Being From Joshua, Texas, Owls Fascinate Me-Saturday, August 23, 2008-Fiction

   Today blew up hot after two cool days of rain, so the mud puddles started to show wavy lines if you looked across them just right, the moisture returning to the same air the dinosaurs breathed and the cycle continued. One month before the rest of the nation gets autumn and we get late summer, which is our only other season, along with summer-summer, men wear their gimme caps pulled down low over their burned bald heads and women check to make sure they have their children with them when they get out of the car.

    The dogs won't chase their tails in these dog days.

   "Let that tail go," a collie tells a shepherd. "It won't go far."

   The shepherd doesn't answer, just nods, panting and lets his ears droop, a sure sign of demoralization in a shepherd.

   Yes, it is August again, a central Texas August, one without mountains for a wind to howl down or giant lakes to stabilize the atmosphere. The wind gathers force from the last mountains it sees, only to come rolling down the plains, through the arroyos and over the mesas where field wolves gather up tight during the day and hunt closer and closer to humans at night under a full Comanche moon.

   Some prehistoric owl lives around here still. He is bigger than modern owls and much more fierce. A local sheriff's deputy, a skinny young man with a real law enforcement vocare, a sacred calling to roust drunks and chase robbers, met the owl while doing a dark night barn search miles out in the country where Satanists meet to sacrifice small rodents and smoke dope and teenagers meet to tell stories about their physical exploits and smoke dope and dopers meet to talk about what a mess the barn is in now and smoke dope.

   The emaciated deputy stepped up on one of the wrecked barn doors, glared his heavy flashlight in holding it just behind his left shoulder above head high because he is right handed and needed his gun hand free in case someone other than rodent killing Satanists, hormonal teens or spaced out dopers occupied the barn that night. He had the arc of the light just right, he was very careful always to use the light as his friend and it cast a bright light in the barn, catching the twisting particles of dust and harvests long gone by whirling through the air of the barn, causing allergies among the occupants, some of whom thought it was the dead rodents, others thought it was the used reefers, when, in truth, it was just the ancient dust of honest dreams from the farmer who built the barn a hundred years ago and stored hay, feed, small livestock and disappointment in it for sixty-nine years, until he died, widowed and childless, in his eighties, coming to the barn on a hot August night to see who might be in his barn tonight.

   He wasn't mad, just lonely and wanted company, any company, and did not mind if someone killed the rats in his barn as long as they did not set it afire and would talk to him. He smiled at the thought of the company he would have if anyone were in the barn just then and just then his heart stopped, so he slid to the ground, happy for once, with a smile on his face and unaware he was dead until he saw his little wife waiting for him and realized he was where she had nagged him into getting ready to go and now he was glad.

   The arc of the flashlight did not help him much with the owl, the largest flying thing the deputy sheriff had ever seen up close in the wild. The owl had lived in the barn since before the coven but liked it more now, since they did a lot of the hunting for him. Carrion did not bother him, though bird watchers insisted he would not eat anything dead, since he was keen of eye and sharp of talon, not a road kill eater like the eagles. The owl had never read that book, was old and appreciated the work of the Wyccans, who would not have called themselves Satanists, they were just scared, dorky and overweight, mostly baptists who had dropped out of their youth groups when the churches started to insist on healthy snacks at after-game fellowships. They really considered themselves more a Dead Poet Society of the Occult and would have been scared out of their minds to see Satan or anything like him, the way they were scared the night Louis forgot to bring his inhaler and seemed possessed for a time until they realized he was having an asthma attack and Louise, the chubby leader, shared her inhaler with him and he got better immediately, though Louise threw away her inhaler because she did not want to get HIV sharing inhalers, if you could get it that way, she was not sure and never told Louis about discarding her inhaler because, well, why hurt him? He was nice enough, even if he wore a pocket protector though he never put anything in his pocket.

   The owl came straight above the place where the light met the dark. The illusion of shadow, light and dark made his wings seem the breadth of the condor's span. He screeched, which is not really a scary sound, more a scared sound, unless it is three in the morning on a Saturday morning and you weigh 136 pounds and are using correct police procedure to enter an abandoned barn under a Comanche moon near where the farmer who built the barn went to be with his wife again and where Louise saved Louis from bronchial constriction or demon possession, they were not sure which at first, they only knew the Albuterol set him free.

   The owl screeched, spread his wings and was trying to get out of the barn. Usually, the people who came out to the barn brought candles or Coleman lamps and these did not bother him. The flashlight, held behind the left shoulder and just above head high annoyed him. He wanted to get out of the barn so this new group could do whatever they wanted. He would hunt on his own that night and come back to the barn when these people left or spend the next day in a grove of hack-berry trees protected by an armada of briars and a division of poison ivy plants, breathing out their chemical warfare against all bare skin within range.

   The owl spread his wings and screeched, a giant, prehistoric beast born into the world of rodents and farmers, prized for his hunting skills by the farmer and so left alone. He was as handy as a bull snake for vermin control and not nearly as scary to the sight, though you could not tell that to the lanky deputy sheriff who heard the screech that night, threw his light upward, beheld a giant, winged set of talons coming at him like ten devils from the seventh level of Hades where all hope has actually been abandoned. He was terrified and swallowed the chew set neatly in his jaw, he had just got used to smokeless tobacco and could easily tolerate it so long as it stayed in its designated spot, which it almost always did, even when he rode his four-wheeler over a rough pasture but he swallowed it now, straight down his raw throat, so that the gorge rising up in his throat met the chew coming down and threw it into his windpipe, so that he was puking and choking at the same time, throwing him into a kind of modern dance of twitching and convulsions, the kind of dance you could not sell on television but some lonely teens, filled with angst and covered with acne, would do in a mosh pit to anger any adults who might be watching.

   The horrified owl, annoyed by all this nonsense, sailed off without any effort, as owls do and soon found a nice field rat, mid-sized and just right for snacking. He took it to the hack-berry grove and made an evening of it.

   The deputy forced down the gorge and the chew, which did not work because a stomach will not hold either easily nor both at all. He convulsed his way backward until he stumbled into some scrub oak stand, all of the midgets about three feet tall, which was perfect to trip him. He fell on his back, which did not help his digestion and rolled over almost in time to keep from retching on himself. He did ruin his snap down shirt, which he did not want anymore after that night anyway and laid down on his belly for several minutes, bringing up stomach acid and smokeless tobacco juice, so that he went back to rolled smoke after that night, tried to quit a number of times, could not and finally gave up, dying at age 86 in a sky-diving accident when his instructor fell out of the plane onto him before they ever left the ground but that is another story. It was not even warm that day, let alone burning hot like today.

   So, yes, it is hot here today, the kind of hot day that makes you long for late summer, when the high temperature will get down to the low nineties every day, the nights will be cool and the dove will start to fly. The leaves won't turn, not like they do in New England. Pretty much exhausted and absolutely dehydrated, they will just give it up and fall to the ground, curling a bit at the edges, brown and dirty, but excellent for mulch if you shred them right and spread them thin.

   It is a good life, if you have someone to share it with you and someone else to tell you stories that really happened, like the deputy told me this one.

  

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