Sept Journey through Genres Sometimes the friend you need the most is the most unexpected
|Written for Journey through Genres
September prompt - Animal
Story word count: 1998
The stealthy night predator studied the solitary human and wondered if he would ever find the inner peace, he sought. But if not, maybe the human male would find the strength to forgive himself of the horrific tragedy that forever changed his life.
"Come on Wes...you know you need to get something out to Velda. Some writer I turned out to be," the weary man in the small, lonely cabin, muttered in quiet defeat. He got up from the tattered, vinyl chair, slowly wandered over to one of the slightly fogged windows, and stared outside into the inky, night sky.
"You out there, Grey? Hunting?"
Wes turned and looked back at the cluttered desk beside the small wood fueled fireplace and felt his brow furrow further. He knew he was past due, and tomorrow he'd be getting another impatient call from his very patient editor. But he had reason for his tardiness. Or so he told himself - every single day.
'I'm sorry Mr. Putman, but...Charlie...he passed about an hour ago.'
'What? No! I was...I was stuck in traffic! I...this can't be...oh God this can't be happening...'
Before his mind could completely spiral downward into emotional despair, Weston grabbed his tattered Mac jacket, and stepped outside onto the creaky, wooden porch.
"You around Grey?" He said quietly, as he slumped down into the nearby rocking chair, and stared up at the thick, dense forest; his weary blue eyes searching for his elusive friend.
"Lemme hear you, Grey."
And the human male was rewarded with the distinct call of the nocturnal giant - the Great Grey owl that made the boreal forest his home. His non-human friend.
Another lonely night for the isolated human, Grey pondered, as his large yellow eyes fixed on the dark, solitary form and just watched him. A few months ago, the cabin sat desolate, and Grey used the deserted structure as a perch for ground hunting. It was perfect. Dark, quiet, and empty. But things changed when the human male took up permanent residence. The man was alone, no family and seemingly no friends. However, two weeks in, the park Ranger, Duncan Calderon, dropped by for a visit, and Grey heard a few laughs; the cool mountain air punctuated by smells of roasting meat and sharp whisky. A new friend. Finally.
Grey liked Duncan. He was an ally to the local wildlife; he outwardly cared. He showed respect and kindness to any of the animals who were hurt or injured, and Grey remembered that one time that he came in need of the meek Ranger's medical services. It wasn't a fatal injury, but had his wing not been fixed, he wouldn't have lasted much longer. Duncan was a good man.
A slight squeak in the near distance diverted the large bird of prey's attention from the morose human, and he was off in flight, in search of his midnight snack. Grey swooped down from the middle of a tall coniferous tree to a branch a few meters off the ground and panned his large head in search of his meal. With his eyes sharp and instincts honed, finding the small rodent wasn't much of a feat for the large predator. Digested.
Grey soared toward the top of another dark tree and rested a few moments before venturing out once more. He knew the area well; having lived in the serene woods for the past decade. He knew every peak and valley, every dark rocky corner, and hidden treed alcove. He knew the cabin and what lurked a few hundred meters to the north - a jagged precipice with an unforgiving basin. Grey always worried when Weston ventured out for a night walk; worried the human male would take a fall to his ultimate demise.
Grey started back toward the cabin, his eyes darted back and forth as he searched for additional sustenance. When the human first moved in, Grey worried that a trophy-hunting mentality moved in with him. But he had no gun, and didn't prove to be a threat to anyone, other than himself.
However, when Grey got back to the cabin, he noticed the rocking chair empty, and the door to the cabin open. That was odd. The human never did that before. That wasn't his typical night behavior, and Grey worried that the lone male had met an unfortunate encounter. Hungry wolves, wily cougars, and packs of hungry coyotes could be deemed the usual suspects, especially if they were to come upon an injured human without any real means of defense. Where did he go?
"Ahhh!" Wes's breath sucked in, as his weary eyes slowly fluttered open; the image of his beloved son dissipating from his frantic mind. He tried to get his body to do what his brain wanted but it wouldn't, and he slumped back onto the cold, hard ground with a weary growl.
"This can't be...Wes you ass!" He cursed himself, as his trembling hands quickly searched his pockets for his phone. He could only curse himself once more as he realized his phone, along with his flashlight and warmer jacket were on the table in the cabin - the cabin he should be in right now. Instead, he lay in painful defeat at the bottom of the small, jagged basin, he had successfully avoided the past few months.
"HELP! SOMEBODY HELP ME!" Wes called out breathlessly.
The damp night air started to soak further into his aching frame, sending fresh chills down his already shaking limbs as he slowly sat upright and started to search for the location of the pain emanating from his left ankle.
"HELP ME! DOWN HERE!"
He heard a small crack, and suddenly whipped around, and stared at the outline of a familiar figure in a tree a few meters up.
