Bird Watching

Bird Watching

A Story by JPDonelan
"

A man documents an incident that disturbed him greatly.

"

The incident happened three years ago, mid-September. I'll never forget it, not for the rest of my life. At the time, my...life just fell apart. My fiancée decided to end both the wedding and our entire relationship. Claimed she "fell out of love" with me and felt I was being "distant". I...didn't take the break-up as well as I could've. Not a good start to the week and the week only got worse.

 

The day after we broke up, my company downsized and I fell on the chopping block. This left me with no job and no fiancée who might've helped me work through the situation. I was depressed, downtrodden and physically sullen; couldn't hide my destitute spirit even had I wanted to.

 

Because of my obvious dejection, I had concerned relatives and friends trying to cheer me up for the better part of two weeks. My cousin, Kathy, suggested I take some time away from the city. I couldn't argue even if I wanted to.

 

So, I packed my things-- enough for two weeks without doing a wash-- and left. Kathy's parents' place served as the first stop on my trip away from my agony. Kathy had insisted I recoup at the familial cabin and her parents had a spare set of keys she said they'd let me borrow.

 

My aunt was overjoyed to see me, while my uncle retained his usual stoic appearance and mannerisms. He still made it pretty clear he felt for me; the man could communicate so much with a simple slap on the shoulder and a nod. The two didn't let me leave for two days. Coincidentally, Kathy came home from college on the second day. Almost like she had planned to see me before I went off.

 

The three saw me off the next morning. The drive was slow, traffic-choked, and pretty damn boring. It also reminded me of my fiancée, which didn't help. She had a way of making long, dull drives enjoyable. Sort of brought a cruel emphasis to the fact that I didn't have her in my life anymore. The notion sat in my gut for a couple hours of the drive, felt like I had eaten bricks.

 

My car turned onto the road that led through the forest at around three in the afternoon; I had stopped once at around two to eat and pick up food for my stay. The change of scenery had an immediate, refreshing effect; I always enjoyed the appearance of the oaks and sugar maples that made up the bulk of the woods. This would've been even truer later in the fall, as the leaves became more vibrant and less uniform. We weren't quite there yet, season-wise, but every so often I caught sight of a leaf or two getting a head start.

 

Another half hour went by before I turned off the paved road and drove along the dirt road, flanked by sporadic overgrowth, that led to the lodge. After ten minutes on this road, I arrived at the large wooden structure.

 

The lodge has always been a place of significance to my family. Originally built back when my great-grandfather was still in his teens, the cabin saw serious additions with my grandfather, a man who saw family as the single most important thing in the world. He saw the two room cabin turn into the eighteen-room lodge that has served as the center of family gatherings for as long as I can remember.

 

I parked my SUV facing the way I came and climbed the front porch of the lodge with my bags, which I set down only briefly to unlock the door. All the food and stuff I brought took less than ten minutes to get inside and put away.

 

I spent the remainder of the first day recovering from the drive, and the baggage that slipped a knife between my ribs. When night fell, I slept on the couch in the living room despite the overabundance of actual beds; an ingrained habit from family gatherings. It was the best night's sleep I had since the break-up and termination.

 

 

I woke up at ten the next morning and left the lodge at eleven after I had a hearty breakfast and packed lunch. I had planned to be out for most of the day; had a lot of forest to hike through and the landscape was always relaxing in its beauty. That, and there were birds.

 

You see, at the time I had a great love of birdwatching; I was something of a birder. Have my grandfather to blame. He often went hunting with various members of my family, myself included. During a lull in one such outing, he pointed out birds who had landed nearby and spoke at length about them. At some point, that day turned more into a discussion and observation of birds than a hunt. From then on we would go out just to watch birds every, at least until his passing.

 

I wandered around for an hour, hour and a half before I came upon a glade that looked promising. The spot was long but not remarkably wide. The place seemed familiar, but from when I couldn't tell; I had been going on these treks for years and have found numerous places to watch, so odds were good I had been to this spot before. Regardless of whether I had been there before or not, I set up for a comfortable bit of observation.

 

I liked to do more than just watch the birds, I liked to document what I saw, what the feathered creatures did as I observed, details of their plumage, and what have you. For that purpose, I always packed a notebook alongside the binoculars which allowed me to monitor the animals without scaring them off.

