The Magic of Owls

Submitted into Contest #97 in response to: Start your story with an unexpected knock on a window.... view prompt

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Fiction

THE MAGIC OF OWLS


Tap. Tap. Tap, tap, tap.


Bethany-Ann Pendergast looked over at her bedroom window. Her room was dark, shadows filling every corner. In the daylight, Bethany-Ann loved her bedroom, all pink and purple, filled with all the things she loved. But at night she found it a bit scary. The green power button on her laptop glowed like a Cyclopes’s eye. Her pile of stuffies in the corner looked like a monster crouching, waiting to leap out at her. The black and white keys of her keyboard gaped like a giant mouth biding its time until it could gobble her up. But, her brave heart told her that it was her imagination, and that evil and frightening things did not live in her bedroom. 


She should have been more frightened about the tapping, but she wasn’t. It was quite dark and quiet in the house and she was a bit scared, but she had her brave heart — that’s what her mom and dad always told her. She took a deep breath, and tried to stay calm — as calm as any nine-year-old can be when there’s something tapping at her bedroom window in the middle of the night.


Tap. Tap. Tap, tap, tap.


Bethany-Ann got up from her bed, and slowly walked towards the window. She couldn’t imagine what was waiting for her in the night. There was no tree outside her window hitting it the pane every time the breeze blew. Her father had cut that branch down two years ago. It couldn’t be a person. She was on the second floor, and there was no way to get to her window. Unless someone had a ladder. But why?


Bethany-Ann slowly pulled the curtains back, and peeked out her window into the night.


At first she didn’t see anything.  


Then she saw it. 


An owl.


Bethany-Ann was a smart little girl. She loved owls and knew all about them. She knew they hunted at night, catching mice, voles, and other small animals and birds. She knew they had three eyelids, and that they couldn’t move their eyes, only their head, so it looks like they are always staring at you. She knew a bunch of owls together was called a parliament, a fact she had learned from the book The Chronicles of Narnia, which was her favourite, by the way. And she knew that this owl sitting on her window ledge was a Great Horned Owl. She could tell by the tufted ears on its head, and its dramatic brown feathers.


But what Bethany-Ann didn’t know, was why there was an owl tapping at her window in the middle of the night.


She looked at the owl. The owl looked back at her. Neither moved.


Suddenly, without warning, the owl flapped its mighty wings and flew away into the night.


Bethany-Ann stood there, looking out her window, wondering why the owl had come to visit her, and where it had gone so abruptly.


The next day Bethany-Ann spent a great deal of time looking up information about owls. She was confused about what she read. Owls were feared, because they were seen as a harbinger of death. Owls were revered and respected as a protective spirit for warriors. Owls were used to scare the children, telling them that if they went out at night, an owl would carry them away. Owls were believed to be the source of ancient knowledge and wisdom. Owls were good and bad. But she didn’t know which one her owl was.


But, above all, Bethany-Ann wondered, What does my owl want from me?


That night, the owl returned.


Tap. Tap. Tap, tap, tap.


Bethany-Ann got up from her bed and again walked toward the window. She hadn’t been sleeping, not really. She’d been waiting to see if the owl returned. She slowly opened the drapes again. The owl was looking at her, its luminescent yellow eyes glowing in the dark, as it appraised her without blinking.


It turned its head over its back, and quickly plucked a long feather off of its wing. It carefully placed the feather on the windowsill in front of Bethany-Ann.


It repeated the action, plucking another of its long feathers. Looking at Bethany-Ann it dropped the feather off of the window ledge, to the ground. It then plucked another feather but held it in its beak as it flapped its winds and soared away. In the light of the waxing moon, Bethany-Ann could just make out that it had dropped the feather while in flight. 


She stood at the window and waited. When the bird did not return, she slid her bedroom window up just enough to grab the feather between her fingers and slide it back into her room.


The feather was a light brown colour, with swathes of dark brown running the width, like a tiger’s stripes. It was beautiful. Bethany-Ann rubbed it against her face. It was soft and downy on her cheek. She smiled at its touch. Bethany-Ann could not remember feeling anything so wonderful. As she climbed back into bed, she put the feather under her pillow, and fell asleep almost immediately.


The next morning, Bethany-Ann was the first one awake. Her sleep had been deep and dreamless. She awoke feeling better than she had for a long time. She quickly dressed, putting on jeans and her favourite blue t-shirt with the funny monkey on the front.


She made her breakfast — cereal and milk — and ate it, sitting alone at the kitchen table. Then she waited for her parents to wake up and come downstairs and start their day.


When her mother finally came downstairs, all bleary eyed and yawning, she stopped when she saw Bethany-Ann.


“Bethany-Ann,” she said, “Why are you up so early? Are you okay?”


