Story Thread: Aug 25 – Sep 7, 2016 Flash Fiction First Line Contest “The owlet led me to…”

The LinkedIn Comment Thread can be found here.

This post is for STORIES related to the First Line Contest: “The Owlet”.

Your story MUST begin with “The owlet led me to…”

The story should avoid any reference to –

  • Darkness
  • Negativity of any sort
  • Violence of any sort
  • Weapons of any sort

Critiques, comments and feedback are encouraged on the LinkedIn Comment Thread; non story comments here will be deleted.

The point of these friendly contests is to hone our craft and create successful stories within a predefined set of limitations. There is no monetary compensation.

Please Note: comments may be considered “published” in regards to other contest requirements.

All stories are fall under general copyright laws. No part may be reproduced without the express consent of the respective author.

Story Submission Rules:
  1. One story per author. You may post more than one but only the first story will qualify for voting.
  2. Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
  3. Stories must fit into a single comment box and must be under 1000 words.

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 9:00am PDT / 12:00pm EST / 10:30pm IST / 5:00pm WET/GMT/ 4:00am AEDT (Thursday) and ends the same time on Thursday / 4:00am AEDT (Friday).

  • You may vote only once.
  • You cannot vote for yourself.

***the next writing prompt will be chosen via the Writing Prompt Roster.

To be included in the “writing prompt roster”, you must have submitted two stories in the last three months. The roster is alphabetical and can be found here.

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.


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12 thoughts on “Story Thread: Aug 25 – Sep 7, 2016 Flash Fiction First Line Contest “The owlet led me to…”

  • August 26, 2016 at 12:34 am
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    Bird Element-Owl. (Or) ‘Allegedly Not Knowing At A Certain Time The Accused Shall Shift The Lottery After We Tango.’

    ©2016 By Ken Cartisano

    The owlet led me to a revelation.

    So—I’m at the park with a friend and no one is around and it’s a long hike to the restroom, so I say, “Hey, I gotta take a leak. I’ll be right back.”

    I sneak into the bushes no more than 50 yards away, relieve myself, and just as I’m zipping up my pants, I see this little bird a few yards away. I creep a little closer and I can see it’s a young owl, or owlet. I figure it must be a quantum owl, because it looks uncertain, and that’s a sure sign of a quantum event, according to the principle. I reach out to touch it, and it’s down feathers feel like lead.

    Despite its uncertainty, it turns around and starts to walk away. Out of curiosity, I begin to follow. We’ve only gone a dozen yards when it comes to a clearing. There’s a man in the clearing dressed in army fatigues and fiddling with some kind of complicated device. He’s surprised by my sudden appearance and I say “Hey, that’s a pretty interesting—piece of technology you’ve got there.”
    And he says, “Yes sir. If I could just get this chip out I could…”
    “Don’t tell me any more,” I say. “This is a happy story.”

    Meanwhile, I remember the small owl and catch sight of him just as he’s walking into the bushes on the other side of the clearing. I run to catch up with him and I nearly bump into a woman in her thirties, standing near a tree, looking bewildered.

    I ask her if she’s okay, keeping one eye on the owl, and she shakes her head but doesn’t answer. I point at her vest and say, “That’s a dynamite looking vest you’re wearing. Where’d you get that?”

    She backs away and says, “Please, don’t touch the vest.” And then, “Where am I?”

    “In the woods, talking to a stranger,” I say. “Why, are you lost?”

    She looks doubtful and says, “No, I mean what planet am I on?”

    “What planet do you want to be on?” I reply, distracted by the owl, which seems to be leaving. The girl with the dynamite vest says, “Am I dead? Is this heaven—or, or what?”

    “Neither,” I say. “It’s Tuscawilla Park.” She looks doubtful, or dubious, and I say, “Follow the path to your right, they have maps at the entrance.”

    I trot off in the direction of the little owl and I come across four guys in the woods, working on some song lyrics. They look familiar and I say, “Hey, don’t I know you guys from somewhere?” I point at the first two, “You’re John, and you’re Paul.”

    “That’s right mate.”

    And the third one says, “I’m Simon.”

    I must have looked disappointed because he quickly added, “But me friends call us Ringo.”

    I ask if they’d seen the owl.

    They all nod and point towards the trail I’d been on. I follow the path for a little while and eventually caught up with the owl. He’s standing next to a man who is obviously a physicist, because he has patches on his jacket sleeves and a clipboard in his hand. “He says, where do you think you’re going, sir, and do you have any idea where you’ve been?”

    I look at the owl but point to the ground. “I’m following the path.”

    He frowns. “Well you’re going the wrong way.”

    “Why’s that?”

    “Too much equipment. The way you’ve come is the future, but you’re going towards the past.”

    Now I’m confused and I say “Wait a minute. This is an ordinary path. How can this trail lead to the past and the future?”

    He shakes his head and says, “I’m a dyspeptic lexicologist. I meant to say that that way leads to a future pasture: lots of heavy equipment. Much safer to follow the owl.” He points with his clipboard, sending me back the way I’d come, but not, I realize, back in time.

    I follow the trail and find my way back to the picnic table where my friend, Donald, is waiting.

    “Where’ve you been?” He says. “You’ve been gone for almost an hour.”

    “Never mind. So what happened with the DNA test? The little boy. Is he yours?”

    He hesitated. “The thing is—he’s my duplicate. He’s me. My wife had me cloned without my knowledge or permission. Can you believe that? No wonder I’m so fond of him.”

    At this point in time I’d believe almost anything. “Sure,” I say. “Women will do that, especially if they like you. You’re a lucky man.”

    We both sit there thinking, until finally he says, “So really, where’d you go? You went off to take a piss, and you don’t come back for an hour. What the fuck were you doing all that time?”

    I begin tracing out carved initials in the table with my fingernail. “Well, there was this little bird, see?”

