He strolled this path each day always the same as before, head down and lost in the myriad jumbled potentialities that were the result of every decision he made in life, from childhood onward; a winding and anxious imagining of what life would have been like at the conclusion of those choices had they played out differently. This one trail, winding along Monument Creek, paved and unbroken for fifty-four miles, twisted through canopies of Cottonwoods, Elms, Spruce, and Aspen in such a way that it was easy to forget all of it was surrounded by city. It idly crossed the Creek over bridges painstakingly designed to accommodate cyclists, runners and arm-in-arm lovers while blending with the environment the way old wooden structures compliment the countryside, only these were mostly made from sturdy steel beams disguised with a generous coat of paint the color of wet earth.
He passed the first bridge, wooden planks overlaying the beams beneath, giving way to the pavement which sported miniature raccoon footprints forever frozen in time from when it freshly poured last summer. Bits of human passing dotted the well maintained trail from time to time; a water bottle, a plastic bag, every one of which he picked up and put in his coat pockets. He never considered himself an eco-activist, but simply acted (he admitted to himself) for his own selfish indulgence; disliking anything that detracted from this reverie and the serenity of time afforded him by leaving his life behind, if only for an hour or two, to get his mind “in accord” as he called it.
A swift autumn breeze rustled the trees and he closed his eyes for a moment to appreciate the sounds. The reed grasses rustling like rice being poured on the ground, water passing through and over ancient rocks, much as it had when the Utes lived here, before their ancestral migration trail became US HWY 24. The rich fauna silenced themselves in the wake of the breeze, as if the finger of god pressed against their mouths warning them that an ancient predator approached; echoed in the trees whose leaves seemed to softly whisper Shhh….
She ended that silence by calling, prompting his eyes to open, those that had seen visceral pain. It took some time before he saw her, perched above on a low hanging branch not more than three meters away, by his guess. She wasn’t easy to spot, even with the proximity, as her contour coat reminded him of the mottled bark of the Cottonwood she perched on, with flowing bits of Russian Olive for variety. He could only guess what species of owl she might be, but knew he hadn’t ever seen one on the trail before. Her head faced him, piercing marrow and soul with Aurelian Yellow eyes, locking joints so that he now understood what deer on the freeway felt before impact. Something dangled from her left foot, a string of some sort, perhaps something of humans that had become tangled around her, attached to her. He didn’t like that strand of whatever it was; imagined how she had learned to live with it hindering her, holding her back from freedom. It was discordant to his need for order, begging him to put it in his pocket so he could throw it away in the bin near the entrance to the trail on his return, but knew that was not possible – what creature so wild and free would let him get so close. Beauty always seemed to shy from his presence.
With a quick turn of her head, her eyes locked onto something else, a movement at the edge of his periphery he wouldn’t have noticed were it not for her. She made her move, crouching briefly to balance then lunge forward. Her wingspan was impressive, taking flight straight to what her keen sight told her was food.
A rat, small and scared, who in the breath of his silence with the owl panicked and ran from its security toward some perceived safe haven. He backed away, watching as only two meters away, she collided with her prey, killing it instantly. He noted it was a white rat, the kind with red eyes, though its fur was washed with the trappings of nature, and as he stared, she looked up at him for a brief moment with an indeterminable visage, maybe challenge, maybe thanks – he couldn’t tell, before taking flight back up into the tree, though coming to rest much higher than before, causing him to notice this tree was the tallest of the Cottonwoods of any near, perhaps any ever. As she went about her meal, perched expertly on the sturdy branch near the trunk, he took time to understand the tree. On all his walks he had never noticed it; had passed it perhaps a hundred times. It was majestic, with a single trunk that split into two reaching towers each the size of a large trunk itself to disappear into the thousand leaves that hid their termination. And yet, there she was, visible, primal – ripping and tearing the meat with no regard for fragile bones or its coat of skin, the branch she clutched perfectly framed by the growth to provide a window with no glass.
There was no need for him to finish his walk, leaving her to her meal, he crossed the bridge to return home, his head hung in thought, though this time, not about choices.
