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Harry Turtledove

Harry Turtledove writes science fiction and fantasy, much of it alternate history and historical fantasy. Recent books include The Man with the Iron Heart, The Valley-Weside War, and The United States of Atlantis. While he is not as obsessive a birder as the characters in "Birdwitching," he has taken birding trips to Nome, Alaska and Quoddy Head, Maine. He spends time combing the wilds of Chatsworth, California, tracking down reports of vagrant Siberian Dreeble-Finches, but with little success.

Lucy Parker was a birder. So was her son, Jesse. Lucy was a witch. It wasn't obvious whether Jesse had the Talent; he was only nineteen, and it didn't manifest itself till people got into their mid-twenties. John Parker, Lucy's husband and Jesse's father, was terminally mundane and had no interest in birds except dark meat. These character flaws notwithstanding, he did have other talents, and the three of them lived happily enough in Sunset Grove.

Fred O'Neill was also a birder. So was his daughter, Kathleen. Fred was also a witch, as well. Kathleen was only eighteen, so nobody knew whether she had the Talent, either. Her mother—Fred's wife—Samantha was every bit as mundane and at least as uninterested in birds as John Parker (though she liked white meat). So you can pretty much forget about her and John.

You do need to remember that the O'Neills lived in Fernwood, just over the barony line from Sunset Grove. You also need to remember that Lucy Parker couldn't stand Fred O'Neill, and that it was mutual. Who done what to whom? It all started a long time ago, and they tell different stories. They both sound sincere when they do, too. By now, that hardly matters. They ain't friends, and they ain't ever gonna be.

Jesse Parker, on the other hand, thought Kathleen O'Neill was pretty cute. She had red hair and freckles and everything else an eighteen-year-old girl ought to have—and Svarovski binoculars besides. She didn't think Jesse was half bad, either. This horrified and amazed his mother and her father. Not Montague-Capulet country, maybe, but you could see it from there. Also not your basic California Dreamin'.

And you need to remember that the annual Yule Bird Count was coming up. Sunset Grove and Fernwood birders would have been rivals even if Lucy Parker and Fred O'Neill were thick as thieves (which each thought the other was). They lived next door to one another, for cryin' out loud. If you can't brag on yourselves and woof on your neighbors, well, what's a heaven for?

So every year there was a mad scramble to spot as many different sparrows and raptors and waterfowl and other feathered critters that happened to lurk anywhere close by, and to publish same, and to laugh at the neighboring birders whose count happened to come up short. About every other year, there were charges that Sunset Grove's birders—or Fernwood's, depending—counted birds they didn't really see, just to make their numbers bigger.

Everybody denied everything, of course. Of course. Nobody would stoop to such evil, underhanded tactics, of course. Of course.

"We'll get 'em this year," Jesse told Lucy as the big day approached. Fernwood had outcounted Sunset Grove the year before. Suspicions of cheating were more than usually rampant—among Sunset Grove's birders, anyhow. Jesse was a competitive kid. It all added up.

"You'd best believe we will, kiddo," Lucy answered. She was even more competitive than her son. It wasn't easy, but she managed. "We'll whip 'em good. You can count on it."

"Cool." Jesse grinned. Then, perhaps incautiously, he added, "Kathleen says—"

"What does Kathleen say?" Was that frost in Lucy's voice? As a matter of fact, it was ice. A competition with Kathleen was a competition she'd lose. Come to that, a competition with Kathleen was a competition where she couldn't even compete. She knew it, too. She hated it, but she knew it.

For his part, Jesse knew something wasn't quite right there, but his hormones made sure he didn't know what. "She says some of Mr. O'Neill's birding buddies were talking with him the other day. They were asking him what he could do about, like, finding some extra birds for the Yule Count."

"Oh, they were, were they?" Lucy's ice turned into a glacier and started overrunning a continent. "Magicking birds into place for the count is immoral and unethical." She paused. If you listened near the edge of the glacier, you could hear woolly mammoths trumpeting. "And I wouldn't put it past Fred O'Neill for a minute."

"Kathleen says that they said that some of them thought that maybe you'd done some birdwitching before," Jesse said.

