Heron Observations

(Originally posted to the Petomele Museum Night Shift Local Network January 15, 1988)

Friday, Jan. 15

Hi, everyone. My name is Deborah, I'll be taking care of the wildlife collection on the third floor after hours. As you all know you had an incident last month involving some looters, and I aim to keep the collection safe. I came here from UFL, I've given you my background and I can easily hold my own in any confrontation. That said, I'd like to get to know you. Tell me about yourselves when you see me at next week's conference, I won't be around as much as the rest of you but I will try and drop by every so often to see how things are going. Mostly, I'll be going through your security system and catching any potential flaws or bugs that could leave you vulnerable.

That said I am looking forward to spending the night here. Your collection is invaluable to wildlife researchers across the state and the country, and having spent last night touring the grounds I'm in admiration and a bit of shock as to how well your specimens are preserved. They're very lifelike, your taxidermists did an excellent job. The Hall has three entrances, which makes it susceptible to thieves. I won't give you any formal suggestions yet, but I would suggest taking that into consideration. I would also suggest investing in some Closed-Circuit Television Cameras (CCTV). They're somewhat expensive but I studied them in Forensic Sciences and they work as advertised. If and when you do install them, have Marquez on the fourth floor to watch them, and keep any pertinent tapes for at least 30 days before wiping them.

While this is my first assignment I take my duty seriously and hope that while I'm with you I prove my full potential. The courses I took have made me a more well-rounded person than I was when I entered. I was lucky to get a scholarship and graduate given my condition, however I have been vetted by numerous psychiatrists, including those at UFL, who have declared me stable and operational. That was 4 years ago, and while you may have read about my breakdown in the news I have improved by leaps and bounds since then. You won't regret your decision.

-Deborah

Hi Deb. This is Harry. We appreciate you stopping by on our Local Network to keep us up to date, we would expect nothing less. It looks as if you're also tech-savvy, more than most of us on the board, which is good if you plan on installing any new software. Keep in mind that any messages sent on this network will remain strictly confidential and private. Other than that, the doors will close tomorrow at 8:00 P.M. and your shift will begin at 8:05 P.M. once we've left.

As for your condition, me and the rest of the board couldn't agree more. You're a bright young woman with a promising future and from our interview it's clear that whatever was troubling you in the past is long-gone. We look forward to working with you and knowing that our collection is safe in your hands.

-Harry

Saturday, Jan. 16

I arrived on the premises at 8:05 P.M. as instructed, said goodbye to the staff as they exited. By 8:06 P.M. I was upstairs and sitting on a bench in the Hall. I understand your need to conserve power, hence why all the lights are off except the ones in the display cases, however I found it hard to navigate the room without the lights. Tomorrow I may invest in some night-vision equipment, I have a cousin who specializes in military equipment and could supply me with some night vision goggles for a low price. This is a minor complaint, however, and for most of my shift I was able to see with the help of the display cases and my flashlight.

As I noted in yesterday's entry the Hall is strategically and tactically vulnerable. There are no doors on any of the three entrances, meaning that if a thief is able to enter the museum without tripping the alarm on the first floor, they can go upstairs and enter the wildlife section without any further obstacles. I would suggest outfitting all 3 entrances with steel locks, and if that's too expensive or you prefer a more open design, outfit the entrances on either side with locks and keep the door facing the main visitor area open, that way if a thief enters he'll have a harder time finding an escape route. With only one door available, response time is maximized. I ask that the board consider this. All night, I was apprehensively watching all the entrances at once. This is a waste of time and resources. I hope you understand.

The night was mostly uneventful and consisted of routine walks save one incident- at 1:54 A.M. I found that a specimen of yours, a Great Blue Heron, had tipped onto its side. I had a screwdriver on hand so I opened the case and propped it back up. Whether this is due to negligence on your part or some sort of vandalism I can't say, though it's certainly puzzling. Why thieves would bother putting the bird on its side and then leave it, moreover screwing the front of the case back on, is baffling to say the least. Please get back to me on this. Thanks.

Above all else, tonight was good and it passed slowly but serenely. The Hall is very nice, it's kept up-to-date and the floor is free of debris. I think this job is the right one for me. I like being alone with my own thoughts late at night, this position offers me the perfect opportunity to do just that and help out my local community. That's all currently.

