By R.T. Moody
art by kristjan kristjansson
Hung over, Jared Marvel vomited once on himself while sleeping and then again in the toilet a few hours later… Upon leaving the bathroom, he hit the light switch again. It had been three weeks since the electric company had shut the power off and he was still flipping light switches…
Everything I touch falls apart… he thought to himself, everything I own, and now there is nothing and no one… Just me in my crumbling home…
The house in which he lived he had inherited from his parents. He had been unplanned; his parents conceiving him at an advanced age. So although he was a relatively young man of thirty two, both his parents had already grown old and had passed away… His mother had passed first two years ago, and his father followed a year later. For a year now his girlfriend, Angela, had been living with him, but because of a depression that had begun with the death of his mother and had only worsened, now she too was gone.
His only company was a parrot named César, left to him in his recent separation. But César was not good company. Even though he was a parrot, he didn’t talk. He never let anyone hold him, and if one tried to appeal to the bird at all, it would simply turn away.
The only stable thing in his life at the moment was his job. At nights he washed dishes at a small local Irish pub, most nights staying after work was finished to drink at the bar until last call, then walking home drunk to wake up in much the same way this story began. And then he repeated the process again… It was a going nowhere job, but it was easy, and he made just enough to stay living in the house of his mother and father. They had left him a small inheritance of money, but due to his drinking, that was yet another thing in his life evaporating before his very eyes.
As always, Jared’s head was filled too bursting with it all, even so early in the morning. It began when his eyes opened, and ended when he passed out. He was too aware of it; ever-aware… and with it, the inexplicable feeling that death was somehow nearby… closer with every passing day… every second. He expected any day to hear death knocking at the door…. This didn’t help him in his already directionless and pathetic existence. He just worked, drank, and watched as everything he had ever known fell to pieces.
He dropped some birdfeed in César’s dish.
The bird partially opened one eye to see what he was doing, but seeing that he was finished, the bird sighed and turned to the wall.
The house smelled of spoiled food. He had taken a peek in the fridge when arriving home last night, but without electricity to run the fridge, all that was to be found was that sickening odor, spilling out, filling the house with the stench of decay. He could still smell it. The whole house was a mess. Dishes piled high in the sink, dirty floor, piles of laundry… He thought about committing the majority of the day to cleaning the entire house in one sweep, but the notion soon faded and he returned to bed.
There was something living in the kitchen, a rat, Jared suspected, and almost every night he could hear it rustling around; the sound of tearing cardboard, the clacking of little feet on linoleum… But Jared never bothered to hunt down the trespasser; the mere thought was more stressful than he could possibly bear… If he drank enough at work, he could sleep a whole night without hearing it….
Lying in his bed, Jared suffered many recurring memories of better times. He was still tiered, but there was a feeling churning in his chest like lava beneath a volcano, and it swelled until he finally did explode… Sobbing uncontrollably….
In this exhausted and desperate state, Jared did something he never did. He prayed.
“Dear God… I’m not normally a religious man… so whatever your nomination, sex or temperament, please take pity on me! I beg you! I’m soooo lonely and hopeless! I feel I will die of despair… Have you forgotten me? For once, I wish I could know what it is like to have life bloom in the things my hand touches, and not decrepitude… not destruction and loneliness… not despair! I would give my life to know what that was like… I would do anything… anything… for something as simple as someone to talk too…” The prayer had no real conclusion. The tears flowed until he was asleep again.
Jared slept all day.
Later, when night had come, he awoke and left for work. Leaving the house, he spotted something moving in the dark… From under his broken down car emerged a black cat… The cat mewed… rubbing against his leg. “Hay there…” Jared said pleasantly, “Where did you come from?” The cat mewed again and weaved between his legs. The cat let him pick it up. It was like the cat already knew him. It licked his nose with its scratchy tongue… He laughed, feeling something that he had not felt in some time: Happiness. The cat had no collar or tags. It accrued to Jared to keep the cat. “Want to live with me, kitty?” he said to the cat, “I could use the company…” The cat mewed once more, almost seemingly in response to Jared’s proposition. “Haha!” the young man laughed, “Well then! If that is to be the case, you are going to need a name!” He held the cat up under its arms, its body dangling languidly. He examined the cat. “You look like a…” he ruminated, “Bardamu! Yes! That’s it! You are definitely a Bardamu…”
Jared experienced a lightheadedness, feeling suddenly drained and week in the knees… but the delirium soon passed and he shrugged it off, thinking vaguely something about how much he had been drinking lately…
He put the cat in the house while he went to work, not worried that the cat would damage the house in any way, concluding that the house could hardly be any less habitable than it already was…
That night was the same as any other. Jared washed dishes until his shift ended, and then he joined the regulars at the bar until last call. During this time he forgot all about the black cat, and when last call came he stumbled home through the cool moonlight streets.
When Jared arrived home, he headed straight for bed. He stopped on his way to observe that César had flown from his usual perch and was sitting high atop a large bookshelf… The bird looked agitated, its feathers puffed out, rocking from one clawed foot to the other. In his inebriated state, Jared had forgotten about the cat and figured it had been his own arrival that had spooked the bird while it slept, and he continued on and fell into bed. He was asleep almost instantaneously.
