Everyone froze in place .... staring at the open door ... disbelief, shock, incredulity written over their silent faces.
The door suddenly slammed shut! The lights went out! Only the softly flickering light from the fireplace remained to illuminate the frozen tableau of fear!
*That little guy?!*
*Nein! Nein! I served him on a platter!*
*It was the chicken wot done it!*
*His name isn't on my forms anywhere!*
*Who locked the door?*
The babble of voices stopped abruptly when Alex found the light switch and turned on the overhead light. Heads were swiveling rapidly along the circle of bodies and then at each other. No one could believe what their eyes had just revealed to them! But that image was now seared indelibly onto their souls!
*Why did he do it?*
*How could he do it?*
*Is he nuts?*
*I still haven't found the right category on my forms!*
" thundered Poulet/Marc_liest, stepping up to the fireplace, "Seid still!" He waited until all eyes were once again upon him, puffing out his chest and twirling those imaginary moustaches!
"To comprehend why these terrible crimes were committed, you must understand the psychology of the murderer! Psychology is the key to unraveling any crime! Allow me to explain!"
*Explain a bird brain?*
*No way - he's just nuts!*
*Who took my clipboard?*
*Can we eat him after his trial?*
" roared Poulet/Marc_liest again, thumping his fist upon the mantelpiece - where the stockings still hung with their shiny gifts of death. The survivors again turned towards the fireplace, eager for enlightenment, and escape.
"We must imagine in our own minds what this wretched fowl has endured all his life! The ignominy of being the runt in the nest. The childhood humiliations as he failed continually in sports ... and with girls. His notoriety, and shame, after the tragic 'Sky is falling' episode. Being hounded out of town as a result. His loneliness. Even an outstanding college education could not compensate for his personal shortcomings. His only solace -- the books he devoured nightly in his lonely roost!"
"Tchh! Tchh! Such a tragic existence! Such silent despair!"
[Tears rolled freely down his listeners' faces -- they never knew!]
"And then ... he discovers the MobileRead community ... where there are other bookish sorts like himself. He dares to join ... and publicly post his thoughts and opinions. His participation is rewarded! You invite him to become a moderator! He now has recognition ... and friends!"
[His rapt audience nods in unison .... Yes! Yes!]
"BUT DID HE? DID HE REALLY?"
"Nein! Nein! The fowl poultry jokes continue! Your community delights in making veiled threats to roast and eat him -- disguised as jokes. He is taunted daily! 'Chicken legs!' 'Bird brain!' 'Tasty chicken!' The abuse never stopped! Did it?"
[All are now hanging their heads low, scuffing at the carpet, ashamed and embarrassed!]
Jellby feverishly flipped through the forms on his new clipboard. "Hmmm.... 'Paranoid poultry' - I don't see it listed here. But you do have indemnity for harassment. Did anyone make an indecent remark to Mr. poohbear_nc? Pinch a drumstick maybe?"
"One more word out of you, and I'll throw you AND your new clipboard into the fireplace." shouted Alex. "Please go on, Hercule."
Poulet continued: "BUT - he endured this abuse ... day after day after day ....
Because he thought you were his friends! He thought you liked him! He may have even dreamed that one of you secretly harbored much warmer feelings towards him.
And then .... finally .... came the 'psychological moment'
! The final event that tipped him into a murderous rage .... that doomed your comrades ... from which there was no escape. Something snapped within his mind ... and his course was fixed ... upon revenge!"
*pssst* "Hey guys," whispered mtravellerh, "Aren't we missing ..."
*shsssh* "Be quiet! Poulet's not done yet" ravenne hissed.
"Cast your minds back to last night - when you were all gathered happily in the living room, preparing for Christmas Eve celebrations. Go ahead! Picture it in your minds! Can you see it? What do you see? What did HE
"Yes ... you see it now, don't you? The final straw ... the skinny stocking -- too small to hold any gift. When he pointed it out .... did anyone care? Nein ... not even dreams .... "
[No one could even look at each other now .... they knew that THEY were to blame .... not the poor little chicken.]
"Ja! Ja! All this is true! And how do I - Hercule Poulet - know this you ask? How could I possibly deduce the identity of the murderer?"
[Heads nodded silently at this question.]
Alex stepped forward and glared at the preening Poulet: "Yes .... just how do you know what happened here tonight? You weren't here .... were you?"
All could sense the menace, and accusation in Alex's strained voice.