He returned to his car in the shopping center next to the trail head, intending to return home. As he pulled out toward the exit, he took note of the Corporate Pet store just down the row, bringing him to a stop. He couldn’t say why, but he thought he should stop in, the burning need for information rolling through him.
He had never been in a pet store like this, only small ones remembered from his childhood; the ones found in malls, filled with cute puppies in small cages, playing with each other among mesh screens caked with their own stools; begging to be taken. Each person there greeted him several times as he browsed the bird section, feeling completely out of place. Endless aisles of toys and formulated diets based on size or kind. Cages, cleaners, and other strange trappings associated with captive avians were to be found and he developed the impression that he was in the wrong place. As tuned to walk out, he passed the small animal habitat and noticed rats in one of the glass cubicles nestled in the shelved display case that featured other rodents; the whole thing designed to mimic a trendy grass field theme in plastic and silicone.
The rats huddled in chewed wooden houses, ran in metal wheels and, for those who couldn’t fit in either, cowered in the corners like little masses of fur. Billy came over to greet him for the third time, asking if he had any questions.
He thought for a moment.
“I saw a white rat on the trail nearby. Like those in there, white with red eyes.” He said, pointing in the corner to a group of them.
“Ah, actually, there’s a story behind the white rats in the area. It’s kinda funny. There was this girl about a year ago that was raising them, the albinos. She tried selling to us, but we only buy our small animals from a vet approved breeder. Anyways, they said this gal was a coke dealer and got really, you know, high on coke one day. They found her standing in the river with no clothes on, balling her eyes out and releasing all these albino rats from buckets she had rolled down in a red wagon from her trailer. She just dumped them on the bank and in the water, hundreds of ‘em, telling them they were free and to take over the world or something like that. We all still talk about it here.” Billy laughed to himself, finding the local legend funny, but paused when he got no reaction, not so much as a smile from his customer. He shrugged and prompted: “Were you interested in getting a rat?”
“No, I was just curious, thank you.” And with that, he left the pet store and went home to look up all the information he could on the subject of owls.
The house was just as had left it – clean, organized, empty. He never liked coming home anymore, too many memories pressed in from each item in the home. The table where she sat laughing with a smile that could melt gold. The books on the shelf they read together, the adventures he shared, ones he loved that she came to love too, the half burned candles from their last dinner of lamb shoulder chops with couscous and balsamic reduction. Everywhere, an empty bottle of wine in the wine cabinet, the crystal wine glass sitting next to it from which she had last drank from and still bore the prints of her lips embalmed in lipstick at its rim. The scarf, one of many she wore, still hanging where she left it on the coat rack before she left and bore the faint hint of Shalimar. Here, the rug they made love on, there, the towel she used when she last showered.
He closed his eyes, reaching for the lights and making his way through the night induced blackness by rote. When he had discarded the clothes of his day, he crawled into bed, the one they had once made passionate love on, plugged in his phone to charge and began to use it to find out what kind of owl he had discovered (or had she discovered him?) on the trail. Not long after, he slept fitfully as usual to the silence of his well-maintained and lonely home.
Waking was a chore. He wondered why he couldn’t just sleep without waking up. The dreams were never as bad as reality. Dispassionately, he understood emotion as a chemical response, ingrained responses to mating rituals, resource gathering and protection for survival, and many other psycho-biological functions which had evolved throughout eons. None of that mattered when tears left his eyes each morning before opening them, the weight of non-life hitting him, deflating his heart, constricting his lungs. Anymore, the first thing he saw each morning was the hot and cold knobs of his shower as he reached for them, begging them to flood the world’s problems into extinction. The steam left the water before it hit the stall floor, turning his light skin a shade of dark pink, he imagined it was the color of blood, watered down by torrential rain on a city street after an accident, life flowing down the gutter into the storm drain. The old pipes even whined in a high pitched release from time to time.
He shaved in the shower, an old straight razor he felt worked better than any store bought multi-blade device, the kind resplendent with aloe and comfort strips to be easily replaced for the low low price of a fancy dinner at the Steakhouse including appetizer and dessert for one. The water was his lotion, no mirror, just the practiced schema guiding his hand as it had thousands of times before. He shaved against the grain despite all shaving protocol, starting with his sideburns and moving down. His neck was always last, and took the longest with frequent pauses and dark thoughts.