It was a good thing he needed three dependent clauses to get where he was going with that, or the whole glacier—and probably the poor woolly mammoths, too—would have flashed to superheated steam. As things were, what Lucy said made Jesse's jaw drop. Moms weren't supposed to talk like that.

"I haven't," Lucy continued, biting syllables off between her teeth. "I didn't. But if Fred O'Neill is crooked enough to think he can get away with pulling that kind of stunt, he'd better think twice. Those nearsighted yahoos in Fernwood won't cheat their way past us again. Not a chance."

"Cool," Jesse said again. Then, even more incautiously than before, he started another sentence with, "Kathleen says—"

"What?" Lucy barked.

Her son flinched. When he got his nerve back, he finished, "She says her dad says he won't let us win by cheating, either."

"Oh, he does? Oh, he won't?" Lucy echoed ominously. "Well, we'll just have to see about that, won't we?"


Yule dawned clear and cool. It would get up into the high sixties later on, maybe even to seventy. Winter in Southern California. Lucy, who'd been born in Cleveland, loved it. Jesse, a native, took it for granted, the way he did his upper-middle-class lifestyle. Lucy and John (maybe you can't quite forget him) had busted their humps for years so he could do exactly that.

The Parkers had a big back yard, full of trees and flowers. Flowers at Yule? Sure. Why don't you pack up and move here? Everybody else has. It was also full of hummingbird feeders full of sugar water, of seed feeders on poles with big iron baffles to keep squirrels away (there were even bigger ones to keep raccoons away, but the coons didn't come around very often), of suet left out for woodpeckers and other birds that found it tasty, and little fountains so the feathered beasties could sing in the shower.

Behind the Parkers' yard were fields and scrubby chaparral. Plenty of birds that wouldn't come into a yard on a bet liked it fine out there. Some of them were even willing to be spotted.

Even though it wasn't very cold, John (yeah, there he is again) had set the Yule log burning in the fireplace at midnight. Tradition? Tradition! It was down to coals when Lucy and Jesse got up a little before sunrise. She smiled as she lurched into the kitchen to make coffee. The embers and the smell reminded her this was a holiday.

Holiday or not, it would also be a small war. She needed no witchy Talent to figure that out.

Jesse hated coffee. He bounced around anyhow. Nineteen did that for you, or to you. He peered out the kitchen window. An early-rising Anna's hummingbird that was about to tank up at the feeder hanging outside buzzed away instead.

"One Anna's," he sang out.

"Well, we're started." Lucy poured sugar into her cup. Her mix had less sweetness and more caffeine than hummer water. Hummingbirds were speedy enough—they didn't need caffeine. She darn well did.

"You ought to note it down," Jesse said, reproof in his voice.

"I will—once I get to the bottom of my mug here. I don't think I'll forget till then. If you can't stand to wait that long, do it yourself, Charlie," Lucy said. He sighed. He was no good at waiting. Along with being able to function in the morning without coffee, that went a long way toward tagging him by age.

Something moved in the magnolia not far from the window. Jesse stared intently. "Yellow-rumped warbler," he said after a couple of seconds.

"Okay. An Anna's and a butterbutt," Lucy said. Even half a cup of coffee started to clear the cobwebs.

"Butterbutt," Jesse echoed. "That's a silly name."

"I know. So what?" his mother answered. "Birders have their own secret lingo, same as witches, same as any other bunch of people interested in the same thing." There were differences, of course. Misusing birders' jargon wouldn't get you toasted by a salamander or drowned by an undine. But it would show the people you were trying to impress that you didn't really belong with them. As often as not, that was the main function of jargon.

Lucy thought about a second mug of coffee, at least as much to annoy Jesse as to get herself up to speed. It could wait, she decided, not without regret. She went over to the kitchen crystal and attuned it to the Cosmos-Spanning Consortium. Mystically linking all the crystals in the world was the greatest sorcerous achievement since the megamagics that had swept two Nipponese cities off the map at the end of the Second Great Slaughter. And CSPANC had a lot more peaceful possibilities than sorceries of mass destruction any day.

She quickly steered to the CSPANC scroll that recorded birds seen in the Sunset Grove Yule Count. Other local birders had already identified house finches, house sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, and a California towhee. All of those, like her Anna's and yellow-rump, were completely unsurprising, which didn't mean they didn't count.

