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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
Just when two young people have life all figured out and perfectly planned, nature drops a bomb.

Submitted: January 15, 2016

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Submitted: January 15, 2016




A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran


While a murmuration of starlings formed a fluid skyscape, a dry tumbling thunder echoed off the high striated walls of the Utah canyon.

A mile down, on the canyon floor, Yvonne and David had just begun to raise their tent a few yards from the white water of the angry river. They shielded their eyes from the pitiless sun and stared up past the lips of the canyon, through the starlings to the flat azure sky, searching for thunderheads.


“Looks okay to me, honey,” Yvonne remarked with confidence, while her lips remained parted and back from her perfect teeth. She squinted into the  blaze of the mid-August sun, “all I can see are a ton of birds; and they’re wheeling all over the sky; wow; that’s amazing.”

David came to her side. He raised his binoculars and locked on to the peculiar avian patterns overhead.

“I’ve read about this; and watched videos on the net, but I’ve never seen one; man, is this some kind of show;” handing the binoculars to Yvonne,  “and there have been some really strange reasons put out there for their getting together like this.” A louder riff of thunder bounced along the riverbed. "A lot of people think there is some magical or mystical aura about them.” Yvonne was silent. She steadied the binoculars and mouthed words of amazement; of awe—even anxiety. 

“The videos are extraordinary—some showing one and a half million of them in Goole, East Yorkshire—but the explanations of how they form, as well as the overall reasons why they do these murmurations at all, seems open to debate.”


David Jensen, mid-height; short-torsoed; big-eared, and long-legged, had spent most of his twenty-six years growing up next door to Yvonne Tuttle. They were clearly destined to have each other as their steady companion throughout very long, fruitful, and joyous lives; as lovers, spouses, parents, grandparents---and probably, great grandparents.

Neither of them smoked, or had ever smoked; they had agreed to go vegan and gluten-free; they were both teetotalers; they chose low-risk professions; even lower risk pastimes; bottled water; plenty of sunscreen, and they had annual full medical checkups.

Early on—at about ages three and five—they heard so much from David’s Aunt Lenore about earthquakes, tidal waves and earthquake-created tsunamis, that they agreed never to live anywhere near earthquake territory.

Yvonne had outgrown David—not by much; a few inches—beginning in fourth grade. Now fifteen years later, her height had reached almost six feet. But to David, Yvonne appeared to be five eight, and he appeared to her to be almost six feet.

They were both slim, tanned—slightly buffed; and both of them crackled with enthusiasm and hormones.

They had begun having sex shortly after discovering the difference in their genitals. Both thought that their indulgence was far too early, but the pill and the morning-after pill had allowed them to enjoy each other almost every day, and three to five times a day after they reached sixteen. A a result, they both exuded a preternatural glow of sexuality and propagation.

“You know, honey; those birds are getting bigger; wow!” and Yvonne pushed the binos to David’s chest, accompanied by an eerie look of uneasiness, “and I don’t just mean that the murmuration is getting bigger; it is; but the birds look bigger; have a look,” and she removed her hands from David’s chest.

He quickly raised the glasses to his eyes. Instantly, David lowered the glasses with a face creased by a pattern of different smiles.

“No they’re not, sweetie; they’re just closer, that’s all.”

Yvonne grabbed the glasses again, and pursing her lips, she wriggled and jammed the eye-pieces into her eye-sockets, and stared.

After a few moments of peering, while David looked at the rage of the fast-flowing river, she suddenly felt a growing disagreement with David’s statement about the size of the birds. Maybe the birds were somehow becoming larger because they were puffing up like all those different species of birds doing their mating dance; or . . . or what?

But before Yvonne could comment on what she was seeing, the cracking thunder that had been merely dancing off the canyon walls, now slammed both sides with a ferocity felt all the way to the floor of the canyon, where the terrifying booming made any conversation between David and Yvonne, a useless activity.

Overhead, the sky remained cloudless, while the rapidly increasing armies of birds joined and whirled across the four hundred yards between the lips of the canyon.

“Yvonne?” David whispered in her ear as the echoes of thunder eased in their intensity and faded down the riverbed, going east, “what is it; anything different?”


David and Yvonne had also made several pacts about the way their lives would be run; the type of house they would buy after their marriage next June; the species of bushes and shrubs,as well as the types of trees to be planted; where they would spend their summer vacations; when to get their yearly flu shots; how to increase the security measures around their home-to-be.

David planned on retiring early on a pension from the state, after working in the Clerk’s Office at the Courthouse.

Yvonne also planned to retire early, after she had logged enough years as a primary school teacher.

And then there was the decision about the place they would retire to.

They had not yet prepaid their cremations.


Yvonne slowly lowered the binoculars and held them out to her future husband.

“Look.” Her face appeared to David like wet paint that was slowly oozing downward. Her tan had disappeared.

Because of the fierce brilliance of the sun, David had not looked up while Yvonne was scanning with the field glasses. He slowly removed the glasses from Yvonne’s hands and raised them to his eyes. He then moved both glasses and head to an upward position.

Abruptly, his jaw slackened; his tongue lolled from his mouth; his breathing was suddenly ragged. He unconsciously drew in a chestfull of air.

 “Good God Almighty Yvonne! Good God! . . .”

The remainder of his thoughts were never expressed.

Yvonne gaped in naked horror, as hundreds of thousands of disproportionate starlings roared down upon and quickly engulfed the careful couple. Clothing was torn into micro-bits; their bones were stripped as if attacked by piranha.

After a few minutes filled with every shade of black and blood-freezing screeches, the airborne army carried the two skeletons to the top of the canyon, where they made giant swirling canvases, while the dry thunder continued to thump and thud across and through the web of canyons in the Utah National Park.

* * *

Some days later, four hiking parties who had been tramping in a canyon next to that of the disappearing duo, remarked that they thought they had heard screams coming from that canyon, just after an astronomical swarm of starlings had disappeared from their view and entered ‘the canyon where the screams came from.

A few of the hikers had watched the birds through their binoculars, and two—a man and a woman—swore that the birds suddenly grew much larger, just before they disappeared into the adjoining canyon.

A search of that ‘next canyon’ yielded the couple’s tent, their equipment, their binoculars—with three stripped fingers clutching the strap---and also a camera with two photos that have not yet been released.


At the coroner’s inquest, some hikers on the other side of Devil’s Canyon—the local name, even before this event—gave testimony at the hearing, that they too had heard horrific—nightmarish—screams, and that the birds appeared to be larger as they disappeared from the hikers’ view.

And they all swore—one even demanded to take a lie detector test, just in case his reputation as an ornithologist ever came into question (he passed)—that for almost an hour after the screams and the reappearance of the murmuration, the patterns formed by the armies of starlings were full length renditions of a man and a woman, who they all easily identified as David and Yvonne.

At sunset, the legions of birds had wheeled, broken the patterns, and mobilized west into a sunset that appeared to set both the earth and the sky on fire, a fire that produced a sky-sized figure that none of the hikers could identify: only that it was the most hideous—and terrifying—figure that they had ever seen.

All the witnesses stammered that they were besieged with nightmares, linking the ghastly figure with the starlings’ renditions of David and Yvonne.

And they still are.




© Copyright 2018 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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