Domesticated Disturbance

by William S. Statler

All warm surfaces belong to cats. This is a cat rule, and on this chilly mid-March midnight it was being enforced by a dirt-colored mackerel tabby, who had laid claim to a small cascade of recently-molten iron on the front steps of Elk Creek City Hall. The cat, curled up in a cozy ovoid on the warm metal, watched through half-open eyes as Linda James and John Hallman walked home from what neither of them would ever refer to as their first date since they were, after all, in their mid-40's and well beyond all that adolescent stuff.

"It's just an updated steam-engine tractor, John. What's impractical about a steam engine in a farm tractor?"

"Linda, it's not the steam, it's the power source." John was the sole tractor salesman for the small community of Elk Creek (as well as the sole broadband provider and resident coffee chemistry expert). "The American public will simply not tolerate a fusion reactor rolling across the farmlands and irradiating their food!"

"Why not? The sun does it every day." Linda was a real estate agent. She was also the first person to have achieved proton/boron-11 nuclear fusion using 20 Mule Team Borax and a squeaky washing machine. John had never asked if there was any link between Linda's laundry room neutron flux and her hair that always looked like she put it on crooked. But despite what she told her curious neighbors, he knew her dog's breed wasn't really Newfoundland Hairless.

Why, one might ask, would this couple spend their romantic Friday midnight arguing over fusion-powered tractors? Ah, but this was Hazel County! Yes, that Hazel County—home of the Planthopper Lady and the orange-scented sagebrush—"Where Science Comes First," as it said on the sign. So one can easily understand why Linda and John, with the very future of American agriculture teetering on the point of their discussion, both failed to notice the little green man running at breakneck speed across the City Hall lawn, or, a minute later, the thing that ate the cat.

* * * * *

On Saturday morning, Elk Creek was in an uproar, and Rose Anderson received an unexpected guest whom she hadn't seen since her college days nearly forty years prior. They walked together across her small acreage.

"Always ticks me off when folks call my house 'the hobbit-hole.' Look there, doors and windows like any house. An' there's a couple feet of dirt and a nice stand of wildflowers on the roof, but see the high ceilings inside? My husband Hank, he was no hobbit at six-foot-ten. Heh, almost as tall as you!" Rose maintained a friendly monologue, since her guest was unable to speak. "Least fictional man I ever met, Hank. Designed and built this house pretty much by himself. And that solar water heater, top of the garage. And he was workin' on a wind turbine, just before he died. But the farm, both of us built that. A few chickens and goats and vegetables, and these nut trees, and that used to be a crayfish pond down there, and Hank called it 'the farm,' made like I was the one talked him into it."

They arrived at the telescope, a 10-inch reflector, homemade. "So, you want to know about the... the small person," Rose said, disentangling a tumbleweed from the equatorial mount. "Well, you can see why I'm 'specially worked up about hobbits at the moment.

"Far as I know, I was the first person in Elk Creek to see him, an' it was just about 12:10 or 12:15 AM. I was settin' up the telescope, 'cause the clouds finally broke up and the wind finally died down, and the sky was all clean and black, and I was antsy to try 'bout a three-hour exposure on 23 Thalia—it's goin' retrograde near M100 just now, an' I thought that'd make one pretty picture, the asteroid trail and the M100 spiral right next to it...ahh, sorry, you don't want to hear my babblin'. Anyway, I was standing right about here with the 'scope, and I had a little battery lantern turned on so I could see, and all of a sudden—

"I don't know why people say that. 'All of a sudden.' I mean, what am I gonna say? 'Gradually there was a burst of light and a puff of smoke.' Heh.

"So there was a burst of light and a puff of smoke. Well, I can be more precise. There was a short flash of light, gold-colored, 'bout so big across"—Rose indicated with outstretched arms—"and it was right over there. Less than a tenth of a second. Then in its place there was a roundish cloud of smoke, green smoke, looked green under the lantern light, and then that dissipated over a few seconds, and there he, the small person, he was just standin' there, or I should say that my mind registered that I saw what resembled a small person standin' there, with a big stupid grin and one hand holdin' a pipe in his mouth, and he was about two feet tall, wearin' a grey-green coat and pants, color of sagebrush, and a bowler hat, same color, with a, a damn four-leaf shamrock stuck in the band! And he said, or I believe I heard him say, and now this gets me really mad when I think about it—he said, 'Top o' the mornin' to yeh! I be a Sage Leprechaun! Got transported here from Ireland, I did! Och! Begorrah!'

