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Stories

Mr. Chirpenbeck

1- A Happy Couple

Steve and Terri Goodman were a typical middle-class couple who lived in a small house in an older suburban neighborhood. Steve worked in the software industry and when the Internet bubble burst, his career had floundered for a few years. Terri had never focused on her career much, being more of a free-spirited artist. To make a living however, she had become a skilled office temp, and when Steve finally got his career back on track, the two 40-somethings found themselves working for the same company. They made an attractive couple, both tall and obviously in love with each other. Steve loved his sexy wife and enjoyed her free-spirited manner; Terri simply loved Steve.

They moved in together and eventually married, buying the small older house in which they now lived. There were no children, and this suited both of them just fine. Steve had siblings with children and in truth, he had no patience for them. He tended to be a self-involved person, worked hard at his job so he could enjoy a few things in his free time. They lived from paycheck to paycheck like many American couples, and the lack of ready cash made Steve uneasy. Fortunately, they both worked and so Steve was generally happy about this arrangement.

Terri however had other plans. She had always dreamed of finding an attractive hard-working man who could take care of her. In Steve she had found him. In truth, she hated working office jobs. She wanted to stay home and pursue her creative projects, which were many and varied. As Steve’s income increased, slowly but steadily, and they managed to begin paying down their credit card debt, Terri quietly but determinedly put the breaks on her career as a temp. The job situation in the area hadn’t really improved, and the temp business was changing. The assignments were more difficult to get, so Terri began taking increasing amounts of time off between assignments, sadly telling Steve that the work just wasn’t there. She could see Steve was worried about their finances, but she knew he tended to be a resilient man – he would worry, but his sense of responsibility would keep him working and taking care of her.

Over a period of months, Terri’s temp assignments disappeared completely. Steve loved her and was something of a gentle person; he didn’t like losing his temper and tended to avoid confrontations of a personal matter. He kept asking her everyday about the job search, and accepted the situation. They continued to have enough money to get by, and except for the occasional impulse purchase by Terri, they were doing fine.

Then Terri’s impulse purchases began to increase. Steve would take away Terri’s ATM card, and things would get better, then he would relent and give it back, and the cycle of impulse purchases would begin again. Steve began to get angry about it, but kept his anger in check. Terri would tearfully own up to her latest useless purchase, and her tears kept Steve from making any demands.

2 – The New Arrival

One day, Terri told Steve that she had agreed to watch their neighbors pet cockatiel while they were away visiting relatives for a week. Steve didn’t really care, it wouldn’t cost them anything and since it was Terri’s thing, he didn’t mind. “I don’t really like birds,” he told her simply. At the end of the week, Terri was consumed with birds. She had fallen in love with Leopold, the neighbor’s clever talking bird, and wanted one of her own. Steve was oblivious to the entire thing, busy with some new project at work.

The first day after the neighbors returned, Steve came home to find Terri beaming. “What’s up,” he asked. “Come into the other room,” she said, pulling him by the hand into the small second bedroom they used as an office.

There in the room was a bird cage, replete with bird toys and food and water dispensers, and a small bright blue cockatiel. Steve was stunned. “What th-“ he exclaimed.

“I know you’re always busy working on the computer in here, so I bought you a friend to keep you company. Isn’t he adorable, he can talk!” Terri was obviously excited about the bird.

“When did you buy all this?” Steve asked, waving his hand at the new pet apparatus. He was annoyed. “I thought we agreed, no more surprise purchases.”

“Today. I just fell in love with Leopold. It’ll be fun, you’ll see. You’ll love him.” Terri was all smiles.

Terri’s enthusiasm softened Steve’s initial objections. He could see she was very happy with the bird, and in truth it wasn’t in the way. “Well as long as you take care of it, I don’t want to have anything to do with it. I don’t really like birds.”

“SQUAWK! CHIRP!” said the bird, who seemed somewhat agitated by his new surroundings.

Terri put her finger on the cage and starting talking softly to the bird. “I think I’ll call you Mr. Chirpenbeck.”

Steve rolled his eyes. “How much did all this cost anyway,” he asked.

“Terri looked at him with big eyes and smiled, her face turning red. “Two hundred thirty six dollars,” she replied.

“Two hundred thirty-six dollars! I MEAN – JESUS TERRI!”

“TWO HUNDRED THIRTY SIX DOLLARS! TWO HUNDRED THIRTY SIX DOLLARS!” squawked Mr. Chirpenbeck.

“I’m sorry honey.”

“Can you take him back?” Steve was suddenly angry.