"Oh!" she said, spotting another check on the list.

"What's up?" Jesse came over to see for himself. "A barn owl! That's pretty neat."

"It is," Lucy agreed. Barn owls lived over most of the world—they had one of the widest ranges of any bird—but weren't common anywhere. You sure couldn't rely on conveniently spotting one for Yule. Somebody'd done it, though: somebody who'd crawled out of bed too bloody early, odds were.

"What have they seen in Fernwood?" Jesse asked.

Murmuring a charm, Lucy shifted to the rival town's CSPANC scroll. They must have had somebody out at the lagoon early in the morning, because they were reporting double-crested cormorants and a pied-billed grebe and a northern shoveler, which was a duck with a bill shaped like a serving spoon. And they'd spotted a California scrub jay and some American robins.

"Nothing they shouldn't have," Lucy said grudgingly. "Not yet, anyhow." She trusted Fred O'Neill as far as she could punt him. Since she was no football player, and since dear Fred weighed about 250 pounds . . .

A flock of tiny, twittering birds flew into the leafless apricot tree from the yard next door. Then, one by one and two by two and several by several, they fluttered into the magnolia. They hopped around the branches, looking for bugs. A moment later, they were gone, as abruptly as they'd appeared.

"Bush tits," Lucy said.

Her son nodded. "Tree fleas," he said scornfully—the birders' nickname for the bouncy little birds.

"Hey, I like 'em," Lucy said. Jesse looked at her as if she were dribbling marbles out her ears. Most birders thought bush tits were nothing but nuisances that disturbed less common, more interesting birds. They reminded her of a pack of first-graders turned loose on the playground for recess. They were fun. If you couldn't have fun with your birds, why watch them?

To keep track of how many different kinds you've seen. Plenty of birders, Jesse among them, would have given the answer without even pausing to think. He was a good kid, so good she almost forgave him for liking Kathleen O'Neill. No denying he could be too serious for his own good, though.

Another quick spell brought Lucy back to the Sunset Grove Yule list. "How many bush tits would you say there were?" she asked. "Maybe twenty-five?"

After careful consideration—he was Jesse, after all—her son nodded. "Sounds right."

"Okay." The bush tits they counted would get added in with all the others Sunset Grove birders spotted today. Somewhere behind the scenes at CSPANC, a sprite with an abacus would draw overtime.

Lucy did pour herself another cup of coffee then. She split a bagel and put honey on one side and jam on the other. Then she slapped them together and started eating breakfast. Jesse scrambled eggs. He was young enough so he didn't have a healer clucking reproachfully whenever he did something like that.

His pocket crystal made a noise like a rhythmic kangaroo as he was sitting down at the kitchen table. Till he started using that particular ringspell, Lucy hadn't imagined there was any such thing as a noise like a rhythmic kangaroo. But there was, and Jesse was far from the only kid with that ringspell. Hip-hop music was all the rage these days. You could either put up with it or wear earplugs, one.

"Hello?" Jesse said, and then, on an altogether different note, "Oh. Hi!"

Kathleen, Lucy thought unhappily. She knew that note, all right. He's talking with fat Fred O'Neill's daughter. Talking with the enemy's daughter. With the enemy. Was Jesse sleeping with the enemy? Lucy didn't know. She couldn't very well ask. Parents who snooped on their pretty-much-grown children's love lives deserved the trouble they landed in. Lucy did know one thing: if Jesse wasn't sleeping with Kathleen, he sure wanted to. He was male. He was nineteen. He had a pulse. 'Nuff said.

"Nothing real exciting here so far," he was saying. "Tree fleas, a butterbutt, an Anna's . . . Oh, wait. A couple of stoogebirds just landed on the platform feeder."

"A couple of what?" Lucy could hear Kathleen's voice coming out of the pocket crystal.

Stoogebirds was family slang, not regular birders' slang. Jesse had to explain it: "You know. Mourning doves, on account of their wings go woob-woob-woob-woob whenever they take off. Just like Curly, right?" He paused, listening, then answered with more than a little pride in his voice: "Sure I'm weird. Like you didn't already know." He listened one more time, then said " 'Bye" and stuck the crystal back in his pocket.

