People around here are begging for stories. Just like little kids. You get what you ask for.
A Bird In The Hand: A Cautionary Tale
1. The Devil's in the details.
Michael Joseph Mary Immaculate O'Driscoll had a plan. Not a very good plan. Not a very safe plan. A plan that most sane, God-fearing folk would sadly shake their heads at whilst genuflecting furiously.
Michael Joseph Mary Immaculate O'Driscoll's plan would see him elevated from what most sane, God-fearing people saw as a slightly strange Irish beggar into the type of person those very same people looked up to and admired.
Michael Joseph Mary Immaculate O'Driscoll was going to make a deal with the devil – sell his immortal soul for earthly gain.
He was sick of living on the street, playing a child's gaudy plastic tambourine in exchange for sympathy pennies. His own Ma and Da would've crossed the street to avoid him, running off to Father O'Reilly to pray for his immortal soul.
All his life he'd been threatened with purgatory and hellfire, so if he was indeed hell bound, why not profit from it in the meantime? What had his Irish Catholic upbringing brought him?
A family who had kicked him out as soon as he turned sixteen, the only thing left of his family life, a broken Power Rangers watch that he'd had since he was ten!
The meek may inherit the earth, but he was sick to the rotting back teeth with being meek.
He wanted wealth, wanted women, wanted fame and fortune, good looks, a mansion, several cars, a decent watch that actually worked and a hot meal whenever he wished.
Furthermore, he had luckily come across the very means to do the deal and reap the rewards that very day.
Michael had been searching through the bins at the rear of the Roman Catholic cathedral when he had come across the remains of a very old book.
The old and flaking, obviously handwritten pages, described in great detail exactly how one would summon a daemon, the materials needed and the resulting bargains that may be struck, warning of the eternal damnation that would surely follow.
Michael was sure that the daemon world would not object to him using a discarded paper coffee cup instead of a silver chalice, wouldn't bat an eyelid to him using half a packet of Aldi Italian style herbs instead of the list of exotic spices, and couldn't be bothered if he used his battered old penknife instead of a ceremonial Tibetan athame
The only other item he needed was a live goat to sacrifice.
There weren't many goats wandering around the backstreets, (or indeed the main roads), of Liverpool. Undaunted, Michael continued his search, ears pricked for the merest hint of a bleat. By ten o'clock he was pretty sure the city was goatless.
Michael was, however, nothing if not inventive.
The pigeon sat in the alleyway, cooing sadly whilst it wondered why if couldn't fly, the broken wing hanging loosely at its side, when Michael found it.
Hurrying back to the doorway he called home, Michael Joseph Mary Immaculate O'Driscoll carefully arranged the herbs, coffee cup and penknife, faithfully copied the diagrams of symbols from the book in chalk (he had found an almost full can of red paint a few days ago but didn't want to upset the owner of the doorway who kindly let him sleep there) on the flagstones and reached into his coat for the injured pigeon.
Chanting the summoning words, Michael performed a rather crude blunt penknife based execution, holding the poor bird over the coffee cup and waited with satisfied expectation.
He waited a little more, swirling the thickening blood around a little for effect.
Michael repeated the summons, holding both arms skywards for added effect and waited.
Not a sausage.
He took another pinch of Aldi Italian style herbs and sprinkled them above the bloody cup for added effect, a little more in the way of a wait.
Nothingness, absolutely bugger all.
Eventually he got tired of waiting and making effective gestures, angrily looked at his useless Power Rangers watch, kicked the dead pigeon angrily into the gutter, angrily arranged his cardboard walls and angrily crawled into his damp sleeping bag. What a waste of a day!
As midnight struck, just some three minutes later, the daemon appeared.
Summonsed and bound by the words – but given slight leeway by the use of Italian style herbs and a discarded cappuccino cup – the daemon looked around for the powerful being that had called him from Hell, keen to give the creature whatever its black heart desired, then pop back to the underworld in time for supper.
It totally failed to recognise the sleeping heap of angry, stinking, damp cardboard and cloth as a human being, instead it registered the spent soul of a small winged creature.
Many times had it granted life and power to those on the brink of death, a few extra years of life spent with health, power and wealth in return for a soul to add to the total.
Rather excitingly the daemon was only three souls short of winning a rather nice waffle maker, so wasn't being particularly fussy.
It carefully picked the bird from the gutter, fixing the broken wing and breathing devilish life into the cold tiny creature.
Five years and he'd be one soul closer to waffles whenever he wished them!
Job done, the rules of the summoning met, the daemon disappeared and was indeed back in time for supper.
