Some profanity. Marcus Jaffee knows a secret about what’s going to happen in picturesque rural Smithville Texas. What he doesn’t know is what it means for him. The Lone Star State is home to a wide variety of bird species. In fact, it’s perhaps the most bird-diverse state in the country with over 650 confirmed species.
In Smithville the first hint of spring comes with the arrival of the courageous little yellow breasted Chats. They sound as if they're having a chat with one another. Marcus loved to listen to them and believed he could understand their chatty conversations.
He keeps over sixty bird feeders filled and ready to welcome whatever bird might fly across his small ranch. Marcus’s drew strength from his bird population and his mood would sink whenever he couldn’t hear them sing. It was as if he and the birds were kindred spirits.
“So when was the last time you went out?” Josh questioned. “Believe it or not there’s more to this world than them stupid birds.”
“I don’t know.” Marcus paused. “Maybe a month ago. And my birds an’t stupid!” He snapped.
“Dude that’s ridiculous.” Josh scolded. “Man you’re 32 ‘years old and there’s a big world outside that damn bird ranch of yours.”
Josh and Marcus worked together at the Bone Spirits Distillery downtown. They had known each other since grade school when Josh’s family moved from Austin for his Dad to work at the Distillery. Both of them went to work at Bone Spirits shortly after high school.
“I know that, Dude. I just like hanging out by myself and listen’n to my birds.” Marcus smiled. “They make me happy.”
“That’s bullshit.” Snapped Josh. “Look Ella and Andrea said they’d meet us at Huebel’s Bar if you’d come out with us. C’mon man. Maybe one of us’ll get lucky you never know.”
Both Ella and Andrea worked in the front office of the Distillery. Ella and Josh were definitely an item. Ella in her late 20’s attractive with long blond hair and sky blue eyes totally mesmerizing Josh. Andrea is a couple of years older than Ella a little less fit with a round face and short dark hair. Andrea liked Marcus’s handsome stature well kept hair and neatly trimmed stubble. Ella thought if Marcus got to know Andrea they’d hit it off.
“Okay, Okay I’ll come.” Marcus grumbled. “What time y’all meet’n?”
“Between 6:30 and 7. We’ll meet at the bar and maybe go sit outside on the patio.” Josh replied. “It’ll be nice out there and we can watch the sunset.”
“Alright see ya there.” Marcus sighed checking his watch. “In a couple of hours I guess.” He abruptly ended the call and slid his cell back into his front pocket.
Huebel’s is usually crowed on Saturday nights. That’s when most of Smithville goes out for a few drinks and some boot scoot’n. Tonight was no exception and with the large dance floor filled it wasn’t easy to see the bar. Marcus hated crowds.
His breathing went shallow and his heart started racing as he surveyed the space for Josh. Checking his watch it was 6:50. He side stepped onto the dance floor to make his way across to the bar area. Squeezing past two-steppers bumping into multiple people along the way. Then he spotted Josh standing on the bar foot rail waving.
“Over here, buddy, over here!” Josh shouted. Josh is tall and lean with a youthful face and an early start of salt-and-pepper hair. When Marcus was close enough Josh grabbed and shook his hand before pulling him in close for a hug and strong pat on the back. “Glad you could make it man. Let me grab you a beer.” Telling the bartender. “Make that two would you buddy?”
“Where are the girls?” Marcus questioned.
“They’re on the patio chatting. It’s definitely quieter out there.”
“Here you go.” Said the bartender sliding over two Corona’s with a lime wedge.
They edged their way out onto the patio to a spot where they could see the girls. Andrea was blotting her forehead with a napkin and Ella had her arm around her. The blood on the paper napkin was clearly visible from where they stood.
As they were approaching the table Josh asked. “What the hell happened? Did somebody hit her?”
“No one of those crazy assed birds from over there.” Ella replied pointing to a tree completely filled with blackbirds just off to the side of the patio. The chirruping and twittering getting louder with every new bird arriving.
“What do you mean?” Marcus asked puzzled.
“Flew right over here and landed on her head and starting pecking the top of her forehead. I screamed and she tried to wave it off but it wouldn’t stop.” She groaned. “It flew up and then right back down on her head still pecking her. I had to pull it off her and throw it to get rid of it.”
“Those are Great-tailed Grackles.” Marcus said. “They can be scary when they travel in big flocks,” He grimaced. “But that’s only at sunset and I an’t ever heard of one attacking anybody. That’s just wrong.”
“Well are y’all okay or do you want go back inside?” Josh asked. Andrea was holding the napkin to her forehead.
More and more birds started showing up now on the ground between the tree and the patio. Their chatter was getting louder and the ground appeared to be alive from their movement. Suddenly a dozen or so of them flew up landing side by side on the patio rail. Their little beady black eyes darting back and forth from person to person on the patio while their warbling and squawking grew louder.
“That’s just not right.” Marcus said. “They flock at sunset to roost.” Six to ten more joined the birds already on the rail. Soon the rail around the patio was covered with them.
Without warning one flew onto Ella’s head and started to peck at her eyes. It broke the skin in multiple places on the side of her nose. Josh immediately snatched it and flung it off the patio. “What the fuck.” He yelled. “What’s go’n on here Bird Man?” He questioned Marcus glaring at him as if he had something to do with what was happening.
“I don’t know. But something’s really not right here.” He murmured.
Just then the the birds on the rails flew into the crowd on the patio. People started waving their arms and screaming as the birds viciously pecked and clawed them.
“Get under the table. Get the fuck under the table.” Marcus shouted flinging the chairs away.
“What’s happening?” Andrea cried.
