A Thanksgiving Tale
Ed sighed and sat back on his porch rocker. It creaked under his ever-increasing girth; blame it on age, blame it on dessert- heck, blame it on complacency, it didn’t need a name. He was getting heavier, and the arguing keen from the old chair only rubbed it in.
He looked out over his yard. It appeared as vast as always: a tightly manicured lawn near his creaky deck, and a flora-laden landscape across the back forty. He loved gazing out over his property and watching as the wildlife popped in and out of their hiding spots. It was six acres all told, and he loved every square foot of it.
It’d been his for going on thirty years now, after he’d inherited it from his sickly mother. Her death was melancholy, but not unexpected. It was the cancer that did her in back in ’82 when Ed was just forty-three. His life’s aspirations never really bore fruit, so he packed up what meager collections he’d amassed and moved back to the house he’d grown up in.
Lucky for him, the little town of Handlers Grove didn’t have a decent hunting and fishing surplus shop, so Ed was kind enough to oblige and soon opened ‘Ed’s Outdoor’. And as he sat there on the cool November afternoon watching the hazed-over sun slowly march its way to its daily death, he knew Thanksgiving was coming. And so were the turkeys.
When Ed first took residence a few months after his mother’s passing, nothing felt right. The house was still haunted by her; knick-knacks strewn about the walls, printed area rugs in mundane places, cabinets full of innocuous clutter, some bizarre disk-shaped trinket hanging from the mantle that immediately turned his stomach, and the stink.
It positively reeked of his mom. It was her perfume and her smell that clouded her during her last days when Hospice had to take over. It was stale urine, dirty, fouled laundry, and the ever cloying stench of a drawn out death.
As he stood there in the doorway facing the stairwell leading to his mother’s old room, he clutched a box that contained nearly all of the things he owned, and he wept. He stood there and cried like a baby boy who’d lost his favorite stuffed bear. The wave of emotion rolled over him like high tide. He didn’t even cry at the funeral, for whatever reason. Call it masculinity. Call it potential embarrassment… whatever. But there he stood and the floodgates opened wide.
A few minutes passed and he regained control of himself after a few hitching breaths. Yes, he knew it was the scent that did it. His mother was still there and he’d keep it that way. She was always good to him, despite her early divorce from his father, and the death of his step-father a few years later. She was always there; she was always mom. He did, however, pack away her things. Too many reminders were just too painful. And then it was his home and his alone. And he was happy.
Being as far out into the country as he was, there was a never-ending parade of animals wandering his property. He’d begun setting salt licks out for deer, feeders for squirrels and birds, dishes of food for raccoon and coyote, and insect feeders as well when the season was right. It was like living in a preserve. But as the first year drew on toward late fall and into November, something strange occurred that Ed could never have been prepared for.
One day, late in the month, the turkeys came. At first it was a few. Their guttural screams woke him from a dead sleep at first light around six thirty. He leaped from his bed clutching his chest trying desperately to calm his heart and his nerves. His eyes were wide and blurry as he flew to the window. He slid the curtains aside and there, strutting across his lawn laying waste to every piece of food he’d left out, were a dozen wild turkeys. They pecked at the seed, the salt, the treats for the coons… you name it, they were devouring it. And they were huge.
Ed had seen wild turkeys before and they were typically scrawny and gaunt, not a lot of meat on them… but these bastards were massive! Bigger than farm-raised even, and by the looks of it, pushing thirty pounds each. But they weren’t the sluggish, useless meaty birds you see on TV when Thanksgiving rolls around. Oh no, these birds were active and angry. But worst of all was their eyes. The turkeys looked at the house and Ed could see their eyes glowing bright red like tail lights. And they didn’t just glow, the throbbed…. pulsated.
He watched, catching his breath in silence, as the turkeys decimated his wildlife spread. The birds wandered the yard, and Ed only hoped that they didn’t catch wind of the deer he’d field dressed the night before. It was a surprisingly cold night, so he just left it hanging from the tree branch till he could deal with it the following day. However it was becoming increasingly obvious that the turkeys smelled it.
What followed was something out of a horror movie: beaks gnashing, meat stripped as though they were piranha fish Ed had seen on those animal shows, and incessant cackling like a pack of angry wolves. They thrashed at each other, clawed faces, pecked and pulled feathers. It was terrifying. Ed could only hold back his gorge as he watched the birds strip the carcass to bloody bone. Fortunately, he hadn’t eaten yet.
That first year was a surprise, no doubt. But the year following Ed was a bit more prepared, and this time he figured if they were going to stuff themselves on his animal treats, he’d happily kill one for his own Thanksgiving spread. And so he waited. Beginning around the middle of the month he’d begun getting out of bed just before dawn and loading his rifle. He was a hunter after all, and this was his property. He was going to give some payback this time. It was 1983, a year that Ed would later regret his actions.
