saved me from falling once I'd crawled over the backyard fence and rapidly descended the hill on a sheet of ice courtesy of nine wild turkeys and my wife. The turkeys' daily visits for scratch feed scattered by Linda had packed down the snow and polished it into a toboggan run.
            Turkey prints were only the beginning. As I trudged through the hollow I discovered a complex freeway system of animal routes. I crisscrossed deer, squirrel, rabbit, housecat, and possum paths along with prints from critters I couldn't identify. Several tracks looked promisingly weird until I got on top of them and found familiar hoof prints at the bottom. Faced with so many prints to investigate and no obvious primate or cephalopod shapes, I called it a day after less than twenty minutes. The amount of traffic was mind numbing. The animals were clearly the property owners. Linda and I were just squatters huddled inside a box.
            Back indoors, I kept replaying the howl through my head until the idea that I had heard it before paid off. I rooted through my CDs and found a collection of Malagasy music called A World Out Of Time, Volume 2. Linda was cleaning birdcages in the dining room when I triumphantly slid the disc into the boombox and hit the play button. Overlapping primate whoops burst forth over a drumbeat.
            "What is that?" she asked as she filled Howard's seed dish.
            "Lemurs," I announced with a note of triumph in my voice. "Indri lemurs. Native to Madagascar and found nowhere else on the planet."
            "That's a sound Dusty would love to copy. We'll have to start playing it for him."
            "That's more or less what I heard in the yard both times," I said. "Not exactly what I heard, but closer than anything else I've found."
            "You could make that sound, couldn't you, Dusty?" Her parrot was not only adept at dead-on mimicry of our voices, but he also impersonated electronic appliances, handclaps, creaking doors, and ice cubes falling into a drinking glass. "Maybe you just heard Dusty," she said.
            "Dusty? How could it have been Dusty? He hasn't even heard the lemur calls until this very minute. I haven't played this CD in years."
            "But he could have made a sound like that. It could have been Dusty."
            I retreated upstairs.

            Shifting my short attention span to our gnawed kitchen woodwork, I recalled reading about high-end robotic toys that moved and emitted sounds in response to motion or noise. They seemed tailor made to discourage Stanley Sue from venturing into the room. I found the budget version at a store just down the road. The blue mechanical bird with transparent red crest, wings, and tail feathers resembled a cross between a baby Blue Jay and a tuna can. The two pairs of eyes hinted at the dual nature of what proved to be a troublesome toy. Red plastic domes the size of quarters bulged from either side of the head where a bird's eyes ought to be. But a black rectangle up front just above the yellow beak contained two more eyes. These were red LEDs that blinked and changed shape from hearts to Xs depending upon the robot's mood.
            Waving a small magnetic corn cob near the beak was equivalent to feeding the bird, and the automaton expressed its gratitude by chirping "Merrily We Roll Along" or another annoying ditty accompanied by head swivels, wing flaps, beak snaps, and enthusiastic bowing. A sharp noise near the toy caused a happy twitter as did waving a hand across the light-sensitive eyes, which I hoped could detect a close encounter with Stanley Sue.
            More than anything else, though, the mechanical bird craved pressure on its crest. Pressing the plastic plume whenever I entered the kitchen kept the toy nattering joyously in response to the piercing chirps, squawks, and whistles from our parrots and parakeets. Failing to press the plume or forgetting to proffer the magnetic corn plunged the bipolar robot into silent depression so unshakeable that no crescendo of noise in the room could lift its spirit.
            This insistence on attention proved to be the toy's downfall. For nearly two weeks, Stanley Sue stayed in the dining room well away from the mechanical bird with its repertoire of random-interval song and dance routines. My heart soared with hope that her behavior had finally changed. But the robot bird's behavior had shifted, too. The sadists who had programmed its microchip decided that every few days it would be fun to have the toy cycle through a sullen phase that required intensive plume pressing and magnetic feeding. Otherwise it merely issued a brief grumble in response to stimuli. Frankly, I wasn't having it. It was one thing to coddle a flesh and blood pet. It was quite another to include a plastic bird in my daily schedule of chores and visits. For a while, I solved the sulking problem by turning the toy upside down, then removing and replacing its batteries. This reset it to a state of chirpy ecstasy. But I grew sick of the battery changing, and Stanley Sue soon decided that an intermittently active bird was no threat whatsoever. She retook her prized countertop and perched on top of the water jug.
            "If you want to stay up there, you can't be near the breadbox," I informed her.
            She took exception to the restriction. When I moved the water jug toward the center of the countertop out of reach of things wooden, she startled me by springing off it and flying back to her cage. She didn't fly short distances gracefully. Her wingbeats were as loud as those of the robotic bird, and she bobbled slightly off balance when she landed.
            I looked at her. You could almost hear the snap of a spark as our gazes locked. I drifted toward her, pulled across the room by the irresistible force that bound the two of us together. Oh, that alien, I thought. That alien has got me again. My two eyes focused on her one eye. I came closer. I smiled at her, and the black pupil changed size ever so minutely, pulsing in and out as it floated in a thick white yolk lit with a hint of gold.
            Her eye was welcoming, but that's because I knew she welcomed me. In point of fact, I'd noted the same glint in the eye of a parrot that wanted nothing better than to chomp my hand. You couldn't see the affection in her face. Her upper beak curved backward in a frown from the wickedly pointed tip, then, at the last moment, flowed upward in a smile. That mouth could mean anything. She was aggressive toward our other birds, having once sent Howard to the vet in terrible shape. Another time, she caught our canary in midair and threw him to the floor like a ceramic spoon rest. But she was tolerant toward my wife and the essence of gentleness with me. Leaning over the cage top, she lowered her head beneath her feet and raised it again, never taking her eye off me, in what I had learned was her silent approximation of a chuckle.
            "Stanley," I told her. "Stanley Sue."
            She opened and closed her beak making a quiet clucking which was probably her attempt to mock my speech. Unlike Dusty, she didn't talk, but she spoke volumes nonetheless. I leaned down, touching my nose to her beak. I laughed, and she clucked. Demonstrating her extreme satisfaction, she began to preen the feathers on her chest, ignoring me as I finally walked away. Before leaving the kitchen, I picked up the mechanical bird and placed it on top of the refrigerator, where it could keep the cardboard wrapping paper tubes company.

            I assumed my post at the bathroom window hoping to hear the primates whooping it up again. It wasn't a pleasant vigil. Linda had replaced the heating grate next to the sink, because it had started to rust. But she had trouble fitting the new grate in place until a stroke of inspiration convinced her to rip out the metal vanes that limited the heat flow. A shower became a visit to the sauna. While the water faucets glowed red hot, and toothbrushes melted into sticky puddles, a cup of steaming tea anywhere else in the house froze solid in a matter of seconds.
            I slept lightly most of the week, keeping one ear cocked for teeth-jarring cries. One night, a disturbance out in the duck pen woke Dusty, and he responded with a descending whistle, which I tried to pin on a geographically-challenged lemur. But the harmonic complexity was missing. Dusty hadn't made my mysterious nocturnal noises, if there had been any noises after all. I started to convince myself that I had dreamed the entire thing.
           Buy this BookI sat up in bed an hour or so later to find a gray-skinned extraterrestrial skulking near the bed and bent on the usual kidnapping. I played along with the abduction, but once we reached the front door, I grabbed the little fellow by the scruff of the neck, ushered him off the porch into the hard-packed snow, and turned to close the door. His baseball size eyes bore a wounded look.
           "Nothing personal," I said, as I watched him pad away. "You're welcome back when you can tell me what all of this means."

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