Saugus.net

Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2006
Adult Winners

Third Place



Our third place Adult winner is Colin M. Maguire of Federal Way, Washington. Colin is currently going to school for graphic design. He has written three horror screenplays and three one-act plays. This is his first short story to be published.




Ostrich Night

by
Colin M. Maguire

Earl knew immediately that something was wrong. He pulled his hand away quickly, felt an awful, cold chill run through his spine. Bleeding, he thought. Dear God, I'm bleeding.

Driblets of blood trickled down his palm. He furrowed his brow and looked up angrily at the ostrich that had snapped at him. Pure contentedness smacked across its joyous mug. To Earl it almost seemed to be smiling.

Goddamn Leroy.

Of course it was Leroy! One-eyed sonofabitch had always been trouble. Earl made eye contact with the fowl's good eye, held it for a second -- smarmy look of self-satisfaction blaring at him-- then slammed the ostrich's face with a bloodied fist.

The ostrich reeled, its neck flailing awkwardly. Stumbling sideways, the enormous bird wobbled on its bad leg and tripped. Leroy toppled over with a loud thud. Earl moved over to the disabled bird and kicked dirt directly into his face.

"You think -- you know who's boss around here? Maybe you need to be reminded..!" The old ostrich farmer blasted the downed fowl again in the face with a boot-full of dirt. "I'm the boss around this farm!" Earl attempted to send another kick of dirt at the ostrich, but Leroy dodged the attack and venomously nabbed the farmer's elderly ankle in his beak.

Earl was shocked at the power of the bite. Mother was strong! He tried to pull away, but Leroy held him fast. High-water pants revealed his skinny little leg, armored only with a tissue-like gray sock. The farmer could actually feel the ostrich grating its bill back and forth, tearing into his thin flesh like a dull knife..! "Goddammit!!"

Blood began to seep from his puny little ankle, and Earl had to make an effort to pull away from the bird's angry clamp. He couldn't let this go any further. Earl swung his leg back and laid the ostrich square in the chops with his boot. The large bird honked furiously and quickly rose to confront Earl. It stood defiantly, breathing hard and glowering. This caused Earl to turn bright red. He snagged the fallen feeding pail and swung it mightily upside Leroy's head.

The challenging ostrich let out a surprised wail, wobbled drunkenly for a couple of steps... then fell over onto his side with a whump. A cloud of dust billowed, then settled -- slowly settling around Leroy' his beak hung open as if stifled in mid cry. The gigantic bird's good leg kicked momentarily, and then fell still.

Leroy... was completely dead.

Earl's chest expanded and contrasted from his anger and exertion. His hands were shaking horribly and tears streamed down his face. He stared at Leroy's still body. The one dead, black and orange eyeball glared at him accusingly. Blood oozed from the ostrich's head. Earl began to catch his breath and straightened himself out. Looking up, he gasped.

The entire flock was watching him. The entire flock.

All of them -- seemingly aware of what had just transpired. It seemed as if they actually understood... understood that their Alpha ostrich was dead, and that Farmer Earl had been the culprit. They sneered at him, pure hatred pulsating from their livid ostrich eyes.

No. Couldn't be. They didn't understand..! Ostriches were dumb birds.

Incredibly stupid animals. Dumber than chickens, almost..!

Earl swung the pail viciously at the gathering. "You all want some of this?! I'll beat the goddamn hell out each and every one of ya!!"

He could care less even if he did have to beat them all to death. Most of them could be sold as steaks or jerky. Purses or shoes. He didn't need to keep more than a couple alive for eggs and plumage. Earl wasn't scared by their formation in the slightest. He trumped right over to them and swung the pail back and forth in a display of power. The large ostriches backed off and disbanded, getting back to pecking at gravel and standing around nursing boredom.

Farmer Earl didn't notice their angry eyes sizing him up as he drug Leroy's carcass off to the barn by the neck.

***

Earl sat down in front of his 12-inch black and white and took a large swig of sour mash. He'd been shaken up the entire day. It had been hours, now, since the incident with his prized bird. He'd gone about his daily chores, gathering the eggs and filling out forms. He'd sent out orders, unable to speak with anyone in town. Earl felt saddened and ashamed by his fight with Leroy. Several times he had gone out to the barn to cut that ostrich into steaks -- but he just couldn't bring himself to do it.

Earlier he'd been to the post office, and on the dusty ride home Earl decided that the only way to ease his guilt was to bury the bird properly. By God -- he'd had that bird forever; taken boas and boas-worth of valued plumes from him. Leroy had always had the most magnificent feathers! Numerous dollars had come from that trophy bird - there was no way he could simply cut him up and sell him to strangers..!

