The Owl

Ragged breathing, on and on, the pair raced through the bracken

Carriage laden, heavy wares, their pace would never slacken

The Man held lash and shouted on, the beast it frothed and thundered

As forest whipped the dusk to blush, endless night broke asunder

Crimson hues and barren boughs draped o’er their tarried rush

With midnight purples seeping in with shadows from underbrush

And onward ho the Man urged his charge, for urgent was his cause

What was behind him spun his fears, with feather, beak, and claw

The Mystic warned him against drink and foretold a grim demise

If the Man kept on charades of snake oil, bilk, and lies

But drink he had, and lies he told, and crowds emptied their coffers

For healing salves and tonic cures, offer after offer

The Man counted gold while looking on at the cloaked women gathered

Weeping tears of joy at finding salvation they’d long sought after

Knowing their children were cured of the consumptive deathly plague

Or blindness solved, or limps made whole, the Man had shouted from his stage

It wasn’t until the children turned gray and cold within their beds

When the villagers remembered the Man who put such ideas in their heads

Now that Man was well away, cart well-laden with their gold

Several miles from another hamlet where his false hope could be sold

But the Mystic’s voice came to his ears, crisp and dark and true

That he had failed her warning and his recompense was due

The Man first laughed at such a thought but then the Owl came

Landing softly on his wagon, it’s bright eyes lit like flame

“Away!” he scolded to no avail, as the Owl always returned

Lighting upon his rumbling cart, glaring with eyes that burned

He took his rest near river’s edge and ignored the feathered foe

The Man spat upon the ground and slept against the crackling fire’s glow

He started with a shudder, and the smoldering red coals

Lit up a ghastly figure near the woods striking a crooked pose

A bent and ragged phantom, bones and shrouds of yellowed cloth

Held a crumbling arm extended, and the Owl was perched aloft

The Man choked on his screams and leapt upon the wagon high

Wildly whipping his steed to reckless escape into the night

Onward they went for hours, and the darkness wouldn’t shift

As if daylight had been forgotten, and the clouds would never lift

His eyes sooted with deathly fear and sleepless hours terror-thick

Dared to let fatigue take hold, and heavy eyelids began to slip

His horse knicked underfoot and cried, pulling the wagon with a thrash

Tumbling wildly into blackness, silence reigned after the crash

The Man awoke to find himself trapped by the waist

In a heap of splintered wagon parts, tonic bottles, wooden crates

As suddenly the golden fire of the Owl’s eyes did glitter

Landing at the edge of the wood with nary sound nor flitter

From the grey mist behind the fowl came emerging spectral shapes

Of colorless shambling skeletons, no eyes, no tongue, no face

Some still had flesh in pieces, or rotting tufts of faded hair

Some were still mere children, some where ugly, some were fair

Some had rags of linen from when their bodies were laid below

All were striding toward the Man, deliberate and slow

He tried in vain to extricate his broken body from the pile

But there would be no escape, he knew, so with a wicked smile

The Man pulled out some tonic potion from a crate that bore his name

He knew the remedy poison swill would headily bear fierce flame

Pouring its contents on himself and scattering it far and near

The Man beckoned forth with gaudy taunts, reckless in his fear

As the shadowed dead approached, he lit his last match alight

Closing his eyes, he dropped the spark, and his vision became bright

But not from fire, as he thought, for when he dared to peek

He saw the still-burning match clenched in the Owl’s beak

Screaming, he tore at his pockets, but no more matches would be found

As the vengeful dead staggered ahead, hundreds now gathered ’round

Days later, several of the village came to the clearing in the wood

Hoping to find a sign of the Man who fooled theirs neighborhood

His horse was found limping nearby, and was gratefully led away

Innocent of his master, “good riddance” is what he’d say

The wagon was reduced to rot, even though time barely passed

Since the Man had sold them poisoned lies in tiny vials of glass

One villager kicked bottles shattered at the edge of the wild

Still wiping hot tears of anger from her eyes over her lost child

When she noticed in the boughs above, an Owl gesturing down

To a pile of wood not quite decayed piled nearby on the ground

Turning planks to face the sun, she saw the clawed up oak

Raked with bits of fingernail, crimson slivers, dyed with smoke

She looked again to the Owl, who seemed to give a nod

Taking wing, the Owl departs, taking with it the dawn








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