“I’d like to go outside, and explore, and walk around.”


Her mother looked doubtful.


“Please, Mom. I won’t go far. I just feel like being outside today. I haven’t been outside for a long time. Please.”


Before her mother could answer, her father came downstairs, still in his pyjamas. He stopped scratching his beard when he saw Bethany-Ann. A smile spread across his face.


“Hey, Banana! What are you doing up so early?”


Bethany-Ann rolled her eyes at her father’s nickname for her, but she secretly loved it. No one else in the world could call her that, just her dad. And she loved her dad.


Her mom spoke before Bethany-Ann could answer.“She wants to go outside, and explore,” her mother said, worry lines painting her face.


“I won’t go far!” said Bethany-Ann. “I promise!”


Her dad looked from her mother to Bethany-Ann.


“How about this — ” he started, looking from Bethany-Ann to her mom “ — I go with you. That way we can explore together. I haven’t been exploring for a very long time.”


Bethany-Ann smiled. “I’d love that!”


Bethany-Ann’s mother sighed and a small smile appeared on her usually anxious face.


“Okay, Banana, I’ll go get ready. Why don’t you and Mom pack some snacks in case we get hungry.”


“For sure!”


When her father returned to the kitchen ten minutes later, Bethany-Ann and her mom had packed water, juice boxes (it was important to stay hydrated when exploring), protein bars for her dad, granola bars for Bethany-Ann, and cookies for them both. It was all in a backpack for her father to carry, even though Bethany-Ann was sure she was strong enough to carry it herself.


They headed out of the back door. Bethany-Ann walked over to the area below her window. There, lying in the grass, covered by dew, was the second owl feather. She rushed over to pick it up.


“Look Dad! A feather from a Great Horned Owl. It’s beautiful!”


“Wow! It sure is.” 


Bethany-Ann held the feather up so that the sun dappled through its fine downy length. Bethany-Ann knew that the delicate hairs on either side of the shaft were called barbs. The sun turned them a golden brown. The feather was the same as the one the owl had left on her window ledge during the night.


“Let’s go there,” said Bethany-Ann, pointing into the wooded area behind their house. She ran ahead, travelling the same way the owl had flown the night before.


“Hey, Bethany-Ann, slow down! I’m an old man, and you’re moving like the wind!” He pretended to hold his heart, and Bethany-Ann laughed. But secretly, he was happy to see his only child outside again, exploring the world.


On the grass just before the trees started, Bethany-Ann found another feather.


“Look! Another one!” 


She held it together with the first feather, making sure not to scrunch them and ruin the barbs.


As they entered the forest, the world around them muted and dimmed. They followed a game trail that wound deeper in the woods. The sun dappled the ground, blocked mostly by the canopy of trees, some reaching fifty or sixty feet into the air. They heard a blue jay’s plaintive song, the slow trill of a cardinal, and the incessant chatter of sparrows and nuthatches. They saw squirrels and chipmunks, scampering away at their approach.


Bethany-Ann looked around at the ground, and up into the trees.


“Whatcha looking for Banana?”


“An owl. Last night and the night before, an owl came to visit me in the middle of the night. The first night it tapped on my window until I opened my drapes, and there it was. Last night, it left me a feather just like these,” she said, holding up her treasure. “I watched it pluck two other feathers out of its wings, and drop them. I think it wanted me to find them.”


Her father didn’t know what to make of Bethany-Ann’s story. It sounded highly implausible, but he had never known Bethany-Ann to lie or exaggerate before. And she had found the two feathers.


“So, what are we looking for?” her dad asked.


“Owls. I think they live in hollowed out trees, or old structures, or anywhere they can be protected from the weather.”


Hooooot, hoot, hoot. 


Bethany-Ann looked around. Her father was surprised. Maybe her story was true, he thought.


Hooooot, hoot, hoot.


“It’s coming from over there,” said Bethany-Ann pointing deeper into the woods.


She started running towards the sound. 


“Bethany-Ann, wait for me!” shouted her father, not pretending to be slower than his daughter this time.


Bethany-Ann continued into the woods, looking around for the owl. By the time her father caught up with her, she was standing in a small clearing, and was turning in a complete circle looking for her owl.


“I can’t find it!” she said, frustrated. “I need to find the owl!”


“Okay,” said her dad. “Let’s just stand here quietly, and listen for another hoot.”


They stood silently, looking up into the trees, searching for her great horned owl. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes passed. Fifteen minutes passed.


Bethany-Ann’s father looked at her. “Maybe it flew away, and is waiting for us to leave before it comes back again.”


Bethany-Ann nodded. “Probably,” she said. But she didn’t believe it. She was sure the owl wanted her to find it, but alone. Her dad was the problem. He was the reason that the owl didn’t call to her.


