FALL OR FLY • by K.C. Shaw

Detective Carmichael peered up at the roof of the Elegant Shoe Factory, where a naked figure sat with his legs dangling over the edge. In the blazing sun, Carmichael could barely make out the man’s pasty skin against the brown bricks.

“Too bad we can’t just shoot him,” he said to the nearest officer. It turned out to be Diggory, though, who had no sense of humor.

Diggory looked shocked. Carmichael sighed. “Go get me the megaphone. I’ll see if I can talk him down.”

The Elegant Shoe Factory was only three stories high — but that was tall enough for a fatal fall. The man on the roof tilted his face back and stared at the sun, which was almost precisely overhead in a cloudless blue sky.

Diggory returned with the department’s only megaphone. Carmichael said, “It’s the longest day of the year, right? The equinox?”

“Solstice, sir,” Diggory said.

“No wonder it’s hot.” Carmichael raised the megaphone to his mouth. “Hello there!” His voice boomed hollowly from the megaphone’s speaker. “You’re going to get sunburned. Why don’t you come on down?”

He lowered the megaphone to listen for a reply, and noticed Diggory regarding him with disapproval. Diggory probably thought he could do a better job talking to the man than Carmichael — which was probably true, Carmichael admitted.

The man on the roof shouted something that sounded suspiciously like, “Go to hell!”

Carmichael glanced at Diggory, who said, “Er, I think he said you should go to — er, purgatory.”

“I’m already there, Diggory.” Carmichael licked sweat from his upper lip and raised the megaphone again.

Before he could encourage the man to come down for a glass of cold lemonade, the man shouted something else.

Diggory translated again. “I think he said he’s about to hatch, sir.”

“Completely loco.” Carmichael realized he’d spoken into the megaphone only when he heard his own voice boom “completely loco” across the parking lot.

The other officers, and the ghoulish spectators held back by a lot of yellow “do not cross” tape, all pointed and exclaimed. For a moment Carmichael thought they were responding to his unprofessional comment. Then he noticed that the man on the roof had stood up.

Carmichael shaded his eyes with one hand. The man spread his arms wide, and Carmichael could swear they looked shaggy. As he watched, feathers sprouted from the man’s arms, his legs, his head and body. In less than a minute, he was covered in bright red plumage. It took only a few moments longer for his nose and mouth to elongate into a beak.

The man-bird leaped from the building, flapped his glossy new wings, and soared away — higher and higher, until he was scarcely a speck against the sun.

Carmichael lowered the megaphone. He watched the red speck until it vanished in the distance, and discovered he was smiling. It didn’t seem so hot out now. “Well, we don’t have to worry about him anymore, at least.”

Very quietly, Diggory said, “Shooting him would have caused less paperwork.”

K.C. Shaw‘s stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Her first novel, Jack of All Trades, is now available through Ancient Tomes Press.

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