Lucy checked the Fernwood scroll on CSPANC again. As soon as she did, something way more strident than a hip-hop kangaroo went off inside her head. "They can't get away with that!" she yipped.

"With what?" Jesse ambled over to see what she was talking about.

"With that." Quivering with indignation, Lucy pointed out the offending entry. "Yellow-billed magpie? Here? Or in Fernwood, I mean? No way, Jessay." She pronounced his name so the phrase rhymed, which made him wince. She went on, "No way unless Fat Freddy magicked it in, I mean. Well, if he's gonna play that way, we can play that way, too. Oh, yeah!" So much for immoral and unethical. What were rules, in war?

"What'll you do, Mom?" Anticipation and alarm jangled in Jesse's voice.

"I'll make sure those no-good, lousy cheaters in Fernwood don't steal this year's count, that's what." Lucy stormed out of the kitchen and into her study. She came back with several grimoires and an armload of materia magica—oh, and a few birders' guides, too. She paged through one of them, then smiled carnivorously and nodded. "We'll have people down by the old slough, right?"

"We always do," Jesse answered.

"Right," Lucy said again. "Now we find out whether they're awake." You could conjure in a bird—sure. But if you did and nobody spotted it, you might as well not have bothered.

Lucy's materia magica, unlike those of a lot of witches, included feathers of all different colors . . . just in case. She pulled out a dark green one, and a little bronze crown that might have graced a doll's head once upon a time. She knew where her target birds lived. She knew where she wanted to put one. The charm and the passes that got the bird from A to B were second nature to her. After umpty-ump years of training and practice they were, anyhow.

"What exactly did you do?" Jesse asked. "I mean, I can guess, but—"

"Go ahead and guess," Lucy said. "We'll find out if it worked pretty soon." If it didn't, if the loafers at the slough were standing around yawning or just not paying attention . . . Well, she'd find some other way to make sure they weren't asleep over there next year, by God!

She made herself sit there for fifteen minutes before she checked the Sunset Grove scroll on CSPANC again. That was at least fourteen minutes longer than Jesse wanted to wait. By the time they finally looked, he had a bad case of the wiggles.

His grin almost made the top of his head fall off. "Green kingfisher!" he whooped. "I thought that's what you were up to!" Belted kingfishers, larger and blue-gray, were common over water. Green kingfishers barely came north of the Rio Grande, and never visited California—not unless a friendly witch lent a hand.

Not two minutes later, his pocket crystal made hip-hop noises again. "If that's Kathleen bitching—" Lucy began.

Her son waved her to silence. A call on the pocket crystal was important. A parent standing right there? Fuhgeddaboutit. "Hello?" he said, and then, "Hi!" His face got all goofy. It was Kathleen, all right. He listened, then looked at Lucy. "She says her dad's not real happy about the kingfisher."

"T.S., Eliot," Lucy answered. "What about the yellow-billed magpie?"

Jesse asked the question. He listened some more, then reported: "She says her dad says it just happened to be there. He didn't have anything to do with it."

"Yeah, right," Lucy sneered. "And the check is in the mail."

"Uh, my mom's not so sure of that." Talking to a girl he was sweet on, Jesse was more polite than Lucy had been. He listened to Kathleen. To Lucy, he said, "She says her dad says the magpie was legit. But if you want to play that way, he can play that way, too."

"Tell Kathleen to tell him to bring it on," Lucy answered. Only later did she realize there were ways to say things like that, and then again there were ways. One particular fellow who'd used almost her exact phrase was still trying to shovel his way out of Mesopotamia.

But the Great Yule Bird Count in Sunset Grove and Fernwood was never the same again.


WATCH THE SKIES! the old posters shouted—as if there could be life on other planets, when magic had proved that planets were nothing but lights attached to moving crystal spheres. But weird-looking invaders from Mars were fun to tell stories about, even if they couldn't be real.

Fernwood and Sunset Grove got invaders, too, but they didn't come from Mars. And if you weren't watching the skies, you'd miss them. Birds that hadn't been seen there in a long time—birds that had never been seen there—showed up one after another. It was a life lister's heaven on earth (appropriate enough for Yuletide, after all). And it was one of the worst cases of Anything You Can Do, I Can Do More Of in the history of American witchcraft.

