Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Flight Of The Barn Owl, short story by Andrew Lucas

As the sun sets behind rolling hills, the little farm settles in for the night. The chickens have roosted in their coop, the cows have headed for the barn, the pigs are nestled in their pen, and the sheep are huddled together in the field. However, not everyone on the farm is headed to bed at this time. Sleepy eyes blink as the Barn Owl stirs, she is just waking up. Tired wings stretch and flap but make no noise. Wind blows through the cracks in the wood that make up the barn walls. In the highest rafter of her man-made lair the Barn Owl peers down to the stillness of the straw covered barn floor. Not a sound can be heard, other than the wind whistling through the boards, and no matter how tiny of a sound there could be, you can be sure she would hear it.

She hops to the edge of the hole in the wall and pokes her head out. The world is tucking itself into bed and the fields and trees in the distance appear as if they have pulled a blanket of white over them. A haunting hoot of a Great Horned Owl can be heard echoing far off, signaling night has officially come to the land.  The Barn Owl hears it and looks in that direction. As menacing as she is, she will still stay away from that area. This bird of prey doesn't want to come face to face with the maker of that noise.

Down the snow-covered lane a great beechnut tree stands alone. The darkness surrounds the branches but in the moonlight they are highlighted and outlined in white. The Barn Owl leans out of the exit and shoots through the opening. A few rapid flaps with a glide and the terror to mice and rats sails through the night sky. She heads straight for the long-standing tree, stripped naked of its leaves this time of year. As silent as the night, the owl rushes to a low branch and clutches it tightly, she makes no sound at all as she flaps in her landing.

Her bright eyes survey the lane and fields that lay beneath this lone wooden tower. She listens for the faintest of sounds because that is exactly what she is hunting for, sound. Even if a mouse moved underneath the layer of snow, she would be able to hear it. Not too far away from the great tree is a corn crib. The rodents of the farm often frequent this spot because of all the wonderful corn that is readily available to them! There is a high risk to visit this spot because the night birds know this as well, and the rodents are quite aware that they know this too. When night falls the mice and rats understand that a silent end can come from above without warning. The big black eyes and pure white face is like a ghost in the darkness that comes to take them. If a mouse or rat ever sees this face, it will be the last thing they ever see. Speed, stealth, power, and razor sharp talons are the tools that spell doom for the tiny mammals that call this little farm home.

The brown and white spotted raptor listens for tiny sounds coming from the corn crib. She knows that this place is usually good for at least one meal so she investigates it first. One young rat decides that the corn crib at night is far too tempting to pass up and his hunger leads him right to the ears of corn. The commotion he makes wouldn't alert you or me but in the distance someone takes notice of the faint scratching. The owl focuses in on the sound's origin. She pin points it although she can't see it yet, she knows exactly where the petite rat is hiding. Without a sound she raises up and makes a direct line for the corn crib. The rat gets careless, enjoying his food unaware that behind him death has taken flight. The Barn Owl makes an arch and gains height so that she can come almost straight down on her target.

As if something warns him, he stops and looks around, he doesn't see anything, he doesn't hear anything, he can't smell anything, so he goes back to nibbling on his food. It is too late, in one swift motion she tilts her wings and elevates them which slows down her momentum while she pushes forward with her legs and opens up her out stretched feet, talons baring and before a shadow cast by the moonlight alerts the rat, it is all over. The crushing blow kills him instantaneously as the immense pressure is the actual cause of death. Without stopping, the owl was able to grasp her prey and continue on her flight back to the decrepit old tree.

A familiar ghostly face with large round eyes appears through the blackness and lands next to her on the same branch. It is her mate and he too has a meal in his clutches. As they simultaneously tear up the meat in their beaks, with a big white moon reflecting on the snow behind them, the pair understands that their night of hunting isn't over, it is only just beginning. The female Barn Owl will need all the nutrients she can get in the short time before her eggs are laid. 

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