The bizarre bird had outlived everyone in the town for centuries, then again, it was sometimes difficult to separate fact from fiction when it came to Drudgeville’s most curious oddity. That hadn’t stopped me from trying though, I’d been just as obsessed with the myths and legends as I was with the facts, even before I inherited the huge Macaw and the minor celebrity that came with it.
Every community has its stories, usually cautionary tales from well-meaning adults that get passed from child to child. You probably remember friends telling you such stories in school, like that one kid whose friend ate magic mushrooms and suddenly ran off screaming because he thought a giant Mars bar was chasing after him? We had all of those silly little urban legends too, but the one that made our small town rise to fame was real and still unexplained.
Lord Ælfric Beckett-Stroude was a huge Scarlet Macaw of unknown age and origin. Why was he called that? No one really knows, but local folk tales had a few theories. Some say he used to be a human King that fell afoul of a witches curse, others say that he himself is the witch, stuck in bird form because of a spell gone wrong. Some thought he was a cryptid whilst others thought he was a fairy of some sort and that his name held the clues. Of course, he had been tested over the years by practically every cryptozoologist and paranormal researcher the world over, and the general consensus from the scientific community was that he was simply an abnormally large but still bog-standard Scarlet Macaw and that the rest of us were just complete nutters. The most widely accepted theory in Drudgeville lore was that he was simply a magical creature who had inherited his ridiculously long name from a previous caretaker and that we were blessed to have him and should be thankful he chose our little town. We shortened his name to M’Lord and we treat him with great reverence.
If you’ve never heard of M’Lord before, you're probably wondering what's so damn special about this big red bird, besides being an endangered species. Even if you have heard of him, you probably don't believe that the stories hold any substance. But the locals all knew his mysterious powers to be true, many had even experienced it for themselves.
Lord Ælfric Beckett-Stroude would spend his days perched in a public place and those who were brave or foolish enough could ask him to divine their future. All you have to do is walk up to him, bow or courtesy then say “Good day, Lord Ælfric, fare there well?” Then he puffs up his brightly coloured feathers and retorts “Fairer than the pits of Hell!” He seems to particularly enjoy putting in a show for this line and often pulls ghoulish faces and does a demonic voice when he recites it. If the person doesn’t chicken out at his grotesque display they may reply, “I’d like to ask please, if I may, what's in my future from today? You will tell and I will hear,” and M’Lord will ask “week, month or year?” Your choice of reply determines how long your reading will be. The simple-minded folk scream that it’s a scam and that the bird has been taught to recite a script. But M’Lord doesn’t simply tell you your future, he shows you.
Then things become inexplicable. Most people have seen a Scarlet Macaw, either in the real world or in a photo or video and are aware that their feathers have a variety of four different colours: red, green, blue and yellow. But after M’Lord has tucked his head under his wing for a minute he will produce a large feather the likes of which cannot be seen in him or any other bird in existence. He seems to pluck them from his body, yet he only has the normal red, green and blue feathers, as well as the smaller white ones around his face. But the feathers he plucks are patterned with a myriad of different colours, whatever colour you can think of can show up on these special feathers and each colour has a distinct meaning and the patterns can be deciphered in the same way one would read tea leaves. Whatever is on that feather will come to pass, so a person needs a certain amount of boldness, for they can never unknow and they can never escape their fate.
This is where strange things get even stranger, as M’Lord has a huge leather-bound tome that has presumably been in existence since he has. Its weathered pages yellowed by time contain all of the colour and pattern interpretations. We've had lots of people try to determine the exact age of the book, but the book itself will only operate under certain conditions, which makes it hard to study. Only people who have received their feathers can read the book and only if it's opened directly underneath its avian master. The writing just won’t appear until the Macaw spreads his gargantuan red wings.
Over the years, local historians have updated and rewritten the original book into a small, paperback form that we mass-produce to sell to people so they can clearly interpret their own feathers, in their own time. It's quite an ingenious plan really, the reading is obviously free but the sales from the guidebooks pay for the upkeep of M’Lord whilst bringing his magic to the masses. But even that simple action has raised tonnes of controversies and conspiracies and brings M’Lord’s validity into question. People assume it's all a scam because we make a few pennies, without realising that the “profit” goes directly into caring for M’Lord, who is actually a rather discerning creature.
You see, while they’re not the largest in the Macaw family, Scarlet Macaws are incredibly taxing to care for and can live up to seventy years old. During this long life they need lots of space, a fresh, balanced diet and plenty of toys and trinkets to keep them entertained and happy all whilst mimicking their natural environment. The latter is obviously a monumental task, as creating a tropical slice of Belize in the middle of gloomy Britain is no small feat! This care outline is only the beginning and of course only applies to normal Macaws. Scarlet Macaws can reach 36 inches in height, the largest species in this bird family, the Hyacinth Macaw, can grow up to 40 inches. M’Lord sits at a monstrous 66 inches tall and requires even further special care...
M’Lord only sleeps once a week, every Sunday in fact, for the entire 24 hours that make up the day. He sleeps so deeply that he could pass for dead if he wasn't still sitting upright and clinging to his perch. He spends the rest of his time basically doing whatever the hell he wants, which is usually somewhere between ‘bird stuff’ and ‘human stuff’. He's hyper-intelligent, which is why a lot of people believe the story that he was a human and is now trapped in bird form. I often forget that he is just a bird because he talks and acts just like a human housemate would. I spend a lot of time just hanging out with him and asking him questions in the hopes of finding something new for my research. He is and always has been, by all accounts, friendly and loyal to his human companions, despite his slightly monstrous appearance.
