The Barn Owl
Lost and Found
It had been a long drive. I was starting to doubt we’d ever get there and I had to pee again.
“Dad, how far are we?” I asked. I didn’t want to bother him again by asking to pull over to pee. But I had to pee. I peed a lot. Dad even took me to the doctor when I was seven because he was worried; the doctor said I was fine. That bodies were different. As I got older, dad started to worry some other genetic abnormalities would be passed down to me. I really wished dad could have remembered that bodies were different. Some bodies survive differently.
We drove for another fifteen minutes before I finally asked dad to pull over at a rest stop. He told me, “Sorry, kid, we just drove past the closest five minutes ago.” If I had only asked five minutes earlier. “I need to go badly, dad.” I pleaded, and then my heart dropped when I read the sign with “Rest Stop 15 Miles” in huge, white lettering. I needed to go then and there. “Dad, I really, really need to go,” I asked again after another three minutes.
Dad didn’t answer; instead he started looking in the back seat. I knew what he was looking for, but I didn’t want to. It was so gross. After realizing there were no bottles left from our fast food pit stop, dad finally pulled over to the side of the road.
“Go ahead,” he said, taking off the child lock as the door next to me slid open. I felt the freezing air touch my face, my cheeks, my curly hair, and it only made my need to pee more. I started to feel a drop or two trickle through my underwear.
I walked out the car, the wet cold air welcoming me like a jagged knife; I had always hated the cold. No amount of blue parkas or winter trips through that forest could ever change that. I hurried, trying to not get too far away from the car. I always had this fear dad would drive away and leave me there stranded. Stranded and alone in the cold.
I hurried and found a tree, the rustling caused by the cold wind giving the air an eeriness. I pulled down my zipper but I couldn’t pee right away, even when there was no one in sight. Dad was in the car, and I knew he wouldn’t turn to look anyway; mom was in her own world, like she had for weeks now, and there were no other cars in the highway. It was just me and the rustling of the cold wind. The eerie cold wind.
I couldn’t start, and my dad’s honking only made it that much harder to start. He was in a hurry, like always. I couldn’t, a fear came over me. I feared someone was watching and that was what my brain was thinking so I couldn’t let it out. Again, I heard honking from my dad’s car. Finally, after a whole minute, it started to trickle. Finally, relieve. I was fifteen seconds into it when I heard a sound. It wasn’t my imagination, like all those nights back home. It was swift, behind me, causing me to turn my head. Nothing. I kept looking behind me as the trickling died down. Nothing at all. Dad honked one last before I pulled up my zipper and ran back to the car.
“Everything ok, buddy?” dad asked as I got back inside. I just nodded and let him get back on his way. We still had another hour, if my memory served me right. We had been there once a year since I was three, but had missed the year before. That was the year grandma died and it seemed pointless to visit the cabin without her there to greet us. I never understood why we didn’t go more often when she was alive. Mom had gone through one of these episodes. Dad thought seeing her mother might help mom. I never understood why as mom never spoke of grandma when she was ok. But dad was right, the trip worked. Mom was talking again by the end of the trip. But this time the emotional toll might be greater. This time there was no grandma to greet us.
I didn’t quite understand why it hit her so hard. Billy was only around for five days. He had only been inside mom for six months. He came early so I wasn’t surprised at all he left early. I, on the other hand, came week late so I was more than ready to stay in the world for as long as possible. Sometimes, I felt my mother wished it had been the other way around.
We pulled up to grandma’s cabin past seven. It was dark but surprisingly not as cold as when we pulled up on the road. Dad immediately went over to mother’s side of the car and helped her out; she followed his lead but didn’t say anything as he led us into the cabin. He had to scramble through his pant pockets to find the key, and when he didn’t, he went back to the car to search. Dad was always so absentminded. So absentminded of the strained relationship mom and I had. I looked down at her hand. She held it out, wrinkly and bony, but I didn’t reach for it. I was afraid. Mother scared me a lot. She scared me a lot since Billy died.
Dad came back and opened the door. Suddenly, the same cold from the road hit us all in the faces. It was dark, and damp, and unwelcoming. I wanted to snatch dad’s car keys and run back to the car. But he turned on the light switch to his left. The room became illuminated as I walked in; two couches; two red couches. I could see the kitchen.
