The path was packed dirt and small stones. The undergrowth lining it was tangled and a mix of brown and green due to the recent absence of rainfall. I took a deep cleansing breath of the sweet fresh air. Evening was approaching, giving the air a slight chill. The slowly setting sun was streaking the sky with golds and oranges. I smiled and linked arms with my younger sister.
"Isn't this nice?"
Further up the path my mum and dad were holding hands and keeping their eyes on the golden blue sky, eagerly hoping for another glimpse of a red Kite. My brother scampered along in between, as quietly as he could, scanning the undergrowth for another stoat.
It was then that it happened. There was a rustle in the undergrowth and I jumped violently as a strange looking bird ran across the path in front of me. I caught a vague glimpse of a longish neck and brown mottled feathers before it disappeared again into a ditch.
"What on earth was that?" someone exclaimed.
"I think it was a Grouse," I answered, but typically no one took a blind bit of notice.
"Grouse look different," my Mum said knowledgably. They'd turned around to see what the rustling was.
"Probably a female golden pheasant," my Dad said, nodding his head sagely.
"Are you sure?" I asked tilting my head to one side.
They weren't sure and continued to debate it as we walked down the path. I shrugged in acceptance to what they'd said – despite the fact that I still believed it had been a Grouse and over took my slow coach parents, namely because I like to walk fast and stretch my legs, but also because I wanted to spot any wildlife first and gain credit for them.
We turned the corner and pulled up short. There were many of the strange birds scattering with bursts of feathers – some running away up the path and some off into the undergrowth; a couple of adults and their half grown young by the looks of things.
As quick as humanly possible my Dad had pulled out the binoculars and was focusing them on the group. He then handed them to my Mum. Typical I thought the one who spotted them doesn't even get to look at them up close. Typical.
"You know what," my Mum finally handed me the binoculars so that I could have a look, "I think they are Grouse."
"Yeah. Me too," my Dad said in reply.
I rolled my eyes. Right again, as usual. Maybe they should listen to me the first time. Of course I am being grossly unfair, they did credit me with it…eventually.
Anyway we continued down the path, thinking how privileged we were to have seen the Grouse. Little did I know that I'd be seeing a lot more of them before the evening were out.
We rounded a second corner and found both the path and the sides of the path (now earthy banks as we'd entered into the woods) covered in Grouse. The floor was heaving. They, of course, got out of our way as we walked through but I still thought it was creepy. It was at this point that I noticed the decided lack of people. In other words we had not met a single soul on this path and why? Loch Ken was one of the largest and most popular lochs in the area – so where were all the wildlife spotters? A cold feeling settled in the pit of my stomach as theories began to make themselves known.
"Where are all the people?" I asked hesitantly, subconsciously slowing down.
"Maybe they all turned into Grouse," my little eight-year-old brother suggested with a serious face.
Everybody laughed. Even I had a nervous chuckle and ruffled his hair affectionately, congratulating him on his imagination and priding myself that he might turn out just like me, but underneath I had a lurking suspicion.
"See, these large groups are the coach trips. The small group we saw earlier was a family," he continued, encouraged by my praise, but keeping well away lest I should touch his hair again. I smiled uncertainly at his words but started to scan the bushes more fervently. The mood must have been catching because there were no more jokes about the numbers of Grouse but just worried glances as the evening drew closer and closer and we headed deeper into the forest. I walked next to my sister and made my brother walk on the other side of me so I could keep both of them within reach, under the pretence that I wanted to discuss Bananas with them. According to my sister I was apparently moaning that it was confusing to call something a fruit that was really a herb and call something a vegetable when it was really a fruit, that being tomatoes. Naturally I can't remember any of this random and pointless conversation.
The shadows deepened, making dark corners for the enemy to hide in. With somewhat relief, but reluctant to voice it because that would mean we were all scared, we reached the bird hide. It was a small wooden hut on stilts and you had to climbs some narrow rickety stairs to get into it.
"There are probably Grouse waiting in there for us," my sister joked. We all laughed like fools and I reached for the handle. I drew the door open and was hit by a wave of feathers. Grouse tumbled past me, down the steps and past my parents, some even flapping past in a vague attempt to fly, buffeting me in the face as I screamed and threw my arms over my head in protection.