-Deborah

Hi Deb, this is Marquez from the Fourth Floor. I saw you at your interview and you're great, you have a nice personality. Maybe we could go get a drink sometime- when you're available, of course. I envy you because the Wildlife Collection is the pride of our facility. I'm stuck up here watching the rock exhibit, and sure rocks are nice and all, but until you were hired I took care of the 3rd and 4th floors while Neal took care of the 1st and 2nd floors. I guess it makes more sense to split the floors up, because when the looting happened I was up on the 4th floor. I never really went down to the Hall anyway. I'm glad I wasn't fired, but seeing the broken glass everywhere and the seal gone really upset me, I felt like it was my fault, that if I had been down there I could have caught the guys before they got out. Now they'll probably dress the seal up in stupid clothes or something. Anyway, I feel like an idiot. Just thought I would stop by to say Hi mostly. That thing you mentioned about the Heron being tipped onto its side is weird, negligence wouldn't do that because I talked with our taxidermist and he always bolts the specimens onto their stands to keep them in the correct position. Anyway, that's all I had to say. I'm still getting used to this Network, it's pretty impressive.

-Marquez

Deborah, I'm afraid I concur with Marquez. The heron is likely an indication of foul play, I spoke with the taxidermist and he confirmed that what you described is virtually impossible without human intervention, they probably tipped the heron over before you arrived and none of our guests noticed. Tomorrow is Sunday, which means that the thieves will likely strike. There will be less people around and due to the oncoming storm more cover for the group to use to their advantage. We need you on site early tomorrow, say noon, and stay until the morning when we open.

This could be very dangerous and the thieves could be armed, so remain on alert and if you're injured there's a med kit in the faculty room which you can use until the paramedics arrive. If you see any suspicious activity be sure to alert Neal downstairs, he'll probably be hanging out by the gift shop. If the thieves try and escape, he's our only other failsafe. We're hoping, however, that during this you can prove yourself and capture them on your own. Also, we like your idea about getting locks. We're currently looking into options, though we're a bit strapped for cash, so it might be a while until we can install locks or CCTV cameras. Donations this time of the year are slow.

Good luck. Hopefully nothing happens.

-Harry

Sunday, Jan. 17

The storm broke once I got to the museum, it was pouring when I got to the doors. I said hello to Neal at roughly 11:50 and went upstairs to the Hall, then sat down at my bench. It's the one right at the middle of the exhibit where the three rooms meet, so it's ideal for catching any activity. I sat there for most of the day, getting up every so often to stretch and catch my breath, all the while keeping an eye out. The rain was very loud, it could've distracted me. Once you have cameras and doors installed, you might want to get some soundproofing, not only would it make it easier for me to concentrate but it would also ensure a more pleasant tour for your guests. I know my suggestions might be getting somewhat expensive here but when you run a museum things can get pretty expensive.

I brought a sandwich with me, and at 6:00 P.M. I went down to the second floor to get a drink from the soda machine. Neal was nowhere in sight. The lights in the meeting room and the faculty room were both off. At this point the sun was setting outside, not that there was much sun to begin with, what with the storm, so the museum got darker and I navigated my way back upstairs with my flashlight. By this point it was 6:10 P.M.

When I got back to the Hall there was no indication that anyone had entered or exited, no footprints- which would still be visible if someone had come in from the rain, they would have left mud. I searched the premises thoroughly with my flashlight but found nothing. At this point I was about to resume my position until I noticed that the Heron's case was empty. The pane had been screwed back on and the stand was still in the case, though some feathers and a portion of the Heron's lower ribcage remained bolted down. I regained my composure and hoped that the thief hadn't exited yet. I quickly aimed my flashlight in all possible directions.

What happened next is something I can't explain. I noticed the Heron standing upright in the middle of the hallway, directly in front of the entrance on the left. I believed the thieves were playing games with me, so I approached the heron before they could take it. Call it a trick of the light or a trick of the mind, the heron actually looked up at me and opened its beak. This dead thing, covered in feathers and embalmer's glue and formaldehyde and who knows what else, moved its head of its own volition and opened its beak, then it stood completely still and I was pointing my flashlight at it. I touched it and it was an inanimate object again, but so help me I saw it move, I saw its teeth and its glazed stare and it was absolutely horrifying. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it.

After that I picked it up and put it back in its case where it belongs. I don't like looking at it anymore, but provided it wasn't stolen and nobody came in for the remainder of the night I'm at least happy I didn't get shot. I guess maybe I would have been happier if I had been shot, this thing is horrible and it looked up at me and opened its beak. I know this sounds crazy but that's exactly what happened. I'm typing this and I know it sounds crazy. If you don't want to believe me, then scratch that from the record, but that is my record of events. The night I spent alone in the museum with that thing in its case was an ordeal. I was happy to get out when the sun came up and the clouds dissipated.

