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By Davie Rolnick
"Khirrrr!" It was a fine spring day, and a large male Hairy Woodpecker was asserting his right to it. Dimly, Gaterier (which is what we're going to call the woodpecker, though he didn't really have a name, but it's a useful thing to have if you're a main character in a story -even a story that has sentences that ramble on like this one, but that's neither here nor there) could hear other woodpeckers calling out at intervals, like so many real estate agents bellowing out their wares to anyone they could pigeonhole, only here the real estate was occupied -by the woodpeckers, which is precisely the point -and there were no pigeons for miles.
However, there didn't seem to be any other Hairy woodpeckers on his turf, so Gaterier flapped off to another part of the small wood that was his range and landed on a tree which he had put down on his mental List Of Feeding Places To Try, though he couldn't at all remember now what it was that was so good about this tree that he had put it on the list. It was a terribly convoluted and twisty sort of tree, all gnarled and scraggly. It was an apple tree -the whole wood had once been an orchard and so there were apple trees dotted about it at frequent intervals -but there were no apples on the tree. This was not surprising in its way as it was spring, but it was quite apparent that even if it had been the height of the apple season, there would be no fruit on this tree. Still, he might as well have a go at it. If the tree wasn't productive, he could always hop over to a grove of maples he knew that always provided exquisite fare. Gaterier hammered at the tree, and discovered a magnificent beetle grub just inside the bark. Surprised, Gaterier ate the grub; and he might have wished he had peristalsis to help him get it down, if he had known about peristalsis, but he didn't, which was, perhaps, just as well, as he was quite contented with his lot anyway, thank you very much; and knowing about peristalsis, which he didn't have, might have interfered with that.
Gaterier then thought for a bit as to what to do next, absently giving out "Khirrrr"s every so often. However, he was interrupted in his meditations by a slight motion about twenty feet away. A creature with eyes protruding six inches out of its head was staring at him. It had its front limbs holding its eyes as if they would falloff otherwise and it supported itself on its back limbs like a bird. It was mucu, much larger than any bird Gaterier had ever seen ) however, and it had no feathers on the tips of its wings or its face, though otherwise it was the model of good plumage with lovely bright green secondaries, tertiaries, scapulars, mantle, and greater, median, and primary coverts. Its crown and nape were red, and it had blue feathers on its exceedingly long legs.
As Gaterier watched, another creature stepped from behind a dense hawthorn thicket. This creature was the same size and shape and patterning as the first only it had ordinary-sized eyes and its wing tips were stuck to something large and black. This new being was plumed in brown. As it emerged from the shelter of the hawthorns, it raised the large black thing to its eyes, and Gaterier realized that the other animal probably had detachable eye-extenders too, though what they were for, Gaterier could not guess. Then, behind the two whatever-they-weres, there was another movement, and a Cape May Warbler, a properly proportioned bird, hopped onto a branch just above the hawthorns with a little "ti". The whatchamacallits immediately turned round at the noise, but, instead of leaping at it and devouring it, they stayed a good ten feet away, making ridiculous "pish-pish-pish" noises.
Gaterier got a bit annoyed. Whatever these creatures were, they had no right disturbing him when he was thinking. He flew off -and the Cape May Warbler, startled, flew off too, leaving the birders, for that was what they were, disappointed but joyful as well.
Gaterier alighted on a big, crooked Red Oak that marked the end of the wood if you were going towards the oak from the part of the forest where Gaterier was coming. On the other hand, it showed, the start of the wood if you were coming from the opposite direction -which involved cutting through a wide meadow full of Ox eye Daisies and then crossing a large stream, where Ebony Jewelwings flickered and twinkled and the gurgle of running water mixed with the calls of the Belted Kingfishers. The oak was also Gaterier's favorite drumming tree, and it was for that purpose that he had come to it now. He made his way to his usual spot on the trunk and began. After a couple of hours, Gaterier halted. He was tired, and it was too dark for his liking. Gaterier flapped off to his regular sleeping tree, as the day (and the story) ended.