“It was on sale,” she replied softly.

“Goddammit! I can’t believe it!” Steve threw his hands up and stormed out of the room.

Terri peered into the bird cage and twittered softly to the bird. “Don’t worry Mr. Chirpenbeck, he’ll soften up, you’ll see. “MR. CHIRPENBECK! MR. CHIRPENBECK! squawked the bird.

3 – Mr. Chirpenbeck Settles In

Over the next few weeks, Terri became increasingly preoccupied with Mr. Chirpenbeck. She read articles online about how to care for the bird. She bought him new toys and items for his cage, always one or two a time so as not to alert Steve to the spending, delighting in her new hobby.

Steve tried to pay little or no attention to the bird. It would twitter and chirp and squawk as he worked, but he liked to listen to music while working so the bird’s noises didn’t disturb him. He ignored the bird and ignored Terri’s growing obsession with it.

“Dear, I brought Mr. Chirpenbeck in today to get his wings clipped,” Terri informed him happily one night.

“Okay,” said Steve, trying to avoid another long explanation from his chatty wife. He tried to return his attention to the computer.

“Now I can bring him out to the living room and leave the cage door open.”

Steve looked up from the computer. “What’s that?” he asked, suddenly paying attention. “Why would you want to do that?”

“It’s much better for them. Leopold next door gets his wings clipped regularly, and they let him hop all around. They’re much happier that way.”

“And he can’t fly around? I don’t like the idea of wild birds flying around inside the house.” Steve was skeptical.

“Oh he’s not a wild bird. He’s a trained cockatiel!” Terri rubbed Steve’s shoulders.

“TWO HUNDRED THIRTY-SIX DOLLARS! TWO HUNDRED THIRTY-SIX DOLLARS!” squawked the bird.

“And how much did this cost me?”

“Oh it was only thirty dollars. He only has to get it done every six months.”

Steve frowned. “Well, what’s he going to do without his wings?”

“Oh it’s so funny. Mr. Chirpenbeck likes to hop around. I chased him all over the living room this afternoon. He likes your slippers.” Steve kept his slippers in the hallway at the entrance to the living room.

“What do you mean he likes my slippers?”

Terri could tell Steve was getting annoyed. “Oh don’t worry dear, he just sits in them, like a little king on his throne.” She giggled.

Steve rolled his eyes. “He better not shit in my slippers.”

“SHIT IN MY SLIPPER! SHIT IN MY SLIPPER!” squawked Mr. Chirpenbeck.

“Does he always have to do that?” said Steve, annoyed now about the entire bird situation.

Terri was at the cage again and was cooing at the bird. “Oh it’s so cute. Don’t you think it’s cute?”

Steve sighed and returned to the computer. “I don’t really like birds,” he said. Turning to the bird, he said “Nothing personal.”

“NOTHING PERSONAL! NOTHING PERSONAL!” squawked Mr. Chirpenbeck.

Terri laughed.


Terri developed a new routine for the bird. She would bring his cage out to the living room and open the cage door, allowing the clipped Mr. Chirpenbeck access to the entire room. The bird warily poked his beak out at first, but then Terri began constructing an annex to the cage on the table in the living room. She gathered various pieces of wood and other material and began building a bird-gym for Mr. Chirpenbeck.

The bird ignored the gym at first, but as Terri added to it, and the thing expanded to occupy the entire table, Mr. Chirpenbeck started to spend more and more time in the gym and outside his cage. He would hop out of the cage, hop around the gym, sharpen his beak and claws, clean himself, and chirp happily as Terri watched him with fascination. He would jump off the cocktail table onto the carpet and Terri would chase him around, a game that always ended with the bird in Steve’s slipper. “Now now Mr. Chirpenbeck,” she would sigh, picking him up out of the slipper and putting him back on the table. “Daddy doesn’t like you being in his slipper.”

“SHIT IN MY SLIPPER! SHIT IN MY SLIPPER!” squawked the bird.

Terri brought the small bird up to her face, holding him gently but securely. “I love you, Mr. Chirpenbeck.”

“I LOVE YOU MR. CHIRPENBECK! I LOVE YOU MR. CHIRPENBECK!” squawked the bird.

4 – Shit in My Slipper!

Life continued its forward progress as usual, with Steve working hard on a big project, then coming home tired and irritable to new checkbook surprises.

One evening, after finishing up some work on the computer, Steve was in the kitchen making a drink when Terri came in. “Dear, I was bad again,” she said with a sheepish grin.

“I WAS BAD! I WAS BAD!” squawked Mr. Chirpenbeck from his perch on the living room table.

