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by Dave Ludford

Alan Jugg was contemplating the latest in a series of incidents that had recently befallen him when his mobile phone began to vibrate and ring; a tinny version of Ride of the Valkyries accompanied by a jerky movement that made the implement look as if it were trying to dance crazily to the tune. He leaned over to where the phone sat on a small wooden coffee table next to the armchair he occupied and read the single word on the illuminated display: Unknown. “I’m not answering that,” he shouted out loud, “it’s them again, the bastards who are trying to get me.” He picked the phone up between finger and thumb, a look of distaste on his face, as if it were a dead spider, and flung it across his living room. It landed with a soft thump on the carpeted floor some six feet away. Abruptly it fell silent, as if the impact had broken the connection. Jugg tried to settle his breathing. “Bastards,” he said again. “Why can’t they leave me alone?” After several fretful minutes he settled back down to his former train of thought.

If questioned on the matter Jugg would have struggled to define exactly who ‘they’ were. Just people…those strangers in the café, for example, muttering together, giving him sideward glances and chuckling as he sat at a corner table with his ordinary coffee, feeling increasingly uncomfortable. He was unaware that the cause of the customers’ amusement was the fact that he had shaving foam on his left ear which he’d failed to notice and wipe off whilst performing his morning ablutions. That had been the start of it, and there had been several other occurrences since, culminating the previous day when he’d been attacked by a parrot.

Jugg was convinced that his assailant had been no ordinary African Grey, oh no. ‘They’ had sent it to get him. It had appeared as if from nowhere as he’d walked home from work, repeatedly tearing at his hair with beak and claws as it flapped madly about his head. It had even screeched his name whilst doing so: “Jugg! Jugg!” in a demented croak. Jugg had flapped his arms wildly and eventually the escaped pet had flown away in the direction of the park. Jugg was never to learn that he bore an uncanny resemblance to the parrot’s owner’s ex-partner, who had taunted the bird mercilessly. The bird, having gained its freedom, had spotted an opportunity for revenge. The screaming of his name had been entirely a figment of Jugg’s overactive, paranoid imagination that was, by now, reaching fever-pitch. He’d ran the rest of the way home, reeking of sweat and parrot shit and looking as if he’d been dragged through the proverbial hedge, backwards, smothered as he was in soft, grey feathers.

Afternoon gave way to evening and still Jugg sat motionless. Perhaps he should move away from the area? But no, they’d only follow him…he wasn’t safe anywhere. So, what to do? Sighing heavily, he rose from the armchair and walked across the room to draw the curtains. As he reached the window his parrot assailant of the day before flew at the glass, shattering it in several places. The bird slid down the glass, leaving a trail of blood as it sank slowly to the ground. Shocked out of his wits, Jugg staggered backwards, tripped over a heavy brass door stop and banged his head on the floor, rendering him senseless…

He woke with a sudden start. A dream; it had all been a horrible dream…now the bastards had penetrated his subconscious as part of their nefarious plan. On reflection, he thought: perhaps this has all been some horrific dream, a product of my too-active imagination? I’ve been under a lot of stress and strain recently, what with my little antiques shop failing…sometimes the mind can play funny tricks. He decided to grab a beer from the fridge to help calm his shattered nerves.  As he moved towards the door he glanced across at the window, but failed to notice, in the semi-darkness, the words ‘Vengeance Will Be Ours’ smeared in parrot blood on the glass.