GOING TO THE OWLS

GOING TO THE OWLS

If they’re not careful, they’ll lose her to the owls.

We all know the words, the warning.

Nearly lost him to the owls.

Whispers coat the air we breathe.

Going to the owls.

Catch-phrase, catch-all. It’s a truth to live by. We know the story.

It starts with a girl— like you and me she walked these streets once. Right here, among fallen leaves and twisted roots, she found him. She held the owl orphan in the palm of her hand. She loved him back to life.

What we are is what we know.

The owl orphan sang as she did, danced as she did, woke as she did. Blinking owl eyes, he could not recognize his own reflection.

He’ll never be an owl now. He’ll never know how.

When the owls came to take him back, the owl orphan would not go.

He could not go anyway. Look at him— he cannot fly, he cannot speak his language.

With every passing day, the owl orphan faded, flickered, wings to arms and beak to lips. Owl boy into human boy, resembling her more and more every day. Blinking human eyes, the owl boy cried out. He could not recognize his own reflection.

The girl went out into the woods

and listened. She taught her lips the shapes of guttural whirrs, honed high-pitched whistles and mastered hoots like muffled foghorns. She gave them all to the owl orphan.

The girl went out into the woods

and dragged back sticks she threaded into nests. Cocooned within, she showed him how to preen.

The girl went out into the woods

and gathered all the molted feathers she could find. She worked them into wings that fluttered from her arms, and so taught the owl orphan how to trust the air. Together, they stalked mice through meadow grass, slept in the sun and woke with the moon.

Remember to whom you belong. 

The night she let him go, she traced her eyebrows, nose, lips, in the mirror, and could not recognize her own reflection.

The girl answered greetings with whistles, traded bedposts for nesting supplies. Only a second— coming around the door, bending to tie a shoe— her arms to wings, lips to beak, then back. Freckled face and tangled hair once more.

Stay here. You are us, not them.

Longer now, minutes, hours. She’d flicker, fading in and out, fingers into talons. Soon days on end they’d spot her on a branch above.

Come back, come back. Remember to whom you belong. Come back.

And so she did for days, all arms and legs, hellos, goodbyes, up with the sun and down with it.

They all could see it, in her eyes with lids half closed. The way she turned her head all the way round, tested the wind on her palms. She did not want to recognize her own reflection.

The night the owl orphan came for her, she waited on the windowsill, toes curled, face to the sky. She spread her arms as if stretching wings. Below in the street, they watched her falling forward, flipping into freefall, feeling into feathers.

The girl went out into the woods and neither girl nor owl ever came back.

Maria Bell

Maria Bell

Maria Octavia Bell grew up in rural Minnesota and now works as an assistant at a literary agency in New York City. She graduated from Vassar College where she studied English and sociology. Bell writes short fiction that questions the boundaries between the possible and the fantastical.

Maria Octavia Bell grew up in rural Minnesota and now works as an assistant at a literary agency in New York City. She graduated from Vassar College where she studied English and sociology. Bell writes short fiction that questions the boundaries between the possible and the fantastical.

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