When Butch McHaferty told Jim Danker about the ostrich, he just as well might have given him a million dollars. Jim had waited all his life for such an opportunity, one that would have made his father proud.
“Well, don’t that just tear the rag off the bush!” proclaimed Jim. “I don’t believe it. You have got to be ridin’ me a good one!”
“I swear as I stand before the Good Lord himself,” stammered Butch. “I didn’t believe it myself when I first heard about it. But Jake down at the post office heard about it, too. He and the Cranshaw boys are already loadin’ up their truck.”
“Well, what are we waitin’ for?” hollered Jim, excitedly. “Let’s get our gear and bug on up there as fast as greased lightning. This is going to be great! Could you imagine gettin’ the bead on that maraudin’ son-of-a-bitch?”
As the two men scurried to grab their rifles, they ran past old Mr. Phil Alford sitting in a chair on the porch of the Double T Saloon.
“You boys goin’ to get that bird?” asked Mr. Alford.
Jim screamed, “You heard about it, too?”
"‘Course I heard about it. It’s on the front cover of the Gazette. Look for yourself.”
Old Mr. Alford swept away some ashes that had fallen from his corncob pipe onto the newspaper front page. There, above the fold, was emblazoned the proclamation that had caused such a galvanizing stir in the somnolent little town of Wabash, Kentucky, a city with a long history of ostrich husbandry.
The headline shrieked, “Clint Harvey, Ostrich Farmer, Killed by Kick from Own Bird.” The subtitle of the article stated the clincher: “Ostrich Escapes Into Thick Brush."
Jim Danker and Butch McHaferty jumped into their mountain truck and peeled out for the general vicinity of Clint Harvey’s Ostrich Farm, the Fowl Ball Ranch. They came prepared for any eventuality and were ready for a prolonged stay of at least four nights in the woods. They each carried with them a standard Winchester hunting rifle, and Jim also toted his favorite piece, a .357 magnum hog-leg revolver with mother-of-pearl handle, a gift given to him by his father. It had an extra-long muzzle for more precise targeting at moderate range. Jim wore it just behind his right hip.
“I swear to God, Butch,” admitted Jim. “I really liked Clint. He was a good man. I can’t believe he’s dead. And what a way to go! Kicked by a God-damn ostrich!”
Jim sat quietly and shook his head in disbelief, staring down at the firewall of his vehicle. “I wonder if the ostrich kicked him in the head,” he mumbled.
“I read the article in the paper,” said Butch. “It said that Clint was unloadin’ a flock of them birds from his van when one of them reared back and blasted him right in the face with its foot. And, what’s even worse, it pecked him after he went down.”
“What are you talkin’ about, it pecked him?” queried Jim, a bit of trepidation creeping into his usually stolid voice.
“That’s all I know. After Clint fell wounded, the bird started peckin’ at his neck. It would-a pecked him wide open hadn’t one-a his boys ran the bird off with a whip.”
“Why, I’ll be the bump on a warthog’s nose! Well, I’ll tell you this. When I git that overgrown turkey in my rangefinder, we’s goin’ to be eatin’ ostrich for the next month.”
• • • • • •
By the time Jim and Butch arrived at the Fowl Ball Ranch, several other trucks had set up their positions, and at least three groups of men had already sallied forth into the thick verdancy of the local forest and the last known position of the rogue bird.
The remaining ostriches on the ranch had been rounded up and placed in secure cages inside the holding pens and then taken into the aviary. There were originally 55 ostriches on the ranch. Only 54 were still in captivity.
Jim and Butch got right to work. They set up a ground-level blind at the base of a large yellow poplar tree, approximately one mile from the ranch. From their position, they could survey a panoramic sweep of the forest, since they were at the top of a small hill.
Once they settled in, each man took out a previously packed sandwich and thermos full of steaming hot coffee. All around them, robins and cardinals rhapsodized their throaty songs as the late afternoon sun gracefully descended toward the horizon, sending long, luminescent rays of gold streaming through the leaves. The rich fragrance of red maple and northern oak wafted about. Every few minutes, a beaver could be heard snorting off in the distance.
“You know, Butch, my daddy once told me that there ain’t no finer moment in life than when you’re face to face with your target. That’s the moment of truth. That’s the moment that separates the men from the boys. If you have the skill, and a little luck on your side, you win.”
“Hey, Jim, you never told me whatever happened to your Dad.”
“Well, Butch, my mama never liked to talk about it, but told me that he died in the War. She said he was originally an ostrich farmer just like Clint Harvey, but enlisted when the War broke out. The story goes that he got shot in the neck after pullin’ three wounded guys out of a burnin’ trench, under enemy fire and with a broken leg. He was a genu-ine hero. He sure did have the skill, but I guess his luck just ran out. But that was a long time ago. He died when I was just 3 months old.”
“Ain’t that something! You know, my daddy was in the War, too. He wasn’t no hero, but he had his stories to tell. I wonder if they ever met as soldiers. Wouldn’t that be something? We would be part of a band of brothers.”
The two men quietly enjoyed their sandwiches and coffee and chatted a bit more before getting ready to settle down for the night. They would be awakening early in the morning; that specific timing enhanced their chances of encountering the ostrich.
