by Perry McDaid
Hoarse semi-automatic reports break the silence following the dawn barrage, slicing through the icy mustiness of morning drizzle; covering fire for the 08:22 assault. A staggered flapping is the only betrayal of our methodical leapfrog advance; all weather uniforms the most basic of camouflage: light and shade. The only concession to the high-collared homogeneity is the differentiation between the sexes, a diversity of iridescence of the starchy prominence, in itself a glittering distraction from the whole; augmenting rather than detracting from the essence of invisibility.
We glide over the uneven marshy terrain and the flimsy security fence to land on target, my mate and I ideally placed to achieved the set objectives, the rest of the squad either flanking or on point. Only one dropped back to the fence as rearguard, keeping an eye on the most likely approach on our position. It’s a dead end, ‘evac-wise’ for those constrained to conventional transport. It might as well be open country for us.
We make little noise bounding over the rooftops to perch precariously on the chimney stacks to get a better view of the gardens and street below, dismissive of the pungent reek of silage carried by mischievous gusts of wind from the barns of a near distant farm. The pressure change of the impending thunderstorm is all but dismissed. It’s an hour away at least. However, considering the proximity of our location to the sea, I realize that the squall is likely to have noisier heralds whose arrival would jeopardize the secrecy of our mission.
I bark a command, and one of the flanking posts hops slightly out of position to keep an eye out for unwelcome guests. Three more staccato bursts of birdcall are released into the air, slipping between the molecules of the silence, reaching the required ears without disturbing the overall stillness.
The sounds from within indicate impeccable timing on our part. It won’t be long before the child exits to make her way to her school. We forage there on a regular basis when the coast is clear. The thought of the coast steers me back to the expected invasion of seagulls. Move. We swoop down from our positions, generally as one, a brace of lookouts hanging back as long as possible to ensure the safety of the troop. I spot the blinds on the target window twitch and vent a frantic chattering, which is acknowledged by mocking responses by those too young to appreciate the importance of the objectives.
The blinds snap open just as the stragglers flit to the landing zone, a parking space in direct line of sight. The face at the window beams with delight, my sharp vision picking out the nuances of expression on the face of the middle-aged man. Dead-faced at first, I note his eyes starting to gleam as he begins his count.
Another flick of the tail from me and the dance begins. We mill and muster, flapping high and hopping low to confuse his reckoning. The most he might count is eleven. We still have our rearguard posted at the security fencing. She will remain silent until some human vehicle or avian intruder appears.
We’re not particularly fussed about the latter. Ooops, missed a hop and a flap there. No, we are the orca of the skies. We bring order to crumb-squabbles. We are organizers. We fear none but the raptors. The man is still smiling at our antics. That’s good.
The door cracks. Target two, the child, emerges. Furry hood up and head down, in no mood to be entertained, she trudges speedily across the road towards us without looking. A reassuring “Ak, ak!” from the lookout short-circuits any anxiety on our behalf.
She tramps on, the stench of anger from her almost choking us in its intensity. It doesn’t matter whether it is directed at us or not, humans tend to be indiscriminately spiteful whatever the season. I issue the order to withdraw, scramble, and we’re up and evacuating to base camp. A few old hands pause briefly on the rooftops to hear the man’s greeting as he clumsily pushes open the window, careful not to disturb the crib.
“Hello, magpies,” he greets us through melancholia. “Great to see you again.”
“All for that?” the rearguard crackles from the safety of the security fence.
I have lived longer, been shot at by farmers, perched on chimney pots and listened to tears. We lift and launch ourselves, gliding back over the fence towards the tree-line, sweeping the rearguard in our wake.
“We’re birds,” I rattle. “We nurture fledglings, child and writer alike.”
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Irish writer, Perry McDaid, lives in Derry under the brooding brows of Donegal hills which he occasionally hikes in search of druidic inspiration. His diverse creative writing appears internationally in the like of Aurora Wolf; Quantum; Runtzine; Amsterdam Quarterly; Whitesboro; Bewildering Stories; Flash Fiction Magazine; Bunbury and others. And of course here at Flash Fiction Press.