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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Pestilence of Birds in the Air


The chickens in the barn were killed during the night-all 850 of them, and it weren’t no fox or bad feed. Something ugly killed my birds, something cruel. I should have noticed it earlier. I should have noticed as I was making the coffee, that the birds weren't clucking and squawking as they do every morning, but I was already absorbed in thoughts about … well, thoughts about her. I didn’t realize that the birds were dead until much later because she was shouting, and because I nearly died.

The Red Queen doesn’t usually start her screaming until just after lunch-when her thunderous voice pounds at the inner walls of my skull, screaming execution orders: “No mercy!  Kill the Reprobate! Cut off his head!” But that morning, when I should have been discovering my dead pullets, she began her lunatic raving early. She started screaming as I sat drinking my morning coffee. “Spill his blood! Stick that Sucker! Don’t let him get away!”

I pushed away from the kitchen table, stood, and sloped towards the sink where I dropped the coffee mug. It shattered, spraying coffee up the backsplash. I staggered out the back door and down the two concrete cement steps.  I fumbled out a cigarette and lit it. As I smoked, I tried to focus on the rustling of the wind through the corn-fields, a calming exercise that often drowned out her voice, but her screams that morning were just too loud. I sucked down a long drag of the cancer stick-nearly a third of its length-and held the smoke in my lungs until I choked and coughed. I doubled over and vomited out a warm bitter, brown, bile.

When I finally stopped heaving, I wiped my lips and chin on the sleeve of my shirt. I spat to clear my mouth, and that’s when I saw the corpses of two large crows. One of them had a swollen bloody eye. I heaved again, but there was nothing left to expel. I collapsed to my knees, and fell on my face, gagging and retching, in the puddle of sick I had sprayed on the ground. “Execute that wretch!” the nasty Queen screamed inside my ears. Weak, I crawled through the gravel and vomit into the shadowed corner where the concrete steps met the foundation of the house, and passed out.

I must have had some massive muscle spasm, epileptic-grand-mal type flailing there on the ground while I was unconscious.  When I woke up, shivering in the cool evening, I was sore all over- as if I’d pulled every muscle in my back, neck and shoulders at once.  The Red Queen had stopped screaming, but she wasn’t silent.  She was muttering a garbled quotation from Revelation, “When I opened the fourth seal, I became the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come!’ And I looked, and behold, a green horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the birds of the air.”

“Shut up,” I told her as I stood up slowly.  “Shut up. Shut up.”

But she kept on with her recitation,” “…pestilence of the birds in the air,pestilence of the birds in the air, pestilence and plague of birds in the airs…”

I looked up just as a murmuration of starlings launched into the air. As a flock they folded and curved themselves through the air, twisting and floating away like a scarf on the wind, disappearing into the gloaming twilight.  And as they flew away, they cried out in a loud voice, like a ringing telephone, “Come! Come! COME! COME!”

Later I would find my way into the chicken barn.  In the fluorescent light and ammonia smell I found the bloodied bodies of my chickens, but by then it was too late for me to do anything about it.



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