Just before slipping into his sleeping bag, Jim stared pensively out over the ocean of verdure before him. As he observed the lush surroundings, Jim contemplated the renegade ostrich lurking somewhere nearby. Someone had to avenge old Clint Harvey’s death, he thought. Good men die, but not like that. Good men like Clint Harvey deserved a better demise than the indignity of a fatal kick to the face by an ostrich.
Twilight was upon the two men as the sun sank languidly behind the edge of the woodlands, and Jim and Butch settled down in their camp for a night’s sleep. The fire crackled softly, as glowing embers floated upward lazily in swirls. The men drifted off to sleep with dreamy visions of a heroic if not massive Thanksgiving dinner.
• • • • • •
Bands of early morning sunlight stretched gloriously across the dawn sky, as the dew glistened and the cool morning air chilled the flowers. Suddenly, a flash of feathers and legs caught the peripheral vision of the men, wrenching them from their slumber.
“Butch, did you see what I just saw?”
“Sure as a pig in mud!” exclaimed Butch, the vapor of his breath forming a small cloud.
Jim said quietly, “Grab your gun, Butch. I’m goin’ after it. Back me up.”
With that, Jim grabbed his Winchester rifle and trusty .357 magnum hog-leg and ran as fast and as stealthily as he could into the woods, tracking the observed trajectory of the rogue bird. After running about 200 yards into the forest, Jim slowed to a creep, step by step. Jim knew the woods; years of tracking and stalking gave a man a certain perspicacious ability that just can’t be learned from a book. The ostrich was nearby. Jim could feel it.
Jim hacked his way through heavy leafage as he loaded and cocked his rifle. He forced his way through a particularly dense thicket of branches and large leaves, cocking the firing mechanism into the ready position.
As the leaves parted, he was suddenly face to face with a frightened and angry eight-foot bird. Startled, Jim tried to raise the rifle for a point-blank shot, but as he fumbled with the rifle, he looked down, only to see the rapid approach of the bottom of a three-toed talon. The ostrich kicked him ferociously, square in the mouth, sending him sprawling backwards onto a pile of tree roots, nearly unconscious from the blow.
In his semi-conscious haze, Jim instinctively reached for his rifle, but instead brought up a tree root. He then remembered the .357 revolver which he kept holstered behind his hip in “kidney position” on his belt. Dazed as he was, and lying flat on his back, Jim could not muster the strength to extricate the handgun. It was then that the ostrich, in its defensive fury, began pecking savagely at Jim’s neck.
Jim was too weak to scream. The pain of the pecking was indescribable, but the horror of his helplessness was worse. The ostrich’s attack was rapid and relentless, lacerating and splaying the throat asunder. Both jugular veins were severed, and blood poured forth like a fountain. Blinded by the splattering of his own blood and mucus, Jim waved his arms fecklessly in a futile attempt to fend off the piston-like salvos of the bird.
The ostrich reared its head up to its greatest height, preparing to administer the final coup d’etat with one last downward thrust to the exposed larynx of the prostrate man. Jim looked up through mournful and fading eyes and awaited the definitive, lethal strike.
Just then, as the ostrich stretched upward to gather its maximum potential energy, its head suddenly exploded clean off its neck. The headless carcass stood frozen for just a moment in its full regaliant posture before slumping pathetically into a pile of feathers and dust.
Through the smoke and haze, Jim could barely manage to see the silhouette of old Mr. Alford, standing about 30 yards away, his smoking Winchester sniper rifle still shouldered in firing position. “Well, that’s that!” he heard the old man chortle, just before he lost consciousness.
Within seconds, Butch was at his dying friend’s side. “Isn’t there anything we can do?” Butch lamented, knowing inwardly that Jim was mortally wounded. Butch could barely stand to look at the target of the ostrich’s fury, the throat that was now ripped open beyond recognition, visible vocal cords twitching in the light of day, awash with rivulets of blood and sputum.
“Ain’t that something! Like father, like son! I ain’t never seen nothing like it,” old Mr. Alford mumbled, mostly to himself. “I mean, what are the odds?”
Butch looked up at the old man. “What are you talkin’ about?”
Said old Mr. Alford, “Looks like his luck ran out, too. That’s exactly the way his Daddy died.”
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Very descriptive, strong voice, and a sense of setting. The pacing was good, although I'm not sure why you needed the * * * scene transition. Loved the Fowl Ball Ranch. A good read!
I loved Jim's voice. It can't be easy to master that dialect so clearly but you can really hear it in your head every time he speaks. I wasn't expecting Jim to die as well, but the 'broken leg' tipped me off that the Daddy was not the war hero he was said to have been. Fun read!
lol That ending, Bruce! That really just made the story! Loved this one!
Strong story line with an unexpected ending. There was a sense of inevitability and of time running out with a beast like that strutting round and the history surrounding it. Good descriptions. As always, powerful to read.
Well, this is unique. It's a completely enjoyable read. Fast-paced and energetic, it completely held my attention. Liked the twist at the end that speaks to the way we can mythologize our elders. Great narrative voice throughout.
Thanks, Laurel. Glad you enjoyed it!
This was an entertaining and unique story. I'm wondering if it was based on an actual event? Thanks for sharing this story. I really enjoyed your characters and the weirdness of their prey.
Hi, David. Thanks so much. I appreciate your comments. It’s not based on a real event. It’s totally fictional.
That's a cool, and original, idea.