    “Yeah.”

    “And I started following it.”

    “You were following a bird,” he said in a dead-panned voice. “For an hour.”

    “Yeah,” I said, sheepishly. “It led me down a path on a bit of a wild goose chase.”

    “No kidding,” he says. “What kind of bird was it?”

    “An owl,” I said. “A little owl, like an owlet.”

    “So you were led by a small owlie on a wild goose chase.”

    I shrugged. What could I say. I sensed his skepticism.

    “Hey” he says pointing at something near his feet. “Is that the bird?” He reaches down with his hand and says, “Come here little fella.”

    The bird comes closer and then walks past his hand and stops. Puzzled, he waves his hand in front of the birds eyes and the bird takes no notice. Then he touches its feathers.

    “Well whattaya know,” he says, picking it up. “This is a classic lead-downed blind owlie.”

  • August 26, 2016 at 8:33 am
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    Rescue

    by Dean Hardage

    The owlet led me to the large sycamore tree, then up to where the trunk branched, and finally the hollow where its mother and siblings were sheltered from the weather. Excited little yaps worked like a radio direction finder and i was able to locate its home with only minor detours. The mother watched me intently as I very carefully laid the little one in the nest. Once home it began yapping at its siblings as if telling them of its adventure. Feeling oddly pleased with myself I climbed down out of the tree and went back to the house.

    I looked it up later and found that the little bird was an elf owl, the smallest of the owls. At first I thought he (I finally decided it was a boy since girls had better sense than to wander off from home) was undernourished or something but even the mother was barely any bigger than a sparrow. My place was at the far northern edge of their normal range so it was unusual that one would nest here. I guessed I just got lucky.

    In the warm spring, then the hot summer nights I would see them emerge from their sheltered home and begin to hunt. I discovered that there was also a father to the little family who had been bringing food in for them until they were able to hunt for themselves. My little rescue had distinctive markings and I was able to identify him through my binoculars before the sun went completely down.

    It was one of these nights that he seemed to notice me watching and instead of hunting immediately, flew over to the porch where I sat. He landed on the handrail and gave a few little sounds that reminded me of quiet chuckles. I slowly reached out and carefully scratched the tiny little head, something I’d seen done on some internet video, and he seemed to like it. He bent his head and pressed into the scratching like a kitten for few moments before stepping back and taking off. Once again I experienced that odd sense of satisfaction.

    Fall and winter came with the inevitability of nature’s cycles and my tenants headed south to Mexico to winter over in warmer climes, as they say. I missed them more than I had reason to but finally managed to accept they were gone. Early the following spring though I was out breaking ground for my seasonal garden when I heard a familiar chuckling call. I looked up to see my little rescue perched on the fence rail. He had grown and had reached his full size and he wasn’t alone. He was accompanied by a female (I’d learned to tell the difference) and she was a bit more nervous than he was, watching me intently.

    “Hello, little friend. Back for the summer?”

    A few more of the chuckling sounds were all I got but it was enough of an answer. He took flight and, still accompanied by the little female, reached the tree where he had been hatched. Over the next few days they cleaned it out and made a fresh nest. In the following season a new clutch of eggs was laid and a new family of tiny owls hatched and grew. I was introduced to them by their father, my little rescue, and I found out they all liked the head scratch too. Winter came and they departed with a chorus of yaps before taking wing.

    Thus it went, year after year, a new couple would occupy the tree and make a new family. My little rescue didn’t return after a couple of years, but one of his offspring would always find a mate and bring her to this place. I liked to think that they came not just because of the good nesting area but because they had a friend nearby.

    It’s very quiet now, too early in the evening for the coyotes to be howling, an occasional buzz of a fly or a June bug the only sound. I’ve grown old and tired, living in my quietude, content with life and sated with it. I know what’s coming and I’m ready. I just need one more thing. My eyes drift closed but I open them when I hear that familiar little chuckling call. There he is, sitting on my window sill with his mate, a great-great-great-great grandson of my little rescue, come to visit me. His bright eyes seem to be aware of how things are and his calls seem to be softer, soothing.

    “Good night, little friend.”

    A tiny elf owl cocked his head as the man’s eyes closed. Sensing somehow he was no longer there, the little bird chirped to his mate and they flew away. For the first time in many years no elf owls nested in the sycamore tree.