There was always a sense of euphoria and regret in equal measure when he stepped from the ritual a half hour later to dry himself with freshly laundered towels. Bed made, breakfast the same each morning, protein shake with whole milk and four raw eggs, read a chapter or two and head to work. Coffee on the way, driving the speed limit, slow to accelerate, fifteen minutes early. Thank science for Xanax.
Work consisted of numbers. Eight hours, half hour lunch break if any at all, numbers sent to him, numbers he understood and could relate to. They did not hate or love. Numbers didn’t kill, but could represent killing. The numbers they didn’t understand, were sent to him. He put them in order so they could understand them, it was his job and he was good at it.
Work done, he left to walk, with no numbers to calm his active mind, he was left with his own thoughts, turning for comfort from turmoil to the walking trail down the street from his office. Glass bottle, cigarette butt, greeting card in a soiled envelope. He picked it up but paused before folding it and putting it his pocket. It was addressed in a woman’s writing to Gabby.
Feeling invasive, he opened it. Birthday card, My Little Pony, “You Are 4 Now!” Within, was a picture of a barnyard scene, all the animals Ponyish in form he assumed – resplendent with cartoonish anthropomorphic smiles. An inscription displayed in clear balloon print as on the envelope read: “To my big Girl on her special day, we love you with all our hearts!” Below this Mom and Dad, the ‘Dad’ written in a man’s sloppier writing. It was always the same, the women made out the cards, while the men just signed them in some Iron Jon semblance of vestigial compassionless duty. Hunt, Fight, Track, Meat, Sign card – but don’t fill out. He regretted pulling it from the envelope and dropped it all to the ground, leaving it behind, taking on the task of taxonomic classification of the plants he passed along the trail, save for the Thistles and Cattails.
He crossed the bridge and stopped, his heart beating a little faster. Sure enough, she was there, perched as before on the branch above, watching him and offering a low tone in greeting or warning. He waited there, observing her, hoping some small animal would dart out onto the trail for her benefit and his. She waited patiently, wanting, looking to him in expectation as he did to her. He had nothing to offer but his admiration both for her beauty and her cocked reticence. He took in her detail, affirming by her size and the pitch of her vocalization that this creature was indeed female. Carefully and as unthreateningly as he could, he stepped forward toe to heel – one step. The cord which hung from her foot became his focus, and in the stillness of her observation, since she had not moved in response to his advance, he saw it for what it was. A cord, camouflage in color, made of paracord and braided in a thin clumsy, though durable strand, bound firmly about that foot.
Why did she still bear it? With her sharp beak, he imagined she could tear through it with a single bite, freeing herself and living unshackled. The cord seemed to even cut into the leg, leaving scars and marks about its length. The thought of someone doing this to so beautiful and free a creature angered him, an emotion he didn’t freely give himself to and he determined then that he would help her shed herself from it. Though he wasn’t sure he could, perhaps he shouldn’t if she were content to let it be though she had the ability, she hadn’t. Was it his right?
They stood there, statues, thinking, silent.
Dusk faded, signaling his time to go, his return to home was turning into a plan of action. He felt he had purpose, something more than numbers and walks, cleaning and sleep.
The Beverens arrived special delivery in crates, carefully shipped; two adult blacks, male and female and the same of two whites. Over the previous two weeks he had taken to studying carpentry, falconry, and the nutritional optimization for raising and breeding rabbits whom the reputable breeder he ordered these from in Florida had been more than helpful in providing a subject book on the matter. He continued his walks, each day anticipating the turn just after the bridge. Most times she was there, occasionally she was not. Several times he saw her swoop down to devour one of the crack-raised genetically flawed rats prevalent in the area, which he saw as a substandard diet, the inbred albinistic animal kingdom version of generic discount ramen or the convenience store frozen burrito. Nothing of the sort would do going forward. He, who would provide nourishment for her – whom he named Minerva.
