The Adventures of Sycamore Chip, Sleep-Deprived Squirrel Detective: The Case of the Mockingbirds

Fresh off of his resounding triumph over the badger, Chip went in search of the mockingbird. He had worked himself into a froth over the matter of the bird’s repeating everything other people said. Since the badger had mentioned it in passing, Chip had come to see the matter as of the highest severity. The forest could not long continue, the great detective thought, so long as birds, any birds, went around repeating things. It just wasn’t done! The forest was meant to be a place where every creature pursued his or her own course of existence; it was not a kind of giant echo chamber. And so it was that Chip and Gary found themselves in the spruce grove along the northeastern border of the forest. They hadn’t had any particular purpose in going there; it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time, though as with other things in the great detective’s life, now that he had traveled there he became convinced it was a shrewd tactical decision, and Gary quickly became convinced of it, too. Having seen Chip, cool as a cucumber, face down an angry badger, he was prepared to trust implicitly.

Nothing much was stirring in the spruce grove. A few birds sounded in the trees, the faint rustling of leaves nearby signaled the arrival of two deer grazing along the bank of stream which bisected the wood, and insects flitted about, but otherwise there was no movement to speak of. Chip sat back on his haunches near the base of a large spruce, his tail twitching as he thought. Gary sat nearby, waiting to hear what the great detective said.

After some time Chip said, “It’s like this, Gary: quite clearly we have stumbled onto a plot.”

Gary nodded intelligently, hoping that something else would be forthcoming. It wasn’t, so he said, “What do you mean by a plot?”

“Don’t you know what a plot is?” asked Chip with some surprise.

“Oh, I know what it is; I just wondered, er, what it was. Here, I mean. In this place.”

“Ah yes, I see. Well, clearly my recent success over the badger has put the criminals of this forest on notice. We are evidently in the midst of the mockingbirds’ home territory, but knowing we were arriving they have decided to keep silent so as not to be detected and foiled. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were scads of them wheeling above us, lulling us into a false sense of security, but in reality just waiting.”

Gary shivered. “Waiting for what?”

“Waiting to repeat what we say, I expect.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“Doesn’t it? Would you like to have a cloud of birds following you about, repeating everything you said for as long as you lived?”

“No, I suppose that would be a bit annoying.”

“More than a bit. And that’s why we have to put a stop to it.”

“But how will we find the bird responsible?”

Chip cocked his ears. “Hark!” he whispered. “I believe we may have found our culprit.”


“In that spruce over there. On the thick branch along the northeast side of the trunk. In the span of the last two minutes I’ve heard four different bird calls from that one spot. It must be the mockingbird.”

As it happened, Chip was both right and wrong. He was right that the mockingbird was in that tree, and even near that branch. He was wrong that it was currently imitating other birds. By a bizarre coincidence, there actually were four different birds perched on the branch Chip had indicated. Still, when Chip called out, “Mockingbird, show yourself!”, the bird in question obligingly fluttered out from behind its branch and alighted nearby.

“You rang?” called the bird cheerfully.

Chip hopped closer and scrutinized his adversary. He didn’t like her. The mockingbird was all that was wrong with the forest. An absolute sinkhole of evil and depravity. And there she sat, just as merry as could be, as though the three of them were soon to have tea together.

“Well we’re not having tea together, I can tell you that,” said Chip, absently repeating his own thoughts, which was one unfortunate symptom of his condition.

The bird hopped a few times in an agitated sort of way, then asked, “Tea together?”

Chip’s voice was grim. “And so it begins.”

“What begins?”

“You’re a mockingbird, are you not?”

“I am.”

“And your stock-in-trade is, I take it, the ability to repeat whatever you hear?”

The mockingbird puffed out her chest. “Certainly! I can imitate sounds, voices, even the rustling of leaves!” And with that, she opened her beak and gave a pitch-perfect imitation of the hiss of the spruce leaves in the afternoon wind.

Chip shuddered. “I hadn’t realized the evil had spread this far,” he said. “Gary, did you hear that?”

Gary was mesmerized by the bird. “Can you do a chipmunk?” he asked eagerly.

The mockingbird bowed in assent, then said, in Gary’s exact voice, “Nothing easier.”

Gary laughed delightedly, but quailed beneath Chip’s gaze. “I’ll trouble you,” said Chip coldly, “not to aid and abet the criminal.”

“Criminal?” asked the bird with obvious curiosity.

“That’s right: criminal.”

“What’s that?”

