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Fine, Feathered Friend

By Kathleen E. Kovach

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“I can’t do this.” Glenys gripped her cell phone with a sweaty palm while glancing back with longing at her rental car in the parking lot.
“Yes you can.” Trista’s voice reached her through the receiver and past the fear-induced buzzing in her ears. Her best friend spoke with a mixture of exasperation and encouragement.
“But there are birds in there. And not just birds. Big birds. Predators. Eagles.” She swallowed hard. “Falcons.”
The gate gaped before her, its teethlike spiked fence posts looking more like a fort than a bird sanctuary. She felt safer on the outside.
“I should have come with you.” Trista sighed. “How badly do you want the movie role?”
Glenys squeezed her phone until she expected her friend on the other end to gasp for air. “Bad enough to fly here to Oregon and leave you in Los Angeles.”
“That’s not bad enough, although I do miss you.”
“Okay, so badly that I’ve already written my Oscar acceptance speech.”
“Well, I think Oscar is a little ambitious since this is a minor role. But I think you’ve proven you want it at all costs.”
“The part is totally mine if I can just get over this fear.” And moving past the sign that read Shady Pine Raptor Center would be the first step to conquering that fear.
A crisp breeze signaling an early autumn whispered through the Douglas fir that hugged the hillside. Even so, Glenys broke into a nervous sweat under her rabbit fur–collared suede jacket.
“All you have to do is hold a falcon.”
“I know.” Why did the most promising movie role to come along ever in her career have to involve falcon handling? “By the way, have I thanked you for letting me stay at your cabin?”
“No, but I figured you were stressed.” Trista laughed, and Glenys could imagine her tossing her dark waves with a flip of her hand. “I’m just happy I could suggest it. It’s been in my family for years.”
“Well, I’m grateful. The nearest raptor center to me was a seven-hour drive away. Kinda far for a day trip.”
“No problem. Now, you can do this. Put one foot in front of the other. All the birds are in cages. And there are professionals in there who will be sure you’re safe.”
“You’re right. I’m just being silly.”
“No, not silly. Phobias are real—I know that. I’m still a little afraid of the dark.”
Glenys closed her eyes and focused on her friend. She prayed that Trista would embrace the Lord and be redeemed from an eternity of darkness. Thinking of someone else loosened her feet to take one more step.
Trista sighed. “But we all have to make sacrifices in this business.”
Here it comes. Trista had made it successfully in Hollywood with minimal sacrifice thanks to her daddy, Anthony Farentino, the successful producer who had helped launch a galaxy of movie stars. Yet she had no problem spouting advice to those who struggled with their craft.
“Some of us have had to make sacrifices, Little Miss Director’s Daughter.” Glenys and Trista often bantered on this subject. But Glenys made her tone light to make it known she was only kidding, although there was much truth in it.
“Hey, don’t knock it. If it weren’t for Dad, you wouldn’t even be up for this role.”
It was true. She had auditioned for Mr. Farentino in other
projects, but for this one he had actually approached her, insisting she would be perfect for the role of falcon handler. How could she turn that down?
And now she stood outside a bird sanctuary that nursed injured and ill predatory birds—facing her largest fear.
“Have you moved yet?” Trista’s voice held an impatient tone.
“No.”
“I don’t know what else to do for you then. I was hoping you could talk to someone with a passion for raptors. Maybe then you’d see they aren’t so scary. And remember, there’s only one scene in the movie where you have to actually hold one. Surely you can do that.”
“I know. You’ve been a great friend through all of this. I’m just being a big baby.”
A bubbling giggle in the receiver assured Glenys that Trista still loved her. “Hey, I’m just concerned you’ll miss this opportunity. Consider my nudging a thank-you for holding my hand during the stalker scare. You and your dad really came through for me.”
Another reason Glenys hated predators. Stalkers came with and without feathers.
“How is the judge, anyway?” Trista asked. “I haven’t seen his name in the news lately.”
Glenys laughed. “Laying low, thanks to you. I don’t think he appreciates being labeled ‘Judge to the Stars.’ ”
“Listen, I’ve got to go. Please promise me you’ll give this a chance. I know it will work. You might pray to that God of yours. Doesn’t He have a thing about fear?”
“ ‘Fear of man’ ”—and birds—“ ‘will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.’ From Proverbs 29:25. I quoted it to you when you had to face your stalker.”
“I remember.”
Glenys sent a quick praise that the seed seemed to have burrowed somewhere in Trista’s heart.
The two fell silent for a moment. Finally, to prove to Trista she practiced what she preached, Glenys took a step. “I’m moving.”
“Forward?”
“Yes.” Glenys allowed a tinge of irritation in the word, but knew the validity of Trista’s question.
