I’m not a particularly talented short story writer. This is probably because, in general, I don’t like the genre. With rare exception (Ursula Le Guin, Harlan Ellison, Philip K. Dick… can we say sci fi/fantasy?), short stories are rarely well executed. I can write a column or a 300-word blog post that is both concise and clever, but when it comes to fiction writing, I lean towards 60,000-words+. That said, I have not been sleeping particularly well, of late. Part of my malaise comes from a desire for fresh air (i.e. I sleep with the windows open). Because I sleep so poorly, I try not to awaken fully when I toss and turn; I don’t turn on a light or check my voice mail or even note the time. Last night, however, when the bird song began, I did look at my clock. It was 2:34! I had to ask myself, what kind of birds rise at such an obscenely early hour? These particular birds put the early birds to shame. As I contemplated the meaning of late-night (for this could not truly be called early morning) non-owl cheeping, I came up with a scenario that seems ripe for a short story. With nothing else to lose (other than additional zzzs), here goes nothing…
The Angry Birds At Bushwick, Brooklyn
Two city birds took it upon themselves to beat both the early birds and rats to the worms. If they could tell time, they would have known by human standards, it was half past two; by bird standards, they were up a good two hours early. With none but an owl for fowl company, the earliest birds strategically placed themselves on a cable wire that ran between two tenement buildings in Brooklyn. Because it was in their nature, they chirped excitedly and were greeted by the sound of humans cursing and slamming their windows shut. It had been an unusually warm winter that never mustered an attempt to melt into spring, so cool air was at a premium. The Brooklyn humans seemed to like Bushwick, despite the rats. In fact, the two birds chose this particular perch as it was close enough to the subway to monitor foot traffic but far enough away to stake a rat-free territory. Plus, the Brooklyn humans had a tendency to put out rat poison in an effort to protect their small urban herb gardens. It was these herb gardens that attracted juicy worms, and the two birds were adamant about making a few of the delicacies breakfast before any other birds awoke.
Bird number one (henceforth, BN1) was sleepy, so she squawked louder than her companion in an effort to stay awake. Bird number two (henceforth, BN2) was thinking he had brought along possibly the stupidest companion in all the five boroughs, but no other bird wanted to get up at half past two to stake out an herb garden in Bushwick. BN2 decided to pass the time in gentle conversation with BN1; he chirped the equivalent of, “Why are the humans obsessed with us?” BN1 chortled, “How so?” BN2: “Have you not seen the ‘bird game’?” BN1 admitted she had not been paying attention, which was not a surprise to her partner in crime.
Suddenly BN1 screeched: A worm! BN2 looked into the herb garden and saw nothing stirring. BN1 ruffled her feathers, shook her tiny round frame and pointed in the direction of the subway. Sure enough, a nattily attired 1/2-inch-thick earthworm was squirming haphazardly. Breaking briefly to sip from a squalid puddle. The worm was obviously intoxicated. In fact, he had been partying on Bedford and was, indeed, attempting to find his way back to his home beneath the herb garden where his nagging partner (they were recently united when the law had changed and now he never wanted to go out dancing at night) would be waiting to berate him for another late night on the town.
BN2 began to wrestle with BN1: The worm was perfect, but neither bird wanted to share him. Suddenly both birds were tearing at one another with their talons. The worm, his head slightly aching from the fuel he had been sipping off the surface of the puddle, barely caught sight of BN1 before he discovered himself beak-deep up to his nephridium. He sensed another set of jaws clutching him from his other end. A vague feeling of despair came over him: His partner had been right; it wasn’t a good neighborhood despite the glories of the herb garden. He lost consciousness and never recovered.
Meanwhile, the angry birds pulled and tugged, neither relinquishing its grip but the worm’s midsection failing to give way. BN2, being slightly larger, puffed his plumage and pulled with every inch of his small frame. In doing so, he backed into the slimy puddle, slipped backward, and fell under the brushes of the nighttime street cleaning machine. BN2 was dead in an instant. BN1, satisfied with herself, swallowed what was left of the worm and turned toward her perch above the herb garden.
Unfortunately, BN1 was a lightweight in the liquor department. Already sleepy from waking too early, the booze went straight to her birdbrain and she flew a block west rather than a block east. She stumbled through a jagged hole above the subway and accidentally hit the third rail on her way down. The rats came out and ate her charred remains. “Bourbon-infused BBQ angry bird. Delish!”