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Catch That Pigeon: A Short Story by cam
This story, and the two before it, are loosely based on events of my childhood. The more dramatic parts are pure fiction, but most of the details are true. I'll leave a list of the real parts at the end. I hope you enjoy my latest story in this series, Catch That Pigeon.
Red and White Wild Pigeon
Tom drove the final nail through the plywood into the two-by-four. All he had left to do was assemble the parts and add some chicken wire. By the time the night was over, his whole plan would be ready to go.
“Whatcha building,” said Rick, Tom’s best friend and neighbor, who was his own age of thirteen years. Rodney, Rick’s ten year old brother picked up one of the panels.
“Looks like it’s gonna be some kinda cage.”
“That’s right,” said Tom. “A pigeon cage.”
“We ain’t got no pet pigeons,” said Rick.
“Not yet, we don’t.” said Tom. “But we will after we spend the night here in the barn.”
“What’re you talkin about?” said Rick.
“The pigeons sleep up in the rafters, don’t they? All we gotta do is go up and get em,” said Tom.
The barn was one of the big, red barns that were still found on nearly every farm in Indiana in 1970. The upper level was for hay to feed the dairy cows and straw for bedding. The lower level was for farm machinery. Tom’s father had taken out half of the hay loft, leaving that part of the building open from the concrete floor to the rafters forty feet above. This was done so that big pieces of machinery like the corn picker would fit inside. Rick and Rodney looked up at the rafters.
“You’re gonna climb up there?” said Rick.
“Yep. I’ll grab two pigeons and we’ll put em in the cage,” said Tom.
“Why?” said Rick. “You ain’t thinkin about eatin their eggs are you?”
“No, we’re gonna send messages with em.”
“Messages to who?” said Rodney.
“Each other,” said Tom. “We’ll build a cage at your house and keep one pigeon there. When we want to send a message, I’ll bring your pigeon here and let it go with a note tied to its leg. It’ll fly right back to your cage. And when you want to send a message to me, you can take mine to your house.”
“How’d you come up with that idea?” said Rodney.
“I read about it in a book,” said Tom.
“I hate readin,” said Rodney.
“I know. That’s why I come up with all the good ideas,” said Tom.
Homemade Pigeon Cage
The three boys finished putting the cage together and later that night, after supper, went to the hay loft which was filled with stacked bales of hay. They made a hideout by pulling out several sections of bales all the way to the floor, then unrolled their sleeping bags and waited for the barn to become completely dark.
“What kind of messages are we gonna send with the pigeons?” said Rick.
“Whatever we want,” said Tom. “But it should be important stuff. Like if there’s an earth quake or a tornado.”
“I ain’t never felt an earthquake here,” said Rodney.
“We could send a message if we see suspicious people driving around. You know, like the ones who steal corn from the fields before it gets hard so they can eat it like sweet corn,” said Rick.
“Right,” said Tom. “Important stuff like that.”
“Why don’t we just use the telephone?” said Rodney.
“Shut up, Rodney,” said Rick and Tom.
Inside the Barn
The sun set and the light faded until Tom could barely see his friends sitting on their sleeping bags.
“It’s time,” said Tom. “Rick, you take this flashlight and shine it on the pigeons when I tell you to. They won’t fly when they are blinded by the light.”
Tom went down the ladder from the hay loft and crossed to the barn’s end wall. He began climbing at the corner of the building where a series of planks ran end to end up the entire height of the barn. This was where he found the best hand and foot holds.
Tom moved slowly, looking down from time to time at the John Deere plow and other pieces of machinery. In spite of the summer heat, he wore a winter coat so he could put the pigeons inside. His cotton shirt captured the sweat as he strained to pull himself higher. He reached the point where the vertical support boards met the ceiling about ten feet to the right of the peak.
He had to move to his left in order to position himself directly beneath the pigeons. The boards to which his toes and fingers clung were nailed flush against the barn’s siding, so that he could only grip the top edges. He could hear the birds cooing as he drew nearer.
“Rick, shine the light on the pigeons,” he said. A yellow beam illuminated several birds. Most were the common black, grey and white, but one was red and white. That was the bird Tom wanted. He would take one of the others for Rick and Rodney, but the red and white pigeon was for him.
He crept sideways a few more feet. The birds remained perfectly still with the light blinding them. Tom let go of the board with his left hand and reached toward the frightened bird. It tried to move away, but was blocked by the other pigeons. Tom stretched until his finger tips grazed across soft feathers. He gripped the red and white pigeon and slipped it inside the coat, against his wet shirt. He clutched one of the other birds and shoved it in next to the red and white one.