Chapter 10 -The Worm-eater and The Dead Worms
By Davie Rolnick
Mafellion burrowed frenziedly through the soil around his hut -through masses of dead worms, millipedes, and big black ground beetles just like himself - nothing! (Mafellion didn't like the taste of dead worms - or at least ones that had been dead for more than a few hours.) He'd try the clearing around his first hut - maybe there was a sort of exotic worm disease around this one. Mafellion made his way back to the surface and flew to the clearing - still nothing but dead worms! He'd try the airport.
Mafellion touched down on Runway 5, just seconds after a large crop-dusting plane. There were two men in the plane - one of whom, the pilot, stayed in the plane and fiddled with the gas gauge, muttering to himself; while the other got out of the plane and started chatting to the airport manager - who was standing just outside Terminal 4. "Yep, every field in the county has been sprayed with Purple Loostrife-remover! The best stuff in the world - that stuff is! Kills off every single Loostrife that it comes in contact with! Surely, with this new spray, we can kill the whole loostrife population of America!" "I quite agree, Bob. But how many times do I have to tell you - don't call me Shirley!", replied the airport manager.
Meanwhile, Mafellion had made his way onto a sort of grassy strip between two runways (Runway 5 and Runway 5 1/2) and now started burrowing again; and, miracle of miracles, a huge whopper of a worm presented itself right at his very jaws! Mafellion lost no time in gobbling the slimy annelid up and, thanking his lucky stars, Alpha Centauri in particular - it was one of his favorites, made his way back to the surface.
Whoosh! A gust of air shot into his face, knocking him headlong into a piece of quartz, as the crop-dusting plane took off again on Runway 5 1/2. Just as Mafellion was about to rise from his recumbent position next to the piece of quartz (which happened to be of a rarish nature and quite valuable), he happened to glance up at the sky and, with a jangling of his good old warning bells, noted a robin shooting down toward him with the speed of, say, a diving robin. Mafellion immediately darted into his hole and hid behind a clump of dandelion roots. There, he watched in astonishment as the robin, never wavering in its dive, smacked the ground and lay there, stone dead!
Mafellion didn't like this at all, however much the lack of a predator pleased him. This was beyond survival of the fittest; this was downright spooky. And, as he was not particularly fond of spooky places, Mafellion decided to leave. But how could this be done, and where could he go?
Mafellion decided to leave it to fate, and so, hoping that that good deity would be at her office and readily available, he set off into the air. However, he had not gone more than a few feet away from the runway part of the airport and was just crossing the terminal section (in both senses) of that great edifice, when a hungry and quite alive Bewick's Wren spotted him. Mafellion darted down again and knocked into a match which a portly man in gray suspenders was just lighting, transferring it from the suspender man's hand to the concrete beneath his hand, where it bounced away for about twenty feet (I know this is exceedingly unlikely) and then came to rest by a pile of spray cans marked "Purple Loostrife Remover brand XC7792 - Caution: extremely flammable!". Unfortunately, one of the cans had recently tipped over and opened in a strong gust of wind, and so now, the concrete all around the pile was covered with loostrife remover, which everyone had been too busy to clear up...
There was a bang, and the "Purple Loostrife Remover brand XC7792" spray cans disappeared in a wave of violet flame!
Mafellion picked himself up, and was trying to dodge the running feet all around him and a large hose thoughtfully provided by the fire department, when he dropped unexpectedly into a large hole in the asphalt. It was a signpost hole, and the hole was filled with sticky stuff to stick the signpost down. Mafellion suddenly found himself in danger of being permanently fixed to the asphalt. He tried desperately to free himself -without success. But just as he was about to give up, salvation came! The large hose was turned on and several gallons of water splashed into Mafellion's hole, washing the sticky stuff (and Mafellion) away. Mafellion tried to swim to safety, but fate was before him. The gas outlet to terminal 3 exploded, blowing up the whole gas main in the process and shooting Mafellion 50 feet into the air, where, due a little mistake in the providential calculations, he hit a tree branch and fell back down again.