“Let me turn on the heat,” dad said as he walked in while mom and I just stood behind him. My mother next to me. Dad was so into finding the central heating system that he didn’t bother to lead mom in. I couldn’t; I wanted to but I remembered how she reacted the last time I touched her. I was scared of my mother.
“Phil, come in, you’re going to get sick standing there,” dad said as he came back into the living room from the hallway. He looked at me; his eyes gentle behind his glasses. Dad was gentle. Too gentle. I always wished mother had shared his gentleness. After a second of standing there, my mother started to walk in. She made her way, lifelessly, coldly, towards dad and turned the corner into the same dark halfway he had just walked out of. He looked at her, as she walked through the darkness; he wasn’t scared. Neither was I. Any other twelve-year old would have been; but she had done the exact same walk, gone down the exact same trail the last time we were there. She walked back into her childhood bedroom. I heard the door slam behind her. Dad looked at me, and for the first time since we had gotten in his car and gotten on the road, he smiled and asked “Are you hungry?” I was starving.
Dad and I drove down to this little store off the road. It was only a fifteen-minute drive from the cabin. I knew why he had chosen to do this after getting to the cabin; dad also needed to get away from my mother. We parked behind this blue Volvo and walked into the store. It wasn’t as cold anymore. It hadn’t been as cold for fifteen-minutes and I wished with all my heart it could have stayed that way.
“Get whatever you want, I’d like to save us a trip back here tomorrow,” dad said as I made my way down the aisles. I reached for candy bars first. I loved candies but I loved that dad let me get them. Dad was very willingly to give into anyone’s demands. Luckily for him, mine usually consisted of letting me take mass amounts of candy bars home while at the check-out line. And then there were the times we went to the movies without mom. But I knew that he enjoyed giving into my demands more than mother’s or his boss. Both silent manipulators in their own accord.
I had four candy bars and two boxes of Hot Pockets in-hand when it hit me just like when we were in the car, at the most inopportune of times. “Why now!?!?!?!l” I thought. But again, I had to pee and wouldn’t be able to hold it in all the way back to the cabin. I found dad quickly; he had two frozen steaks, a bag of ice, and a bottle of Whiskey in-hand. Dad was absentminded in many regards, including getting a plastic basket when doing any type of lite shopping.
“Dad, I have to pee...” dad turned to me and sighed, but then walked to the cashier, so I assumed the man was also the owner since not another soul was inside that store. “You have a restroom,” dad asked as the cashier looked down at us both. He seemed unfazed and said “Out of order.” Dad then put down the frozen steak and bag of ice on the register and pulled out a $50 as if ready to pay, but he was just bribing him. The cashier pulled out the key with a chain and handed it to my dad without saying another word. I suddenly didn’t have to pee as badly. The whole transaction felt eerie. Dad handed me the key and said “Hurry up, I don’t want to leave your mom alone for too long...”
I knew what he meant. I didn’t want to remember what mother had done the last time we left her alone. I grabbed the key and hurried. I got inside and locked the door behind me. It was a surprisingly dirty bathroom. I expected it to be cleaner. There were no other people in that store. There were barely any people in those mountains. I couldn’t imagine that the owner was that dirty when using his own restroom.
Nevertheless, I hurried and stood over the toilet. Again, it took me awhile to get the stream started. But at least this time I didn’t feel watched. I just felt eerie. Everything about that store felt eerie. Everything since the drive up had felt eerie.
“You want anything else?” dad asked as I walked back to him and handed him the key. I nodded no and my dad proceeded to pay, telling the cashier to “keep the change.” Dad kept his end of the bargain for me being allowed to use the restroom.
It was a quiet drive back. Too quiet. I turned to look at dad, he had a peaceful but pensive look on his face. It’s the same face he had since Billy died. It’s the same face he had every time he was too far away from mom.
It was a little past nine by the time we returned. Dad parked and sat still, looking into the cabin. That same pensive look on his face; it’s like he didn’t want to see her either. We both knew this was a side of mother that was better left inside that cabin. If only we could grab her and leave it there. To never be seen again.
