Friday, October 24, 2014
Fluffin and the Owl
Fluffin knew what an owl was, and he knew the owl that lay before him. This was the great clawed bird that had swooped from the sky to snatch up the young rabbit's dear sister and only friend, Mari. It had happened just after twilight as the pair hopped towards the raised tuft of grass that marked their burrow. Mari had been behind Fluffin. Just a swoosh and a shriek later, and the tawny little doe was hanging limp from hooks that soared impossible miles above. Fluffin gave chase but could not keep up with the shadow of the snowy white bird as it glided over the plains and vanished in the murky woods.
The rabbit returned home alone and remained so, despite the attempts of his brothers and mother to comfort him.
When someone is truly lost, everything they were and did and everything they could be is gone with them, swept up and away. Worse than that, everything they felt and thought is also vanished forever.
Fluffin had spent his days in play with Mari and his nights snuggled against her soft belly. He was Mari's favorite thing. The feeling of being someone's favorite is not so easily replaced. Fluffin's mother and brothers may have felt a sorrow, but they could not have felt his sorrow. They had lost one of many, while Fluffin had lost his only.
All of that had happened the previous Fall, and Fluffin had since grown faster and stronger. A lone rabbit has to be fast and strong because a lone rabbit is always afraid.
The white owl lay on her side, one great speckled wing stretched beneath her like a downy mat and the other bent awkwardly behind. Fluffin could see that the owl had also broken a leg in her descent down through the thick tree limbs above, or perhaps in what must have been a very hard landing. He knew the bird had fallen because there were broken branches and leaves scattered about. The weary bird's chest began heaving rapidly when she realized she was not alone and Fluffin could see a tiny dark and glistening spot just at the base of her neck.
"Who's there? I'll eat you up!" The owl coughed fine crimson spray onto her quivering wing.
Fluffin had been watching the wounded murderess for a while and was certain she could not move. He crept towards her, stopping a few hops shy of her hooked beak. "I am Fluffin, I am going to kill you, owl", the brown rabbit stood as tall as he could and puffed out his chest. His shoulders were barely the height of the owl's body laying down, but Fluffin felt that under the circumstances he must still be very imposing to the helpless beast.
This time the crimson spray hit Fluffin square in the face as the owl let out a laugh that ended with another strangled cough. "Oh little rabbit, why should you want to kill me? What a good joke! I'm already nearly dead, and rabbits do not eat owls. Though it would be just my luck today to meet one who does!" A red rivulet ran from the tiny dark spot on the owl's neck. "Please go away and let me die in peace, rabbit. I haven't much time left and you've had your fun."
"I don't want to eat you!" shouted Fluffin, his dander up. "You killed my sister! You murdered her and so now I am going to murder you!" Fluffin hopped back and forth menacingly, his tiny chest still puffed and his teeth bared.
"Oh", sighed the owl, settling back down. "I am sorry for that, if it was me and it may well have been. But you see", she continued, "I eat rabbits. I spot a tuft of fur on the ground and I dive as fast as a falling rock." The owl's eyes widened and her voice quickened with pride. "With these powerful claws you see here," she clenched her unbroken foot for Fluffin, "I grab my prey and then I beat my great white wings until I'm soaring near the clouds! I am careful to kill quickly, though, so you can rest assured that if it was I who ate your sister she did not suffer. I am no sadist."
Fluffin had been expecting an escalation of tempers and was confused by the owl's almost pleasantly conversational response. The little brown rabbit moved back a few hops to reevaluate. "You could have taken me instead!", he finally burst out, eyes wide and wild. "You didn't have to take her, she was smaller, surely I'd have been a better meal!"
"Well now little rabbit I cannot remember you or your sister, but I promise you this; if I took her it was because she was the easier prey. Now if you'll permit me, I rarely have the opportunity to speak with your kind. I'm near the end of my time and I am curious." The owl's voice was barely above a whispery gasp, but it rang with the easy authority of a victorious predator and her unblinking eyes gripped the young rabbit as tightly as one of her gnarled claws might have. Fluffin found himself nodding his assent.
"How is it that this one particular meal of mine vexes you so? I have been alive for six summers and I have killed once a day and sometimes more. I have eaten rabbits, mice, even kittens. I have raised my young on carcasses and taught them to hunt and kill to live when their time neared to leave me. Through all of that, I never imagined I could cause such dismay." The owl looked at Fluffin with what appeared to be genuine sadness.
Fluffin felt softness rising in him but choked it down. "My sister was different. She was no meal! She loved me, she looked after me, and I looked after her. We belonged to each other and now, because of you," Fluffin's small voice broke here, "I am alone."
With that, the rabbit sat heavily on a fallen limb, his fight had reached its limit and was now as broken as his voice. Fluffin had been more sad than angry, after all, though it's very easy to confuse the two. Rabbits don't have much call to become talented with darker things like rage and vengeance, and so those things were unfamiliar though tempting territories for Fluffin.
A bitter quiet sank down around the rabbit and owl and filled the air between them.
"Today," began the owl in a soft voice after the two had been sitting in silence for some time, "I was carrying a succulent mouse to my babies when I was knocked from the sky by a boy with a rock. He didn't want to eat me, or use me to feed his young, or to wreak vengeance on me for some past slight. He didn't want my mouse, and knew nothing of my nest and waiting children. And now I am alone and will die, and my babies are alone and will also die. You may kill me, if you like, rabbit. It will be quicker than waiting and I will not heal."
Fluffin looked up slowly. The owl's eyes were closed and her breathing was more relaxed than it had been. The snow white feathers around the hole in her neck were now matted with a deep and growing red dampness. The mighty claw she'd flexed for him earlier lay limp, the powerful killing tool in which the owl had taken such pride now looked more like a pile of weathered twigs any passing breeze might scatter.
Fluffin felt smaller. He hadn't realized how big his anger had become until it abandoned him without a backwards glance. He sagged under the cold sorrow that rode in its' wake.
Anger and sorrow are very good friends, wherever one goes, the other is sure to follow, but neither of them is a hunter. Both sorrow and anger are scavengers, lurking always for a few scraps of vanity and misfortune they might spin into a bitter feast. Fluffin knew they could only have as much of him as he allowed. The lonely rabbit missed his memories as they had been before those two greedy devils had crept in to turn so many of his thoughts brittle and sour like rotted seed. The shadows were getting longer and the air was getting cooler. It was time to go.
"I am sorry but I cannot kill you," Fluffin answered. "I will leave you as I found you, because rabbits do not eat owls."