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Dust to Dust

by Lisa VanGalen 10 months ago in Short Story
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The end of an era

photo by Amanda Elliott

Standing forlorn in the overgrown meadow, the old barn had born witness to many births and deaths. Its once-solid structure now listed on the rock foundation, the braces weakened by the seasons, each seeming harsher than the last. Wind brushed through the cracked timbers, creating soul-filled music to touch the ears of the last owl nesting in its cobwebbed rafters.

The passage of time brings all things to dust and the barn showed its decline in more than the subtle greys of its exterior. Missing cedar shakes allowed the spring rain and winter snow to drift in to lay on the debris encrusted floor. Once covered in the freshest straw and filled with fragrant hay, the stalls moaned with the wind as it passed, there being nothing to hold the sound.

Perched above the dismal piles of old blankets and discarded pails, the night hunter searches for a meal. Mice still haunt the old barn, needing little in the way of shelter or food to make them happy. The owl, too, is content, for few buildings of this nature remain, and her kind are suffering for the lack. Behind her, tucked into the gently formed cradle of branches, the downy-feathered heads of two tiny owlets peek over the edge. With a squawk, she sends them ducking back into the safety of the nest. A fall from this height would be deadly. Every year, her newest chicks would reach this point, and her heart would skip. Curiosity will soon have them trying to fly and all she could do was hope they were ready.

Spotting her lunch, the owl lifts her wings, the movement gracefully silent. Swooping to the ground, she returns to the rafter in one smooth motion, the carcass dangling from her talons before being deposited with her hungry children. It is good for them to watch the hunt, for soon they will be on their own. A mother's time is short.

Needing more than one rodent to satisfy her own hunger, she motioned to her young to stay silent and still. This was a crucial time for them, the urge to follow often greater than their ability to remain behind. Skittering in the dusty bales lurking in the corner brought her sensitive eyes to bear on the source. A mouse is no danger to her owlets, but a rat...

Sensors expanding, she scanned the darkest corners, the beams of moonlight brightening dust motes as they flitted in the breeze. Like fairies cavorting in spring flowers, bits of fine hay drifted through the slatted floor to dance out the twisted door. There! The tiniest shift of a shadow and her target was gone, black on black, hiding in the depths of long-cut clover.

Settling back on her feet, the owl plumped up her feathers, encouraging the air to cool her skin and dry the raindrops from her head. This barn would not be shelter for much longer, the elements deteriorating the structure in minute ways as all things must. Soon she would be forced to find a new home, many miles from here, for no such building stood within her range. Her owlets would do the same, winging out over the land to seek their own place, create their own legacy.

A peep swung her head back to her little brood, a pair of eyes staring at her through the dark of night. The tired owl sent a hoot to calm the youngster, alerting the rat in the haymow. A sigh dropped from her beak. No easy meal tonight.

She returned to the nest, blanketing her little ones from the rain beginning to drip in through the broken shingles. The last star disappeared behind the encroaching clouds, leaving only a sliver of moon to light the night.

Short Story

About the author

Lisa VanGalen

I am a panster by nature, discovering my characters as they reveal themselves. To date, my novel writing has involved the paranormal or magick within a more familiar setting, blending it with mysteries, police procedurals, or thrillers.

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