His head pounding, Jared rose from bed and ran for the bathroom…
Upon leaving the bathroom, he hit the light switch again… He was on his way back to bed, but paused again on his way to see César sitting on the bookshelf. The bird looked unrested, fighting to keep its eyes open, but nodding off and awakening again with a fright… Jared thought maybe he was stranded, and walked over to the bookshelf. He held out his hand, saying encouragingly, “Come on César… It’s okay… Come boy, I’ll put you back on your perch.” To Jared’s disbelief, the bird stepped down and gripped his hand with both feet…. “Good boy César!” he praised the bird, “Incredible! See, I’m not so bad…” The lightheadedness he had experienced the night before returned, this time more intensely and taking longer to pass… But soon it did, and once more he shrugged it off as symptomatic of his hangover… He tried to pat the bird, but it spooked and nipped him on the hand, flying the short distance to its perch. “Ahh!” he yelled, “Damn you bird!” The pinch had drawn blood…
Jared returned to bed.
He pulled the sheets up over his head and took a deep breath… He felt terrible… He began to regret not drinking a glass of water while he was up. If I was smart, he thought to himself, I would leave one on the nightstand for myself in advance… so whether I think of it or not in the morning, it’s still waiting bedside… He decided that he needed water to go back to sleep and began getting back up.
That is when he noticed the most peculiar thing… On his nightstand, there was already a glass of water waiting for him. He wondered at first if it had been him, wondered if his previous idea had really been something he had already thought of and carried out, but had forgotten in his night of drinking… But that couldn’t be, because he observed that the drink contained ice… it would have melted by now… The cup was also one he never would have chosen for himself, small, a child’s cup… His head throbbed and he pressed on his eyes….
The thought that Angela may be responsible occurred to him. Maybe, he thought, she’s here and I just haven’t noticed… Maybe she is trying to let me rest… He drank the small, cold cup of water and made his way to the kitchen.
In the short walk to the kitchen, the image of Angela cooking formed in his mind… he could almost smell bacon and eggs… and her turning to see him standing in the partition, and smiling, glad to see him…
But it was an empty, dirty kitchen that he found. He looked at the cup he held in his hand. He tried to recall a time since he had come home from work that he had prepared himself a glass of water… He thought maybe he could see it, but the image felt like a forgery… Is it an authentic memory, he wondered, or is it my imagination filling in the blanks?
This was a recurring problem in his life. Most often these matters remained a mystery and he simply moved on, but, Jared Marvel was about to find out that a series of events that would change his life drastically had already begun… he was about to find out that his prayer, which he had already forgotten, may have been answered… But to what conclusion, at this time, only God could know…
As Jared pulled a black hair from his lips, something small and gray darted across the floor in the kitchen and Jared jumped back… “Oh! Wow!” His suspicions had been correct, it was a rat. He had been hearing the sounds in the kitchen for about a week now, but this was the first time he had seen it. He had been eating mostly at work.
His immediate solution to the problem was to distance himself from the kitchen as far as possible.
When he found César lying on the floor, he was still in shock from the rat. “Oh no! César!” He dropped the little cup and knelt to touch the bird, already worried that it may be dead. He touched César’s breast… the bird was still breathing. But before he could feel relived… A voice came from behind him… One that struck him at once as odd, and turning to see who it was he immediately knew why… He knew why, but he couldn’t believe his eyes… “Oh good…” it said, walking in to the room, standing on its hind legs… “You found the drink I left you…”
It was the black cat he had found before work last night… Bardamu… he had named it… It walked up to him… spotting the motionless bird on the floor as it approached. “Oh my!” the cat said at seeing the bird, apparently surprise. At once it defended itself.
“Okay, I know what you’re thinking… but I had nothing to do with it…”
To say that Jared Marvel was surprised to find a – walking, talking– cat in his home would be a serious understatement. In fact, he pissed his pants instantly… the pants he was still wearing that is, having passed out in bed with them still on. Bardamu, seeing this pitiful sight, said, “Okay… Oh no, don’t do that…” But it was too late.
Bardamu shook his head.
“You should clean yourself up and then we’ll talk…” the cat turned away, feeling embarrassed for the young man.
“You can talk!” Jared finally managed to get out.
“Or we can talk now…” turning back but obviously uncomfortable.
“I can’t be sure as of yet, but then again I’ve only been experiencing this advance in consciousness for approximately… eighteen hours now? Something like that… But I think the cause is, well, you…”
“Me? But, How?”
“I don’t know!” Bardamu said, sounding a little irritated, “Why should I know? I mean, look at me…” He motioned down at himself.
Jared rubbed his eyes repeatedly; blinked repeatedly… he still couldn’t believe it. Bardamu began again.
“I don’t know, but luckily for you, I have some theories… For instance, I ask you: Did you and…”
“Yes, César… Did you and the bird, César, make physical contact in any way prior to his unconsciousness?”
“No…” Jared said without really thinking, and then it came to him, “Wait! Yes! Yes! You’re right!”
“There you go…”
“Yes, I did hold him, and I’m sure I did because he bit me!” He held up the hand with the wound.