Lucy couldn't watch the skies, or even the back yard, as much as she would've liked. She was too busy checking the Fernwood scroll on CSPANC to find out what Fred O'Neill was up to and the Sunset Grove scroll to make sure the birds she magicked in got properly counted. She could picture Fat Freddy doing the same thing, only back-asswards.

Four black vultures spiraled above Fernwood. They had no business being there, not when the nearest sighting of a black vulture was an accidental bird right by the California-Arizona border. Did Fred O'Neill give a rat's patoot? Not when he had a chance to win the bird count, he didn't.

When Lucy saw the report of the black vultures, she called Fred a son of a witch, or something like that. Then she pulled a big black feather and a little yellow one out of her materia magica. She incanted like nobody's business.

Some Sunset Grove birders at a park were surprised and delighted to spot black-backed woodpeckers drilling on pines. Black-backed woodpeckers didn't live within hundreds of miles of Sunset Grove. Well, hey, if you were going to fuss about every little thing . . .

Lucy waited to see what Fred O'Neill would come up with next. It was like a prizefight, with all the punches in extremely slow motion. Sure, Lucy thought. A featherweight prizefight. She poured herself more coffee. By all the signs, she was pretty punchy herself.

Fernwood birders declared they'd seen a smew at a pond. "What's a smew?" Jesse asked, reading CSPANC over her shoulder.

"I don't know. What's smew with you?" Lucy returned. Yeah, she was punchy. Her son sent her a reproachful look. She tried again: "A kind of merganser—a diving duck. It lives in Europe. Once in a blue moon, one gets over here by itself."

"You don't think this is a blue moon?"

"Now that you mention it, no."

"What'll you do about it?"

Lucy was already thumbing through guides, deciding exactly what she'd do about it. She plucked a black feather, and then a shiny blue one, from her materia magica. The charm she chanted had a Latin rhythm.

Something started squawking raucously in the magnolia tree. Crows and ravens and jays aren't very musical, but the noises they make show they all come from the same family. This raucous squawking was corvid racket, too, but it wasn't the kind of corvid racket Lucy'd ever heard before.

Jesse grabbed his binoculars. "Whoa!" he said, nothing but admiration in his voice. "What is that thing?"

"Black-throated magpie-jay," Lucy answered, not without pride. It was a jay the size of a crow or bigger, with a fancy crest and a long, droopy tail. It flew away, skrawking as it went.

"Whoa!" Jesse said again. "Where's it from?"

"Middle of Mexico," Lucy answered, recording it on the Sunset Grove SCPANC scroll.

Jesse got another call from Kathleen as soon as her father saw the claim for the new bird. "She says her dad says you aren't gonna beat him," Jesse reported.

"He started it. I'll finish it," Lucy said grimly.

The next exotic bird reported from Fernwood was a condor. That left Lucy unimpressed for a moment. Thanks to captive-breeding programs, California condors weren't impossible to spot these days, but a lot of birders didn't count them because they weren't truly wild. Even a lamebrain like Fred ought to do better, she though.

And Fred had. It was an Andean condor. It was even bigger than a California condor, and even uglier. Lucy showed Jesse a picture in a book about Chilean birds. The head was large and naked and pink, with wattles and a comb. You were in no danger of mistaking it for any other bird ever hatched.

"What are you gonna do now, Mom?" Jesse was caught up in the competition, too.

"You'll see. I'll bring in several of these, 'cause I've always liked them," Lucy answered. "Maybe they'll hang around once the count is over." That intrigued her son, as she'd hoped it would. She got busy spellcasting.

Bringing in a bunch of birds was a lot harder than bringing in just one. She was good, though. One of the birds appeared in the backyard apricot tree. Crest, brown belly and back, black-and-white striped wings. "Poo! Poo! Poo!" it called.

"A hoopoe!" Jesse exclaimed in delight. "Awesome!"

Maybe it heard him. It flew off, skipping through the air like a butterfly. "The Bible says it's not kosher," Lucy said. "Twice, in fact. I bet I know why, too."

"Why?" Jesse asked when she didn't come out with it right away.

Lucy wrinkled her nose. "Because it smells like poo-poo-poo, that's why."

