The Project Gutenberg EBook of When Whirlybirds Call, by Frank Banta

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Title: When Whirlybirds Call

Author: Frank Banta

Release Date: February 6, 2020 [EBook #61334]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII


Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at


by Frank Banta

Five-Gun DeCrabbe was the terror of
every planet—especially to his friends!

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, January 1963.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Those of the city of Featherton, on Grimes Planet, were with him to a man. Feathertonians cheered and waved from their windows that morning, not daring to come out for fear of the whirlybirds, and admiring Five-gun Charles DeCrabbe all the more for riding down the main stem of the town with the bubble of his convertible space coupe slid back—ignoring the menace from the skies.

Five-gun Charles DeCrabbe rode down the exact center of the street, looking neither to right or left, not acknowledging the screams of adulation that poured from the windows. His bare head was up, his mouth was pressed into firm, haughty lines of self-confidence and even his battle dress of dark green seemed to exude the aura of a competent killer.

Five-gun Charles DeCrabbe had come to clean up the town. Of whirlybirds.

He stopped his space convertible in front of the white stone building titled City Hall on its facade. The two men waiting to greet him stayed safely under the bullet-shaped marquee as he alighted. He jumped over the side, checked his two holstered needle pistols, slung his explosive pellet rifle over one shoulder, his N-ray flashburn gun over the other shoulder and picked up his rocket-powered stun-gas spray gun in his hands. He strode over to the waiting men.

"I'm Alson Prince, Mayor of Featherton," said the older man shaking hands with the one DeCrabbe stuck out from under the spray gun. "And you are Five-gun Charles DeCrabbe?"

"Yes yes yes!" exclaimed DeCrabbe impatiently in his clipped speech.

"I'm the mayor's son," introduced the younger man with admiration shining in his eyes. "You sure look like you're ready to whip those whirlybirds."

"Yes yes yes!" exclaimed DeCrabbe haughtily. "Always dislike long conversations you know. Supposing you tell me what you know so can exterminate them without further delay. No doubt solution before dusk."

"Before dusk?" asked the mayor, dumfounded. "Oh, no, not today, I'm afraid. They've been around too many years to whip in one day."

"Perhaps shall require two days then," said Five-gun Charles DeCrabbe graciously. "But doubt it. Tell me what you know of them."

"Very well," assented the older man. "Perhaps the best place to begin is with their name. When we first occupied this planet, a bare twenty years ago, we called them wolfhawk-whirlybirds and tigerhawk-whirlybirds because they preyed on vicious animals. The whirlybirds were our best friends in those days. The only trouble is that they ran out of tigers and wolves to eat."

"Presumed they are now called peoplehawk-whirlybirds?" DeCrabbe frowningly asked in his clipped speech.

"Exactly!" answered the older man. "Although that isn't their full name. From the way they attack—"

"Most important," interrupted Five-gun. "Give to me in detail."

"They prefer to attack strollers, although they have attacked on city streets when there is little traffic. They fly with amazing speed, considering they are an untidy ball forty feet in diameter, and they are on top of their victims before the unlucky ones are aware of the menace. Blowing their victims down with a rush of air from their feathers, they grab them up by the heels, carry them high aloft and drop them on piles of rock outside of town."

"They are downdraft-peoplehawk-whirlybirds then?" asked DeCrabbe.

"That's almost it," agreed the mayor. "I have not yet told you of their cries. As they rise in the air with the victim dangling from their talons by his heels, they utter a pleased 'Coo! Coo!' like a gentle dove. That is why they are called Coocoo-downdraft-peoplehawk-whirlybirds."

"Approve of adequate names," nodded Five-gun, unbending a trifle. "First step toward efficiency. Only one thing haven't made clear. Presumably have shotguns and rifles. Why unable drive off these predators yourselves?"

The mayor laughed bitterly. "It would be easy to tell you'd just arrived on this planet—although the birds are not well known in the other cities either; they are all concentrated in this area. Yes, our sportsmen tried to shoot down the whirlybirds. No luck, of course. Imagine the problems you have when one of these forty-foot balls of commotion comes at you: You try to aim but you can't hold your arm still because of the swirling wind they raise; and then the dust clouds thicken and you're firing wildly, and you can't begin to tell which is body and which is feathers anyway."

"Very well," accepted Charles DeCrabbe mercifully. "You've made attempt. My first step therefore the attachment of high explosives to boobytrapped mannequins. Brought these with me."

"Great winds of catastrophe. I'm glad you mentioned it before you did it!" exclaimed the mayor. "We tried that once. The city was six weeks digging out from under the feathers—and it didn't kill the whirlybird!"

"Aren't you exaggerating difficulties encountered in picking up few feathers?" loftily inquired DeCrabbe.

"How do you think we got the name of Featherton? Before the deluge we were called West Applebury!"

"Then why haven't you attempted lure them into boobytraps outside town? Could detonate them there without even slight inconvenience of picking up feathers."

"Believe me, if there were only a few feathers," insisted Mayor Prince, "few enough for you to pick up by yourself, we wouldn't mind you blowing up a whirlybird."

"Wasn't considering picking up any feathers," replied Five-gun with dignity. "Had supposed a menial or two could be supplied for that."

The mayor shook his head. "It would take everybody in town to clean up. And as for blowing one up outside the city, one of our orchardists tried it. He blew it to bits all right, but eighty acres of his apple trees were smothered under the debris!"

"Now anticipate that the extermination of the whirlybirds will almost certainly take me up to two days," conceded Five-gun DeCrabbe calmly. "However will be all the more interesting to defeat them without recourse large explosives."