2. Taking the Micky
"Come on son, wakey wakey!" The size ten Doc Martin gingerly poked the sleeping bag, "Looks like you've been on a bit of a bender? Come on lad, rise and shine!" The size ten became a little more demanding.
ichael Joseph Mary Immaculate reluctantly poked bleary eyes out of his squalid nest, squinting at the useless Power Rangers watch, two rather large constables blocked his view of the street.
"It's ok, officers, I have the owner's permission to be here, long as I move by opening time" The size ten hovered, ready for another poke, he gave the officers a knowing wink, "But for you fine folk I'll just pack up me stuff early and be on me way, eh?"
"And tell me – Michael isn't it? Tell me son, did the owners also give you permission to do this?" The officers eyes rolled, performing a rainbow of questions.
Michael disentangled himself and followed the rainbow.
The front of the building, from pavement to gutter was daubed in bright red script, undoubtably his very own handwriting, some words two feet tall, others tiny scribbles, over and over the words flowed in and out of each other.
Michael's head dizzied as he tried to track the repeated flow. No punctuation, a Möbius Strip of apparent gibberish.
"Michael Joseph, erm...ah bugger it, you're under arrest son, criminal damage, grab your gear and get in the car, lad!"
Handcuffs encircled his red painted hands. Michael didn't hear the cautiony bit as he was still transfixed by the words. He craned his neck as the car pulled away, the words mesmerising him.
3. Pocketful of trouble.
"So let me get this straight, you performed some kind of satanic ritual, hoping to summon the devil himself, then got bored, went to sleep and you know nowt about the graffiti covering the shop?" Constable Jones spoke in the general direction of the recorder, putting on his best posh voice in case the tape was ever played to a jury.
"Now that's the gospel Officer, the first I knew about the crime was when you and your mate here slapped the cuffs on me own hands!"
"Hands that were covered in the same red paint as the aforementioned graffiti!" Jones paused for dramatic effect, "Never heard of anyone sleep-painting before in my life, have you Michael?"
"Er, now that you come to mention it, I've not sir, no."
"Look, Michael, you're bang to rights, let's save all our time and just admit the criminal damage, you know you've been caught literally red handed!"
As Constable Jones prepared his final flourish for the recording he was interrupted by a bird flapping against the interview room's frosted window.
"Interview suspended at thirteen twenty-three; there appears to be a pigeon trying to get in!"
Jones hit the red button and moved towards the window, ready to shoo the bird away.
"Bloody flying rats, hate the things!" He reached for the catch, happening to catch the bird's eye. Jones felt he was falling, plummeting down through pitch blackness towards a deep red glow. Screams of torment assaulted his ears as down and down he fell.
The bird ignored the quaking white-faced policeman, hopped through the open window and fluttered to where Michael sat wide eyed, landing on his lap, the pigeon cooed its way into his coat pocket.
"Wha...? Erm...did?..." Jones was slightly baffled to find himself clinging to the windowsill arms out straight above his head and knees bent under himself, swaying an inch or so above the interview room floor.
"Bad back...just erm stretching it out!" He smiled lamely, before hitting the green button.
"Interview resumed, the time is 13.28, same date and location. Mr.O'Driscoll, you are still under caution, do you understand?" Jones shivered slightly despite the stuffy heat in the small room. "We have all the evidence we need to...."
The pigeon cooed softly. Jones' mind suddenly lurched. Thoughts of falling returned.
"Well, right, erm, after hearing your account Its obvious you have no case to answer and there will be no charges in this matter, thank you for your time, sir. You are free to go. On a personal note I would seek damages for wrongful arrest and maybe police brutality, those cuffs are a little uncomfy after all. Interview concluded, Mr O'Driscoll has been handed a notice of his rights and details of what will happen to the tapes. The time is now 13.31."
"Not according to my bloody watch!" O'Driscoll beamed as he was let out, pleased he'd given such a good account of himself and gently stroking a pocketful of trouble.
4. On the wings of love.
That night was the night Michael Joseph Mary....etc etc. anyway that was the night Michael's world changed forever.
(it was actually twenty for hours earlier when the daemon chose to possess the dead pigeon, but he was still totally unaware of that, and his watch wasn't working again, so we won't quibble!)
"Now there's a fine-looking woman," Michael breathed to no one in particular, "what I'd give to have her on my arm!"
Across the street Cathy Shaw bent to secure the padlock on the shop's shutter, unaware that she was being worshipped from afar (OK worshipped from 25 feet away), unaware that Michael had been worshipping her most nights for the last three years.
"What exactly do you have to give?"
The question hung in Michaels head, as he worshipped Cathy's rather tight jeggings.
"Absolutely naff all, that's what!"
Michael shook his shaggy head, trying to dislodge the thoughts, like someone shaking a shoe to dislodge a spider. Jeez, she looked gorgeous!
"You could actually try talking to the girl?"
More shaking. Michael worshipped the way she put her keys into her handbag.