"That was—aah! The nerve! You know, I've been in Ireland—Hank and I went there for our twenty-fifth anniversary—and in two weeks I never once heard anybody say 'begorrah!'

"Well, I was too startled to think 'bout it being anything other than what it appeared to be, and I got as far as saying 'What,' and there was another flash of light and puff of smoke, same as before, and afterwards he was nowhere I could find him.

"And of course I thought up a half-dozen ways it could be a prank, maybe some of the kids, we've got some pretty bright kids here in Elk Creek, 'specially Jessica and Miguel—you'll meet them at the breakfast later—those two could probably rig up some pyrotechnics. And I fretted some about my mind, whether my old brain was actin' up on me. But by seven this morning I'd heard about the other sightings all over town, and the list of suspects got whittled down to zero, and then it finally struck me that today's Saint Patrick's Day! And that was really the last straw. Because we are not a bunch of superstitious cotton-for-brains around these parts. This is Hazel County, and we don't do fantasy here! We do science!"

* * * * *

By Saint Patrick's Day 2007, almost everyone in the nation had heard of the Hazel County Science Society. It was the Society's former president, the famous Annie Rhoten, who was author of the beloved and phenomenally successful Fulgorid Planthoppers of the World books. (On her last visit home, Annie had hinted at a movie deal, but was vague about exactly which role Johnny Depp would play.) If that hadn't been enough to put Hazel County on the map, there was also Artemisia tridentata citrosma. Even non-gardeners knew about "Jessica's Orange-Scented Sagebrush" and had seen the media coverage of the twelve-year-old half-Indonesian half-Dutch all-photogenic girl who saved a threatened subspecies from extinction by selling ten million seedlings.

Membership in the Hazel County Science Society had reached an all-time high of eight, a full 0.2% of the county's total population, but its meetings were still held in the Buck Shack Cafe each Saturday morning. Science has shown that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and the Society members were not about to question this theory and risk missing the Buck Shack's sausages and eggs and fresh orange juice and hash browns and custard tarts and thin pancakes with powdered sugar and the best coffee in the state.

Jessica Van Bavel, the sagebrush girl, arrived early as usual. But the Buck Shack was empty! No customers were at the tables, no policeman was sleeping on the sofa. The steaming coffeepots were full. The three elk heads on the wall wore green plastic bowler hats for the holiday. The little metal bell that normally hung from the door was down on the linoleum with its bracket. "Hello?" Jessica called. She picked up the metal bell and re-hung its bracket over the top of the door.

"Well, good morning, Jessica!" Joyce Worthington came out from the kitchen. She was the Buck Shack's half-owner and Waitress Emeritus, and a fellow Society member. "Nobody here today but you and me, and poor Rod waiting to cook something—he's about ready to order the Ten Minute Nap Special what with all our customers out chasing that leprechaun."

"Oh. Mrs. Worthington, do you suppose, could we maybe, just for the duration of today's meeting, refer to it as 'the unidentified phenomenon'?"

Joyce smiled. "Sure, hon."

"Because I don't know how I'm going to keep the meeting under control if everyone goes sailing off into fantasyland."

The door burst open, the bell flew across the room, and an excited young man shouted "THEY GOT HIM!!" and ran off down the street.

Jessica stared. "They caught the—No, it's ridiculous."

"That's the seventh time this morning," Joyce noted. Jessica helped her re-hang the chains of metallic-green shamrocks that had blown down, and re-tack some of the 266 one-dollar bills—each signed by a satisfied customer—that were affixed to the wall above the sofa. The Ten Minute Nap Special was exceptionally popular with police officers on break and truckers on a long haul, and Joyce's invention, the Buck Shack Guaranteed Sleep Machine (patent pending) had paid for the sofa several times over.

