In celebration of the month of October, I’ll be sharing 31 of my favorite spooky, eerie and creepy stories, one per day. The stories will range over an array of genres: horror, suspense, science fiction, mysteries and dark fantasy.
The October Country
…that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain…
— Ray Bradbury
The Bird by Tyler Miller
Stranger Calls: Dark Tales
“Ever since he’d seen the bird, nobody took Miguel seriously anymore.”
Ah, yes. The shameless aggrandizing of the author.
The Bird is my story. Originally published in Abomination Magazine and later collected in Stranger Calls: Dark Tales. In which case, it’s fair to ask if what you’re reading is little more than an extended advertisement. Which, I suppose, it is. But not one any different from the 26 short story reviews that came before it.
And, besides…this is a good story. I promise.
Miguel used to be well-known and well-liked in Chelan. Ran an auto-shop out of his garage, did good work and charged people a fair price. People liked his wife, Tatia, too, and when they brought their cars to Miguel they’d often sit out in the shade with Tatia and drink fresh horchata she made herself.
A good life.
Then, one day, Miguel and his brother Raphael took a day hike deep into the woods. Only Miguel returned. And the story he told was, to put it lightly, hard to believe: he claimed a gigantic, towering bird had killed his brother. A hideous, winged monster.
You can imagine how people took that.
“After seeing the bird, people in town crossed to the other side of the street to avoid him. conversations wound down when he entered a room, the way a radio signal quickly fades when the cord is yanked from the wall. Children ran towards him in supermarkets, flapping their arms outrageously and cawing in high-pitched voices before their mothers could corral them once more, always muttering hurried apologies and never looking Miguel in the eyes. After the bird, they never looked him in the eyes.”
Miguel hasn’t been formally charged with anything, but informally, unofficially, the townspeople have already tried him and found him guilty. Business has dried up. His friends have abandoned him, all but one: Luis. And Miguel has taken refuge in the bottle, sleeping the days away on the couch as his marriage crumbles.
Tatia turns to Luis for help.
“She told Luis everything. The swift accumulation of empty Cuervo bottles beneath the kitchen sink. The midmorning naps and afternoon naps and evening naps, all of them overlapping at the ends and becoming one long hibernation, interrupted only by the search for more tequila. And, what worried her most, the dark look in Miguel’s eyes which she had never seen before.”
Luis, no doubt, means well. He’s a good friend, after all. But in the end, his attentions focus on Tatia instead of Miguel. Which leads about where you think it would.
One day, rising out of his stupor, Miguel realizes that his wife is not home. He calls her work, and discovers she is not at work either. Hasn’t been all week. So Miguel takes a drive. He finds Tatia’s car parked at Luis’s house.
“Miguel went back to his truck.
“He drove straight home.
“At home, he went to the bedroom and to the closet. From the top shelf, way at the back, he took down his rifle.”
Not, however, to shoot his wife. No, Miguel is going hunting for bird.
It takes him two months, but he finds what he’s looking for. And he returns to town, confident now. When Tatia leaves from school after work, she sees Miguel waiting for her in the parking lot. She apologizes for her indiscretion, weeping, but he tells her to save her tears.
“You no believe in me, and that is why you go. It is not your fault, Chiquita. I lose your faith. I lose it when I come back out of those woods. I lose my brother, and that I know, but I also lose your father, and that I not be knowing until you and Luis. Then I realize. I know.”
Miguel forgives her, but he tells Tatia something else: he has found the accursed bird.
“That is where you been for two months? Hunting for the bird?”
“For you, Chiquita. For your faith in me. So you know to believe again.”
He will show her the bird, and her faith in him will be restored.
She saw the truth etched in his eyes and realized it was the same truth that had stumbled out of the woods with him all those months ago.
Miguel takes Tatia deep into the woods. And for a time, Tatia doubts, but eventually they come to the bird. And Tatia knows the truth.
“The bird saw them, or smelled them, and suddenly it rose onto its feet. Its head stretched out of its feathers, a pale, naked pink orb with two brilliant black eyes bigger than bowling balls. It kept rising and rising, and Tatia imagined it might not stop until it blotted out the sky. The bird’s wings rustled, the sound scratchy and heavy, and then they expanded in a flurry, snapping outward so quickly Tatia started.”
Not to worry. Miguel has managed to chain the bird to a neighboring tree, keeping it from being able to attack them. For a time, the two stand and stare, entranced at the sight of this monstrous beast. Tatia realizes that Miguel had told the truth all along. She never should have doubted him.
But Miguel’s motives aren’t exactly pure.
“She never saw the knife. Indeed, the blade moved so quickly and was so sharp she hardly felt the slice at all, only a single, sharp sting and then the warmth of blood running down her leg. She twisted her neck around, wondering what forest insect had bitten her, and felt shock at seeing the back of her pant leg turning deep crimson and the blood leaking over her shoe and into the dirt.”
Miguel’s blade has hobbled her, and Tatia falls to the ground, unable to stand and walk. Calmly, cruelly, Miguel crosses the clearing and unchains the bird.
He watched the bird follow the trail of blood.
“Now you believe.”
Definitely not an Oprah ending. Sorry, folks.
More October Stories
For the month of October, you can download
Tyler Miller’s The Other Side of the Door
(Or you can purchase the collection Stranger Calls, to read The Bird in full)
In celebration of my favorite month, I’m giving away my collection The Other Side of the Door. These are stories inspired by so many of my favorite writers: Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Shirley Jackson.
Stories like the award-winning Til Death Do Us, about a man who believes he’s gotten away with his wife’s murder…at least until her severed finger is delivered to him in a box. Somebody knows the truth…
Or another first-place winner: Not Dead, Not Even Past, the story of a small-town sheriff confronted with a string of suicides he can’t explain. Each of the victims share a disturbing trait: no matter how they died, all of them have lungs full of water.
I loved working on these stories, and I truly believe that you’ll enjoy reading them just as much as I enjoyed writing them. Check them out. For the entire month, they’re free. What have you got to lose?
Except a little sleep…