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The Desert Owl

After the Storm

By JPPublished 3 years ago 9 min read

The Desert Owl

From generation to generation it will lie desolate;

no one will ever pass through it again.

The desert owl and screech owl will possess it.


The second winter after the Storm was difficult. The snows came in October. A bitter north wind soon followed. It was the cold that forced us to hide deeper into the mine, where the air was marginally warmer. We lost our poor Anna in February. She was only fourteen. Despair and not disease took my sweet daughter. She had longed for a life that had disappeared forever. I knew the truth, as did my husband, Thomas. Anna died because she no longer wanted to live. I am a medical doctor, and nothing I did could save her. God rest her soul.

A week after Anna passed away, the snows ended, and the winds veered to the south. It was a warmer, friendlier wind. The snows melted, and we buried our daughter. It was late April.

We all decided we needed to make a supply run. I needed to replenish our medical supplies; my eldest daughter Rebecca and her partner, Colin, wanted to visit Clunette to gather supplies. Colin said Clunette sat off the state highways, so there’s a good chance that the small town was never looted. Thomas agreed. He said that there were two ranches near there, and that they had to have shotguns and more importantly shotgun shells. “The canned food and dry goods will eventually run out. There’s plenty of mountain elk in the high country. We got to start thinking about when the dry goods run out.”

That’s what I love about my husband. He was always so practical. I handed him my own list of medical supplies. I told him to add birth control to the list. Clunette had to have had a pharmacy. Thomas turned a shade of red. He embarrassed easily. I gently scolded him. “Unless you want to be delivering babies next winter, I suggest you look for these.” I wrote down the three most common birth control pills that pharmacies had once carried.

They jumped into the old International Harvester four-by-four and sped off. I had decided to remain here. I intended to give the mine a good spring cleaning. It had been our home for the last two years. Trash needed to be thrown out, clothes needed to be washed and dried. My family would be gone for several hours, and I had much to do. I saw the truck in the distance. It kicked up dust, as it was five miles to the nearest paved road.

I took my first break around noon. I had spent the last three hours dumping trash. I filled up an old wheelbarrow with old tin cans, empty cardboard boxes, soiled towels, and empty plastic bottles. This old copper mine, which we all called home, was a dreary place. But it had saved our lives. Thomas, who often had hiked this area as a youth, remembered it when the Storm hit. The walls of the mine were solid bedrock laced with copper, and silver.

Just downslope from my refuse pit, was the decayed remains of an outbuilding. Thomas thought it was once the administration office for the mine. Further down slope, and near the base of the mountain sat foundation stones of a long-abandoned home. The stones formed a rectangle. Old dry rotted boards, as well as rusted junk, and a corroded pot belly stove sat inside. I stopped and rested here. The sky was an overcast dim layer of haze, behind which the sun brooded. Suddenly, the memories of The Storm flooded my mind.

Rebecca and Colin were visiting us from university. Colin, a British exchange student, was studying Meteorology. My daughter studied Agronomy. It was a very pleasant week. The only strange thing about the week, was the night skies. The Aurora Borealis lit up the West Texas nights. That was not altogether unusual. Yet, the intensity of the Northern Lights, the dancing images which constantly bounced about the skies, unnerved me. In hindsight, it was a warning. Colin assured us that this was nothing to worry about. “It’s just plasma energy from solar flares, charged particles high in the mesosphere.”

The Storm arrived the next morning. Our eleven-year-old son, Darren, was cutting the grass. I was about to offer him a bottle of water. Suddenly, my son went up into flames. My nostrils filled with the smell ozone and charred flesh. His flaming body danced in terror and pain. To this day, that vision haunts my dreams. Our neighbors' Cottonwood then exploded into flames. Two children riding their bikes down the street combusted. Thomas came running out of the house just as lightning bolts began hitting the ground. We were all in a state of shock. I cannot remember what happened next. My dear husband pulled me into the house. “We need to get Darren”, I screamed.

“He’s gone, sweetheart! He’s gone.” I never before saw Thomas like that. Tears ran from down his cheeks. He has always been such a strong man. But in that instant, he looked defeated.

The next several hours were a flurry of activity fueled by hysteria. Rebecca, Anna and Colin had somehow managed to run to our house from the shopping mall. None of the cars worked. The nearby substation had exploded into a fireball. All electronics, including our smart phones were dead. The lightning had abated, but earthquakes had followed. It was Thomas who found an inner strength. He became calm in a sea of panic. His old International Harvester sat in the garage. It was a project he had worked on for a year. He told everyone to pack an overnight bag and get in the truck. Unlike the other cars, it started. It was over forty years old, and it did not have a single microchip in it. We left just as our house exploded. We drove through earthquakes, lightening, and tornadoes. Large prairie fires raged in the fields. The dead lay everywhere. Six hours later we arrived at the copper mine in New Mexico.