“Great! Keep those feet going, and report back to me this evening. I’m proud of you, Glen!”
Trista hung up, and Glenys’s feet stopped with the silence. She continued to grip the phone—her only connection to sanity. No, that wasn’t correct. God was her connection, and she repeated the verse on fear for herself and added, I can do everything through Him who gives me strength. Then she moved past the wooden sign and nearer to the sounds of screeching, cawing, and flapping feathers.
A school bus had pulled into the parking lot while Glenys was on the phone, and now four dozen seven-year-olds flocked by her, all doing their own squawking and twittering. The children and a handful of adults had smiles on their faces, as if they were actually happy to be near talons and sharp beaks.
She followed along, swept into their wake, more secure tagging behind the crowd. If something was going to attack, she had a solid human barrier.
No, Glenys, God does not condone sacrificing children. Well, maybe they’d make enough noise to keep any stray predators away.
They walked up a short hill to a log building. A rustic sign, basically a board nailed to a stake in the ground, pointed the way to the visitor center. She decided to duck in there while a member of the staff greeted the kids and laid out the game plan to the chaperones.
Gingerly opening the squeaky door, she entered a small room cluttered with brochures, promotional material, and
children’s educational pages to take home. There were also knickknacks, coloring books, small toys, and other items to buy. The inside reflected the rustic outside with its rough-hewn wood-plank walls. But those were hard to see for all the shelves of books and posters of birds on the walls.
“May I help you, sweetheart?”
The voice sounded like an elderly woman. She searched the room. No one was there. A slight flap of feathers to her left caught her eye. In the corner a large gray parrot sat on a perch and watched her intently with creepy yellow eyes.
Glenys froze. Why wasn’t the creature in a cage?
The bird tilted its head and opened its beak. “May I help you, sweetheart?”
She clutched her chest where her heartbeat threatened to break through the skin. As she tore the door open with a vow on her lips to give up acting and take up snake charming, a male voice stopped her.
“May I help you?”
She turned slowly to see a man, probably in his thirties, tilting his head in the same way the parrot had. His sandy-brown shaggy hair fell into his eyes, and he swept it away with mild annoyance. By the eagle logo on his khaki shirt breast pocket, she gathered that he worked at the center.
As she leaned against the door, it closed with a click, but
the doorknob became her symbolic safe place, and she curled the fingers of her left hand around it even tighter as she eyed the gray reaper in the corner.
“Um. . .I’m here to look at birds.”
A smile tugged at his cheek, and she noticed his eyes for the first time. Brown with a twinkle of gold.
“Well, you’ve come to the right place.”
“Right place, awk!”
Glenys jumped slightly. Get a grip. It’s just a silly parrot.
“And here’s your first opportunity.” He walked over to the
parrot and held out his hand. The bird hopped on and sidled upward to his shoulder. From there it scrutinized Glenys as if it were about to ask for her credentials. She shrank farther into the closed wooden door, her hand still on the doorknob behind her back. The man seemed to notice her consternation and kept his distance.
“This is Cyrano. Say hello, Cyrano.”
“Awk. Come here, sweetheart.”
The man rolled his eyes. “Sorry for his manners. He’s influenced by too many people here.” He fed Cyrano a sunflower seed he’d pulled from his pocket, then touched his chest. “I’m Tim Vogel, bird handler.”
Glenys would have extended her hand, but didn’t trust the parrot’s sharp beak. “Glenys Bernard, actress. I’m here on a research mission.”
Instead of the usual interest people would exhibit when she’d tell them her profession, Tim’s eyes dulled noticeably. Then they shifted away as he placed Cyrano back on his perch.
Before she could ask why there was a tropical bird at a raptor center, someone opened the door, with difficulty since Glenys was still holding on to the doorknob. A woman poked her head in, bumping the door into Glenys’s backside. “Oh, excuse me! Tim, they’re ready for you.”
“Okay, I’ll be right there.” He glanced at Glenys. “I’m giving a tour to those kids out there.”
Glenys didn’t want to be left alone with even a social bird like Cyrano. “May I tag along? I’ll probably learn more in a group than by taking a self-guided tour.”
His eyes darted to the doorknob. “Of course, but you’re going to have to let go.”
She released the knob quickly, as if it had turned into a hot charcoal briquette. He motioned with his hand for her to go ahead, but the friendly smile had dissolved into a thin brooding line—and ice had entered the room.

Tim followed the skittish woman to join Mandy and the students waiting for a day of raptor education. Ironic that an actress would walk into his sanctuary on the very day he received a cell phone text from his mother detailing why she couldn’t visit—again. He couldn’t decide if she was just in denial over Gramps’s mental condition or if she simply didn’t care about them anymore. It had been a couple of years since she tore herself from Hollywood and her stagnant career as an actress.