  • August 27, 2016 at 4:55 am
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    The owlet led me to the pink house deep in the woods and a strange chain of events.
    I had been minding my own business, whittling away at a stick I was making into a space invader hero for my desk shelf. I do that quite bit. Make little figurines of super heroes to line up. It passes the ‘homework’ time nicely.
    My father insists that I should spend two hours a day on my homework. He locks me in my bedroom from four in the evening until six with my books. Then he unlocks the door and tells me to wash up for supper. We eat and at 6.45 precisely we play chess until the seven o’clock news broadcast. Fifteen minutes allows us an average of one to two moves a night. We listen to the news for thirty minutes. Unless there is something interesting on the at 7.30 I can usually convince him to play board games for half an hour and then I am put to bed and the door locked until 6 am. For my protection, Pa says. However he forgets to lock the windows. He does not think about me climbing out the window during the homework time and definitely not during the night. I do both. The windows latch from the inside. The shutters also, after I have slid the inside glass aside.
    I often go out in the darkness of the night, especially on bright full moons. The paths of the forest are washed with silver light and they say there are elves around. The elves only come out during the full and new moons. I often thought I had seen glimpses of one skipping through the undergrowth. They are shape changers after all. If you can catch one, you may get a wish if you can hold him or her for the count of 13 plus 5. They say, count to thirteen, long pause and five more. The elf must grant your wish immediately or be bound to you or your family for a millennium and grant you or your descendants one wish a month and at the thousandth year’s end they are allowed their freedom.
    Anyway I was whittling away in the full light of a spring moon. Sitting on a log, in the clearing behind our house, I could hear my father’s snores rattling the rafters. How my mother stood his nightly roaring when she was alive, I shall never know. The house often shook and things fell off walls.
    Suddenly something landed on my head. Plop, plop! I freaked quietly as I felt a strand of hair taken up and combed carefully through. It seemed as though there were claws on the hand ruffling through my curly mop of hair. I became even more scared when a sound like a small motor engine started.
    ‘What do you want?’ I asked in a trembling voice. I was thinking an elf or even a stranger who might not be nice.
    All I heard was the sound of a colicky motor start again. Then my hair was pulled and grabbed this way and that.
    ‘I am going back home. To my room.’ I rose up and whatever was on my head gripped my scalp even tighter. It was a clawed hand or hands I thought. I tried to put my footsteps down towards the house and my open window. Somehow my feet turned and started to walk on a footpath through the forest.
    I should have been afraid, but I was not. Whatever was on my head was not malicious or even unfriendly. It was some kind of enchantment.
    ‘Where’re we going?’ The motor would begin to purr gently and I was never answered. It seemed hours but may have been only minutes. We arrived to a clearing bathed in silver and burnished jade light. There I saw the pink cottage for the first time, glowing in the soft light.
    The weight on my head shifted and was gone. There was a whirr of wings and then a soft bundle of feathers landed in front of me. Two very deep eyes blinked up into mine.
    It was a owlet – a baby owl. We stared for a few seconds that lasted a life time. At that moment I understood the owlet was a she.
    A door opened in the cottage and I heard a soft voice say, ‘Come. We‘re waiting for you.’
    The owlet looked at me expectantly. Her eyes seemed to say, ‘Well, what are you waiting for?’
    She rose into the air and flew to the door and into the pink cottage. A soft light glowed within. I walked hesitantly towards the door and entered the cottage. The table was set for three people and a bowl with two dead chicks was at the far end of the table with a perch directly opposite it. The owlet was sitting on this perch.
    ‘Where’re the others?’ I wondered. The answer came floating into my consciousness.
    ‘We’re here. Waiting.’ Light on two of the chairs at the table settings shimmered before me.
    Before me appeared two small figures with long elfin ears. One of them had a strange resemblance to someone I knew.
    ‘Brilly, my dear one.’ She said, but not with words spoken aloud. ‘Don’t you know me?’
    I dropped the whittle stick I had gripped in my hand the whole journey and ran to bury my face in her breast.
    ‘Ma, Mama. Mama.’
    ‘Hush hush.’ She scolded me. ‘Come eat.’ She beckoned me to take the seat beside her. ‘This is your uncle. My father’s brother. We have waited longing for this day.’
    She explained to me, that I was a half-elfin child. My father was not to know that I had seen her or visited her. I could only come once a month on the full moon. The owlet would take me each time to the cottage.
    Each month we parted sadly, until one day.

  • August 29, 2016 at 1:12 am
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    Unlikely Pair.

    The owlet led me to an uncanny friendship and unintentional fame. It started late in the season. Most young had long since been born. My human and I were out for our daily rounds. She is still young to me, but she tells me, she is twenty-five. She carries this black box around her neck. When something interesting catches her eye, we stop, she puts the box to her eye tilting this way and that. It makes clicking noises but not like the clicking she uses to call me.

    Coming from a long line of police workers, I’ve been highly trained to use my senses. On this particular day, while my human was busy with the box, I heard strange noises. My nose to the ground, ears ever alert, I began scaling the edge of some tall rocks trying to find the source of the noise. I saw a small bird caught in some white circles. I could tell things weren’t the way they should be. I went to find my human. Calling her to come with me.

    She was able to free the small bird but the drama was to much for it. My nose told me there was more to the story. I began sniffing for more evidence. My human and I found a nest with five small eggs. She put the box to her eye, made those clicking sounds, then carefully lifted the nest to her face. I think she was smelling it. I tried to help her. “Dingo. Down. I believe there’s still hope for these eggs. Let’s get them home.”

    Everyday I checked under the warm lights to see what was happening. On day seven I noticed a change. One egg was moving ever so slightly. There was a tapping. I alerted my human with a whimper of my own. Together we watched four tiny babies emerge from four eggs. My human called them jungle owlets. The last one seemed not to do anything. I nudged it with my nose and gave a sad cry. “I know Dingo, maybe there’s still hope. We will watch for a few more days.”

    The others seemed hungry and noisy. Thankfully my human knew just what to do. The next two days I spent standing guard over the last little egg. My human had to drag me away at night. First thing in the morning I would run to check on them. Finally on day three the egg started making noise. I cried for joy. Running to my human and back so she would know. I gave the egg a good lick. She called me off. So I sat and watched with hardly even a twitch. It was a long wait, Out popped a little beak, then it went back inside for a long while. I tried to encourage it to keep trying, getting close with my nose but careful not to touch it. A whimper, a whine, I looked on, expecting the best. The egg began to rock. Out came an owlet, half the size of the others. I remembered their momma being small and scared up on the rock. But this one was so small. I was scared for it. I looked to my human, asking if all would be okay. “This one is small Dingo. We will do our best,” she replied.

    Days passed. They all grew, but the smallest one struggled. The others were sent to new homes. I was sure glad my human kept the little guy. We named him Micro.

    When Micro got strong enough my human let him loose in the house. I would walk above Micro to make sure nothing hurt him. I had to warn the cats to back away. He felt safe with me. I felt I had to protect him. My human says, I’ve been imprinted on Micro. I don’t know what that means, but I know we became best friends. Outside I guided him with my nose or kept him between my front legs. When I would see the bigger birds I would take Micro around a different way. We did everything together.