He climbed back down and jumped the last few feet to the ground where Rick and Rodney waited.
Common, Colored, Wild Pigeon
“What now?” asked Rodney, as they put the pigeons in the cage.
“Tomorrow, we’ll build the cage at your house and put your pigeon in it. We’ll let them get used to being fed every day and to being safe from cats and hawks. That’s what will cause them to keep going back to the cage, especially if they know they can get out during the daytime.”
“You read all this in a book?” said Rodney.
“That’s right. I got it at the library,” said Tom.
“I hate readin,” said Rodney.
“That’s why you never have any good ideas,” said Tom.
“I do so,” said Rodney.
“Name one,” said Tom.
“How about that rabbit trap I invented? I tied a string to a stick and used it to prop up a wood crate. I put a carrot under the crate and waited for a rabbit to come along and try to get it. Then I’d pull the string so the crate would fall over the rabbit,” said Rodney.
“Did you ever catch a rabbit?” said Rick.
“No, but it was still a good idea,” said Rodney.
“You really need to get a library card,” said Tom.
A few days later, Tom went out to the barn. Tom had sent his pigeon home with Rick and Rodney the night before and Tom expected to see the red and white bird roosting in the cage that morning with a small piece of paper banded to its leg.
Sure enough, his own pigeon was inside the cage. Tom caught the red and white bird and removed the slip of paper, then sat down to read the important communication.
There were two messages. The first was from Rick. It said, Lets go fishin today. The other, in Rodney’s sloppy printing, read, Whats a liberricard?
“Well, they’re not important messages, but at least it works,” Tom said to the pigeon.
The next day, a group of local farmers and the county sheriff were holding a meeting in the barnyard of the farm belonging to Tom’s parents.
“Somebody is sneaking onto the property of farmers all over the county and stealing their gasoline and diesel fuel,” said the Sheriff. “Some of you right here have been robbed over the last couple of weeks.”
“They drained my storage tanks and siphoned the fuel out of my tractors and trucks,” said one farmer.
“Those crooks never use our driveways. They drive across fields, even fields of corn and soy beans, and sneak onto the property late at night,” said another.
“How many of you have had a good farm dog shot with arrows?” asked the Sheriff. Several men raised their hands.
“They coaxed my dog in with fresh meat, then shot him dead,” said a man named Lester. “Found the meat and the dog the next morning.”
Carrier or Homing Pigeons With Notes Attached to Legs
Tom, Rick and Rodney had heard enough and returned to the barn. There hadn’t been much room to spare on the ground floor, so they had built the pigeon cage in the hayloft.
“I was thinkin while the Sheriff and the farmers were talkin,” said Tom. “Our pigeons should be deliverin messages about important stuff like that, not stupid things like goin fishin and library cards.”
“Me and Rodney have to go home for dinner now. We can come back later if you wanna sleep in the barn tonight,” said Rick.
“What if those crooks come while we’re up there?” said Tom.
“I ain’t stayin out here if them bad guys is comin,” said Rodney.
“You’re nothin but a little chicken,” said Rick.
“Let him stay at home,” said Tom. “I got to admit, it scares me a little bit too. When you come back tonight, Rick, bring your pigeon just in case we need to send a message to Rodney during the night.”
“And I’ll know if the pigeon comes back. Uncle Bob put a lectric door bell on our cage. When the pigeon flies in, it hits a wire that makes the bell go off,” said Rodney.
“And the cage is right outside our bedroom window, so you should be able to hear it.”
The two brothers left, and Tom went to the house for his own dinner. He had quite a time convincing his parents to let him sleep in the barn, but they finally conceded.
Rick and Tom met in their hideout in the hay loft. The sun was setting and they could hear the cows moving out into the pasture for the night.
“There’s a lot of farms for them bad guys to steal from ain’t there?” said Rick.
“Yeah, what’re the chances they’d pick our farm tonight?” said Tom.
“Chances are slim to none,” said Rick.
“And slim’s outa town,” Said Tom.
"At 2:00 am, one of the sliding doors rolled open..."
When Tom’s Dad had taken out half the hay loft so big machinery could be stored there, he had also put in two large sliding doors in the side of the barn. As the boys slept, there was a corn picker, a farm truck and a tractor downstairs. All of them had fuel in their tanks. At 2:00 am, one of the sliding doors rolled open.
“What was that?” said Rick.
“That was trouble-come-a-Knockin, my Mom would say,” said Tom.
