Tucked away in a vast forest is a big barn with red sides capped by a wilting brown roof. The big doors that open outwards are neatly closed, although not locked. They face a field of short grass that runs slowly down a gentle hill and meets again with the woods. It is a quiet place with little life aside from the solitary barn owl that makes its home in the barn.
Every evening at dusk the little owl makes her way silently towards the far edge of the field and perches on a fat oak. The oak’s branches reach far out into the field, rising up towards the starry skies and affording the owl a grand view. There are generally plenty of voles and mice scurrying around, picking up insects and seeds. It is an ideal place for the owl to live, far from the rough touch of civilization and isolated from most predators. Why it is so devoid of larger life is unknown, it is as if this particular plot has only enough charm and safety to attract the most ignorant of life forms. That is not to say that the owl is ignorant, however. It feels at home in the big barn, surrounded by the dark forests that form a sea across the horizons, the quiet queen of a lonely plot of land. She lives a life unchallenged by the needs of others.
It was a particularly bright night when the first human arrived. It had been decades since shoes had trodden through those woods or stomped across the field, and the visitor’s awkward bulk moved the once calm air in a rough manner. Everything hushed as he made his way towards the solemn barn, huffing heavily and impatiently. The slight smell of alcohol and cigarettes wafted from his pores and created a soft trail of toxic air, a telltale path tracking his every movement and leading directly to him.
The visitor seemed confident in his stride, although a bit awkward in his gait. Forcing his way across the moonlit field he stopped momentarily and took in a deep breath, savoring the calm and quiet. From every corner of the woods small eyes peered out and studied the visitor curiously, yet he was entirely oblivious. He would not care if he knew, anyway. As long as there were no other humans to bother him he would be fine.
Still standing in the middle of the field the man slowly looked about him, analyzing the darkness that pervaded the woods as if its emptiness spoke to him. He was not really looking for anything but rather just gazing. He then lifted his head and looked up towards the sky, his eyes flitting back and forth between the multitudes of stars that flickered happily. They failed to speak to him but they provided a sense of peace that only could be found in the quiet forests.
He was happy, for once. Having finally escaped the clutches of the city and its bright lights and distractions, he was ready to sit back for some time and enjoy what he hoped would be some rest and recreation. He had heard rumor of an old barn out in the hills and so he had set out to find it, a mission that had ultimately proven successful. This plot of land would be undisturbed for quite some time, he was sure of it. The only other person who had even an inkling of its existence was the old-timer teetering on the verge of senility. Few heeded the old man’s words; in fact the visitor rarely paid much attention to them himself. But this time he had needed a place of respite and, recalling the old-timer’s jumbled words, had set out to find what was potentially a mythical barn.
Suddenly snapping to, the visitor fixed his sights on the barn looming up ahead of him. A cricket chirped momentarily but quickly hushed as the lumbering man began walking again. As he neared the barn a soft wind whispered in protest, trying with all its might to push the man back. It was to no avail though as the combined power of the night and the barn entangled itself around his limbs and drew him ever closer. He did not perceive its will driving him forward, only reacting on what he subconsciously perceived as his own volition. And so he entered, the great barn doors creaking wearily as they parted.
He was inside a warm and cozy home now. Setting himself down on an old stump he claimed the barn as his own and began to make mental preparations. He would move those crates to the other corner and create a table; he would then clear out space in the center for a small fire, maybe even building a stone and red clay oven; he would use the eastern side of the barn as his place of sleep. He looked to see if there was a loft but was disappointed. And that was when his eyes met hers, she sitting quietly and watching curiously on the center rafter. She bobbed her head, circling it briefly as if trying to focus her vision. He, looking back up to her, mimicked her movements slightly as if he were able to communicate with her. Turning her head in confusion she took to flight and was whisked away into the night.
The man followed her as she exited through the still open barn doors, disappearing in the dark of the woods. She was beautiful to behold, something he would not usually admit. That was when he knew he had finally escaped; escaped from his torrid past, his bleak future, and from himself. He felt free.
He once again began considering what he might accomplish during his stay at the barn. There was a nearby stream for him to gather water from and in which to bathe, plenty of firewood, and a dry bed. Food would be an issue, though. He had not put much thought into his escapade when he first set forth, and now he was woefully unprepared. His initial inclination, and only plan, was to escape and to relax. Up until this moment he had accomplished the latter two, yet the pressure was descending on him now to resolve the former and he began to feel uneasy. He did not want to have to go back to town to get the necessities. Truth be told he lacked the means to purchase anything. So he resolved to make due with what he could find in the barn and the surrounding forest. Perhaps he would be able to fashion some crude tools out of stone and wood.
But as it was now late and the night was shrouded by clouds he quickly set about preparing a makeshift bed in which he could rest for the time being. He took his worries and set them aside resolving to face them with the coming morning. And so he drifted off into sleep, the owl quietly slipping back onto its perch and doing the same.