"But she wouldn't give you the time of day, maybe a few pennies for your saddo tambourine act?"
He added a few swift clouts to his ears with the palms of his hands whilst worshipping the way she zipped up her coat.
The thoughts however persisted, "Or you could give the one small thing you actually possess that would get you the girl...and everything else you missed out on with your stupidly inadequate spell last night!"
Finally the penny dropped, the thoughts weren't his! Someone or something was communicating with him!
The warm bulge in his pocket stirred.
"At last! Thick as a cat you are my friend, and twice as ugly!"
Michael fished the pigeon from his coat, it glared up at him with eyes full of flaming pits.
"So, do you want the female or not? Make your mind up, there's a waffle maker on the line here!"
Michael threw the bird into the air and ran away, screaming that the Devil himself was after him.
Across the street, Cathy shook her head as she watched the mad Irish tramp flee, a scrawny pigeon taking flight after him, pity really, he was quite good looking (for a mad Irish tramp) and, for some unexplained reason, she'd just been about to ask him did he fancy coming back to hers for a meal!
5. Away with the birds.
Michael found himself in the grounds of St Bernadette's, whether by choice or simply he'd run out of breath and needed a rest, Michael looked up at the stained glass and the stone cross.
"....Jesus, Holy Mary mother..." He panted, unconsciously going back to his Irish roots.
"You won't get any help from that lot, you know?"
Michael clamped sweaty hands over his ears, slowly, fearfully turning his gaze to the small scruffy bird perched on a gravestone.
"You started all this, my thick friend, you called out, you offered the deal, you totally and utterly screwed up!"
"God help me, mad, this isn't real, just bloody crazy, mad, I must've gone mad!"
"Told you, God won't lift a finger for you now mate, and you're not mad, a bit thick maybe, be not mad....yet!"
Michael tried to pull himself together, fighting spirit rising despite his panic.
"I'll not be driven mad by a bloody, by a stupid bloody bird, fly away birdie, go on, get!"
All of his arm flapping and shooing totally failed to make the bird move, now even flinch, it simply cocked its head and gazed at him with fiery eyes.
"Nope, try again!"
"You can't be, it can't be right, you're a bloody pigeon, for Christ-sake…"
"The 'bloody pigeon', as you so nicely put it, is just a vessel, you daft monkey, a vessel I wouldn't have personally chosen, but a certain Irishman cocked up the deal, and well, needs must as you lot say!"
"So, you're telling me, you're actually bloody telling me, I'm speaking to the devil himself!" Michael found himself hopping for some bizarre reason.
"That's quite a usual reaction in your kind," the pigeon actually smiled, its beak twisting grotesquely against nature, "and no, I'm not the 'Divil Himself'...and who said He's a he? I'm just an up-a-d coming daemon, acting deputy vice-second in command of acquisitions if you must know!" The pigeon puffed its chest feathers out in obvious pride.
"So just what do you want from me, daemon?"
That's the easy bit, Michael, just make good on the deal you started, your pitiful soul for a few years of…well anything you want really, don't particularly care about the sordid little details."
Michael faltered slightly, "Anything?"
"Money?" The bird lifted a wing and a Lotto ticket fluttered out of its feathers, "Six numbers, Seventeen mil for tonight's draw?"
"Stop with the name dropping, please!" The ticket vanished. "Just finish the deal already!"
Michael looked up at the church, "and if I've changed me mind?"
"Oh, Michael, you can't break a deal, there are...consequences, read the small print!"
Michael had the urge to lie down and curl up into a ball.
"Another natural reaction for you monkeys, go on, help yourself if it makes you feel better, I'll wait, I have eternity!"
"And what are you going to do if I say no?"
"Let's just say there are worse things than Hell, what pitifully little time you have left will be ...remember all those juicy bits from your worst nightmares...your life will be...well, hellish!" Again that freakish smiley beak and the fiery eyes.
"Here's a little taster!"
The ground opened and Michael fell.
Father Murphy came to open up a few hours later. He found a poor homeless guy gibbering on the church's doorsteps, holding bloodied fingers and broken nails over his eyes.
The priest's eyes flitting between the poor wretch and the vandalised wooden doors.
Scratches; bloody and deep into the hardwood.
6. Every day in every way...
"Michael Joseph Mary Immaculate O'Driscoll," The R.M.N pointed to room 12, "Severe paranoid schizophrenia, Section 47/3, been here almost five years, auditory and visual hallucinations, debilitating ornithophobia, only patient that doesn't enjoy the gardens, poor love. No problems for staff or patients""
"Sorry," the student nurse looked slightly embarrassed, "hornyophobia, sorry?"