I like this job, I really do, and I'm glad I was able to keep your animals safe, but I may need a day off. That's about it for now. Probably imagined the whole thing, being alone for extended periods of time can do that to a person. I read about it.

-Deborah

Neal here, I can confirm that at around 6 last night I heard the soda machine. I was about to go up there and check it out but then I looked over the rails and saw it was just Deborah, so I relaxed and went back inside the gift shop. Harry, we're out of coloring books again. Be sure to call supply and have them re-stocked.

As for the Heron I can't vouch for that. At 6:10 I was using the restroom. It all sounds pretty crazy, but if we're going with a logical progression of events here my guess would be that the thieves had opened the case and removed the heron while Deb was at the machine, then they heard her coming back and dropped the heron on the floor, where Deb found it, and I didn't notice them leaving because like I said I was in the restroom during the period of time where they would be running out. I checked the front door and it was locked, but they could've fixed it to look that way.

Otherwise we'd go with Deb's version of events where the Heron magically unscrews the case from the inside, screws the case back on with its magical feathers, walks out for no reason other than to scare her and then turns back into an inanimate object. I respect you, Deb, but I can't in good conscience put that down in the record as the way things happened. I wasn't there of course, but that's impossible. Maybe like you said it was a trick of the light or something similar. After all, all you had was a flashlight and I've been up there a couple times after hours too, it's hard to see things. That's how I figure it, typical break-in, thieves were scared so they left without the goods. Maybe it was the same the first time when Deb found it on its side. Normal vandalism.

Hope you're doing OK, Deb. Maybe try some yoga or something. Anxiety is a normal part of the job, I get the creeps sometimes when it's late and the shadows play tricks on my head. Whole museum turns into a Goddamn sideshow. You'll learn to cope with it in time.

-Neal

I find it unlikely that if they had taken the heron they would bother screwing the front of the case back on, especially since they could have just broken the case and gotten out while Neal was distracted and Deb was coming up with her drink. Something isn't right here. I'm not saying your version of events is wrong necessarily, Neal, but it is a little reductive and you are being a little dismissive of Deb's eyewitness testimony. I trust her and she has a good head on her shoulders.

-Marquez

Hey. Just so we're on the same page, a member of the board went and bought a CCTV system today. it'll be installed by the time you three get here, it switches up regularly and we'll be running them while the museum is open and see if we can spot any suspicious activity. Whoever took the heron has clearly been scoping out the rooms and making detailed plans to be able to run past Deb and Neal, so we're going to run the system during opening hours and scan the crowds. Marquez, you won't be on the 4th floor, you'll be in my office, the screens are hooked up there. Good luck.

Deb, I can't believe you when you say the heron looked at you. Dead animals don't do that. Not going to mention that in my report to law enforcement. Just going to mention that there's been some suspicious activity, no looting. Are you sure you'll be able to handle your shift tonight? Is this getting too stressful for you? If you want I can offer you an absence, Heck, maybe even a paid leave. If there's anything you want don't hesitate to let me know. We all get overworked sometimes.

-Harry

No, but thanks for the offer. I'll be there tonight.

-Deborah

Monday, Jan. 18

Up here in the control room. You did a good job, Harry, we have live feeds of the gift shop, the wildlife hall, the rock exhibit, and the staff rooms, plus some hallways. Wow, if you got more of this it could practically replace my job and I wouldn't have to walk around anymore. It's amazing. Like Deb instructed I'm going to keep the tapes for 30 days before wiping them with new footage, comb over every recording for anything important, and every 120 minutes I put a new tape in. The museum is packed today, It's like Where's Waldo in here. Any of you know that one? My niece is really into it. Anyway, there are a few guys who go around the wildlife hall, look around, they look kind of shifty but I don't think they're up to much, and it also doesn't seem like they're working in tandem, which is what we would expect, multiple guys, one to open the case and one to steal the bird. There's also a lady leaning against a wall on the 2nd floor and looking from side to side. Looks kind of guilty but she's just sightseeing probably. Hard to tell with all these crowds moving around. Will keep you posted if I notice anything else.

-Marquez

Taking a few minutes off to write this in the faculty room. Deb called me up a while back to look at something, once again she seems on edge. It's not as rainy tonight but it's not exactly the most peaceful conditions outside, and in addition to that I'm actually starting to believe her. She's still on duty and didn't want to come down here to type this, so I've taken it upon myself to set the record straight. When you come in tomorrow, Harry, to open up shop, you're going to notice the heron case is broken, broken glass all over, with the heron still inside. I don't think she did it, she assures me she didn't, but I've also scoured the grounds to look for intruders and there are none, and to make matters worse the front door is as locked as ever. take some real lockpicking skills to re-lock a door in 5 seconds.