Mandy introduced him to the energetic group. He tried to forget about his mom, and actresses in general, because right now, at this moment, nothing mattered except sharing his passion with young bird enthusiasts.
“Hi, guys! You ready to learn about some awesome birds?”
“Yeah!” they shouted, which is what he knew they’d do.
“Then you’ll have to do me a favor. This area here is the only place you can be noisy and run around, okay?” He leaned against one of the four picnic tables and gestured with his arms to show the craft area in which they were standing. “This is a bird hospital as well as a nature center, and some of our patients need their rest. So if it starts to get a little noisy, I’ll just do this.” He put his finger on his lips. “Then you all do the same, and when it’s quiet I’ll continue with the tour. Deal?”
“Deal!”
Tim laughed at their enthusiasm. At this impressionable age, he hoped most of them would come away with a new respect for the raptor. And maybe one or two would dedicate their lives to preserving the species. Which is what had happened to him during a field trip when he was ten.
He continued to address the group. “Okay, half of you are going to stay here for now and do a fun craft project with Miss Mandy, the center’s director. The rest will follow me up
the hill, and I’ll introduce you to some of my friends.”
The groups split off, and as he began the trek up the gentle slope to the large enclosures, he noticed the actress hanging behind. Was she contemplating doing crafts with the kids? However, she eventually trailed the group and was the last to join them as they gathered at the first enclosure. A little girl asked her if she was someone’s mom.
“No, I came to see the birds, just like you. May I join you?”
The little girl in red pigtails nodded. “You can be my mom. She couldn’t make it today.”
The actress smiled, showing an intriguing dimple. “Thank you.”
Tim waited until he had everyone’s attention. “This first bird is a red-tailed hawk. Her name is Heidi.” Heidi watched the children from a branch. “Who can tell me what hawks eat?”
Hands shot up, but they still called out their ideas.
“Bugs!”
“Lizards!”
“Dead stuff!”
“Actually, hawks hunt for live food. Farmers love hawks because they help rid them of grasshoppers, gophers, rabbits, and mice.”
The actress went just a touch pale and reached out to hold the red-headed girl’s hand.
Tim continued. “But Heidi can’t do that right now because she was shot with a BB gun and has nerve damage to her wing.”
“What do you do with birds who can’t be released?” a teacher asked.
“We try to find a good home in a zoo or other place specifically designed for wildlife, but if there is none available, we keep them for educational purposes, which is what I’m doing right now.” He left out the third option, euthanasia. “In any case, we must be very careful with our feathered friends
and not shoot at them, right?”
“Right!”
“Now, since Heidi can’t hunt for herself,”—he rummaged in his sweatshirt pocket—“I need to feed her.” He drew out a feathered carcass. “This is a our version of pizza delivery, only it’s quail.”
“Ew!” The kids spoke collectively, but the grins and mock-disgusted faces proved they weren’t scarred for life.
He quickly replaced the dead bird into his sweatshirt pocket and turned to unlock the screened wooden door. “All of our enclosures have two doors. Double security to keep our birds in.”
The actress raised her hand. “Excuse me. Have they ever gotten out?”
Tim shook his head. “Not since I’ve been here.” He continued to walk into the enclosure and grabbed a gauntlet from the hook near the inner door. “Notice how I approach her. I never make her do anything she doesn’t want to.” He used his soft voice as he pulled on the glove. “Hey, you want to meet some kids?” He offered his arm, and Heidi stepped onto his hand. He held up a length of leather. “I use this leash to clip onto the leather straps attached to the anklets on her legs. These straps are called jesses.” He demonstrated by clipping the leash into the ring at the joined jesses nine inches from her body. Then he wrapped the jesses and leash around his palm. “This helps me keep a tight rein on her so she won’t fly away.” When he brought Heidi out, he noticed that the actress had backed several yards away. Yep. Fear of birds.
The kids continued to ask questions while he tried to get the hawk to take the carcass from his hand, but she was too busy watching the crowd—specifically the actress, who, even though she’d backed away significantly, was still within Heidi’s excellent field of vision.
Oh man! Why hadn’t he noticed? She had a fur collar on her jacket. Heidi must have thought it was a rodent. Her gaze zoned in as if she were about to swoop onto her prey, and she flapped for all she was worth. Thankfully, Tim had a good hold on her, but he felt her strength.
“Shh. Settle down.” Heidi tucked her wings back in as she lost interest in her target, who was now running down the hill, punching the numbers on her cell phone, and screaming as if she were in an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

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