Attempted Recovery of Composure


grackle_icon.gif tabby_icon.gif

Scene Title Attempted Recovery of Composure
Synopsis The early bird catches no worms and is pounced upon instead by a cat.
Date November 7, 2009

Staten Island — Coast

The coast of Staten Island is as much of a presence as its inland, with rivers that invade right into its heart as well as cutting off the circulation of transport from the rest of New York City. The coastal regions reflect a lot of this borough's rural nature, with rough shores and plantlife, broken brick, and general abandonment. The harbors are left to the devices of those that freely come and go, a conspicuous lack of official presence - a number of them notably overrun by the developing crime syndicate, but there are still quite a few, particularly on the coasts nearest to Brooklyn and Manhattan, that are accessible to the lawful public.

Dawn illuminates a cloudless sky in shades of dusty rose. It's a remarkably clear morning on Staten Island and the air is still crisp with the previous evening's chill, which lingers in the form of dewdrops clinging to spidersilk and the tips of branches like budding leaves made of iridescent silver. Among the early risers is a small blackbird with a metallic purple sheen on its head and back that makes its feathers shine bronze when the light catches it just right. Grackles are a common sight year-round in New York City, and to the casual observer there is nothing unusual about this particular specimen that sets it apart from the other birds flitting between the trees and stealing quick drinks from the moisture beading on spindly branches.

To the not-so-casual observer, there may be something amiss about the way it isolates itself from the flock and perches daintily on a piece of broken driftwood as if content to warm itself in the rays of the rising sun and listen to the brackish water lapping the shore.

One less-than-casual observer sees nothing amiss in the way the bird separates itself out — only opportunity. Long ago left to fend for himself, the tabby tom has experience enough not to get excited by the solitary bird. Patience enough to stalk it slowly, carefully, without a single rapid movement or betraying sound. He's learned the hard way that these things mean going hungry.

That there's a second pair of eyes watching through his, a second creature feeling sand beneath calloused paws, the gut-deep bite of hunger, the taut lines of muscle held in expectant readiness. The eavesdropper exerts no control, not now; just observes. Everything has to eat.

The tabby cat crouches a moment, then launches himself smoothly forward towards the basking grackle.

Some animals evolved vocalizations as a defense against predators, but no mechanism is flawless. The shrill warning cry from one of the other birds comes about one second too late, and as the rest of the grackles are exploding into the air in a cacophonous maelstrom of flashing wings and screaming voices, the solitary female is twisting its head around on its axis to see what all the fuss is about, her matchstick thin legs prepped to spring away and launch her small body to safety.

Fear spreads out in a ripple all around her, touching the minds of the birds in the trees, their brethren slivering black, bronze and violet through the air, and even that of the tabby's tacit rider.

Another voice joins the others, harsh and trill, but also distinctly human:


To an outside observer, the ensuing tableau is a peculiar one.

A flock of squabbling, panicked grackles takes to the air, seeking shelter off the ground; the flurry of their wings leaves silence in its wake, a contrastingly serene stillness. Amidst bits of driftwood, spotted fur speckled with grains of sand, a tabby tomcat stands with his prize catch pinned to the beach underfoot.

And all he does is stand there.

Round amber eyes stare down at the bird, black-backed ears flattened against the curve of his skull. Slowly, hesitantly, the cat's head lowers — a brush of whisker against feathers, the barely audible huff of a cautious sniff.

It's not what one would expect a cat to do with a bird, although the behavior is consistent with the bottle-brush fluff of his tail.

One glittering wing splayed above her head, the other trapped beneath the weight of her trembling body, the grackle rolls one pale eye up at the tom and cracks open her beak in a thin croak of alarm. Although her neck is bent at a strange and awkward-looking angle, it clearly isn't broken; as her breast rises and falls in rapid succession, heart fluttering wild in her glossy chest, she curls clawed toes and pushes her feet feebly against the feline's whiskered chin when his face comes a little too close for comfort.

Not that the grackle is in any way comfortable right now.

Let me go, the disembodied voice implores rather than demands, an audible warble in its otherwise carefully measured tone. Grackles don't speak with British accents, do they?

Tabby cats don't speak at all, it seems. Not even in disembodied fashion. Or at least not this one.

It's a long moment where the two continue to stare at one another, the question hanging of whether the cat — or the cat's rider — actually hears that faceless, nameless British voice…

…and then first one forepaw is softly removed from the bird's plumage, followed by the other. He retreats, one step, two steps, three; the motion is uncatlike, although his sudden lapse into a furious spate of grooming is purest feline behavior, the attempted recovery of composure.

The grackle rights itself in a blur of gemlike colours and staggers into flight, skipping along the rocks and through the saltgrass in a scattered series of fluttering hops and leaps that betrays a wing injury. Her neck might not be broken, but something's damaged.

One final hop lands her in the thorny foliage of a blackberry bush with gnarled branches and shriveled berries where she takes shelter amongst the leaves. Whether or not the tom — or his silent passenger for that matter — can hear the pitter patter of her tiny heart is a subject that's up for debate, though ultimately unimportant. It was able to the entreaty, and for now that's enough.

She waits.

Lifting his head, the tabby tom watches the grackle for a long moment. It could be that he's trying to think of a way to get at the bird again. Whatever's going on behind those golden eyes, soon enough the tabby picks himself back up and turns away.

Walks away, leaving the grackle behind.

Black-furred ears swivel to the sides, listening — for people, stray dogs, anything on the beach that could pose a threat. His tail sways back and forth as he makes a reasonably straight course for the angular silhouettes now darkly absorbing dawn's light, the rusting hulk of a boat long ago abandoned to rot.

The grackle decides there is zero merit in sticking around to wait for the tom to return. The blackberry bush's leaves quiver with minute movement as she frees herself from the tangle of stems and twigs with a brisk flick of her long black tail.

A slice of diluted sunlight limns her shape in an incandescent glow and then she's gone completely, consumed by shadow and what little darkness of the morning remains.

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