Author’s note: I was too busy finding a Halloween costume to write a new column this week, so please enjoy this slightly edited offering first published a few years back.
In my opinion, the bird was dead.
And it was sad, really, because we had grown attached to a family of birds nesting in a corner of the garage (the recent move from the country to town meant we had upgraded from shed to garage, if only in terminology.) Whether this bird was from the same family – a wayward cousin, perhaps – I didn’t know.
And, being fairly ignorant of ornithology, I was unsure what kind of bird it was, other than dead. I could only be fairly certain of what it was not – owl, goose, duck, chicken, parrot, vulture, ostrich, eagle, pterodactyl or Sesame Street’s Big Bird. Other than that, it could have been just about any variety lying there.
As the man of the house, I knew it was my duty to inform the others of the carnage and issue a stern warning.
“There’s a dead bird in the garage,” I said. “Nobody touch it.”
“How do you know it’s dead?” my then young daughter asked.
“Because it’s not moving.”
“Maybe it’s sleeping.”
“Birds don’t sleep on garage floors.”
“Maybe it’s in a coma.”
I quickly reviewed my years of medical training, countless hours spent watching “ER,” “Marcus Welby, M.D” and, especially, a well worn videocassette of “Candy Stripe Nurses,” and I could recall no case of a bird in a coma.
“No,” I said. “In my opinion, the bird is dead.”
“What happened to it?”
I was fairly certain I knew. One side of the open garage has large Plexiglas windows. I had already witnessed one bird swoop in and thump against the window, shake off the blow and fly back out.
This one, apparently, did not shake it off.
“What are you going to do with it?”
Of all the annoying questions, this was the most perplexing. In the country, back in simpler times when a garage was a shed and I did as I pleased, dead bird disposal was no problem. In town, though, I feared it was regulated by some kind of ordinance which, if violated, would result in a hefty fine.
“Section 42, Subsection B: Residents encountering a bird or similar winged creature in a lifeless state upon a garage floor or within 20 feet of an occupied dwelling shall be required to complete and submit a Dead Bird Reporting Form to the Dead Bird Compliance Officer within 36 hours of encountering said dead bird or winged creature as set forth in Subsection C.”
Unsure of what to do, I turned to the wise, old sage of the 21 st century – the internet. I searched for “dead bird disposal” and “dead bird regulations” and “West Nile virus” and “penalties for throwing dead bird in neighbor’s yard” and “monkeys wearing funny hats” and “Candy Stripe Nurses” on eBay until I eventually forgot all about the dead bird.
But that night, I dreamed we had become ground zero for avian flu in the U.S. Yellow police tape cordoned off my house. Men in hazmat suits burned my clothes in barrels in the front yard. CNN interviewed the neighbors.
“Sometimes he called his garage a shed. Kind of an odd fellow.”
The next morning, I was determined to follow the most sensible bird disposal advice I found on the Internet and adhere to whatever ordinance the city fathers had deemed appropriate for dead birds. Armed with gloves and a plastic bag, I entered the garage.
And the bird was gone.
No feathers. No chalk outline. No warbling mourners. Nothing.
Cat? Maybe. A miraculous awakening from a coma? Perhaps.
To this day, the disappearance of the bird remains a feathery mystery wrapped in a winged enigma that not even the Dead Bird Compliance Officer has solved.
Scott Hollifield is editor/GM of The McDowell News in Marion, N.C. and a humor columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.