    One day my human got out her box put it to her face and made lots of clicking noises. At first she just clicked away, then she asked me to sit. She would put Micro on my nose, head, or on a branch beside me. Later she showed me pictures of myself on some other big box. “Lots of people have been asking me about the two of you. I am going to put these photos on my blog.” I do not know what she means.

    Now once every few days we take the black box and go pose. My human says “Dingo pose. You and Micro are famous now. People want to see pictures of you together.”

  • August 29, 2016 at 7:14 pm
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    REUNITED

    “The owlet led me to you.”

    George puts a small box on the table in front of Daisy. Her dim eyes are glistening.

    “But … George? I can’t believe it. Is that really you?”

    “Yes, my darling. It’s me.”

    “But … but … how did you find me?”

    George reaches over and takes Daisy’s hand. He holds it gently and places his other hand over it. Daisy reaches forward to make it four hands clasped together on the table.

    “I was in York, wandering through the streets, on my way to the cathedral. I had some time to kill – I was going on one of those guided tours. Like the one we went on that time.”

    “York Minster! My favourite place … but not for the architecture.” Daisy smiles a coy little smile.

    “Ha ha! – you remember?” George is beaming, the memories flooding back.

    “How could I ever forget?! You wore a rose in your lapel. You were so dashing. I almost fainted!”

    “And me! Of course I couldn’t admit it at the time – men didn’t faint!”

    “Of course not.”

    “But when you came through the main door, with the sunshine making a silhouette of your body, and that halo of golden hair you had … I swear I felt so dizzy.”

    “I don’t think I heard a word the guide said.”

    “Nor me. I made a point of getting close to you in the group.”

    “I saw you … and I wasn’t budging, just waiting. Oh, it was delicious … and deliciously improper.”

    “Yes, it was a cathedral, after all. We didn’t do anything wrong in the end, though, did we? But I must admit, I stretched my hand out at my side and got within an inch of yours.”

    “Did you?! How … sensual.” Daisy’s smile broadens.

    George removes one of his hands now, and Daisy does likewise.

    “Anyway, I was on the way there – to the cathedral …”

    “Yes?”

    “… and I saw it in a shop window.”

    “What?”

    “Here.”

    George passes her the box and she releases his hand to take it.

    “A present? What is it?”

    “You’ll see. Open it.”

    Daisy’s twisted fingers unwrap the box with difficulty. There’s some tissue inside, which she removes. Then she gasps.

    “George! It’s not …?!”

    “It is.”

    Daisy removes a small porcelain owlet from the box. She rolls it between her fingers, feeling its exquisite curves, then brings it up to her face and squints.

    “Not … not MY owlet?”

    “Yes! I saw it in the shop window, as I said. I’d know it anywhere! You told me you’d only ever seen one like it, and that was in Singapore. So the chances were … that this was yours!”

    “It is! It is!”

    “I was very worried at first. I thought it must mean that … you know. But when I asked the owner of the shop, he said he’d bought it from you! And he told me where you were.”

    “Ah yes.” Daisy loses her smile and her eyes begin to glisten again. “I had to sell everything to be able to stay here. It’s not cheap.”

    “But now you have it back!” There’s a note of triumph in George’s voice. He pauses, then: “And you have me back, too! If you want me.”

    Daisy breaks into a convulsion of laughing, smiling and happy sobbing.

    “Yes, yes, oh yes!”

    George brings her hand up to his lips and kisses it over and over again.

    “My darling. Why did we ever part?”

    “I don’t know. Because we were fools?”

    “Yes. But foolish no more! Now let’s see. What would you say to a walk in the garden?”

    George gets up from the table and goes round to Daisy’s side.

    “Oh, yes. It’s such a lovely day.”

    George pulls the wheelchair away from the table and turns it towards the French windows.

    “Wait, wait!”

    George stops pushing to see what the panic is about.

    “My owlet!”

    George takes the owlet, puts it back in the box and hands it to Daisy, who lays it on her lap.

    The two lovers make for the garden, Daisy reaching back to grasp George’s hand.

    .

  • September 2, 2016 at 12:51 pm
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    Green Valley
    By Alice Nelson ©2016

    The Owlet led me to my salvation.

    It happened while I was driving through the Nevada desert —lost, and regretting my decision to leave home, and start over someplace where no one knew who I was.

    My GPS was busted, and cell service in that area was non-existent. I had an old map in my glove box, but it might as well have been written in hieroglyphics. I needed the robotic voice of my GPS telling me where to go, because I couldn’t read a traditional map to save my life.

    It was about 100 degrees outside at 10 am and, you guessed it, my AC was also on the fritz. I began slowly banging my head against the steering wheel, hoping to knock myself unconscious. When I looked up —there it was, this tiny owl, sitting on the hood of my car.

    I think they’re called owlets, at least that’s what I remembered from school, and the damn thing was staring at me as if it were about to start a lengthy conversation. Instead it flew away, came back landed on my hood, and flew away again. It did this about half a dozen times before I realized, ‘This bird wants me to follow it.’

    I know that sounds crazy, but there was something about those large, winsome eyes that made me think I should go after it.

    I hate driving through Nevada, always have, nothing but dusty flat terrain for miles. It’s a place that seems devoid of any beauty, and I could not wait to get the hell out of there.

    However, the owl wasn’t taking me out of the desert, but further into it —by way of a deserted, and deeply rutted back road. My pessimistic internal voice asked, ‘Why did you think it was a good idea to follow an owl?’ My more sardonic voice replied, ‘Because I’m an idiot.’ Still, I continued following that damned owl, growing more and more worried with each passing mile

    I was seriously considering pulling over, and trying to cut back to the highway, when I saw it —something I never would’ve believed existed in Nevada. It was an oasis amidst the arid desert that surrounded it; a space that looked like it had fallen out of Heaven and landed in the most desolate place on earth.

