by Louis Wenzlow
Albert heard a sharp thud coming from the kitchen.
Outside, the bushes needed a haircut; the lawn needed mowing (though that would require a drive to the gas station for some ultra-premium unleaded); squirrels were engaged in their ongoing battle over who owned the innards of his detached garage, and perhaps most ominously, waxwings and cardinals were gorging themselves on ripened, fermented fruit—rowanberries, grapes, crabapples. It was a fully stocked bar out there!
Inside, Albert’s wife was probably a little pissed that nothing was getting done around the house. She already did much of the housework and upkeep, in addition to holding down a full-time job, and she wasn’t shy about letting him know that she expected more than he was contributing. Hence the thud. Albert guessed that she was cleaning the fridge or the stove and wanted to make sure he was well aware of it.
Another loud bang from the kitchen made him decide that he should swallow his pride and lend a helping hand to the primary breadwinner. He left the little closet that he called his study and walked down the hall into the kitchen, which was definitely the best room in the house, spacious, with a nice island in the middle of it, and a large bay window looking out into the backyard. The wife must have finished whatever she’d been doing, since she was nowhere to be seen. Well, at least he’d given it a try. Intention might not be the same as action, but there were still a few good karma points there, maybe.
Boom! A flash of red smacked into the bay window, leaving some wet downy feathers plastered to the glass, next to a number of other smudges. He looked closer and noticed that a crack had started to form, where he guessed that one of the dive-bombing birds must have crushed its skull against the glass.
Albert looked through the window down at the lawn, and sure enough, there were three little bird bodies down there—a cardinal and two waxwings. The cardinal wasn’t quite dead yet: it was writhing and violently flapping one wing, but it was clear that something deep and fundamental in its skeletal structure was broken; and as he watched it, the flapping wing gradually ebbed until he was no longer sure whether it was the bird moving it or just the wind playing with its splayed feathers.
He looked further down the lawn to their rowan tree, which he had planted with his own hands over twenty years ago, and could see it was gyrating with activity. Hundreds of birds—not just cardinals and waxwings, but also crows, robins, orioles, woodpeckers, even chicken hawks—were rummaging amongst the yellow leaves for the intoxicating berries. Other birds were flying erratically from the tree to the peak of the garage, where many were perching between their feedings. Albert had never seen anything like this. He watched with amazement as a robin took off from its perch and started flying directly toward him. He didn’t quite believe it would happen until—Boom!—he saw the beak, eyes, and forehead slam into the window right at the spot of the crack, spreading it a little—two tiny new hairline fractures forming off the central line.
He stepped up to the window, so that his nose was actually touching it. He waved his arms up and down, like a bird himself, feeling the glass as he moved them. Albert knew that the drunken birds were flying at the glass because it was reflecting the yard and the rowan tree, and he was attempting to break the illusion and ward them off.
Nevertheless, something large and bright swooped toward him from its perch. It was a Pileated Woodpecker, he realized, (a Pileated Woodpecker!) its clownish face staring him down as it gained momentum and slammed into the window. The whole thing shook and vibrated, and it felt like he had been physically assaulted, punched in the nose. What had been a clearly visible but minor crack was now a starburst pattern several inches in diameter.
Albert hugged the window. The homeowner part of him was frustrated, and the coward in him was growing concerned, but there was also a hint of excitement. As far as he could remember, nothing this interesting had ever happened to him before. There had been no great wars during his life, no tumultuous revolutions; he had never had a mystical experience or a life-changing epiphany. Moreover, if he were being honest with himself, he wasn’t quite feeling it these days, forty-five years in, and couldn’t imagine caring enough to try to turn things around.
And so he didn’t step away when the first coordinated flock of the largest of the birds, those with the strongest skulls, lifted off the garage, swirled high into the sky, up and around and then down directly toward him. Behind them another flock was forming. This one full of the birds with the longest claws, the sharpest beaks.
Louis Wenzlow’s short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Cease Cows, Cleaver, Eclectica, Fjords, The Forge Literary Magazine, Jellyfish Review, Jersey Devil Press, The Molotov Cocktail, and other places. He grew up in suburban Chicagoland and now lives with his wife and daughter in Baraboo Wisconsin.