The Big Red Bird

by Melissa Clegg

ATF Universe

No copyrights, just for fun

Just borrowed some of the guys for awhile

It was early for a Saturday morning, when the phone rang at the Larabee Ranch. Chris grumbled as he looked at the caller ID to see that it was a neighbor.

"Whatcha need Bill?" Bill Smith was the newest neighbor and he seemed to be always calling on Chris for some kind of help. Most of the time, Chris just thought the pleas were nuisance calls so he had no patience this morning.

Bill's voice was thin, scratchy and held a tiny bit of fear in it. "I need help, bird, big bird.....You got those big guns. I need you."

"What kind of bird is it, Bill, a crow?"

"Bigger. The biggest red bird I've ever seen. Come quickly before I loose everything." The phone went dead and Chris stood staring at the dead receiver for a moment.

Frustrated, Chris talked to himself. "Just what I need to do today, go babysit the neighbor and his big red bird. Just like a city slicker to buy a ranch he knows nothing about and then expects me to pick up the pieces." By this time, he was in his bedroom and pulling on warmer wear. "Probably waste the whole dang day riding around his ranch looking for some ole red bird. Serve him right if I didn't go over there, but then what kind of good neighbor would I be?" He tugged on his boots. "Hey I wonder if Vin would like to go too, maybe JD and Buck. It's worth a phone call." He quickly dialed Vin's number and Vin agreed to come out. JD and Buck said they'd come too.

Chris then tried to call Bill back to tell him they were coming over, but Bill didn't answer. Chris thought that Bill was probably already outriding in search of his big red bird. As he was going to wait until the guys got there before saddling the horses and ferrying them to the other ranch, he decided to make some lunches. He pulled out a roast and sliced it for sandwiches. Aunt Illma, an older woman that lived down the road that Chris looked in on, had made him a couple of loaves of sourdough bread. He sliced the bread, spread butter, relish, lettuce, cheese and the beef on a couple of sandwiches for each of them. He grabbed the bag of carrots, then a bag of cookies. He filled the canteens with water and headed out to the barn to start getting the horses ready. Making sure the canteens were sealed, he packed the food in the saddlebags. He checked his rifle and shotgun, made sure he had bullets and shells then he put the guns in their scabbards. The guys were there before he had all the horses brushed and saddled. They made quick work of the rest of the chores.

The day was cloudy and it looked like it might rain, so each man tied a rain slicker to the back of his saddle. A slight breeze had a nip to it portending to the winter that was to come. Vin ran back to his Jeep, grabbed something, came back and stuffed a huge bag of Peanut M&M's in beside his sandwiches. Once Buck had hooked the trailer to the truck, JD started loading the horses.

It was 10:30 am and the four men were on the road. "What exactly did Bill want us to do today?" Buck spoke up.

"Hey, I thought we were going on a horse back ride over at Bill's house?" JD complained laughingly.

"Yeah, does he want us to teach him how to fix fence? Remember that day, heck, we worked all day, doing his job. He just couldn't get the hang of it." Vin quaffed.

"He called this morning moaning over some red bird. He said it was big. I have no idea what he thinks he is seeing. A big red tail hawk? A Red Eagle? I just think he is having problems with some crows and wants me to get rid of them, said something about needing big guns." Chris lamented. "I thought I had nothing planned today for a reason. I thought I was going to sit in my big chair and watch TV."

"Well, hell, Chris, if you didn't want us to go with you on this horseback ride, you shouldn't have called." Teased Buck. "Stop the truck and we'll get our horses and ride back to your ranch and you can have your day off."

"Oh give it up, Buck; it's not you I'm complaining about. A horse back ride is a wonderful thing and the day isn't too bad. I just would have preferred to be doing this ride on my own land."

The black Ram and trailer now turned into Bill's drive. The men watched the fields for a big red bird as they drove down to the barnyard. No one was about as they stopped. It was unnaturally quiet for a ranch yard and the four men instantly went on alert as they stepped from the truck. The horses were restless in the trailer. "Bill must be around here somewhere," Chris said as he unlatched the tailgate to the trailer. JD had already gone inside the trailer and started to untie the horses. The horses were used to the drill and backed out of their slots then down the ramp to the waiting Vin and Buck. Chris had gone over to the house to see if Bill was inside. There was no answer so Chris walked over to the barn to see if anyone was inside. The screech of the barn door opening seemed extremely loud in the quiet morning.

Vin led Pony and Peso over by the barn. Squatting he looked at the roughed up ground near the corral. "Looks like he took off in a hurry from here, the horse were practically at full gallop." Vin slowly stood up and looked north across the field toward the hills. The barn door screeched shut and Chris joined Vin.

"Nothing is in the barn. Guess we follow these tracks. Sure wish I knew what we were looking for." With those words, Chris checked his girth and swung up on Pony's back. The other three joined him on their horses and they trotted off following a trail of a galloping horse.

