Thursday, May 22, 2008

Owl Screech (Columba livia) (5)

The girl with the owls was a sign of death. Karin turned flimsy with fear in her presence.

She was being hunted.

Snowy white-faced hoots served only to chill to the bone, omens of death in the dark black: ghosts among the branches, lurking in the trees, glimpsed through high windows and perched atop high boughs.

Like a mouse, Karin could only scurry before her now-predatory friend Alyssa, the one with the owls; also predators. The owls were as real as they were unreal and manifested only at the right times - for this harsh apparition of Alyssa the right times, but for Karin, the wrong.

Ever wronged.

Alyssa lingered in her mind so long after each encounter, yet the last real encounter had been so long ago, and since then the symbol was always the same when she closed her eyes: her pale owl-face was death.

But the question remained: whose death? Is that where Alyssa had gone? Not missing but dead? But how could it happen without being known to anyone else? Alyssa couldn't be dead.

Karin feared it, either way.

She was trying to wake up. Not just from the previous night's dream-disturbed slumber, but from the haze that seemed to pervade every portion of her mind. It was a dark branchy fog, where forest sounds ominously foretold death. Or were they retelling death?

There was another thing that Karin did not understand: why owls?

She had heard someone say some Indians believed they foretold death. Maybe that was it. Was it the Navajo? Maybe it was Apache; she wasn't sure. But she was no Indian. Owls were cute! There's nothing to fear, unless you're a mouse. In the dark. Scurrying.

So Alyssa's passing out of Karin's world - for whatever reason - gave her a dream that hardly resembled their friendship. She'd heard nothing from her friend in awhile. Karin was almost embarrassed that she felt so fond of her when they barely even saw each other outside of class anymore.

Owls, though? Being hunted?

Maybe it was her hairline - the way her hair seemed to peak, but her hairline wasn't peak-shaped. It was something about the shape as it rose stiffly off her head in dark, chestnut-toned perfection. And her nose, small nose curving only slightly from her face, maybe it was a little like an owl's beak. And her eyes, large and hazel, but somehow darker than that color should allow for. Sometimes black.

Was she jealous of Alyssa's looks? Maybe Karin had driven Alyssa off for being so much prettier. She'd felt so threatened in the dream - maybe she felt she wasn't pretty enough. But Alyssa would have called that nonsense, that's the kind of person she was: not stuck on herself. And her penchant for biting wit and not-too-cynical cynicism perhaps gave her talons, but she had never used them maliciously.

Has something changed? Is she okay? Still no message or call back. Chk went the cell phone shut.

Maybe it wasn't about death at all: it was just Karin being a worrier. She knew that's what she was - it was just too easy to care about people and get attached, and it was so hard to keep her imagination from spiraling into all the terrible possibilities in this world. Besides, it would be wrong not to be concerned about others. Hopefully it was needless; it usually was.

Karin had been stirring coffee in her kitchen so long that it had become cool enough to drink. These thoughts still percolated and dripped through the poor filter of her mind, unsweetened and occupying her full attention while she idly whirled the delicate spoon.

She drank, needing the caffeine. If anything would make sense of her thoughts, it would be stimulants. Maybe a cigarette - but she'd quit a month ago. It was only mornings like this or finals when she had the urge. No cigarettes around, luckily, or she might have gone back to the habit.

It was Alyssa that got her started, and got her to quit. It wasn't that Alyssa pressured her or anything, Karin just always thought it was cool, wanted an excuse to hang out more. Like so many smokers, she'd just started by bumming one off a smoker friend. And here she'd told herself she was over that sort of mimicry after high school.

Hopefully she was only being excessively worried. The way she felt about Alyssa had snuck up on her - it wasn't like she was a lesbian, but she had to admit that she had some kind of girl-crush going on.

Funny how that goes with me, she thought with a short-lived smile.

Now she drank the cooling coffee faster, being caught by surprise first by the time on the clock, then by the fine grounds in the bottom of the empty mug.

Yuck. So gritty. How was it she always managed to have that problem? Wasn't it impossible?