Dad walked out and made his way to the cabin. I stayed in the car for a second, dad didn’t take notice as he walked to the front door, a tired dragging of his body. He also didn’t want to return inside that cold, uninhabited cabin. After what felt like almost a minute of me sitting inside the warm vehicle, I placed my hand on the cold, metal knob and opened it, the cold touching my cheeks again. I was almost on my way to follow my dad when I saw it for the first time since arriving, since the trip began: a barn owl. It was white, had huge, dark brown eyes, and streak of brown on its otherwise white body. It looked at me, directly at me; emotionless, detached: intent. I looked at without any concept of time before finally getting out of the car.
“Molly,” I heard dad’s voice as he called out to mom. I knew something was off I just had no idea what it was. I walked through the front door, and the cold suddenly took over, but it wasn’t due to the drastic change in weather; it was the emptiness of the room: dad was gone.
“Dad,” I called out. I couldn’t find him. I had seen him walk in. Where did he go? I walked through the cold living room and through the hall; the hall that both he and my mother had been through and I yet, not since our last visit; I was seven then. It was dark but not entirely unlit; there was a light coming from the restroom. I opened it: emptiness. I made my way down to the first room to the right of the hallway, the one dad and mom usually slept in: emptiness. There was a bed with a red comforter, a vintage, brown lamp and a damp-smelling rug; but otherwise nothing but emptiness looked at me. I made my way to the next room. The one I always slept in when we visited. I was hesitant. The room scared me. I was scared me for so many reasons. It scared me for reasons I had blocked out since out last trip. I moved slower. And slower. I remembered what I last saw in there; it wasn’t white and its eyes were much darker than those of the barn owl I had just met.
I put my hand on the knob, feeling its cold metal perturb my palm. After a second of feeling the cold sweat running down my palm, I started to turn it. Slowly. Hesitantly. I turned it until the door started to move inward, luring me into the darkness, the coldness, the combination of both those terrible abysses. I stopped and stared into the darkness. Was mother in there? Was dad? Were they both? Were they waiting for me to join them? Was someone else waiting for me?
Was that familiar but terrifying face waiting as well. Those darker than brown eyes. I made my way inside, looking around but only feeling coldness and seeing darkness. My feet knew exactly what direction to move in. I moved until my knees met with the nightstand next to the bed. My hands felt up the body of the ceramic lamp until I managed to turn it on. It flickered faintly but enough to illuminate the room: emptiness. Emptiness.
I quickly made my way out and checked the last room left to check: the kitchen. This room scared me too but not as much as the last two. I had also seen the creature there during my last visit; not white and with eyes much darker than a dark brown. It was easier to navigate this room and much easier to find the switch that provided it with light. It too was empty aside from a pulled out chair by the kitchen table. Mom had been sitting; her soapy scent was still lingering on it, lingering in the room; lingering onto my fears.
A new fear took over: both my parents were gone. They were gone and I was alone. Where could they have gone? I thought this over and over again for what felt like an hour but was probably only a few minutes. Tears had formed and dried in my eyes during that time. Tears that reminded me of mom’s sea of tears when Teddy died; Teddy came and left before Billy.
“Dad,” I called out one more time before making my way back to his car. I walked up to the passenger seat door and tried to open it, but the cold steel wouldn’t budge. I tried again. Nothing. I had locked myself out. Cold. Empty. I was stuck in the cold and empty front of grandma’s cabin. No grandma. No mother. No dad. Just me. Me and that barn owl. It was still there. Observing me in the cold and emptiness of my mind as I scrambled for an answer. I had left my phone in the car. I didn’t see another cabin anywhere near me. And I was certain I’d get lost and freeze to death if I tried to explore. I had one and only one option: go back inside. At least the cold and emptiness of the cabin wouldn’t kill me.
An hour went by as I sat in the living room; the light was my only company. I closed the door because the cold was stronger than my hope that dad would walk back through that door. Just dad. I sat and looked at the furniture, which hadn’t changed all that much since grandma died; a wooden coffee table, a pink ceramic lamp, three coasters, and that red rug. No T.V. Grandma hated T.V.
