by Laurie Razor
A Short Shots Contest Entry. March 2019. ~1,410 words
Clandestine meetings betwixt lovers amid wild sylvan majesty, lost hikers treading fresh trails through heavy carpets of pine needles, covert drug-deals under dense nocturnal curtain, all judged by ogling feathered sages.
Every day they share their secrets in parliaments held on hilltops just before dawn breaks.
Silent twitches of meaningful communication, interrupted by the sporadic hooting of uneducated owlets, too young to understand the folly of their insignificant disturbances.
Insightful knowledge gained through the sharing of observational accounts only furthers the wisdom of the strigeidae council.
This morning, one such piece of knowledge sends thousand of nervous feathers aflutter; Sojek recounts that he was down by the river last night when the din of an outboard motor grew louder.
A speedboat ran aground the small beach near gorilla-rock, its lone occupant dumped a large duffel bag onto the sand before dragging it deep into the pine forest and lazily obscuring it beneath the sepia-toned underbrush.
Once the dodgy skipper left, Sojek investigated the contents of the abandoned bag, finding a bunch of small odd smelling devices with blinking red lights on them.
The six elders hold a private parliamentary debate at the top of the highest tree on the hill; Wasik declares.
"I remember seeing similar machines many years ago. It all started just like this, when someone dropped these flickering metal boxes off in a bag. One day later, this intruder came back and placed the boxes beside the trees. That night, a loud bang rang out and the whole forest lit up with a hellish ferocity. By morning, there was nothing left but ashes and cinder."
Wasik moves closer to the others.
"I'm too old to go through this again. The last time, I was barely out of adolescence."
"Don't worry Wasik, we won't let that happen here. We must do something about this. We can not allow our home to go up in flames."
Lorek, the most temperamental of the owls, rebuts.
"Tampering with mortal matters are against the natural order. The affairs of man are man's alone."
Before the topic could send the parliament further into disarray, grand vizier Malik, the eldest living owl, chimes in.
"You both have fair points. In the entire history of our culture, we have never meddled in the lives of humans. That being said, we have never faced a crisis of this magnitude either. It seems to me that there is only one fair way to settle this. We shall take this matter to vote. If none of you object, I'll serve as adjudicator thus ruling myself out as a voter. Three perches win. Shall we get started?"
To inaugurate the referendum, Sojek and Lorek fly to parallel perches, either side of Malik.
Wasik flutters beside Sojek, Arhek jumps next to Lorek, leaving only one party undecided.
"It looks like it's all down to you Valak. Who do you think is right?"
As the youngest of the clan of elders, Valak does not want to displease the others.
"I'm sorry Malik. I don't know what path to take. Could you pass down a little guidance?"
"I can not tell you how to vote Valak."
"That wasn't what I was asking. I just need a little clarity."
"I wouldn't think it right to subtly guide you down one path or another. Direct your queries to the parties involved."
Valak thinks for a long moment.
"If I were to agree with Sojek, then what would we do? We are just owls, students learning vicariously through surveillance alone. The only action that we have ever taken is to feed, either ourselves or our young."
Arhek chimes in.
"You are absolutely right Valak. We aren't ones to hinder the flapping wings of fate. Whatever future they bring, we acclimate to. As we always have."
"Arhek speaks of acclimation after the fact. Isn't acclimation, the ability to adapt? Meaning that we should adapt to the changes as we see them now, not wait until our situation grows dire."
Sojek's statement lingers in the air with great power.
Before Valak can react, Lorek jumps to Sojek's branch.
"I wish to change my vote Malik. Who else can save our land but us?"
"I'm sorry Arhek, it looks like this vote has ended. We shall actively prevent the death of the forest."
Grand vizier Malik leads them in silence to the branches below and shares the results of their vote.
A fantastic storm brews on the horizon, the owls conspire long into the morning before succumbing to their instinctual need to roost.
Twilight falls quickly, the sky glowing a bright peach hue, the owls awaken to enact their plot.
The sun descends and dusk arrives, the strigeidae wait in their strategically fixed positions.
Round faces twitch and glimmer under blossoming ivory moonlight, large eyes beam refracted prismatic rainbows out into the darkness.
Hours pass, luminescence fades, and the approaching sound of an outboard crescendos, breaking the peace in chaotic disharmony.
The steel keel crunching the sand kicks off the owl's carefully orchestrated operation; dozens of owlets led by Arhek swiftly circle overhead, drawing attention away from movement in the treetops.
Dozens of eyes fall upon the intruder as he disappears into the forest, Sojek leads five to return the mysterious incendiary gadgets to the stranger's watercraft; before he gets to the bag, Lorek, Malik and Valak attack him with a frenzy of beak and talon strikes.
More adults fly past him, confusing him as he retreats back to his vehicle; he falls into the steel vessel after pushing it out into the water, still fighting back the vicious raptor onslaught.
Wasik lingers on the outboard, the injured man doesn't notice as Wasik pulls the ripcord, launching the boat down-river; Malik and Sojek control the rudder by flapping their wings as Lorek keeps up the assault.
"Malik. Sojek. Who is to say that if we let this man go, he won't just come back and try this again?"
Their mute body jerks, habitual voiceless conversation almost telepathically linking the elders thought processes to one another.
"You know the plan Wasik. Scare him badly enough that he won't ever enter the forest."
"It's true. That was the plan we agreed to Malik, although I think it's time for this plan to change."
Wasik flies over to the struggling man and retrieves a strange device from his pocket, then leaps on the rudder bar; his body closed-off, his mind a blank.
"What are you thinking Wasik?"
"I'm thinking that plausible deniability is best, Sojek. Malik, take these two back to the others."
"Come along Sojek."
"But Malik. . ."
"But nothing Sojek. You trust Wasik, don't you? You trust me?"
Malik hoots the signal for Lorek to stop; the three fly away, Sojek hoots back.
"Good luck Wasik. We'll see you at parliament."
The speedboat races through the mouth of the river; Lorek guides the other two to the top of a nearby pine.
"Where is Wasik? Why have we left him behind?"
Malik spreads his wings over the backs of his brethren.
"Wasik made his choice. It would be best that we leave him to it. Do not look back."
"But we are owls, our whole life is watching others."
"Some things need not be seen."
A humongous explosion rattles the branch beneath them, scaring the trio to take flight once more.
Charred feathers float upriver, defying the current through powers best left misunderstood.
The hill of parliament is full of whispered concern as the trio of elders return.
A compassionate Malik pats Sojek's back.
"Hush now, hush. Please. I believe that Sojek, our heroic harbinger, should debrief us on our successful mission."
Sojek leaps to a higher branch than the others, all of whom stare back at him in awe.
"It's true, our plan succeeded. Not in the way that we envisioned however. As I am sure that many of you have noticed, one of our own hasn't returned. I don't think he will. Wasik made a terrible sacrifice, he made it for all of us, for all of you. Remember that as you remember him."
Arhek chimes in.
"Are you sure that he is gone Sojek? What did you see?"
"It matters not what I have seen. I have learnt a great lesson tonight. Wisdom gained through observation alone is not so easily judged through the eyes of owls."