The Mallard

I’ve never seen the world like this before. My father and I are sitting in a ditch by a marsh, it is just before dawn with only a sliver of light creeping up behind us, reflecting softly off the lake. The creatures shuffled and went about their business but in a manner I have not witnessed before.

Of course, I’ve seen animals and critters in the wood across from the paddock. Due to growing up on a farm, animals have been reduced to just part of the scenery, completely ordinary. But this morning I must have been feeling a wonderment that I witness in other children not used to see the grace of a horse’s stride or the quiet peace of a lazy eyed cow, chewing grass in the shade of an elm.

This morning we aren’t looking upon work animals but the wild untamed creatures. And I say I have never seen the world like this because in this moment I feel I am entirely absent from it. What a simple fact I’ve ignored all my life; whenever I have seen an animal they have always seen me. Now here I sit, where we have hidden for a few hours. The scene is free of any of that excited tension that homo sapiens bring to every plain, mountain, lake, or sea. Perhaps we don’t notice it because it’s constantly around us, the fear in every blade of grass we tread on, the horror in every patch of dirt we pry open and rape for its metals that we use for our machines of industry and war.

I would have felt at peace away from all that, here in the gentle marshes, if not for our terrible quest. I secretly hoped our prize, that yet lay hidden within the labyrinth of reed beds, still slept and would decide to sleep in today.

We watched the frogs hop out of the long grass for a morning swim, and the graceful waking swans who in lifting theirs head to the rising sun resemble white lilies. I could not focus on the beauty, for I was distracted by the ugly mission I would have to carry out.

My mission is the hunt, I already know its sequence of actions. My hands flutter – but as soon as my father places the rifle in my hands they are stone. Stone my hands may be – and if that is the truth then I must be a golem for they moved automatically as if enchanted. Muscle memory and practice operated themselves on my arms. I load it, cock it, aim, and wait for the duck call. My father holds the horn to his lips. Hoped not to see that brown dull looking bird, the dullness of its feathers only added to its innocence – it wanted no attention and meant no harm, yet here I was in its home murderous instrument in hand.

Oh God, give me a way out. In excitement, I thought a tremendous sound that blasted in my ear out was Gabriel’s horn and not my fathers. “My day of judgement is not this one,” I barely had time think before a flurry of wings took off from the reeds. I spotted my quarry, slower than the rest, its struggling wings seemed to claw at the wind rather than sail upon it. I followed it with my sight and pulled the trigger. The Recoil. The Release. Final Relief.

If for just an instance, the shot seemed to wound the blue yonder herself, sprouting a burst of bleeding poppies in the sky. The mallard flapped its wings a few times in defiance of Death before falling as a mess of feathers like Icarus. But the hubris belonged to me, I tried to feel bad – what right had I to snatch its life? My father put a hand on my shoulder and the look in his eyes seemed to say that he understood. In honesty, I enjoyed the experience. I loved it despite myself.

Looking back at that spectre of a childhood memory it seems that the apparent twists and turns my life have in reality been a straight A to B journey. Reaching now into young adulthood my mission is still the hunt, but my new quarry is far more cunning than the mallard, though both share wings. This hunt is more sporting for the bird shoots back – though what is far more unsettling is that what I hunt loves to kill just as I do.

I must rest, piecing together mangled memories has been tiring. As the captain says, a good rest should be a RAF pilot’s top priority, especially on the eve of his first combat flight. Goodnight.


Part 1 of XX ->

The Currawong

A pair of yellow eyes flickered through the undergrowth. She danced from tree to tree, her bright gaze seemed it might spark a bushfire. Her eyes were a surreal yellow that jumped out at you with their sheer contrast. They had depth and if you weren’t careful you could find yourself falling into them. Looking into her eyes I knew I trusted her. She trusted me, even though she was a bird and I was a boy. I wished to tame her but it was an impossible wish for she was wild. Wild from her dark velvet feathers to her twisting ebon claws. To tame her I would have to clip her wings and if she couldn’t fly then she would cease to be a bird at all.

Teasingly, she jumped from branch to branch, higher up the canopy. She too had an impossible wish, she wanted me to cast off my earthly fetters and follow her up. If only I could fly: to sprout wings and feel the sun’s warmth far above the winter clouds. The idea appealed to me. I have a hunch that perhaps the opposite appealed to her – that she wished to swap the vehicles of our souls.

To pluck hands, fingers, knees, and toes from her own body – just as she plucks worms from the earth moistened by morning dew. To pluck all her feathers out except one.

And that last feather she would dip into ink as black as her quill and scrawl a nearly forgotten tale about a bird who was once a boy.

The Owl

 

When I walk through the wood at night my torch shines through the branches and bushes, bringing them to life. The shadows animate with each further step into the wilderness. A dead stump becomes a rabid dog, an overgrown vine becomes a gaunt marching witch. The stars shine brighter here, they gleam through the leaves and sticks as if a thousand unblinking eyes were glaring at me.

An owl hoots in the distance. Suddenly the hellish creatures fall away. Perhaps it was simply the intrusion of reality into my imagined landscape, or perhaps the owl imparted some of her courage to me. For an owl’s courage is only matched by her wit. For an owl, the night is as obvious and unfrightening as the day is to us. She sees no ghouls in the shadows but will spot the smallest step of a frightened mouse miles away. She has no fear of a monster in the shadows because that is what she is.

Though in the day the owl’s experience is equally as unnatural and ruled by imagination as ours is in the night. As the sun rises from the cold dead earth, the owl looks over her domain in coloured in the light. Her eyes are built to see the smallest flicker of movement miles away in the darkest deepest corner of the forest. Now in the daylight, she is overstimulated and sees prey everywhere.

The foliage that blankets the forest floor become a swarming ocean of scurrying mice. Every dancing leaf becomes a darting green sparrow. Even the sun itself becomes a giant egg to pillage from its blue nest. To slice it open with one stoop, spill its golden yolk down upon the earth. An owl would strike her talons down upon the neck of God if she could fly high enough, such is her courage.

Her reaction to this shifting mosaic of quarry is to simply close her eyes and sleep. While out of fear we close our eyes from the dark to hide, she does so simply to dream of greater prey than reality can provide – to scout, hunt, and devour in the day as she does in the night.