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Need More Magpies

That’s what Starr said that morning to Percy, when she rolled over in their zipped together sleeping bags inside the tent during their moose hunt. 

         He rolled toward her and pushed his face into her throat and murmured, “What?”  Her skin smelled good with a slight residual of perfume.

         “Magpies.  Don’t they eat winter ticks off moose?”

         “Yeah.  I think the black-billed ones do.”

         “Good all around.  The bird gets a meal. The moose gets rid of the ticks.”

         He rolled back a little and responded, “Not gets rid of.  You know how many ticks on a moose?”

         “A lot?”

         He laughed. “Heard it’s 30 or 40,000 on an adult moose, especially a cow, and they’re draining her blood so fast she may die before winter’s over, and she’s got no way to replace her body fat, particularly if she’s had twins and they’re drinking her dry, too.”

         “Poor Mama.” 

         Percy raised himself on his elbow and looked down at her face.  There had been a late gibbous moon when they retired that night, and it still provided a slight illumination inside the tent as it sank.  He bent down and kissed her forehead.  “Love you,” he whispered. 

         “Don’t want to be a Mama moose.”

         “Don’t suppose you do.”  He said, “Know what you gotta do if you come across a deceased Mama in the woods?”

         Starr shook her head.

         “Cut out her ovaries and preserve them and turn them in at the registration station.”


         Percy huffed himself around onto his back and reached his hand up inside her flannel nightie and cupped one of her breasts.  “But you can keep her boobs.”

         That made Starr laugh.

         “You know what we also need?” Percy asked his wife.  She shook her head again. “Colder winters.”

         “Not the magpies?”

         “Colder winters should slow the reproduction cycle of the winter tick. The ticks are waiting in the bracken for a moose to come by, and one female leaps aboard and a swarm follows, and she can produce 4,000 to 6,500 eggs and then she dies. The eggs drop off and scramble around looking for a new host. They can live for more than 550 days before they find food.”

         Starr looked at Percy for a moment and then shook her head.  “How in the world do you know all this stuff?”

         He smiled. “Remember a while ago when I was showing you the constellations during that night we were anchored off Islesboro?”  She nodded. “Same explanation. I grew up a boy.”

         Starr smiled and rolled toward him, and reached inside her nightie and held his hand that was holding her breast.  “Like boys,” she murmured. 

         “Like girls.”

         “Good that we’re married then.”

         “Let’s go back to sleep. We’ll be up at 5 stalking that bull.”

         Starr took a big deep breath, blew it out, and murmured, “Love you, Percy man.”

         “Love you back.”

         They slept.   


EGG ISLAND: Death is Your Choice is available now at!

DOWNEAST: This Blessed Assurance, the second in the Percy Black series, will be released mid-January 2024.

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