Tom and Rick crawled to the edge of the loft and looked down into the lower level. They couldn’t see anything, but they could hear two men talking in hushed voices.
“There’s lotsa fuel here, so lets work fast,” said one of the men.
“I always work fast, Larry, why you gotta make it sound like I don’t?” said the other.
“Shut up and start siphoning, Marvin, you idiot,” said Larry. “Just look at all this equipment. These farmers are rich is what it looks like to me.”
“Let’s get outa here fast,” said Rick.
“How are we gonna get out? If we go down the ladder or the stairway, they’ll see us. If we open one of the sliding doors and jump, they’ll hear us,” said Tom
“The pigeon,” said Rick. “ We gotta let it go, now.”
They made their way to the cage and opened the door. Rick picked up his pigeon, while Tom went to their sleeping place to write the note. On his way back, he was climbing out of their hideout and accidentally pulled a bale of hay off the top of a stack. It landed on loose hay which muffled the sound, but not nearly enough for the thieves to miss it.
The sound of five gallon cans being set down on concrete told the boys that they didn’t have much time to hide themselves. Tom’s fingers felt like wooden sticks as he tried to wrap the note onto the leg of the pigeon.
“Hurry,” said Rick.
“I’m tryin,” said Tom. “My fingers won’t work right, I’m so scared.” But the note was on and Rick turned the bird loose. It flew over the two men below, then out through the sliding doorway.
“It was Just a stupid pigeon,” said Marvin.
“That little pigeon didn’t make the thud we just heard,” said Larry.
“Maybe we scared it, and it flew into the side of the barn,” said Marvin.
“Could be,” said Larry. “But you get up there and see if there’s anything suspicious.”
Pigeons, Beautiful Birds
Tom and Rick jumped into the hideout and covered themselves with their sleeping bags, cowering in the corners of the dark space. They heard Marvin climbing the stairs and attempting to walk across the top of the stacked hay. Curses rang out every few seconds as his foot found another empty space between the bales.
“Larry, there ain’t nothin up here but hay,” said Marvin. We’re wastin time.”
“Well, you just waste another minute and make sure, then get back down here and finish siphoning the gas outa that truck,” said Larry.
Marvin took one more step and discovered something that exists in every hay loft on farms where young boys live. A hideout. He landed on the uneven, old floorboards. His ankle twisted, giving off a cracking noise as tendons and ligaments stretched and tore.
Marvin’s cry of pain alarmed and angered Larry. He abandoned all efforts to continue stealing the fuel and ran up the steps and across the hay bales, calling out to Marvin.
“I’m down here. Be careful where you step, Larry.”
“Okay, I’m here. Dang, it’s dark down there. I’m holding out my hand. See if you can grab it”.
Larry hauled Marvin out of the hole and helped him to the stairway.
“You sure ruined this heist,” said Larry. “Let’s get out of here. It’s a shame leavin all this gas and diesel behind though.”
Larry had parked at the entrance of the barn’s sliding door. He put the truck in reverse and the backup lights illuminated a vehicle pulling in behind him.
Two men approached on either side with handguns pointed at the open windows.
“Out of the truck you two. This game is over,” said the Sheriff.
A small crowd gathered in the dark outside the barn as the Sheriff and his Deputy handcuffed Larry and Marvin. Rick and Tom had climbed down from the hayloft, and Tom’s Dad had come from the house. Rodney and his father were there as well.
“Does anyone have anything they want to say to these two before I take them away?” said the Sheriff.
Rick walked up to Marvin.
“My pigeon ain’t stupid,” he said.
Tom stepped forward and looked up at Larry.
“And all those farmers you been stealin from. They ain’t rich.”
The next day, Tom, Rick and Rodney sat in the hayloft.
“That sure was a good idea you came up with about having pigeons to carry messages,” said Rick to Tom.
“I wouldn’t of had the idea if I hadn’t read it in a book,” said Tom.
“That reminds me,” said Rodney. “I gotta leave now. Mom is takin me into town.”
“Where are you going,” said Tom.
“We’re gonna go get me one of them liberricards,” said Rodney.
Visiting the Old Farm
Parts of This Story That Are True
Rick, Rodney and I did build our own pigeon cages and catch pigeons in the barn.
The climb up to the rafters was real.
We did spend a lot of nights in the barn.
Gasoline and diesel were stolen from the farmers.
Forts and hideouts in the hayloft were under constant construction.
My father did remodel the barn so that we could park large pieces of equipment inside.
To my knowledge, Rodney never got a liberricard.