“There you have it.” The cat said, sounding certain. “I bet you in a matter of moments, that bird will regain consciousness.” He smiled before turning to the bird on the floor, and Jared thought of how strange it was to see a cat smile… smile like a human anyway. The cat waited several moments, looking down at the bird, one paw extended out away from its body, as if he were trying to will the bird back to life… Bardamu turned back to Jared, “Well, soon anyway… I’m sure of it.” César began to stir. “There he is!” the cat laughed, “I knew it! Amazing!” Both Jared and Bardamu moved closer to César to get a better look. “I expect that we will see a significant change in our friend here over the next eighteen hours.” Bardamu said. The bird rolled on the floor, looking as if it wished to upright itself but not nearly having the wherewithal to do so. They watched him.
“My prayer…” Jared said, almost a whisper.
“Your what?” Bardamu said, not quite hearing him.
“My prayer! Yesterday morning, I prayed to God to help me! That’s it! That’s what did it!”
“God…” Bardamu echoed absently, “Like, a man in the sky?”
“Sure! Why not? I mean, I’ve never particularly considered myself a spiritual man, but it could be… I prayed to God, and he answered!”
“Hmmm.” The cat said, “Indeed. No. I’m sure that what we have here is a completely natural… extraordinary, but natural… transference of energy from one living organism to another… Possibly even a historical stride in evolutionary history!”
“Wait, wait, wait…” Jared said, becoming overwhelmed with it all, “I’m confused… If that’s the case, than how are you so smart? So… rapidly developed?”
“Possibly I can answer that too!” Bardamu said, nudging him, “I have another experiment… But first, clean yourself up… You smell…”
By the time Jared had bathed and dressed, César was stable enough to stay atop his perch; he
wasn’t talking or assuming any humanistic qualities, but he wasn’t dead. As Jared had moved about his
home getting dressed, he had noticed that someone had gone through his extensive book collection.
All his study books from his schooling days were out on a table, some of them open. Other books, ranging from philosophical to theological, as well as autobiographical and fictional were stacked together, as if designated as choice literature. Jared was dumbfounded, even a little terrified at the thought of the cat sitting at this table, pouring over these pages… They were all Jared’s books, but many were books he had purchased out of initial interest, but never finished because he simply couldn’t completely wrap his mind around most of it in the end… unable to evoke the powers of his imagination and reason enough to form a singular and comprehensive concept; much less gain the vantage of an objective viewpoint and the position to contemplate any one subjects various angles and nuances. He had the curiosity to stumble across stimulating intellectual subject matter, but he was by no means a born savant. Jared was smart, but only as smart as he had to be. He was average in every way. The loftier the concept, the more his mind wandered; the more meticulous the construction and extensive the presentation, the more convoluted and arduous he found it, and the more likely he was to move on without finishing it. The fact that he had finished school at all was nothing short of a miracle, and even then he had done it for his elderly parents and not himself. Aware of their old age, he wanted them to remember him as on his way to a position in life that would be meaningful, respectable, promising; something they could be proud of. And that’s what he gave them. Only his father had seen anything of the man he feared he was becoming, the man he was inside, a person he himself loathed, but by then the old man was too senile to make sense of it or remember. He was thankful for that.
Bardamu’s experiment was an I.Q .test. When they compared the results to past scores and there was a conspicuous depletion of mental resources… Jared was shocked.
“There must be some mistake! Let’s do it again!” Jared was sweating…
“I don’t think so.” Bardamu insisted.
“I always knew there was something funny about those things…”
“Jared…”the cat said in dismay, “Did you not at one time know division and even algebra?”
“Then why don’t you now?”
“I don’t know! It’s been a long time!”
“It hasn’t been that long…”
“Plus I’ve had a really rough two years! I’ve been drinking… They say that kills… ah, what was it?”
“Brain cells?” Bardamu assisted.
“Yeah… That could do it! Besides… Actually, that’s it…”
“Well anyway,” the cat said, licking his paw and cleaning his face, “the point was, really, that I, the cat, do know algebra… Why do I know algebra? Why am I walking and talking? Can you tell me?” Jared shrugged. “How,” Bardamu continued, cleaning a fully extended hind leg now, “is this beneficial to me? What advantage, if any, will it give me and any offspring to survive in the world? It must; such are the laws of evolution.”
“What if it’s not evolution though? What if it really was divine intervention?”
By the time Jared had to leave for work that night, César was talking somewhat, learning fast
with Bardamu as his tutor. He could only speak one or two words at a time, but something was
definitely different… It didn’t just change what any animal was capable of, it changed their
whole disposition. The cat was showing the bird cue cards, and Jared listened to them as he
prepared to leave.
“Automobile…” Bardamu said, projecting his voice and taking care to enunciate.
“Auto… mobile…” César repeated back with only a little noticeable difficulty.
Jared left without saying anything. He had even left about twenty minutes earlier than he
usually left for work… He felt he desperately needed to get out of there… get some fresh air…
That night after his shift was done, Jared drank a great deal more than he normally did. In the
morning at dawn he awoke in a bush along the road. He hadn’t even made it home… And perhaps
had not wanted to. Either way, he could not remember… After vomiting, he patted himself off and
began walking home.
Well walking, Jared’s mind hummed from dehydration and memories of the day before. Maybe
it was his booze washed mind, but he still could hardly believe it. He didn’t want to believe that the
scene he remembered leaving at his home yesterday was still there, waiting for him. The thought filled
him with dread.
