Stone the Crows and Magpies, too

Stone the Crows and Magpies, too

The frozen grass glistens like the floor of a crystal palace; cracked hither and nether by the hoof prints of early morning activity. Steam rises where fresh dung has splattered giant pads of desecration. Somewhere a beast bellows looking for its calf only to raise a reply from a ewe on a mission of shared intensity. Miles away, I hear the faint sounds of a semi-trailer climbing the hill toward Hamill’s corner. I work the gears in my mind. It’ll be three minutes before I give him the signal to trumpet his air-horn. That’ll raise the cockatoos from the trees and momentarily jolt every sheep and cow that has found sanctuary against the roadside fence.

Two warbling magpies hop on the gravel path that leads toward the shed; and as I make my way along it, in the shadows of some giant pines that block the pathetic warmth of the early morning sun, I reach down and grab a handful of ammo. I adopt the stance of a baseball pitcher, take aim with my index finger and let’em have it. The gravel spreads like shot, but there are no casualties, at least not yet. Then I sprint, kicking up a little loose gravel upon launch representative of the great power in those steal springs that are my legs. Before the magpies have settled on the upper branches of the pines, I’ve successfully put a safe distance between me and the potential of an aerial counter attack. It’s swoopy magpie season.

Back on mission, I follow a sheep track toward a water trough. I’m looking for ewes having difficulty lambing. The trough is a likely spot for one to be laying cast. From a distance, I see little puffs of dust and the frantic movement of black hooves above the line of the trough; then a crow. It pops up from behind the trough and lands delicately on its concrete rim. It bounces; just once but intently. He’s going for the eyes, hers or more likely those of a half protruding lamb.

“Hey! Get out of that!” I bawl; then run toward the scene of untold misery madly flailing my arms, “Hey! Go on. Get out of that! Hey!”

I never say, “Shoo!” I’ve long since learnt, virtue of my mother, that it is completely useless at frightening anything or anybody from their intended purpose. I look to the ground for something to throw but there is nothing and the crow, which would normally be timorous, makes a last-ditched attempt at garnering an eyeball; then flies off to a nearby gate post where it waits expectantly of any morsels to follow.

I round the trough and find a not unexpected scene – the mother bleeding from the eye and the half muzzle and single hoof of a lamb protruding from her rear end. First I check the ewe’s eye. It seems fine. The crow, for all its efforts, has only pecked at the edges of the socket so there is blood but little real damage. I stroke the ewe’s wooly head. Don’t ask me why. Then I attend to the lamb. First I check to see if it’s alive by putting a finger in its mouth. It instinctively sucks. We’re in business. I need to wash my hands. The water in the trough is covered in a thick layer of ice. On my knees, I clench a fist and thump the ice twice before it cracks; then I dip my hands into the freezing water and scrub them as best I can. My teeth start chattering and my hands turn purple.

I know what needs to be done. I have to push the lamb’s head back in a little and feel around for the other leg. Lambs come out two legs and a head first. If unsuccessful, I’ll have to try and pull him out by a single leg and risk tugging it clean off. I’m no veterinary surgeon. I pull up the sleeves of my windcheater to the elbows then push the lamb’s tiny head back into the vulva. It’s hot in there. I feel my hand thaw at blood temperature in all the placental fluid, almost burning, but my fingers are now nimble and they feel around viscerally for the other front leg. It’s a tight squeeze between the ewe’s contracting uterus and the lamb’s shoulder but I find the wayward limb and gently turn it forward. It’s a slippery little bugger. Now I’ve got him perfectly positioned. I clasp a hoof in each hand and pull out and downwards toward the ewe’s hind shanks and the lamb tumbles out onto the gray dust surrounding the trough followed by a gush of after birth. I prop up the exhausted mother in a more comfortable position, pick up the lamb and place it next to her head. She immediately starts licking away the placental sack and I’m relieved she’s taken to him.

I’m reluctant to wash my hands again in that freezing trough so I just wipe them on my jeans, which is useless because they’re already covered in muck. Now I sit on the rim of the trough and watch the mother clean the lamb. He tries on his first bleats, unsurely finds his feet and wags his tail ever so confidently. He’s got it made. I pick him up and place him on his mother’s teat. He gives the udder a couple of nudges with his head to get the juices flowing and his tail starts dancing wildly to the sucking sounds emanating from his mouth.

I don’t hang around. I scan the paddock for anymore unfortunates and then start heading home to clean up. I follow the sheep track back toward the gravel path that leads past the shed. My mind is else where. It’s running the TV news footage of my delivery as I retell the tale of my heroics. “…and that about rounds it up. A good news story if ever there were one. This is Paul Makin in Merino for 7 National NEWS.”

I hear it momentarily before I realize what’s upon me; an almost subsonic beating of the air then talons ripping at my windcheater collar and neck, a flurry of wings and squawking around my ears. “Jesus! I’m under attack.” I almost shit myself. I roll to the ground covering my head with my arms. I’m wet now from the frost, covered in muck from the lambing, and lying prone with my arms and hands covering my head. I chance a look to see where he’s gone and see him rounding about 50 yards off for another attack. I pounce catlike to my feet and scramble toward the shelter of the pines. It’s a mistake. Out to my left coming in long and low, just 18 inches above the ground, is his mate. I’ve fallen for the old one-two.