I'm supposed to be watching things downstairs so I can't explain everything right now but I assume Deborah will be on here later to explain, and she can probablty explain it better than I can. I don't know what's going on and I really don't want to know at this point.

-Neal

Neal? Are you still there? If you are and you see this, please call me so we can talk privately. I'm at home and I have questions.

-Harry

Hang on Guys, I saw what happened. I've been up here in Harry's office this whole time and I saw what happened. I know things are falling apart so if you'd let me explain for the record, this is what the tapes show. At 11:23 P.M. Deborah is sitting on her bench in the middle of the Hall. At this point she hears a noise or something in the direction of the Heron, so she goes to check it out. We don't have a camera installed over the Heron's cage unfortunately, all we have is one over the middle of the Exhibit, but even so it has a pretty wide range. So she comes back a little later, at about 11:30, she's kind of staggering forward as if she's injured, but there's no blood. She goes to the main entrance, I assume to call Neal up, and then they both walk back in and go toward the heron. Then they start fighting and he walks out. Right now, at 11:34 P.M. she's sitting on the bench in there, not moving. Like I said, I didn't see any blood but I could be wrong. Could be in shock. Whatever she saw was serious. I may have missed something on here because I've got to hurry and see if she's OK. Will report back in a little, and Harry, you can play the tape back if you don't believe me, that's exactly how it happened.

-Marquez

Hello. I feel I owe everyone an apology. Marquez talked to me for a while to make sure everything was OK and walked me down to the faculty room to write this, set your mind at ease, Harry I don't know if I can do this, what happened here tonight has got us all scared out of our minds. Neal is back in the corner being Neal, looking out the door every so often. We seem safe, there's isn't anybody outside. This is what happened. I don't know if you'll believe me, Harry, but this is how it happened. If you're at home mix yourself a drink, because with what I'm about to say you'll need it.

I got here at 8 P.M. and walked up to the exhibit, saying hi to Neal as I came in. He was apprehensive but I told him I would be fine. This time I brought some wires and a spring-based mechanism. It's an old technique but it works, if you put up a wire and somebody trips it, you'll know somebody is there with you. I set the mechanism by the main entrance behind a potted plant and put the wire up where I could watch it. It's a shame I didn't have three of them, but hey you still haven't installed locks on the other two, so I had to make do with what I had on hand.

You might not know this, Harry, but even though we try our best we're also susceptible to fear. You don't know this because you only see this place during the day, but when it gets dark it's a whole new world in here. these dead things look at you from behind the glass, they're stuffed and painted but you know all the same that they used to be alive, and now they're living in foreshortened landscapes and all the while their flesh is rotting away. Try looking at them when it's dark and there's rain pouring down, tapping on the roof, and maybe you'll get a good idea of how it is here every night for me. Add to this debilitating atmosphere the thought that at any moment an armed criminal could jump on you from behind, and you're looking at a pretty tall order, especially in a building this big with only 3 people to stand watch over it.

It was about ten when the wire moved. I look at the main entrance and nobody is there. I know that this is impossible, that the mechanism is purely physical and it wouldn't move unless somebody had moved it by will. I stand up, move toward the Heron, this is the part Marquez saw on the tape. My feet feel like lead, whether it's because I'm scared of the bird or I'm scared someone will take it is insignificant, really, the fact is that the wire has moved and nobody moved it, so I get up and walk toward the case, and sure enough the heron is out again, and the glass is staring at me, blank and unbroken, and the emptiness of the area is really starting to get to me. I'm sweating bullets by now, knowing that the thing could be in here with me, not only in here but out of its case.

I turn around and it swoops right by me, its wing gets real close to my face, and at this point I fire off a load of bullets. Three, I think. The thing keeps flying at me, it goes back and then it comes right toward my face, making this horrible sound, its talons ready to pull my hair out. I shoot it again, twice, it falls to the floor and twitches as it lies there. At this point I notice that one of the first three shots broke the heron's case, other two got lodged in the ceiling. That's the point where I leave the thing on the ground where it is and go get Neal.

That's how it happened, Harry, verbatim. I shot the fucking thing, it attacked me, when Neal and I got back to the exhibit it was back in the case. Probably walked back and sat on the Goddamn perch all by itself. If you don't believe me, then I'm sorry, but it's my job to report what goes on so you better fucking believe it. I can tell Neal doesn't believe me, the smug bastard is back there chewing his fingernails, but something is very wrong with this bird. Its eyes are full of malice, it makes my shift an unsafe work environment. There are no criminals, harry, just a possessed dead thing that wants to kill me. Please get rid of it. Please.