She didn't post the hoopoe on the Sunset Grove Yuletide scroll. Before long, some other local birder did. The mundanes in the birding crowd had to be talking to themselves about all the weird stuff going on. They wouldn't be complaining, though. Oh, no. She knew birders well enough to be sure of that.

She didn't know Fred O'Neill well enough to guess how he'd retaliate. She only knew he would. And he did. Not fifteen minutes after Sunset Grove reported hoopoes, Fernwood reported Carolina parakeets.

"Wait. I've heard of those." Jesse flipped through the Sibley guide. "Why doesn't this book have a picture?"

"I'll tell you why—they're extinct." For the first time in the contest, Lucy felt shaken. Reaching across space was one thing. Reaching across time was something else again, something much harder. She hadn't believed Fred could. She wasn't sure she could herself. Trying not to think about that, she went on, "They've been extinct for almost a hundred years. There's a wonderful Audubon painting, if you want to know what they looked like."

Jesse nodded eagerly. "I've seen it. But now they're back, huh? How cool is that? What are you gonna do now, Mom?"

Lucy wasn't sure how cool it was. Didn't it cross a line somewhere? But, assuming it didn't, what was she gonna do? Whatever it was, it was liable to take just about all the witchcraft she had in her.

Then she started to laugh. If she was gonna do it, she'd go all-out. She gathered herself. She chose her feathers. She chose her spell. She took one moment to wonder if she'd gone off her rocker. Well, if she had, it was a grand madness. After a deep breath, she started.

It took everything she had, all right. The lights flickered. The CSPANC crystal went black. She'd have to rebless it later.

John came in (see?—you couldn't quite forget him). "What's going on?" he said. "How much crowleyage are you using, babe? What'll our magictrixity bill look like next month?"

Lucy waited till she'd finished the Summoning to answer. Then she gave him three words: "I don't care." They'd been married a long time. He looked at her, nodded, turned around, and walked away.

Jesse was peering out into the back yard. "What did you call up, Mom? All I see are a bunch more stoogebirds."

"Take another look," Lucy said wearily. If she'd just turned herself inside out for the sake of more dirt-common mourning doves . . . In that case, Fred O'Neill and Fernwood would win the Yule Count, that was all.

"They're funny-looking stoogebirds," Jesse said. "Kinda salmony breasts, red eyes . . . No. They can't be."

There were lots of them. That was part of what had worn Lucy out—and made the lights flicker. The other part was reaching back through the years. She eyed them through binoculars. No, they sure weren't stoogebirds. "Passenger pigeons," she said proudly. They all flew off together.

By the time Lucy had CSPANC up again, someone else had already spotted them (and recognized them, which also impressed her). And Jesse had got another call from Kathleen. "She says her dad won't quit, no matter what," he said.

"Big deal," Lucy declared. Later, she wondered if she should have sounded so arrogant. That was later. In the middle of a war, you only cared about winning. You'd figure out what it all meant later.

They didn't hear about the newest Fernwood bird on the CSPANC scroll. John (here he is again!) called them in to look at the news crystal. "Some kind of monster's loose," he said.

That rated a look, all right. And he wasn't wrong. People were sending pictures from a flying carpet. The thing stalked through a park labeled FERNWOOD in the bottom left of the news crystal. It was taller than a man. It had chickeny feet, about the size of the ones that would have walked around under Baba Yaga's house. Its wings were useless, except for flapping to show it was ticked off. It had a big feathery crest on top of its head and a hooked beak that looked as if it could bite through steel bars. The only people in sight wore Tilly hats and carried binoculars, which made them birders. Even they had the sense to keep their distance.

One of the flying carpets swooped low. The monster bird snapped at it and let out a loud, furious screech. "Wow!" Jesse said. "Oh, wow! What is that thing?"

As if on cue, an announcer said, "A paleo-ornitholologist has identified this creature as a Titanis, a flightless predatory bird previously believed extinct for almost two million years. Witchcraft is suspected in its strange resurrection."

"Right on, Sherlock!" Lucy laughed, but shakily. She hadn't dreamt Fred O'Neill could do that. He was just lucky it hadn't taken a bite out of one of the Fernwood birders. Yet.

Her son's thoughts ran in a different direction. "How can you top him this time, Mom? A Pteranodon?"

