The Aqua Bird

📅 Published on November 3, 2021

“The Aqua Bird”

Written by Malcolm Tanner
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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Chapter 1: The Beginning

Loretta could see two versions of the mockingbird in the tree outside her window. One with ugly gray and black feathers, the other with beautiful aqua feathers. The aqua bird was so much more pleasing to Loretta’s sight. The black and gray mockingbird always landed first in the newly blossomed redbud tree. The black and gray bird seemed cold and insensitive, unable to know beauty. The aqua bird would always arrive and chase the gray bird away, puffing its chest out in pride. “That’s me,” Loretta said to herself. “I’m the pretty bird!” Her friends would sometimes scoff at her words.

Whether she was actually the gray bird or the pretty aqua bird, depended upon the mood she was in that day. Loretta’s emerald green eyes saw the very best of herself, the aqua bird if you will. But there were times when her eyes turned a stone-cold gray, and she actually saw herself as the ugly, gray-and-black-feathered bird. She shook her head violently when she wanted it to go away, flailing her arms at the bird until she scared it off the beautiful branches. Loretta had always appeared confused about which color bird she was, even as a child growing up in the Missouri Ozarks.

Loretta and her family, if that’s what you called it, lived in a trailer, with a couch in front. The couch sat in the front yard grass which was worn and never mowed. Most of the grass was dead from the summer heat. The couch sat a few feet in front of the concrete block steps that led inside the trailer. Some of the windows were broken and the siding was moldy all along the north side. Loretta’s mother would scream, and her father would yell, making Loretta cover her ears.

Loretta would sing nursery rhymes until her fear went away, kicking her feet outward, sometimes so fast and violent, she did not realize she was bruising her heels against the front of the couch. Her brain spoke to her in words so fast and furious they made no sense. Loretta cried at first, but after a while, she no longer possessed tears to give. She felt her mind split into two parts. She felt she became two people. One person was helpful, nice, and caring. That was the aqua bird. The other, well, she just denied the other person existed. It was rage and fury taking her to a new dimension. A dimension with no memory, one in which she could never recall her violent fury. That’s when she was the black and gray feathered bird.

It was the hitting that made Loretta really turn into the black and gray bird.  Her father, Jimmy, liked bullying her mother.  She would just go outside and sit on the couch, kicking her heels against its base until they were bruised, singing her repetitive rhymes.

She was walking home one day at 16, and found a boy while hitchhiking on the road. He was older and stopped his pick-up truck to ask her if she needed a ride. She climbed into his truck that day and never looked back at her parent’s trailer she’d once called home or hell. The boy’s name was Jeb, and she would soon fall in love with him. He was kind and gentle to her, never yelling like her father or screaming like her mother. She was happy, and that is when the aqua bird began to appear to her. She could see it clearly at least once every day, mostly in the morning when she looked outside at the red buds, waking up with Jeb by her side in their current trailer in an old, run-down park in rural Missouri.

Her parents never tried to find her once she left. Loretta was out on her own, learning things a girl her age was actually too young to learn. She grew up much too fast. Sometimes Jeb would take care of kids, lost like them, trying to survive in the world. They were kids whose parents never came home and left them all alone to fend for themselves.

Jeb gave Loretta a place to stay, there was no yelling or screaming. Jeb never yelled at Loretta. It was not always warm or cool enough, but they did have shelter. Many times, they would find old, abandoned places to stay until someone found them and they fled. Life on the road. Jeb stole food, he hunted food, he did whatever he could to help the both of them survive. Sometimes they would move into an abandoned trailer in an old park that no one owned anymore. But mostly, they found ones that were abandoned in empty fields or sparse woods.

Sometimes they ate at food kitchens for the homeless or others would give them money to eat. That is, if they weren’t on the run. They seemed to be able to avoid the authorities many times for the evil they left behind them.

Although it wasn’t real, the aqua bird was to Loretta. It calmed her after her episodes of anger and evil. As time passed, she engaged in many more such angry episodes, but Jeb was always there to direct her anger in the direction of what he called “righteous behavior”, to use her sparks of anger for good.

“Well, you know, people like us. We are only helping the children, you know,” Jeb would say.

“But Jeb, they’ll find us someday. They’ll hurt us.”

“No, they won’t, Loretta. I won’t ever let them hurt you. Besides, what we did was not wrong.  It freed children from those terrible people.”

Even though Jeb was kind to Loretta, he could be evil to others. He was evil to others because he grew up like Loretta. He lived in the same kinds of places with the same kinds of parents. He promised himself that he would help anyone with parents like his and Loretta’s. Jeb always lived with a mean streak. One that cost Jeb’s own father his life.