He continued: "Maybe it's the German moderators - ganging up - to take over the forum. Look around us -- only the German mods have survived! How do we know that was really poohbear_nc at the door? It was dark ... and you could have used a cardboard cut-out to throw that shadow."
Alex glared at mtravellerh: "Do you have any explanations? Or you ravenne? Were you really in the kitchen all the time? Why should I believe anything you say?"
"But Alex! I was on the phone almost all night - alerting Mark_liest and mtravellerh to what was happening here tonight! Wait until you get your phone bill! You'll see the charges for the long distance calls. Hours and hours! I told them everything - in case I was the next victim!" explained ravenne.
"Dumkopfs! It was the identity of victim #1 that gave away the identity of the murderer! I didn't need to be here in person tonight to deduce the identity of your killer. All I needed was accurate information and the use of my large gray cells. Pilotbob continually taunted poor poohbear_nc - endlessly, mercilessly, cruelly. You all repeated pilotbob's cruel words, causing the poor pullet to run crying from the room last night, followed up the stairs by the sounds of laughter ... at his expense. Your fate was sealed."
A hush fell upon the tiny crowd, as they followed the inevitable logic of Poulet's words.
*psst* "Hey guys," mtravellerh tried again "Where's ..."
*shush* ravenne hissed again. "Let Poulet finish or we'll never get out of here!"
"It was but the work of a few seconds for poohbear_nc to lock his door, open his window, and partially cut (using the scissors he grabbed from the mantelpiece) through the wire that pilotbob had just strung past his window. We can picture the maniacal smile on his face as he watched pilotbob plunge to his death! His tormentor was dead! By his own wing
hand! Dare we imagine that he waved 'bye-bye' to the plummeting pilotbob?"
Everyone shuddered at that horrible image .... but they could all clearly see it ....
*pssst* "Guys!" *SMACK* "Ow!" "Shut up mtravellerh!"
"He had killed once now! Successfully! It would be so easy to kill again, and again, and again, ....."
"But first he had to divert suspicion from himself. After all, he was the logical suspect for pilotbob's murder. And he was alone in his room at that time. So, the crafty galliforme cleverly fakes his own murder - knowing that you imbeciles would be gullible enough to swallow his staged death, and ravenous to devour the evidence! The perfect second crime!"
"While the rest of you were rushing around like chickens with your heads cut off [*groan*], it was child's play for the small but determined poohbear_nc to conceal himself, stealing new murder weapons, committing crime after crime, and hiding the evidence ... and himself .... from your bungling attempts to solve the mystery."
Everyone stood silently, thinking back over the events of that night. Poulet/Mark_liest was absolutely right! How did they not see it themselves? They were imbeciles!
Poulet/Mark_liest solemnly continued: "And it was the identity of the last victim that confirmed the identity of the murderer as poohbear_nc. dreams had been so very kind to him .... yet she too had laughed at him in the living room. So she had to be punished too! She had to share his pain, and fear, and bewilderment - to endure a night of unanswered questions: why was this happening to her? Why was she singled out to witness this carnage? What would happen to her?"
*psst* *SMACK* "But guys" *SMACK* *OW!*
"So, dreams was the final victim. He played a beautiful love song for her, expressing his devotion, but she only responded with fear and hatred. She had to die. But not by his own hand. He couldn't do it. So he set his final fiendish booby trap in the hall and invited dreams to enter into his twisted plan. And then it was over. All were silenced. All were dead. No more taunts. No more false friends. No more pain. Only silence and darkness ... in his murderer's soul."
Poulet/Mark_liest sank heavily onto a chair, inadvertently crushing the bogus wishbone. His weary head sank into his hands, exhausted by this display of perspicacious prestidigitation. The others were silent as well, pondering the implications of this revelation.
"GUYS!" shouted mtravellerh. "Hey, everyone, didn't anybody notice?"
THE CHICKEN HAS FLOWN THE COOP!
It was true! Everyone had been so mesmerized by Poulet/Mark_liest's masterful explanation - they had forgotten to capture the criminal! Poohbear_nc was gone! The door was locked! They were trapped in a house of death! The dim-witted assistant had noticed something that everyone else had overlooked.
Even Jellby stopped flipping through forms on his clipboard and began to sweat.
"Mein Gott! Mein Gott!' moaned Poulet/Mark_liest softly. "This can only mean one thing ..."
*We miss the play-offs?*
*More forms to fill out?*
"Worse" whispered Poulet/Mark_liest .....
THE END [sort of]