The Barn Owl rested upon his perch, scanning the street below.
Somewhere, just having gotten off of work, a man would be arriving on the I85 Bus from West Elm.
Absentmindedly, the Barn Owl grabbed a handful of popcorn from the bag to his right, picking at it until his palm was empty. Then, after a quick wipe-down on his black sweatpants, he retrieved his binoculars from the bag, and pressed them against his face.
No sign of the man.
A woman walking her great dane, a pedestrian sitting on the bus-stop bench, an extremely sweaty jogger wearing a tight tank top and tighter shorts.
But no man.
The Barn Owl, creature of the night, moved his binoculars from his face, and looked down at his wrist-watch.
Two minutes after the man’s bus was scheduled to arrive.
Sometimes the bus ran late. The Barn Owl knew this. It didn’t stop him, however, from stress-eating a second handful of popcorn. And a third. When he reached for a fourth, he realized the bag was empty. Nothing but kernels.
The Barn Owl whispered an obscenity under his breath, wiping his face with the back of his hand.
Suddenly, from somewhere down below, came the sound of weathered brakes screeching to a halt. The Barn Owl quickly reached for his binoculars, focusing on the flashing lights above the bus’ windshield.
The Barn Owl couldn’t tear his eyes from the bus doors. Out walked a woman with a small child, an older gentleman with a cane, and…
And there he was.
The man stepped off the bus, briefcase in hand.
It was the first time the Barn Owl had seen the man in months.
He hadn’t changed. At least, not really.
Perhaps a different haircut? Less facial hair?
It didn’t matter. The Barn Owl could still see the strong resemblance between himself and the man. That much remained true.
The man made his way past the bus stop as the Barn Owl frantically gathered his belongings. He had been sitting on a nearby rooftop, which gave him a clear view of the street. Over the past months of stake-outs, the Barn Owl had collected a folding chair, water bottles, and snack bags.
Things to make the time go by faster.
In an effort to hurry, he threw his folding chair behind a vent, and picked up his bag. The Barn Owl moved to the edge of the building, climbing down the fire escape, holding his bag tightly to his side. The man wasn’t too far ahead. He had a continual step-- a step that didn’t lag. The Barn Owl attempted to mimic the walk. If he stepped down when the man stepped down, he wouldn’t be detected.
The man walked four blocks from the bus stop before making a dull right. They had arrived on a street lined with trees and condos, big front yards and a mailbox in front of each house. The Barn Owl already knew where they were going. Five houses down on the left-hand side.
He followed the man nearly to his front door, but veered off into the shrubbery before he could reach the walkway.
He moved on his toes, careful not to make any noise.
As the man made his way up the steps, the Barn Owl moved like a whisper through the bushes. The house was lit up like a Christmas tree, allowing any passers-by to see straight through the windows. Through the largest, the Barn Owl could see a mother with her two children, setting the dining room table. They were all… smiling.
The Barn Owl… frowned.
When the man came into the room, the family rejoiced, giving hugs all around. Kisses on the tops of heads. Sentimental looks into each other’s eyes.
They all looked so… happy. So content. So loving of one another, without a care in the world.
It had always been like this.
Ever since the Barn Owl first tracked the man down, nothing had changed.
The man’s new family loved him, and he loved his new family.
The Barn Owl watched them through their entire dinner, bite by excruciating bite. They spoke to one another, laughing, smiling, gesturing with their utensils to make their points. He watched the man specifically, experiencing his smile from afar-- remembering that he never used to smile like that.
Not like that.
Dinner felt like an eternity, but soon enough, the new family left the room, turning off the light behind them.
The Barn Owl made his way closer, inches from the window.
There he stood, staring at his reflection in the glass.
Brown eyes, slowly turning red around the edges.
Nothing worth remembering.
Just an average twelve-year-old boy.
He didn’t remember most of the walk home. Only that his bag grew heavier with each step, along with an invasive stream of thought.
“You can’t keep crying. You can’t let her see you crying.”
So he wiped the snot and tears from his face, walking until he reached a small a-frame with a bright red door. With a deep breath, he gripped the door-handle, and stepped across the threshold.
The living room was empty and dark, but he could smell something coming from the kitchen. Without putting his bag down or taking off his shoes, he meandered into the other room, looking for the cause of the smell.
In the kitchen stood a woman leaning over the stove, hair pulled back into a tight braid. She didn’t turn around when the Barn Owl stepped into the room.
“I was wondering when you were going to be home,” she mused. Between thumb and pointer finger, she picked up a wooden spoon, and dipped it halfway into a big pot on the stove.
The Barn Owl shuffled his feet, digging one toe into the tile below.
“How was Mark’s house?” his mother asked, ladling a spoonful of soup into a bowl.
The Barn Owl shrugged, pulling his bag further up onto his shoulder.
It was at this point that his mother finally turned around.
“Little quiet there, sport,” she continued. “Something wrong?”
The Barn Owl shook his head.
His mother simply raised an eyebrow, holding her ladle mid-air. “Well, I made pozole,” she finally said. “Go wash up and I’ll get you a bowl.”
The Barn Owl turned back around and made his way down the hall. Two doors down and to the left, he twisted the handle, and stepped inside.
Soon he was surrounded by dark blue walls, a bed with two pillows, a desk, and a dresser. He slung his bag down onto the floor, no longer careful with its contents. He didn’t really care. Not anymore.
Slowly, he approached the desk, taking a deep breath… then exhaling.
Upon his desk sat a small, white stuffed animal. The toy’s beak and talons were made of a different material than the rest of it-- some sort of faux leather. Underneath one talon sat a postcard full of “Animal Friend Fun Facts”.
The Barn Owl picked up the postcard, looking over it for perhaps the twentieth time.
“Barn owls live in an area called their “Home Range”. Unlike other predators, their Home Range is not referred to as a territory, because barn owls do not defend the area. They use their Home Range for breeding, roosting, and hunting. Once the barn owl has found its Home Range, it remains there for the rest of its life. It will not leave its Home Range, because the barn owl forms relationships with others of its kind, therefore making it fiercely loyal.”
Underneath the paragraph, in chicken scratch printing, were seven words.
“Thought you might find this interesting.
For a split second, he thought about ripping the postcard in half.
Into a million pieces.
Ripping the head off the stuffed animal and allowing stuffing to erupt into the air.
But he didn’t.
Instead, he grabbed both the postcard and the stuffed animal, holding them to his chest. For a while, he sat on his bed, eyes welling up.
The Barn Owl will not leave its Home Range, because it forms relationships with others of its kind, therefore making it fiercely loyal.
The Barn Owl stood up on his sheets, crinkling them beneath his toes. With the postcard and stuffed animal-- one in each hand-- he jumped up.
He came flying back down, rattling the bed frame.
He jumped higher on the bed, tears streaming down his cheeks.
The Barn Owl wanted to be up in the air, stretching his arms and his legs, holding on to the gifts his father had given him.
Up there, nothing was broken.
He could picture it from years back-- his father with him in the woods, holding one of his hands, pointing up at a tree.
“You see that, sport?” his father had asked.
In the tree sat a small white owl, eyes glowing green in the moonlight.
“He’s like a night vigilante, sneaking up on his prey,” said his father. “He’s very quiet, so no one can hear him. He’s quick too, so his prey doesn’t have time to escape.”
The Barn Owl jumped for a final time, pausing mid-flight.
Up there, nothing could touch him.