Steve groaned. “What now,” he thought. “What did you buy?” he asked.

“Well, I went to the Pet Supply Warehouse to buy some fruit and vegetable seed sticks for Mr. Chirpenbeck and well, I bought some pet medical insurance for him.”

“YOU DID WHAT?!!” Steve felt his anger rise.

“Well, it’ll pay for itself. And it wasn’t so expensive.”

“How much was it?”

“Only a hundred dollars.”

“A HUNDRED DOLLARS! I MEAN – JESUS TERRI! Can’t you stop yourself from spending money on this useless shit? I’ve been pretty goddamned patient with you and my patience is running out!!” He was shouting now.

“Please don’t yell at me,” said Terri, tears forming in her eyes.

“I WAS BAD! I WAS BAD!” squawked the bird.

“SHUT UP YOU STUPID BIRD!” yelled Steve.

“I LOVE YOU MR. CHIRPENBECK!” squawked the bird.

“Don’t take it out on him, it’s not his fault.” Terri was crying now.

Steve frowned. He was uncomfortably angry now but the rage had taken hold of him. There were things that needed to be said, and he just let them come out.

“Dammit Terri, you spend all your time with that fucking bird instead of finding a job like you promised! I was going to use that hundred dollars to buy a new hard drive for the computer, which I desperately need. Now I can’t do that! You can’t just keep spending money hand over fist without a care in the world! Jesus you make me so angry!” He was full bore now, pacing back and forth, sputtering with rage.

Terri was shaken at the outburst. She went over to sit by Mr. Chirpenbeck, who immediately starting twittering softly and happily.

Steve wasn’t finished. “You and that stupid bird! I should have flushed it down the fucking toilet when you first brought it in here!”

“I WAS BAD! I WAS BAD! I WAS BAD!” squawked Mr. Chirpenbeck.

He stormed to the bird, who was sitting on a perch in the gym that Terri had constructed. “I HATE YOU MR. CHIRPENBECK!” he shouted, and stormed out of the living room.

Mr. Chirpenbeck jumped off the table and hopped over to Steve’s slippers. Terri looked up, wiping her eyes.

Terri moved to grab the bird, but was too late. Jumping into his favorite, the right slipper, the cockatiel proceeded to empty his bowels into the soft material.

“Oh! Mr. Chirpenbeck!” she said sadly.

“SHIT IN MY SLIPPER! SHIT IN MY SLIPPER!” squawked the bird.

5 – The Bird Turns

After the slipper incident, Steve stomped and stewed for a few days until his anger, as it usually did, subsided. He did warn Terri to keep the bird away from his slippers.

“But dear, you could just move your slippers into the closet so Mr. Chirpenbeck won’t be tempted,” offered an apologetic Terri.

“No way!” answered Steve, angry at the mere suggestion. “Why should I have to change my routine for a stupid bird?”

“TWO HUNDRED THIRTY-SIX DOLLARS! TWO HUNDRED THIRTY-SIX DOLLARS!” squawked Mr. Chirpenbeck in the background. Steve growled.

Days passed to weeks as Terri continued to grow closer to her cherished bird, Steve kept a watchful eye on the thing. He couldn’t trust his ditzy wife to control the damned thing so he had to do it.

“I don’t like that damned bird hopping around free,” he complained.

“I only let him out of the cage for a few hours a day, dear. I watch him carefully.” This of course was not entirely true; as soon as Steve left for work each morning, she would open the cage door and let Mr. Chirpenbeck hop to his heart’s content. She had even gotten the bird to eat seed from her fingers. And to top it off, Mr. Chirpenbeck has learned to say her name. “Dear, guess what?” she asked Steve excitedly one evening.

Steve barely looked up from the computer. “What’s that?” he answered.

“Mr. Chirpenbeck let me feed him by hand today!” Terri was quite pleased with herself.

“Yeah, okay,” said Steve, trying to concentrate on his work.

“He really trusts me now!”

Steve sighed and turned to his wife. “Hon, I’m really trying to work here. Maybe you should be spending more time looking for a job than with that bird.”

“Oh I’ve been looking! The economy is just not that good in this area,” she said.

Steve returned his attention to the computer. Terri got the message – she was dismissed.

She left the room and immediately went to the birdcage. Bending down to pick up the bird, she said softly “I love you Mr. Chirpenbeck, even his Steve doesn’t.”

Suddenly Mr. Chirpenbeck bit Terri’s finger sharply.