Soon the door opened again, with somewhat less of a burst than before, and the same young man announced, "They didn't get him yet—it was Sue Stone's turkey," before returning eagerly to the hunt.

"That's good," said Joyce. "Sue's been looking for that turkey for two days." Joyce was on her knees searching for more loose dollar bills. She held up one end of the sofa with a powerful arm built by forty-five years of waitressing.

"They thought a turkey was a leprechaun?"

"So far today they've captured two dogs, one cat, a coyote, little Timmy Bjornson, and a five-gallon kerosene can. Aha." Joyce retrieved two escaped dollar bills, one signed by a trucker from Anchorage, the other by a physicist from Boulder.

John Hallman and Linda James burst through the door, which, having seen altogether too much bursting that morning, made a huge squeal and spitefully stuck half-open. John's face nearly matched his pastel magenta sports coat. "He was right out there! In the parking lot!"

"Little," said Linda. "Green! Man."

Jessica ran out the door to look. John said, "He wasn't green, Linda, he was just wearing green!"

"Same flash of light?" Joyce asked. "Same puff of smoke?"

"Yeah," said John, "just like that, just like everyone else says."

Jessica returned. "Nobody out there now."

"He spoke to us," said Linda, regaining some composure. "He—"

"Hold it a minute," Jessica interrupted. "You've just had a sighting, or, or an experience, of the unidentified phenomenon. And we ought to do this properly, now, and write down exactly what you experienced. Right away. Dispassionately and scientifically."

"Seconded," agreed John.

So they moved to the big round table where the Hazel County Science Society always met. Linda took out her tiny laptop computer, and they discussed and recorded every detail of the anomalous event.

"...And after the och and begorrah crap," Linda related, "he said something really odd—"

"Linda, uh." John adjusted his tie. "This is sorta embarrassing."

"No, John," said Linda. "This is science."


"Just like last summer with Lou's ewes."

"Lose what?"

"Lou's two ewes with the vaginal prolapse, remember? And that was embarrassing because of Hugh being just home from college for the summer. But—"

"Wait—use with vaginal—Hugh who?"

"Lou's Hugh. And—"

Jessica said "Um." That was her job.

"Oh, yeah, sorry," said Linda. "What he said was, 'Aye, there's the two lovebirds, up 'til midnight they was, an' not up again 'til three hours after the sun.' And then flash and poof, and he'd vanished."

"I think," said John, "those were more or less his words. Approximately."

"Hugh was a lot more embarrassed than that," Linda said as she typed.

"So he must have seen us last night, and we didn't see him."

"Might have," corrected Joyce. "Or he might have had information from another source."

"Or," said Jessica, "he might not exist, and this might be entirely a mental phenomenon. Which would explain how he appeared to know what you know."

"How did we both hear the same words?" Linda asked.

The injured door squealed to announce the arrival of Rose Anderson and her guest. Guests were always welcome at the breakfast meetings of the Hazel County Science Society, although, by tradition, guests who were not of species Homo sapiens were expected to be kept in suitable containers until their performance as part of a Science Report. But it was difficult to imagine a suitable container for the enormous terror bird who was now squeezing through the doorway.

"Mornin', folks," said Rose. "Got an old acquaintance here who wanted to come along. Sorry I can't pronounce his name proper for an introduction."

There was a brief pause before Jessica asked, "Would he be a Titanis, uh, sapiens?"

"Titanis, I'm sure I read they were gonna merge that genus into Phorusrhacos," Linda said, "so maybe Phorusrhacos sapiens? And I love your hat."

Rose introduced the Society members to her guest. The terror bird spoke incomprehensibly in a voice like a hot jazz trombone. He stood well over seven feet tall. From the wishbone down, he was built like a giant emu that had taken up powerlifting. His two short feathered arms each ended in a pair of opposable claws. His head was bigger than a horse's and looked like a cartoon caricature of an eagle, with a disproportionately gigantic raptor beak. Every part of his body looked seriously lethal. He wore a deep-purple leather vest with six pockets, and atop his large round skull a gold-embroidered blue satin yarmulke, which was tied in place by a huge orange bow around his thick muscular neck.