On the morning of the 20th, the birds arrived. This time there were twenty strong and as they wandered from the wooded horizon and onto his property it looked like forty glowing alien orbs slowly hovering in for an attack. Their calls were ominous and shrill. They looked around, jabbed one another for positioning, and marched like stalking soldiers into Ed’s backyard.
He watched, silently, as the turkeys shuffled up to their feast. And just as the year before, they tore into the offerings like they hadn’t eaten in their lives. But Ed was ready. He quietly slid up the pane, poked the barrel of his rifle through, sighted his target (an especially rotund specimen) and fired a shot right through the bird’s ruddy head.
It’s skull exploded into gory shrapnel. It stood for a minute, took a few cautionary steps toward its brethren, and collapsed in a feathery heap. The others stopped feeding almost instantly and looked at their fallen comrade. And then the screaming began.
Like the cacophonous screech of a sick baby by way of a megaphone through the cone of a prison alarm. The sound was deafening and awful. Ed dropped the gun and fell to his knees. The birds carried on for what seemed like forever; back and forth, louder and more shrill, they bleated on and on. Eventually, the noise just ceased. Ed drew his hands from his ears slowly. He stood and looked out the window and watched as the remaining turkeys slowly tore their lifeless winged friend to shreds.
Years had passed and Ed had learned a valuable lesson. From then on he just left out the food and made sure he was occupied with busy work. He even recalled the year he’d forgotten to leave any food out at all. He was traveling that year to his friend’s house in Martinsburg for the holiday, just a few hours south. He locked up, didn’t think anything of leaving out goodies for his turkey pests, and left.
Upon his return he instantly regretted this oversight as well. The birds had smashed through his big picture window, as evidenced by the trail of bloody feathers spotting the crime scene that looked as though someone had been murdered with a furniture duster. They’d ransacked his house, tore apart his couch and chair, pecked apart the wires to appliances, and managed to yank open the fridge and laying waste to its contents. The stench of fouled food hung in the place like a decaying body. That was the last time that happened. It cost him too much to argue with the birds, and so he just gave in. But this year would be different. This year was definitely going to be the turkey’s last.
He sipped on his beer and knew, subconsciously, that tomorrow was the day. It had been far too long in years and he’d gotten to know the turkey’s routine. But Ed was getting tired. He was too near eighty now to want to put up with the barrage of fowl that plagued his pre-holiday festivities. And besides, this year he wanted company at his house and the last thing he needed was to fret on about a flock of angry birds. He was ready, and he could only hope he’d catch the turkeys by surprise.
Morning. Early. It was six-fifteen and first light was maybe an hour away. Ed slid out of bed into his slippers. He stretched, yawned, and smiled. It was going to be a good day. He knew it. He strode with a shuffle to the kitchen where his automatic coffee maker had just finished making the pot he’d set to brew. He poured a mug, always black, and slid out a chair at his dining room table. It was as close to the window facing the yard as he needed it to be, and he waited.
At last the calls echoed from the far side of his property; that wretched crowing that signaled the arrival of the mass of turkeys that had been ruining his holiday for thirty years. This year was going to end very differently; in fact, it was going to end before it could even begin. What he was about to do he’d seen on a cartoon, believe it or not (even he could only shake his head), and he just knew he could make it work in real life with only a few tweaks. You see, in the cartoon, the target got away, but Ed made damn sure that wasn’t going to happen today.
As the rafter of turkeys approached (this year quite possibly numbering in the thirties), Ed stood and slowly moved to the little button that was wired just inside of the window. Soon the birds began to feed on Ed’s home-made goodies, each laden with enough black powder in all to blow apart a solid concrete wall. Each item was wired to a sparker that led back to the house. He wanted to catch as many turkeys as he could in mid peck so the damage would be just as spectacular as he’d imagined. He waited patiently. There was plenty of food.
Then, suddenly, the time had come. Without another moment’s hesitation, Ed pushed the button.
The sound and the fracas that followed was a circus of freakish agony. Right off the bat after the button was pressed, ten bird heads immediately blew apart like miniature fireworks. Seconds later, the individual pieces of food exploded into geysering flame balls that set another twelve birds on fire. Then, as the still living birds suddenly began to scuffle in terror, the black powder in their mouths and stomachs ignited from the fire and intense heat. Guts burst forth like burning party favors. Turkey necks and beaks blasted apart like over-filled balloons. Headless bodies flopped around, torched feathers smoldered, and the acrid smoke of slowly dying birds coiled into the air on the lazy breeze.
When it was finally over, only two of the turkeys still moved, and Ed just waited as the flickering flames eventually overtook them and they, too, popped like Champagne corks. It was finally over. Ed sat for another minute and enjoyed his coffee with a huge, satisfied grin. It was almost time to bring in the bodies. That food was going to last him for months.