The Stark is a bird few have ever heard of before. It is a waterfowl that congregates and nests in putrid swamps or steamy, fetid jungles. The color of the Stark is like spilt gasoline with a gray base. The bird is covered in black and white spots. The cry of Starks matches that of a traffic jam of furious motorists who are forever late to their destinations, seething with road rage. They say that the Stark is poisonous, which makes sense because it looks like hell’s flamingo. All of these impressions passed through the mind of Murdoc White whenever he stared at the stuffed Stark in the chairman’s waiting room.
Murdoc White was a PhD candidate at Cranston University studying to get his doctorate in toxicology. His specialty was in animal venom and how it interacts with the human body. He could recite venoms and antedotes in his sleep, but he struggled to find a sufficient topic to publish his professional thesis on. This was until he stumbled upon an obscure BBC story on central African civil strife which mentioned the peril of near extinct species. In this story, there was a small reference to the Stark and Mr. White discovered his calling.
When he proposed his expedition, his academic advisor was extremely skeptical. The Stark was believed to have gone extinct in 1913 after a Belgian nobleman lost his heir to Stark poisoning and methodically exterminated the species. Furthermore, the entire region had been mired in civil war ever since the end of the colonial period following World War II. Mr. White was about to search for another topic, when the university chairman, Doctor Duke Cranston IV, heard of the Stark’s discovery. The chairman himself was a lover of Starks and he refused to let a little native unrest hinder the rediscovery of his favorite bird. He backed and funded Murdoc White’s study and after many months of research, they set out on an expedition in the jungles of Africa.
Murdoc brought his girlfriend with him on his expedition. Her name was Layolin Zhu and she was a linguist and aspiring diplomat. She was very helpful with translating and receiving help from the locals. Murdoc adored her company, yet he felt uneasy bringing her into a remote warzone surrounded by soldiers of fortune for protection and unknown rebel adversaries lurking in the bush.
One day, after several weeks in the jungle, Murdoc White found traces of Starks. He thought he could hear their cry some miles away towards a depression bog. The fog was thick and it began to rain, otherwise Mr. White would have ventured further. The rain finally stopped after a few days.
Mr. White and Dr. Cranston dressed in protective gear and walked towards the bog. The protective gear grew heavier the further they ventured. The sun came out and began to heat the jungle beyond 100 degrees. The shields that protected their faces began to fog and both men perspired profusely. Dr. Cranston began shedding layers. “Sir, I think it would be a good idea to keep your gear on,” Murdoc said.
“Nonsense,” replied Dr. Cranston, “its just too hot. Besides, what harm can a bird do?”
The bog came into view. There, for the first time in a century, a living Stark stood in the reeds. It made a noise similar to a car crash and was joined by two others. The birds stood there, eyeing the white strangers suspiciously; with prejudice and dark malice.
“Would you look at that!” Dr. Cranston whispered in amazement. He brought up his binoculars, gasped and said, “Murdoc, Murdoc, my boy, its a clutch of eggs! We’ve found a nest!”
“Careful, sir. Don’t startle them. Otherwise they’ll -” but it was too late. The malicious waterfowl unleashed an angry warcry and, from the trees, Starks descended upon the unwary party. Murdoc White escaped unharmed, but Dr. Cranston was pecked and poisoned. The effects of the poison were unknown. The pair struggled back to base camp. In the last mile of the return trip, Dr. Cranston became dizzy and disoriented. He was sweating, his heart was racing and he was becoming delirious.
Mr. White began carrying the doctor through the jungle, praying that they would make it back to base camp. There, he hoped to find an antedote to stabilize his sponsor. To his horror he found that the base camp had been attacked by rebels. It was ravaged. Items were scattered and broken. Some of the mercenaries lay dead and his girlfriend was gone. In the midst of this carnage, there was one more casualty. Chairman Dr. Duke Cranston IV rolled his eyes to the back of his head, foamed at the mouth and died in the arms of Murdoc White.