Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chapter Twenty-Five: I Thought You Told the Purdys

Chapter Twenty-Five: I Thought You Told the Purdys 

Marmots are apocryphally known to use different whistles to communicate different dangers approaching their colony. Though the types of whistles may vary from group to group, hikers have long suspected that marmots have a different warning call for when they come into view as opposed to, say, a badger or bald eagle. 

Some of the more sensitive (or clumsy) hikers also believe marmots’ special whistle for some hikers is akin to a human calling to another: “Hey, this guy’s walking on scree. I think he’s going to fall on his ass. Come watch.” 

None of that is true – though it is true marmots do enjoy watching hikers hurt themselves. In truth, marmots have a varied language that they understandably keep to themselves, and only whistle or chuck or gurgle when an enemy’s approach is imminent and discerned as a threat. Many marmots, in fact, will watch other animals, including predators and man, with an unbounded curiosity. They will then return to their compatriots – once the threat or lumberer is departed – on what they’ve seen. 

But none of this helped the marmots communicate with the Purdys. At all. 

This they already suspected would be the case – their efforts to speak with other humans as they tried to sell their goods and warn them of their imaginary shotguns had come to naught. But as is the case with those who present ideas in a large group setting, it fell to them to implement their plan. 

They fell to other measures. 

Aloysius was goaded into stealing more books, this time going much further afield to find privies where a few childrens’ books might be obtained so those with the best chances of communicating – the crows through speech and the raccoons through rudimentary writing – could learn a bit more of the alphabet and how to put words together. 

“I will not come back with folksy words to make for a laugh,” he screamed at Father Marmot before he set out on his first such expedition. “But you will take whatever I bring back – if it’s not what you want, then you go find it. I’m through.” 

The crows learned quickly – they’d already learned a fair bit of quacking from the duck and were natural mimics – once Aloysisus brought a few books back and the marmots discovered a phonograph and a stock of records in an ill-used shepherd’s shack. 

The duck – whom the crows called Cecil, as his own name was unintelligible – was ruled out as a communicator. “They’ll just listen to you and laugh,” Chylus told him.

But they agreed to let him come as they tried to communicated with the Purdys for the first time. “Maybe seeing a duck and crows together will ease the tension,” Magda said. “Maybe think we’re setting up some kind of joke.” 

So on a sultry night with the crickets chirping and thunder rolling on the other side of the valley, Chylus, Magda and Cecil watched warily form the bushes as pa and Yank sat on the back porch, idly whittling at sticks and spitting into the growing darkness.

Their earlier plans to march up to the humans felt cold and distant and foolish. “No use scaring them,” Chylus said. “They’re not used to dealing with us in groups. Especially when we’re talking.” 

Chylus approached first, boldly flying from across the field in a slow, meandering flight that guaranteed the Purdys saw his approach. That he would speak to them – hopefully, with them – would be surprise enough. 

He landed on the porch railing, hopped nervously, and squawked. 

Pa Purdy chuckled and threw a bit of bread toward the bird. “Put the gun down, boy,” he said to Yank. 

Yank scowled, and lowered the shotgun, which he had started to retrieve from his side. 

“What ya gonna do? Blow it’s head off and splatter the both of us?” 

Chylus squawked again. He eyed the bread. This is going to take some willpower, he thought to himself. 

“Hello,” he said. 

“Damn bird talks,” Yank said.

“’es! Tak!” He eyed the bread. Then wrenched his eyes from it, looked at Pa. 


“Hello!” Pa said. “Hello!” 

“Farm! Farm! Sayyvit! Sayyvit!”

“They’re clever birds, Yank,” Pa said.

“This one’s a bit loud,” Yank said, wiggling his finger in his ear. 

Chylus leaped from the rail, grabbed the bread and choked it down. Now, he thought, I’ll be able to con— 

Pa Purdy threw an entire slice of bread on the porch.


“Help you! Farm! Sayyvit! Sayyvit Farm!” 

He found his beak useless at pronouncing the W and V sounds. But it was good at eating bread. He leaped again and took the bread to the railing.

“Hello, crow!” Pa Purdy said. 

Despite himself, Chylus said Hello back. 


Chylus clamped his beak shut. This was harder than they thought. Maybe they should have used the raccoons. They were getting pretty good at spelling words. 

“Sayyvit farm! Pant cop! Corn! Corn!”

“You’ve got bread right there at your feet, you greedy bugger,” Pa said. 

Chylus hopped on the rail, knocking the bread into the dirt. 

As the crow squawked and the humans listened and said “Hello!” back to it, a board in the porch near the front door slowly rose. Paws pushed a folded bit of grubby paper up through the crack. The board lowered in place with only a tiny squeak. 

“Corn! Car’t! ‘na gar-den!” 

“Throw it some more bread, Pa. Shut it up, or I’ll get the gun.” 

More bread on the porch. 

“Fah! Fah!” Chylus screamed. 

From under the porch, barely audible chuckles.

Chylus leaped from the rail and flew off over the field. 

“It left the bread,” Pa said. “See that? Squawked loud as you please for more and left it there. In the dirt. Damn daft thing.” 

“That was weird,” Yank said. “Think that bird was trying to tell us something?” 

Pa laughed. “Yeah. He was hungry.”

They sat on the porch a few more minutes, as unseen paws grabbed the bread in the dirt and pulled it under the porch. 

Several minutes later, Pa took a swig from a jug on the table, popped in the cork. “I’m off tibet,” he said. 

Yank followed. 

At the door, he stooped. 

“Pa, look at this.” 

Yank handed Pa Purdy a bit of folded paper. He unfolded it and read, in letters cut from various newspapers and magazines: 

Be WAre tawKING bird!
Tawk only too U.S.
We will TEL how
Sav yor fARm
NEW note 2moro

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