As we drove through base on the way to watch the space station pass overhead, the waning rays of sunlight bathing the streets in its cool glow, I noticed a lone jogger running along the side of the road. Above him, a black bird flew. It was slightly smaller than a crow or raven, but with the same pitch coloration.
I watched as it swung back and forth, carefully pacing itself on the eddies of the wind to keep up with the jogger. He seemed not to notice.
Suddenly, without warning, the bird dove, screeching as it swooped down and nipped at the jogger’s head. The jogger flinched and glanced about angrily.
“Yeah, they do that,” said Ben, laughing at the jogger.
“The birds. They just fly around and dive bomb people. I don’t think they do anything else.”
“Really?” I said as I rubbernecked to watch the jogger pass. The bird began to line up for another run
“Yeah. Hilarious, right?”
No, I thought, not really.
I grabbed a hoodie before I left this morning. My cold was in full effect and I wanted to be sure to keep warm. Despite being sick, I wasn’t about to miss the Celtics game.
Denise had decided to pass on the game, choosing to go with Nikki to see Sex and the City. Ben and his fellow torpedoman Josh couldn’t find a way to get out of work early. That left me alone in the lounge at the barracks rapt by the game.
They said they’d be back around three, but with the Celtics having won and the postgame show already over, I figured I might as well walk back to Denise’s house. It was only a 25-30 minute walk and I had nearly an hour before Josh and Ben might be home. Besides, it was a bright and sunny day out and the lounge was frozen by the A/C.
I’m pretty sure I heard it first, though I might have noticed the shadow floating just in front of mine. It made a sharp caw followed by a shrill whistle. I tried to ignore it, but even staring straight down, I could see it hovering behind me, waiting to strike.
It called again, this time two caws and whistle. When the shadow dipped low and I could hear the sudden flap of wings, I quickly slipped my hood up. The pattern of caws came again. My heart was suddenly beating as my pace picked up slightly. I don’t think it took notice. The shadow stayed with me.
The pattern of screeches repeated over and over: one caw and a whistle then two caws and a whistle. I sped up a little more. I could feel the breeze as it swooped low past me.
And then I saw it; salvation in form of a bus stop, its cement roof offering haven from this hostile creature. I was nearing powerwalking speed, my breathing pacing me as I moved towards my protection. The birds caws came faster now.
As I ducked under the cement awning, the bird landed on the streetlight behind me. Its caws slowed, but remained steady. I glared at it from under my protective cover. It seemed to smile wickedly at me.
I waited patiently for the bird to leave, but it sat there, its angry cries echoing in the early afternoon sun. Suddenly, I heard a response. A second bird, calling just like the first. I turned just in time to see it land in a nearby tree and go silent. The first bird swooped from its streetlight perch to join the second. Its calls still steadily rang out.
The next two birds appeared out of nowhere, landing in the tree with the others. Soon, the group had grown from four to eight. I swear I saw the first bird wink as I stared at it, its caws both a call to action for the birds and an air raid siren for me. I felt like Tippi Hedrin in the birds, my kleenex clutched in my hand much like her lunchbox as the birds began to gather.
I stopped counting numbers as the twelfth bird arrived in a flurry of feathers, the branches of the tree starting to dip under the wait. Only the first kept calling, the others silently waiting.
I glanced down the road toward the next bus stop. It was at least a good 2000 meters away. I took a few deep breaths and closed my eyes. Can I make it? Who am I kidding. I’m no sprinter. Maybe I still have my altitude lungs… whatever the case, I need to try.
I whistled nonchalantly, and began to walk back the way I came. As I reached the edge of the bus stop, I cut back hard and began a sprint. I could hear the rustle of feathers as the birds leapt to the air behind me. I didn’t look. I was too busy running.
I ran. Hard. I could feel the birds chasing me. I could see their shadows looping together above mine. Several of them were cawing now. The cacophony only made me run harder.
Only two hundred meters to go, I thought as I realized I hadn’t been hit yet. The hood from my hoodie began to fall off in the self-made wind. I slowed slightly to yank it up. A claw raked my hand as I gripped my hood and ducked.
My shoes slid along the concrete as I skidded under the awning safe again. The birds cried their shame at having their prey escape. I was breathing heavily, the kleenex box half crushed in my right hand.
I watched as the birds circled overhead. The first bird landed on another streetlamp and continued to call. Perhaps my sprint had tired them out, or maybe I had crossed the county line, but the other birds began to turn tail and fly back the other way.
“Where are your friend going? Huh? Are they scared?” I screamed, the adrenaline taking over.
The woman across the street looked at me funny and pulled her young daughter close. The first bird cawed one more time, as if both mocking me and admitting defeat. I pulled my hood tight and tried to hide from its view.
After a few minutes catching my breath, the bird’s caws had become quieter and more intermittent. I glanced at it to see if it was looking. It wasn’t. I took the chance to walk quickly and quietly along the road. I was still a good quarter mile from Denise’s, so I didn’t want to risk being followed.
By the time I was a block and a half away, I could barely hear the bird. The rest of my walk home was relatively uneventful.
I can honestly say I’m now afraid to walk the streets of the navy base now. Though I made it home safe, next time, I might not be so lucky.