“Lord Gloom's Ever Frightening Kannibal Krowes!!” read the banner. It was bright yellow with dark red lettering. The words were plastered sloppily, almost gleefully, thought Rick. It looked like it had been made a long time ago, and had been raised many times.
It was pretty easy to focus on the banner, what with both him and Mary being tied down, and all. Rick could still smell something sharp and acrid on his mouth, on his nose. Seems they took extra steps to make sure neither of them woke up while they were bound in their sleep. He looked over at Mary, who was strapped to a long flat board set at an angle, like he was. There were streaks of dried tears down her face, and he tried not to show he saw it. She gave him a flutter of a look, then resumed to looking all around her, trying to take in the entire scene.
There was a lot to take in.
They were on the roof. The pigeons were out of their cage, perched on various paper mache skulls. The air smelled of smoke from pipes, cigarettes and things that were lit in dark alleys. Ringed around the edge of the roof were crude bleachers, with the types of people who haunt casinos daily: they had a quick and desperate look about them, forever thirsty. Circling around the entire roof, and behind the bleachers were strung cheap Chinese lanterns that looked as genuine as the pigeons looked like crows. They barely lit the scene in slow, furtive multicoloured light.
Over the various chatter and yells (taking and giving odds, cursing) came a halting voice. It lurched in fits and starts. The show was about to begin, it said, can everyone please take their seats and hold onto their tickets.
The pigeons began to growl.
Rick's body was starting to shake from cold sweat. Everything around him was something from a nightmare circus. It was like the cock fighting club he had always imagined, except this was much bigger, much stranger. The crowd became quiet.
He was almost relieved to see Ms. Krenshaw show up; she wore a stiff black dress and a fancy hat that had fed a few generations of moths. It's various bits waved in the still air like beauty queens in a parade that happened to cross a hurricane. She didn't look at them. Straight to the biggest pigeon she went, a real bruiser of a bird that Rick had heard Ms. Krenshaw call 'King'.
She cooed to King, smoothed his feathers. Then she started whispering to it. Her eyes darted every so once and a while at Rick and Mary, both of them stiff as the boards they were lashed to. Fear shone in his eyes, and Rick bit down on his tongue, trying to stifle a scream he could feel rumbling through his stomach; it bore down through his body, and he bore down on his tongue. He tasted coppery rust in his mouth. Ms. Krenshaw kept whispering to King, her eyes darting again, her whispering becoming more urgent, frantic. There was rage in that whispering, a barely bottled fire that flared now and again as she spoke to the bird.
The other birds shuffled along their perches, shook themselves, preened their feathers hungrily. Some cooed a raspy, stringent call. The crowd started murmuring, then gurgling, like something held just beneath the washing machine's water level.
The birds were skittish, as Rick knew them to be. Offput, they always were. In recent months they had just started to be comfortable around Rick and Mary. Maybe that was the entire point of their employment. To get to know the birds.
Music blared out of unseen speakers in a questionable state of repair. It was some sort of marching band music. The chatter from the crowd and even further agitation from the birds hinted that maybe this was it. This was what the show was for.
A voice cut into the music. It was Ms. Krenshaw.