“Ouch! Mr. Chirpenbeck! That’s not nice.” The bite was tiny and didn’t really hurt. She put the bird back in his cage. “Now you go back in your home and think about what you’ve done,” she said in a child-like sing-song voice.

“I WAS BAD! I WAS BAD!” squawked Mr. Chirpenbeck, who paced rapidly in his cage.

“Yes you were!” Terri scolded mildly. Her tone softened; she couldn’t stay mad at Mr. Chirpenbeck.

She put her finger in the cage to stroke his feathers, but Mr. Chirpenbeck snapped at her finger, trying to bite it again. “Oh we’re being bad, aren’t we?” she teased.

“I WAS BAD! I WAS BAD!” squawked the bird.

“I love you anyway, Mr. Chirpenbeck.”

“I LOVE YOU MR. CHIRPENBECK!” replied the bird.

The next day, Steve wearily trudged off to work once again. The finances were weighing heavily on his mind as the cash flow for the week had dried up and payday wasn’t due to arrive for at least three more days. Where the hell was all his money going? He’d taken Terri’s ATM card away and didn’t see any new line items in the check book. He would have to talk to Terri about it that night again, something he was getting very tired and angry about lately.

Work turned out to be very satisfying in spite of Steve’s mood. A long-running problem had finally been resolved, and the project he was working on was coming together at last. Whistling, he entered his house at the end of the day in a good mood. “Terri? I’m home!” he called out, dropping his work bag in the corner, its usual place.

There was no answer, but he thought he heard water dripping. “What th-“ he muttered, and moved to investigate.

The cage was not in the living room, nor was it in the room. By now, he was familiar with his wife’s bird routines, as much as he hated the entire affair. He followed the sound of the water dripping to the spare bathroom, and was stunned to find his wife Terri laying apparently unconscious in the bathtub, the water drip-drip-dripping onto her forehead which lay beneath the faucet. Her face and hands were marked up with tiny cuts and the cage lay on its side on the other end of the tub, with no sign of Mr. Chirpenbeck.

“Terri! Terri!” he cried frantically, trying to revive his wife. She moaned and her eyes fluttered but she did not wake up. He dragged her out of the tub and carried her to their bedroom. “Jesus she’s heavy,” he thought, placing her on the bed.

Suddenly he heard a flapping sound above him.

Mr. Chirpenbeck, his wings having apparently grown back, was flying around the perimeter of the master bedroom, swooping down at Steve’s head.

“NOTHING PERSONAL! NOTHING PERSONAL!” squawked the bird, who began another beak-first dive toward Steve.

6 – Chasin’ the Bird

“Goddammit!” yelled Steve, ducking under Mr. Chirpenbeck’s divebomber attack. He swung his arms around wildly to protect himself, but the bird avoided the clumsy counterattack.

“TWO HUNDRED THIRTY SIX DOLLARS! TWO HUNDRED THIRTY SIX DOLLARS!” squawked the bird, now circling the room.

Steve watched warily as Mr. Chirpenbeck circled the room then landed on top of the dresser. Glancing around for something, anything, to use as a weapon, he eyed a few loose tools that Terri had been using for some craft-related project. Sandpaper, wooden blocks, level, hammer – Hammer!

Steve picked up the hammer and slapped it into the palm of his hand to test the feel of it. “Now I’ve got you you fuckin rat with wings!” he growled. Terri lay unconscious but snoring softly on the bed, unaware of the drama unfolding around her.

“RAT WITH WINGS! RAT WITH WINGS! squawked Mr. Chirpenbeck from atop the dresser. He twittered and cocked his head to stare out of one eye at the angry human. The twittering seemed to be mocking Steve.

“Laugh at me willya,” said Steve, feeling his anger nearing the point of no return. He launched himself at the dresser and slammed the hammer down on the dresser, cracking the top surface and sending several knick-knacks flying. Mr. Chirpenbeck flew out of the way and pecked at Steve’s head on his way out of the room.

“YOU MOTHERFUCKER!” shouted Steve, and chased the bird into the hallway, hammer held high at the ready.

“NOTHING PERSONAL!! NOTHING PERSONAL!!” The squawking bird defly switched directions and came at Steve’s head.

Steve ducked, but the bird managed to hit his face with a well-aimed bird shit bomb. “Fuck! Goddammit!” he screamed, wiping the slimy offense off with his sleeve. He was breathing heavily now, about to be taken over by sheer rage.

“AAARRRGGHHH!!” he screamed and started slamming the hammer at where ever Mr. Chirpenbeck seemed to be. The bird was too fast though, and Steve simply hammered holes in the walls.