    The owlet looked excited, I swear it had a smile on its face. Its wings fluttered together happily as it flew around this green valley, urging me to leave my car and experience it with him. The lush green grass was maybe half an acre at most. It wove around a small lake that was shaded by large trees that looked like sycamores. Now I was either dead, delirious, or insane, because this couldn’t be real.

    But when I touched the grass, I knew it was very real. I laid down in it, rolled around as its cool blades brushed across my body. I drank from the lake, and couldn’t believe how wonderful it tasted. There was a small pier on one end, and I sat down and let my legs dangle in the coolness of the water.

    The owl never left my side. I still wasn’t sure where I was, but in that moment, I couldn’t care less.

    I snacked on some grapes and cheese I packed in a cooler, and sat under one of those massive trees, where I dozed off.

    When I woke up, a strange man was standing there staring down at me, the owlet hovering behind him.

    “Lost?” he said. It was more a statement than a question.

    “Yes sir.” I said as I stood up.

    I glanced at the owl, somehow I could sense that it was telling me this stranger wouldn’t hurt me.

    “Come on, follow me into town,” he said, “I’ll get you something to eat.”

    I was stunned by his generosity, and surprised that I felt completely at ease with him. He was wearing worn overalls, and the name tag on them read “Otis.”

    “Thank you Otis.” I said

    “Otis is my dad, I’m Donald.”

    I followed Otis/Donald to Great Gulch, Nevada, population 94. It was one of those desert towns that was either abandoned, or inhabited by a small enclave of folks determined to live off the grid.

    The owlet was still hovering above my car, looking as happy as can be. Donald pulled into Otis and Sons Auto Repair, and introduced me to the actual Otis, a man of about 80, sitting in a rocker in front of the General Store.

    I followed Donald inside, “I see you met Sadie.” he said, handing me a bottle of water and a homemade ham and cheese sandwich.

    “Who’s Sadie?”

    “The Owl.” He beamed. “She found us a few years back, and since then, she’s been finding lost drivers and taken ‘em to the green valley.” He took a swig of his A&W Root Beer. “Some, like you, she brings right here to The Gulch.”

    As if on cue, Sadie comes flying into the store, insisting that I follow her yet again. Donald chuckled.

    She only took me a few blocks this time, to a little bungalow sitting on a small hill at the edge of town. Sadie hovered there, until I noticed the “For Sale” sign out front. Then she flew to the porch, and waited for me to join her. The view was spectacular. From that vantage point, we could see the beautiful green valley that I fell in love with.

    The house was old, and needed some work —but it was perfect.

    I was looking for something when I started this trip, I just didn’t know what —not until that tiny owlet led me here, to a green valley in the last place I would ever expect to find one. I never left The Gulch, can’t imagine living anywhere else. As for Sadie, she continues to find those who are lost.

  • September 3, 2016 at 3:14 pm
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    The People of the Darkened Sky

    The owlet led me to the jagged edge of the cliff where she stopped to pull at a tuft of grass. The slender green blades dangled from her beak but for a moment before she released them into the wind. I watched as they swirled and twirled, bobbed and danced in the blustery Autumn breeze. I looked down at my totem who stared at me with pupils as black as the sleeves of the shirt I wore. Her golden irises shimmered as she blinked at me communicating images to my mind of me spreading my arms and flying. She performed the action with her auburn-colored wings, which were buffeted by the wind, lifting her several feet off the ground. She was ready to fly, but I wasn’t so certain that I was.

    #

    I, King Aviande, am the first Flyer born among Illuwondua in ten generations. All my life I thought the Flyers were just a myth—a story told to Illuwonduan children before bed to fill them with wonderment and hope in an attempt to brighten the ordinariness of their everyday lives. But when the tattoo-like feathers, the legendary markings of the Flyers, appeared on the underside of my arms a year ago, I knew those myths were real.

    At first I attempted to hide them. I didn’t want to be the special the Flyers were described to have been. Being special means that you’re required to accomplish some feat that’s above the station of the average person, or be deemed an abject failure. I didn’t want to be a failure. I wanted to be a farmer like my father and grandfather. No one fails at farming—no one alive, anyway.

    I hid the feathers beneath my sleeves but they soon started to spread. A week after they first appeared, the entirety of my arms were covered in them. They appeared black at first, almost like small welts, but they began to change colors. They went from black to green to orange to yellow to purple. My chest and arms looked like the Rainbow—a promise from the gods to the Flyers that they Sky will forever belong to them. Soon the feathers became unbearable. They itched day and night. It was torture. I was constantly sneaking off to rub my skin against the rough bark of Baobab trees but that provided little relief. Finally, when I couldn’t hide them anymore, I called my father, Mmnede, down to the river near our village to show him.

    As I stood there naked from the waist up, my father, the hardiest man I know, dropped to his knees weeping tears of joy. “Illuwondua-Yah,” he said bowing his head and spreading his arms in a gesture reserved for Flyers. “Illuwondua-Yah,” he repeated, with the booming voice I had heard so often when I was in trouble.

    “No, no, no, father,” I said pulling on my shirt, embarrassed at the display of obeisance. No father should ever bow to his son—even if his son was now his king.

    Illuwondua-Yah is the name given to the Illuwonduan King, of which there hasn’t been one since the days of the Flyers. My people are governed by a council of Elders in the great city of Glysoaria waiting for the foretold day when a Flyer King or Queen is born to rule the land. At the age of seventeen, I was the rightful king.

    My father grabbed me by the hand and pulled me back to our farm. “Pgnade,” he called to my mother. “Pgnade!”

    My mother came running from our home with a worried look on her face. “Mmnede, what are you shouting about? What has happened?” When she saw the guilty look on my face, she smirked and wiped her hands on her apron. “What has Aviande done now?”