A light drizzle was coming down on the barn when he awoke the next morning, mixing with the cool air and making for a refreshing world. The man remained prone, rolling onto his back and taking in the soft pattering of the rain hitting the roof and the sides of his abode. It was different to him, almost peculiar, as if it were the soft tapping of a strange and unfamiliar world simply stating its presence. He let a small smile work its way across his coarse face, but quickly rolled over again and smothered it. As he gazed down the length of the barn his eyes fell upon the roost of the small barn owl, now nestled quietly in its bed. He felt accompanied.
Sitting up, he once again surveyed his new home. The morning light allowed him to see it better and he now realized how spacious and cavernous it seemed. He would have to fill the barn up to make it feel warmer and decided to begin with a kitchen area. It would require stones of varying sizes that would be used to build a small oven. He considered the amount of work that would be required to build a proper wooden table and seeing that he lacked any tools he decided that the crates would work just fine. Finding the stones and rocks for the oven would require a great amount of strenuous work. He slumped back down, the full extent of his new life coming down upon him. He was in for a difficult time but he was determined to push through it.
After a few more minutes of lying motionless he finally forced himself up and began making his way to the still open barn doors. The clouds hung low in the sky yet they were gentle and welcoming. A few birds flittered about unseen in the woods, chirping to each other. He leaned against one of the doors and gazed upon the open field flowing down towards the opposite edge of the woods. The light drizzle created a hazy effect turning the green field into an even more serene sight. He did not move, only letting his eyes lazily move from one focus to another. He didn’t smile, he didn’t grimace, he just stood, arms crossed, weight against the door, observing, feeling, enjoying.
He finally began to consider planting a garden in that vast open field. It more than likely received a great deal of sun when the day was not overcast and growing a few consumables would not be too difficult. Of course, learning the proper methods of caring and cultivating crops would take some time. Everything was going to take time and effort, he thought to himself silently. He wasn’t accustomed to that at all, having survived until then by pilfering and finagling. Even if he were going to be able to learn, what was he going to grow? He did not have any seeds, lacked the tools, and did not have any knowledge of the natural world. He once again surveyed the land presented to him from his vantage in the barn, wondering what else lay beyond in the woods. Perhaps mushrooms. Yes, there had to be mushrooms. They were everywhere, especially with the light rainfall that was coming down. Stay away from the bright ones, he thought to himself.
He could also search for berries, maybe even some wild grasses. He became a bit more optimistic and took his first step out into the cool morning. The rain felt good as it covered his face, opening fully his still sleepy eyes. His nostrils flared widely with every breath in. He grinned to himself and thought of his previous morning rituals: cigarettes. He didn’t have any, but no matter. Perhaps there would be tobacco growing in the wild that he could gather and roll on his own.
Walking back down the field, roughly following the path he made the night before, he made his way to the small creek that lay tucked away in the woods. Crawdads! he thought. Something else he might be able to eat. He would even give frog legs a try if he could catch one.
Upon arriving at the creek he found that it had engorged a bit since the night before. Its waters flowed gently over algae covered stones and he set about turning them over, first inspecting underneath then inspecting the stone as a potential foundation for his kitchen. In that way he worked his way haphazardly along the creek leaving little totems of stones on either bank. As the morning withered away the drizzle stopped and soft rays of sun began to break through the overhanging trees. The forest still lacked any discernible life but it was reassuring to him none-the-less. He enjoyed the solitude.
By the early afternoon he stopped and examined his work so far. He had several piles of stones up and down the banks of the creek but he had failed to find any crawfish. It suddenly hit him that he still had not had anything to eat since he set out for the barn. Shit, what was he going to eat? Eating would have to wait for the time being.
It took him nearly an hour to get all the stones back up to the barn by which time the sun was coming down in full force. His stomach was aching, only having been replenished with water from the creek. The stones were piled up in a corner waiting to be fashioned into something functional as he stared at them blankly. First day of work and this was all he had to show for himself. He grunted in frustration. Frowning, he twirled around and headed for the open doors again. So what was he going to eat? For christ’s sake this could not go on. He momentarily considered damning it all to hell and heading back to the city, but quickly pushed such inclinations to the side. He was going to make it. He was going to enjoy this.
He stepped out again and wandered around the field for a bit hoping to find a mouse or even a cricket. People ate crickets when they were surviving off the land. They were a good source of protein or something like that. Protein. Grubs had protein also; the bears in the television shows he had watched would rip apart decomposing trees to find them. That was what he would do then. He would find a nice, fat, rotting tree and rip it apart. Of course this was probably the perfect time to find such a log as it had been raining the evening before. The afternoons sun had created a muggy feeling that drenched him in sweat but the world was still moist.
He thought back to the creek happily working its way down at the base of the field. He had not remembered seeing any fish, at least none worth eating. Nor were there any pools with deep enough water in them to offer much hope. He considered once again the grubs and insects but decided to take his first chances on berries and seeds. Hoping he could find enough he set out again, into the forest and the humid air.
The owl, for her part, was tucked away neatly in her nest in the barn’s rafters. The heat of the afternoon that had seeped its way in through the open doors made her ruffle her feathers. She did not like being woken at this time of the day but with the heat of the summer it had been difficult to find some real rest. Not only was she unaccustomed to the heat, but the intense light from the sun made her uneasy. She felt safer in the evenings and night, with light failing, when all but a few creatures were able to make out the world around them. That was her domain, a world even more removed from the lives of so many other beings.
