I wouldn’t have noticed so soon if it hadn’t been for Harold, lying at the bottom of his cage, feet up. He was an old bird by avian standards and he had been rather quiet of late, so I wasn’t that surprised. Sad, though – we’d been together a long time.
I was thinking about Harold as I walked to work. A normal suburban street it is, so not much in the way of wildlife, but there was always a bit of pigeon-dodging required and the occasional sparrow hopping about in someone’s front patch or, if I was lucky, a tiny wren under a bush. Not today, though. I looked around to see if there was a threatening moggy loitering nearby, but there wasn’t. Odd.
Then this woman ran out of her house, still in her dressing gown, wide-eyed, looking left and right as though for reassurance.
“They’ve gone,” she said to no one in particular. “They’ve all gone.”
And I knew.
I looked on the web as soon as I got to work and it hadn’t just happened here. I had hoped it was some local thing, at worst England, but there were reports from all over the world. All the birds had died.
The captive ones, like poor Harold, were found dead in their cages or enclosures. The rest, the garden birds, the seabirds, had simply disappeared. It was as though they had known it was coming and had gone to a quiet place to fade away. In the following days feathered corpses were found everywhere – under hedges, in people’s sheds, tidily dead.
A week on it was still headline news. There were articles about it being God’s punishment for some indeterminate failing of the human race and letters to the rags complaining about the cost of the clean up – the seaside fared worst with all the gulls to dispose of. But gradually it dropped below the usual run of political scandal and celebrity lifestyle until it wasn’t mentioned at all. Nobody could explain it, and there were no reputations or fortunes to be made, so where was the story? Before long it was as though they had never existed.
Six months later, no one talks about it. I miss Harold and the dawn chorus and even the pigeons, but I don’t think about it every day. Even the cats that had patiently prowled the local streets for weeks afterwards seem to have given up.
Come to think of it, I haven’t seen a cat for a while.
First published in Writing Magazine in April of 2017.
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