Later, Colin explained to us what he thought had occurred. “I hate to be the bearer of unwelcome news, but what we’re seeing is a Corona Mass Ejection of biblical proportions. I think this is what is called an Extinction Event. The sun, for now, is out enemy.” Later, Thomas’ ancient short wave picked up reports of tsunamis, massive volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and floods. People were dying by the hundreds of millions. There were survivors. But Colin estimated that at least nine out of every ten had perished.

That was two years ago.

I clutched the ground as I wept, I just let the tears flow. I hyperventilated, and finally got control of my emotions. My fingers touched something solid in the ground. Buried under the dirt was a metallic object. My fingers clawed at the dirt and I pulled it to my face. It was a heart shaped locket. It was tarnished with age. I blew off the dust and looked at the back. Inscribed was a word, Lilit. I opened the locket and blew off more dust. A small scrap of folded paper fell out. I picked it up. But my gaze stayed focused on the locket and a small photo of a young woman.

The woman looked very pale. She had high cheekbones and a small forehead. He ebony hair fell to her shoulders. In typical Victorian fashion, her dress was buttoned to her neck. She was slim. She did not smile. But it was her eyes that attracted my attention. The woman could have been no older than eighteen. But her eyes were that of an older woman. They held no joy; but they possessed knowledge. They held dreadful secrets. Her eyes were that of a seducer. Or as my old grandmother would say, she had bedroom eyes. Looking into those eyes, it was as if she knew me. She knew my secrets, my sins. A shiver went up my spine, and I shut the locket. A sudden hot breeze hit my face.

I had forgotten about the note. I unfolded it and read the tiny writing.

Omnes qui ingrediuntur ad eam non revertentur,

nec apprehendent semitas vitæ

I returned the paper to the locket and walked back to the mine.

I managed to finish most of my tasks. By mid-afternoon, I stopped to eat. After my meal, I pulled the locket from my jeans and pulled out the paper. I refused to look at the photo. It gave me the creeps.

When we hurriedly left home two years ago, I made sure to pack my medical bag. Inside of the bag was a Latin dictionary, which I used as reference for arcane medical terminology. For the next hour I pieced together a translation:

None that go to her ever return; neither do they take the paths of life.

I thought that was a strange piece of verse to pack into a love locket. It certainly was not romantic. And why write it in Latin?

The others returned by five in the afternoon. They were excited, talkative, and afraid. Thomas was the first to speak to me. He said, “Olivia, pack your bags. We're leaving.”

Rebecca explained, “There’s something out there, Mom. None of us can say what it is. But she wants us to leave. She threatened us.” My daughter began to weep. I looked at them in confusion. Had they collectively lost their minds?

Thomas had tears in his eyes, “Honey. We saw them.”

I asked, “Saw who?”

“Darren, and Anne. Our children. They were with her. A young woman, a witch.”

"A witch?" He was unnerving me. They all were.

Thomas calmed down and said, “Fuck, I know I sound nuts. But our two children stood with her, holding her hands. I don’t know what I was looking at, but I do know she wants us gone.”

“Olivia, where did you get this?” I turned to Colin, whose face had turned as white as a sheet. He held the locket and the small piece of paper with the Latin verse and my attempt at translation. I said, “I found it this afternoon, down by the foundation stones. I was taking a break.”

Colin read the Latin aloud, and then said, “It’s a from Proverbs. You did a respectable job translating it. None that go to her return. Neither take they hold of the paths of life. My tutor at Oxford said the verse was a warning.”

Thomas asked, “A warning from what?”

Colin said, “A demon called Lilith.”

Rebecca looked at the photo inside the locket and screamed. “It’s her. It’s that woman.”

It took less than a half hour to pack up our truck. The old hysteria, the hysteria brought on by The Storm, had returned. Were we all suffering from collective hysteria? Lilith, demons, the ghost of our children? Have we all gone insane?

By sunset we had departed the copper mine. In the distant south giant thunderstorms raced east. The sunset was a brilliant red. In the distant west, stood the snow covered Rockies.

Thomas drove. “We’re heading south. As far south as this old truck will take us. I just want to get as far from here as possible. We should have left months ago.”

I looked at Rebecca, whose head rested against Colin’s shoulder. Colin smiled, “She will be okay. She had quite a shock.”

I looked down at my right hand. For reasons I will never know, I still clutched that heart shaped locket. It felt hot in my hand. I rolled down the window and tossed the locket into the darkness. I hoped no one would ever again find it. As we drove, I heard the screech of an owl as it took flight. I rolled-up the window and fell asleep.


About the Creator


I live and write somewhere in the US

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