Dead Big Dawg
Staring into the eyes of the great horned owl, the old woman died happy.
They had been meeting like this for months: in the dark, in secrecy. Watching one another, sometimes watching the creatures moving through the towering pines surrounding them . . . just . . . watching.
The owl had seen her head move as the bullet slammed into her brain. Death was painless, even as the brilliance of her mind was extinguished.
When the old woman had lain still too long, when her eyes no longer met his, the owl sent the alert. Within seconds the forest surrounding Loon Lake erupted with alarms as owls woke their feathered cousins to pass along the warning.
Eight-year-old Cody Amundson, fishing in the dark off his grandfather’s dock, paused before casting his lure. The explosion of birdcalls caught him by surprise. Turning toward shore, he was scanning the pine boughs over his head when a scream pierced the air. Throwing his spinning rod into the rowboat moored alongside the dock, Cody ran up the stone stairway
leading to his grandfather’s house. He banged through the porch door and right into the arms of Dr. Paul Osborne.
“Shhhh. Settle down, Cody. It’s okay,” said Osborne, grasping the trembling boy firmly by the shoulders. “Just a screech owl.”
“Are you sure, Gramps? That sounds like a real person. Maybe we should call Chief Ferris?”
During the same five minutes since the birds had started calling, Ray Pradt had paused to look up from where he was dousing a campfire he had built in hopes of charming his date.
“My God, Ray, what is that racket?” asked the young woman, looking up as she opened the screen door to the trailer. A bat swooped and she nearly dropped the bowl of chips and guacamole she was carrying back to the kitchen.
Before Ray could answer, a harsh cry echoed through the trees.
“What on earth? Who the hell was that?” The girl was happy to close the door behind her. “Boy, is this a fun place.”
Paraphrasing his neighbor’s words to his grandson, Ray assured Paula that a serial killer was not lurking in the dark. “That’s an owl, not a human,” said Ray, following her into his trailer as the embers died in the fire pit behind him. “And don’t you worry—I know how to keep you safe. . . .”
“Yeah, right.” The girl grinned as she let him wrap his arms around her.
Next door, once Cody nodded that he believed his grandfather, Osborne walked the boy back down to the dock to retrieve his fishing rod. “Okay, son? Not afraid anymore?” Osborne kept a
reassuring hand on the boy’s shoulder. “We don’t want your new rod to end up in the lake, so let’s put it away in my fish hut where it’ll be safe.”
Cody relaxed as he stepped into the rowboat to retrieve his rod. Any time spent in Grandpa’s fish hut was okay with him.
Early the next morning before Cody was up, Osborne was enjoying his coffee on the screened-in porch when Ray gave a quick knock on the porch door before walking in, coffee mug in hand. “Morning, Doc. Did you hear that scream last night?”
“Scared the living daylights out of Cody.”
“One more little bunny who won’t need a hat,” said Ray as he filled his mug from the pot Osborne kept plugged in on the porch.
“That wasn’t a rabbit, that was a screech owl.”
“Oh . . . Hmm, wonder what the birds saw. They were pretty excited. . . .”
The men sipped their coffee: Osborne on his porch swing, Ray in his favorite chair, and the sun throwing shadows on the dock as early summer infused the lake world with life.