He built two story rabbit hutches of white finished cabinetry board in the spare bedroom of the house, the one intended as a nursery for their first and only child which were to be populated with both black and white Beverens, trying to plan ahead for the different seasons; knowing the white ones would be harder to see when the snows came in. In their feeding bin, he included timothy hay from a farmer he knew out east, mixed with a scientifically formulated diet of 18% protein, 17% fiber and 3% fat. They already seemed trained to use the gravity fed cage mounted water bottle for a continuous supply of fresh water, and placed and easy clean rubber matting in the bottom of the cages for grip. The Beverens were separated into the two cages by color and bred quite easily. After weeks of labor, he exhaled a sigh of relief that he could at last provide a good, healthy meal for Minerva, one of quality and superior sustenance.
His schedule reflected that he was in time to begin. The day was October 31st, which was a coincidence that he found ironic. The kits the Beverens had borne were of age to begin and he selected the largest and healthiest, a fat white with brown eyes – the pick of the litter. He carried it in a small cloth carrier he purchased, the kind pretentious Toy Yorkie owners carry their pampered pets in, slung over his shoulder. His black wool P Coat protected him from the chill of the fading day, the path still thankfully free from any snows. As he approached the end of the bridge, he unzipped the carrier and carefully lay it to the side of the cement path next to the beam of the bridge.
The normally docile kit leaped from the carrier into the brush. Panic overwhelmed him, as he gave chase into the thicket, leaping when he saw it stalled in indecision, hands clamping down in a strong vicelike prison around it, trapping it, but leaving it unharmed as it sought escape through the cracks of his fingers. He had cut his hand nastily on some tree or thorn in the brief chase, and sighed with annoyance. Coddling the body in his left hand, he looked about himself for something to wrap the wound with, deciding his scarf would have to do, though it was a bit large for the job.
It was then that he noticed what was in front of him. Three feet tall, remnants of green flowers hanging on, though dead and drying from their august bloom, dark purplish-red berries littered about its base – musky smell. The flower was spread wide amongst the dense brush, not far from the banks of the Creek, smothering the plants around it in its desire to grow. This time of year, it was showing signs of retreating to dormancy. He knew this flower. Jenn had studied botany, it was her life. The effort to organize the charts and tables at work into concise ph balanced columns of rainwater reservoirs had allowed him to understand what plant life would be affected by industrial and commercial runoff into the local water supply, one facet of information his lab worked to process for the government. This non-native flower had come up on his reports, and he had taken an interest in it, yet had only seen pictures. The Aralia Racemosa, commonly known as Spikenard. The kit held firmly, he touched the leaves, examined the berries on the ground, felt their course dryness, he moved the dirt near the base to expose the root, touching it, scratching it with his fingernail back and forth to lightly expose the inside past the soiled husk. Bringing his bloodied hand away, he smelled the prized musk to put a memory with the moment, to take in the aroma. This was special to him.
Quickly, he was brought from his memory making by the strong squirming in his left hand, reminding him he came here for another reason. He stepped from the brush onto the path, anticipation of the coming moment conflicting with the sudden and unexpected pain from his past, still urging onward the next steps toward the cottonwood – half of their leaves lay beneath his feet. Much more visible, the broken window widened to see her sitting as usual on the low hanging branch. She looked to him, solemn, deep.
Already, children would be about in their costumes, hitting the wealthy neighborhoods in favor of the full sized candy bars the rich lured them with, mansions decorated for Halloween with a years’ salary of the greater population of east side residents. He pushed the thought of the children from his mind, forced the Spikenard to rest in peace (for now) next to his half-forgotten dreams, only distracted by the smell of fire coming in on the breeze. Animals sensed fire, they fled from it, and that could ruin his chances of this working; change Minerva’s calm and cause her to be hesitant of his intent to wean her of the pestilence she had been feeding from that she may know that another soul cared to see her live a life not burdened by the taint of human corruption. His eyes scanned the horizon, that which he could see from his recessed position on the trail. A bright glow emanated from the east, plumes of smoke forming a column of orange light to match the setting sun behind him. Likely a house or two on fire several blocks away, with any luck the normally eastward winds would keep it from this sanctuary.
