For this week's column, it would be helpful if you'd hum the "Jaws" theme while I relate this riveting story. You could hum the theme from "To Sir, With Love" if you'd rather, but it wouldn't make sense.
It's late Friday afternoon on Lisbon Street. I'm standing with Animal Control Dude Wendell Strout on the sidewalk, waiting to be let into a building so the hunt can begin. We're like Hooper and Quint out there (me being Quint because I called it first), going over the game plan and assessing the danger.
I don't know it at the time, but we're just 15 minutes from Wendell unleashing his Animal Control Super Technique of the Damned, a maneuver so brilliant, Chuck Norris can't figure it out.
"Those things," I say, gazing up at the third floor, the scene of the horror. "They won't go for the eyes, will they? I mean, should I be wearing goggles?"
Wendell is about to answer when the building owner arrives with a key to let us in. It's go time on Lisbon Street, our version of Amity where a fanged killer has been terrorizing the populace.
(Are you still humming? Really, it loses something without that theme. Don't worry about spraying scrambled eggs all over the place, we'll send someone to clean up when we're done.)
Wendell and I go up a narrow staircase headed toward the third floor. He tries a light switch and gets nothing, which ... I mean, come on. Is that a giant clue, or what? Just about every horror movie in the world starts with somebody trying a light switch. Click, click followed by the roar of a chain saw.
We climb higher into the building. Beneath our boots, something is crunching like egg shells or old bones. Above, the darkness is alive with the sounds of flapping wings, low cries, squeaks of fear.
Although to be fair, some of those sounds were probably me.
Wendell shines a flashlight. Its yellow beam flickers, preparing to die. Clue No. 2 for the boneheads among you. When the light presses in on the darkness, things start to get lively. There is the sensation of things flying around our heads. There is fluttering and clucking and somewhere deeper into the building, a larger sound of something waiting.
DUN, DUN. DUN, DUN, DUN.
"There is death everywhere," Wendell said.
OK, he probably said something more prosaic than that, but that's what it sounded like to me. Like the chubby medium in "Poltergeist" declaring that it knows what scares you so you should probably go into the light and stuff.
Wendell is right, though. Death everywhere. Dead pigeons were scattered across the floor like grisly playthings. Big pigeons, baby pigeons, newborn pigeons barely out of their shells. It dawned on me then that what had been crunching beneath our feet was, in fact, egg shells and old bones. I mean, was that foreshadowing, or what?
The sounds are growing more intense. Birds are flapping over our heads now, agitated. Everywhere we look, we see fluttering pigeons, their eyes alight with terror. Hundreds of pigeons, like Al Hitchcock's bad dream.
"If there are pigeons," I say repeatedly, trying to reassure myself. "Then there is surely no hawk in here, am I right? No pigeon would be stupid enough to stay here if a hawk were afoot. Am I right?"
Wendell shoots me a look. Fool! that look says. You dare to know the mind of the jungle beast?
Or maybe he just had gas, I don't know. He wouldn't answer my question, either way.
"There's something in there," he says, aiming the dying flashlight beam at the very dark room at the front of the building. "Do you hear it?"
I did hear it, the scraping and clawing, growling and groaning of something larger — the kind of something that lives under the beds of terrified children. A creature born in a nightmare and one who feeds on ...
Keep humming, damn you! We're just five minutes from Wendell's Super Fantastic Kung Fu Move of the Animal Control Black Belt.
We move carefully toward the dark room, old bones crunching beneath our feet as if warning us away. The flashlight beam is down to a thin tube of jaundice-colored light, but there is enough of it to fall upon the gleaming eyes of the beast. The beast being a hawk with a long, hooked beak and sword-sharp talons clutching a quivering pigeon. No, really. We came in just as the hawk was about to feast, like Dracula preparing to put his mouth to the neck of the radiant Mina, or whatever that dame's name was.
What followed was terror! And a little bit of comedy. Wendell and I generally chased the hawk around the room, ordering him to release the pigeon like Dirty Harry advising the bad guy to let the girl go. The hawk would flit from one place to the next, glaring at us with its baleful eyes. Pigeons darted, delirious with fear, over our heads. One of them brushed my cheek, causing someone — we'll never know just who — to utter a girlish shriek.
The scene was a madness of flying feathers and squirting pigeon poop (at least I hope it was pigeon poop). And then, just as it seemed we would perish like the drunk girl into the jaws of the shark, Wendell unleashed his Masterful Maneuver of the Animal Control Green Beret.
He flung up a window and propped it open with a stick. Threw up another window, propped it open with a stick. Flung up a third window ... but you see where I'm going with this.
For the next three minutes, Wendell and I chased the bird around the room, shooing it toward the open windows. "Get out, bird! Oooga booga booga! Begone! Shoo, hawk! Blah, blah, blah!"
And so on. And once he was annoyed enough, the hawk flew out the window.
And then we closed it.
So the bird couldn't get back in.
I was winded, sweaty, covered with feathers.
"That's it, Wendell? That's what they taught you in Beast Master school? Open a flippin' window?"
Wendell shrugged and plucked feathers from his mustache.
"Sometimes the best solution," he said, all Mr. Miagi like. "Is the simplest."
And we descended the stairs, heading back toward the sanity of light, while somebody (that's your cue) hummed very nice denouement music to bring the scene to a close.
Seriously, keep humming while the credits roll. You have perfect pitch.
Mark LaFlamme, known as The Hawk for his biting prose style, is a Sun Journal staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.