    My father ignored her question and instead ushered us inside the house. Standing in our small family room, my father instructed me to take off my shirt. Reluctantly, I did as I was told. My mother stood there with her mouth agape. “By the generous gods,” she muttered as she bowed her head and spread her arms. “Illuwondua-Yah,” she said reverently.

    I groaned. “Not you too, Mother.”

    There was no discussing it, I had to be presented before to the Council of the Elders straightaway. The Eldest of the Elders, Alpha, proclaimed that I was evidence that the gods had finally forgiven us for abandoning the skies and becoming Walkers. The black sleeves we wear in shame mark us to other tribes as the Ilyk Vy Don Dey—The People of the Darkened Sky. Now, with a Flyer leading the Illuwondua once more, we can reclaim our former glory.

    #

    When Kite was hatched nearly nine weeks ago, the Elders had presented her to me as a totem. The owl is revered by my people for its hunting prowess, wisdom, and graceful flying. We immediately bonded in some strange way that I nor the Elders understand. She is a distinctly an animal but also a part of my being. While she matured, all my feathers turned a vibrant golden color. My entire body, save my face, is covered in them now. I know instinctively I am physically ready to fly. That is why Kite and I are here today standing on Mt. Saeondua overlooking Glysoaria and my people—my first flight will be my coronation .

    “Are you ready, weather hen?” I ask the owlet playfully.

    “Goohk-goohk-goohk,” she whistles in return followed by sending me a feeling of exuberance.

    I remove my shirt and hold it in my hands. I raise it up and watch as its black sleeves billow in the wind for a moment before I let it go. It doesn’t dance gracefully in the wind like the grass. It falls and falls and falls and I watch it until I can’t see it anymore.

    I take a step back. I exhale. I leap. I Fly.

  • September 6, 2016 at 11:19 am
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    Right Place, Wrong People

    The owlet led me to a new favourite spot of his.

    As a two month old pup, I was happy to find a new friend in Oulu – the owlet. A few nights ago, I woke up to strange sounds. I woke up to see an owlet sitting on top of a wooden pole, staring at me.

    Well, if my mother were around, I guess she would have chased the owlet away. Since, I was free of any such conditions, Oulu and I became friends. He would visit me almost every night. We would chase wild mice in the paddy fields and under the boulders. We would race away into distances and be happy.

    One balmy afternoon, Oulu came to visit me. I didn’t know that he could see in sunlight. He beckoned me and we travelled a couple of kilometers where he flew to sit on a low branch of a Palmyra Palm. There was a human couple sitting on a mat in the shade of their car. They seemed happy and the man called me to him.

    I gladly went to him. He felt like a warm loving guy but the woman froze at my presence. I realized she was not dog-broken yet. The man and I played for a bit and the woman offered me a biscuit. Soon they started packing their belongings. I hung back and watched them go.

    It was peaceful and I realized that it was actually a pretty place. The boundary pillars were already in place around the plot of land and on to one side were two natural water bodies shaded by a variety of trees. Surrounded by farming land, there was paddy, eucalyptus, pulses and vegetables being grown. Though barren, I liked this place and adopted it as my own.

    Soon it was dark. Oulu flew in screeching, with his girlfriend Oulong in tow. All three of us sat down to watch the moon rising.

    Oulu and Oulong woke me up before dawn to hunt wild rats. By mid-morning, the couple had returned and with them came a couple of masons. I waited patiently for them to finish their work and to come to me.

    Days passed quickly bringing many a change. During one of our nightly adventures, Oulu and Oulong revealed their dream to build their nest here someday. I too was christened by the couple as ‘Veeri’, meaning the brave one. In complete contradiction to my name, they both would call me a ‘tupid dog. I never minded that because I knew that they loved me. Dog-broken now, the woman was now all touchy and cuddly with me.

    One thing I didn’t like them doing was chasing away my suitors. Some of them were hot and ferocious. There was one particular male which they allowed to come and sit with us. But he looked ancient and I didn’t care much for him.

    One day, two wild looking new males attacked him. Our ancient friend was hurt in unmentionable places but still won the battle. That was when I accepted him as my first hero.

    Nights were bright, happy and playful with my owlet friends. I learnt that they were appointed by their leader to be the guardians of our land, and that the human land owners planned to build a spiritual rejuvenation place. I was surprised to know that my owl friends knew about the problems that would arise in future.

    Oulu and Oulong were childhood sweethearts and soon planned to build a nest. They had a respectful yet somewhat distant relationship with a visiting Kestrel, a Spotted Eagle, a young Komodo Dragon, a python and a few vipers, who too became permanent residents.

    Around eight months later the concrete structures came up. The couple wanted to tame me initially but I wasn’t interested. Then came the time when I delivered six babies. One warm afternoon, I caught Oulu diving repeatedly onto the ground in an attempt to peck at and discourage a King Cobra which had sauntered in. But the King soon disappeared into the water sump where his mate joined him.
    Later that night, the King came to where Oulu, Oulong and I sat to tell us that they were friendly protectors to all the residents and visitors to this place.

    Everything was hunky dory, except for the human couple, who were growing restless. Every day, people from villages and cities visited the place but none were interested in knowing one’s own self.
    Only a handful of people really wanted to journey back into themselves and those were the ones who could feel the peace and serenity of it all. No one but a few of these regulars actually witnessed the precious reptiles.

    My babies were growing fast. One night a bunch of rowdy kids stole one of them. And soon, the humans fixed a huge iron gate at the entrance.

    That evening, they carried my babies outside the gate and put them carefully under a wild bush and locked the gate. Hunting for food outside would have become impossible for me. They were being cruel to be kind to me.

    A few months went by. I missed the place. My pregnancies were taking a toll on me. That day, I saw that there were many people, including my human friends, gathered outside the gate. It looked like they were leaving. The place looked beautiful like a green gem topped with brightly coloured flowers in abundance.

