Hunting

Beaks are sharp, dangerous. Talons, too, descending from the sky in silence. Feather-wrapped wings beat the way a fire burns: bursts and lulls of energy, swells of air, licks of flame, the push of hollow-log bird bones against the wind, the transformation of wood into ash—quietly violent.

On an island in the Pacific Ocean, moonless night is blacker than pitch or ink or tar, deeper than a lack of reflection. Darkness doesn’t just fall, it creeps up from cattail ponds and dewy grass fields, sweeps sideways through pine needles and spiked thickets of blush-colored berries, buries you. You lose your body. Are you breathing? Where are your fingers, your words?

Claimed by culture as cute with their surprise-wide eyes and downy feathers, even the tiniest owl can separate skin from muscle with its hooked-knife bill; claw off a chunk of scalp. Raptors. Wisdom? Those fuckers will slice you up.

Calls echo off trees you can’t see, whispers reverberating in a chasm, Whooo? They know too much, extra vertebrae in their necks allowing for a 270-degree view. Not the whole picture, but a wider lens than yours.

At night on an invisible trail, the darkness swallows shapes and shadows, seeps into your skin like sand sucks up water. Black so dense it’s heavy, weighted air thicker than a cloud of gnats you can’t help but swat. You think your hands reach out. You blink, test your eyes, but open or closed, nothing. A blank page.

Owls blink, too, watch sludge in the street reflect the stars, flower petals curling up for sleep. They see the smallest light in the darkness, yellow-ring irises designed for nocturnal hunting, for finding your story even if you can’t.

Whooo? in surround-sound. The slow soft whoosh of wings, the transmutation of gas to solid support for specialized skeletons, air converted into flight. Velvety quills tickle your ears. Whooo? they ask, and you admit you’re unsure.

Weightless, a brain untethered, you’re vulnerable and shell-less like a baby turtle scrambling for sea. Except your instincts provide no direction; they can’t guide you home. You’ve lost your feet, your voice. The calls have stopped. A hush as deep as the dark.

Does all prey feel like this? Exposed, waiting to be plucked up, speared by clawed shadows with bladed beaks?

Three-foot wing spans swoop soundlessly above, serrated-edged feathers splayed. You hear nothing, but you know they’re coming.