It's me again, Hank the Cowdog. As I recall, it was the 14th of May when the silver monster bird swooped down on the ranch and threatened us with death and destruction. Or was it May 15th? Could have been the 16th. Anyway . . .
Silver monster birds are huge creatures with a body that's long and skinny, resembles the body of a snake, which makes me think they might be a cross-breed between a bird and a reptile. The head sort of confirms that, because it has a sharp nose and two wicked eyes.
In other words, it ain't your usual bird head. Oh yes, did I mention that they don't have a beak? No beak whatsoever. That's a pretty important clue right there. It ain't natural. Show me a bird without a beak and I've got some questions to ask him. Another thing about the silver monster birds is that they have shiny feathers—not your usual dull brown or glossy black, but bright, shiny silver feathers. And a lot of the monster birds will have a white marking on the side which resembles a star.
They have big drooping wings with several things growing out of the underside. I call them "things" because I don't have a technical term for them yet. Whatever they are, starlings and blackbirds and sparrows don't have them. They may be poison stingers, I don't know.
These silver monster birds don't flap their wings. They glide like a buzzard or a hawk. And did I mention that they roar? Yes sir, they roar, and I mean LOUD. Your ordinary bird doesn't do that. He might cheep or squawk or sing a little tune, but you very rarely find one that roars. It's the roar that makes the silver monster birds a little scary. It takes a special kind of dog tune, but you very rarely find one that roars.
It's the roar that makes the silver monster birds a little scary. It takes a special kind of dog to stand up to that roar, hold his ground, and keep on barking. I suspect that even some cowdogs would run from that terrible sound, but on this ranch we don't run from danger. We run to it. Anyway, one day last week I caught a silver monster bird trying to slip onto the ranch. He should have known he couldn't get away with it. I mean, that roar is a dead give-away. My ears are very sensitive to certain sounds and there aren't too many roars that get past me.
Drover and I had put in a long night patrolling headquarters, fairly routine, as I recall. About the only excitement came a little after midnight when Drover got into a scuffle with a cricket. I told him to save his energy for bigger stuff. I mean, crickets cause a certain amount of damage around the place, but they ain't what you'd call a major threat. I figger Pete can handle the cricket department and we'll take care of the more dangerous assignments. 'Course the problem with that is that Pete won't do it. Too lazy. He's a typical cat, but I don't want to get started on cats. Anyway, Drover and I came in from night patrol and bedded down under the gas tanks. I scratched around on my gunnysack and got it fluffed up just right and had curled up for a long nap, when all at once I heard it.
My right ear went up. My ears are highly trained, don't you see, and they sort of have a mind of their own. I can be dead asleep and lost in beautiful dreams, but those ears never sleep. They never go off duty. (This is fairly typical of your blue-ribbon, top-of-the-line cowdogs.) I suppose I was dreaming about Beulah again. Derned woman is hard to get off my mind. I don't let women distract me during working hours, but sometimes I lose control when I'm asleep. I mean, a guy can keep an iron grip on himself only so long. Every once in a while he kind of goes to seed. Well, I heard the roar. My right ear went up.
My left ear went up. I glanced around. "Beulah?" My sawed-off, short-haired, stub-tailed assistant lifted his head and stared at me. "I'm not Beulah. I'm Drover."
I studied the runt for a second, and my head began to clear. "I know who you are."
"How come you called me Beulah?"
"I'm almost sure you did."
"Drover, almost sure might be close enough for some lines of work, but in the security business you have to be positive. You need to work on that."
"Now, what's that noise?"
Drover looked up in the trees and rolled his eyes. "I don't hear any . . ." And right then he heard the roar. His eyes got as big as saucers and he started to shiver. "What is it, Hank?" "I don't know, but we're fixing to find out. I've got a hunch that it's a silver monster bird." I turned my head just for a second, and when I looked back, Drover was gone. At first I thought he might have headed for the machine shed, but then I saw his gunnysack quivering. "Get out from under there! We've got work to do. I'm putting this ranch under Red Alert." "But Hank, that thing roars!" The roar was getting louder all the time. "Come on, son, it's time for battle stations. If that bird lands, it's liable to be a fight to the death." "But Hank, I . . . my foot hurts and I got a headache."
