There were tiny explosions of blood in the sky. Red droplets showered on the men peering upwards to count the measure of their sport. Bodies, robbed of their ability to navigate invisible paths and currents fell gracelessly and stained the the dry fields preparing for another harvest. The ones that did not lie still screamed in terror – an odd sound, inhuman yet childlike – as they saw their life drain away in thick rivers that steamed in the autumn air.
The blue arc which had once been their haven was now a killing field in the clouds. Chased and beaten into the sky, the pheasants were startled targets whose fear would become the entertainment for the sirs, earls, dukes and kings below, gathered together for a weekend of jovial destruction.
Dogs with soft mouths retrieved them. When all feeling had bled away into the soil, now was the time that they would be handled gently. Their iridescent necks, dying rainbows, would not be disturbed; the delicate architecture of their wings would not be cracked; and the miracle of their patterned forms would suffer no further insult. The only movements were the gentle disturbances amongst the feathers as the wind tried to breathe life back into the creatures that had once been so patient with its gusts and tantrums.
They were then carefully arranged in a terrible mosaic; row upon row: thousands of defeated birds whose only sin was that they lived on an aristocratic acreage at a time when cruelty and excess were all that could entertain a bored society.
The hunters would then pose above the corpses to have their photo taken. There would be a memory of this day, a memory of the waste that had wrought only because they could. This restless class of men little knew that within a few years they themselves would lie in blackened waste on the battlefields of Passchendaele, Ypres and Verdun.
But now it was time for luncheon.