I sat for another hour before finally deciding I had to do something. What could I do? I was sitting there, alone. I would certainly get lost if I walked outside, certainly freeze to death. Than it hit me. Death. They had both disappeared into that coldness. Left behind the emptiness of the cabin to meet with...death. Were they going to follow the footsteps of Billy, Teddy, and grandma…
I hesitated for another three minutes. Then stood up. I started walking to the front door; the door leading back to the wet coldness. It hadn’t even occurred that there was no way they left that cottage without me seeing them. There was only one door and I hadn’t seen dad exit, unless...unless he had done it while I was looking at that barn owl; that barn owl and its white body with brown streaks. Maybe then did dad slip away. Maybe mother, too.
I hesitated and finally stood up, the floor creaking as more of my one-hundred and five pounds fell on it. I started making my way to the front door, the cold steel of the door knob meeting my palm. I hesitated for a second, maybe less than that, and started twisting the knob. The door opened and I made my way out, the snow trespassing into my shoes; just like I was trespassing into that forest I knew nothing of. I walked slowly, turning to take a look at that red van. It was the most familiar thing left for me. But I had to find my family.
The cold didn’t bother too much at first; that safety only lasted for about ten minutes before the frigidness hit me; it was cold and that forest had an emptiness that only intensified the coldness. I walked, the snow trespassing further, wetting my socks. I couldn’t let that bother me too much. I had to keep moving. I had to find dad. I had to find my mother. I had to find them, even if I only wanted to find one of them.
I stopped at a tree after walking for an unknown amount of time. At least the snow hadn’t intensified, but my cold had as every breath I took made foggy spirals that quickly drifted above my eyes and up into the sky. Much like Teddy did. And Billy after him. Maybe my mother had joined them like she had wanted to for so long. Maybe dad did despite wanting to stay with me, his one and only living son. Maybe I would join them soon despite wanting nothing less in my short, twelve-year life.
I didn’t know whether it was the wind or my fear playing tricks on me, but I heard them: footsteps. Rustling footsteps. I didn’t move right away because I was scared. Scared of the cold, of the unseen, and what I might see the moment I started moving in the direction of the footsteps. But after a minute or two, maybe three, I had no accurate idea how fast time was moving, I moved. I moved in the direction of the rustling footsteps, more snow trespassing into my shoes. Wetting my socks more. The cold wetness only added to my fear, but I had to keep going even as each breath formed more foggy spirals that now beat my cheeks instead of going up into the sky. But I wasn’t going to let the wet coldness or any of its elements stop me. I had to keep going for dad. For the chance to get out of the cold. Get out of the emptiness that accompanied that cold unknown forest, that cabin. The emptiness behind those dark brown eyes of that barn owl.
I couldn’t escape it for too long, I felt its wings flap over my head as it soared above and stopped on one of the many tree trunks I hadn’t taken notice of. It was following me. What did it want from me? I was a scared, 5’4, one-hundred and five pound twelve-year old. It could have followed anyone else. There had to be others creatures in that forest, others worth following. But it was fixated on me. Just like that other creature I had seen in the room inside the cottage all the years ago. They both shared a darkness. Except the barn owl was determined to continue its persecution. It wasn’t confined to the cottage. It wasn’t confined to the cold emptiness.
I continued, my steps getting heavier as my socks got wetter and my lungs started to burn, I slowed down and finally stopped again after three minutes, probably longer. I stopped and gasped for air. More foggy spirals exiting my mouth and going up into the sky. I didn’t dare look above me, but I was almost sure the spirals had made a connection with the barn owl’s dark-brown eyes. A connection I refused to repeat myself.
I continued. And continued. And continued until I saw something unexpected: the road. The road that looked all too familiar. It was the same road we had taken to get to the convenience store; the same store dad and I had visited only a few hours back. I was about to walk into the store, my hand almost on the entrance’s metal handle when it hit me, quite literally. It plucked away at my shoulder, then dug its claws into it. It didn’t penetrate my skin, but it was a firm grasp. So firm it started pulling me away from the door. I couldn’t believe its force. It was starting to drag me away. I fought. But couldn’t as I felt my wet sneakers dragging on the snow. Dragging. Dragging backward. But then, they started dragging forward as a long arm reached to grab mine. He grabbed each of my stubby, long fingers and finally won that battle against the barn owl. I was back inside that convenience store.
