Tuesday


“Attack of the killer tits, right Magda?” Jack laughed.

“Yes yes, that’s right,” Dr. Magda Varga grumbled, concentrating on the dead bat in her hands. Magda was bored with the American documentarian’s incessant jocularity. She aimed the light from her headlamp into the bat’s exposed brain cavity — a small jagged red cup, emptied of its vital contents. Jack panned his handheld camera, shining a light into Magda’s eyes in the process.

“Ok, enough filming for now, yes? We’ll do a close-up for you later. Much quicker like that, and we can leave this cave.”

Several minutes later, Jack held out more de-brained bats for the Hungarian bird researcher’s inspection. “Magda, this makes no sense. In your paper, you mentioned how Great Tits learn to feed on bat brains through cultural transmission — learned behaviour in response to food scarcity. But this is the first case this far north in Hungary, and we’ve been feeding them with loads of their preferred food. They shouldn’t normally be predating on bats, and…then there are these crazy stories about the nursery in town. I mean—”

Magda stopped him before he could recount the lurid details of the previous week’s incidents. 

“Normal and crazy are two sentiments that have little meaning anymore, yes? We are in a nuclear winter, remember? Nothing is normal, for the birds, or for people. Nature is upside down, she is in revolt. Look what we’ve done to her. We can thank your president for that. These birds don’t know what is normal, they only know that the sun never shines and that they must survive, which means…improvising, adapting. Very clever birds I think, for a species with little pea brains. And that business in the nursery, well, I don’t think we can blame the birds. These times make everyone a little crazy. Probably one of the workers is harming the babies, pecking out their…it’s not the birds. Now let’s finish up so we can leave this cave.”

“I thought you liked caves, you’re a bat researcher,” Jack sneered.

Magda raised one eyebrow high. “I do bird research. And I hate caves. Here, just get the close-up of the skull now. Quick quick.”


Wednesday


“Holy smokes, Magda, have a look.” Jack held the bird in a firm bander’s grip. His fingers were dripping blood from where the Great Tit had gotten the better of him during extraction from the mist net, just outside the cave’s entrance. Magda frowned when she saw the tiny bird snapping its large, hooked bill.

“My god. An incredible mutation. That looks like the bill of a shrike, or even a falcon. Quite a change for a seed-eater, hmm?”

The mist net twitched as more birds impacted and struggled in the near-invisible filaments. Magda went over and began to extract the closest bird, another Great Tit, when she recoiled her hand with a yelp.

“Got me, the damn…oh…what…Jack. This one too has the…hooked bill. What—“

More birds hit the net, dozens at a time, as a growing flock seethed up the valley.

“Look, these ones too. They all have these frickin’ big bills,” Jack’s face grew ashen as he tried to process the enormity of the situation.

Magda froze at the sound of ragged gunfire. Through binoculars, several dozen villagers were seen approaching on the one trail up to the cave. Guns were visible, and one woman was holding up a lifeless baby and wailing.

Magda threw down the bird she was extracting and jogged towards the cave’s entrance. “Leave those, Jack. Come on.”

“Why would they come after us?” Jack whimpered, as the duo worked further up a steep section within the cave.

“Because they’re superstitious cretins in these villages up here. They must think we’re vampires or some nonsense. Because we’re researching these brain-eating birds, we’re a part of it somehow.”

“Magda, it must have been the Great Tits though — with those shrike bills. There were what, four newborns that had their fontanelles pierced? Their brains were pecked at and eaten. That wasn’t some sick nurse. The—“

“Shhh. Quickly, turn off your light, they’re in the cave now.” Magda hissed.

The silhouetted mob huddled in the cave’s entrance, some 100 feet away. One man raised his AK-47 and jackhammered a clip into the cave, sending several rounds pinging off the rocks just below where the pair huddled quietly. Three men then stooped, lit something, and ran from the cave hooting in triumph. The five-pound charge went off three seconds later, bringing down the lip of the cave’s entrance with a tinny roar, effectively sealing it up.


Friday


“Magda, we have to go back up, we can get out. I’m telling you, they were biting me all over,” sobbed Jack, who had indeed been bloodied during his slumbers.

“Quiet, Jack. We have to head deeper, I know there is a way out, a natural chimney if we keep heading east.”

Magda’s headlamp, the only light still working, chose that moment to wink out and go dark.

“Great, awesome. Look, we’re frickin’ lost, for two days now. The food’s gone, right? Let’s go back. Please, Magda.”


Sunday


The two gore-soaked researchers huddled on a ledge, shivering violently. Each time they slept they were harried by unseen attackers — carrot strips of scalp peeled away, orifices pecked and probed.

The silence was broken by the distant cash-register chatter of a small bird’s contact call. Within seconds the response call echoed through the dark labyrinth, followed by more until the sounds built to a roar of bubbling white noise that approached quickly. Magda shrieked.

“This is it! Her revenge, it’s come. We destroyed it, our world. We’ve earned this! All of us.”

She relaxed and let the feathered storm wash over and take her. Jack punched wildly and screamed his last, as dozens of hook-billed Great Tits flew down his esophagus, while legions more flayed the living flesh from his bones. Nature’s tiniest berserkers had begun the purge, as the era of humanity juddered towards its end.


About The Author


Matt Poll has spent most of the past decade in South Korea, and has written a memoir about the challenging life of a foreign birdwatcher there.

When not lurking in the bushes with a pair of binoculars, he can be found working on a series of tales which combine birdwatching and the supernatural.

If you want to see what else Matt is up to, you can check out his blog and read his X-files Birding tales.

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