Had Adonis Licht known that the moonlit tumult outside his apartment window presaged a warping of the universe that would animate his fantasies beyond the extent of his imagination, he would have buried his head under his pillow. Instead, he rose in his bed and cocked his head. The uproar evoked the digital carnage of a video game—the whap-whap-whap of rotors on helicopter gunships accompanied by commandos shrieking for blood. Adonis rummaged among his synapses for a peace-inducing remedy, one of the chants offered to the gods long ago by his mother. Finding the storerooms of his memory vacant, he gulped air until his lungs threatened to shatter his breastbone. Upon release he believed, a cry, a shout, a roar would put the unseen invaders to flight. A still, small voice nudged aside his resolve, cautioning What about the hour? Much as he might have wished to, he could not dismiss it. Adonis Licht was a reasonable man, a sensible, judicious man, a man who, while some years from being tethered to the numbing habits of middle age, dutifully accepted the responsibilities of adulthood. For five years, he had been a good neighbor. A quiet man. A man seldom noticed. Softly, he exhaled.
The ruckus grew louder.
Adonis sat up and reached towards his nightstand for his glasses. He dismissed any thought of turning on his lamp, fearing that this would lead sleep to elude him for the night’s duration. Unless he was asleep.
He threw off his blanket and sprang to his feet. His hand found the cord to the window blinds and pulled. Glancing across the street, he found the apartment buildings opposite all shrouded in darkness. He drew his gaze closer and looked down.
A dozen or so pigeons, unmindful of the late-winter chill, occupied the ledge outside his window. Their decibel count increased.
Adonis rapped his knuckles on the dirt-streaked glass. The effort produced a brittle sound.
The pigeons swiveled their heads and glared defiantly.
He rapped again.
The glares hardened into those exhibited by unrepentant criminals in police mugshots.
Adonis rocked back on his heels. How could pigeons harden an expression? For that matter, how could pigeons display an expression? Still, he believed they had. The stuff of bad dreams? He pinched the flesh on the underside of his left arm just above the elbow.
Or thought he did.
“Goddamit!” he heard himself cry.
Or thought he did.
Tiny heads bobbed. The pigeons seemed to be chuckling.
In what world, Adonis wondered, did pigeons chuckle?
Seven measured paces—given the darkness, he counted as if he was blind—took him across the studio’s floor to his lone closet. He reached inside and felt for the baseball bat he’d won as a child at a minor-league game. It proved to be the only baseball game he ever attended. Gripping the wooden handle, he pivoted back towards the window.
The commotion increased. Adamant about defending the territory they’d staked out on the ledge, the pigeons seemed not so much to coo as to bray. The sound evoked choirboys on the cusp of puberty.
Adonis squeezed the bat. No question, the pigeons had gotten into his head. How? The answer seemed obvious. Or at least, credible. Exhaustion. He was sure—or almost sure—that he’d stayed up past midnight. But since when did a man about to enter his mid-thirties find midnight too late an hour? Admittedly, he needed more sleep than he used to. He hadn’t gotten it. Unless he was getting it now.
He considered pinching himself again but instead took seven steps back towards the window.
The great mystery remained. From where had the pigeons come? He’d rented the studio after coming to the city and landing his job at the Museum. Like all urbanites, including new ones like himself, he understood that pigeons flew roughshod over the city—feathered street gangs, brash and swaggering. Yet until now, they’d never appeared on—let alone overrun—the ledge outside his window. Not, at least, that he knew about.
A sense of fury—unfamiliar for the most part—tore through Adonis. He was, by his own admission, a mild-mannered man. Yet here he stood—or dreamed he stood—ready to swing or poke or otherwise wield a lethal weapon to force the withdrawal of unwanted intruders a fraction of his size but massed in numbers. He raised the bat.
The pigeons held their ground.
It occurred to Adonis that the pigeons understood the folly of his threat. For one thing, the window remained closed. Still, the bat was in his hand, the ball in his court.