It was warm inside. That’s all I could think about; warmth. Not dad. Not my mother. Not that barn owl. Warmth. Just warmth, I stood frozen. Letting the warmth and smell of nicotine thaw me. The man just looked at me, like the first time—except this time the look was more intense—more threatening. I felt it. The eyes of the creature that I had seen in that room during my last visit to grandma’s cabin. He shared the same eyes at the barn owl. They both shared the look of death.
“Can I use your restroom?” I asked. The man said nothing; he just looked at me as he walked back to the register, grabbed the chain with the key on it, and pointed to where the restroom was, in case I had forgotten in the two hours. I just needed the cue allowing me access without worrying about him following me—attacking me for trespassing. I walked in and peed. The stream trickled out of me quickly this time; it was a heavy pee that lasted for at least a minute and a half. I stood there. Realizing my ugly reality. I didn’t know where my mother was. I didn’t know where dad was. Dad, who had been in that store a few hours back. Then I felt them; heavy; warm; warmer than the air of that store the moment I walked in after enduring the cold
I wiped the tears after letting them run for a few minutes. I looked at my sore eyes, a combination of the cold wind and the three minutes of crying. I washed my hands and let the water run for a few minutes, because listening to the water run drowned out my fear. My fear of walking back to that store and back to face that man. That man with a darkness in his eyes that reminded me of that other dark creature; a creature darker than the barn owl.
I walked out and started walking down one of the narrow aisles, the same one I had picked up the candy from; it was small and suffocating and no longer promised sweet joy. I looked at him; the man with those dark eyes. Those eyes that filled the entire room with fear and darkness. A fear and darkness a twelve-year old boy should never have to feel. I was almost out of the narrow hallway when I stopped myself. Something stopped me. An invisible pulling, one that I had felt only minutes prior from that creature as it tried to stop me from reentering that store. I didn’t fight it this time; instead, I turned around and saw another room. One I hadn’t given a second thought my first nor second pass through the store as I walked towards the bathroom. I saw a door ajar, and a small light coming from inside. I slowly made my way, each breath masking my every step, expecting that man to be listening to my every step. Waiting to stop me. To strike me.
I touched it, the door, wooden, painted white, the whitest thing in the hallway. The whitest thing in that store; the door creaked as I walked in. I saw it again. I almost jumped back. But it was there. In a cage as its dark eyes looked into mine. It wasn’t the barn owl. It was the other creature. The creature with eyes darker than brown.
I couldn’t stop myself. My fear was weaker than the invisible pull leading my inside. I walked closer. Closer. I was walking closer to the cage. I never thought that’s how we’d meet again. Why was this dark creature with much darker eyes than brown be there? It looked at me with the same stare. It wanted something from me. It wanted me to set it free.
I was pulled closer, the invisible force dominated my every step. I touched the cage, the skinny rails to the brown, rusty cage felt cold as well. It was a cold jail. Conflicting feelings took over. I was still scared of the creature of darkness, like the first time I had seen it during my last visit, but…I wanted to set it free. I reached for the latch. My fingers could almost touch it and its cold feel when I felt another pull, the same pull that had won the battle with the barn owl minutes back.
“What are you doing in here?” asked the man as he looked down at me, a rage overpowering every vein on his face and every white hue in his eyes. I couldn’t speak. The words were stuck in my throat. All I could do was walk back as he walked closer. I hit the cage and felt the lock; my back rubbed against it and suddenly I felt a squawking sound that was shrill and demanded to be set free. It started pecking away at my shoulder; the sharp pain radiated through it. He got closer, an inch away from me. He looked down at me. The creature kept poking, clawing, and squawking. I was trapped no matter what direction I went.
I felt them give out: my knees couldn’t sustain everything going on inside of me as I collapsed. That man now a giant more threatening than most things I had seen in my twelve years of life. I did what any young boy would do when faced with certain annihilation; I covered my eyes. Nothing. I stayed down, unwilling to look up. Nothing. Until.