    How can anyone leave this peaceful place? My human friends, it seems, had admitted to failing in their role as caretakers. They were handing over their responsibility to someone more capable. I could see that their hearts were crying.

    That night I went back to meet my owl friends. They told me that it was a case of ‘wrong people at the right place at the right time’.

    I was no one to argue with that.

  • September 6, 2016 at 2:41 pm
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    What we learned from Professor Yaffle

    The owlet led me to do things I never dreamed of doing. Like –

    Hold on a minute. I’m getting ahead of myself here. I should go back to the beginning.

    It all started with a walk in the country. Me, the kids and the dog. A rare event. Julia says I spend precious little time with them, and to be honest I prefer the kind of dog-walking that ends up at a country pub with a pint or two.

    Don’t get me wrong. Lily and Tobias are great fun. It’s just that working the way I do, it’s easier to unwind with a pint at The Feathers than having to invent new ways for an eight- and a ten-year-old to have fun.

    So anyway, we were out for a walk on a fine morning when Bowzer, our lollopy labradoodle, lay flat down on the ground, with that tell-tale tail-wag – sort of excited but restrained – that shows he’s found some fascinating small animal.

    Well, fascinating for him. It could be a frog, hedgehog, newt, lizard, grass snake or something unspeakable a cat has left for dead. If any dog lacked the instinct for hunting, it’s Bowzer. He seems to want the whole world to be his friend, and I guess that’s not a bad trait to have.

    Lily was first across to him. “It’s a baby owl!” she cried, her voice blending excitement and concern. “I think it’s hurt.”

    “Is it dead?” shouted Tobias.

    “Shh! You’ll frighten him,” Lily commanded. “I said he’s hurt. You can’t be dead and hurt at the same time.”

    I thought that was quite a profound observation for a ten-year-old. And to be honest, I preferred it to her next comment: “Dad, can we keep him?”

    Tobias challenged her, “How do you know it’s a ‘him’?” While they got into a serious owlet gender dispute, I looked around with increasing desperation, trying to find ways not to keep him.

    “If we can, we should put him back in his nest,” I said. “His mum must be missing him.”

    “Maybe his mum is dead,” suggested Tobias. I’d noticed he talked about death a lot, and with relish. Are all eight-year-old boys like this? Maybe I should monitor his video games more closely. Though I don’t think many of them involve dying owls, so maybe that’s a non sequitur.

    I couldn’t see where the owlet could have come from. We were pretty much in the middle of a field, some distance from any tall trees. And no barn or other structure where they might nest. In the distance I could see a church belfry, but isn’t that bats that nest in belfries? Do owls nest there too? As someone with an entirely urban upbringing, my knowledge of owls came mostly from Halloween and Harry Potter. And Bagpuss, which you may not know. But there was a very cool owl in that called –

    “Professor Yaffle. That’s what I’ll call him,” said Lily decisively. Did she read my mind? Well, I had inflicted my favourite kids’ videos on her when she was younger.

    Now Bowzer and Lily were pretty much nose to nose with the owlet.I took a closer look. A slightly damaged wing, but otherwise unharmed, it seemed. And the next thing, I have the little critter cradled in my hands, and he’s on the way home with us.

    Now I had to overcome my owl ignorance. At first I outsourced the research to the kids. The YouTube video of someone feeding a baby owl with cat food seemed promising. Too late we found out owls of all ages need a lot of roughage – bones, hair, feathers, if you don’t want a lot of runny mess to clear up.

    But Yaffle’s need for bones and stuff took me into new areas of activity. Dan, my neighbour, has a pet iguana or something, and gave me some baby mice. Yaffle loved these. Do owls purr? He seemed to.

    “We’re not keeping those in the fridge,” pronounced Julia. That’s how I came to buy a small fridge to run in the garage, and fill it with dead baby animals. Mice and chicks. The ethics of the situation made me pause for thought, at times. How many little baby animals would it take to keep our favoured baby animal alive?

    But it brought Lily and Tobias unprecedented popularity. Hordes of children came to visit, either to pet the owl or to gawk at the fridge contents. And sometimes – with maximal “eugh”s – do some feeding.

    “He has to learn to hunt for himself,” said one of Lily’s clever friends. Which is how I came to 1) cause a visitation of locusts in the garage, which we then all chased while the owl looked on impassively, and 2) dive around the garden trying to catch grasshoppers with my teeth. Teaching Yaffle by example. The video is on Facebook, if you care to look.

    In the end? To my relief, the owlet gradually ceased to be a local celebrity. And when I suggested handing him over to the Owl Trust, who are experts in rescuing owls, we all agreed.

    Life is back to normal, and I am free to enjoy my pint at the Feathers once more.
    **********

    Julia:

    “The owlet led me to love my husband again. I had almost given up hope, and often daydreamed about divorce once the kids left home.

    The athletic, active, funny man I married had become a paunchy bore, with no interest in anything outside his dull, dull work.

    Then came Yaffle. I think Martin rediscovered himself, and something more, in the physical activity of building a bespoke habitat for the owlet in the garage, then trying to teach it to hunt, and most of all in the interaction with the kids and their friends. It was wonderful, wonderful, and I want more of this man.

    That’s why I called the animal rescue centre. The donkey and alpacas arrive this afternoon.”

    (995 words)

  • September 6, 2016 at 7:45 pm
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    The Owlet

    The owlet led me to the side of the road. It was a cool, crisp morning. I was enjoying a day off and a walk in the neighborhood when I heard a fluttering sound. I turned towards it, carefully stepping away from the road while trying to figure out what this sound was.

    I found the source. There was an owlet on the ground. It looked like it was hit by a car. His wing looked broken. I stood there contemplating what to do. Being the bird and nature lover that I am, I knew I had to do something to help the poor little thing. I took off my coat and laid it on the ground. I picked up the owlet, placed him in the middle of my coat, and carried him home.