"I," said John, "am truly delighted to see that you folks haven't all gone extinct. Like we thought you did. Long ago. Jeez. Rose—"

"John, the ones that went extinct are extinct," Rose explained. "Same as our Australopithecus ancestors. This one, he's a modern species—a sapiens, like Jessica said."

"I noticed right away the large cranial capacity," said Linda, "and the fact that he wasn't eating us." The terror bird booped twice.

"Linda!" Joyce admonished. "Mister, uh, Titanis, will you be joining us for breakfast? How about a nice stack of—no, you don't look like a pancakes sort of guy—maybe some sausages? Sausages and scrambled eggs. Eeurk. No, sorry... Ohh."

The terror bird opened his beak as wide as anyone hoped it could not possibly go further than, and emitted a huge brassy squall of noise. Joyce urgently preferred to believe this was laughter.

"Ha! He can understand us," said Linda, "but if he can't generate human speech with his syrinx, where's his output device? He didn't come here without one, I'm sure."

"He stepped on it," said Rose. The terror bird looked down and made the sound of a flatulent tuba. "And he's not too good with pen and paper. Linda, could he borrow your little laptop? Then he can type at us."

"Sure, yeah, and, gimme a minute here, we can get voice synthesis too." Linda typed furiously. "We'll just pipe the output... to the para-lingual output translator device... There." Another burst of typing, and the computer intoned "Hello, world." She passed it to the terror bird.

The terror bird typed. He was even faster on the keyboard than Linda, despite his two-claw technique. "Thank you," spoke the computer. "I will not interrupt your meeting. I am here for learning of the unusual small person. I want to eat sausages and scrambled eggs. Please. Thank you. This is my name." And he emitted a cheerful little trombone riff.

Linda bellowed out a yodel that made everyone jump. "Was I close?" she asked.

"Thank you for making a try. You said rotten fruit hairy ultraviolet."

"How would I make that 'feathery ultraviolet'?"

Jessica hurriedly suggested, "May we call you Titanis?"

Titanis opened his vast mouth and blared again. "That is a funny name. I am most little of my family. Today Titanis is my name." He clonked his huge beak shut a few times.

"Great!" said John. "Titanis, welcome to Elk Creek. And now, there's a little green guy we need to discuss urgently."

"After ordering our breakfasts," coaxed Jessica.

"Jessica, I really think we—"

"I hereby call this meeting of the Hazel County Science Society to order," Jessica said, looking at her watch, "only three minutes late, and I am happy to welcome our guest Titanis to the meeting. And now, Joyce Worthington has the floor for taking our orders."

* * * * *

Ten minutes later, the round table was covered with maps and notes. Rose, John, and Linda had all seen the little green phenomenon personally. Joyce had collected nineteen additional reports from Buck Shack customers and door-bursting young men. All the sightings were substantially identical: light and smoke, alleged Sage Leprechaun with an inane greeting, more pyrotechnics, and he was gone. A number of people had set up ambushes, armed with video cameras and fishing nets and (in one case) a shotgun, but none of them had received a visitation.

"Look at the pattern of the sightings," Rose said, gesturing at the maps.

"I can't see one," said John.

"Yep—it's totally random."

"No," said Linda, "to be totally random he would have to be popping up all over town, even where there wasn't anyone to see him, and we don't have any evidence of that."

"Well, of course we don't," objected Rose, "if there wasn't anyone to see him. But I meant—"

"The whole town would be lost in a green smoke cloud," Linda continued.

"I meant, he was appearing to random people."

"Maybe not so random," Joyce noted, "since he avoided all the ambushes."

"But that could be a statistical fluke," said Jessica. "How many people are out searching?"

"Probably a couple hundred by now."

"Two hundred searchers, Elk Creek population twenty-three hundred and some, and twenty-one sightings by non-searchers only—"

"He might just be," suggested John, "a lucky leprechaun."

"Dammit, John," said Rose, exasperated. Joyce and Linda laughed.

Jessica put on her stern face. "We are not approaching this issue in an effective manner."

"Sure, we are, hon," said John. "Total immersion, followed by a nice relaxing break for breakfast. Gives the subconscious brain time to sort and file all the data. Best way to handle a complex problem."