"Grey! Hey buddy! Boy I'd give anything for you to be able to make a phone call right now. Maybe I can work on training you to fetch my phone?" Wes muttered with a chuckle, as his fingers rested upon his twisted ankle. He let out a sharp cry; his fingers quickly retreated.
Grey looked down at the agitated human male in concern. He was alone, had no means to defend himself, and since he wasn't in a hurry to move, assumed he was injured in some way. That spelt trouble. He had once watched a trophy hunter bleed out after taking a tumble, and accidentally sticking himself with his gutting weapon. A very sad, but ironic demise. But Wes wasn't like that man, and Grey had grown fond of the human. Too fond to just let him remain helpless at the bottom of the ravine when other predators roamed about.
Grey let out a few shrill calls, and then looked down at Wes who had stood up and was trying to find a way up the slippery slope without falling back down and doing further damage.
A few shrill calls.
A few more shrill calls.
"We...make a good team...buddy," Wes said with a ragged huff, before he paused a moment. "But I'll need a couple of human hands to help me out. Shall we keep trying?"
A few shrill calls.
The tag teaming calls continued for what seemed like a small eternity, before Wes heard a honk in the distance, and saw the faint beam of headlights bouncing in the air.
"DUNCAN! HELP! DOWN HERE!"
Grey added a few more shrill calls before the kind-hearted ranger appeared, and the wise old owl knew his human friend would be safe.
"WES! What the..."
"I twisted my ankle! Toss me down a rope! Glad you heard me!"
"You? I heard the Owl before I heard you. Your furry friend was the real helper tonight."
"Grey's pretty special," Wes said with pride in his voice, as he rested for a few minutes at the top of the steep ravine after the slow rescue. "I'd be...lost without him. I know...sounds stupid, but it's true. I tell him about Charlie and he...he doesn't judge. You know?"
"Yeah buddy," Duncan said, as he offered a pat to Wes's shoulder, "I get it. Come on. Let's get you back home, and off that ankle."
Grey watched as Duncan helped Wes into the Ranger's Jeep, and head back toward the cabin. He helped save his life, and that gave him a sense of comfort. He had heard the stories of the little boy Charlie; how he died of Leukemia and how the father had blamed himself for not getting to the hospital before he passed. The mother, Wes's wife, had died of an overdose a year after Charlie was born; Charlie was all Wes had after that. Wes had admitted the first few years were amazing. And then Charlie got sick. His life changed and not for the better. He quit his corporate job and took up taking care of Charlie full time. He said he wanted to write a children's book, inspired by his son. It wasn't to be. After the boy died, Wes moved to the woods to be alone. Defeated and uninspired.
Grey extended his large wings and guided himself back toward the cabin and took up his usual perch - a thick upper branch of a large Douglas Fir. He settled in, and watched the lights of the Jeep approach, the two men get out, and slowly head toward the open door of the cabin.
"Thanks man. I owe you."
"Just promise me, no more late-night hikes. Especially with no phone or coat or...come on Wes, what the hell were you doing out there anyways? You know it's dangerous."
"I saw Charlie," Wes admitted with a somber tone. "Or maybe I was trying to chase my editor down there."
Duncan chuckled but then looked at Wes in concern.
"I'll be fine. Thanks again. I'm just going to get some rest and start again tomorrow."
"Alright. I'll see you Friday for weekly dinner."
"You got it."
Wes watched Duncan take his leave, and then slowly hobbled toward the entrance of the cabin, and once again stared into the inky night sky.
"I know you're there Grey. I...I owe you my life. Wish I could thank you in person...or you know offer something, but...well fresh outta mice," Wes said with a small chuckle.
Then something unexpected happened. A first for both.
Grey watched the human for a few moments before he dared to leave his perch on the tree, swoop down, and land on a nearby stump, now almost eye height with the man. Grey's large, yellow eyes fixed on Wes as he sat and watched the human in silence.
"Hey buddy," Wes greeted with a warm smile, as he just stood in place, and stared at the majestic predator. "You...saved my life. Thank you. I'll tell Charlie. He woulda loved you. You...woulda loved him." He whispered.
Grey offered what appeared to Wes to be a small nod of approval, before his large wings fully extended, and he zoomed toward Wes and then swooped upward into the top bough of the tree, silhouetted against the midnight blue sky.
"Alright then," Wes nodded toward the tree before he turned, and slowly limped back inside. He closed and locked the cabin door, and then stared at his writing desk for a few contemplative seconds.
"Tomorrow, Charlie. Tomorrow, your adventures with Grey begin," he whispered, as a small smile graced his face, and a feeling of peace finally settled upon him. Normally he was up at night; a real night owl, he had been called, just like Grey. But tonight, he would sleep.
Grey watched as the lights in the small cabin went out, and the cool air was peaceful once more. The human's activities were ended for the night, but Grey's were just getting started. He would spend the night following his usual route - hunting.
But in the morning, he'd be back. Back to the cabin. Back to Wes. Back home.