No, no. Despite Leroy's off-colored behavior over the past few years, he had been a good and decent bird. Earl rose and refilled his glass. The wind was picking up outside, and he could tell that a terrible storm was in the works. Thunder clapped, moving nearer. Earl took a sip and walked over to the sliding glass doors to the porch. He could see the distant lightning through the chiffon curtains.

Moving over to the doors, he pulled the curtains aside. With a frightened shock, he jumped. Earl stepped back from the window for a moment and shook his head. Every one of his birds was standing beneath the front tree, just staring directly at him with abhorrence. For a moment, he felt he was a prisoner in Korea again... could swear he saw the uniforms... the shadows of the dead coming towards him. He forced himself back to the sliding glass and peered out again.

The big dumb birds stood gathered under the wide tree gawkishly; seeking cover from the approaching storm. The stupid expressions on their faces caused Earl to sigh and relax... they were looking anywhere but at him. Earl snorted. Dumb birds. Big, dumb birds. Earl took a drink and looked off to the large mound of dirt by the barn.

He had dug Leroy an admirable grave back behind the barn earlier and then regretfully lowered the dead ostrich into it. He'd sobbed quietly, as though he were losing a loved one... even as the one eye stared up at him from the accumulating dirt, he sobbed. He finished shoveling, patted the mound and blew his nose... he had lost a dear friend today.

Since then, there had been a certain grime that Earl just couldn't wash away -- a lump in his throat that he couldn't quite dislodge...

He kept telling himself that it had been an accident... but that didn't help much. Blame came down to him, and he knew it. Him, his anger, and the blow by the pail -- and those were the facts. He and ol' Leroy had been fighting for what seemed like forever. However, there was only the one other time that the two of them had wrestled so badly that there had been injuries -- but that was several years ago.

The guilt from that incident had taken an age to mend. The two of them had never properly healed from it; had never quite gotten along as well. Before then, though... before then they had both been the best of buds. It had been a sad fracture.

Earl tossed back another glass of his mash, refilled, and plunked down in front of the tube again. He wiped the grease from his face. Dang bird. Dang bird. Dang bird had known about the steaks since he was young -- when he first figured out that Earl had minced his mother into tasty meats. Leroy had always been fond of his mother.

When Earl had come out of the barn that awful day -- Leroy had been there. Right outside the barn door. Waiting. Knowing. It was if he had suspected Farmer Earl and then had actually waited outside the barn door to confirm his suspicions.

And Leroy's suspicions were correct..!

As Farmer Earl carried the buckets of choice cuts... there stood ol' Leroy, with his beak agape with shock. He knew. The dang bird knew that Earl had cut his momma up! Things for Leroy -- his place and safety... his trust and affection for the farm and toward the farmer -- would never be the same. The ostrich avoided Farmer Earl for days on end. Always standing back from the feed in the morning -- he surveyed Earl and assessed the truth of the ostriches' lives on the farm.

After three days of this awful brooding, Leroy had decided to make his way over to Farmer Earl and make peace. Earl was busy -- prepping up the morning seed. Leroy's long neck hung low, and he slumped up against the boss. Earl -- loving Leroy deeply, and deeply sorry for his actions -- patted Leroy on the head and gave him some reassuring strokes... like in the old days. "I know you're hurting," Earl whispered to him, "I am so sorry I cut up your Momma -- I just didn't think."

Suddenly, though -- rage infused Leroy's blood... and he began to snap furiously at Farmer Earl... biting viciously at his face. He nipped at the man's nose and lips... and as Earl raised a hand to cover his features -- the large bird began to bite at Earl's fingers as well... until blood began to flow. And that was that.

Earl lost his temper to the point beyond reason. He began to pummel the ostrich with both of his fists; swearing as his skin turned red. He beat the bird furiously along the head and neck, and then began to chase after him. Leroy honked distressingly -- searching from end to end of the farm for a place to hide. But Farmer Earl was right behind him wherever he looked, wherever he ran... and he eventually cornered the large fowl in the very barn where his mother had been diced just days before.

Farmer Earl was shaking with rage as he approached the bird. He was barreled over, breathing feverishly. His hands were clasping and unclasping; his teeth clenched together with spit flying from his mouth. Leroy stood poised -- his wings spread defensively.

