Al moved back into his parents house shortly after his mother died, leaving him alone. Al was an only child and his only remaining family were distant in blood, geography and heart. He was an unintentional loner, and now that he was retired he had hardly any friends to speak of. He never had children, and his wife left him behind many years ago.
The family home was a 100 year old Craftsman nestled in the country. Perhaps its most distinguishing feature was the siding which Al’s father had always proudly claimed was the original wood. Unfortunately it was overdue for a sanding and repaint, so that was the first thing Al planned to do.
No sooner did Al purchase supplies and pull out his ladder when he noticed a track of small holes along the southern side of the house. “Damn peckers,” he muttered angrily. He counted the damaged boards. There were at least 25. He checked the rest of the house. Thankfully the other walls had been spared. But Al knew it was only a matter of time before the woodpecker would be back to ruin some more wood.
Al took an old shirt and some pants. He stuffed them with socks and used a flat basketball for the face. He watched from his screened porch as the offending woodpecker flittered into the oak tree in his backyard. It sized up the scarecrow standing close to its holes. It gave a loud twitter and then vanished into the woods. “Stupid pecker,” Al chuckled, pleased with himself.
A few weeks later, Al woke up to an unmistakeable sound. Half asleep, he stumbled into the yard where he caught a flickering glimpse of black and white. The woodpecker chittered at him from the nearby oak tree. Several fresh holes were bored into the side of the house, the useless scarecrow smiling close by.
Al shouted “Shoo pecker, shoo!!” and waved his arms and ran at the bird in the tree sending it darting back into the woods. This became his tactic for the next few days, until he realized it was impossible to be ready at all times to chase the woodpecker away.
Exacerbated once more, Al went to the local hardware store where they recommended plastic owls. He took a half dozen home and lined the eaves around the house with a small army of the stern looking statues. The effect lasted about a month, but woodpecker eventually returned to his drilling. Al was so shocked and surprised to hear it that he nearly tripped on his way out the door. The woodpecker bolted when Al appeared. Al’s eyes followed him as he landed on top of one of the nearest plastic owl’s head. It was the perfect vantage point for the bird to see the entire yard.
“Blasted pecker!” Al shook his fist. He now counted about 52 damaged boards. “Fucking pecker!”
The next day Al went into his father’s old gun closet. He picked out one of the shotguns. He meticulously cleaned it with oil and a rag before loading two shells with a heavy click. Al had reached a threshold that all of us walk at sometime in our lives, a place somewhere between madness and desperation where we are much more apt to perform uncharacteristic and reprehensible acts. Even do things we might regret.
Al carried the shotgun onto the porch and spied the woodpecker creeping along the side of the house. It was brazen and unafraid, shifting its body to a fresh board and returning to its relentless hammering. He leveled the gun and aimed it toward the hapless woodpecker. His finger danced on the trigger as his teeth gnashed in his mouth. Then suddenly a light shone in his eyes causing him to blink and lower the gun. Al shielded his eyes with his hands and tried to see where the light was coming from.
Al caught a glimpse of a young boy in the window next door. The boy was holding up a hand mirror and using the reflection of the sun to aim a beam of light into Al’s face. When the boy realized Al saw him, he gave a startled expression and disappeared into the house. The boy’s face seemed so familiar. He reminded Al of himself as young boy, when he use to live in this house with his mother and father. He loved to watched the birds in the yard. He would put up feeders. He even made a list of the ones he saw: bluebird, mockingbird, blue jay, robin, oriole, and his favorite… woodpecker. He would have done anything to protect those birds.
Al watched as the woodpecker found a new spot and began to pound away with its sharp beak. He shook his head, rubbed his neck, took a deep breath, and muttered “God blessed pecker” before stepping back into the house.