"Gee, what a man!" admired the mayor's son. "Only two days!"

"If you will now lead me to your city park will begin campaign of extermination at once."

"It's down that way," said the mayor, pointing. Plainly he had no intention of leaving the shelter of the marquee. "You can't miss it."

As Five-gun Charles DeCrabbe leaped back into his craft and started off, the mayor's son called after him, "Aren't you scared, going out exposed like that?"

DeCrabbe turned. "Am armed, young man," he retorted severely.

"Yeah, but those whirlybirds don't pay any attention to guns."

"Soon will," DeCrabbe replied, unruffled.

Slowly he drove down the center of the empty street, receiving more cheers from heads thrust out of windows. He arrived at the city park and turned in. He unloaded most of his equipment under the roof of the bandstand.

A few minutes later one of his robot mannequins moved slowly around the clearing before the bandstand, its control set for slow walking to conserve its atomic battery. The predator hunter unlimbered all his guns as he sat under the bandstand roof waiting.

It was an hour before the first whirlybird attacked.

His first warning was the rising wind. His gaze moved around the sky until he found the rapidly growing black spot. A few seconds later it became a universe-engulfing blackness as it spotted the mannequin and came down for it. As soon as the wind-screaming blackness reached the mannequin, the needle guns in his hands emptied their hundreds of anesthetizing needles into the turbulence. But it was as the mayor had said. Where did the bird's body end and the feathers begin? When the needle pistols were empty he dropped them and snatched up the rocket powered stun-gas weapon; its immense flare poured into the blackness without visible result. He dropped it and grabbed the N-ray flashburn gun. The forty-foot ball of fury was beginning to rise high with its prey now, as the gun stuttered fifty bolts of burning lethal radiation into it. He smelled feathers that time. Finally as the giant bird, without faltering, rose above the range of the N-ray gun, he took to the explosive pellet rifle. It had only ten shots; all of these went into the center of the blackness well before the whirlybird had flown beyond range. And as it neared the horizon with its mannequin prey, he heard its sweet song:

"Coo! Coo!"

"How dare it coo after all I did to it?" muttered DeCrabbe grimly. "Shall not coo next time!"

Half an hour later a new mannequin stood out in front of the bandstand. Its arms waved ceaselessly but it stood still. Nestled against its back was a ten gallon drum of gas, which would be exploded—blanketing most of the park in fumes—as soon as the mannequin was moved. Charles DeCrabbe waited, his mask ready, his potent weapons all reloaded.

Ninety minutes later the huge black menace arrived—either the first whirlybird or another forty-foot wind-screaming fury. Slipping his gas mask on, the man waited for the right moment to begin firing. The whirlybird swooped down, the tank exploded in a fog, and the giant wobbled!

DeCrabbe emptied all his weapons again. The bird arose, wobbling, its speed greatly impaired, but making its getaway despite all he could do.

"Damn well didn't coo that time," he said when the monster had reached the horizon. "Next time won't fly either."

But just then the monstrous bird mocked him in the distance with a loud, sweet, "Coo! Coo!"

Shortly after lunch he had it all set up. A new mannequin stood out in front of the bandstand, its arms waving and a pair of slim, gleaming, ten-gallon drums of stun gas nearby.

It was one o'clock before the third whirlybird struck.

Down it sank until it became a huge, ebony blot in the afternoon sky. Underneath the bandstand roof DeCrabbe got ready for his supreme effort. He slipped on his gas mask and made sure his N-ray flashburn gun was ready for instant action, its safety off. He was determined that if he got the bird prostrate he would climb aboard and fire N-ray bolts into it until something gave!

The huge black, wind-screaming monster plummeted the last few yards down and grabbed the mannequin. Both tanks of stun gas exploded. The giant whirlybird slumped unconscious—and DeCrabbe scrambled aboard!

The feverishly hurrying hunter was not long discovering why he had not—and never would—penetrate the bird's feathers with any of his weapons: He burrowed down into the feathers the length of his arm and there were yet more feathers beyond! A feather pillow would stop a rifle bullet, he knew, and this monster had the probable equivalent of a thousand feather pillows protecting it, invulnerable as a battleship.

And just then the maneater awoke, wobbled into the air, and flew away before DeCrabbe could get off!

The following afternoon, as Five-gun Charles DeCrabbe made his farewell of the city of Featherton, he once more drove down the center of the street with the bubble of his space convertible slid back.

Yet there was a difference this time. The mayor and his son rode beside him on the seat, and all of the people were now out of doors standing along the curb, cheering their deliverer wildly as he passed.

"I can't tell you how much I personally appreciate what you've done for us," said the mayor humbly.

"Quite quite quite!" returned Five-gun haughtily in his clipped speech, hoping to shut off the man's tendency toward windyness.

With awe in his voice the mayor's son admired, "So instead of being scared to death you were all ready for action when you and the whirlybird landed at their rocky, mountain lair?"

"Yes yes yes! Slid off its back, hid between two boulders, waited for the appropriate moment. After bagging that one, waited for other monsters as they landed, one by one. Bagged them."

"Just like that!" said the youngster. "You just get up close enough for those peoplehawks to grab you and then you bagged them."

"Only possible way is my way," clipped DeCrabbe immovably.

"Its eyes couldn't be buried deeply in feathers if they were to be of use."


"So eye is proximate to beak—and brain," said the hunter with dignity. "Where one of its coo-coos came out, one of my N-ray bolts went in, and that was that!"

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