Pecking Order (speakeasy at yeah write #96 – February 2013)

I threw it on the ground and burst into tears.  The plate of breadcrumbs, bird-seed and bacon rind shattered on the terrace.

At the foot of my bird table lay the mangled remains of my favourite dove, the one so pale a grey that it was almost white.  Now red had been added to the mix, its sleek lines ruffled and raw in places.

The slaughter was recent, and the perpetrator, the fat black and white tomcat from next door was adding insult to injury as it hawked up the residue of its mutilated breakfast onto the lawn.

I hobbled to the back door as quickly as my arthritic knees allowed, snatching up the mop on my way.

“Away,” I shrieked, waving in agitation.

The cat glanced up briefly.  Not even deigning to run, it slunk away, its furry belly hanging low to the ground, and silently insinuated itself up the fence.  Briefly mooning a white-fringed backside at me, it then dropped down onto its home terrain.

I sadly buried the dove’s corpse.  I’m an animal lover, even of the spiteful magpies whose presence at the table I endure, so I was frustrated that if I’d been able to catch the tomcat I would probably only have nudged him with the mop-head.  I imagined the cat knew this, just as I imagined that the birds now congregating on the rooftops were looking down accusingly on me as I swept away the feathers.   It would be weeks, I reflected before trust was restored.

Autumn turned to winter, robins joined the other birds at the table, and having tasted victory, the tomcat visited more frequently.  I stepped up my vigilance.

I was wrapping Christmas presents one December afternoon, the brightly coloured paper and stickers presenting a cheerful contrast to the leaden skies outside.  The birds were congregating on the fence waiting for my trip to the bird tray.  From the corner of my eye I glimpsed a furtive movement in the bushes.  Grasping my mop, I scurried out across the terrace, only to slip on the icy paving stones, banging my head on the bird table as I hit the ground.

As I lost consciousness, I heard the panicked fluttering of wings and caught a glimpse of the cat, poised on the top of the fence, gazing back over its shoulder at me.

***

I’m awake.  It’s getting darker now, mid afternoon.  As I struggle into consciousness I realise I am staring into the unblinking gaze of an enormous magpie, standing on my chest.  I try to move, but my limbs seem frozen into position, and an agonising pain shoots through my hip.  As I cry out weakly, the magpie hops closer to my face, ducking his sleek black head to peck cruelly at my lips, before turning his attention to the tip of my nose.

A movement catches my attention, and I swivel my gaze to see that a dove has landed beside me, tilting its head to regard me impassively.  Fleetingly I imagine that he might try to scare the magpie away, until he too begins to peck at the back of my hands.

Within minutes the terrace is dotted with scores of birds, hopping over to take their turn in the pecking order.  I feel warm blood beginning to trickle down my cheeks, mingling with tears of pain and horror.

These birds, which I’ve lovingly fed, nurtured and protected seem now hell bent on destroying me.  Outrage courses through my chilled veins.

What kind of a way is this to reward my kindness?  I give a low growl of desperation and the birds fly up into the air, only to re-settle seconds later in different places on my body.

“I shall die here,” I think, “pecked to a bloody corpse before anyone finds me.”  More tears flow.

Suddenly the birds panic and rise, as one, into the air.  Instead of settling on the rooftops, they continue their flight until I can no longer hear the dull beating of their wings.  Instead, I can hear another sound, a soft purring noise.  Swivelling my eyes, I see the black and white tom-cat approaching across the lawn, his eyes fixed on mine.

Despite my pain and fear, I feel my lips twitch.  How ironic, I think that my old adversary should become my rescuer.  I feel a fleeting rush of relief that I’ve never caused him any harm on our ritual engagements.

The cat stands by me, sniffing the blood now drying on my cold cheeks.  He rubs his cheek and ear gently against my neck, and I feel the warmth of his soft fur, and a glow of pleasure at this unexpected gesture of affection.

How badly I have misjudged him.  And how misplaced has been my allegiance to those cruel birds who have repaid my kindness in this dreadful way.

The black and white tom cat climbs onto my chest, gazing down into my face.  Purring loudly, he begins to knead my neck, making throaty little mewing noises of pleasure.

And then he lowers his warm and furry belly across my cold and unresisting face.

Darkness…

The challenge this week had to begin with the words

‘I threw it on the ground and burst into tears…’ and also incorporate some reference to the picture below.

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About Sandra

I cruise the French waterways with my husband four or five months a year, and write fiction and poetry. I love animals, F1 motor racing, French bread and my husband, though not necessarily in that order.
This entry was posted in By the Way ..., Just Sayin' and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Pecking Order (speakeasy at yeah write #96 – February 2013)

  1. James Toner says:

    Another excellent story, Sandra. I don’t know how you do it, week after week. JJ http://www.jjtoner.net

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  2. Sandra says:

    Thanks JJ! I don’t sleep too well as it happens 😉

    Like

  3. You’re the twist meister in this story, although as the end neared, I suspected it might not end well after all. I guess if you can’t sleep, you might as well write wonderful stories. And tomorrow’s Wednesday, so you have something else to anticipate!

    janet

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  4. whew! you just can’t trust anyone!

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  5. iasoupmama says:

    I can’t even say it’s a dog-eat-dog world for animal lovers… Love the way the cat cozies up to her before the end!

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  6. Bee says:

    I love all of the irony here, all the twists and turns. This especially resonates with me because I have a fat black-and-white cat who will bite me one moment, and then settle into my arms the next. You’ve captured the cat’s movements perfectly — both the one in the story as well as mine!

    Like

  7. Jane Burgess says:

    Hi Sandra…..stop eating chocolate before bed !!!
    No seriously a very well written little horror story.
    When will the book be ready?

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  8. It’s a cruel, cruel world. You manage to surprise me every week and this story is no exception. Well done!

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  9. How very Hitchcock-ian, in the best of ways! Loved this!

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  10. deanabo says:

    I love the intensity in your writing.

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  11. Sarah Ann says:

    Oh wow, set upon by birds and cat. What an unfortunate woman. Really enjoyed the thought processes she went through towards the end. Misjudging the cat and then not.

    Like

  12. Suzanne says:

    Oh my. This is wonderfully twisted! Great storytelling – I love the way you weave this tale and tie it all together so neatly at the end. Fantastic!

    Like

  13. Wow, this is quite the complex story in not so many words. Perfectly captured the cat and how creepy are those birds? Well done!

    Like

  14. Dayle Lynne says:

    I agree with nataliedeyoung, very Hitchcock-ian . . . and definitely not what I was expecting when I first started reading. I love it . . . so dark and creepy!

    Like

  15. Yes – very Hitchcockian and fantastically eerie. I love your ending. So well done!

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  16. This is a great story. Nice twist.

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  17. I really loved how this played out. I saw the whole thing very clearly.

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  18. christina says:

    ooooh so evil! i love it! great writing as usual.

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  19. bhaha sneaky cat bastards! they suck us in every time.

    Like

  20. Technical praise out of the way first: Loved the tense shift, and how it wasn’t exactly clear why it was happening until the end, when it dawns that there’s no way it could be past tense at that point. Awesome.

    More generally: Ack! Creepy, unsettling awesomeness. Phenomenal build of horror as things get worse and worse, right up to the end. Loved it.

    Like

  21. ann bennett says:

    I enjoy your stories and this had a nice couple of twists. It was not what I expected.

    Like

I'd love to hear your views; it reassures me I'm not talking to myself.

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