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Battle of the Pine Boughs

I was just ho-hum, tossing some carbohydrate largess to the avians, when the bombs started falling.

It was early in the morning, after my usual five-mile run, a couple of days after my fence had been fired. I had a largish store of crusts to crumble for the feathered friends, and I was waiting for the local murder to figure out I was scattering calories for them. They usually sound the alarm, but Mercutio!Jay is always the first and bravest, swooping down after the crows start making their distinctive “OMG FOOD!” calls.

Anyway, there I was, humming a little song, looking forward to going inside and getting a fresh hot cuppa. All of a sudden, there were little plopping sounds.

What the hell?

I looked up. The sounds continued, and I finally realized I was under attack. Pinecones were being hurled from the trees in my neighbor’s yard, and an angry chittering broke the morning hush. Not one of the cones hit me, though they came awful close. I stood there with three plastic breadbags in one hand and a fistful of almost-molding potato rolls in the other, staring at the pine trees.

“Neo,” I said, out loud, “your aim sucks.”

I should not have taunted the rodents.

Then Mercutio!Jay arrived, screeching his head off. A flash of blue, feathers flying, he streaked across the yard from the opposite direction. He was utterly heroic. As close as I can figure, he was yelling, “TO ARMS! TO ARMS! FAIR LADY, FEAR NOT! TO ARMS!”

Well, of course, the crows heard his racket, began making a racket of their own, and they swooped in too. That’s when things got interesting.

So there I am, sweat still drying on me in the middle of a ring of breadcrumbs, jaw agape, the pinecone barrage halting as the crows flailed into the pine trees. Mercutio!Jay was in a perfect ecstasy of rage, hopping from foot to foot in the pussywillow tree and screaming “GET IN THERE, FELLOWS! TALLYHO! SPANK THOSE RODENTS!”

I started laughing. I couldn’t help myself. The pine trees looked like they were caught in a high wind, thrashing and cawing and chittering issuing from the darkness still caught in their branches. Then the pinecones started up again, and I learned something valuable: they hadn’t been trying to hit me.

No, I was just the bait. Because a tiny pinecone hurled out of the tree and smacked Mercutio!Jay, who make a strangled ulp! that might have been funny if it hadn’t sounded like it hurt. I gasped, he went over in a flurry of feathers, and the next thing I know he’d zoomed past me, flapping furiously, still screaming. “GODDAMMIT WOMAN GET UNDER COVER! IT’S ARTILLERY! MURDER! FIRE! ANARCHY! HALP!”

I stumbled backward, still laughing breathlessly, and I again discovered they weren’t aiming at me. Because I tripped over Tuxedo Kitty, who was belly down in the dew-laden grass, watching all this. I hadn’t even noticed him creeping out behind me, and I almost went ass-over-teakettle. Tuxedo Kitty squawked as I almost-stepped on him, and he shot off to my left toward the fence. On the way he was peppered with no less than three pinecones.

Squirrels are crack shots, apparently. Bombing me had just been to get everyone’s attention. I don’t know whether to feel grateful or insulted.

So there I was, regaining my balance with a dance step Ginger Rogers might’ve envied, dropping the rest of the potato rolls and furiously waving the plastic bread bags to signal distress, the ship’s going down, someone do something, while the pine trees thrashed and the crows made an absolutely unholy noise and the squirrels gave their rallying cries.

Then he showed up, winging majestically across the yard in his Capulet blue. It was Romeo!Jay, Mercutio’s best friend, the strong silent type. (Well, as silent as a bluejay ever gets, but still.) He nipped smartly into the pine trees’ recesses, and the tumult reached a fresh pitch.

I was still backing up, trying to look everywhere at once, and Mercutio!Jay circled back to me. He didn’t seem to be any the worse for wear, but he harried me across the yard until I was reasonably safe by the sunroom door. Then he wheeled about and zoomed up into the pine trees.

The Battle of the Pine Boughs lasted about ten seconds after that. Abruptly, a battlefield silence fell. I found out I was actually hugging myself, and my tongue was dry because my mouth was open, I was out of breath from helpless laughter, and I was cold. I watched the pine trees nervously. Nobody is going to BELIEVE this, I thought. Seriously. Squirrel artillery. What next?

The jays appeared first, fluttering down and landing in the middle of the bread. “DUDE,” Mercutio was saying. “DUDE, DID YOU SEE THAT? DID YOU? YOU WERE ALL, POW, AND BARTHOLOMEW!CROW WAS ALL LIKE ZAP! AND THOSE SQUIRRELS, MAN. DID YOU SEE WHAT THEY DID?”

Romeo!Jay shrugged, pecking at the bread. Both of them ignored me.

The crows came down one by one, (Bartholomew the largest was first, as usual) and the usual feeding-scrum developed, with Mercutio yelling at the crows and them laughing at him and eating anyway. I felt for the doorhandle, slid the French door open, and stepped inside to welcome warmth, backward so I could keep an eye on the yard. There was no sign of poor Tuxedo Kitty, who I had almost flattened. (It was his own damn fault anyway.)

A tiny movement caught my eye as I was bracing the door closed with a dowel. (Just to be sure, you understand.) I straightened, quickly, my back giving a twinge and gooseflesh all over me.

There in the back corner, perched on the fence behind a screen of blackberry leaves, was Squirrel!Neo. His tail was twitching furiously, and his beady little eyes were fixed on the birds. His little mouth moved, and even at that distance and without much knowledge of squirreltongue, I figured out what he was saying with little trouble.

“You bastards,” he was mouthing. “You bastards. Just you wait.”

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