The ostrich bellowed a frightening whoop at the farmer, and threw his leg out in a mighty kick... but Earl had anticipated this, and grabbed hold of his leg in mid air -- tossing the gigantic bird onto his side. With a cruel and calculated twist, Earl forced the leg sideways until it snapped. Leroy gasped in pain. He began flapping his wings angrily, cutting at Farmer Earl's face and arms with the lethal red spurs underneath. Earl whacked the hooked wings aside with annoyance, his blood from the cuts soaking the two of them. The ostrich whooped and flapped and clawed, and so did Earl. Earl climbed quickly on top of the ostrich and reached past the clawed wings - taking Leroy's skull angrily into his shaking hands. The two of them locked eyes -- both bursting with the emotion of the moment. Leroy hissed with insolence.

Farmer Earl glared coldly into Leroy's dark orbs, and then slowly began to push a thumb into the ostrich's left eyeball. The bird could feel the pressure increasing, and fought as wildly as he could, but Farmer Earl had him pinned tightly. The bird wailed out for mercy, but found none... Earl's thumb pressed harder and harder into his eye -- gouging it completely out of its socket with a pop.

The bird howled out in pain.

Earl pushed the ostrich hard against the wall and rose to his feet. Leroy lay there trembling in shock and disbelief; blood trickling down his bill and neck. Earl spat at him, nailing him right in the face.

"That what you want, you miserable bird," he growled, "That is what you will get. Don't you ever... ever try that again!! I'll kill ye the next time..!"

Earl threw the orange eyeball right in the ostrich's face. It smacked him directly on the cheek and slowly slithered down the length of his neck. Leroy let out a surrendering, pitiful little honk, and with that Farmer Earl turned his back and fumed off, leaving his prized bird to reassess his position on the farm.

Naturally, Leroy had become rather compliant since that dreadful event so long ago. Oh, there had been the hateful glares from time to time -- and an occasional nip or two... but for the most part Earl had only to raise his palm to quiet Leroy down.

Like Farmer Earl had guessed, a lost eye was a strong reminder of rank and discipline. The bird had never forgotten his lesson... had never forgiven Earl for it, either, he guessed. The two of them had never been close again like they had before. Leroy would no longer follow him around fondly like he used to; would no longer play little jokes with him. And certainly the petting sessions had ended. From that point on there was always a bottomless gap between them, and although Farmer Earl had tried futilely to fill the gap -- the ostrich begrudged him his outburst for the rest of his years.

And years it had been.

"God, that was years ago," Earl said into his whiskey. He set the glass down and let his head drop to his chest, the sound of the television buzzing him to sleep. His dreams were a mélange of shovels and ostrich faces, barns and blood. Old feelings of lost friendship rose to the surface and caused him to twitch and whine. In his sleep Earl was able to see himself sitting on the porch steps with a wee-sized Leroy nuzzling up against him. Never had he had a bird so bright... gotten so chummy and close. Oh, this one was special, alright. He would play games and little tricks, always a fond, clever gleam in his eye. "The two of us is friends," Earl thought, "we're friends..!"

In his dreams he was able to pet little Leroy once again. His dream-self felt an ache toward the chick that he didn't quite comprehend. The bird began to ascend the steps loudly -- looking at him directly... almost accusingly. "I... I'm sorry, buddy," Earl told him sadly, though he wasn't sure why. The bird froze on the one step, still staring at him intently. Earl felt a knot in his throat getting jammed. Little Leroy stared at him, then slowly, loudly, rose up another step. The board creaked under the chick's enormous weight. The clever gleam in the young bird's eye began to glow red, then flow out of the eye like blood as the orb began to shrivel. Farmer Earl craned his neck as the chick ascended the final step onto the porch, noisily straining the weathered boards with its mass...

With its tiny little mass...

"Wait a minute..!" Earl thought, and then bolstered himself awake. His eyes shot open with immediate sobriety. His ears keened to any suspicious sounds. He registered the wind... and the thunder outside... and the rain. His years in Korea had ingrained reflexes that he was still able to facilitate... kids from town getting drunk and coming out here for an ostrich ride -- he would sleep with a cat-like readiness on weekends with a shotgun across his lap. Earl listened for the thunder, listened for the rain. And then...

Creak.

One of those goddamn birds was on the porch!!

Earl booked to the doorway and whipped the curtains aside. He gasped sharply.

Not only one -- but three were on the porch. A fourth was stepping up, its venomous eyes locked directly on Farmer Earl. Earl looked at each ostrich -- the same angry glare met him from every bird... and behind them -- even more. Earl stepped back from the sliding door, reaching behind him. A lamp, the phone... anything to protect himself. He looked up, gauging the distance between himself and the door to his wife's old sewing room -- now a junk room filled with everything useless that he just couldn't part with.

