Chapter 12 - A Gift of Green

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They thank the rabbit and, with one last look out for "Alfred" who seemed to be nowhere within the immediate vicinity, took off down the trail at a run. Reaching the first bend, they, instead of following the curve, plunged forward through the trees per instructions, and shouted for MacPherson.

"I don't think the map showed a river in this area," said Eirik between breaths. "And I don't know where else we'd find a manatee, you know, if MacPherson really is one."  

"The bungalow isn't that far, so maybe we won't need---." Movement played in the corner of Anders' eye. To his left, an elongated dark shape kept pace with them about 30 meters away, slithering and crawling, flashing and fluttering, fluid and light like the hypnotic tail of a ghostly kite. Inexplicably it maintained a mildly reassuring distance. 

Flapping of great feathered wings broke the forest's stillness. The herald appeared above in the canopy and landed in their path, stopping their advance. Up close, its height was astonishing. The crown of its head reached near to Anders' chin. From under a wing the bird pulled a pale green cake of soggy cardboard. This it extended to Anders. 

Anders' eye widened. The green tea box, what's left of it. He accepted it reverently. The bird made the rabbit's door cough it up. "I -- thank you. Thank you!" 

Their monstrous pursuer had stopped as well. Afar, it floated down and conformed against the earth like a watchful stingray made of oil. This behavior did not escape Anders' notice. Actually, it gave him hope. 

Alfred isn't coming closer. The box wasn't enough to stop him before so what... He considered the parrot's majestic blue stare. Perhaps Alfred does't like the herald. He nodded to the parrot, grateful for its appearance and any future attempt at assistance. "Do you think we can skip the next unnatural disaster, maybe?" 

The parrot's voice warbled hoarsely, like an eerie music box recovered from a haunted pirate ship. "Watch out for the idiot behind me." 

Anders and Eirik leaned opposite ways to look past the bird. There was no one. 

The herald added slowly, "I brake for treeeeeeeees." 

"You brake for --." Anders blinked. 

Eirik cracked a knowing grin. "It's quoting the Land Rover's bumper stickers." 

"You've seen my truck?" Anders said to the parrot. "You've been watching us?" 

"Or watching out for us." 

"Or it likes my truck." 

Eirik knit his brows and stated the obvious: "And it can read."

Flinching suddenly, the parrot hissed like an insulted gas leak, which startled the men, and hurriedly leapt away into the air. Alfred shimmied up a tall evergreen and vanished. The panda squirmed and nipped at Eirik. An odd, hollow rumble disturbed the stillness. 

"Ouch! What's the matter, bear?" Eirik looked back over his shoulder for the source of the sound -- and then looked a second time with alarm.  

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