Jeb’s father came home drunk one afternoon.  Jeb was supposed to have the work done. His father barreled through the door of the trailer, pushing Jeb’s mother to the floor. He took off his belt and was going to teach Jeb a lesson for being lazy and not getting the grass mowed. His father went outside to find him. He walked all around the trailer until he saw the skirting underneath torn open.  Now his father was really pissed.

“Get your lazy ass out of there, boy. I told you to get that grass cut and what did you do all day, sit on your ass?”

“No, daddy, no.  Don’t hurt me, please!”

His father finally got a hold of his arm and struck him three times with the belt.  He then kicked him square in the ass twice, and then struck him in the face with his fist.  Jeb lay there, bloody and scared.  He would have no more of this, not ever again. This shit was going to stop, right now! Jeb raised up to his knees as his father raised up to swing the belt at him one more time.  Jeb crawled to his feet, his hunting knife he always carried in his jeans, clenched tightly in his fist. He swung it toward his father’s stomach. It plunged deep into his father’s gut.

The look of surprise and shock on his father’s face did not move Jeb as he removed the knife and crimson red blood oozed from his father’s stomach. For some reason, Jeb was not able to stop himself. His humiliation and rage leftover from the beating he’d just received, drove him to plunge the knife again into the chest of his father.  Again, then again, each time with more force as Jeb’s rage gave him superior strength he did not know he possessed. His father finally succumbed to the vicious attack and lay flat on his back, looking up at the sky. He lay motionless. His eyes, empty and hollow—lifeless.

His mother ran to stop him.  “Jeb, Jeb stop, stop, please!”

Jeb held the knife, dripping with his father’s blood and stood still, like a statue. Jeb’s breathing was fast and labored. His mother slowly removed the knife from his hand. “Run, Jeb.  Run as fast as you can and never come back. It’s the only way for you to survive.  Run, Jeb!”

His mother held the knife and watched Jeb run away. My boy, my beautiful boy. It’s the only way, she thought within, as she laid plans to bury her husband’s body in the woods. She would tell anyone asking about Jeb’s father, that he up and left the family and that Jeb ran away. Jeb was officially a missing person, but they would never find him. He would evade everyone. He would learn how to survive.

It was now two years since Jeb killed his father. Jeb grew in size and was now more like a man than a boy. He still defended and protected Loretta, the one he loved with all his heart. Just like he loved his mother. But he taught her that revenge against all that was evil to them was actually the right way to think about life. He would tell her, “How were we supposed to end all the evil, especially the things that happened to kids like us? The cops? Family Services? What do they do to stop that cruelty, the verbal and physical abuse, and them not carin’ none for us as kids?”

Loretta would listen to Jeb and thought him to be the smartest man in the world. They found the trailer they now lived in, empty and abandoned. It was just like the others they discovered before on their travels. None of them seemed owned by anyone and the trailers were always empty. They would steal things, furniture, lamps, anything to help make their trailer seem nice. They put plastic in the windows to keep their trailer warm in the winter and stole fans to cool them in the summer. They moved from one to another, as people ran them off or called the police to have them removed. They always seemed to stay one step ahead of the law.  Loretta and Jeb always seemed to get away as Jeb would hear his mother’s voice, “Run, Jeb. Run as far as you can.”

Loretta always marveled at how good Jeb was at staying hidden and not being found. He knew a lot about the woods and how to hide in them. He owned knives to ward off critters and to clean food for them to eat. Jeb came along and saved her from evil and he was teaching her how to do the same for others.

One day they sat outside the trailer on a couch they got from the Christian Center and were talking.  Loretta was mesmerized by his voice and what she figured was his wisdom.

“You see, Loretta, these damn people don’t care about their kids. They only care about drinkin’ that whiskey and yellin’ and screamin’ that they do at each other. Them poor little kids, they ain’t got nuttin’ to look forward to. They just like you and me. We’s orphans, you know. So is them kids. They just don’t know that yet,” Jeb said.

“But Jeb, it ain’t right killin’ them people, is it? I mean, they ain’t botherin’ us none.”

“Loretta, when you were little, did you wanna leave that old place with those nasty folks?”

“Well, yes. I don’t miss them people one bit, not one!”

“Ya see then, it is righteous. We help them little ones that nobody cares for.”

Jeb and Loretta made the best of their homeless life, finding food in shelters, clothing at thrift shops and any money that they could steal from their victims. Those victims were not necessarily robbery victims. Oh no, they were actually victims of Jeb and Loretta’s “righteous behavior.” Jeb always worried when he heard screams of pain and anger that someone was doing wrong. He felt he needed to help those suffering abuse. The abusers weren’t victims at all to Jeb. They got what they damned well deserved. Just like his father.