Shrieking we jumped up the steps and into the hide, slamming the door shut. We stood there panting heavily.
"What is going on?"
"It's the park warden," my brother said earnestly, "he doesn't like all the tourists disturbing his wildlife so he turns them into Grouse using a Grouse ray." None of us laughed this time.
"What about cars?" my sister volunteered. "The car park was empty."
"Good plan," I muttered. "They tow the cars away. Sell them. Make some money."
"Maybe we're just being a bit irrational," one of my parents suggested – I forget which but it was a typically adult thing to say. Good thing I'm still in touch with my inner child and by that I mean I have an over reactive imagination and like to be immature occasionally.
As our parents tried to reassure us that nothing was the matter, even though they knew something fishy was going on (or should I say Grousy?) which was very brave of them, at the same time as looking out for wildlife on the loch, I flicked through the log book. I can't stand bird watching. I'm all right for the first five minutes but after that I get insanely bored...maybe that just shows a lack of patience, I don't know, anyway I just can't stand watching the same thing for ages on end. I mean it's not going to change appearance or anything! Once you've seen it, you've seen it but that's what my family like doing so I put up with it - until I get hungry. Anyway, I was flicking through the logbook...just normal stuff. Good records and random ones. Loch Ness Monster indeed! Everyone knows Nessy lives up at Loch Ness. Kingfisher, bats, red squirrel...then I got to the more recent entries. There was a couple for the day, which meant that the visitors had reached this hide. The keeper must have got them on the way back to the cars. That would explain why they hadn't been turned into Grouse yet. I got to the entry before us, and my breath caught.
'GROUSE. GROUSE. GROUSE. GROUSE. GROUSE. GROUSE.
GROUSE. GROUSE. GROUSE. GROUSE. GROUSE. GROUSE.
GROUSE. GROUSE. GROUSE. GROUSE. GROUSE. GROUSE.'
That's all it said.
"We have to get out of here now!" I yelped.
They all looked at me and looked away. Dismissing my panic as my imagination working over time and the fact that I really didn't like sitting in a bird hide for hours on end – which was all true, except this time it was important.
Eventually I managed to push them out of the hut, glancing behind me warily into the darkness under and beside it.
The walk back was sedate to say the least. I walked ahead, firstly to try and indicate the fact that I wanted to get back to the car and secondly to scout out the land.
It's a good thing I did.
I halted abruptly at the place where the second coach load of Grouse had been. The path was empty of life. It had been swarming before. I glanced to the right. A steep earthy bank – some undergrowth but the soil was loose – hard to get a purchase on. Now I looked to the left. A space in the trees, quite large, and absolutely choked with bushes and tall grass – a bit like the meadow on 'Bambi'. Plenty of places to hide. This would be it. My brother trotted up next to me and I put out my arm to stop him passing. He looked up at me with wide, innocent blue eyes and scanned the area.
"This is where they'd get us," my brother voiced my thoughts and I nodded to him. With a burst of speed I leapt into the line of fire, hit the ground and rolled. A green ray hit the earth by my head, showering me with soil.
With an urgent gesture I indicated my siblings to run for it. Both had talent in sport. They bolted across the space before I could blink and were suddenly safe on the other side. Now – the problem was my parents.
"Get across as fast as you can!" I shouted and dodged another ray. The next ray I had to jump over. My parents were nearly on the other side. They'd crossed faster than I'd thought they could – but that's just me underestimating my parents again.
However, while I'd been checking on them the ray fired again. I had to jump backwards to avoid it, stumbled, tripped over my feet and hit the ground. Darn it! I thought attempting to regain my breath and move out the way. I remember dimly thinking that the keeper was a decided bad shot.
Anyway I managed to roll out the way as the ray fired again. It seemed to take a long time to charge up, unless he was just messing with me. I was surprised they managed to take out huge coach groups. Must have got them as they sneaked off to the loo. Anyway, I managed to get across and out of the line of fire before he could charge up the gun again.
So we got past and back to the car and got home safely without any other major incidents.
But the message and warning of this story is this: BEWARE THE GROUSE!
Yes. My fellow fictionpressians. Beware the Grouse.
According to a friend Banana's are herbs because they don't have any seeds due to being cloned. Please someone correct me if I'm wrong on this one