Scree Scraw

Jan 2022

This was written for a writing challenge where the only
requirement was to include a barn owl somewhere in the story.

I saw it happen. I watched it happen. The blood splatter through the long grass behind the farmhouse, scrawling death's signature. People stumbling around with their hands on their heads. Shouting. I just looked and stared. Silently.

It was almost comical.

It was the sweet smell of the death that lingered the longest. Time would clean that up too, eventually, as it loves to do with everything. Almost everything. 

I was young then, maybe nine or ten years old. I don't remember exactly how old, or much of anything afterwards. Just what I saw. Oh, I can recall that very clearly. I had the best view of the performance. I'll tell you what happened.

It was on our watermelon farm. I'd lived there a while, after being adopted by the farmer and his wife. It was a pretty good life at first; I'd be selfish if I complained. They had no children of their own, so the back upstairs bedroom was empty and wasted until I claimed it. And what a view from it! The fields, the distant mountains, the forests, could all call to me uninterrupted, and I could see everything that happened below. Nothing could move without me seeing it from up there. It was perfect. 

Life was perfect. 

The house, our house, was an old two-storey farmhouse. Most of its paint had given up hanging on, tired from seeing more sun than it should over the years. The big old tree outside the bedroom window was as high as the house, even higher maybe. Its branches screeched against the window when the wind was wet and angry. Scree-scraw, scree-scraw… a soothing sound. And it was easy to climb from the window ledge into the tree's protective arms, so I'd sit in it for hours. I'd watch the world turn under the clouds, see everything being still, waiting for change. But time was rightly in no hurry to bring it. Even the tree knew that. I loved that tree. It was all mine. No one else's.

Then in the blackness of one violently stormy night, they had a kid of their own. Gerald. A few more happy years passed before Gerald moved into my room.

Some might say it was his fault, 'He shouldn't have been sleeping there in the long grass,’ they'd say. 'Just an accident… you can't blame yourself,' was heard often. But he wasn't sleeping. Not really. I know he wasn't. I know what really happened, and I felt nothing. I made no sound, I just watched. But it was still his fault.

It happened the same year a bird arrived and started to build a nest in my tree. I didn't mind, I tolerated the chirping, waking me at stupid times of the day. Then Gerald, now six years old, decided the tree outside his bedroom window—MY bedroom window, MY tree—was his alone. And he wanted that bird gone. So, he threw sticks at the nest until he knocked it out. I couldn't watch. That black stormy darkness he was born into was still seething in him. It was starting to seep out. I'm sure of it. I saw it. I see things that others miss. I see everything. 

His tree!? 

Life went on, but it was no longer perfect, and Gerald became more difficult to tolerate. We'd disagree about whose tree it was, and if I was ever sitting in it, his face would switch to anger when he saw me, and with gritted teeth showing through his insolent sneer, he'd climb out and try to push me off. So dangerous. He could fall! I think he was jealous of me. 

He could fall.

So we'd stay away from each other, mostly. He never had any friends, I don't think he wanted any. I'd watch him kick rocks all morning and go out on adventures by himself. He never invited me, though. I mean, fair enough, I was five years older, but still, I could have been good company!

I secretly followed him once as he wandered down to the river one humid day. I thought he'd just go swimming, which was not allowed without a big person, and I'd tell on him too, if he did. Not that they ever listened to me. Their Gerald could do no wrong. 

But instead, heart beating fiercely in fear, I just watched him. In disbelief, I saw what he did.  

Now, I should point out that I don't see him as a brother, and of course, technically, he isn't, even though we live together. So I have no sense of loyalty towards him. Or feelings. After what he did that day down by the river, well, you judge for yourself:

I watched him catch a little lizard. I watched as he pulled his father's magnifying glass out of his pocket. He took them both out into the sun and… well, you can guess the rest of what he did. Don't get me wrong; I'm all for killing for food; it's how we survive after all. That boy was torturing for amusement. 

And then he spotted a bird's nest. 

I'm not going to say whether it had anything in it or not, because the truth is, I don't know. Gerald climbed the tree to the nest, and when he was steady on the branch, he slowly took the magnifying glass from his dirty back pocket. The sun glinted from it onto his face, lighting a grin of evil as the fire took hold.

I turned and headed straight back home as fast as I could after seeing this. But I tell you, there was evil in his eyes too. I saw it, and I never miss things. I see everything. I saw it all.

So, I waited. I watched.

A season passed, and I watched the farm routines. All the watermelon had gone and it was time to plough the fields. I saw when the farm tractor was used, and I saw when it was left parked under my big tree, and I knew when it would be going out again. 

I see everything.

I chose my morning. The darkness hadn't yet all gone from the sky, and the smoky fog that filled my lungs made me feel nervously alive. I woke him. With a grin that didn't show, I called to Gerald from my tree outside our room, knowing he wouldn't like that. He still believed it to be his tree, so out he climbed to get to me, to push me out. To be Gerald. 

'Get the hell out of my tree!' Said the evil in his hollow stare as he inched closer.

Just as he made his lunge towards me, I moved right out of his reach, startling him off balance. I watched him fall from the branch under my foot. I heard no scream. Down he went, into the fog below. He probably would have only broken an ankle if the side of his head had not struck the hard metal of the tractor—right on target—with a twang! 

He lay motionless in the long whispering grass, swallowed by the fog as it swirled to repair his rude disturbance through it.

 

***

 

The sun rose in silence, as if nothing had happened.

I saw him fall. I saw him not move. I saw it all. You might think I caused it. I don't care. Strangely, the fog didn't clear with the sunrise, but through it, faintly, I did see his father climb into the tractor, I saw him start it up, and I saw him back out. I saw the thick dark water escape Gerald's sleeping body. 

Through the screams, I thought about how the big tree was all mine again. And yes, of course, how safe the birds and lizards will be now. 

I saw it all because I see everything. I can't help it; I'm a Barn Owl. It's what we do.