“This is horrible.” Ella said putting her hand to the side of her nose then glancing down at the blood on her hand.
The four of them huddled under the table not believing the mayhem happening before their eyes. The crowd was screaming and waving their arms in a hysterical panic. They were spilling drinks, knocking over tables with glasses shattering as they hit the floor. People were pushing and shoving each other to make their way back through the double doors into the bar.
Then with a sudden swoosh of wind thousands more blackbirds flew above the chaos on the patio and into the bar. They instantly started to tear into the crowd frantically pecking them and clawing at their hair. The whole situation was utter pandemonium and rapidly deteriorating.
Marcus’s eyes widen. His heart raced and his breath grew rapid. He stood up straight from under table flipping it over his back. He screamed “STOP IT…I said STOP IT!!”
In the next instant the pecking and chirruping ceased. The birds formed a linear vortex swirling above everyone. Then spiraling out of the bar and patio climbing straight up to the sky before exploding into an immense flock of blackbirds. The flock began flying away against the pink and purple canvas of the sunset. People in Huebel’s continued screaming and waving their arms for a few seconds before they realized the ordeal was over. Many of them with minor cuts scratches and bleeding. They slowly began to stand and look around at each other in shock and silence.
The sound of sirens grew closer as Marcus stood motionless gazing up at the flock of birds watching as they slowly faded from sight.
“What the fuck was that?” Josh fumed.
“Yeah, What just happen?” Heaved Ella. Andrea was in awe and speechless of what she had just witnessed.
“Look man, I’m just going home, Okay.” Whimpered Marcus walking through and around the people to the front door. “Just going home.” He murmured as he went out the door. Police and paramedics just arriving and rushing toward the entrance paused to ask him if he was okay. He just nodded and kept walking away hanging his head down.
The only birds heard at night in Texas are mockingbirds, an occasional whip-poor-will or maybe a screeching owl. When Marcus arrived home his house was surrounded with thousands of passerines including robins, blue jays, mockingbirds, martins and swallows. They were perched everywhere singing beautiful virtuosos in a symphony of harmonic tones. The sound was hypnotic to Marcus as he floated like his head was filled with helium to his front door. Once inside he laid on his back along side the open window listening to the sweet sounds and staring up at the ceiling. He locked his fingers across his chest and closed his eyes. This is true paradise on earth.
Minutes later without any warning all the birds stopped singing at once. The night suddenly fell eerily silent and still. Marcus opened his eyes and sat up straight. What happened?
From outside came a burst of wind ripping across the field and circling round the house. Marcus looked outside to see his house encircled by a swirling flock of blackbirds. Their squeaking and chirping growing louder as more joined the raging flock. Their wings thrusting against the still night air produced a pulsating beat.
His stomach dropped and his pulse raced as he began to shudder inside and out engulfed in fear. What’s happening? He thought fishing his cell phone out of his front pocket and fumbling to punch in Josh’s number.
“What the hell you want – thanks for just walking out on us. Asshole.” Josh barked.
“Hey man I’m in trouble. Big trouble.” Shuddered Marcus. “I need your help man.”
“What da mean? What kinda trouble?” Josh asked beginning to cool down a bit.
“It’s the Grackles…er I mean the blackbirds. They got me surrounded.” He whispered with a soft sigh. “There’s tens of thousands of them circling my house right now. I’m trapped.”
“What the hell you need me to do?” Josh panted. “Call the Sheriff?”
“Don’t know exactly.” Whispered Marcus slowly opening the front door to find an impenetrable wall of swirling life between him and the rest of the world. “I can’t even see through them.” His said with his voice trembling. Closing the door and turning round to face the room. He leaned his back against the door. A single blackbird flew up from the fireplace toward him turning to land on the back of the sofa.
Marcus’s eyes widened as a second and a third joined the first. Josh said. “Look Dude, I don’t know what’s go’n on, but I’m calling 9-1-1 and head’n over there.”
Keeping his eyes fixed on the birds. “Okay.” Murmured Marcus ending the call and slipping his cell back into his pocket.
There was crash as the fireplace screen toppled over with hundreds of raging birds flying throughout the house. The stream of birds split to fill every room. Hundreds quickly became thousands. Soon the whole house was totally filled with birds in every possible space. They crowded and pushed against Marcus with a wall of living feathers. The insistent sound of their warbling squeaking and chirping deafening.
Marcus could feel the breeze from their fluttering wings against his face. Struggling he managed to pull open the front door but not before they began pecking and clawing at his head. He ducked and covered his ears to push past the screen door out onto the front porch. The commotion stopped at the door. He turned to see his front door slam shut. The sound of sirens and flashing lights from the Sherif’s car approaching was a welcome sight. Just behind it was Josh’s truck.
“Marcus you Okay?” Sheriff Douglas asked bending over to put his hand on Marcus’s shoulder.
Marcus sat on the front steps of his house holding his face in his hands. “Yeah, I’m fine.” He said glancing up with a hard face. “They forced me out.”
The Sheriff looked up at the house and through the window he could see the house was totally filled with blackbirds. “Holy Shit. That’s crazy.”
Josh came running up. “Marcus you alright?”
Marcus lifted his head and looked at Josh their eyes locked. “I heard the Yellow Chat’s in early spring talking about the Grackles planning an attack on Smithville. I really did. I did, but I didn’t believe ‘em.” Marcus said putting his face back down into his hands.
“YOU heard the fucking birds talking about an attack? You knew what was happening at Huebel's tonight did’n you? Josh fumed.
“Yeah, I guess.” He acknowledged.
“And now you’ve been forced out of your own damn home. Way to go Bird Man!