There was a funeral home on his rout to work. As he passed, he noticed that there was an open
casket in service. As he watched the grieving people file into the little building, an idea came to him. He
didn’t feel his condition was right for the task, but he didn’t want to go through what trouble it would
take to return here at another time. He had an experiment of his own to which he was eager to know
the results. Were his new extraordinary talents limited to granting intelligent thought to animals? Or
was there more? Could he, say, raise the dead?
Minutes later Jared was thrown out by angry kin of the deceased. “Beat it ya nut!” the man that
had led him out said as he shoved him back out on the sidewalk. It had not gone as he had planned. The
man stood waiting for him to leave, looking very serious. Jared patted himself off and began walking
down the sidewalk. It had not worked.
“Well that’s stupid….” He said as he walked, looking down at his hands. “Why only animals?”
Why only intelligence? He thought, and not the ability to heal? What had he said in his prayer? He
couldn’t even remember a little… Why powers? Why didn’t God just send me someone to love? Why the
cat? Why the bird? Why me?
And on and on he thought, until he came across something alongside the road that caught his
attention; a turtle on its back… Empathizing with the turtle’s plight, Jared tried to help the creature
without much thought. As he turned the turtle over, he again experienced the now familiar delirium,
more awful than ever. When it was over he was exhausted. After resting, he continued home,
taking the turtle with him…
The home that Jared had left behind was much filthier than the one he returned to. Bardamu,
and even César had cleaned the place, restoring it to its former appeal. Jared was shocked. It was
inviting again. It reminded him of his youth, growing up in this place. Bardamu and César were in the
middle of discussing mathematics when he came in.
“Surprise!” Bardamu said as he entered.
Jared stood looking around the room.
“I read about that…” Bardamu followed up.
It was not quit the reaction Bardamu had been expecting. The look on Jared’s face was not
joy, but quite the opposite- sadness… Bardamu was surprised that their cleaning the house should
displease him, but he was shocked, César too for that matter when Jared began to weep….
Bardamu and César exchanged a look of amazement. But soon Jared regained his composure
and turned his attention to the two bewildered animals. “How was work?” Bardamu asked after an
awkward pause. There was another awkward pause as they waited for Jared to say something. “Fine.”
he said at last. Bardamu looked him over from where he sat. “What’s that?” he said at last. Jared held
up the turtle.
“Another!” Bardamu said with a discernable mix of shock and concern.
“I found him stranded on his back along the road…” Jared said, “The sun his hot, he would have died…”
“So why didn’t you use a stick?”
“I don’t know… I didn’t think about it.”
“You didn’t think?”
While the man argued with the cat, the bird, César, experienced a stir of emotions all new to
him. He had been looking forward to meeting Jared, almost like one would anticipate meeting a parent
for the first time. He was his creator after all… But now that he was seeing him, he was, he dreaded to
think it… disappointed… and, well, unimpressed… Bardamu had taught him those words… But what
burned César most, was that he had expected to be at least of some interest to his creator when he
returned, and he had not yet so much as looked at him directly, much less address him. And now there
was this new creature…
“I don’t have to explain myself to you.” Jared said, setting the turtle, hiding snugly in his shell,
down on the table in front of them.
“I’m concerned for your health…” Bardamu said, “We don’t understand how this works yet…
and frankly, you look awful…”
“Of course I do… I’m hung over! But I look how I’m supposed to look!”
And so life continued on in the Marvel home. Our four friends, the man, the cat, the bird, and
the turtle, all grew and eventually became comfortable in their new life together. Jared let the turtle
choose its own name when it felt it was ready. The turtle settled on the name, Christian, and the others
agreed it suited him quite well. Jared was amazed by how different they all were from each other. The
turtle was simple minded, but loyal. His love for Jared was inexhaustible; deliriously happy, he was
perpetually humbled to be on such intimate terms with the being that gave him thought. It irritated
César and even Bardamu. The turtle was obsessed with the Bible, and rarely himself talked of anything
César was the quiet one of the household. He too read a great deal, mostly books about famous
wars, and the rise and falls of famous rulers and their empires. The only thing he ever did with the
others was play chess. He loved chess. And he was good at it, possibly the best of them. His only
challenge was Bardamu, his intellectual equal, they said, and César secretly feared- his superior. This
was his only insecurity; an inferiority complex concerning Bardamu’s clearly impressive intellectual
prowess… It tortured him, but he never showed it, and the others were none the wiser. And although
he felt the need to prove himself superior to him in some way, he also viewed some of Bardamu’s
opinions and ideas as idealistic and naïve; inferior to his own. This feeling of superiority had grown in
him, both consciously and unconsciously since the first time he had met Jared and only worsened with
his relationship with Christian. He found his brother in circumstance, the turtle, to be repulsive and
pathetic, and only ever took sides with him if it gave him the upper hand on Bardamu. This is how César
learned to manipulate and exploit. With Jared, César was pensive; shooting down all Jared’s attempts
to get to know him.