They sat on a fallen log, and ate some snacks, and drank some water and juice, hoping the owl would call again. It was nice and quiet and cool in the woods. Her dad seemed to be enjoying himself. Bethany-Ann liked the outdoors, but she was anxious about finding her owl. 


Once they finished their snacks, they packed their garbage in the backpack, and got ready to head out. Bethany-Ann took one last look around the clearing, to no avail. Then she carefully put one of the feathers on the log they had been sitting on, to let her owl know she had been there.


Later that night, long after her parents had gone to bed, Bethany-Ann lay in her bed, under the covers. But she was not wearing her pyjamas. Instead, she was completely dressed, including shoes. She had not slept at all. She was waiting for her owl. She had decided after the disappointment of her trek into the woods that she was going to follow the owl tonight, and see where it would lead her.


Tap. Tap. Tap, tap, tap.


Bethany-Ann smiled as she moved to the window. The owl had a feather in its beak. She was sure it was the one she had left on the log. It looked at her, and gently laid the feather on the window ledge. Bethany-Ann carefully opened the window, this time all the way. She picked up the feather, and looked at the owl.


“Thank you,” she whispered. The owl continued to stare.


“Do you want me to follow you?”


The owl looked at Bethany-Ann and swivelled its head towards the woods, then back to stare at Bethany-Ann.


“Do you want me to follow you into the woods?” 


The owl stared.


Bethany-Ann leaned back into the house, hefted her backpack on her shoulders, and returned to the window.


“I’ll meet you outside.” She shut the window, and quietly crept downstairs, slipping out the back door.


When she was outside, she looked up at her window ledge, and her heart sank. The owl was gone. Bethany-Ann felt tears welling up in her eyes.


Hooooot, hoot, hoot. 


She turned her head towards the call. There, sat the magnificent owl, perched on a branch at the edge of the forest. She ran towards it. Just before she arrived, it flew into the trees.


Hooooot, hoot, hoot.  


Bethany-Ann followed the call. She entered the woods, following the game trail deeper into the trees. 


When she entered the same clearing where she and her dad had waited, she saw her owl perched on the lowest branch of the tallest tree. There was just enough light from the half moon filtering through the branches of the trees that Bethany-Ann could see around the clearing. What she saw amazed her. There were owls on all the trees. Big owls, little owls, horned owls, owls with smooth heads. There were barn owls, screech owls, snowy owls, true owls, barred owls, Boreal owls, and tiny elf owls. They were all looking at her. Bethany-Ann was amazed. She looked on the ground, and there, in the middle of the clearing was a mass of owl feathers, big enough for her to sit in. 


So she did, adding the feathers from her Great Horned Owl to the nest.  It hopped down from the branch, and looked Bethany-Ann in the eye. Then it started to slowly hop around her. Then all the other owls flew down from their perches, and encircled her, hooting and screeching, and clucking, all the while hopping around her.


Bethany-Ann should have been frightened, but she wasn’t, because she had a brave heart. She felt that this was what she was supposed to do. She closed her eyes and became one with the owls.


*****


“I’ve never seen a turnaround like this before,” said the doctor, looking at Bethany-Ann’s medical records. “It’s unprecedented.” He paused. “I dare say, a miracle.”


Six months previously Bethany-Ann had been lethargic, losing weight, unable to concentrate, unable to take a big breath. She’d been diagnosed with Stage IV Lymphoma, and had already gone through one round of treatment, and was scheduled for another different treatment within the month, as the first treatment had not be successful in controlling the disease. Her condition was dire.

Three days ago, Bethany-Ann had gone to the doctor — not because she was feeling worse, but because she was feeling so much better. The disease had disappeared. Vanished. Poof. Gone. It was as if she had never been sick to begin with. Blood tests, CAT scans, PET scans, x-rays, more blood tests — every test came back negative.


The doctors declared Bethany-Ann a healthy nine-year-old child.


Later that night, once they had returned home from the doctor’s visit, and after a celebratory pizza dinner, the family sat on the front porch, listening to the night. 


Hooooot, hoot, hoot. 


“Thank you,” whispered Bethany-Ann, smiling, and looking towards the woods.


June 07, 2021 18:18

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3 comments

A B
19:09 Sep 15, 2021

Aww i loved it! So cute and sweet!! Great story

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Jay Luuu
07:57 Jun 10, 2021

Aww, awesome story! At the start, you got me wondering, "What does the owl want with her?" And at the end, I was like "Ohhh!" You did a great job on this one! I liked the very detailed descriptions and fun facts about different owls. I feel like there could be a sequel to this story. Anyway, great job on the prompt! —JLU

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Tricia Shulist
15:38 Jun 12, 2021

Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate that you take the time to seriously look at the story. Much appreciated.

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