Charlie walked out into the old cornfield behind his family’s house. Although the harvest had long since passed crows and other birds walked along the ground looking for forgotten kernels. Along the edges of the field bluebirds, cardinals, mockingbirds, and others visited the various feeders for their easy pickings.

Charlie watched in wonder as yellow finches and tufted titmice flew between the pines and the feeders. A coordinated ballet among birds of all shapes and sizes took place as they shared the bounty his parents provided. Charlie made his way past the edge of the yard and into the cornfield. Before too long he found himself one hundred yards away from the house and close to the side of the property.

On the far side of the field, near the edge of the forest, he heard a twig snap. Charlie froze and began to scan the edge of the woods. A flock of birds escaped from the trees and flew over Charlie and into the field. The young man knew he was not alone. His father once took him hunting for black bear. They tracked their quarry for two days in the woods. Charlie could never forget the experience because it was the first time he had slept on a forest floor. Although their makeshift lean-to provided some shelter, the forest floor kept him awake most of the night. He was sure every sort of insect was climbing under his clothing and chewing on his body. He still remembered the sound of leaves and sticks breaking under the bear’s massive body as they watched it wander through the woods right before his father shot it.

The air shifted, and Charlie caught the whiff of an animal. It was not bear. He remembered that smell too well. The sickly odor of dirty fur was something that never left his memory. The scent this animal was more earthly. It was almost musty. He had never smelled anything like it. He thought he could hear something breathing, but there appeared to be nothing between the trees. The wind shifted again and wafted across the cornfield. The familiar smell of birds struck Charlie’s senses, but the odor was stronger than he smelled before.

He turned and saw the ground covered in black crows and ravens. A half-dozen hawks circled high in the sky. Charlie forgot about the danger in the woods and stepped slowly back towards the house. Crows cawed and clucked as they hopped to the side and let Charlie pass, although none moved far. Some even allowed their beaks and body to brush up against Charlie’s pants. A tide of ravens rose off the ground and landed in lines of three deep and seventy yards wide between Charlie and the woods.  His heart pounded as the carrion fowl completely covered the cornfield in a sea of black.

The edge of the backyard was finally in view, and Charlie’s heart stopped. Draped around every feeder were reds, yellows, blues, and browns.  The most frightening part was that these birds were not attempting to cooperate or demand any food. They all seemed focused on him. Another breeze wafted across the field and Charlie almost gagged. He never realized how overpowering the stench of birds could be.

From behind ravens suddenly cried out in unison. Charlie caught his breath and quickly turned around. A black tide of birds rose into the air. Row after row, like a wave rising in the sea, a black wall went up into the sky. The sizeable barricade of dark fowl split open, and a mountain lion with its teeth bared broke through towards Charlie. He screamed and ran towards the house for his life. The shadows from the bird’s overhead blocked out the sun itself

Charlie knew he could not outrun the animal, but he had to try. “Pa, help!” he screamed as he ran. Charlie prayed somebody would hear him. He was getting closer to the edge of the yard. The den of birds crying, cawing, screeching, and tweeting made it impossible for him to hear, and Charlie soon gave up yelling. Then he felt the first footfall. It was an unmistakable thud on the ground behind him, and Charlie knew his time was short.

Then the black shadows from above moved in like a sweeping wave. The black cloud appeared to freefall in the air. Charlie was sure they were aiming for him but the tide turned at the last moment and swooshed just past his head. He heard the cougar cry out and a chill ran down Charlie’s spine, and he stumbled in fear. The large cat was so close its foul hot breath could be felt on Charlie’s neck, and the odor filled his nostrils.

The back door of the house burst open, and all the birds on the edge of the backyard flew off in an instant.  Charlie could see his father with a shotgun in his hands, and his forty-five revolver strapped to his hip. Charlie tried to yell “Cougar,” but he didn’t have enough breath left. He stumbled another three yards and fell on the ground.

His father leveled his shotgun at the birds. Suddenly a hawk appeared from nowhere and struck the barrel to the right. The pellets sprayed harmlessly into the dirt. The crows and ravens scattered at the noise. As they separated the angry cat could be seen knocking two birds out of the air with its paws while clutching the third one in its mouth. It stopped when it spied Charlie fifteen yards ahead on the ground attempting to get to his feet.

The cannon-like sound of a forty-five magnum resounded across the field. The mountain lion took one step and fell to its side. Charlie’s father quickly walked over and shot the animal once more in the head. Charlie walked to his father as his dad stood over the deadly predator. Charlie wrapped his arms around his father.

“Thank you, Daddy. I thought I was dead.”

His father put his arm around his son. “If those birds hadn’t been making such a racket you might’ve been. I looked outside and saw them diving at you and realized you were in trouble.”

“What are we going to do with the mountain lion?”

Charlie’s father holstered his pistol and then looked around the field. “I think we should leave him where he sits. I believe those birds deserve a proper thank you for saving your life.”

Charlie let go of his father, cupped his hands to his mouth and hollered, “Come get it, boys! Supper’s on!”

The two made their way back to the house. Charlie opened the back door and heard the sound of rustling wings. He and his father looked back to see a sea of all sorts of carrion fowl surrounding the dead cat as they settled in for their feast.

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