A headline in The Globe and Mail last week drew my eye: “Hundreds of B.C. crow attacks tracked with new online map”. The story painted a dramatic picture of a city and its residents enduring waves of avian attacks: “So far, there have been dozens of attacks reported in downtown Vancouver. . . . The birds are more aggressive than [anyone] ever imagined . . . [there are] reports of crows banding together to dive-bomb passerby . . . Mapping the attacks helps establish where the most aggressive crows are.”
The whole thing put me in mind of a scene from World War I. Just imagine someone playing “Keep the Home Fires Burning” mournfully on a harmonica, and you’re set. . . .
They huddled in clusters, peering out into No Man’s Land. There had been rumours of a big push, and furtive glances were cast at Walker, the grizzled veteran. At last he took a deep breath and stood up slowly. His face creased with pain, and his hand went instinctively to the bandage on his arm.
“Are you all right, sir?” asked young Johnson.
“Just a bit of gyp from the old wound,” Walker said lightly. “It plays up now and then.”
Johnson had only been there for a week, and the full horror of their plight had still not sunk in. “How did it happen?” he asked.
“Sudden attack. There were two of them.” Walker closed his eyes for a moment. “Never saw them coming. Thank goodness Cheung was there. She managed to frighten them off, buy me enough time to get to my car. If it hadn’t been for her. . . .” His voice trailed off. “Others haven’t been so lucky, though,” he continued. “Bryce didn’t make it 20 feet before they were on him. He managed to fight his way into a Starbucks, but it was a close thing.”
He looked at his watch. “All right, listen up, everyone,” he said. “This is it, lads——“
“And ladies,” murmured Pritchard from Human Relations. “Equal opportunity employer, remember.”
“——and ladies,” continued Walker. “We’re going over the top. I need a volunteer. Someone to decoy them while the rest of us make a break for it. I know I’m asking a lot.”
“I’ll go, sir. It would be an honour,” said Fields.
“No.” Walker shook his head. “You have a husband, children. It’s too much to ask.” He looked around. “Anyone else? I’ll go, if no one else will.”
“I’ll do it,” said young Johnson, his voice firm.
“Are you sure?” asked Walker. “You don’t know what it’s like out there.”
“I’m sure.” Johnson handed his iPhone and wallet to Walker. “Make sure my mother gets these if . . . if anything happens to me.”
“You all know the plan,” said Walker, scanning the pale, nervous faces around him. “We give Johnson 10 seconds, then we make a break for it. Stay together, keep low, and don’t stop, whatever you do. The enemy is relentless, and will be looking for signs of weakness.” He took a deep breath. “Whatever happens out there, know that I’m proud to have served with you all. With any luck, this nightmare will be over soon.” He nodded at Pritchard, who stood by the door. “On my mark . . . ready . . . now!”
Casualties were light, and Johnson is expected to make a full recovery. But the battle is far from over, and all anyone can hope for is that the experts are right, and it will be over by summer. In the meantime the enemy watches, and waits. War is hell. . . .