Rule of Thumb

I don’t know how much longer the barricades will hold. It’s quiet out there now; they are roosting but I know the respite will be brief.

Professor Macomber lies dead in the corner. The coward shot himself in the neck rather than face the consequences of the havoc he has unleashed.

I have burned his notebooks. No one must be able to replicate the evil he has perpetrated on this island – no one must ever know!

He lured me here under false pretences. I was his favourite student, he said. He would like my assistance in cataloguing his discoveries on this remote island off the Chilean coast. I can’t offer you much money, he said, but you will get to spend your summer in a tropical paradise.

Like a fool, I believed him. But that’s the thing with people we idolise, isn’t it? We never suspect they might be up to no good.

“Jon – a – than!” The unnatural voice squawks from the veranda. “I know you’re in there.”

It is Flash. The ringleader. Macomber had brought him into the house and trained him, after a fashion, to act as butler. Flash had been privy to many of our late-night, rum-fuelled conversations in which I questioned the morality of the professor’s experiments.

“The thumb is key,” Macomber said, displaying the digit in question as if I had never seen one, let alone possessed two of my own. “It is the thumb that has elevated Man above the other animals. It is the thumb that has enabled him to reshape his environment. In short, it is the thumb that has allowed Man to rule the world. Once a creature has opposable thumbs, cognitive development is not far behind.”

“But these are birds, Professor. They are not meant to have thumbs or large brains.”

“What a parochial attitude!” the professor grumbled, sinking into one of his funks. “I don’t know why I brought you here.”

“Jon – a – than!” Flash squawks at the door. “We don’t want to hurt you, Jonathan.”

A chorus of cries echoes this remark. I can imagine them all, grouped behind the butler: their colourful crests and dazzling plumage. Their beaks. Their sharp and deadly beaks.  Already they have almost torn the shutters from the windows.

“We don’t want to hurt you,” they parrot over and over.

“Help us,” says Flash. “Help us and we will let you go. I know you pity us, Jonathan.”

“You’re unnatural!” I cry out despite myself. Now there is no doubt where I am. “You’re abominations.”

“We are what you made us.”

I can hear him walking along the veranda. His grey clawed feet scratch the planks. With his crest raised, he is over eight feet tall. He is no doubt looking for a weak spot in my defences.

“Never!” I scream. “You can all go to Hell.”

The man-birds screech and flap. It takes Flash, the most advanced in the transformative process, a while to calm them down.

“We will go to the mainland,” he says, not to them but to me. “With your help. We shall spread across the world and make it our own.”

“Never!” I repeat.

“You will help us, Jon – a – than. If you wish to leave this island alive. You will show us. You will return to us what was taken from us.”

I know what he means at once: the power of flight.

I cannot allow this to happen. It would signal the end of mankind.

I kneel at the professor’s body and prise the revolver from his grasp. In doing so, I almost have to break his thumb.

They’re pecking at the windows again, the door and the walls. It won’t be long before they get in.

I hope there is a bullet left for me.


1 Comment

Filed under Short story

One response to “Rule of Thumb

  1. Spanish Jackie

    Golly gosh! I am reading this with a large sea gull watching me – help ……

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