The scene was this: Young Archer, the man known as me, was jogging down Sheridan Road along the lakefront past Carthage College.
His headphones blasted Bonnie Prince Billy, his little manlet legs pounded the pavement, and his face gleamed with a disturbing amount of sweat.
Only minutes before, it had been a sunny and beautiful day, but now storm clouds approached off the water and darkness had settled over Kenosha.
A bird rose up from the grass.
Black. Some hellish crow creature, listing cruel and malevolent on the breeze. It dipped hard toward me, and I ducked. In a rush of dark wings, it flew right over me.
Continuing my run, I assumed this was just another in a long list of minor avian incidents in my life, but then something sharp and frantic hit the back of my head. I tripped, swatting at the unseen force, and in a moment of deep surreality, I realized that I was being attacked by the bird. Someone call Alfred Hitchcock.
I picked up the pace, running faster, and trying to knock the thing away like a panicking Tippi Hedren. Its wings lashed against my neck, its beak pecked my skull, and then abruptly, it stopped. I turned over my shoulder and saw it flying off toward the water.
I sprinted away until I was a safe distance from the avian assailant. Trembling with fear, I checked over my shoulder for that telltale flash of black wings and crooked claws streaking toward my eyes. The suddenness. The wanton brutality. A nightmare of cruel chance and feathers.
When I got back to my car, I cleared off my front seat and threw my shovel, lighter fluid, and pork rinds back into the trunk with the rest of the evidence. My other plans would have to wait — there was nothing I could do now but flee home. Driving away under a stormy sky, I stared up in horror at the swooping black shadows above, knowing that one of those evil creatures was just waiting to come down and finish the kill.
“We have to secure the perimeter,” I growled as I arrived at home. I rushed down to my dungeon to find barbed wire, gunpowder, and shrapnel. Halfway through assembling my first bird trap, I realized that this might not be the best idea in a crowded neighborhood.
What is a man to do when faced with unprovoked bird attacks? I walked back upstairs, my head still aching from the frantic clawing assault. Maybe this would make sense if I analyzed the attack. The answer had to be out there.
Why had this raven decided to wantonly assault an innocent jogger, who was only trying to ameliorate his tendency toward chunkiness? Had I veered too close to its territory? Was it diseased or injured or insane? Or perhaps it recognized me from that unfortunate rare bird safari a few years back?
I’d never know for sure, because birds can’t speak English, and that’s the only language I’m fluent in. So I’d have to look elsewhere, to philosophy and logic, to science and the cosmos, to Marcus Aurelius and Carl Jung and the holy scriptures. There was a pattern here–an explanation for such violence.
I scoured the internet. I poured through bird-watching manuals. I carefully read the Book of Revelation for possible clues (Babylon the great is fallen and is become the habitation of devils … and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. (Rev 18:2)). Nothing. No explanation. My attempts at reason left me lost, which suddenly revealed the key to this whole incident.
The bird attack was a small, absurd, yet very tangible reminder of the unbearable randomness of Being. Despite our best efforts, the strangest and darkest twists await. Sometimes a confluence of events leads to good things: a promotion, a marriage, an award-winning column. Sometimes it leads to a bird scratching the hell out of your head.
You build up defenses, settle into routines, assemble carefully crafted bird traps deadlier than a New Zealand brush fire, and yet, it’s never quite enough, because randomness is always waiting merciless and cold around the next bend, ready to claw your eyes out. And there’s no stopping it.
So what to do?
I spent a couple weeks hiding in my house, too terrified to jog again. What if this time instead of a bird, it was a tiger? What if a full-grown Bengal tiger flew at my head? That would be much more difficult to slap away. As the weeks passed, my gut grew larger and my skin grew paler. I started talking to myself. Sunlight burned my eyes. My neighbor’s overflowing bird-feeder was a vision of pure hell.
But worse was my weak doughy self standing cowardly and pathetic in the mirror, and I realized that there’s no hiding from randomness, because there is no escape. There is only preparation and hope.
So I threw on my sweatpants, balled my keys up in my fist, and went for another jog.
Archer Parquette recently won first place in humor writing in the Society of Newspaper Columnists 2019 contest for a column in the Kenosha News. He is a graduate of Boston College and lives in Kenosha.