    When I arrived at the house I knew things were going to get tricky. I had to keep the owlet away from the cats. They greet me when I come home because they’re happy to see me or because they want to eat. I planned on guarding this owlet with my life, or should I say his life. I was relieved the cats weren’t waiting for me. Then I remembered they’re used to me being at work by this time. They’re sleeping.

    Knowing the cats were on the couch, their favorite sleeping place, I took the owlet into my bedroom. I placed him in the middle of my bed and headed for the garage, closing the door behind me. I retrieved the pet carrier, put a towel in it, and went to get the owlet. I picked him up again, hoping for the second time I wasn’t causing more damage. I placed him into the carrier and snapped the door shut.

    Remembering there was an animal rescue center somewhere in the area, I got on the internet and searched for it. A two-hour drive. Longer than I thought. I printed the directions, hoping the owlet would survive the trip. I got us both in the car and headed north. After getting lost twice, I was relieved to see the sign.

    The animal rescue center was in the middle of a wide open space bordered by woods. There was a scent of pine in the air. I parked the car and went to the back seat where I had the carrier handle fastened to the seat belt. I was relieved the owlet was still alive.

    Upon entering the building, I told the person standing there about my discovery. She turned out to be one of the rehabilitators. She told me another owlet was recently brought in. I put the carrier down and opened the door. I had a tear in my eye when she took the owlet away. I was surprised at how quickly I got attached.

    A tour guide showed me around. The part I enjoyed most was seeing an eagle and a hawk, both scheduled to be released soon. They were in spacious cages, perched on large branches. Before I left, I asked if I could call to check on the owlet’s progress. She encouraged it and invited me back to watch the eagle and the hawk get released.

    A week later I returned. It was a beautiful experience to watch the birds get released and fly away. By that time I knew the owlet would not be able to do that. He would fly again but not well enough to survive in the wild because of the damage to his wing. They took me to visit him in a cage he now shared with the other owlet, also unable to survive in the wild. They seemed to enjoy each other’s company as they were perched together on a branch.

    That was a year ago. The owlets are now owls. I’m making this trip once a month to visit my owl friends, enjoy the serenity of the area, and volunteer my time.

    ********************
    This story was inspired by real rehabilitated owls my sons and I liked to visit at a nature center when they were little. Like the owlet in my story, these owls were unable to survive in the wild. I remember them perched on their branches and looking at us. They seemed content.

  • September 7, 2016 at 10:06 am
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    Before the Fall
    by Ralph Jensen © 2016

    The owlet led me to realize that this was a life-generating realm. Because the owlet was not alone. There were its elders and other young ones – fledglings obviously, immature, unable to survive alone at this their early stage. Obviously then, this was a realm capable of bringing forth new life out of itself.

    #

    Our own realm had always been alive, as far as any of us remembers. But unlike you we have no need to grow. We simply come and belong. Life exists or doesn’t. It begins but never ends. We know our purpose. We serve it without hesitation or restraint. We don’t question. We don’t search. We remember the past but we live in the now. What we need to know is revealed to us in every moment. Though our knowledge is limited there is no doubt.

    #

    We knew that your realm existed, that it was the ultimate reason for our being, the fulfillment of our purpose. We knew a lot, but little more than this.

    Others had arrived before us, their time depending on their purpose. They were here when the early hydrogen clouds collapsed and fused into stars, when the first stars, burning brightly, gave birth to the elements of your world, when other stars and galaxies took their place, when dust around your sun combined to lay the foundations of the earth and of many others everywhere.

    We who came later know of this because we all are one. So the I that speaks to you is many. We even go back to when there was no time, to places before space when waves of love alone washed onto the beaches of infinity, shores of nothingness in an endless ocean, brightly-alive before the light arrived that fills your world. Our memory goes back almost to the time when the Life appeared that gave its life to us. Hence we know the birth of the cosmos, its history but not its fate. We serve you in your presence, in the presence of eternity.

    But all this is detail.

    #

    As the sun rose on that day of my arrival, we saw saw life giving birth to life all around. Life in your realm is so different from ours. It breathes with excitement of its own, giving, receiving, interacting continuously, birthing new life from itself. Snow covered mountain peaks, framed by thick green forests, fish jumping from in the rivers in green valleys full of flowers and birds full of song. We heard the songs of the elements, in the wind, the rain, the oceans, in every living thing. A song in waiting, of expectancy, aspiration, of hope soon to be fulfilled.

    Beings like you were populating a fertile valley in a temperate realm. More advanced than the others, walking upright, helped by the purpose of existence they cooperated in another way – hunting together, gathering, planting.

    Still, their eyes were silent. They searched with restraint, focused on immediate needs. In many ways they were like the lions and the birds, animals, one with the world but not fully aware, oblivious to its beauty, unwondering, unasking.

    Travelling the earth, singing the song of wonder, we had prepared it for the arrival of sentience, the entry of the holy into the divine. Finally, one spring morning, not long after sunrise, a half moon in attendance with few clouds in the sky we saw our purpose fulfilled.

    Aside from the others two eyes lit up, in silent surprise. They saw and knew, with loving wonder, looking at this world in a way that even we could not fully understand. One with your world yet also a witness, aware, yet like children in search of truth. Then two others, two more eyes – a man and a woman, the first of your kind.

    I’d love to talk about the Crystal Mountains, the diamond rains that birthed the dreams of earthly beauty. I’d talk of the Fields of Wonder where miracles reside, of many places that still wait for you.

    But outside of the garden a scar existed, waiting to afflict you if you were to allow.

    Your heart is closed today and so I pray you’ll yearn for the beauty of the original world, a yearning so strong it will thaw the walls of sorrow and regret. I pray that tears of hope will melt your shattered dreams, those age-old screams of pain and loss.

    When you hear the call of the owl, try to remember.

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