In that room lay his salvation. His rifle collection and ammunition collected in an old cherry wood cabinet his father had built. Earl had had this collection for decades.

An enormous foot crashed through the glass door. The storm howled outside. The drapes blew. Earl lost his breath as the first ostrich determinedly crept in. He swallowed hard and bolted for the sewing room.

The enormous ostrich whooped loudly and moved quickly toward the farmer. Glass crunched under its weight. Earl could feel the thumps on the floorboards coming rapidly up behind him. He moved as fast as he possibly could. His steady hand wrapped around the knob, turning it. In a second he was behind the door and slamming it shut. He flicked the lock. The bird slammed against the door. Earl could feel the entire room shudder. The bird backed up and lunged again. Earl wiped at his mouth... his hand was beginning to shake. Just a bit... just enough to motivate him.

Earl moved toward his gun cabinet, but snagged himself on the chair in front of his deceased wife's sewing machine. He cussed and moved around the plethora of boxes to the gun case.

He got to the cabinet and rapped the front drawer twice. Out it popped, and Earl's now rather shaky fingers found and nabbed the secret key inside. The door slammed hard again, shaking the room. Earl looked up to the door. It was now deeply split down the middle. He could hear the bird backing up, preparing to charge again. He would have to make this quick. He could show absolutely no mercy. Earl turned, key in hand, to the gun case. Lightning flashed, and Farmer Earl saw three silhouetted ostrich heads outside the spare room's window. The beaks open and angry -- lightning burst again, and Earl saw an undeniable evil reflected in their eyes.

Earl took a step back, crossing himself. A box full of old tax returns caught him from behind, and he fumbled backwards. The key went soaring. The door crashed inward, and the ostrich's foot came bursting in. The livid face swooped to look in, and the gigantic bird zeroed in directly on the fallen farmer. Earl growled, baring his teeth at the bird, and flipped himself over and crawled on his withered hands and rickety knees to the gun case. He had heard whereabouts the key had landed... and began to feel for it. Goddamn carpet was crusty with age. He hadn't found need to come in here much since his wife had died so many moons ago. Except to retrieve various shotguns for the weekend drunks, he had no business among his wife's old doings. He made note that when he was done killing each of these birds and getting some milking cows to replace them -- he was going to clean the living hell out of this room and make a nice little parlor for himself. Bookcase, nice chair. A record player. Maybe pull his old pipes out.

This made him all the more dogged, and finding the key, he snagged it. Earl rose with quick resolve. Fast, now, fast. Key in lock, turn -- gun in hand, load shells... BAM!!

Farmer Earl went flying backward into the cabinet. His right arm went crashing through the display window, and BAM!! -- with another hard kick, Earl and the display case went tipping over. Earl bounced with the drop - glass gouging his arm. He could feel a couple of his tiny ribs break. The enormous fowl stood triumphantly above him; surveying him. The three or four birds outside whooped with appreciation. The bird fanned out its wings. It hissed as it began raising its muscular leg. Earl lifted the shotgun with a sturdy left arm and blew the ostrich's head clean off

As the body collapsed, Earl lifted himself with as much dignity as he could muster. The shadows of the ostriches outside fell over him as the lightning ruptured behind them. Earl, blood dripping from his mouth, looked at them meanly. The three of them were agape at the sudden loss of their hero. Earl dug around in the tipped cabinet, cutting himself on the shards of glass, until he found a box of shells. He kept his gaze directly on them as he silently reloaded the gun, and they began to slowly hiss at him in unison. He flipped the barrel up, aimed with his left arm... and fired.

The window exploded and blood and beaks flew everywhere. There were loud honks from a few birds that the shells had missed. Earl could hear the heavy splats as they ran amuck in the rain. They were whooping loudly, as if they were sending word along. Earl rose, steadying himself on the shotgun. His broken ribs dug deeper into his lung and he spat up more blood. His entire body was shaking. His left leg had gotten hurt badly somewhere in the chaos -- and was bleeding heavily. Earl felt down there, and a knob of bone jutted out to meet his touch. He stood there for a moment, catching his breath; collecting himself. The rain spraying in through the destroyed window stung at his face, refreshing him.

Hang in there.