He removed his coat slowly to reveal a worn grey welders’ glove found at a garage sale for two dollars and tucked into his belt; donned it, the thick leather extending up the length of his arm nearly to the elbow. He unwound the scarf from his hand, not wanting it to interfere and placed it like a bloody orarium about his neck. With the musky-copper scent of blood and root, he grasped the healthiest of juveniles, tender, placid and white as snow from the crook of his left, snuggled comfortably with all the seeming Bovine calmness of those sacred animals bathed in the Ganges.. He felt like a falconer of old, performing daring and bravado, not for the benefit of kingly pleasures, but for the adoration of friendship he held for the vision of primal beauty that waited with unnatural patience.
Heart beating like first time lovers, naked and exposed, admiring the other in anticipation for the act to come, he transferred the kit from his right hand to his left, grasping it by its back legs between fingers leaving its body to rest slightly elevated in his cupped palm.
She sat stoic on her branch. He began to worry whether she would want his gift. If perhaps he was breaking some decree of the natural order by imposing (somewhat selfishly he pondered) a form of domestication on that which should be left wild. Perhaps habituating her to humans such that some person of less pure intention than he would take advantage of her newfound font of sustenance.
He had come this far, done so much and questioned his intentions. But if, indeed, she accepted him of her own free will, if she held him in the highest regard as he did her, then what laws governed such mutual attraction. Though it seemed impossible, he felt there was a connection.
Remnant ethereal tufts from the shadowed canopy floated down lazily, dancing in the air without a soul in sight to bring discord to the moment. He was in her world of gnats and mosquitos, rushing water, rustles and the soft earthy scent of soil and driftwood.
Above him, she listed slightly forward, head and eyes locked onto the movement at the end of his arm. She – strong and independent, with a preternatural intelligence belying her noble yet savage nature. There was nothing false about her or her intentions, about who he was to her or what he could expect. Yet his adoration and awe of her magnificence dulled his critical nature to assume the role of doting fool and provider of all she needed, despite the base reality that she needed nothing or no one.
He situated himself in ready position, grasping the doe-kit still comfortably ensconced in her place of warmth with a gloved hand beneath her, cradling her dulcet form like he would a newborn, with support and the promise of fatherly content.
Arm still held aloft, standing as still as David, suddenly feeling naked in the thin cotton button down and blue jeans; inadequate and exposed in the face of the primitive force of her presence, his heart was pounding in his ears. He felt alive for the first time he could remember, realizing he was a clinical fool, responsible for living his whole life without risk. There was vigor in this moment, standing there for hour-long minutes waiting for a miracle, a catastrophe – anything that would justify abandoning attention to detail, an antiseptic lifestyle – no matter the consequences now, he was ready to accept it, to stop pretending the emperor’s clothes were real.
He averted his gaze to the point where he could only glimpse her in his periphery yet still she hesitated. Holding the rabbit higher, he looked down at his feet, losing sight of her completely, nerves on edge with the increasing anxiety that the only feeling left would be disconsolate want.
It was felt before heard, the impact of her striking the kit in his upraised hand causing the chill of sudden fear and elation to grip his body. She was powerful. Her talons, sharp and formidable enveloped the down-wrapped meat along with the leather protecting his wrist which now seemed ridiculously inadequate against the pressure she exerted on his wrist. The kit screamed for a moment in fright, betrayed by its taste of the possibility of freedom, while he relished the weight of her, the perfume of her feathers, talons bruising his wrist. He hadn’t mistaken her language, her innuendo leading to believe there was tenuous trust. Releasing his grip on the body, he gave it freely, though would have not had a choice otherwise.
Too suddenly, he felt her ready herself for flight raising his arm at the same time she lifted off, partly to counter her surge, partly to assist her toward her branch. He watched at first with joy, then sadness as she disappeared into the deepening darkness to the high up perch she retreated to always to eat alone. His body shook as sure as if he had been stabbed with adrenaline, drawn from reservoirs he didn’t know existed. He watched her dine, satisfied –looking up once to share a glance. Appreciation? Regret? Trepidation. Understanding.
She finished her meal and with a glance to the cord at her leg, gave flight to the southern night, like Cinderella returning home, bits of warm carcass left in her wake.
