Mitch parked among the cars of the staff servicing an out-of-the-way Greek restaurant; they didn’t mind, it looked like more customers, and he ate there sometimes. The little shopping center was mostly vacant. He went to a door featuring a logo similar to the Maltese Falcon, but more lifelike, punched in a code and swiped his ID card. When he stepped inside, the door locked behind him with a different sound.
“What?” He pushed on the bar, but it wouldn’t give, he was locked inside with his cell still in his car as electronic protocol demanded. Well, no problem, the place had a land line. He’d call his boss.
Except it didn’t; the phone was gone. “What’s going on?” he questioned aloud. He wondered if there were tools he could use to take the locking mechanism apart, but there probably weren’t; his boss did all the maintenance. This was getting a little creepy; it seemed someone wanted him locked inside a virtual reality set.
A small company named Falcon Games had built the virtual reality set in an attempt to sell their patents to the gaming industry, but failed. As they were closing shop, his boss made a deal that required only small adjustments. Instead of running through city streets firing military weapons, an observer walked city streets watching pigeons; it had occurred to someone that city birds were feathered lab rats in regard to climate change, air pollution, noise, population density, food acceptance, all sorts of things that humans might face as resources dwindled.
The data collectors were eager school children on field trips downtown. The information was sent to Pigeons for the Future, a website developed by his boss, and funded by the government. Mitch’s job was to enter that data and watch virtual pigeons all day. Falcon Games took what was offered and disappeared, leaving someone’s sweatshirt with a realistic falcon on the back; it was rolled up under a table and never touched except by the curious Mitch.
Locked door or not, Mitch still had a shift to pull. His boss would come around about two and let him out. He got the coffeemaker going and walked over to the computer; it was already running a program. He sat down and stared. That wasn’t New York, St. Louis or LA; it was Bodega Bay, California.
“What the hell?” He looked around; he wasn’t on city streets, he was in a restaurant, and a pigeon was coming right at him! Thinking it was an illusion, he didn’t duck, and its clawed feet drew blood on his right ear. He screamed.
The only physical furniture in the room was two chairs and two lightweight tables for the computer and coffeemaker. Mitch huddled below the computer as other aggressive pigeons hurled around the room at forty-miles-an-hour, their one-pound bodies solidly meaty and dangerous.
Bodega Bay was the setting of Hitchcock’s classic The Birds, he remembered, and he thought the main character was named Mitch as well. Who had done this? Oh, that was obvious.
In the beginning, there’d been a coworker, a certain Sadie. Although brilliant, she was shy and awkward. He got the notion that being the first man in her bed might be amusing; he hadn’t had any other virgin, which was for sure. His boss warned against the plan, but Mitch went ahead anyway, and then broke it off crudely when he discovered he couldn’t take her into social settings. She’d quit soon after, and he thought of it no more.
Until now; this had to be her handiwork. Living alone with her father on the edge of town, on some acres, a jack-of-all-trades like Dad, animals abounding, sure, she could have gotten some pigeons together; if you gave them a coop, they’d use it. “But they’re just harmless pigeons,” he thought, “she went to all this effort so I’d burn a shift and get nothing done?”
No, it wasn’t going to be that simple. The pigeons were on the floor, circling him. Instead of bobbing their heads and cooing, they flapped their wings and snapped their beaks; the claws on their red feet were formidable. He remembered Sadie saying her father had some warlike pigeons that could even chase jays away from the birdseed, check, these were those guys. And she must have trained them with his picture, using the coveted black oil sunflower seeds as a reward.
Well, hell, if they reacted to pictures, he had an idea. Making a big commotion to startle the flock, Mitch crawled under the coffeemaker table and slipped on the falcon sweatshirt. All day, he kicked at the ones in front and intimidated the ones in the back. By the time he heard his boss coming, he was exhausted.
“Don’t close the door; you’ll get locked in!” He sprinted past the other man, thirty multicolored pigeons flapping through the air and clawing at his hooded head. “I’ll call you from the car!” He had to unlock the door, and in the process got his right cheek clawed and scratches on his right hand. One pigeon was crushed as he closed the door, but he didn’t care.
“I don’t think you can prove anything,” Mitch spoke to his boss, cell to cell. The pigeons fluttered around his car, pecking and pooping, paying no attention to the other man. “I’m going to cover my face and see if they fly away. If I remember, though, Hitchcock’s movie was unresolved; the birds just sat there.”
After some time, that’s exactly what they did; returning to Sadie and sunflower seeds. Within a few days, he was only a hazy memory in their little birdbrains, but Mitch and Sadie remembered each other forever!
A roll of the virtual dice gave me a motif of birds (fine), a subgenre of mythpunk (gulp), and a setting of a virtual reality world (erm…), not my comfort zone, but I hope you like it. Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction: