I open my door, walking in while I sling my backpack onto my bed. I pass through the mess on the floor — dirty clothes, earbuds, a few school books — heading for my desk where my laptop rests. Thinking I’ll check my Twitter, see if Jaime posted anything about Friday night.
“I dislike you,” comes a distorted, computerized, high-pitched voice.
I jump, whirl, and glare at the mechanized parrot toy perched haphazardly on my bookshelf. It’s one of those types where you press the button, record a short phrase, and it’ll say it back to you in that digitized voice that’s supposed to sound like a parrot. But it doesn’t. It sounds cheap and fake. Yet I loved this thing as a kid. Now, I’m not too sure why I keep it.
A few quick steps and I’m at the bookcase. The mechanized bird senses my approach and immediately flaps its wings, the squeal of old, cheap plastic cogs and gears grind. Its yellow beak opens and closes quickly as it says, again, “I dislike you.”
Before the sequence can complete, and the wings resettle against its colorful body, I grab the parrot. It’s attached to a fake branch, meant to look perched and lifelike. I flip the entire thing over and spot the tiny button at the bottom. One side has the word Manual, the other is labeled Automatic. The button is pressed to the automatic side, ensuring that every time the parrot senses someone close, it’ll start “speaking.”
Even now, with this movement, the parrot winds up again. “I dislike you. I dislike you. I dislike you.” It’s like a protest for what I’m about to do.
I flip the switch. The bird goes silent, waiting now for me to press the button so that it can speak again. The dull eyes look at me as I place it back, right-side-up, on my bookshelf.
Annoyed, I march out of my room, down the short hallway, and wrench the door open to my sister’s room. Kathy looks up from her iPhone, her dark eyes flashing in anger at my intrusion.
“Stop messing with my parrot!”
A sly grin creeps over her face. “I didn’t.”
“It’s too much fun, anyway.”
“Don’t touch my parrot again,” I warn.
“Or what?” Kathy grabs a nearby pillow and lobs it. The aim is off, and it doesn’t make it halfway to me. “Just get out of my room!”
I take a step back. “And don’t come into my room without my permission!” I yell. “Or I’ll tell Mom!”
It’s weird to think we were so close a couple years ago. Now, Kathy just gets on my nerves.
I go back to my room, sure that she didn’t listen to a word I said. When does she ever? I toss my shoes into a corner and head to my computer again. I’ve left it on, Twitter open but not signed in. Quickly, I log into my account then check the new feeds and notifications. Jaime is busy with swim practice Friday, but invites our group of friends to a movie Saturday afternoon. I’m typing a reply when I hear something shift. A strange sound, like plastic grinding against plastic. But just as I pause, only silence meets me.
I turn back to the computer.
And then I feel a weight on my shoulder, like something leaning against me. And in my ear, I hear a soft, high-pitched but digitized voice say, “I dislike you.”
Shudders creep over my spine. Gooseflesh blossoms on my arms like little tumors. I stiffen, frozen against the reality of what I’m hearing.
And then, the words become elongated, distorted. Strange and otherworldly.
“I disssslike you.”
Gasping now, as if I’ve been running a marathon, I slowly turn and look behind me.