"I'm not certain I agree with that." Jessica would have been extraordinarily vexed had anyone pointed out that she was quite beautiful with her stern face on. It was difficult enough being twelve without having to worry about stuff like that.

Linda asked, "Can we determine whether he has a solid existence? I mean, is he an actual little guy, or maybe a transmitted image, or a brain thing? How fast does he move?"

"Okay, Sean Hernandez reported him here"—John indicated a spot on one of the maps—"at 6:53 AM. He was at Sue Stone's barn at 6:58, and that's, let's see, about one-point-four miles as the leprechaun flies. Fast little guy, if he's real."

"I run faster," said Titanis via the computer. It was his first contribution to the discussion, and startled everyone.

"We're fairly certain you're real," Joyce said.

"Of course, he might have a vehicle," mused John.

"Maybe he's a car thief," Linda suggested. "Or maybe there's two of him. Or maybe they're both car thieves! A pair of pint-sized auto-rustlers! Just like my little Eddie and the Gilson kid, remember? When they were four? And they took Stan Gilson's car? Said they were drivin' to the city lookin' for hot girls?"

"It's this mythological crap that gets me so steamed," Rose complained.

"Almost made it, too, 'xcept they had a fight about who was gonna steer and who was gonna work the pedals."

"It's distracting," said Joyce. "Maybe it's intentionally distracting. Camouflage against scientifically-minded people."

"Interesting hypothesis," said Jessica diplomatically, although she was just as steamed as Rose. "Does it tell us anything? We still can't even guess whether this is a real, solid physical phenomenon or not!"

Titanis typed. "A real, solid physical phenomenon exists which can cause what was seen."

Nearly everyone said "What?" Linda said "Why?"

"I want to say nothing now. I will not interrupt your meeting. Please. Thank you."

All of a sudden, the door gradually squealed open, and a police officer armed with a large-caliber revolver sidled carefully into the Buck Shack. "POLICE! FREEZE!" he bellowed, pointing the gun at Titanis. Then he noticed the five astonished humans at the table. "Oh," he said, lowering his gun. "It's you folks." He spoke into his radio. "Elk-18, Dispatch, situation is 10-4, backup can disregard."

"Jeez, Sean!" John rasped.

"Ee," added Jessica.

"Sean Hernandez," Joyce ordered, "you ever wanna see another cup of coffee from me, you'll get your butt over here and apologize to our guest!"

"Joyce—Folks, I'm really sorry! Had one of those damn leprechaun-chasers from the city, says there's a damn dinosaur eating everyone in the Buck Shack, an' Dispatch sends me, they always give me the damn 50-50's, dammit."

"See what happens when you skip the meetings?" Rose chided.

"Hell, Rose, if they'd let me pick my shift—"

"We need you here," said Linda. "We may have a gang of dwarf auto thieves on the loose! It's police business."

"Good morning, Officer Sean Hernandez," said Titanis by proxy. "I will not eat you. Soon I will eat sausages and scrambled eggs. I am an officer. Thank you that you did not shoot me. Call me Titanis. Please. Thank you."

"And sage green might be their gang color."

"Yeah, uh, sorry, Titanis," Officer Hernandez said. "Hey—you're an officer?"

Officer Hernandez decided he was on break.

* * * * *

Titanis finished his sausages and eggs in one gulp, which he said he enjoyed greatly.

After breakfast, everyone was in a better mood. Rose and Joyce quizzed Officer Hernandez about leprechaun sightings. Titanis sat with his eyes mostly closed and his massive head tilted to one side, while Jessica scratched his strong feathery neck and giggled a lot. Linda and John resumed their argument about atomic tractors.

After a while, Titanis sat up and typed. "Thank you, President Jessica. You are a good neck scratcher."

"Oh, no problem, it was my pleasure!"

"I will request permission for, that you will come to my home."

"Come to your home? Really? Really? Aah! I don't know what to say! Thank you!! I'd love to see your home!" And Jessica gave Titanis a big hug around the neck, and giggled a lot more.

Rose looked at them, and didn't say something.

