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“Feed the Bird” by Jenna Jayroe

They had no idea what to feed the bird.

Cash bent down and peered into cage. The little buff-colored bird looked up at him with sad eyes. It gave a gentle hoot.

“Are we sure it’s even a shapeshifter?”

“The vampire wouldn’t have sent him here if he wasn’t,” said Jacques. The specially built keyboard on the floor lit up beneath the lupin’s big paws as he searched for any information on their guest. He’d had been searching for hours.

“Who knows why the vampire does what he does? It’s not out of the goodness of his heart, that’s for damn sure,” said Cash.

“Honestly, Cash,” said Jacques. “I’ve met some of Simon Grace’s counterparts. We could do worse.”

Cash snorted but didn’t argue. As vampire guardians went, San Francisco could do a lot worse, he knew. But that didn’t mean he had to like having a guardian in the first place.

“Well, it ain’t gonna matter none if we don’t figure out what it eats soon,” said Takbir, the rougarou from Louisiana. He emerged from the hallway only in sweatpants as dark as he was, running a towel over his massive, still damp chest.

“It would help if we knew its lineage,” Jacques said.

Every shapeshifter in the world could trace his shifted form back through his bloodline to his ancestors.They called it ‘lineage’.

While Cash and Tak might both be French wolves, their blood could not be more different. Cash’s French Swiss roots led right to the feet of the royal Orleans family, fled to Switzerland from the Revolution, and his elegant white wolf form reflected that storied lineage. Tak, on the other hand, descended from the Cajun rougarou, and the size of the scrappy little bayou wolf he became belied a strength and speed that rivaled Cash himself.

Jacques, in contrast, had never turned at all. He’d been a fur trapper in Canada in America’s early days, dying in the snow next to the wolf he’d shot moments before. He expected to wake up dead; instead, he was trapped in the body of the great grey wolf, though he could still think and speak as a man. A wolf he remained to this day.

But every culture had a shapeshifter, and not all of those lineages were wolves. Unfortunately, there were no clues to the little bird’s lineage, other than he was definitely not a wolf.

“Hey, little buddy,” Cash said, bending down again. “Where are you from? Huh?”

The bird chirped again, still sounding weak, and hopped off the perch. It waddled to the door and looked expectedly up at Cash.

“You want out?”

A weak chirp.

“Don’t let that thing out while I’m eating!” said Tak, making himself a ham sandwich in the kitchen.

Cash opened the door and held his hands out. The bird hopped in them, and the next moment…

He was holding a little boy.

“Whoa!”

“Holy sh…!”

The little brown boy, clad only in shorts, wrapped his arms and legs around Cash with a grip that was surprising, considering that he’d been a bird only second ago. Cash rubbed his bare back, the mop of dark hair brushing softly against his face.

“Hey little buddy…what’s your name?” The boy just hooted softly. “I don’t think he can actually talk…”

“I’ll be damned,” said Tak, who had walked over to peer at him closely. He ruffled the boy’s hair softly and he hooted happily in return, so Tak did it again.

His sandwich lay forgotten on the bar.

“Does this help you any?” Cash asked the lupin.

“Yes, yes, indeed it does,” said Jacques. “He’s a uirapuru.”

“A what-a-what-now?” asked Tak.

“A uirapuru.”

“A what-a-what-now?”

“A uira…you know, that wasn’t funny the first time you did it.”

Tak and Cash grinned at each other, and at Cash’s chuckle, the boy gave a soft warble.

“And a uirapuru is…?”

“Well, it is either a town in northwestern Brazil, or ‘a brown bird who can turn into a handsome boy’,” Jacques said, reading the last bit directly from the screen.

Cash looked down at the boy, a serious look on his face. “You’re a town in northwestern Brazil, aren’t you?”

The sound was the closest to laughter they’d heard since he arrived.

“So what does it eat?”

“Well, the entry on the shifter wiki is just that one sentence.”

“There’s a shifter wiki?” asked Cash.

“Yes, of course.”

“Of course. And nothing on what it eats?”

“No, but apparently the wererat of Pennsylvania Dutch descent ‘prefers carrots and ranch dressing to human flesh’.”

“Well, that’s oddly specific.”

The boy shifted, and Cash lifted him to rest on his shoulder. He was pacing back and forth in front of the big windows, looking down on San Francisco, rubbing the boy’s back. He glanced into the kitchen, to see Tak grinning.

“What?”

“Oh, nothin’, Mama.”

“Shut up.”

“Well,” Jacques said. “He’s Brazilian. What do Brazilians eat?”

“Big skewers of meat.”

Jacques turned and bared his teeth at Tak.

“He’s a bird, too,” said Cash. “Let’s start there.”