"NFF," John said. Lucy stared at him. All these years together, and she hadn't imagined he knew that bit of birders' slang. He was right, too. A Pteranodon didn't have any feathers. If she was going to top Fred, she had to come up with something that did.

She laughed again. This time, hysteria—or maybe just plain lunacy—lay under the mirth. If you were gonna go for it, you should go for it. "One thing," she said. "If I bring this off, Fred's whupped." If she didn't, chances were the spell would toast her. She tried not to think about that. The crowleyage? The magictrixity bill? Count the cost later. That kind of thinking was probably why people did so many really stupid things during wartime—one more point Lucy did her best not to think about.

Back to her materia magica. Which feathers to choose? She had no idea. But Fred wouldn't have known what color the Titanis was, either. He'd managed. If he had, so could she. She hoped.

The form the spell would take would resemble the ones she'd used before, especially the charm that brought the passenger pigeons up to be counted. But reaching back over a hundred years was one thing. Reaching back a million times that far . . .

"It's the same principle," she said, and hoped she was right. Discovering she was wrong in the middle of the incantation wouldn't be much fun.

Do I really want to try this? she wondered. She'd already started by then, though. It was either this or admit Fred O'Neill had won. She was damned if she'd do that. . . . A moment later, she wished she'd phrased that differently. One more thing it was too late to worry about.

Lights didn't just flicker—they went out. So did the CSPANC crystal. John's yelp from the family room said he couldn't watch Titanis any more, either. Lucy noticed all that as if from a hundred million miles—or a hundred million years—away. She was deep in the spell by then. Backing out would be worse than going forward.

"Come forth! Come forth! Come forth!" she commanded. Then she slumped to the floor. She'd never fainted before. Outside of women with the vapors in Victorian novels, who did? When she woke up—it couldn't have been more than a few seconds later—she felt silly. Her head spun as she stood up, but she made it.

Jesse hadn't even noticed. He was scanning the yard with binoculars. "See anything?" Lucy asked. Her voice seemed shaky—to her, anyway.

Again, Jesse didn't notice. "Nooo," he said slowly. Lucy's heart sank. Had she half-fried her brains for nothing? Would Fred O'Neill and Fernwood spend the next year gloating? But then her son stiffened like a bird dog pointing. "Holy crap! There! In the magnolia." Darned if he didn't point, though not with his nose.

Lucy went over to the window and stared. For a second, she didn't see it. She was looking for purple and white or something else gaudy, the way artists always showed it. The real critter, though, was brown and green. Which made sense, when you thought about it. Even way back then, protective coloration mattered.

It was about the size of a crow. It didn't look like one, though, and wouldn't have if it were all black. It looked like a lizard that had decided to play bird. Trouble was, the poor lizard might've heard of birds, but it had never seen one, so it got stuff wrong. It didn't have a beak—it had a mouthful of teeth. It had a long, lizardy tail. But feathers sprouted from the tail, and from the wings, too, even if those also had claws to remind everybody they weren't done being arms yet.

"I did it. I really did it." Lucy sounded amazed, even to herself. "Archaeopteryx."

"Archaeopteryx," Jesse agreed, awe in his voice. "There's one for the life list! Can it really fly?"

"Don't know," Lucy replied. She got her answer a moment later. An Anna's hummingbird dive-bombed the funny-looking stranger. The Archaeopteryx snapped at it, but missed. It had a long, lizardy tongue. Another dive-bomb persuaded it not to hang around. Off it flew. Not gracefully, maybe, but it flew.

Jesse was talking on his pocket crystal. Lucy's spell hadn't blasted that, anyhow. "No way!" she heard Kathleen exclaim when Jesse told her what they'd just observed.

"Way," he assured her, and then said to Lucy, "She's telling her dad."

"An Archaeopteryx?" That was Fred O'Neill's bull-in-a-china-shop bellow. "Well . . . fudge. I'm not gonna top that this year."

You'll never top it, Lucy thought. You can't, not till they find an older bird. If they ever do. Even so, he'd come up with something next year, sure as sure. He always did. This time around, though, the Yule Bird count belonged to Sunset Grove. And, as far as Lucy was concerned, that was just how things were supposed to be.


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