Coffee downed, it would still be awhile before she was awake - Karin used to be a morning person, but since starting college, she'd had a hard time waking. Too much caffeine maybe, too much stress; a laundry list of things she was doing wrong. Instead of gaining her freshman fifteen, she'd lost fifteen. All she'd put on were eye-circles.

Was it all just dreams? Some underlying fear, maybe? The way she was treated by her subconscious was inhumane. This newest dream though, it had been something like a nightmare, like she hadn't had since childhood. Was the girl in the dream supposed to be Alyssa? She seemed so different. Wrong somehow. So...what's the word? There's a perfect word for what she is compared to the real Alyssa. So detached, so aloof...

So dead.

And this made her shiver despite the weather, which was already feeling warm at 7 am. What a ridiculous time to be up for a class. Karin often complained about it and had even tried to get the schedule changed - who can learn anything at 7:30? Why couldn't they meet in the evening when there were only a handful of them enrolled in the class?

It was only a dream, right? It seemed impossible to convince herself of this. It was that darn fog again, made it so hard to make sense of anything, and her brain wouldn't listen to what she wanted it to do. Even trying to hurry out the door for the brief walk to campus, her arms seemed so sluggish in responding to her orders to pick up purse, key, backpack, like they hadn't slept enough. Or as if her mind hadn't rested enough - which it hadn't.

Leaded feet dragged her as she hurried to class. Leaded lids drowsed her eyes. The sun seemed too high, visible in the slight morning haze as a much-enlarged version of itself, expanded like an owl's face.

The weather mirrored her interior world, but in the opposite color.

Walking still half-awake, Karin found herself walking behind a girl who seemed familiar. It only slowly dawned on her that she was hoping it would be Alyssa, then that it wasn't her. She was the right height and build, but she carried herself differently. The hair was mussed - not the straight short dark of Karin's friend. And the dress - definitely not Alyssa. Not something anyone would wear on campus.

That dream and lack of sleep were still messing with her, she decided. Get my mind of Alyssa and get on with this day…

It was still difficult not to keep pace with the girl, just to satisfy curiosity.

After a few minutes, the other girl's path diverged from hers along a curved walkway. Alyssa wouldn't be around here this time of morning anyway, right?

Seconds later, Karin looked across the dewy lawn to see the other girl standing, shrouded in fog, staring back at her. It was like looking into a mirror and finding the wrong face, or recognizing a friend from behind only to be greeted by an unhappy stranger.

Karin was imagining things. She must have been. In this girl's face she saw a pale owl's, mercilessly bearing down upon her. She imagined-remembered wings fluttering and claws reaching toward her with a shudder, not realizing that her pace was quickening automatically, feet moving her away from this strange and unreal threat.

If asked then, she would have sworn it was Alyssa, that it was still a dream - it could have been someone who simply looked a lot like Alyssa. If it was Alyssa in the flesh, she had been somehow changed. In fact, she was uncannily like Alyssa as she had been in the dream, as though this girl was the same dream-born phantasm and had refused to be driven away by the sunrise; a nightmare that continued even after sleep ended.

This intrusion into Karin's waking life was too much. It was impossible. There was no way things were as they seemed, her mind was playing tricks on her. She was cracking up. A rush of adrenaline let her push back the dark curtains in her mind, letting the unwavering sun spill in and vanquish what could only have been her own errant, vampiric imaginings.

What was on the syllabus for today? She hadn't finished all the reading, had she? Hopefully she could make it sound as if she had, that always scored points...if it didn't fall on its face. The last chapter was about…phylogenies?

Despite this flood of routine thought, Karin’s footsteps were still rapid, and she looked only straight ahead as she hurried to class. When she heard the fluttering sound of wings, she did not look back. She ignored the owl-like call that sounded from behind her.

It's just pigeons, she told herself. Columba livia.

1 comment:

Roxana said...

I like this one a lot! Cheap was also good, but this one is even better! especially your way of keeping and increasing the suspense.