He would usually bury them in shallow graves, many never to be found, as he and Loretta would leave a trail of carnage behind them. Jeb never looked back at his trail of blood and vengeance. After all, He felt what he was doing was right. But Loretta asked the aqua bird when she would see it, if they were doing right or wrong. In the end, Loretta would always puff out her chest and say to herself, “That’s me. I’m the pretty bird.”

One night, they were out walking, and they heard yelling and screaming from another trailer in the park they stayed in. Two children came flying out through the door and were crying. Jeb told them both to run far away. He pulled two knives from his jacket and gave one of the knives to Loretta. This was okay, Loretta thought, we are just puffing out our chests, just like the aqua bird. She looked at Jeb with her green eyes and said, “You always told me it was okay if it was for a righteous reason.”

Loretta then looked at the tree near the trailer where the kids ran from.  The black and gray feathered mockingbird nodded its head at Loretta, giving her the signal to go ahead. She angered at the sight of that ugly bird, and she began to become that second person, the one with no memory. She felt the rage rise and build inside until she could no longer hold back the impending explosion.  She spun quickly towards Jeb, her eyes meeting his eyes and he just nodded his head in the affirmative as they walked inside the trailer. A bloody fury ensued. Loretta did things to the kid’s mother, she never thought possible before. She attacked the man holding the gun and slashed his throat from ear to ear, sending fountains of blood into the air. Filled with a dark furious wrath, her hands and face quickly became bloodied as her righteous anger unleashed.

The two made the news that day…and were quickly arrested for double homicide. She was tried for murder in the first degree, but found not guilty by reason of insanity. She was institutionalized and forever caught in the crazy dreams about those they killed. Over and over, the dreams would come. Doctors were never quite certain if she actually perceived the carnage she’d committed. They placed straps around her, and Loretta fought and fought until the dreams subsided. The shot, the stabbings, the blood, the screams, they always came back.

Chapter 2: The End

The gray-feathered mockingbird landed on a tree outside her window at the sanitarium. It sang a horrid tune. Loretta looked slowly over at the bird and sneered as sweat rolled down her cheeks and forehead, her hair completely soaking wet and smelling soured. It flew away, in its place, the aqua mockingbird sat perched, echoing a much sweeter tune. The tune was righteous. Loretta’s mouth transformed into a wide smile.

The straps no longer hurt, and her breathing began to slow down. Each time a new episode took place, the gray bird appeared. She would stab at the bird with her hand in violent strokes. The ugly bird would leave, and the pretty bird would appear in its place. Loretta would then puff out her chest. “That’s me,” she said aloud to herself. “I’m the pretty bird.  Righteousness. I miss you, Jeb.”

Jeb died thirty years earlier at the ripe age of twenty-two inside a trailer. Such a hard life he’d lived in such a short time. No one ever told Loretta, not that her feeble broken mind would have understood. She knew he was hurt by the gunshot, but she never knew he would die. She could only remember small bits and pieces of what happened that day the gray-feathered mockingbird filled her with enough rage to explode. Loretta thought she would see Jeb soon. It was not to be. She lost all track of time with no sense of how old she was now.

At fifty-two years old, for the past thirty-two years, Loretta saw the two birds at least once every single day. Each day, she shooed the gray bird away and whenever she saw the aqua bird, she would then puff out her chest and relax enough to sleep. Jeb would watch her from his perch on the redbud tree, just out of reach, outside her window. His feathers are gray and dull, the ugly bird. He did not understand why she wanted to shoo him away. He was so good to her! He had shown her how to show mercy to the unwanted children and judgment to the nasty neglectful parents.

One day, the gray bird flew away and never came back. Loretta passed that day at the age of fifty-four. She died from an epileptic seizure. The gray bird could no longer see her and her empty chair reminded him of what he’d lost. His reason for coming was gone. Loretta’s dreams of blood, violence, stabbing, and cutting had ended.

But the aqua bird, well, it left, too. But a new one came back. It landed and perched back on the same redbud that had now grown and matured to a quite large tree. The mockingbird always came back every day of every year and watched over whoever was in that room sitting in that familiar chair in the sanitarium. It was the pretty bird’s job. The patients had never had anyone else to watch over them, and now it was Loretta’s turn to do for them what another pretty bird had done for her. That job was to shine that strange and mysterious light upon their face during their times of misery, so that they too could puff out their chests and say, “That’s me, I’m the pretty bird.”

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Malcolm Tanner
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Malcolm Tanner

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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