He rose the next day invigorated, the dreamlike experience of the night before, surreal and unimaginable before made him question whether it happened at all. Sitting up, he looked to his wrist, thankful to find the pinpoint bruising on three points, two along the lifeblood of tender flesh beneath and one above between the radius and ulna. He rubbed them, smiling, noting how one of the points featured a small puncture where a talon had found the integrity of his makeshift armor wanting.
There was no pressure in his chest, no problems breathing as he woke, his mind focused and alert. No tears.
He went about his morning routine quickly, to which was added the care of the Beverens. He went online and ordered more adults to ensure consistent supply as well as to ensure genetic diversity. On a whim, he visited an online nursery and ordered seeds for Spikenard flowers, though it was well past season to plant them. Semantics. He was determined.
Work passed easily for him, his analysis lab blessedly tucked into a corner of the complex, where few ever came, though he was head of the department. He was working some numbers when a junior analyst by the name of Jerry came in with samples from the field and set them down on a stainless steel cart near the door, work boots still covered in the drying mud of whatever waterway he had recently collected his samples from. Jerry looked up for a moment, almost as a double take, perhaps noticing for the first time that a person actually inhabited this room from the hours of eight to five.
“Hey Tom, you look like you’re in a good mood today.”
There was a moment of hesitation owing to the fact that his name indeed wasn’t Tom before he replied. “Yeah, I guess so.”
The young analyst left, and he wondered why after three years, the young man hadn’t moved up in the company from junior analyst. Perhaps it was owing to the fact that he couldn’t get his superiors names right, he mused before dabbing a slide with a drop of water and sliding it under the microscope. He usually left some of this work to the machines, but today he felt like looking at the microbes swimming in the miniature dome of ecosystem. A blaring Rotifer took up the dome, causing him to check the sample location. Memorial Park Tap. Great, a filter was malfunctioning, and though he didn’t see any cyanobacteria or other harmful bugs (Rotifers were large, but harmless) he sent a quick email to let someone know, then continued to watch the life swim around. He changed filters and lenses, admiring in blues, reds and greens, appreciating for once that life was working hard to go on. He thought of Minerva and how she, like the park goers were now going to be able to live better.
He ran numbers, created charts and sent more emails all which passed arduously in light of his want to get back to the trail. He smuggled one of the Beveren kits in the duffle that typically held books, laptop and his lunch. After fifteen years, and being head of the department, no one checked or noticed him when he came to work. It was tucked with care in the carrier with a makeshift waterer on the side while he provided it with timothy hay and a slice of orange pepper. When his time was done, he headed straight to meet with Minerva, hoping she would be there as usual.
When he arrived, she was absent. White rats scampered about inviting something to end their misery and consume them quickly, red eyes reflecting the afternoon sun in flashes of malevolent discontent, heads jerking this way and that for no reason he could determine. He imagined plague bearing fleas jumping twenty feet away to latch onto him, feeling his skin with hallucinogen induced euphoria, searching his face, climbing up his nose to the rich vessels that ran but a hair’s breadth from the surface. Reflexively he wiped his nose and brushed his coat, his skin crawling at the thought.
He couldn’t leave until he saw her again, his heart beating faster, his breath imperceptibly labored. He wondered if she had come to some harm, if he had acted too rashly and driven her away. Perhaps she had finally got what she wanted from him and found it lacking or forbidden.
His mind delved down a thousand possible paths simultaneously, each ending in the worst case scenario, no light to be seen, and the oppressiveness of the Cottonwood, its ancient bark once a comfort began to take on the shades of loss and sorrow. Each groove and twist pointing to where she should be, reminding him she was supposed to be there, but wasn’t.
He stood there for hours, occasionally yelling at the rats to get away from him, which they largely ignored until he threw rocks at them, and even that wasn’t effective on all of them, some sauntered away, others just looked around confused, sniffing the air – always sniffing.
The full moon rose shortly after sunset, lighting the path well enough to still see the raccoon tracks past the bridge. He felt he should go home and stood to do so when a shadow passed over him. He looked up quickly to see what he though was a strigine form pass over the trees, disappearing to the south.