I heard his gruff, loud screaming and the squawking. “You son of a bitch!” I heard him, but refused to take my arms off my head. I couldn’t. I had no idea what was going on aside from his screaming as the man continued repeating that phrase and then would alternate between it and other vulgarities I had only ever heard my mother say during her episodes. I couldn’t bring myself to look. After what felt like an eternity, the screaming and squawking died down. And the sound ended altogether.
I removed my hands from my head, and started to unfold from the kneeling position I was in. Slowly, very slowly, I started reopening my eyes…and immediately wished I hadn’t. It was the ugliest sight I had ever seen: blood. Blood was running down the man’s eyes. Blood had taken the place of where his eyes were once in. I had only gotten a glimpse of something similar when I walked in on dad watching The Birds, and even then he immediately changed the channel. I couldn’t change this channel. I was living out my own horror tale.
Another invisible force took control and got me on my feet. I started running, towards the ajar door. I was back in the store, in the same candy bar aisle I walked through minutes before and during my first visit with dad. I ran past it and ran until I reached the entrance. I opened the door, the wet coldness welcomed me with the same frigidness as it had every other time. I didn’t care. I kept running. I had to keep running.
I ran in the direction of grandma’s cabin for what felt like countless minutes until I stopped to catch my breath. I stopped. And then I couldn’t. I felt them coming. The water works were at work. I hated it. I hated crying. I rarely cried and when I did I made sure it was in my room away from everyone. I didn’t even cry when grandma died, more than a few minutes after the news, that is. I cried even less when I found out Teddy had died before being born. The same with Billy and I actually looked forward to his birth. I wasn’t a crier. But the tears just wouldn’t stop. It didn’t matter, because the moment one came out, it would immediately freeze onto my cheek before the next came out and the cycle continued. I was beginning to feel like part of the wet coldness overseeing my living horror.
Out, Out, Out! I needed to find a way out, I thought after regaining my will to run. I ran. Ran towards grandma’s cabin. I had no idea what direction it was in, but I kept on running hoping that sooner than later I’d reach it. I’d have to eventually. Or I’d freeze to death. Regardless, I’d find my escape soon.
I ran for more countless minutes and then I stopped. I felt it. The barn owl. Behind me. I didn’t have to turn around. It knew to tell the difference between the barn owl and the creature of darkness. I started running again, running, running away from it and with no clear sense of direction. I had to keep running. I had to run from the barn owl that had no good intentions for me, either. I ran. I ran. I ran and felt the wet coldness winning the battle. I felt it, it grabbed me from my shoulder, digging its claws into my green sweater jacket. I tried fighting it to no avail; it was stronger. It would always be stronger. I finally let it take control of me. I let it drag me as my feet dragged through the snow, my feet becoming numb to the wet cold of the snow. It dragged me. It dragged me. It dragged me and soon enough I was no longer scared. It let it do so. I let it take me. I was done fighting against it. Maybe it would take me to find dad.
For another countless minutes it dragged me across the snow, I could no longer tell how wet or cold I was. Finally, it stopped. Right in front of the cabin. It had taken me back to the cabin. Dad’s car was still there. The front door was still open. The barn owl set me free. I stood in front of that cabin, adjacent to it and the barn owl. I started making me way towards the front door, slowly. I always walked towards that door very slowly. Every visit.
“Dad.” My voice felt hoarse from the screaming in the cold. I walked and looked around; it was just as empty as when I had left. I walked towards the kitchen, the light was still on. “Dad,” I called out again. It was pointless. Dad wasn’t going to answer. Then, I felt it again. The urge to turn. It was back. It wasn’t the barn owl, but it was back. It had followed us from that convenience store. It looked at me as I turned around; the creature’s much darker than brown eyes looking into mine; burning into me. This time it gave me a look of death. The creature of darkness wanted a second death.
I started backing away again. I didn’t know what else to do. I was trapped again. I backed away. More. Closer. The creature of darkness got closer. I was ready to kneel and cover myself again when I saw it: the barn owl. It came face-to-face with the creature. Light versus darkness. The barn owl met the creature of darkness. A second death was inevitable.