The bird flew into the living room, giving him a larger area in which to torment his human nemesis. “RAT WITH WINGS!! RAT WITH WINGS!” he squawked, teasing Steve by landing then taking off again.

Steve continued to hammer the living room in a vain attempt to catch the bird but succeeded only in leaving a trail of damage in his wake. “Goddammit bird sit still for one second so I can BASH YOU TO BITS!”

SLAM! The hammer missed the bird on the entertainment center.

“TWO HUNDRED THIRTY SIX DOLLARS!” squawked Mr. Chirpenbeck, pecking at Steve’s forehead.

CRACK! There went the lamp.

“TWO HUNDRED THIRTY SIX DOLLARS!” squawked Mr. Chirpenbeck, pecking at Steve’s neck CRUSH! BANG! Steve left Terri’s workbench full of hammer wounds.

“TWO HUNDRED THIRTY SIX DOLLARS!” squawked Mr. Chirpenbeck, pecking at Steve’s cheek.

“OW FUCK! YOU STUPID CUNT!” screamed Steve who in one final desperate act of rage threw the hammer at the bird. This caught Mr. Chirpenbeck by surprise, and the edge of the spinning hammer head nicked his wing.

The bird squawked angrily and flew toward Steve, but his flight was noticeably wobbly. Steve grinned evilly. Now was his chance! He glanced around and spied the extra blanket that he and Terri kept on the sofa. He grabbed it and quickly formed it into a net and began stalking the bird.

Mr. Chirpenbeck had landed on the floor at the entrance to the second bathroom off the hallway. He saw Steve coming and hopped quickly into the bathroom. “SQUAWK! SQUAWK!!”

Steve’s face was bleeding from the bird’s previous attacks but he didn’t notice it. His attention was focused on his prey, his enemy. Oh he had him now. “COME on Mr. Chirpenbeck, I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m not gonna hurt ya,” he said, inching forward into the bathroom, getting the blanket net ready.

Suddenly the bird tried to fly past Steve, but the man turned around and used the blanket to block Mr. Chirpenbeck’s path. He caught the bird in his makeshift net and quickly closed it up around the frantic bird. “HAH! NOW I GOT YOU YOU FUCK!” shouted Steve with glee.

Holding the blanket by one end, he slammed the captive bird against the floor once, twice, three times. The flapping within subsided and Steve laughed. “Yeah that’s right,” he said, panting. “Just one more for good luck.” And he slammed the blanket with the bird in it against the floor with all his strength, satisfied when he heard a crackling sound.

The bird appeared to be dead, or at least severely wounded. It no longer flapped inside the blanket. Steve brought the blanket over to the toilet and carefully unwrapped it over the open toilet. “Say goodnight Mr. Chirpenbeck,” he said smiling, and opened the blanket over the toilet.

Mr. Chirpenbeck tried to dart out of the blanket trap pecking and squawking “I HATE YOU STEVE! I HATE YOU STEVE!” Steve frantically tried to shove the bird into the toilet, the water splashing all over the floor. “JESUS!” he screamed, and punched the bird hard, sending it squawking into the toilet. He quickly slammed the toilet seat down and flushed the thing.

Water wooshed inside the toilet. “I HATE YOU –gurgle-gurgle- STEVE! I –gurgle-gurgle-HATE YOU STEEEEEEEEEEEVVVE!!!”

And the bird fell silent at last as Steve sat wearily on the toilet seat and listened to the last signs of the flushing water.

He felt his face – he was bleeding. The rage was suddenly gone. He stood up and lifted the toilet seat. Smiling, he spat into the toilet. “I hate you, Mr. Chirpenbeck.”

Epilogue

Terri recovered from her wounds, which turned out to be minor. Steve fixed all the damage he’d done with the hammer, and they had a long talk about the family finances. Terri seemed to finally recognize that she had a problem with compulsive spending, and agreed to do whatever Steve wanted.

So life went on for the couple, and soon the incident with the bird was forgotten. They began to enjoy Steve’s increased salary, staying within budget, and Terri even got a part-time job. Life was good again.

One day Steve came home from work to find a beaming Terri.

“What?” he asked, curious.

Terri smiled happily. “I have a surprise for you honey!” She took his hand and pulled him into the bedroom. On the table in the corner was a large block-shaped object covered with a blanket. Terri lifted the blanket and there was a glass cage with two little brown hamsters.

“Meet Mr. and Mr. Ham!” squealed Terri.

Steve groaned.

THE END.

© 2006 Michael S. Cohen

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