Joyce looked at Rose, and at Titanis. She never missed noticing something not said.

Titanis reached around Jessica to the computer. "Officer Hernandez, do you shoot many people?" That brought silence to the table.

"Well, no. No, I try to avoid that. I'm happy to say I haven't had to shoot anybody since I've been working for the Elk Creek Police." He looked at his plate. "When I was with the city force, there was an incident where I had to fire on a suspect. It's not a thing any of us wants to do. But there are some people that just need to be shot."

Titanis blasted the room with another laugh.

"Heh, yeah, heh," said Officer Hernandez, unnerved. "But, y'know, I spend most of my time, most of my effort goes into domestic disturbances, and DUIs, and people just doing stupid things." And he gave Jessica a significant glance.

"Hey, don't look at me," Jessica complained. "He's your son! I didn't tell Miguel to light off a thermite reaction!"

"On the front steps of City Hall," said Linda. "That was pretty."

"That was all his idea! I told him not to! I was just watching in case he hurt himself!"

"I know, Jessica," Officer Hernandez said, "and that's why he's grounded, but you know he was just trying to show off for you."

"Show off for me? Why? That's stupid."

"Look, I think you're a good influence on him, really, you and the Society here. Just, you know, if you can encourage him in the right direction, I'd really appreciate it."

"Well... I'll try."

"Thanks. And, I'm sorry to run off, folks, but I'm still on duty, so I'd better get back to it before the Sarge comes after me. Officer Titanis, pleasure to meet you."

"I am happy that I have talked with you, Officer Sean Hernandez."

* * * * *

The Hazel County Science Society reconvened at the freshly-cleared table.

"It's amazing how a fine breakfast can reorder the mind," John said. "For example, it just now struck me to wonder: why is it that Titanis, a terror bird, a sapient species about which none of us has ever heard—excepting Rose—is today in Elk Creek, attending our meeting, and indicating an interest in leprechauns?"

"Good question, John," said Linda. "I hadn't thought of that."

"I doubt it has anything to do with pots of gold."

"John," said Rose, "I do know a bit about Titanis and his people, but you can probably guess that they are tryin' to limit their contact with humans, and he's asked me to not say much."

Jessica frowned. "Secrecy doesn't go well with science."

"That's true, hon, but remember, you've done it too. When you discovered your orange sagebrush, how many people did you tell right away?"

"Oh, no. He's an endangered species?"

"Might be."

"Oh, no."

Titanis typed. "We are not endangered now. We are few. But we are hidden. And we are careful."

"That's good," said Linda. "Humans can be pretty awful sometimes."

"Along with most of the animal kingdom," Joyce added, causing Rose to frown.

"Okay, I don't want to pry," said John. "Titanis, sorry to bring the subject up. I hope I didn't ruffle your—didn't cause any offense. And I'm sure all of us look forward to some future date when you can share more information with us."

"I am not offended. I understand that you are curious. Thank you. To be here is my job. I am an officer. You have collected much useful information. You assist my investigation. I will catch the unusual small persons in four minutes."

Nearly everyone said "What?" Linda said "Why?"

"Probably the unusual small persons are of Homo floresiensis domesticus. They are our companions since before history. The Irish Green is a very popular breed. Sometimes they escape. From your useful information, I deduce approximately two feral Irish Greens are in this community."

"You're a dogcatcher?" said Linda.

"I am an Animal Control Officer. Also one of the Irish Greens possibly came from my home. My granddaughter allowed one to escape. To catch them is my job. Now we will discover if they remember their training." And Titanis removed a small device from one of his vest pockets. It looked like an MP3 player with a couple of tiny speakers, and indeed it began playing a happy bouncy vaguely-Irish tune in 6/8 time, performed by a brass quintet.

It was hard not to start smiling, and Jessica began bobbing up and down to the music. "I like it!" she said.

"Thank you. My granddaughter is singing the soprano part. I will take this outside."

Titanis led the parade to the door. Jessica followed, skipping and bouncing to the music. Behind her, John and Linda strode arm-in-arm, John in his pastel sport coat looking remarkably like Professor Harold Hill, Linda looking like Marian the Librarian would if she were carrying a computer and wearing a pants suit and had put her hair on crooked. Rose and Joyce brought up the rear, neither bouncing nor smiling.