The barn owl aimed for the creature’s beak, a pointless move. The creature was out for death and it was going to be the one delivering. The creature proceeded to attack the barn owl’s eyes: more blood. The barn owl squealed in pain, the creature looked satisfied. Its darker than brown eyes widen as it continued to peck away: more blood. I was scared, terrified, but couldn’t move. The barn owl tried defending itself, flapping its white wings, but it was pointless. The creature of darkness was bent on death. It clawed at the barn owl’s face next. More blood.
I couldn’t move; I couldn’t help the barn owl even when it had helped me. The barn owl was determined to not go down without a fight, so it did the only thing that seemed like it would help him prevail; it struck the creature of darkness in the face. Nothing. The creature of darkness could not be broken by anything. It delivered its final, deathly blow and struck the barn owl’s neck. More blood. Blood gushing everywhere. It was a red mural. All over my grandma’s kitchen table. All over the walls. All over the entire cold room. A room now wet with blood.
The barn owl fell, its eyes wide open, full of fear. It feared death. It looked at me. I looked at it and couldn’t look away. It reminded me of when we brought Billy home; he actually got to visit for a few weeks, unlike Teddy. Billy was a round, defenseless, little ball of blubber. Mother loved him even when he was only with us for a few weeks. She loved him more than me.
The barn owl started crawling towards me. I was frozen. I couldn’t move. I wasn’t scared. I was scared for the first time since arriving at grandma’s cabin. It moved closer. Closer. Its eyes looking into mine. Fear; it didn’t want to die. And I didn’t want it to. I kneeled and reached out, touching its head. Petting it slowly. Its breathing slowed. Everything slowed for it until it stopped breathing altogether. I didn’t stop petting it. I couldn’t. I knew it had stop breathing but I couldn’t stop feeling it. Just like Billy.
They came out of nowhere and for no reason: tears. Tears flowed down my cheeks. I was crying for the barn owl. I had done nothing to save its life. I hadn’t tried to stop the creature of darkness. This is the way I repaid the barn owl for saving my life.
The barn owl took a different shape. Auburn, greying hair; an olive skin tone, and a rigged nose took over its white shape. Its eyes turned an auburn tinge; mirroring mine. His lips were thin and slightly chapped, mirroring mine. And its eyes were filled with fear, sadness, and tears; mirroring mine. The barn owl took the shape of my dad.
The creature of darkness also changed form; its black body turned into a slender figure. Its two, stick-thin legs stretched-out. Its black face took a pale, almost sallow tinge. Its eyes, they were wide open and wide with anger, anger fueled by my sheer existence. My mother was tired of my existence. She walked closer. Closer, like the day Billy left our world. She had the same look, she blamed me. But this wasn’t my fault. Neither deaths were my fault. She had killed dad and she, deep down, blamed herself for Billy and Teddy’s death though she had no control over her autonomy. She moved closed, the sharpness of the beak now the sharpness of a kitchen knife. She moved closer to me. It was just the two of us. She was set on sending us to join the rest of our family in the darkness. The wet cold of the afterlife. She was ready. She had been ready. Since Billy left, since grandma left, since Teddy left. She was ready to meet death.
Was I? I thought as I moved backwards. I wasn’t controlling my footsteps; it was compulsory. A compulsory backwardness to survive. That answered my question. I looked up at my mother. Her eyes wide with emptiness; all life had left them. The only life left was inside me and she was dead bent on killing it.
I moved until I couldn’t anymore. This time I hit the wall of another cage. The kitchen was another cage. One serving as an audience to the death of my family: I was the last performer. My mother looked down at me, just like the owner of the convenience store. The man she had put an end to when dad and I went looking for her. He was her victim as well. Dad tried to restrain her but couldn’t. There was no restraining my mother in her thirst for death. She had been surrounded by so much death that it was her only means for survival. She ran towards anything that promoted it, and she would kill anything that kept her from it. Dad did exactly that in shielding me from her. Time after time. Dad died as punishment.