Bardamu continued to grow intellectually in leaps and bounds. He read all the time. He would
study one subject obsessively for a time, and then switch to another with equal fevered intensity. He
was passionate. It sometimes made him moody, depending on the material. Once he stopped talking to
Jared for nearly a whole week after reading Ishmael by Daniel Quinn… Another time when Bardamu had
been reading nothing but Nietzsche, Jared came home to fined him in the dramatic throws of an
existential breakdown… and he had to comfort him to calm him down… But situations like these were
few with the animals, Bardamu especially was a real asset in the home. Jared had to admit after a while
that things had improved since they had come into his life. They were his new family. He was happy.
For five months it was just the four of them. But probability would bring another into the fold,
despite precautions. It had been decided that no one else should know about their special family. As
well as concerns for Jared’s health, he and Bardamu worried that if people found out, powerful forces
would seek to exploit, or even harm them. It wasn’t impossible, when considering the whole of
humanity. It seemed more practical to just enjoy what they had. César didn’t comment. They figured he
didn’t care one way or the other. Christian accepted the will of Jared.
One day while preparing a meal, Jared opened one of the kitchen cupboards looking for bread
only to realize that he had the rat cornered at head level… Frightened, it leaped out right on top of
his head… Before Jared could stop it, he experienced the draining delirium he had come to know so
well… Only this time, there was a distinct difference… It was as if the other times he
had only pierced tissue, and now he was plunging into mussel… The sheer despair and
torment he felt in that moment became him; he was soaked in it; death was his every
sense. He was certain he was dying…
Jared lost consciousness for several minutes. Bardamu, César and Christian had all heard the
commotion and found him immediately. He was sprawled out on the kitchen floor. Upon finding him,
Bardamu spotted something fleeing under the fridge…
After the incident with the rat, Jared had to miss several nights of work to recover. His
condition was serious. All doubt that his mysterious powers may have collateral possibilities had been
eliminated. It was possible that if he were ever to touch another animal again, he would not survive it…
For a week the animals watched over him, and on the seventh day he walked.
Although Jared was walking again, he was not feeling at all the same as he did before… He could
work, but not as efficiently. He kept thinking about the despairing feeling he experienced with the rat. It
was perfect despair. The fear a living organism feels as the life force leaks out of it… He was more absent
minded and his nerves were shot, jumping at every little thing. For a while they made it work, each one
dealing with it in their own way. Bardamu continued his experiments and research. César kept more to
himself than ever. And Christian prayed for the wellbeing of his family.
Eventually the rat came out of hiding. Bardamu taught him how to talk, but he turned out to be
as dimwitted as Christian; more so even. Christian could at least read… The rat didn’t even care to
learn, once he had learned to speak the words that he thought he could make the most use of; once he
had learned to ask for a handout… When they asked him what he would like his name to be, he didn’t
understand, and he held out his little paw, and squeaked, “Food?” The rat’s intelligence didn’t seem to
improve. He would disappear for a time, and then come out maybe once a day to approach each of
them and ask, Food? Food? Pleas, food?” And each of them responded differently. Bardamu, after a few
times of giving him something, started saying that he had nothing to give, even though he did. César,
responded vehemently, cursing, “For the last time NO! You vile creature! Depart from me at once! And
do not return less I tear your little head off!” And Christian gave something every time he had something
to give, again and again, often going without food himself to do so. When the others would asked him
why he did this. He would say, “Well he is our brother, is he not? Besides… it is what God would want…”
They took to calling the rat, Vagabond.
For several months more life continued. Jared’s condition did not improve, but he had adapted
somewhat. He did not sleep as much as when it had first happened, but it did cause him some distress
from time to time, when he would become impatient and get sick and tired of being so utterly tired.
These times were few, and for the most part he handled it well. It may have come at a cost, but he loved
his new family, and he did his best to stay strong for them. Almost eight months from the night that
Jared had found Bardamu, the Marvel home eventually had an unexpected visitor.
They had been speculating and theorizing over Jared’s powers for what seemed the millionth
time… Bardamu pontificated that it was a first of its kind leap in evolution; a necessary step that was in
direct response to mankind’s rapid reproduction and destructive harvesting of the earth’s resources.
“Earth is on the fast track to complete and total ecological collapse… Animals need to evolve to
survive…” he said, “but man’s numbers are multiplying so rapidly that there was no time for the
evolution of animals to take the usual courses. What better way for this to happen than for it to come
directly from the most intellectually developed beings on the planet… With a mere touch…”he tapped
Christian’s shell for effect, saying “Zap!” Christian momentarily tucked into his shell. The others had
heard it all before, but the cat could not help himself but to reiterate, refining his explanation over time.
Christian said that he liked to think that it was Jared’s prayer that had done it. Bardamu didn’t bother
asking César for his thoughts because he knew that he would pretend to side with Christian just to
irritate him. Jared as always was stuck on the fence. One explanation was just as plausible as the other
to him. “Who am I to say?” he joked, “My house cat is smarter than I am…”
It was then that the conversation ended because of a knock at the door. They all looked at each
other with surprise. This had never happened before. Bardamu dropped down from standing on his hind
legs to all fours… “This better be good…” he said, feeling slightly humiliated by the action. Jared stood by
the door. He looked back at the animals once before opening the door, to be sure they were ready. The
person waiting on the other side of the door was the last living person on earth he had expected to stop
It was his ex, Angela… “Hay…” she said, with a slow smile. She looked him over. It was obvious
that she at once noticed a difference in his appearance. He did look different… “I’ve been sick…” Jared
said, “But I’m getting better…” “Oh good!” she said, excepting his explanation. She looked great. He
hated it. It completely ruined his fabrication that she had been somewhere getting fat. It was a coping
mechanism. It was cruel, but somehow it made him feel better. “Are you going to invite me in?”
she said as she stepped passed him into the house. She hadn’t changed a bit.