Tilting her head left and right the room came into focus revealing the warm colors of the day. There were stones piled up on one side of the barn, something she noted briefly as being new. The ground where the man had slept was matted down providing a contrast to the messy debris of the rest of the barn.
It was at this time that the man-made his way back up the open field and through the doors of the red barn. The owl, still resting in her nest, eyed him curious as ever, watching his every movement. She watched as he lifted his arms up lazily to grasp the barn doors and pull himself inside. He looked tired now, perhaps having expended too much energy in some fruitless labor. She was immensely capable when it came to surviving in these woods and seeing a being so drained was odd to her. Giving off a light cackle she eyed him intently, watching as he slowly lifted his head to look at her. There they stood momentarily locked eye to eye, trying to communicate their shared existence.
To the man her cackle sounded very much like she was needling him. What was she doing up this early, anyhow? He returned her gaze with tired indifference, she having lost the luster of the evening before. He was too exhausted from his lack of food and the strenuous activities to really feel more than a mild curiosity. Breaking her gaze he turned once again to the stones he had collected and pondered the stove he had hoped to make. What was the use of making one now? He had nothing to cook on it. His search that afternoon had proven to be a waste as there was hardly anything for him to eat in those woods. It seemed a great irony to him. When compared to the ravishing effects of civilization on the resources of the world he would have thought that an untouched land would be bountiful. Yet it had little to offer him and he considered that it might be the reason this place was so deserted.
Plopping down on a crate he began to reevaluate his situation, thinking of whether he really wanted to stay or if he would be better served going back to the city. He hated the idea of returning to the streets and mingling with the unsavory characters of the night, but that was all he knew. This land, while peaceful and beautiful, was far too foreign to him. A wave of desperation crept over him and the light suddenly seemed to dull. The longer he sat and considered his state the gloomier the world became and the smaller the barn shrank. He was not feeling well, and as he delved deeper and deeper into his own depression he found it harder to think of ways to survive. Finally the strain became too intense and, sighing heavily, he stood up and walked to the open doors again.
There was indeed life beyond the barn walls. He could see the birds zipping in and out of the trees but they meant nothing to him now. He had lost himself to his own desperation and he scowled at the land in front of him. And that was when he had a minor epiphany. Perhaps he could catch the owl. This was the afternoon and she was likely groggy. If he were careful enough he might be able to sneak up on her. She would not provide much meat but at least it would get him through the night. Now that he had enough stones he could dedicate the rest of the next day to searching for food.
Turning carefully he looked up at her in her nest. She was still awake, preening her feathers, but she seemed to have lost interest in him. He was not sure whether to move casually or stealthily as he only had experience sneaking up on humans. It probably did not matter, he figured, so he began to plot his course of action. This would likely be a one shot deal, he knew that much, and he wanted it to count. There was a ladder leaning against the wall within reaching distance from one of the crossbeams. If he were able to make his way up to it he could then launch himself at the owl’s nest, hopefully catching her before she took to flight. So the plan was set, and he began his saunter over to the ladder.
The ladder creaked softly as he climbed it making him nervous that it would either break or scare her off prematurely. But the owl was still busily cleaning herself. When he finally made it onto the crossbeam he took a moment to examine the gap that he had to traverse. It seemed further now and the drop seemed greater, but he was determined to do it.
With a huff the man launched himself at her, soaring for a few seconds through the warm barn air. He watched as she turned her held full around and stared at him as he stretched his arms out to grasp at her. But he was not going to make it. At the very last moment with a rough grunt he stretched as far as he could and just barely grabbed onto the ledge on which the owl’s nest sat. His heavy body yanked at his joints as its momentum shifted and gravity began to exert its full force. The strain was slightly painful but he held on, and after a moment he began to pull himself up as best he could.
To his astonishment when he finally managed to peak over the ledge he found himself eye to eye with the little owl. She bobbed her head and then circled it, twisting it left and right as if trying to focus him better. He grinned. What a stupid little bird. She should have taken to flight the moment he huffed his way into the air but there she stood eying him curiously. With what little strength he had left he hesitantly released one of his hands from its grip on the ledge and reached for the owl. His heart was pounding with excitement and that grin slyly became a smirk. And just as he was about touch her white and brown feathers she gave off a little cackle, reared back just slightly, and then nipped his index finger.
The man immediately gave a yelp and threw his hand back which was dutifully followed by the rest of his body. He came crashing down on the barn floor surrounded by a light cloud of dust. A sharp pain rain up and down his back and he moaned as he rolled over to massage it. That was the end of it. As he struggled to get to his feet he looked up at the little owl who was now peering curiously over the edge of her nest, straining her neck and ogling him with her big black eyes. He groaned, gave her the finger and muttering curses slowly walked out of the barn. He was going home, back to the world he knew and the one that would one day swallow him whole. The owl watched him as he slowly disappeared into the woods and then went back to preening herself. The night would be long and she needed to be ready.