 

Wasn't long before I spotted my first bird of the session: an Ovenbird. A Wood Warbler, I immediately recognized it by the olive-green color of its upper body. The little critter's jerky, listless saunter both entertained and distracted. Almost enough to make me forget for a moment the reasons I had come out here. Almost.

 

The next hour went by uneventfully, with the usual showing of mid to late September birds. Despite having seen the varieties before, I still enjoyed every moment of observation, every noticeable difference in plumage or pattern, and every action no matter how erratic.

 

Around a quarter to three I ate the food I had brought with me, slower than usual; I got distracted a couple times by the appearance of another feathery diversion. I finished eating and had stowed my trash back in my bag before returning my focus, and binoculars, to the creatures that devoured my attention.

 

Shortly after I resumed my peaceful observations is when it happened; is when I felt it.

 

The feeling, that unnerving sensation people get for seemingly no reason. The feeling of being watched. This certainly wasn't the first time I've suffered this tingle, certainly not, but those instances were experienced at home and could be chalked up to an over-active imagination. I still could've, and did for a period, put the nervousness down as nothing more than paranoia or my mind playing games.

 

The period where I ignored the feeling lasted for maybe twenty minutes after I came to terms with its obvious intent to linger. But...the sensation didn't just linger. It...intensified. Like someone was trying to drill holes into me with their eyes, sizing me up and reading me like some checkout line magazine. The glare made my skin feel like it was covered in insects, crawling and walking with tiny legs over every inch. I wondered if this is what the birds I watched felt during my distant and focused viewings. This thought and the way my skin seemed to slither drove me to scour the area for the offender.

 

It took ten minutes to find the eyes that bore into me. I regret I ever did.

 

The source of my discomfort, of the stare which unnerved me and made my skin crawl, sat perched on a branch past the tree line on the other side of the clearing. The gaze didn't belong to a human, which would've justified my body's unconscious response. The attentions belonged to a bird of the likes I've never seen or even heard of.

 

The creature had a body reminiscent of a hawk with the broad head of an owl and talons slightly larger than the body would've suggested. The upper body had a mingling of deep brown and green feathers, while the underside possessed a creamy yellowish-white. The tail feathers differed from the rest of the form, each with a spiral of rust that snaked like a barber shop pole around the otherwise white plumes.

 

The feathers covering the animal's head shared the coloration as those of the upper body; a consistency broken by the greyish rings around the eyes, the speckling of white and red around the crown, and the black ring which ran around the head from the beak. The feathering, however, was not what troubled me about the bird's features. That feature would be the eyes.

 

Instead the eyes of a bird, the creature had the eyes of a man, whites and all. The juxtaposition shook me when I saw it. It still does. I had seen, examined, studied enough birds by then to know what I saw was wrong.

 

I took the binoculars away from my face and rubbed my eyes a bit; I assumed, hoped my eyes to be playing a trick on me. When I looked back through the binoculars, I realized they weren't

 

This...thing masquerading as a bird and I stared at each other for what felt like an hour, but couldn't have been more than twenty minutes. Neither of us moved an inch in that time. I ultimately broke our shared gaze and returned my attention to the birds in the clearing in hopes my paranoia would depart. After all, it was just a bird; its gaze couldn't be anything of serious concern. Or so I thought.

 

For maybe another fifteen minutes I stayed put and watched the smaller birds come and go, hop about, and eat. I thought the behavior peculiar considering the apparent predator that loomed nearby, almost like they didn't feel concerned by the odd creature. An odd creature whose eyes I still felt on me. I eventually looked back to the raptor and noticed it had moved a few trees closer.

 

This bothered me.

 

I did my best to ignore the irritant and to keep my eyes on the other birds, those feathery creatures who so delighted me. But, despite how hard I struggled to keep my eyes from wandering back, they returned to the creature. It had gotten closer.

 

With a start, I averted my attention again like the obstinate fool I am. Four minutes later my binoculars had returned to the feathered animal. The hawk creature had drawn even nearer.

 

Though nearly in a state of silent and hidden panic, I managed to pry my binoculars off the thing one last time. But, they ultimately returned. When they did, I saw the unnerving raptor had taken a perch on the edge of the clearing. Its unflinching gaze made my skin burn.