-Deborah

She's lying through her teeth, Harry. I tell you, as a trusted and long-term employee I can tell when someone is lying. You know how many people I've busted trying to sneak merchandise out of the gift shop. The bitch just walked outside to "clear her head". Harry, how do we know that's not just an excuse? She could be in league with the criminals right now. I'm not going to fucking call you, Harry. if you want me to put her away, tell her to leave and never come back here, I can do it. Just tell me what you want and I'll do it.

I know she's lying because of one simple fact: before she came down to get me I heard no gunshots. None. Entire place was as silent as a tomb. Now if I had heard shots I would have immediately rushed upstairs to check things out and get myself in the action. Your office where Marquez was is soundproofed, and besides that he probably had headphones on, but I had none. One minute everything was quiet and the next minute she's running down the stairs toward me, screaming her head off, a big emotional mess, and I was at the juice bar. I haven't seen her gun yet, she probably won't let me look at the evidence because she's guilty as sin and knows it, but if I did I know what I would find, six bullets and not a single one fired.

This is because there IS no possessed bird, it's all in her head, Harry. The woman isn't right in the head, anybody can see this from a mile away. Her eyes are crazy, she gives me the fucking creeps. Insane. What I say happened is, she had a panic attack, went schizo mode, she broke the glass with her bare hands and now she's making this story about the bird up to cover herself. The glass is thin enough to break with your hand, or she could have pulled her gun out, I probabyly wouldn't have heard that all the way downstairs, but you can bet your ass I would have heard gunshots, Harry. There weren't any. She's insane. That's all there is to it.

-Neal

There will be no need to check her gun, Neal. I've dialed the sheriff's office up and they should be there in a few minutes. I'm driving there myself and I should be there by four. Hopefully we can get all this under control before we open. I believe you, Neal. Deborah is a danger to herself and we shouldn't have trusted her. The police will be combing the woods for her, she's probably escaped and within a week posters of her will be up. The sheriff told me that she's a repeat offender, and that she's been known to take antipsychotics under the table. I wish we had vetted her background a little bit more, but everyone makes mistakes. Right now, Neal, go upstairs and watch the Wildlife Hall. Stay there until the police arrive. Thanks for bearing with all this. I know it's been hard for you.

-Harry

Wednesday, Jan. 20

I hope everyone enjoyed their day off. I think after the events of Monday Night we all needed a little breather. Me and the rest of the Board also took the day off. They've all been informed of what happened and we're a bit shaken to say the least. The public will wonder why we were closed yesterday. If they had seen what I saw, they'd understand and sympathize. We've all been through so much.

Sheriff Carter still has no explanation for exactly what went on, but he chalks it up to suicide. After Deborah said she needed to go outside, she went back upstairs, scooped up the heron, which was contributing to her delusions, locked herself in the bathroom stall, and systematically used the bird's beak and claws to disfigure her face. In the official police report, her cause of death has been put up as blood loss. Seeing her lying like that, as the last few ounces left her face and her eyes were both ruptured, she was holding the heron in one hand nd staring at me, as if something was wrong. When Carter was out of the room she beckoned me forward. She whispered into my ear, "it happened-" and then she was out like a light. The burial will be this Friday if either of you would like to come.

I know her death is tragic and rationally, as a sane man I need to accept that she was insane. Still, in the back of my head I think about that bird, think that if it were alive and if there was something evil in it, not just the spirit of a bird but something genuinely evil, that it could do what I had seen in the bathroom, it could be full of violent rage that it could rip off chunks of flesh with its beak, sinew from sinew with those talons. The heron was as still as it always has been, but dear god something about it didn't sit right with me. I'm not one given to philosophy or spiritual matters, though, and they would never put that in the police report.

If either of you were wondering, I spent my day off in the park looking at the clouds. I saw some birds take off from the swamp, migrate under the sunset, and after that I wanted to leave because it was getting to be dark. I may never look at wetland fowl the same way again. I know her story is inaccurate, I know that. But I won't be visiting the wildlife hall anytime soon, and if I do I definitely won't be looking at that heron. If I do, I have this fantasy about getting to be as mad as her, falling into those glossy pupils. The thing may have the blood cleaned off, but all the same I still won't be able to remove the image of her cold hand clutching it by its feet, gripping onto them like she was in a mortal struggle. Knuckles in a rictus phase, I can't ever put that out of my head.

Is that irrational? I guess it is. I guess in some ways everyone is a little irrational.

I wish you all the best of luck.

-Harry