Unlike the average Macaw, he must be bathed every evening, eats a lot of meat (particularly Black Pudding, offal and eyes), hunts in the night like an owl and cannot be allowed near any large open fires as he will try to nest in the heart of the flames, regardless of burns and injury caused. Every morning when the sun rises he spends five minutes screaming, not the wholesome sounds of a bird that is grateful to see another day, but the bone-chilling shrieks of a child being tortured. Once everyone within a 5-mile radius is awake, he eats a breakfast of fruit, veg, nuts, meat and bones and settles down for a story. He loves being read to, as long as it’s not something he’s heard before, and we spend about an hour a day reading. I quit working at my sales cashier job to become his full-time carer, which sounds terrible but does have some fantastic perks. M’Lord looks after his companions as long as they look after him. Whatever I want or need just inexplicably shows up in my life, as though he had luck magnets hidden in those long wings.
I mentioned at the beginning that I had inherited the bird, though not from the passing of a relative, but through the passing of his last caretaker. It was practically tradition - the old caretaker died and M’Lord and his belongings would just show up on someone’s doorstep the next morning. It had always been that way and it was considered the highest honour to be chosen as M’Lord’s new caretaker - we even had a special day of festivities to celebrate whoever he had picked out. He had outlived every single caretaker he'd ever had and searching through the town's historical records, one would find mention of the bird and his fables as far back as 1065AD, so I presumed he has had a great many companions. His previous caretaker, Alfred Wise, had been selected just after his 53rd birthday and lived with the mystical creature until he was 98 years old. When he passed, I left for work the next morning to find the mammoth bird and his perch right on the other side of the door.
Shortly after M’Lords arrival, I took it upon myself to make a record of all of the historical facts and myths that I had avidly researched throughout the years. I started with historical references, then moved on to local legends and testimonies from the townsfolk, and from there I progressed to the internet to untangle a web of blogs, videos and much more. I gathered every report from every visitor, cryptozoologist, thrillseeker and conspiracy nut - I'd even amassed a huge collection of fan art. If it even so much as hinted at M'Lord, I collected it and organised it. I even asked M'Lord directly, but the problem there was that he loved telling stories and had a flair for the dramatic, so it was difficult to decide if he was telling the truth or adding embellishments. I intend to compile all of the information into a book telling the strange life story of Lord Ælfric Beckett-Stroude, in case one day he should leave Drudgeville and not return.
I've heard terrifying tales of horrific misfortune and I've heard stories with charmed fairytale endings. A lot of them lack empirical evidence, but I add them anyway to build a fuller picture of the legend of M'lord. The earliest story I ever found was an account from Alexander the Great, who served as M'Lords companion until his death, it details how the Macaw predicted the entire evens of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. From there, he moved slowly up the country -where he predicted the Black Plague of 1346. He continued to move until he found his way to our sleepy Northern town, having a hand in almost every important historical event in the UK.
He gave a lifetime reading to Guy Fawkes and it is said that the reading influenced him to attempt the Gunpowder Plot of 1346. He has read for hundreds of thousands of Briton's, including Shakespeare, Queen Victoria, Elizabeth the First and Second, Churchill and Princess Diana - and that's just the people of Britain, even more people have pilgrimaged to him from every continent on the globe.
The two most popular tales from Drudgeville are from opposing sides of the spectrum:
Those who are scared of M'Lord tell the story of Marcus Blaizey, who foolishly goaded M'Lord when he was stationed in the local pub, back in 1974. It's said that Marcus was a huge skeptic and mocked the Macaw when asking it to reveal his future. Everyone watched in silence as M'Lord tucked his head under his wing and produced a solid black feather. We knew that it was an ominous sign and Marcus began freaking out, swearing at the bird and trying to throw drunken punches at the massive creature. The pub landlord caught him and threw him outside, where Marcus stumbled into the street. He was swiftly mowed down by a Tesco's delivery lorry.
However, fans of the Macaw like to tell a different story to highlight his mystical powers. In 1999, a local homeless woman called Kathi Barnes wandered into a bookstore where M'Lord was currently living. She had lost her entire family in a hideous traffic accident, her husband and three children had gone out to walk the dog while she was cooking dinner and were killed by a drunk OAP behind the wheel of a Jeep. After the tragedy, Kathi sank into a deep depression, lost her job and home, and turned to drugs to numb her painful existence. One day, she decided she had nothing left to lose and asked M'Lord to tell her future, with the intent of going home and committing suicide either way. M'Lord produced the most beautiful feather that anyone had ever seen before - a rainbow hue that seemed to glow with an ethereal light. The bookstore manager gifted Kathi with a copy of the guide book and she ran back to the alley that she called home. Kathi stayed awake all night deciphering the paths and patterns that made up her future and what she found there literally saved her life. Over the course of a year, she won the lottery, found true love and experienced happiness and harmony in her life for the first time in years. By all accounts, she lived happily ever after.
One of the many things that still remains unclear to me though, is if M'Lord can not only read the future but influence it too. Marcus was rude and met a grisly fate, whilst the purer Kathi got everything she could ever wish for. That's one of the reasons that the town protects and cares for him so enthusiastically, he seems to somehow be able to bestow good or poor fortune on people, giving out both gifts and curses as he wishes. I'm more than happy to care for his unusual tastes until the end of my days and I will continue compiling my research until then. Who knows? Maybe one day I'll be brave enough to get a feathered reading of my own.