“Oh, my goodness,” Chloe said, studying her brother in a brown hat with a pipe hanging from his beak. “Zack, are you smoking?”
“Of course not, dear sister,” he said, puffing on the pipe and sending out a stream of bubbles.
Morty giggled. “You got your mommy’s old bubble pipe from your grandparents attic, didn’t you?”
“We pillage quite a bit from there,” Chloe said, “but I don’t think dressing the part makes a difference.”
“Nonsense, my ladies. You should always dress for the part you play. I am Zack Clue-So.”
“Ok,” Jinx said. “I’ve got no hat or pipe. I’ve been too busy helping Coco and Penne install the night vision sensors on the cameras. We also moved all the cans of whoop-up and ammunition into the basement and barred the doors so the babies can’t get in there to play with them.”
“We also strengthened the motion detectors on the perimeter near the woods,” Quarky Birdy said. “So hopefully we’ll be able to see what’s moving out there as soon as it sets off the detectors, instead of creepy shadows like last night.”
“We’ve analyzed the tracks outside and the debris from last night’s attack,” Charlie said, tapping the computer to bring up the footprints. “These prints around the electrical box look canine in origin.”
“A dog chewed out our wires?” Chloe asked. “Why? That’s not like a dog.”
“I said canine. That could mean a number of things,” Kermit said.
Charlie nodded. “It could be a fox, a wolf, or a coyote.”
“Coyote?” Sassy asked. “I thought there weren’t many of them around here!”
“They’re increasing,” Zack said. “Mommy’s brother saw one late one night in the woods behind his house.”
Conure Chick blinked at Zack. “Why was your uncle walking around in the woods at night?”
“Because he’s related to mommy and he’s weird, that’s why,” Chloe said. “I’ve seen foxes, but they generally don’t come this close to the castle. There have been reports of bears too, but the natural resource department is pretty good about rounding them up quickly, and it’s rare. I’m thinking a wolf or maybe a coyote. But what about the eggs?”
“They weren’t from Walmart, that’s for sure,” Conure Chick said. “They were smaller than what you see in the grocery store, and fresher. Do we know if there are any hen houses on the perimeter?”
“We’ve heard roosters at sunrise,” Queeny said, “so there may be chickens out there, too.”
“Roosters?” Conure Chick asked. “How long have you heard roosters?”
Queeny shrugged. “A couple of weeks, maybe. Not long. We haven’t seen them, though. Or any chickens, either.”
“I heard the transport van for the chicken factory wrecked recently,” Kato Q said, scrolling the news feed. “Yep, last week. Any chance some of those hens got away?”
“I hope so,” Chloe said.
“So what do we think happened?” Jeff Musk asked. “We think wolves or coyotes came here to throw eggs at the castle, and chew our wires. Why? What have we done?”
“Nothing!” Sassy said. She looked at Queeny, who’s eyes widened.
“Us either. We’ve been good birds.”
“We know you have,” Sassy said. “I was just wondering if you’ve seen or heard anything recently that was out of the ordinary. You do live on the perimeter.”
“This is an outrage!” Queeny said. “Of course, we would have told you if we saw or heard anything. Why do you think we’d set you up for danger? You took us in! You gave us homes from the wild.” She waved a wing toward the window. “This is just the kind of thing we were trying to escape! Maybe you’re the ones setting us up!”
“Ladies, please!” Zack said. “Nobody is blaming anybody for anything. Now, let’s think! Has anybody heard or seen anything useful, like what Kato Q just shared about the wrecked chicken truck?”
“I read an article about hunting districts being redrawn last week,” Felix the Beta bubbled from his tank, where he was looking over Kato Q’s shoulder at the news feed. “Kato, see if you can pull it up. I think the territories were redrawn or expanded recently.”
“Last week,” Kato Q said. “And look at this map. That’s pretty close to our borders.”
“Some hunters could have crossed into our territory without knowing it,” Andrea said.
“Interesting,” Zack said, puffing more bubbles out of his pipe. “Maybe it’s not about something hunting us. Maybe it’s about something else being hunted and thinking we’re one of them.”
“We do live in a castle,” Chloe said, “and I don’t know of any other castles where anipals live. They may think humans are here.”
“But why throw eggs?” Charlie asked. “I don’t understand.”
“Maybe they wanted to see what came out to clean it up,” Morty said. “Thankfully, last night’s storms washed most of it away. We didn’t have to do much cleaning.”
“Or maybe something was chasing something else, which was chasing something else,” Zack said.
“What?” Jinx asked.
“He’s right,” Felix said. “Think about this. One animal is hunting another. Then human hunters come after the hunter. Both run here without realizing they’ve crossed into Anipal land.”
“That makes sense,” Jinx said, “and it worries me. Why are there so many predators on our borders? We need to do something to make it clear that this is a safe zone for anipals.”
“I agree,” Zack said. “First, we need to know who the guilty parties are. Then we need to figure out how to communicate with them.”
“I know how,” Chloe said, flaring her feathers.
“Preferably, without kung fu,” Zack added.
Chloe’s feathers drooped. “So, what do we do?”
“I have an idea,” Felix said. “Zack and Chloe, don’t your parronts feed the feral cats and wild animals outside their home?”
“They throw their leftovers out,” Chloe said. “They said it was the least they could do since they built their home there and drove the animals further back.”
“Do you know any of the ferals that frequent their feeding troughs?” Felix asked.
“That was a tongue twister,” Queeny said. The hens cackled.
“Actually, we do,” Zack said. “Whitey is a usual around there, particularly at night. He usually comes around just before the parronts get home from work, and hangs out in the yard or the woods until he eats. I can talk to him this afternoon.”
“I’m guessing he’s Whitey because he’s white?” Jinx asked.
“You betcha!” Zack said, bubbling his pipe. Chloe ran to Zack and jerked the pipe out of his beak.
“Stop that! It’s distracting!” she squawked.
“It kind of is,” Andrea said. “I’d like to pop those bubbles.”
“Us too!” Sassy and Morty said.
“Oh boy,” Queeny said. She shook off the distraction. “Look, we know some of the ferals, too. Rebecca Raccoon and Petey Possum come around our parts regularly. Maybe me and a few of the girls can head back around sunset and scope them out.”
“That’s fine, but be sure you’re back by full dark,” Chloe said. “We still don’t want you out there all night until we figure this out and know it’s safe for you.”
“Thank you, Chloe friend.”
“We care too,” Sassy said, “and I didn’t mean to sound like I was accusing you. You guys are just so secretive sometimes. We need to see you around here more!”
“I think you will, now,” Queeny said. “We understand how important regular communication is now. I’m sorry we would go such long times without squawking.”
“Excellent,” Zack said. “You’ve done a fine job reinforcing our security measures. The next step is to talk to our feral friends and see what we can learn. We’ll convene here again tonight with our feral friends. Maybe soon, this mystery will be solved.”