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A Boy and His Budgie  ( A Short Story by Steve Challis)


Michael was nine; his father had died when he was eight, so he lived with his mother, Sophie.  Sophie had told Michael why they had to move out of their old house and away from the neighbourhood Michael had grown up in.  Michael did not understand everything, but he knew they were short of money.  Michael came with his mother when they were looking for a cheaper place to live.

They had answered an advert on the internet and had come to look at a house.  It was very cheap.  The landlord lived in the big house next door, and showed them round.  He did not seem to be a good salesman; he kept pointing out the bad things about the house.  This was quite different from the agents who had showed them the other houses.  The other people had only pointed out the good things.  This house was old and small, but it had a wonderful backyard.   Sophie and Michael fell in love with it straight away.  Afterwards,Michael said:

"The landlord seems like a very kind man."
Sophie answered:

"Yes, and I think he's honest as well.  He would be handsome if he was a bit thinner."

The landlord's name was Ted, his wife had died four years before; he lived with his twelve year old son, Andrew.  Andrew was three years older than Michael but not much taller.  They quickly became friends.  Before Michael's father had died, he had promised Michael he could have a puppy when he was twelve.  Now they had such a nice backyard, Michael asked his mother if he could get a puppy.  Sophie said:

"I'm sorry, but dogs are expensive to keep.  Maybe you could have a cheaper pet like a goldfish or a budgie?"
Michael was not a spoilt boy and agreed to go to the pet shop and see what they had.  The fish did not excite him much, but he looked at the birds.  One of them was a very pretty blue colour, but it was on the floor of the cage.  Michael asked the pet shop man why.  He told Michael:

"There is something wrong with this bird.  It can't fly.  I will have to return it to the breeder."

Michael asked:

"What will the breeder do with it?"

The pet shop man said:

"I don't know."

Michael said:

"But the breeder might kill the bird because he can't sell it!"

The pet shop man did not answer this, but looked sad. Michael knew he had guessed right.  He said:

"This bird has as much right to live as any of the others.  It is not the bird's fault it can't fly. How much does it cost?"

The pet shop man gave the bird to Michael for nothing.  Michael and Sophie bought a small cage, some bird seed and a cheap little book about the proper care of budgies.  The pet shop man gave them some advice about keeping the bird.

Michael named his budgie 'Pete'.  When he got home he showed Pete to Andrew.  Pete quickly learned to sit on Michael's shoulder.  Pete could not fly at all so there was no danger of him flying off.  The two boys and the bird became good friends.  Andrew called the three of them 'the three musketeers'.

One day, Sophie had to go to buy milk. Michael was asleep on the lounge so she did not wake him.  She would only be gone five minutes.  But as she came out of the shop with the milk she was hit by a car.  Sophie was unconscious; the shopkeeper called an ambulance.  Michael was still asleep when the smoke alarm in the kitchen at the back of the house went off.  The kitchen was on fire. 

Michael woke up.  The house was filling with smoke. Michael shouted for his mother.  There was no answer.  Michael looked out of the front window.  The car was gone.  His mother must have gone out.  Michael went back and grabbed Pete's cage.  He ran for the front door.  His mother had used the deadlock.  Michael could not open the door.  He put the cage down on the floor and tried again.  Michael and Pete were both panicking.  Michael collapsed from smoke inhalation.   He fell to the floor next to Pete'scage where the air was still almost free of smoke.

Next door, Andrew was bored.  He knew he was not supposed to play in the garden next door unless he was with Michael; but Andrew was sometimes naughty.  He climbed over the fence and was playing in the garden in the dark.  He could not see the house because of the bushes.

Ted, the landlord, had fitted a new smoke alarm in the kitchen. The smoke alarm was a simple thing with a little ion chamber to detect the smoke and a small microprocessor to control the device.  It was much too simple to feel emotion, so Michael's idea that it was proud of its job of protecting the family was silly.

The alarm was still sounding.  The heat in the kitchen was getting more intense.   As the smoke alarm melted away the sound it was making steadily rose in pitch through the range humans can hear and into the near ultrasonic.  Was it some peculiarity of design that caused it or was the alarm devastated that it had failed in its mission to protect the family?  The alarm finally melted with a last piercing ultrasonic shriek!

As the sound from the alarm went above the range adult humans can hear several distant dogs pricked up their ears. At its dispairing shriek there was a burst of distant barking.  Birds left their trees and flew away.  In the backyard Andrew heard the final shriek.  Like many young children he could hear up to the near ultrasonic.  Andrew went to look at the house.  Flames were visible through the kitchen windows.

Afterwards, Andrew was never sure how he had got over the six feet high fence to his own backyard.  Had he really jumped it in one almighty leap?  Andrew roused his father from in front of his computer.  They hurried to the front of the house next door.  The door was locked.  Ted said:

"Their car is not here, they must be out of the house.  If we open the door it will let more Oxygen in and the flames will flare up even faster.  We should wait for the firemen."

But Andrew heard Pete chirping madly.  To save the budgie, Ted flung all his excessive weight against the door.  It gave way.  Ted carried Michael to safety while Andrew rescued Pete.  Michael made a rapid recovery in hospital.  The head nurse was horrified when Andrew bought a bird into her ward to see one of her patients.  Sophie had to stay in hospital for another three months.  Michael had no home to go to but Ted happily let him stay in his big house with Andrew and himself.  Ted suddenly started becoming more active.  He joined his son in his training for the school cross country race.  Ted stopped eating comfort food.

Ted took Michael to see his mother every day.  Sophie had lost all her possessions except her car when the house burned down.  The only important thing to her was her son, and Ted, Andrew and Pete had saved him.  While she was in hospital, Sophie gained something else.  She fell in love with Ted.  A few months later after the ceremony, Andrew was able to say that he, Michael and Pete were now all brothers.
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