I continued looking up at her. She looked down at me, the knife was all left for her to hang onto. She let go of everything else. She had let go of every sentimental attachment and any attachment to sanity, the latter decline started the day Teddy died. I looked into her eyes and begged, one last time. I had begged for her love to me for so long, for her to love me as much as Teddy and Billy. Love me, even if just for existing by her side. This was my final attempt. My final appeal to a heart that had become frozen long before we started our descent into the wet coldness of that cabin. She dropped it. I felt it fall on my foot. Heavy and wet, a wet coldness that was sharp as its blade. Mom just looked, looked into my eyes. She was gone forever.
But I had to make sure. It was compulsory; I reached for the knife, its wet coldness meeting my skin; a feeling that made me sick to my stomach. Nothing stopped me. Not a single memory with my mother or any moment where love had been a mutual feeling between us. Nothing stopped me as I dug, I dug into her stomach. I dug the way the doctors had when they dragged out Teddy’s body. I dug the way Billy’s small grave had been dug. I had the way so many graves had been dug before my mother’s eyes. I felt the wet cold splatter from her stomach and splatter across my twelve-year old face. It stung as it entered one of my eyes. My fingers trembled, but they didn’t let go. I dug deeper, the wet coldness was covering not only my hands, face, and eyes, but the entire wooden floor. Blood was leaving my mother’s body like it did my dad’s, and the convenience store owner, and the way it would have left me had I not act in compulsory.
Compulsory. Survival. Existence. I thought through the words I had recently memorized for a vocabulary quiz. I looked at my mother drop to her knees: face to face. She didn’t reach out like my dad; she just looked at me. Emptiness. Nothing but blood had left her body. Compulsory. Survival. Existence. These three words ran rampant in my head and my thoughts as I mustered the will to escape. I escaped through the cabin’s front door and didn’t stop to look at dad’s car. I needed to escape. I ran. I ran in the wet coldness. I needed to escape everything. I needed to escape my dad lifeless corpse. I needed to escape my mother’s own meeting with death. I needed to escape from my family’s pact with the afterlife. Death was their inevitable sentence.
I ran and ran. The wet coldness touching any naked skin on my body. My shoes were once again filled with the wet coldness as well. I could feel it. But it no longer scared me. It was too familiar now. I ran and ran and ran. The wet coldness followed wherever I ran. Irrelevant, I thought, remembering the only word I had missed on that vocabulary quiz. I thought and remembered everything that had felt remotely identical to the wet coldness of those moments. My few birthdays with my dad and mother and grandma, and the one before Teddy left our world, and the one after Billy entered it briefly. I thought about every vocabulary quiz. I thought about my mother looking into my eyes, without death. I thought and thought. Compulsory. Survival. Existence. The thoughts served as such as the wet coldness finally forced me to slow down. The wet coldness was no longer something I felt. It was just there. Like I was for my mother.
I slowed down. Ran and ran even less. The wet coldness of the wind caressed my face as I stopped. I kneeled, the way I had back in the convenience store, the way I had back in grandma’s cabin, the way I did when I prayed to an unseen God when Teddy, Billy, and grandma met him face to face. I Kneeled the way one does when there is no escape. I saw it. One last time. It was back. One last time. The barn owl. We were face to face. One last time.
It had returned to take me away from the clutches of the creature of darkness. The way it had my entire life.
About the Creator
Greetings! My name is Andrew Judeus. I am an LA-based writer with a passion for creating romantic narratives. Hopefully my daily wanderings into the land of happily ever after will shed some light into your life. Enjoy!
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Zero grammar & spelling mistakes
Expert insights and opinions
Arguments were carefully researched and presented
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
"The Barn Owl" is a well-crafted horror story that effectively creates a sense of unease and foreboding. The author skillfully builds tension through vivid descriptions and a slow reveal of the sinister nature of the barn owl. The unexpected twist at the end adds an extra layer of creepiness to the already eerie atmosphere. Overall, a chilling and enjoyable read for horror fans.
Scary fun, great work
good job man
Had to comment and say that owl looks great but back to reading 😄
Gosh. Brilliant! I feel like this should be a film. Really well written.
Very interesting well done!
This was a fantastic read! An absolute roller coaster really getting into the meat of the matter on guilt, grief, despair, and even the bleakest kind of hope still being hope. Excellent work!