"Rose," Joyce said, a full octave higher than the score.

"We better all go."

"But he—Jessica thinks—"

"It's science. She's gotta see. But we better all go."

The parade reached the parking lot. Titanis did a remarkable job of concealing himself in a big juniper bush, his legs and feet appearing to be just more trunks and roots. The music played, everyone watched, and soon it seemed there were lyrics in the distance. Then all of a sudden, there was no flash of golden light and no puff of green smoke, and two tiny men dressed all in sage green danced into view, singing and cavorting and waving their sage green bowler hats in time with the music. They danced their way across the parking lot, right up to the Hazel County Science Society.

Titanis turned off the music. The two leprechauns bounced to a stop, and looked around.

"The jig is up," said John.

Titanis emerged from the shrubbery.

"Oohhh, Seamus!" said one of the little men. "I'm a-thinkin' we're buggered!"

"I'm a-thinkin' the same thing, Paddy! Run!"

And they ran in zigs and zags across the parking lot but making for a grove of overgrown trees. Titanis took off after them in a straight line, with acceleration to shame a Harley-Davidson. The little men dove into the trees, and Titanis plunged in right behind them, beak first.

There were terrible sounds—

Sounds which nobody had heard for a thousand generations and everybody remembered more clearly than Mom's face.

They continued for longer than anyone could stand. Then there was a pause, and Titanis came out of the trees and loped back across the parking lot faster than anyone could have run.

He walked directly up to Linda, straightened his yarmulke, tidied up the big orange bow, and pointed at the computer she was gripping. She held it up to him, unsteadily, so he could type.

"This community will not have more problems of Homo floresiensis domesticus. I am sorry. I confirmed that one of the feral pets was from my home. I apologize for contributing to your difficulty." Then he coughed twice like a diesel tractor starting, and, as if any further confirmation were needed, removed a crushed sage green bowler hat from his mouth, looked at it, and dashed it to the pavement.

"Ohh," said John, "that will d-do wonders for my digestion."

Rose stepped forward. "I don't see how that was necessary."

"It was necessary because they were feral. It is a thing that any of us do not want to do. But there are some pets that just need to be eaten." He looked at Jessica. "I will miss Seamus. He was a good neck scratcher."

* * * * *

The terror bird departed, and the shaken members of the Hazel County Science Society retreated into the comfort of the Buck Shack. Joyce excused herself, went to the kitchen, and could be heard talking quietly with her husband Rod. The other four returned to the table and studied the wood grain for a time.

Linda spoke first. "I'm sorry Sean left before that happened."

Rose said, "Police couldn't make any difference. No laws 'gainst one animal killing another. No laws makin' him or them legally human. Can't do retroactive laws. Didn't even break any of his own laws, far as I know."

"I think," said Jessica in a wavery voice, "that I may decline his offer to go to his home." She looked up at Rose.

"Seein' as how he never mentioned a return trip—" Rose stopped when she saw Jessica's expression.

"Folks," John said, "our scientific duty calls. We mustn't get distracted by other issues. We ought to be writing down exactly what we just observed. Right, Jessica?"

Jessica's wide pupils normalized a bit. "We should..."

"Dispassionately and scientifically."

Linda rebelled. "John, we just saw those two little guys get swallowed whole!"

"Well, now, we didn't actually see—"

"I mean, I mean, if he was still hungry, Joyce could've brought him some more breakfast!"

"Linda, I didn't like it either, but we can't just up and pass judgment on the way they do things in their culture, not without knowing more. And those two little, those Homo floresiensis, they must've known what the penalty was—"

"Oh, right."

"Come on, Linda—look at how the farmers deal with feral dogs around here. It's no different, really."

"It is so different, John, the dogs don't talk and the farmers don't bash them to bloody pulps and swallow them whole! He could have captured them, he could have even, even put them down if he had to! But no, John, he ate them both up! Why?"

John simply shrugged. "Just desserts."

Copyright © 2006 William S. Statler. This work is licensed under a
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