Farmer Earl decided that he would call the police. He had an emergency -- and he seriously doubted if he could take on several more attacks like this. Ostriches were damn strong birds -- and these ones were insane with murder. He knew he would die if he had to confront many more. Call the cops, hide in the bedroom with the gun... and wait. It would take fifteen minutes at most -- and if it got too intense he could always scream like a devil to try to ward them off. Goddamn birds. Goddamn stupid birds. He regretted every minute with them, suddenly... and had an abrupt, painful longing for twenty years past when he and his wife were still in their fifties. It had been pigs and chickens in those days, and the two of them had been rich in their company together, rich on their farm.

He stepped over the ostrich carcass and had to push the body away from the door with the gun. He hobbled. The heavy body slid with great reluctance. Farmer Earl spat thick crimson onto the floor and reloaded the gun. He peered out the giant hole in the door. The house was entirely quiet except for the storm blowing through the sliding glass door -- now annihilated. He slowly, slowly opened the door and stepped out.

Earl propped the shotgun up on his mangled right arm. His entire sleeve was coated in blood. His breathing was rattled, but he felt a surge of bravery soaring through him, keeping him steady. He limped slowly to the end table by his chair. Earl eased down the gun and picked up the telephone there. There was no tone. He moved his hand to the lamp and flicked the switch... nothing. The storm had knocked the electricity out.

"Damn."

Earl would have to barricade himself until the power came back. The bedroom would be his best bet. He could move furniture up against the doorway and access the phone jack in there. That meant he would have to wrangle the telephone in there with him. Earl took the chord and followed it down to the wall. He unhooked it and then, gun in his good hand and the phone dangling from his bad one, began to limp feebly to the bedroom.

From out of the darkness of the kitchen a young bird came running. It raced, leaned forward, and tackled Farmer Earl from behind. The old man went soaring down the hall, the gun and phone spilling in front of him. Blood exploded from his mouth as his ribs managed to plunge more vitals. Earl made no sound. He was determined not to. He moved quickly onto his hands and knees, reaching for the discarded weapon, but the bird thundered over to him and crashed his left leg with one stomp. Earl tried not to cry out -- but he couldn't help it. He bawled. The young ostrich stepped back and beamed.

Farmer Earl was finally going to get it.

Earl sat up, his teary face was turning bright red with anger.. The ostrich honked in surprise as the telephone came flying at him. It ducked as the phone managed to miss its head, and flip over its neck. Earl grunted and strained forward to nab the body of the phone once more. He flipped it back over the ostrich's neck again, creating a noose. Earl pulled on the cord until it had wound itself tightly around the young buck's collar.

The phone drooped from the ostrich's neck. The bird gasped for air, and finding none, began to pull backward. Earl slid alongside the bird into the living room. The ostrich halted, turned, and moving back to him - began to kick and flap in distress. Farmer Earl yelped in pain and swiftly crawled away. Every part of his body felt pummeled. He noticed the blood coating his arms and hands as he drug himself away. He heard the bird sit down hard behind him and struggle for its last gasps of breath.

Earl lugged himself into the kitchen, and from the shadows he watched as the young ostrich died. Farmer Earl chuckled with mild relief, and then slowly began to snigger at his own situation. His entire body was shot... he was completely broken.

Earl struggled to reach up onto the kitchen counter. Raising himself up to the sink, he poured a glass of water. As he drank, he watched shadows run past against the backdrop of a rainstorm. But it wasn't raining anymore... the clouds had parted, and the full moon was shining through a spectacular clearing. Earl was taken back. This might be the last time he'd see the moon at all. He felt the momentum of this viewing move through him. He could indeed be dying, he could indeed get killed.

He must not let this happen.

Earl's fingers found the knife rack and pulled them to him. He scooped it up in his arms and slid moistly down to the linoleum. His good hand wrapped instinctively around the knife handle. His hand was completely steady. Survival was in his blood.

Just this, Earl thought. I can get you with just this.

Earl's jagged breathing was moist with speckles of blood. The aches began to ripen; the broken bones jabbed deeply. His eyelids exceedingly heavy, Earl permitted himself to lie down and close his eyes. As long as he listened closely. As long as he listened. He heard a solitary ostrich creeping up onto the steps, and was calm. The footfalls moved slowly and precisely along the length of the deck. The heavy toe crushed the broken glass into the wet carpet as it entered. The ostrich was breathing gravelly in the adjacent room, and Earl could detect its exact position. In moments it would be on him.

Earl readily opened his eyes. He felt sharper and more rested. The knife in his hand at the ready... the bird's enormous frame came slowly into view.

"Oh, Lord, no -- it can't be..."

The glint from the one eye was unmistakable...

It was Leroy.

THE END.





Continue to the 2nd place story




[home] [up]
Copyright © 2006 Saugus.net & Colin M. Maguire;
See original rules for an explanation