"Orni...fear of birds. His delusion presents as some kind of demonic bird, tempting him to sell his soul and drag him down to hell, probably linked to his strict Irish Catholic upbringing. Anyway, Mr O is the ideal patient...apart from the screaming. Hasn't been barely a night he doesn't need PRN."
The Nurse in Charge knocked on the door, inserted her key and hailed, "Hi Mike, you decent?"
The nurse flicked the view panel, checked it was safe and opened the door.
"Morning, love, just showing a new student around, introducing her to the lads," she beckoned behind her for the student to follow.
Michael finished his writing and stood, offering a hand.
"Mike, this is Cathy, Cathy, Mike."
"I think we've already met!" Michael smiled at the woman he'd worshipped so many years ago.
Cathy failed to recognise the clean cut man standing before her, she looked past the haunted eyes to the hundreds of pieces of paper stuck to the walls, crayon and felt tip, over and over.
7. Endings and beginnings.
The bird circled the low white buildings, puffing slightly, eager to land.
For five years it had been fed well. Now overweight, flying was becoming a bit of a chore.
Five years of comfy warm roosts, a multitude of mates and good food, so much food! Everything the pigeon had desired had suddenly been available. The presence the bird was dimly aware of was nothing more troublesome as the other parasites it had lived with all its life.
Five years was a lot longer than most of its kind survived in the cities, the bird, now in its seventh year, was considered something of a celebrity wherever he landed, probably explained all those willing mates!
The only inconvenience was that every now and then the presence would compel the bird to leave its nice warm roost, or the latest mate, or a big pile of food and take wing to look for something. These searches were becoming more frequent lately, more desperate.
What it was looking for, the pigeon had no idea, but the presence was more and more insistent and there was always more food, another mate and a comfy nest at the end of the flight.
Finally the bird was allowed to land. It took perch on a window ledge and obediently began tapping on the heavily draped glass with its now smiling beak.
"Oh Jesus, not again!" Michael pressed the call button, he would be needing his meds again, "You're not real, you're not real, you're not...." He screamed as he opened the curtains.
"Hello monkey, still name dropping? Long time no see!" The pigeon smiled up at him.
Michael pulled the curtains tight, struggling to control his breathing, heart pumping.
"You can do that all you want, makes no difference, I've found you again now!" More tapping, "Oh come on, Mikeyboy, open the window, I've got a proposition for you, five minutes and I'll be gone?"
Despite himself and years of behavioural therapy he threw back the drapes, if he was ever to win Cathy over, he'd have to finally face his daemon.
"Five minutes?" He looked uselessly at his Power Rangers watch.
"Four and a half now!" The bird managed to look slightly pleading, "Please, hear me out?"
After five years of torment, this was not at all what Michael had expected, more horrifying nightmares, visions of hell itself, but not a "please". He opened the window the three inches the mental hospital security fittings would allow and the bird hopped inside.
"I want to make you another deal, a once-in-a-lifetime deal!" The pigeon sounded frantic almost. "Look the standard blurb is five years, wealth, power, health, sex yadder, yadder, yadder? I'm willing to give you twenty years, twenty! Anything you want, just for one measly soul you don't even use! Twenty years of everything you want, just say yes!"
Michael felt a new-found confidence, no visions, no threats, the daemon bird was pleading with him!
"Two minutes. Come on Mike, you know it makes sense!"
"Nothing makes sense anymore, the last five bloody years have made no sense!" Anger welled up as Michael grabbed the bird, "Five years you've cost me!"
"One minute. Anything Michael, anything you desire, twenty years worth...Say yesssss!"
The red glow faded as the bird was finally freed of its unwanted passenger, seconds later Michael placed the dead bird gently on the windowsill, he made the sign of the cross over its body and truly, truly apologised for all the wrongs he'd done to it.
Michael closed the window and began removing hundreds of pieces of paper from his walls.
Three months later Michael Joseph Mary Immaculate O'Driscoll stood before the Judge. Medication-free and given a clean bill of mental health, he awaited the outcome of the Section hearing.
"Mr. O'Driscoll," the Judge addressed the court, "Having reviewed the psychiatric and psychological reports and taken into account the glowing recommendations the hospital staff have supplied and furthermore taking into account the five years you have served on Section for the original charge of Criminal Damage to St. Bernadette's Church, I hereby lift your Section and all its restrictions. You may leave the court, young man."
On the courtroom steps, the sun shining and the birds singing, Cathy ran into his arms.
"Well done, you!" She kissed him, "I've got you a pressie, Mik."
Michael unwrapped the small box, smiling at his girlfriend as he strapped on his brand-new Power Rangers watch.
The inscription read, "From an ex-nurse to an ex-loony!"
"Let's go home love, eh?"
Michael Joseph Mary Immaculate O'Driscoll smiled at the singing birds in the trees: he'd finally gotten everything he truly desired.