I took a corner of his gunnysack in my teeth and jerked it away. And there was Drover, my assistant Head of Ranch Security, quivering like a tub full of raw liver. "Get up and stay behind me. This ain't drill. This is Red Alert." "Okay, Hank, I'll try but . . . Red Alert's pretty serious, isn't it . . . oh, my foot hurts!" I took the lead and went streaking out into the pasture south of the house. I headed straight to the big dead cottonwood between the house and the creek and set up a forward position. I could see him now, coming in low over the hills and heading straight toward us.
It was a silver monster bird, all right, one of the biggest I'd ever seen. He had his big droopy wings out and his eyes were going back and forth across the ground. He was looking for something to swoop down on and kill. I could see that right off. I mean, if you've seen as many of these monster birds as I have, you sort of learn to read their thoughts.
This one had murder on his mind. "Okay, Drover, listen up. I don't want to repeat myself. We've got steers in this home pasture. That's what the monster bird's after, them steers. He's gonna try to swoop down and pick up a steer and fly off with him."
Drover's teeth were chattering. "A whole steer!"
"Yes sir. They dive down and snatch 'em up and eat 'em in the air, and I mean bones and hair and teeth, ears, tail, everything. It's our job to keep him from doing that."
"What would he do . . . if he caught a dog instead of a steer?"
"We don't have an answer to that question."
"I . . . I'd kind of like to know before we do anything radical."
"Use your imagination."
"My leg hurts, Hank. I think I better . . ."
"Stand your ground and listen. When I count to three, we'll go over the top and let him have it. Don't save anything back. If he comes in low enough, we'll try to grab him.
"Grab him! But Hank, what would we do with him?"
I studied on that for a second. I hadn't thought that far ahead. "I guess just bite and scratch and fight for your life. You ready?"
"Well, ready or not, this is it—combat, Red Alert." I peeked over the top of the log. He was heading straight toward us.
"Oh my gosh, Hank, look how big he is, and his eyes, and his wings are smoking!"
"Hank, my leg . . ."
". . . is killing me."
"Three! Attack, Drover! Charge! Bonsai!"
I leaped over the dead tree and threw myself into the monster bird's path. It was him or me. I bared my fangs and set up a ferocious bark, probably the ferociousest bark I ever made. The roar was deafening. I mean, it shook the ground. Never heard anything quite so loud or frightful in all my career. No ordinary dog could have stood his ground against that thing.
He kept coming, so I leaped into the air and snapped at him. Another foot or two and I might have put a fang-lock on him, but when he saw my teeth coming at him, he made the only sensible decision and quit the country.
I mean, he pointed himself north and evacuated, and he never looked back. The smoke and roar faded into the distance. "And don't you ever try that again!" I yelled at him as he went past. "Next time, you won't get off so easy."
I turned to Drover. He was lying flat on the ground with his paws over his ears. His eyes were shut tight. He wouldn't get no medals for bravery, but at least he hadn't run. "Okay, Drover, you can come out now."
"Are we dead?"
"Nope. Against near impossible odds, we just whipped a silver monster bird."
Drover cracked his eyes, looked around in a full circle, and sat up. "How bad was it?"
"How bad? Almost beyond description,
Drover. When he had me in his claws . . ." "He had you in his claws, no fooling?"
"You didn't see it? Yup, he had these enormous claws with big hooks on the end, and he reached down and grabbed me."
"What did you do?"
"What did I do? Well, I called on an old trick that my granddaddy once told me about. I tore off his whole leg and left him with a bloody stump."
"Certainly did. Why do you think he flew away in such a hurry? I mean, that bird was scared when he left out of here, and I have my doubts that we'll ever see him again."