+ + + + + + +

After about an hour of riding, the four men had followed the trail up into the mountains that bordered the ranch. The trail was faint now, as the landscape had turned more into rocky deer paths twisting their way up a side of a canyon. Vin would stop periodically; look at the ground, then nod as they kept their steady pace going on up the trail. They had stopped for a bit of a breather on a ledge that looked down the canyon from which they had come and back up the canyon to where they thought they were going. JD took out a pair of binoculars and looked up the canyon above the treetops.

"See anything?" Chris asked.

"No. Wait. Yeah, I see.....something. Buck do you have your bigger binoculars on ya?"

Buck pulled his out of the saddlebag, opened them, and looked in the general direction, as was JD was looking. "What do you want me to look for?" Buck whistled, dropped his binoculars to his chest; then grabbed them and looked again trying to focus on something on the top ridge.

"Did you see it?" JD whispered. Chris stopped Vin from saying anything, the two men watched as Buck, and JD tried to get something to focus in the binoculars.

"Can you see it now, JD?" Buck was quiet as he ran the binoculars over the terrain above them.

"No. Can you see Bill?"

"No. I can't see anything." Buck and JD both pulled their binoculars down and looked at each other.

"So?" Chris was still calm. "A bunch of black birds eating a dead buck, is that what we are chasing?"

"I don't know what we are chasing. But it is big and it is very red." JD nodded as Buck answered Chris.

"If this is a wild goose chase." Chris started to mutter unhappily when they all heard a noise, an awful screech, louder and more intense than the barn door screeching. All four of them looked toward the top of the cliff but could see nothing.

"You don't think some hang glider got himself caught up there on a tree, do you?" Vin asked.

"Well that is some air horn he has to tell us he is lost. Guess we'd better go on up and see what all the commotion is about."

The horses were acting spooky though none of the men could see a reason and there were no more loud noises. The only noises were the horses' hooves as they clipped clopped on the trail. After another couple of bends up the trail, they had gone back in away from the cliff edge. The edge of two valleys merging had formed a small-secluded glen. The trees were very tall here with no low branches so it was like a cathedral where the men could ride inside the glen. During bad weather, the glen could protect a rider from the worse of the elements. It was at this point that they met up with Bill. He was running down the hill, his shirt torn, his jeans ripped and his face was a nasty shade of white with blood covering him everywhere. He screamed when the riders stepped out of the glen and then he collapsed.

Chris and Vin were off their horses in an instant. Both horses ground tied as trained standing still as the men tried to revive Bill. JD and Buck took out their binoculars again and scanned the area, once more not seeing anything. Everyone, including horses, moved back into the glen, up against the hillside. The needles were deep here and Vin dragged his foot making an indentation for Bill. JD pulled out an emergency blanket; the thin insulate was dropped into the trough of needles. A first aid kit dropped at Chris' feet and he performed the necessary first aid, before he wrapped Bill up in his silver blanket. The four had not needed to speak, they had done this many times before, but now they stood and looked down at Bill as they wondered what was up in the hill above them.

"Think it's a cat?" Vin spoke very softly.

"No. Those scratches remind me of a hen or some kind of bird scratch." Chris answered.

Buck mounted his horse. "JD and I'll ride on up and see if we can see anything. You guys stay here for now. We won't be gone for long." JD mounted up and followed.

As Chris leaned against Pony, he watched them weave their way up the hillside. Vin sat down beside Bill and checked his vitals. He was getting warmer so Vin hoped he'd come to soon and they could ask him what was going on.

In a few minutes, Bill woke from his deep sleep, started to fight his way out of his little cocoon. Vin was able to restrain him as Chris quickly joined them.

"Bill, it's Ok, we're your friends. What happened up there?"

"Did you see it?" Bill whispered.

"No, Bill. What are we suppose to see?" Chris was beginning to lose his patience.

"The bird. The big red bird. It has yellow eyes. It is huge." Bill shivered and shut his eyes. "Please don't let it get me."

"What are you talking about Bill, what big red bird?" Chris's patience had finally left him and he spoke sharply.

"I don't know what it is. It is probably 20 feet across from wing to wing, and it's ugly and has beady eyes. And it wants to kill me!" Bill's anguish was real. Vin and Chris looked at one another both wondering if Bill was on some sort of hallucinating drugs. At that instant they heard a human scream and the thundering of hooves.

Chris and Vin turned quickly spinning their booted feet in the loose needles and sprinted to the edge of the glen to see JD and Buck racing down the hill. They slide into the glen and stopped. The horses were panting, tossing their heads and their feet were prancing. JD and Buck looked pale in the darkness of the glen. Chris put his hand on JD's leg. "What is going on?"

Both Buck and JD started to answer. Both men's voices were scratchy as if they were trying to catch their breath. "A big bird, a red bird, big, huge..." Chris tapped JD's leg again and brought JD's focus to him.