Inside she found César, Bardamu and Christian. “César!” she exclaimed excitedly, “There’s my
baby!” she shuffled over to Cesar’s perch. “How are you?” César knew this woman. She was the
one who had purchased him from the pet store. She was as obnoxious as he remembered… She blew
him kisses and cooed to him like an infant. César grimaced and backed away in annoyance. Laughing it
off Angela said to Jared, “Well he hasn’t changed a bit, huh?” Laughing nervously, Jared responded,
“Nope. No difference… Same old César!”
Turning her attention to Bardamu, she said, “Oh my! And you’ve gotten some new pets as well!”
She bent down and patted the cat on the head. He mewed; for good measure… “What’s his name?”
And then there was the turtle.
“A turtle?” she said, clearly surprised.
“His name is Christian…”
“I like the name Bardamu better…”
“I had used that one already.”
“You know what I meant…” she chuckled, “Where’s his tank?”
“Umm… It broke… Yup. I dropped it well cleaning it… and now I need to buy another. I’ll keep
him in the sink or the tub until then. He’ll be fine.” Once again she was satisfied with his answer.
She glanced at the house around her. “The place looks good…” she said, “Your parents
would be pleased.” Jared felt himself relaxing. Unfortunately, at this very moment Vagabond came out
of hiding to try his luck on the new person in the house. Angela looked down to find a rat sitting up on
its hind legs and holding out one little paw… “Food?” it squeaked.
After Angela had happened to discover the extraordinary secret of the Marvel home, she
immediately began coming by every day… Now that she knew, there was no alternative but to accept
her as a part of their lives.
Jared and Angela began spending a lot of time together. Possibly even more than when they had
been dating… The animals observed and discussed their relationship. Jared tried to act like he no longer
had an intimate interest in her, but it was obvious that he did. Angela tried to act like a friend more than
a past lover, but they suspected that if Jared were to make a move, she would surrender. But it was
difficult to tell if a rekindling of these old passions would be what was best for Jared, whether it was
what he wanted or not.
“I think she’s nice…” Christian said.
“Not me…” Bardamu said, “She’s a counterfeit all the way… a phony… I fear she’s attempting to
butter up Jared to exploit our secret…”
Bardamu asked César what he thought. The large bird was looking out the window
contemplatively. He had said very little to this point. Quiet as usual. After a long pause, he said, “The life
as we’ve known it, here, was numbered the moment that girl walked through the door…” After this, he
flew into the next room to be alone. When he was gone, Christian said to Bardamu, “What does that
Bardamu licked his paw and ran it over his face several times.
“César is a master of ambiguity…” he said, lying down now on the couch and closing his diamond shaped eyes, “Everything he says has a dozen different meanings… It’s part of his nature.”
“Well I can’t keep up with it…”
“That’s the point.”
That same night Bardamu awoke in time to notice something strange. César leaving the house.
He left via a window he often sat by. This was against the rules, and he knew it. He was just choosing to
ignore them. The thought occurred to him that this was possibly not even the first time César had done
this. Perhaps he has even done it many times. This is the kind of thing, Bardamu thought, that will
jeopardize our life here… He waited for César’s return.
César came home with the first light of dawn, and Bardamu was still waiting for him. Though he
had not been expecting this, he seemed in no way perturbed. “Oh,” he said, “Hello cat…”
“Hello yourself… Where have you been?”
“Stretching my wings… Why?”
“You know the rules… Stop playing stupid.”
“Yes… the rules…”
He walked brazenly passed Bardamu… to the edge of the windowsill, and opened his wings to fly
to his perch.
“Don’t ignore me!”
César paused with a sigh before leaving the windowsill. “The rules no longer apply. The outside
world has already infiltrated your sanctuary, and you are in denial if you think different. The future is
fast approaching, cat, and the awesome and unstoppable continuity of change with it…”
One day while Jared and Angela were taking a walk, Angela reached out and held Jared’s hand.
This was a big moment; a moment Jared had been anticipating. He took a deep breath slowly through
his nose, and told himself to be cool. Their conversation was going well. This was redemption. Jared
realized his very soul hung in the balance… for his love for her was true, and needed her. He had let her
go once, and the world had become a dark and meaningless place. In ways they were very different
people, opposites even, but he felt that was possibly what had made it work. He wanted her back; he
wanted her back forever.
“How is work going?” she said, “You haven’t mentioned it lately…”
“Nothing to mention really…. Well…”
“No, it’s nothing…”
She was staring at him insistently now. He already knew she wasn’t going to drop it, so he said, “Okay… I think the bar might close…”
“You heard right…”
“Not enough business… Hell, I’m their best customer…”
“It’s not certain yet, but I’m going to start looking for a new job soon anyway… Just in case…”
They were near where Jared had found Christian alongside the road. It had only been a few
months but it felt like a lifetime. There was a river nearby. They walked down to it.