Foolishly, I stop. There isn’t even enough time to hit the turf and I take all she has to offer. Talons tear at my ears as she gets a perfect grip on my head. I wrap my hands around her and she pecks wildly at my knuckles before bird and boy stumble backwards and I trip and land squarely on my arse with this maniacal mini dinosaur brutally pecking my brains out through my cranium. I scream and flay my arms about thumping the bird with my forearms and fists. She’s gone. I get to my feet and run again toward the trees, but it’s over. I fight back the tears of humiliation. What a loser!

Before long under the protection of the pines, I look back and see the ewe on her feet by the trough nuzzling the lamb toward her udder. I feel blood trickle down the side of my cheek and taste it curiously at the corner of my mouth. “Stop the bloody cameras!”

I smile goofily to myself then run off home to mum.

I love your style Fox. Nice one.

Thanks Sandman.

Ewe rock. That wasn’t half baaaaaaahd.

Top stuff, Fox. I swear I can picture that bastard coming in long and low. :laughing:


Question: All that took place in 5 minutes? :wink:

I say the title of this thread is misleading. But I don’t want my 5 minutes back in this case either. Well spent indeed. Even missed the garbage truck for it.

Five minutes is what I hope it takes to read.

I’m glad you blokes liked it. In fact, I’m happy if anybody makes it past the first paragraph.

Fox, old bean, its getting much much closer to publication material. The sentences are flawless, but where is the intensity? I want to know who the character is, so that I can go on her/ his journey… Also, the end seems like something apologetic. You have the balls to post this publicly, now get those nuts out and scratch them, maybe give them a shine, and end on a flourish. Were you intimating that this was an acted scene at the end with the ‘stop the bloody camera’s?’

I recently read some Hitchcock collected short stories, they should be next on your reading list. Dorothy L Sayers etc… Get dark… They will give you ending ideas… Hats off as always.

(Excellent theme. Excellent.)

I couldn’t undestand a word of it. What was it about?

[quote]Fox, old bean, its getting much much closer to publication material. The sentences are flawless, but where is the intensity? I want to know who the character is, so that I can go on her/ his journey… Also, the end seems like something apologetic. You have the balls to post this publicly, now get those nuts out and scratch them, maybe give them a shine, and end on a flourish. Were you intimating that this was an acted scene at the end with the ‘stop the bloody camera’s?’

Good feedback TomHill.

I was thinking something along the lines of ‘In the Moment’. How we lose the moment through retelling the story with the cameras that run in our own minds. Our story is real but our perspective is just to paint ourselves as celebrities. So it’s about not losing the moment. The magpies wake me up to it. I’m humiliated, but it’s kind of fun. Perhaps the best kind of fun. Then there is the motherhood angle. The space to grow, what they go through and the protection they offer. Perhaps a bit lame; though, I don’t think so. It’s only meant to be kind of funny.

Who am I? I’m just a farm kid.

Where’s the intensity?

What do you bloody well mean where’s the intensity?

Sorry. I’m just reminded of a famous Austaralian cartoonists picture of a couple of blokes sitting around a campfire in the bush somewhere with a caption that reads, “The accoustics could be better. What do you bloody well mean the accoustics could be better?”

Though you are probably right.

I f*ing hate magpies.

Eyes on the back of your helmet, bike pump swinging around your head…trying desperately to stay on the bike.


So true.

But I don’t hate them though. Over the years that pair of magpies in my story got plenty of shit from my brothers and I. You only fall for the old one-two once. After that you perform the reverse one two. The bait and switch. One brother would run into the zone and attract an attack while another lay in a ditch or behind a log with a sling shot. When that maggie was trying to come in under the radar, you had almost the perfect shot at him.

Anyway, I don’t really advocate it. It was just the way it was. I love magpies.


Actually, the bird attack bit really reminds me of a passage by (I think) Neil Gunn, another link who you probably won’t have heard of but should seek out, except he describes being attacked by a boxie (Arctic skua), which would make a magpie about as intimidating as a house sparrow in comparison.

Try Highland River. I think it’ll resonate with you, despite its age and location.
Also The Silver Darlings, maybe his masterwork, certainly the most widely read of his books.

I’d be happy to lend them both.

Good stuff Sandman. Definitely like to read them.

Have your people contact my people.

Truly excellent read, Fox (as usual). Thanks for sharing.

Glad you liked it bobepine.

I mean that a short story needs to put the reader in an identifiable situation, and make them feel that either they are the character, or that they identify with/ distinguish themselves from the character. Personification leads to identification. Your story is of the abstract, and therefore we are ‘without’ rather than ‘witnin’ the story.
Put simply, the idea is perfect, the literatue is rich, the hook is missing. Readers want a hook, then they will read any old tat.
Put artily: We are post diary, into self monologue. The reader is the ego in the self monologue. Your piece is missing an ego.

Love you, still think sometimes of the 20 seconds we met…


Oh. I did think it kind of had elements of the first. Beautiful tranquil setting, boy (or mental retard) confronts innocent birds and starts to stone them before we know he has any right…

I’m not saying you’re wrong though. I absolutely value your thinking.

To be honest, I don’t really think of the craft aspects of writing, which I’m sure is a failing. I just write down what’s in my head and tidy it up. For inspiration, I’ll go to something of the mood I’d like to capture; for example, before writing this story I read Frost’s ‘Birches’.

I like the idea of as kids we fantasise about being heros and on TV. Of course, these days we are much more likely to be on TV for our buffoonery (or getting thrashed by a magpie) ala YouTube. Personally, I’d prefer to call, “Cut!”

WHEN I see birches bend to left and right
Across the line of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that.
Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.

So was I once myself a swinger of birches;
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate wilfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Robert Frost