"Tell me, JD, tell me slowly."

JD gulped and swallowed a couple of times, licked his lips, and very obviously gathered his wits about him. "It is a huge big red bird, Chris. It looks like those birds a person sees in museums, those prehistoric birds. It is huge and it's mad."

"It's true, Chris, there are a ton of dead animal bones up there, it's like a nest, but we couldn't see anything except this huge red face with this huge beak coming straight at us. It didn't seem to follow us down here though."

Vin was staring up the canyon wall. "I wonder." He pulled his hat down tighter and walked out a ways on the path. Chris, Buck, and JD watched with trepidation. Vin looked around and then returned to the glen. "I think we have a mama bird guarding her nest. She won't go too far away from her nest, but that's why she's being so aggressive."

"How big do you think she is, Buck?"

"Hmm, wing span of about 20 feet. She is huge, Chris."

From his bed, Bill had gotten up and stood close to Chris. "So what are you going to do about it Chris?"


Bill screeched. "Nothing!" He then went on to make some noises and sounds that made up no distinguishable words.

"She hasn't bothered us. What did you do to her?" Chris explained to Bill as if he was a naughty child.

"She hurt me! Look at me I'm covered with blood! I want her dead!"

Chris shook his head. "Bill, you have to learn about the wild. All mothers protect their young. We don't bother them; we don't go near nesting eagles, or other birds, or mountain lions that have young, unless they are hurting us. A cow or a sheep isn't going to put us out of business, so she can have one or two. If the animal is a rogue somehow and comes down to the ranch and starts killing our domesticated animals, or hurting our men, then we have to take action. Once again, Bill, what did you do to her?"

Bill stared hard at the four men. He was visibly shaking but none of the men thought it was fear, but from anger. In a very controlled voice, he stated. "She hurt me and I want her dead. You have the guns and I order you to shoot her dead!" The venom in his voice surprised them.

"Nope. We all will go home. It was a nice ride up here, this is part of the mountains I don't ride in much. I'll be glad to get home and relax. The only horse that will tolerate riding double is JD's mare, but I think you need to walk awhile." Chris stated calmly and ducked under the neck of JD's horse to get to Pony. JD was watching Chris as he mounted Pony and only caught a flicker of movement from his side before Bill had grabbed JD's gun from the scabbard and held it straight at JD.

Bill started to say something Instead, there was the click of three guns pulled off safety. All three guns were ready to fire. All three men had eyes of ice. There would be no hesitation, Bill would be dead in a nanosecond, if he even thought one more thought to do harm to JD. Bill dropped the gun muttering and cursing his fate. JD slid off his horse, grabbed his gun and remounted before Bill was through cursing. The four men started down the mountainside. They hadn't gone far when they heard Bill screaming for them to wait up.

"Any reason to wait for him?" Buck asked the group.

"None that I can think of," said Vin.

Chris stopped the group. They were back down to where they had first used their binoculars to look over the mountain and had seen something red. "I suppose as a neighbor and a human being we could wait for him." Then Chris shook his head, "Naw!" and kicked Pony into a trot. The others looked back to see Bill running down the hill, screaming, but they too joined Chris on his trot downhill.

Chris stopped on a switchback until everyone gathered around. "Did you really see a big red bird, Buck, JD?"

"Yeah. It freaked me out completely, Chris, didn't it freak you out too Buck?"

"It was really big, and red, and freaky looking, that's for sure, Chris." Buck was almost laughing though.

Vin shifted in his saddle. "You guys tellin' me a story?"

"When did you figure it out, Chris?"

"Just now."

Vin stood up in his stirrups. "Whatcha' all talkin' about?"

"What time of the year is it, Vin?"

"Almost Halloween."

"So what do the college students do almost every year?" JD was grinning

"Some kind of prank."

"Think Vin. What do you think we saw up there?" Buck was smiling now.

Vin laughed. "A big red bird. That is what you saw. What about the noise? What about Bill?"

Chris chuckled. "I thought you had it figured out there just before we left the glen when you went for a walk on the path."

"So we were on the back side of the college forestry department land."

"Yep, I don't know what all they were doing, but they have metal tubs up there that have wire strung across them."

"So that was the noise and up in the canyon it echoes." Vin laughed.

"What was the big red bird, Buck?" Chris was chuckling.

"A hang glider, about a twenty foot wing span one with a little motor that I think was remote controlled. It had a tether. They had some old bones scattered about to make it look spookier. A real clever set up."

"So what did Bill do?" Chris was still chuckling under his breath.

"It looked to me that maybe he was up there hunting for an elk in the dawn's early light and got himself tangled up in the bones and wire and the kids decided to play a trick. I'm sure they have cameras set up all over that place; to bring out the big red bird when they need it. I think maybe he just scared himself."

All four men laughed and headed on down the hill towards home.

The End