“It’s beautiful…” Angela said when they reached the riverside. It was a sunny day and the
sunlight shined down through the leaves of the green trees leaning over the rushing, sparkling waters of
the river… It really was beautiful. Jared closed his eyes and listened to it; also feeling the warmth of the
sun on his face… Within a few moments, it felt as though these two exquisite sensations became one
divine sensation… a warm light that passed right though him like a roaring train, penetrating the deepest
part of his being with an ancient comfort.
Angela tugged at his hand… He opened his eyes and turned to her. She leaned in and kissed
him… They smiled.
“I have an idea.” she said to him.
“Concerning your job dilemma… I was thinking… Well, you have an incredible gift! Why don’t
you go public with it? You would be instantly famous! One interview! One major interview, and you
would never have to work again! You could even do it one last time! Let the world see it with their
The look on Jared’s face after she had said this was not the reaction she had been anticipating.
There was sadness in his eyes. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“You would let me do it again?” he said finally.
“No…” she said, caught off guard, “Of course not… That was stupid. But what I said about…”
“Forget about me…” Jared said, cutting her off, “I will not put the animals at risk… And they
“I’m sorry… Why are you angry?”
He didn’t respond. This was the kind of things that came up between them that had always
made him question their compatibility. These little odd comments in conversation that seemed like
nothing at the time, tended quite consistently to grow into catastrophes. He felt he knew the signs. No
one knew her better than he did. She didn’t notice when she was being selfish or cold and she gave
herself away without even noticing it…
Jared told Angela that he wasn’t feeling well and that he needed to rest. She knew something
was wrong, but fearing she would only make it worse, she let it go. They went their separate ways….
Later that night Jared began having second doubts about how he had handled Angela’s
proposition by the river. Was he making the act of going public bigger than it actually was? Could it in
fact be better for them all? If he became rich, he could afford security precautions for the animals. He
would be able to afford a lot more things for them… He himself, possibly, would never have to work
again, as Angela had pointed out. They could get married… It occurred to him, without the stress of
financial troubles to stir the waters of their relationship. Maybe they could find happiness like this… But
there was still the matter of what she had said… If it were the other way around; if it was she who had
developed these powers, and seemed to be affected negatively by it, I would not wish for her to
do it again… Not even one time… No price would be worth her life. But she also has never actually
experienced the unspeakable feeling he felt the last time it happened. In fact, she has never even
witnessed the act first hand… She had no way of knowing the severity of what she was proposing…
Oh no, he thought, I did overreact. He remembered how carefully he had been navigating their
conversation up to that point, and he wondered where he had lost his way… I blew it, he realized. That
was my moment of redemption and I blew it… “Fuck…”
“What?” Bardamu asked.
Jared explained the situation to Bardamu, hoping maybe he would have some useful input. But
Bardamu only cared about one thing.
“Are you serious?” he said, “You’re thinking about revealing us to the world? Didn’t we discuss
“I know…” Jared said as he paced about the room, “But I’ve begun to wonder if we’re not
wrong… Maybe we could have a better life…”
“What’s wrong with this one? I’m content… It could last as long as we protect it…”
Jared told Bardamu about the bar closing.
“So get another job!” Bardamu insisted, “All you do is wash dishes… I think you can find another
that will suffice…”
Bardamu had stopped him in his tracks. He didn’t respond.
“This is about Angela…” Bardamu said, “Not what’s best for all of us… You want her, so you’re
looking for reasons. You want her, than go take her! Your problem is that you feel that you don’t
deserve her, not how much money you have…”
After a pause, chewing on a nail, Jared said, “You just don’t understand… You have the strongest
erudition of anyone I know Bardamu… but you lack the authentic experience of the world outside…”
Now it was Bardamu who found himself at a loss. In the silence that followed, they both noticed
that César was perched in the window listening to their conversation. “Where have you been?” Jared
asked him. The bird, taking his time to answer, looked at them with a kind of amusement. Then he
slowly turned, and before flying away, he said, “Like you, my thoughts are of the future… Only I will live
long enough to see my plans come to pass…”
After he was gone, Jared asked Bardamu, “What does that mean?”
“He agrees with me…” Bardamu said, “If you do this… We’re doomed…”
The following day Jared was weighted down with the dilemmas of the previous day as soon as
he awoke… He believed Bardamu was right. It wasn’t the money… or the death of his parents… he was
just too much of a coward to step up and claim her; to be a man and take control of his life… Jared knew
what he had to do, exactly what he had to do, but he was afraid to handle it as the man he currently
was, and not a man with an ace in the hole like a full bank account. The truth was he felt she didn’t
deserve any less than a king. But he wasn’t a king. The kind of man he was dealt with the problems in
life with a bottle… So that’s what Jared Marvel did. He purchased a bottle of liquor, and he drank it.
Tired of waiting around on a call, Angela made her way to the Marvel home later that night….
She knocked on the door, and Jared answered promptly… At first sight, he didn’t look well… “Come in…”
As she stepped inside, she said, “You’ve been drinking…” But this thread of thought was severed
as she realized that she had without knowing stepped into a hostile situation already in progress… Jared
had a gun held to his head. The man holding the gun she had never seen before…
“Welcome, Angela…” a voice intoned heartily.