Mafellion landed on the roof of a little shack that was used to store grass seed for the airport lawns. There he waited until his wings were dry, then took off over the terminals and the rapidly growing fire. Avoiding a large green dragonfly, he marked his course for a field about a mile away and that was filled with some bright red substance, the nature of which he did not know, but which looked very enticing. As he drew closer, the red stuff revealed itself to be the seed part of a sort of grass, which carpeted the ground so thickly that only in the few places not covered in grass was there no grass. As Mafellion drew over it, a Short-tailed Hawk drew over it on the other side; and, at once the field exploded as several thousand European Starlings, which had been foraging on the ground, burst up from it.
Mafellion dropped down, anxious to avoid the flock, but about a hundred stragglers took off at that moment and enveloped him. Mafellion found himself on the back of a large starling, but before he could disentangle himself from its carefully preened feathers, the starling suddenly discovered that it had eaten some Purple Loostrife Remover brand XC7792 and promptly died, nose-diving neatly and depositing Mafellion in a large lake. Mafellion rose to the surface and paddled slowly to shore, or rather to a large, oddly shaped rock that lay close to it. He hauled himself up and dropped abruptly into a sort of cavity in its center -a large cavity; a very large cavity; a very, very large cavity. Suddenly, there was a deafening noise and the rock set off across the water, for the "rock" was a boat with a loud outboard motor and a roomy interior - and a thief who had just committed a sensational robbery in a neighboring city and was now escaping with his loot!
Mafellion picked himself up and, in answer to his warning bells, which had already detected the thief, scuttled quickly over to the nearest shelter, which happened to the bag of loot, and slipped into it, where he landed with a clunk on a silver plate. The thief, startled, looked around, but, failing to see anything, turned back to his steering and just managed to turn the boat away from the bank before it ran aground, though a tree branch managed to snag his hat in passing. The thief uttered a curse and veered out of the lake and into a river draining out of it.
Mafellion peeped cautiously out of the bag of loot, ready to dive back in if the thief should fly at him (which was exceedingly unlikely, as the thief was a human and, therefore, disgustingly unaware, uncaring, and revolted by anything that we, in our profound wisdom, view as lower down the evolutionary ladder). Even if he hadn't been a human, it was taking all the thief's exertions to weave the craft around banks of sand and branches and things, which the river was positively littered with to such an extent that it was as if the obstacles had been placed there deliberately by the police. After about 45 minutes of this, the river suddenly opened out into a great expanse of water. It was the Gulf of Mexico, and the thief zoomed into it.
Mafellion began to enjoy the trip. After all, he had wanted to get away from Florida, and here he was being taken away without his even having to exert himself by flying. The only drawback to the voyage was that he was beginning to get hungry, and Mafellion had a shrewd idea that this wasn't the most likely place for worms (alive or even dead) to sojourn in. In an hour this hunger became so intense that Mafellion decided just to abandon the boat and get a worm or some other viand to appease his hunger. But before he could even open his elytra, a heavy hand picked up the bag of loot by the top and squeezed it shut, for the thief had just realized the hazard of sailing in Police Cruiser territory with an open bag of loot in full sight on the starboard quarter. He therefore fastened the bag and stashed it, out of sight, in a large, closed, metal compartment of the cockpit, then went back to his steering, leaving Mafellion trapped!
Mafellion at once set to work biting through the bag that enveloped him. When he had finished, he crawled out and dropped to the floor. The compartment was completely dark except for a crack of light showing where the closed door was, but the crack was much too small even for Mafellion. Therefore, Mafellion set about exploring the rest of the compartment by feel. This was a difficult task for a creature the size of Mafellion, and it took him over an hour, during which Mafellion found nothing helpful except a large and luckily non-venomous spider, which satisfied his hunger, though tasted absolutely disgusting. Undaunted, Mafellion went round the compartment another time...and another. On the fourth time round, just as Mafellion was abandoning himself to death, he happened to find a tiny pebble and an idea flashed into his head. He made his way over to the metal door of the compartment and began chipping away at the crack at the edge of it with the pebble, holding the pebble in his jaws. After about 45 minutes, the hole was nearly large enough to admit Mafellion, and he was already admitting victory over the door, when, suddenly, the pebble slipped and fell through the hole in the door!
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