Without though, he ran along the trail, the shadow form drifting lazily near the treetops, appearing then disappearing as the trail wound on. He knew it well and ran easily in the bright light the night’s moon provided. His heart pounded even faster, spurred on by physical activity, his lungs burned, thickening the saliva in his mouth and throat, muscles burned with the tearing of strain, life breaking them down and flooding them with blood, heightening his awareness, making him aware of his body in ways he forgot. He was Icarus running to the moon, wisdom inherent in ignoring her counter.
Around the bends and twists, past this thistle groves, under the bridge and its defaced mural of human connectivity, he came to the edge of the retention pond where part of the creek was diverted under the path, where families fished and cranes came to show off in the spring. The trees followed the creek away from the path here, opening a wide field of vision to allow him to see her, circling downward toward a place he had half noticed, but had never disturbed.
Construction on a new medical center upstream had displaced a homeless camp recently, its residents scattering in smaller units along its length. A small fire was barely visible at the base of the trees, the kind that wouldn’t draw the attention of authorities. These trees were all aspen and elm. He was confident that she had drifted down to the base where the fire burned.
Panic welled within him, blind, unthinking, reactive, primitive; he looked around feeling exposed, wanting to run to the scene, but knowing that charging a vagrant site was dangerous as well. He had desensitized her, brought her to harm. Who knows what they would do to an owl if given the chance, perhaps kill her and eat her, pawning the feathers as tokens of luck with each roadside donation to whatever advertised plight was featured on the cutout side of a cardboard box.
He dashed to the side, a steep sloping drop, feet windmilling out of his control until he could stop his momentum at the evened out base. He hoped some inactive gene in his ancestry, the one sixteenth that was Native American, would burst forth to guide his instincts on how to move carefully and with silence. He avoided brush, sought the sand that ran this length of the creek from the occasional flows that brought it past its banks over untold years so that it reminded him of the beach, so fine and white, seemingly out of place but there now when he needed it most.
He crept close enough to see, thankful that his dark coat provided some semblance of stealth. Twenty meters or so ahead, he could see with clarity the undisturbed single occupant of the camp. There was an olive green canvas dwelling set up near the fire, clearly tucked into the tall brush enough to hide it from the passersby of the trail at the top of the rise. It was the type of tent that looked like an older military hooch, supported by aluminum tent poles secured to the ground by metal stakes. By the looks of the debris of habitation, he had been there for some time; tonight he was drunk. Dressed in a faded dirty black t-shirt and camouflage military pants, he poured back a generous swig of Jack Daniels, standing and nearly tumbling into the fire as he did so.
Minerva alighted on a branch reluctantly nearby, observing him in his state. He turned and noticed momentarily before taking another drink. Without a word, he climbed into his tent, rambling to himself in the language of alcohol. She reacted by gliding over to an old cage, once fine and large enough for her, but now rusted with age and neglect; a cage that had been weathered to the point of futility, though the trappings of her nest lay within, itself the manifestation of apathy.
There was nothing to do but to observe. She was there of her own will, the tether about her foot, perhaps once lovingly applied to keep her steady on his arm, hung from where she sat nested to droop over the side of the nest, frayed and dirty. Adrenaline, tears, anger and fear welled within him. His heart sank that she was his.
This man, the one in the tent was known throughout the north end of the city as Bible Bob; known as much for chanting biblical verse to himself while rocking back and forth in front of grocery stores as he was for falling asleep drunk in public restrooms. He was broken with minor tormenting moments of lucidity which he treated quickly with white man’s medicine. Still, this man had a connection with Minerva, long enough for her to come back to him despite his madness, despite the disregard he had let fall slowly over unknown years; a silken funeral shroud left to rot in the earth.
He left Bible Bob and Minerva, moving quietly from the scene as if stumbling on an argument between lovers he wish he’d never seen. She deserved so much more than a tarnished self-imposed cage as strong as the oxidized metal of the one in which she now slept. Compassion for her situation, emotions stirring in the placidity of recesses he had long ago buried, thoughts of what this meant to him wormed their way through his brain; a parasite replicating into a thousand choices and fears. Head down, he walked down the moonlit path.