Three beaks waited between Dina and a sumptuous meal. Three beaks and thirty metres of potential pain, but Dina was willing to risk it. She padded towards the old school room and its towering gum trees. Grey clouds hid the sun, and summer-dry grass crunched beneath her feet. She took a skipping step and leapt to the top of the boundary fence, balancing with all the ease of her four years. Her tail flicked out to counter the slight wind.

Head high, Dina studied the yard. No sign yet of the koolbardi, but—she ducked as a swift-moving missile launched from the nearest bottlebrush. The djiti-djiti chittered wildly, its tumescent complaints at her presence as uncouth as its attempts to knock her off the fence. Dina steeled herself, straightened her newly-sharpened claws, and landed a swipe on the djiti-djiti’s beak.

The little bird catapulted backwards in alarm and consternation. It shook its black tail side to side, then, deciding to match Dina’s ambition, dive-bombed her once again. The two sniped at each other, dancing precariously on the edge of disaster, but Dina had learned the djiti’s routine, and at the trough of its dive she jumped, caught the bird in her front paws, and tumbled with it to the orange dirt.

Beak number one: suppressed.

The second guard was easier to subdue than she’d anticipated. Dina had spent hours as a kitten watching the koolbardi attack everyone in sight. Humans had tried to move the nest, had strung up bright cloth and shining deflectors, but to no avail. When the constant bombardment had forced the children inside permanently, the classroom was abandoned. Dina had watched the new buildings fill, while the name koolbardi returned to fearful legend rather than living horror. It had kept her away… until now.

Slinking past the overgrown herb garden and its intense, flowery scents, Dina froze as a shadow passed overhead. She turned, slitted eyes following the black-and-white shape to its perch in the closest lemon gum. With deliberate slowness, she stepped back and pushed against the schoolhouse’s exterior column, rubbing her collar against the bricks until its magnetic clasp snapped apart. Leather and shining silver clattered to the ground.

She sniffed it once, swiped with a nonchalant paw, then chased it across the yard towards the chicken roost. A final thwap sent the collar skittering, coming to rest beneath the gum. The suspicious watcher swooped…and took the bait.

One left.

Wire surrounded the old chook enclosure, but that held little difficulty. The problem was Big Spot, the bad-tempered layer who’d also refused to move. They faced each other, green eyes to gold.

The fight was short and brutal.

Dina licked her wounds, cursing the hen and hoping she’d kept a clean beak. Satisfied, she moved on, swatting away a few feathers, to the treasure within the henhouse—two speckled eggs. She ate the warm one. Then with the other between her jaws, careful as a mouser, she returned to her kittens with their treat.

Australian magpie (called a koolbardi in Noongar language) – by matsusanae from Pixabay
Header image by Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

This story was my entrant to February’s Furious Fiction competition from the Australian Writer’s Centre — a monthly, 500-word flash fiction competition that’s free to enter and open worldwide. Congratulations to the winning entry, shortlisted and longlisted entrants. Furious fiction turned three in February, and I also marked my 18th entry! To enter yourself next month, the deadline is shown here, and do join in the fun on Twitter and Facebook with #furiousfiction.

Hope you enjoyed my tale. Subscribe below for more posts every week.

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