For the next three days, they tried everything: every kind of fruit they could get their hands on, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds…the uirapuru rejected it all. He spent most of his time as a bird, but often wanted to be held. Cash or Tak walked the floor with him until he fell asleep.

One morning, Cash lifted him out of the cage, and was alarmed at both his limpness and the amount of feathers on the bottom of the cage.

“Come on, buddy…you can do it…” Cash said.

The uirapuru changed, but with a great deal of effort. The weak tweet it gave was heartbreaking. As he settled the boy on his shoulder, he turned to the other two wolves.

“There’s got to be something we can do.” He paused. “Call the vampire,” he told Tak.

“You call the vampire!”

“My hands are full!”

“Give me the baby and I’ll walk him!”

“Just text him, coward.”

The boy gave a long, shuddering sigh in Cash’s arms. They had no other choice.

“Text the…” Cash said, but Tak was already typing the message.

“There: ‘We can’t get the bird to eat,” he said, setting the phone down on the coffee table. Almost instantly, it buzzed. Tak snatched it up and looked at it, then made a sound somewhere between a bark and a snort.

“That son of a…”

He held the phone up so Cash could see the message. Pinning the boy to his chest, he leaned in and read out loud.

I am sorry.
Best,
Simon

There was a long silence. Cash pulled the boy close, feeling his raspy breath on his neck.

“Well. We’ve done all we can,” said Jacques.

“We should give him a name,” said Tak.

“Mapi,” said Cash, though he had no idea where that came from. But he said it again, and there was firmness in his voice. “His name is Mapi.”

Jacques padded over.

“Good night, Mapi,” he said, and Cash bent his knees so Jacques could lick Mapi’s face. The boy warbled back as happily as he could.

It would be hard for others to tell, but Cash could see as he turned away that the big wolf was sad.

“You want me to walk him a bit?” Tak asked.

“No, I’ve got him for now.”

“All right. Wake me when you need me to take over.”

“Thanks, man.”

Then they were alone, and Cash walked and walked and walked, his footsteps falling in line with Mapi’s breathing. He walked until he was barely awake, and finally, he eased onto the sofa, still holding Mapi, making soothing noises. He was too tired to actually form words.

He woke up and it was still very dark. Mapi had slid down into the crook of his arm, and he eased him onto the sofa and stood up. Wrapping the uirapuru warmly in the afghan they kept on the back of their leather sofa, he wondered why the boy hadn’t turned back into a bird, and then decided he didn’t want to know the answer.

Normally he loved the fact that their kitchen was open to the rest of the apartment and you could see the San Francisco skyline while you made a sandwich. Now, it felt like every noise was magnified.

He poured himself a bowl of Frosted Flakes as quietly as he could. Bad for him, but one of his few indulgences from a childhood he barely remembered now that he’d turned.

He chewed slowly, trying not to think or worry. Tak was right; he was turning into a mom. But they were all little Mapi had and…

A little brown hand appeared at the edge of the bar and reached for his cereal bowl.

“Umm…” He glanced down at Mapi, who looked up at him with huge brown eyes. “You want some cereal?”

Mapi opened and closed his fist rapidly in the universal symbol for ‘I want it.’

“Okay, then.”

He reached down and plopped the half-naked boy on the bar beside his bowl. Mapi was gazing at the cereal as if it were the most amazing thing he had ever seen. He took a single flake, turned it over and over and then ate it.

“That’s my little buddy…” Cash said, and he was glad Tak wasn’t there to hear the catch in his voice.

Mapi suddenly made a screeching noise, stuck his face in the bowl and messily, happily devoured the rest.

Cash stared at him.

This is what you’ll eat? Cereal?”

Mapi, his face dripping with milk, looked at him and gave a happy chirp.

“You sure you don’t want some carrots and ranch dressing?”

Mapi pushed the bowl toward him and opened and closed both fists rapidly.

Cash poured him some more.

A few hours later, he stood in the cereal aisle at Safeway. He swiped a whole shelf of cereal into his cart. He glanced over at a middle-aged woman, who had a jar of peanut butter that she was holding in mid-air.

She glanced at his cart and back to him.

“You must really like cereal.”

“To be honest, ma’am, right now I love cereal,” he said, and took the last box of Fruit Loops with a grin.

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About the Author

Jenna Jayroe has been writing as far back as she can remember, having grown up in a house full of books. She currently works as a user experience writer for large financial institutions, which means she gets to take the train into vibrant downtown San Francisco every morning, a source of both endless amusement and story ideas. She and her Italian greyhound, Stella, live in a small town just down the coast from San Francisco, in a 110-year old farmhouse full of stories of its own.

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