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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #385
Colonel Sanders' Worst Nightmare
David Gunn

It started with just one bird--a stygian warbler, that most ominous forecaster of calamity. It alighted on the lamppost just outside my window, staring at me. I tried to avert my eyes, but the bird's will was too compelling. Gazing into its blood red orbs, my mind filled with strange, chaotic images of a distant migration between the stars and the prospect of finding favorable space worm distribution along the route. At last I turned away, my heart pounding, my thoughts consumed by existential feather theory and beak-to-beak combat. I tried to ignore them and go about my business. I opened the ledger and began to compare numbers in the actuarial table. But I couldn't concentrate. I felt the bird's hard gaze on the back of my neck, and the hackles rose up accordingly. My breath was coming in short, ragged gasps; my left foot involuntarily tapped a nervous tattoo on the floor.

Suddenly there came a loud rapping, and I nearly jumped out of my chair in fright. I turned in time to see the bird peck on the windowpane a second time, and with such force that the glass cracked into a dozen zigzag fissures. The bird fluttered casually back to the lamppost then, and commenced to sing. For a songbird, it had the most unsettling call, like an infant scratching its teeth on a chalkboard. The harsh noise sent chills down my spine, but its own species must hear it differently, because, within minutes, a second warbler landed nearby. And then another. And another. A fifth, sixth and seventh bird quickly followed. They all began to sing, too, in a brittle harmony euphonious only to them. The more they sang, the more birds they attracted, until the back yard was filled with the blood red orbs of hundreds--perhaps thousands!--of ominous stygian warblers.

Like some chorus trained in hell, the birds hit the coda of their song and repeated the whole horrid melody. I tried to blot out the noise by firing up the mighty Victrola. I selected a recording of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" that included the tumultuous "Peloponnesian War Obbligato." But before the first, deafening chord emerged from the speaker, I grabbed the disk off of the tableturner. I had a better idea. Instead, I lowered onto the spindle "Raptors In Flight--The Cornell University Department of Birdology's Sound Portrait of Birds of Prey on the Hunt." I dialed the volume up to Loud. But on second thought, and then weighing the options presented by third thought, I increased the volume to Exceptionally Loud, and wheeled His Master's Voice right up to the window.

An ear-piercing screech from a platyrrhine falcon cleaved the air. I covered my ears, as much to block out the sound as to hold down my hair, which was standing furiously on end. More importantly, however, it captured the warblers' attention. To a bird, they stopped singing, turned, and stared balefully at me through the glass. Next came the triumphant call of a Klegmore lammergeier as it dashed its prey--in this case, a full-grown goat--onto the rocks of Gibraltar. The sound harked back to the Pleistocene Epoch's endless survival of the fittest rituals, and I instinctively looked around my flat for cover. But the birds outside never stirred. In fact, those farthest away crept closer to the window, as if attracted by the--to me--chilling sounds. When the record played the horrific wail of a 20-year old concierge from the Las Vegas KOA being gleefully flensed by a giant vulture--the sound of razor sharp talons scalping the hapless worker was especially graphic--and still the birds didn't retreat, I guess I overreacted. I cranked the gramophone volume past its sanctioned peak level all the way to Not Recommended for Sentient Species.

The recorded bird shrieked, the speaker cone rumbled, and the window cracked and splintered. En masse, the stygian warblers rushed forward like an avian tsunami. They waded through the glass shards and hopped over the sill into my flat, dozens of them, hundreds of them, a thousand, two thousand--their numbers seemed endless! They lined up in rows of ... I don't know, perhaps fifty across, queue after queue after terrible queue of them. I backed slowly away, never taking my eyes off of them (nor they off of me!), until my hand grasped the doorknob to the cellar behind me. I knew there was no other way out of that room, but I had no other refuge. As I slowly turned the knob and inched the door open, one of the birds in the second row clucked loudly. It was an alarm, and immediately all of the birds began to cluck. It sounded like Colonel Sanders' worst nightmare. I yanked the door open, dived through, and pulled it quickly shut. The door shuddered as the beaks from ten score choleric birds slammed into it, pecking furiously. A massive amount of kinetic energy transferred from the birds' frenzied activity, soon making the door hot to the touch. It was pitch black in the basement and, while fumbling for the light switch, I backed to the edge of the landing, lost my footing, and fell off.

Stars appeared, though from no constellation I knew. They zigged and zagged across my subconscious empyrean, chased by coruscating thunderbirds. I sat up, and the whole image slid crazily down the side of my head. I thought I heard a ringing in my ears, but it was only the telephone. I was about to race upstairs to answer it when I remembered what drove me down here in the first place. I briefly examined myself, found no broken bones, and stood up. No matter there was no window to let in light, I could clearly see around the basement. Knowing my night vision wasn't that good, I glanced up at the stairway landing and saw light streaming through the doorway. The door was open and hanging from one hinge--that is to say, half of the door was hanging from a hinge. The remainder was missing. Eaten. I instinctively knew it had been eaten. My spinal column's 8th through 14th vertebrae shivered in a sympathetic response.

The phone still rang. I crept up the stairs as quietly as possible, then peered into the room. The flat was empty. There was no sign that even a single bird had been here, save for the four-foot mound of guano under the window. I picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

"Hello!" The voice was that of Harland Sanders, the ol' Colonel himself, except that there was a definite analog answering maching quality to his intonation. He spoke haltingly, and I realized he wasn’t speaking to me, but rather reciting the ingredients in the batter for his extra-crispy headcheese balls--"heart of worm, diced eggshell, honeydew vinaigrette, lightly soldered grits, sweetbread spirits." Click. The recitation suddenly stopped. Had I been disconnected? Click. There it was again. It didn't sound quite like a telephone disconnect, more like a ... Cluck.

A stygian warbler sounding the alarm--cluck cluck cluck--and it was coming from the telephone receiver! The birdy babel forced me to hold the phone away from my ear, a fortunate reaction because, a moment later, a beak poked through the earpiece.

I nervously hung up the phone.

Immediately, it rang again and, by habit, I picked it up. This time it was the lammergeier, and it spoke better than many telemarketers. "You have dialed Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar. All of our operators are busy helping other customers. If you have a touch tone phone, please enter 385, the number of this episode. If you wish to hear this message again, please press the duck key. Otherwise, stay on the line, and the next available operator will take your call. With any luck, that'll be Kalvos."