By Owen Lee, Staff Writer
Richard Cagney considered himself an excellent ornithologist. He was a taxidermist by trade, one who specialized in birds and often did his own hunting. The grand manor he inherited from his father was full of the mounts, some built for customers and other for his private museum.
His servants couldn’t escape his trophies; there were at least five to a room in the Cagney estate, from rabbits to deer to even the occasional bear. But birds were always Cagney’s favorite, they were so elusive, and so beautiful, from the vibrant cardinal to the elegant swan.
Rich was setting out on the second hunt of the month, a personal celebration for finishing a particularly tough commission. The hunting party consisted of himself and two of his servants, the both of them trusted marksmen in their own right, who shared his passion for hunting. The company set off in one of Rich’s trucks, heading into the birch forest that was just on the south edge of his large estate. This particular forest always seemed to be blessed with quarry.
As soon as the three hunters hit the treeline, they set up camp and sought any game they could see and catch.
Mary Lorre bagged a few rabbits in the morning, which she’d use for stew later. Pete Mathers almost shot a wolf, but it managed to escape, and he bemoaned the loss of a good pelt to sell all day.
That evening, Rich was hauling his latest catch back to camp, a red fox that he managed to get in the leg and kill quickly, when he heard a person singing an unfamiliar tune from above. He looked up to the source and noticed a weird creature, hidden in the trees.
It was massive, easily matching Rich’s strongman frame in height and width, and it was covered in a mess of black feathers that reflected light like a prism.
The great thing was perched delicately on a branch towards the top of the tree, resting its head beneath a grand, iridescent black wing. It looked like a bizarre crow. Carefully, he aimed with his rifle towards the bird’s heart, and made his shot.
An ear-splitting screech tore through the air, and the monster fell with a thud onto the ground. He ran to it, excited to see what kind of bird it could possibly be.
He was alarmed to discover that at the end of the bird’s abnormally long neck was a pearl-white human face, twisted in pain.
Rich nearly had a heart attack at the sight of the thing. What a creature he found, and in his own backyard, too. It appeared to still be alive, but the bullet certainly caused some damage. The monster squirmed and writhed, screeching and moaning and gurgling in tones that sounded too close to a human’s voice. Rich panicked for his own life, and shot the creature again, closer to its heart.
At the second shot, it lunged its neck forward and bit into Rich’s right leg. Its teeth shredded the leg of his jeans, digging deep into the muscle, touching bone. Rich gripped his gun tight and convulsed forward, into the monster’s sharp feathers. He thought he was going to lose his leg.
The monster stood clumsily, holding Rich’s leg in its mouth, dripping red blood, spreading its wings as if to take off.
One of its wings was bent, apparently broken in the fall. The monstrous bird jumped off the ground, desperate to carry its prey away. The prey, unable to orient himself, jammed his rifle into the beast and pulled the trigger.
It took three more shots to kill the creature. It dropped him with a hard thud onto his torn leg, sending him reeling with pain. A low rasp still reverberated from its throat as it fell heavily to the ground in a heap of glittering black feathers.
Rich surveyed the downed creature. He was totally unable to confront the face, contorted as it was into a pained scream, its mouth opened far too wide. He could see now that its teeth were blunt, like any human’s, and its eyes were painfully familiar too.
He clutched his gun tight to his chest, and quickly abandoned the corpse, fleeing as quickly as he could on the remains of his leg, headed anywhere.
As the hunter fled, he became fearfully aware of every bird call in the forest. Over each of them, a strange person sang an unfamiliar song, somewhere high above him.