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The first time I notice the bird, it dashes over my shoulder with the abruptness of a rabbit coming out of a hat. It’s just after sunset, twilight, and I’m strolling on a neglected path in the woods, my eyes lowered to sidestep nettles and dog crap. All around me: the fresh scent of pines. Then from behind: a battery of flaps, rustling branches, feathers brushing my neck.
I wheel around, startled, in time to see the great creature disappear into the dark between the evergreens.
Minutes later, the bird swoops down a second time, crossing the path in front of me. Bright orange eyes that peer into the night. The span of its wings, titanic. An owl? I watch how the bird circles up, its black talons mighty enough to clutch a pig.
I march quickly now, my heart beating fast. Although there should be plenty of people around, airing their dogs after dinner, there is no one in the woods but me. No one to see how the bird stretches its vast wings from the top of a pine and rushes down again, charging.
As soon as it lands on my head, I scream. I stamp my feet into nettles and dog crap. The beating of wings atop a girl’s head—a message from the forest.
Why did you not finish your plate?
I run in vain. Talons sink into my shoulders. I eat like a bird, Mom says. Well, not this bird. The power of its wings lifts me up. I breathe in deep, as though my lungs can weigh me down. But then I am flying, kicking in air, high above the woods, the city, the world. People must see me now and point. Oohu-oohu. I picture tomorrow’s headline: OWL CARRIES OFF ANOREXIC GIRL.