Nan and Sam are running through the darkness with a flock of roadrunners in hot pursuit. Sam reaches into her basket from time to time and pitches something that distracts the speedsters momentarily but their numbers are too huge to make much of a dint in the charge. The birds are everywhere. If this were daytime instead of the wee hours of the morning the girls would have been overrun by now.
“Where” pant “did” pant “they” pant “all” pant “come” pant “from?” asks Nan but she is met with no response from Sam who is struggling to keep her basket from spilling as she sprints for the house.
Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Watson have reached the porch and are both ready with cocked shotguns. All they can see in the distance are two frantic girls followed by a storm of things they can’t quite make out moving fast on the ground behind them.
“It looks like birds?” squints Julie Watson. Visions of an old Alfred Hitchcock movie flash through her mind as her husband reaches for a pair of binoculars.
“They’re roadrunners, Julie. Hundreds of them.” He dashes to the shed and lets out their two King Shepherds, Houston and Dallas, already barking and scratching at the door and off they speed into the night. But they aren’t the only canines skulking around beneath the desert moon.
Four shadows closing in fast appear at the crest of the hill as Nan and Sam break into a final 200 yard dash. Nan breaks away from Sam who is struggling with her basket.
“Sam! Drop the basket!” yells John Watson as he barrels into the dark.
The flock shifts to the east as Houston and Dallas rush to protect the girls. The coyotes on the other hand stay true to their original course and head straight for the bigger prize. Sam is losing ground fast as the four hunters split up to cut off any escape from her flank.
John fires a few warning shots at the coyotes. They persist. Houston reaches Nan and puts on a vicious display of teeth towards the one showing a keen interest in Nan. The animal retreats partially and switches to a new prey…Sam, pulling up the rear with a full basket anchoring her down. The yipping between the villains suggests that they are coordinating their attack.
Two more shots ring out, this time from Julie’s rifle, as she too bolts into the dark. Dallas joins in with a deep warning growl for the predators while Houston follows Nan to the house. Once she is safe inside, a yelp from Dallas calls Houston back to the fight as John finally reaches the terrified and exhausted Sam. Upon seeing an adult at the scene and another one running fast towards them, the pack of coyotes decide to turn their aggression towards their canine cousins.
Dallas and Houston defend their family and territory with every tooth, but the hungry pack hold their ground and regroup to setup a different attack maneuver. The Shepherds however prove to be just as tactically savvy. They make sure that no coyote attempts to break the imaginary line they are protecting and manage a few well-placed bites to show the intruders that they mean business.
Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Watson keep their sights squarely on the pack as Sam joins Nan inside the house. They know that coyotes are tenacious stalkers. They are the Energizer Bunnies of the canine family…but not today. The dog-human quartet prove too much trouble for the pointy toothed perpetrators and they follow the scent of the roadrunners instead.
Sam sits in the corner of the living room, her basket of precious nocturnal desert harvest beside her, and stares at the wall. Nan sits across from her apparently talking to herself since her friend is off somewhere in her head. “…you doing alone out there? Sam? Are you OK?” Nan walks over to her and touches her lightly on the arm. Sam lets out a scorpion-tail-curling scream just as Nan’s parents run in.
“What on earth were you doing out there? Nan, didn’t we tell you NOT to go out into the fields at night?” John Watson fumes.
“Camping?” mumbles Nan with her eyes examining her feet.
The Watsons enter into a stern discussion on the perils of the wild which the valley has become since most farmers left. Roadrunner numbers have exploded feeding a proliferation of larger predators, notably the ones that almost had the kids for their early morning snack. The birds are acting against their nature and living in larger communities in an attempt to survive, but something else is hunting them now. The dogs have been sniffing out an increasing number of fully intact dead adults and abandoned nests in recent months and the coyotes are getting more adventurous.
“I’m sorry Nan. The ghost scorpion army was supposed to keep you in the tent.” Sam finally joins the present. She picks up her basket, places it on the coffee table, and opens it.
The Watsons jump back at first then close in with interest. Inside, there are a dozen or so dead scorpions. some caterpillars, two dead roadrunner chicks, two dead roadrunner adults, and a couple of handfuls of cabbage. “It’s all the proof I need,” she explains.
It has been less than 3 months since Sam Blake’s parents sold their farm and moved further north to work for a mega-farm and Mr. Blake has developed a strange sickness. He is experiencing intermittent bouts of paralysis. Sam’s mother is convinced that it has something to do with the cabbage in the fields since neither she nor Sam have been afflicted.
The corporation Sam’s father works for luckily has a health plan which includes unlimited access to their staff physicians, but Mrs. Blake does not believe their diagnosis. They claim he has developed a rare form of cancer that has its roots in early childhood contact with animal feces and that there is a treatment for it, which of course is very expensive. Sam’s mother is working 2 jobs trying to cover the medical expenses while her father continues to work the fields.
“My mother’s right, see?” Sam lays out the dead specimens in the order of the food chain: cabbage, caterpillars, scorpions, roadrunners. “My dad is just a big caterpillar. He’s been munching cabbage every day since we started planting them here and now at the new farm. Luckily my mom and I can’t stand the stuff.” She then pulls out her smart phone and bring up this article.
Mrs. Watson quickly reads the article and rushes to Sam to give her a huge hug. “You are a very brave little scientist!” She heads to the phone and dials the Blakes’ number.
“We’re going to shut that seed company down once and for all!”