 

Call me weak, but I couldn't stomach the bird creature's attentions any longer and decided to return to the cabin.

 

What should've been simple became unduly complicated. I had to or felt I had to keep an eye on the alien critter as I retreated. So putting the binoculars away took a little time, as I slowly lowered them and slipped them into my bag. I didn't want to make any hasty movements with how closely I was watched. If I startled the bird-like entity, caused it to flap its wings and take to the sky, who knows when or where our next encounter would be.

 

To my luck, no reaction. The critter just...stayed there, staring. Continued to do so even as I shoved my notebook, which got stuck on something as I attempted to fit it away, into my bag and hoisted the sack over my shoulder. Then I backed away. Slowly. Almost a crawl, really. I didn't turn. I didn't twist. Not an inch. The bird didn't so much as ruffle a feather.

 

When I slipped behind a tree and out of sight of the animal, I took the only reasonable option available: I ran.

 

I had no idea what the creature's reaction would be to my ducking behind a tree, to the sudden loss of vision. The beast had offered no glimpse into its behavior, all it had done was stare and draw cautiously ever nearer. My mind ran wild. Would the bird draw closer, faster? Would the animal take to the sky and try to catch sight of me from above the canopy? I didn't want to think about it. I also didn't want to think about what the feathered entity would do were it to catch sight again.

 

I didn't encounter the creature, not even catch a glimpse of a plume that would so much as make me think of the thing on my run back to the cabin. I arrived at the lodge winded, tired, and with my innards all twisted up with unease. In my paranoia over a bird, I locked every door and window and closed the chimney flue. I didn't know if the critter could fit through the opening, but I had no interest in finding out.

 

I went to bed early that night.

 

 

I didn't manage to sleep through the night. A...weird noise disturbed me at an ungodly hour. Having barely just stirred, the noise was indecipherable; much like a bleat of a sheep or some other animalistic cry. It was loud, sudden, and, worst of all, close. Knocked me clean off my sleeping couch.

 

In a daze I stumbled around, eventually finding the light switch; would've taken longer had I not spent so much time at the cabin. The light offended my eyes, which were slow to adjust. They ached and burned, yearned to shut heavily and return me to the nightly realm. This suggestion would've won out, if not for the day's oddity and the paranoia which nested within me like a parasite. Because of that, I needed to know what made the noise.

 

But first, I had to regain enough sensibility to make sense of whatever I would see.

 

Sensibility came after I fetched, and drank the majority of, a glass of water. The odd noise, which continued unabated, started to sound more distinguishable as my senses returned. This clamor-- harsh, throaty, and gravelly-- took to sounding like words. Specifically, two words. Repeated over and over.

 

"Why hide." The noise or voice seemed to say. This shook me like the earlier encounter with the odd bird-thing at the clearing did, with its gaze brimming with unknown intent; I hoped the two were entirely unrelated.

 

After regaining my senses, I checked the doors leading outside; wanted to make sure they had all stayed locked. Didn't want whatever, or whoever was outside getting in. Once comfortable with my safety, I worked to determine where the cry came from. This...took longer than I'd like to admit. Minutes went by as I shuffled about, pausing near cracks and windows like my mind had left me. Ultimately, I traced the clamor to beyond a rear window on the right side of the room.

 

I crept up to the window, uncertain of what I would see. If not for the voice, I would've been able to swear a relative came by and decided to scare the wits from me. Could think of at least three who would do just that. Not knowing what to expect, I peeked out the window.

 

And saw nothing.

 

Foolish me, I had forgotten a very important detail despite the incendiary reminder: it was the middle of the night, deep in the forest. The light from the cabin only illuminated so much beyond the narrow window frame. The source of the noise didn't have the damn decency to be where it could be seen.

 

At least not until it, in a silence which went unnoticed, hurtled before the window and startled me. I fell, dragged myself back a few feet, then looked to the window. Consternation overtook me: the two things were not separate.

 

No, for now the feathered fiend from the clearing sat perched on the window sill, talons sunk into the wood. Its eyes seemed wider than they appeared back at the glade, but the fiery stare remained the same. Amidst the glare, the beast's head cocked in silence. For the moment anyway.

 

When the moment ended the bird-creature spoke those two words that had been banging their way into the cabin like a riotous drunk. "Why hide."

