Brian had hunted most of his life for the famed killer-bird of New Zealand. Now deep in the wilds, he stalked it through the brush, his chest damp with sweat. Gun cocked and ready, he raised his rifle through a tangle of ferns as he spied a furry, bipedal shape lingering beside the lagoon below. Alone in the glade, he sighted the shadowy creature grazing among the reeds.
Others had laughed at his expeditions. Hunters and ornithologists alike. It didn’t exist they said. Brian almost grinned as he peered down the sight of his barrel at the supposedly mythical killer-bird of New Zealand’s south island. Brian had only seen drawings, depicted by imaginative artists listening to second-hand tales from aboriginals. With the modern age, not so much as a blurry photograph had surfaced of one of these prehistoric flightless birds. And now he had a chance to bring back a real flesh and bone carcass.
Brian edged his way round the sedge and brambles of the forest floor, keeping at least one eye upon the murky shape of the large-beaked bird foraging beside the water. A beak thick enough to crack a man in half, Brian surmised, as the animal chomped tough bundles of swamp reeds like cud between with jaws. It seemed unaware of his presence.
Raising his rifle once more, Brian focused his sights on the monster’s thick gizzard. He wrapped a finger around the trigger, squinting one eye in the damp humid air. The bird craned its head aloft, ruffling its tail feathers and flexing its muscular legs. Brian clicked off the safety on his gun. His quarry stood only a few dozen yards away.
A trio of knee-high chicks emerged from behind the large, feathered beast. Brian stayed his finger on the live trigger, opening both eyes. He watched as the three young birds trotted about their mother’s long feet, gnawing on blades of grass and each other’s tail feathers with playful veracity. They chirped and purred with the gleeful awkwardness of newborns.
Brian shook the beads of perspiration from his head, taking aim once more. He kept his gun trained on the massive dodo-like head of the mother bird, but time and again one of the tiny underlings danced across his field of view. The lone hunter waited patiently for a clear shot, not willing to risk his one chance at his prize over a tiny chicklet. As Brian sat there the wind shifted and the mother bird reared her skull towards him, flashing a single sapphire eye intently in his direction. Despite his camouflage, Brian was certain the killer-bird knew he was near. For a moment even the trinity of baby killer-birds paused, one stopping before Brian’s poised field of fire. The hunter opened both eyes once more and stared at the family across the tiny clearing.
The mother bird turned her head and trotted out of the glade, the tall reeds and lagoon waters left trembling in her wake. One by one, her three offspring darted after her into the deep forest, where neither man nor woman ever tread. Alone in the glade, Brian lowered his rifle and stood and gazed a while before turning around and heading back towards camp.