Flash Friday 19/02/2016: Parrot On
Treasure hunting was never a profession of certainty. If one were to chase mountains of gold and long-lost rubies from forgotten civilisations, one had to follow whispered rumour, well-known folk legends, or scraps of aged paper giving vague and deliberately cryptic directions.
Alice and Robert knew all about this life. Becoming a couple soon after World War I ended, they were guided by the allure of lost treasure. The directions listed on the invitation to their marriage consisted of a crudely-drawn map and a riddle on the back. If people didn’t have the desire to work it out, the couple didn’t have the desire for them to attend. The marriage ended up being small, but at least they liked everyone who managed to attend.
This is why, when the pair landed on a desert island in a rowboat, it was far less adventure and far more business.
That didn’t stop Alice from embracing the spirit, however. Standing on the beach with her hands on her hips, she beamed to herself. “Nothing like getting out the smogs of London and out into the open air. Doesn’t it just fill you with vigour, Robert? Finding a treasure map in a forgotten attic, setting sail with nothing but a spade and our wits. Something about treasure hunting truly brings out the romance and the wit of us all, doesn’t it? Robert? Doesn’t it?”
Alice turned around. Robert was too busy scratching the chin of a parrot on his shoulder. Occasionally he’d feed it a nut.
Alice folded her arms. “And what, pray-tell, is that?”
“Hm?” Robert looked over, as if Alice had not been talking. “It’s a parrot.”
“Yes, I can see that. What I’m asking is, why did you bring that ruddy thing with us?”
“Because it’s a Guiding Parrot System. One of the hot new trends that set London aflame. Look, watch this.”
Robert drew the treasure map from his pocket, unfurled it, then held it up so the parrot could see. The parrot stared at the map, then stared at the horizon, then sprang to life with a cry. “Destination set, rwark!” it said. “Walk straight ahead until the end of the beach, then take a right at the first coconut tree, rwark!”
“Right then.” Robert pocketed the map. “Let’s head off, shall we?”
With that, Robert marched proudly down the beach.
A flustered Alice caught up with him, struggling to keep up with his confident pace. “And I suppose you think I’m impressed?”
Robert nodded as they stepped off of the sandy beach, parting the plant growth and entering thick foliage. “Well, I certainly am.”
“And what part of having a ruddy parrot telling us where to go do you classify as ‘impressive’?”
“Rwark!” came a screech. “In one-hundred feet, take the third left past the statue of a forgotten god, rwark!”
“Well, listen to it,” Robert said. “We don’t have to mess about with all that hunting nonsense.”
“‘Mess about’? You call the spirit of exploration ‘messing about’? This is certainly not the Robert I thought I married. The Robert I fell in love with years ago would have itched to get his knees dirty exploring lost lands and dodging death at every corner. Not taking instructions from a winged rodent.”
Alice had presumably struck a mild nerve, because at this comment, Robert stopped pacing and turned to her. He spoke in a hushed tone, as if trying not to let the parrot listen in. “I think you’ll find this parrot deserves a more fitting title than ‘winged rodent’. Just see what it can do.” Then, speaking to the parrot, he said, “do the pirate voice.”
The parrot cleared its throat. “Ahoy, matey!” it called in a deeper tone than before. “You’re a quarter of the way towards your precious booty. Set sail to starboard bow when the crow’s nest spots the next T-junction. Avast, ye!”
“See?” Robert said, with a smug tone. “‘Flying rodent’, my backside.”
And then he continued marching.
“Okay,” Alice spat, jogging to keep up. “First I want to know how you smuggled that thing for two months without me noticing. Second, I want to know what you did with Robert.”
“Nothing happened to the old Robert,” Robert said, his voice strained as their path led them up a steep hill. “He just realised how easier life is with a guide.”
“But we don’t need a guide!”
“True, but one doesn’t hurt, now, does it? In fact, it does the direct opposite of hurt. The last time we got lost and I got put in a boiling pot of water by a tribe, that certainly hurt.”
“But that’s the spirit of the adventure!” Alice cried, the upward slope taking a mild toll on her tone of voice. “We get lost, we make mistakes, we find the treasure, and we go home richer in both finance and experience! Where’s your burning passion for exploration gone?”
“‘Burning passion’?” Robert let loose a short, sharp laugh. “I think I left whatever ‘burning passion’ I had when I fell into the last snake pit. Mark my words, this guiding system will allow us to find treasures beyond comparison in a safer manner than ever–”
Robert’s foot stepped into open air.
Years of avoiding traps had refined Alice’s reflexes to a point. She grabbed hold of Robert’s arm before he fell, dangling him over a drop where the land gave way to a deep canyon. Digging her heels into the ground, she pulled Robert back up.
Robert took a moment to appreciate the solid ground before standing again. The parrot, who had presumably flown off due to his fall, settled back down on his shoulder. Robert glared at it.
“Rwark!” it said. “Fall three-hundred feet down cliff, then take the first right, rwark!”
Alice shot Robert a cold glare. “So, are you still going to defend the parrot after that?”
Robert dusted down his clothes. “I think I’ve rediscovered my passion,” he said, brushing the parrot off his shoulder.