 

As the creature spoke, the beak parted. Then the top of the head tilted back, separating at the ring of black feathers that flanked the beak. Behind this gathering of feathers were teeth. Honest to goodness teeth, not the tomia of geese. The thing looked to have a small set of human choppers, if not for the odd barbs which ran from the frontal surface of the teeth down toward where the two rows split and pulled apart to speak its non-question.

 

The bird's...mouth, for a lack of a better word, closed after it spoke.

 

I didn't know how to react and remained on the ground in a state of mild disbelief at what I saw. I had my suspicions when I saw the creature earlier, but this was almost too much. Almost. Too much came a moment later. When the creature opened its mouth again.

 

Not a word came out this time, no. Just a tongue that the winged abomination pressed and pulled along the glass of the mirror. The tongue looked human but had two stripes running from front to back about an inch off the center, one on each side. Both stripes were white, bone-like in how they scraped across the glass and produced a high sound. This was more than enough for me.

 

I hurried to my feet, tripping over them a couple times before actually managing to get up, and set about packing as many of my things as I could. My mind raced; I panicked, not knowing what on earth presented itself to me. The thing was less bird, less...natural than I had thought. My stomach clenched hard as I scurried about the room, gathering all I could recall bringing.

 

Packed, I  killed  the lights and fled to my car. I fought myself, my desire to turn my head and look around to see if the bizarre beast had followed my rush. The SUV started without a fuss and I drove down the dirt road, half expecting the bird-creature to come at the vehicle like some errant bullet.

 

On my way to the paved road, the high beams ran over a dead deer with an odd growth; a feathery protrusion. A protrusion that lifted its bloodied head and looked at me with glistening eyes and a chunk of meat hanging from tilted head. I suppressed the urge to vomit. I refused to take a second look.

 

I returned to the city in one night of driving.

 

 

As I said: all this took place three years ago. I haven't returned to the cabin since. Some family members, Kathy and her parents included, have tried to coax me, but I would never budge. Eventually, they stopped asking. I never abandoned contact with them, I simply refused to go.

 

I also never told them what happened. I feared they would think I went mad. Insist I get therapy. I...regret now that I didn't speak a word to anyone.

 

By not returning to the cabin, I believed myself able to avoid the bizarre monstrosity. The present situation has proven my thinking flawed. Grossly, because now there is a siege in my apartment. One that drones in harsh, gravelly tones two words.

 

"Why hide."

 

It is chorus; where I had once thought the creature a sole anomaly, they have revealed themselves as horde. In the panic of my discovery, I had no time to determine their numbers, to do a proper count. I've withdrawn to the bathroom. I have had no success in contacting anyone, not Kathy or any other members of my family, not friends, not even the police. This damned old building buries the signal; I have no means to reach out. All I can do is record this message, this explanation. I have no means of escape.

 

Nor do I think I want to.

 

Their repetitive chant is right: why do I hide? I hid three years ago, ran from a troubling situation and sought to hide from it in the woods like some child in a spat with their parents. Attempting to hide, withdrawing hadn't resolved my issues. Lessened the pain in a few ways, similar to the healing of a shallow flesh wound, a scratch. But the trip hasn't done anything for the subconscious, for the pain that hides from sight; that hides deep within, just out of reach.

 

I turned aside help for that pain, from those nearest to me like they were tawdry gifts. I wish I could apologize to them now, especially Kathy, for being so damned obstinate. These fiendish birds, with their "why hide, why hide" have shown me my error. And, perhaps, I have misunderstood their purpose.

 

On and off for the last three years, I have engaged in research, seeking information of these creatures. The internet, local libraries, all very good sources of information proved useless; there existed not an iota of information in regards to these odd owl-hawks. Not in history. Not folklore or myth. Not in conspiracy. Not even in fiction.

 

Perhaps, I am to change that?

 

Even if I'm not, I won't cower anymore.

 

After all, why hide?

 

Why hide?


© 2017 JPDonelan



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Added on October 31, 2016
Last Updated on September 16, 2017
Tags: Fiction, Horror, Birds, Bird-Watching

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JPDonelan
JPDonelan

TX



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Currently working on a follow-up to "Tome of Reality." My stories tend to reach toward five thousand words, which can be made to look longer due to formatting. Feel free to leave a comment, ques.. more..

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