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Mr Riley liked to start his day in the library. It was a short walk from his house and conveniently situated at the top of the main street in the Suffolk market town that he and his wife had retired to. When they’d first arrived, he’d joined the local writing group which met at the library and he’d spent many happy, creative hours in its welcoming embrace. He told his wife that it was as much group therapy as creative writing, but sadly, it was all gone now. People had moved away, lost interest, died, he was the only one left of the old crowd. He and the chief librarian, Mrs Peterson, who was nearing retirement. Mrs Peterson had a soft spot for Mr Riley, she had known his wife Estella, before she died, and liked to exchange a few words with the widower, not every day, but most days. He was a fixture, in his corner, reading the newspaper.

Mr Riley finished reading the paper and rummaged around preparing to leave. He checked that he hadn’t left anything: gloves, hat, scarf, phone, then walked across the street to the ‘Hideout’ cafe for his morning coffee. It was only a little life but a life all the same.

He arrived home at about noon, unlocked the door and stepped into the hall.

‘Hello,’ called a cheerful voice, that sounded very like his own. It was Mr Riley’s African grey parrot. He’d moved it from the lounge to the hall because of its constant interruptions to his television programs. It had been Estella’s idea to buy one, and now she was gone, and he was stuck with it.

‘Hello,’ said the parrot again.

‘Fuck off,’ was what Mr Riley wanted to say but he could imagine the inevitable repercussions if he did. He ignored the parrot and walked through to the kitchen, to make himself a sandwich, he coughed several times. The parrot coughed back.

‘Hello,’ it called. ‘Would you like a cuppa tea?’ Riley came back from the kitchen holding a packet of seeds and filled up the parrot’s feeder. ‘Hello,’ it said again, Riley sighed.

Mr Riley was thinking about the little job he had planned for the afternoon. He’d heard scratching noises in the attic last night. It was September and he guessed that the mice had left their summer quarters in the garden and were making themselves comfortable in the eaves, ready for the winter. The noises had come from above his bedroom at the back of the bungalow. He changed into a pair of overalls, put on a disposable dust mask and retrieved the rod that released the attic hatch from the hook on the wall of his utility room.

‘That’s the ticket,’ said the parrot. Riley hefted the metal rod in his hands as he walked past and thought briefly about braining the bird. ‘Hello,’ it said.

Mr Riley opened the hatch and let the ladder down. He climbed up into the attic carrying his traps and a small quantity of peanut butter in an empty margarine box: he’d read that mice preferred it to cheese. He heard the parrot calling from below, ‘That’s the ticket.’

It was baking in the attic, it had been a hot day. He stepped carefully across to where the rafters sloped down and met the ceiling joists, then knelt and crawled into the narrow space. He lay down sweating in the rockwool and began to lay his traps, pushing them into the eaves. It was then that the heart attack struck. His chest cramped, it felt as if it was being crushed by an enormous crab’s claw. He lay back panting and called out, ‘Help me.’

‘What’s the time?’ called the parrot.

Mr Riley fell into a place between sleeping and waking, heat and cold, and called for help when he had the strength.

Mrs Peterson walked passed Mr Riley’s house on her way home from the library, and as she hadn’t seen him for two days, she decided to call in to see if he was alright. She walked up the path and knocked on the door.

‘Hello,’ called a voice.

‘Hello,’ she called back, ‘Are you alright, Mr Riley?’ she heard coughing.

Help me,’ called Mr Riley from the attic but his voice was too weak for her to hear. The parrot cocked its head. ‘What’s the time?’ it called.

‘About half past five,’ called the librarian. The parrot coughed again. ‘Are you sure you’re alright? I’m on my way home, do you need anything?’

‘Would you like a cuppa tea?’ asked the parrot.

Help me,’ called Mr Riley faintly.

‘No thanks, I’m on my way home, George will be expecting me.’

‘That’s the ticket,’ said the parrot.

Mrs Peterson walked back up the front path and on home.

Two more days passed and by this time Mr Riley was dead. He lay rigid and desiccating in the heat of the attic. Mrs Peterson knocked at the door of the bungalow.

‘Hello,’ she called.

‘Hello,’ said a voice.

‘Are you alright, Mr Riley? You’re not coughing as much, you sound better.’

‘Just the ticket.’

She shrugged, turned and continued on her way home.

Another two days passed and Mrs Peterson knocked again, ‘Hello.’

The parrot, standing on its perch, looked at its empty water bottle and empty feeder. It raised a leg, cocked its head on one side and began to scratch it.

‘Help me,’ it called loudly, ‘help me.’


In the last year my stories have appeared in: Fiction on the Web, The Oldie, Best of British, Reader’s Digest, Space Squid, Decasp, Short Humour, Literally Stories, 365Tomorrows, The Dirty Pool, AntipodeanSF, Erotic Review, CommuterLit, Sirens Call, Short Story Me, Dark Dossier, Pen of the Damned, Bull and Cross, Altered Reality, and Curious Fictions. They have been broadcast and podcast by the AntipodeanSF Radio Show, Tall Tale TV, and 600 Second Saga




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