The Incredible Shrikes

It’s October 1952 and Hull Fair is encamped on wasteland adjoining Walton Street. P.C. Whitty is looking for the ‘The Incredible Shrikes’. At the far end of the encampment he sees two human size paintings of birds on the side of a caravan. A poster depicting the shrikes and their human trainers, in bird costumes, reads: ‘The Shrikes. They said we’d never train the infamous Butcher Birds. BUT WE HAVE!’

He knocks on the caravan’s door – there’s no reply. He shouts, Anyone home? 
A woman opens the door. Behind her, inside the caravan, many shrikes swirl. 
I’m sorry, Whitty says, I can’t think straight with all them birds swirling about.
The woman puts her fingers to her lips and blows a high-pitched whistle; the shrikes perch where they can.
Thanks, Mrs Shrike.
We’re not married. What do you want?
To speak with you both about the legality of your act.
Best come in. Ollie’s out. I’m his partner, Polly. Our act is legal. 
Whitty retches behind a handkerchief over his mouth and nose. 
Yeah, they do shit a lot. 
Could we please open a window? 
Cut to the chase, constable.
A concerned member of the public has made an official complaint. This asserts that
our fairground sideshow, featuring shrikes, is disturbing.
What’s disturbing about it? Great Grey Shrikes are predatory songbirds known as ‘Butcher birds’. They live here with us. 
Good god. Why?
It makes us think like shrikes, sort of method acting; we get inside their heads, and they get inside ours.
So, they’re not pets?
No, they’re nasty; you wouldn’t want one as a pet. We’ve trained them to perform in a purpose-built big mesh cage by doing tricks before catching mice and hanging ‘em on barbed wire.
Isn’t that cruel?
It’s natural for the birds.
I was thinking of the mice. I must speak to you both. When’ll he be back?
I never know. I think the cheating bastard’s got another bit on the side. I’ve had enough. He’s got it coming. 
What’s he got coming?
Hell hath no fury …. Try tomorrow about four; he’ll be costuming up then.

The next day Whitty arrives and finds the caravan’s door flapping in the wind. He goes in. There’s no sign of Polly, or the birds, but the stink of shit remains.

Outside, to the rear of the caravan, he sees someone dressed in a large grey and white bird costume. Mrs Strike, is that you? he calls. 
Laughing, she takes off her costume’s head and says, He’s gone. On the ground, dressed in an identical costume, lies an inert body. She pulls off its costume’s head, revealing bloodied barbed wire tightly bound around the man’s neck cutting through his jugular vein and carotid artery. Meet Ollie, she says. Two shrikes peck at Ollie’s wounds. 

Subsequently, Whitty frequently ‘sees’ shrikes feeding on Ollie’s neck. He hears shrikes and Polly shrieking and believes this to be laughter. He takes compulsory retirement due to a mental breakdown.

I hope you enjoyed this story. Please feel free to pass it on to others who may be interested. You can read my previous 500 word stories on my website under ‘Writing’.>>>More

© Phil Cosker 2023
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.

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