Chip sighed. “Never mind. It’s enough for you to know that you are one. And to know that I plan to bring a stop to your nefarious ways.”

The bird hopped about again, fluttered her wings, and said, “I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about, and something tells me you don’t either.”

“Oh, I know. I know that not only are you going about imitating poor, innocent woodland creatures, but now even the very trees of the forest itself. It’s incredible!”

The bird bobbed her head forward in the avian form of a bow. “It is, isn’t it? I’ve been practicing for some time. I’m not quite the imitator my mother and father were, but then few birds ever were. I hope I can. . .”

Chip cut her off and shouted, “Enough! I mean it’s hard to believe you can do something so awful without any remorse! You’ll have to come with me.”

“Come with you where?”

In the intervening period between the affair with the badger and the current incident with the mockingbird, Chip had convinced himself that not only did the forest have a jail, but he knew where it was: in his temporary premises back in the oak tree. That it was in fact nothing but a knothole didn’t dissuade him. For all his sleep-deprived mind knew, it was a veritable Alcatraz, a fortress from which not even the greatest criminal could escape.

“You’ll have to come with me,” said Chip with another dramatic pause, “to The Knothole.”

The mockingbird stood stock-still. “Which knothole?”

“The Knothole.”

“I heard you. Which one are you talking about?”

“As though there could be any other!”

The bird turned to Gary. “Is he crazy or am I crazy? What knothole is he talking about?”

Gary started to say something, then realized he didn’t know how to answer. “I don’t really know,” he finally said.

Chip’s tail twitched in annoyance. “It’s a prison, mockingbird! And there you’ll stay until you learn the evil of your imitating ways!”

“I really don’t know what a prison is, but I resent the idea that imitating is evil. It’s just what I do. Like the wind blowing or flowers blooming. How can they be evil?”

“Never mind how,” replied Chip peevishly, “it just is!”

The mockingbird said, equally peeved, “Well I’m not going with you anywhere. And more than that, I’m going to fetch a few of my friends.”

Which she did in a matter of seconds, and soon ten mockingbirds were all clustered around Chip in a semicircle. They were not pleased, and Gary began backing away from his boss nervously.

“Er, don’t you think we should be heading on our way?” he asked Chip.

Chip was nonplussed. “What is all this?” he demanded. “More evildoers?”

The mockingbirds glanced at each other, nodded, then said in unison and in Chip’s precise voice, “What is all this? More evildoers?”

Gary’s mouth dropped open. Chip just stared in astonishment. He was being mocked, right in front of his voice.

“That’s enough!” he shouted.

“That’s enough,” the birds called back. The semicircle closed inward.

“Stop it!”

“Stop it!”

“I’ll teach you!”

“I’ll teach you!”

And on it went for another four exchanges, the semicircle tightening each time. Gary was by now up another tree, watching helplessly. He jumped from branch to branch, desperate to do something but completely unsure as to what. There were just too many birds. After the fourth exchange, though, Chip started to say something, then promptly fell asleep again. Mockingbirds, when they get started imitating something, quickly lose sense of anything else, so that they imitate it reflexively. In this case, all the birds fell asleep right along with Chip. For several minutes the only sound in the clearing was that of Chip and the mockingbirds snoring.

Gary waited a few minutes, then cautiously crept out of the tree and into the clearing. When none of the birds moved, he darted forward and dragged Chip into the forest, eventually hiding in a bush. When the great detective came to, he looked in confusion, then caught sight of Gary crouched next to him.

“What happened?” he asked.

Gary said, “We got away. I pulled you to safety.”

“Hmph,” snorted Chip. “Let me see for myself.”

He peeked through the bush and saw the semicircle of birds still dozing away, their heads bowed and bobbing with the occasional snore. Chip smiled slowly and nodded. “Good. Very good. Look there, Gary,” he pointed, “their heads are all bowed in repentance. They’re overcome with the severity of their crime.”

Gary stared at the birds for a bit. He thought about asking further questions, but figured the detective knew when the situation had been thoroughly dealt with. “Does this mean the case is solved?” he asked.

“It does, indeed,” answered Chip. “I would take them all to The Knothole, but there’s no longer any point. The sole purpose behind putting someone in jail is to make them realize the seriousness of what they’ve done. These birds clearly have realized this already, undoubtedly due to my faultless reasoning and persistence. So let them be. I can be merciful in victory.”

“That’s generous, sir,” said Gary, happy now because it meant they could leave.

“Let us return to the office for now,” said Chip. “Evil will strike again, and we must be ready when it does.”


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