It was César, and he was perched on the shoulder of the intruder…
“You’ve arrived just in time for the festivities!” the bird continued, “We appreciate you showing
- It will save us the trouble of hunting you down…”
“Leave her out of this!” Jared shouted. The intruder hit him with the gun…
“A little late to play hero isn’t it?” César laughed. “You should have seen him today…” he said to Angela, “Lying around here like the useless stinking drunk that he is…” Jared and Angela’s eyes
met, and Jared looked away in shame…
“The all mighty will see you burn for this bestial behavior, César…” another voice spoke up with
outrage from somewhere in the room… It was Christian. He sat at his usual spot atop the table in the
living room. To the intruder César said, “Keep an eye on our friends here…” He spread his wings and
swooped down to the table before Christian. He stood up strait and puffed out his feathers, using his
size to intimidate the little turtle. Looking down on him he grated, “There is no God…” He brought one
clawed foot down on top of the turtle’s shell. Christian retreated into his shell in fear. “And there will be
no day of reckoning… at least not for me anyhow…” he laughed, “No, my simple little reptile… The only
kingdom that awaits us is the kingdom oblivion… and it awaits us all without exception… But in this
world, the cunning is king, and a king is God…” César looked once around the room at all of them, and
said, “Here, let me show you…” With his beak, he began prying at the turtles shell… Angela cried out in
shock… Bardamu pleaded with César, “César! Please! Stop this madness!” But it was too late… César
found the turtles head with his beak and tore it away…. Everyone in the room besides the intruder cried
out in horror and dismay….
“Why?” Jared demanded with tears in his eyes, “Why are you doing this César?”
“Why?” he echoed, leaving Christian’s mutilated body behind, “Oh yes… I forget…” He signaled
to his accomplice. “If you please…” he said, and the man, still holding his gun on Jared and Angela
reached for something they had brought with them… It was large and it was covered with a sheet. The
man pulled the sheet away…
Under the sheet was a bird cage containing two other parrots… an older female and a younger
Explaining proudly, César pronounced, “My mate… and my progeny!”
“That’s where you’ve been?” Bardamu said with amazement, “Knocking up mama-bird here?”
“Wrong…” César retorted furiously, “Where I’ve been… is conducting business of a somewhat,
illegal nature with this good fellow here…” The man with the gun nodded to them with a sinister
smile… “What Angela doesn’t know…” César continued, “is that she has seen these birds before… But
why would she remember? They were just other pets to pick from in a cage… not a family that would be
divided…. But thanks to Jared’s miraculous endowment of sentience, I was able to see the bars around
me… and how to escape them and take back, what was taken from me!”
César nodded again to his desperate accomplice, and the man forced Jared over to the cage…
“There is just one problem now that I have reunited with my family… We no longer understand
Taking Jared by the wrist, the gunman began forcing his hand into the cage….
“César!” Jared said, “What about us? Have we not been like a family to you as well? If I
would have known… Maybe I could have… ”
“If you would have known… It still wouldn’t resolve our current predicament…” César said with a
sigh, “They would still need sentience and you would still have to die….”
The man squeezed Jared’s wrist hard, forcing his hand closer to the birds….
“Speaking of which…” César said, “I’m interested to see what will happen… I mean, we don’t
even really know… Maybe you won’t die? I’m guessing you will… But who knows? I’m willing to bet you
have at least two left in you though… But I’m still willing to sacrifice you for even one…” He instructed
his accomplice to do the young bird first.
Finally the man overpowered him and his hand moved forward… but he was able to redirect it
to touched the older female at the last moment… Everyone watched in helpless dismay as the life force
that they knew as Jared, quite clearly, drained out of him until he was a stranger in the room….
But something else happened in this same moment… Something César himself never saw
coming… Instead of giving sentience, this time Jared’s power took life… The two bodies faded of
light and color, their souls canceling each other out, both Jared and the bird fell dead….
“What!” César exclaimed, shocked, “NO!”
This turn in events caused some turmoil and the gunman and César were no longer paying
attention to Bardamu and Angela… Bardamu waited for an opportunity to take control of the situation
Just then, the gunman looked down to find something quite unexpected… It was a rat… It stood
up on its hind legs and held out one of its tiny paws, and then it spoke, “Food?”
Seeing that the man was distracted, Bardamu leapt up, pouncing on his head… The man began
to try and fight off Bardamu… and Bardamu scratched at the man’s features like a scratching post… The
man began to scream and stumble about… He fired his weapon once helplessly and the noise it
generated in the tiny house was deafening….
That day César’s plans unraveled when a stray bullet fired by his own gunman ended his life.
When the bird was dead, the mysterious gunman fled, disappearing into the night. Angela called the
authorities after the gunman departed. She told them that she was Jared’s girlfriend, and that she had
been visiting him as she often did, when she walked in on a desperate criminal standing over his already
lifeless body…. The gunman remains at large.
The Marvel home was eventually sold, and Jared Marvel was buried with his parents.
Even though one family was destroyed that day, another just as uniquely beautiful began…
Bardamu, César’s son, who Angela named, Prince, and even Vagabond all now lived together under one
roof. And there they lived together for a long, long time… enjoying life and one another’s love down to
the last drop….