It’s unnatural to discover a nocturnal creature in the cold sun. That’s exactly what I felt like when I saw an owl perched in an oak that January afternoon—a witness to the unnatural.
She stormed the ground, her talons open wide. The bars in her feathers rippled when she clawed through the snow down to the dirt. Before her assault she sat calmly on her perch and looked adorable with her eyes closed. Now she moved with the fluid grace of a trained killer.
Her wide, onyx eyes finally noticed me when she slurped down the field mouse she slashed open. Even with the corpse hanging out of her mouth, she was too neat, too professional about the slaying. No blood marred her except a thin coat on the tips of her talons. That three-foot she-sentry scanned the area in calculated rotations and flew back into the tree. Even her defecation—a momentary shift of tail feathers—was choreographed.
Poor thing. She acted so much like the rest of us. Even if she traded in those talons and feathers for toes and clothes, her patterns would not change. She’d carry a knife in her boot, mace in her purse, and prefer her steak extra rare. Her business suit would provide a camouflage as effective as the tree canopy in summertime.
I spotted the creature when I was about to enter my car, and a chill passed through my clothes when the driver door wouldn’t open. I never lock it. My keys weren’t in my pocket either, but rather sitting in a muddy pool at my feet. I didn’t recall dropping them. I snatched them, shook the water off, and unlocked my car. But as I was getting in, I felt air stirring my hair. Startled, I checked my surroundings.
That little huntress disappeared, so I went on with my errands. I arrived at the supermarket parking lot and a woman with grey eyes approached me from behind. I heard her coming because of the smacks her boots made on the slushy pavement. She asked if I was all right.
I told her I didn’t understand. Then she pointed out the several blood-stained rips in the back of my goose down jacket. At that point I noticed her satchel, a sackcloth bag that seemed ancient compared to the youth carrying it. She set down her grocery bag of steaks and circled around me to look for open wounds.
She said I had blood on my face, and then fished tissues out of her satchel for me to use. My nerves failed and my conscience told me to run. It wasn’t until I saw a barred owl feather peek out of her bag that I finally did. She called after me the whole time, by name even.
I didn’t eat that night. Winter has passed and trees are regrowing their camouflage. I don’t dare open my windows at night because I’ll hear that bird in my yard hooting away. She sounds sad and lonely and hungry.
On clear nights I can spot her silhouette from my kitchen window. The owl always uses that same branch, watching me every night when I turn out the lights and retire to the basement, where she can’t watch me.