Chapter 9 - Oliver Owl
Oliver Owl was a great horned owl, huge and powerful as birds go. Red, the Harris hawk, was also large and powerful but not nearly as large as Oliver. The two never had cause to test which one was more powerful, more dangerous as a foe. Red did most of his hunting during the day, Oliver during the night. And neither of them engaged in aerial combat just for the thrill of the battle. They were hunters, not fighters.
During the day, Oliver would perch high in a eucalyptus tree, upright as a statue, still as a stone. Passersby might glance up and see him, but many would think it was just some aberration of the tree, a trunk that had been sheered off by a storm. With a closer view, one would first notice the horns or ear tufts that stood up above his head, and a mouth that appeared to be smiling, but only appeared so. Oliver seldom smiled.
As the orange orb of the sun set and dusk closed in, shadows lengthening and darkening, Oliver stirred on his high perch, feeling the pull of the oncoming night, feeling a tug in his hunting heart and a growl in his empty belly. The sky to the west was a glory of oranges and pinks and purples and reds, but Oliver wasn’t interested in a sunset. He was interested in filling his empty belly
Oliver’s eyes opened and shone like silver dollars in the dying light. In daylight, whenever he wasn’t napping, his eyes were gold coins with ripe-olive centers, but now they looked like ghost eyes, and just as frightening.
He shook his head and emitted a low “Hoo-hoo hooooo hoo-hoo!” Moments passed with no answering cry. Then again, “Hoo-hoo hooooo hoo-hoo!” Still no answer. Oh well, he thought, I’m not in the mood for romance anyway. I’m more interested in food.
He launched himself into the air with heavy flaps that sounded like someone shaking a heavy rug. Shaking it slowly. The moon was three-quarters full and his body in flight was captured against the white moon as he sailed over his territory, looking for any furtive movement. Oliver was a patient owl. But Oliver was a hungry owl.
* * *
Rollie and his band had waited until the sun was nearly down before continuing through the yards. The going was much easier and even Fred seemed, if not happy, at least resigned to the trip. They got news from Millie and Buzz that the high wall was just ahead, a wall of about seven feet, insurmountable to the groundlings but not to Millie and Buzz.
When they reached the wall, Buzz told them to turn left and follow the wall until they reached the opening that led to the outer world. By this time, the sun was down and the moon was no longer yellow, but ghostly pale in the eastern sky.
The travelers moved slowly along, passing from one yard to another, sometimes having to detour to the front of the house when they came to a walled yard, most often passing through yards without walls. And sometimes the walls between yards had small openings at regular intervals along the ground, allowing Rollie and Fred to get through to the next yard. It was a tight fit for Rollie but he managed to squeeze through by tucking his ears behind his head, hunching his shoulders together, and releasing all the air in his lungs.
“Ooo,” he said to Fred after one such endeavor, “I feel like I might get halfway through and then get stuck, my front end on one side and my hind end on the other. Next time, you follow me and if I get stuck, you push and push from behind.”
Fred made a face in the dark that Rollie couldn’t see and said, “Why don’t I go through first and if you get stuck, I’ll just tug on your ears? I’d rather pull on your ears than push on your butt.”
Rollie wasn’t about to argue the point.
Overhead, Oliver Owl soared between the moon and the earth, casting a huge, menacing shadow that moved behind the two travelers. Ah, he thought, a tasty rabbit and a lizard hors d’oeuvre. How delightful. He tucked his huge wings and dove straight down. Rollie and Fred were completely unaware of their impending doom. Oliver’s eyes were large in anticipation. Suddenly a bullet shot past him and he blinked and lost his concentration, nearly crashing into a palo verde tree. He swooped back up into the air and prepared to dive again. But before he could even turn, another bullet flashed past—Whish!—and then again—Whish!—and then again—Whish! Oliver circled, searching for the cause of these flying bullets. The moonlight finally revealed what was interfering with his hunting—a hummingbird, a tiny, irritating, infuriating, pesky pest of a hummingbird, flashing back and forth in his path.
He decided to ignore the mosquito-bird and dive again, but now Rollie and Fred were aware of this dual between Goliath Owl and little David Hummingbird, and they watched the huge owl grow larger and larger, aimed right at them.
“Run!” Rollie shouted.
“I’m running!” Fred answered, running as fast as his little lizard legs would carry him.
Rollie dove for one of the openings in the wall to the next yard. “Ooof!” he exploded as the air in his lungs left him. But not enough to allow him to make it through the hole. He was stuck, head and arms out on the far side, hind end sticking out on the near.
“Push, Fred! Push!” Rollie screamed.
And Fred, with as much speed as he could muster, ran right into the cottony tail of his friend, and both popped through to the other side just as Oliver Owl struck the now empty hole into which they had vanished. The owl screeched out his anger and frustration, hopping back and forth as he peered through the vanishing hole. “SCREEECH!” he screamed. “Ah hah! I see you there! And I’ll get you yet!”
He hopped up with wings flapping and landed on top of the wall. Then he jumped to the ground on the other side. His prey seemed to him to be frozen in terror. Good, he thought, an easy meal after all. But as he advanced on the rabbit and the lizard, mouth agape to take them, the rabbit whipped a long stick out from behind him and at the last possible moment thrust it directly into the owl’s mouth.
“Oh, Ow Ow Ow!” Oliver screamed. “What have you done, you little devil? Oh, my poor mouff!” He lifted a taloned leg and extracted a piece of Rollie’s walking stick, threw it on the ground, and glared at the two before him. Rollie was brandishing the rest of his walking stick like a saber, taking a fencer’s stance, off arm raised, tip of the stick circling, aimed right at Oliver. Fred was cowering behind his friend, peeking out from behind the rabbit.
“Come on, big boy, come on!” Fred taunted in his lizardy growl. “You fool with Rollie the Rabbit King and you’ll get more than a sore mouff!” Oliver feinted at Rollie, and Fred tucked his head between his shoulders in fear. Like a rabbit Zorro, Rollie kept the stick twirling and twirling in Oliver’s face and the bird backed off and hissed as only a great horned owl can hiss.
“You two twerps aren’t worff all this fuss. There must be an easier dinner for me this night.” With that pronouncement, Oliver flew off with heavy flaps of his wings, up and away to look for less gamey game.
Buzz flew down to sit on a nearby twig, where Millie joined him.
“Oh,” Millie breathed, “you were magnificent, Rollie. And you, Buzz, were an aerial wonder, like a tiny fighter plane attacking a monster bomber.”
“What about me? What about me?” Fred asked, now having come out from behind Rollie. He did a set of pushups to puff himself up. “I scared the wits out of that big old dummy. He knew he couldn’t fool with the two of us. We’da had him down for the count in no time. But he took off like a sissy sparrow.”
“Yes, Fred,” said Buzz, “you were your usual brave self. And I loved the way you tried to tackle Rollie’s cotton tail. I’m just amazed you didn’t bounce off him like a rubber ball.”
“I think,” said Rollie, now breathing much easier, “that should be adventure enough for us this night. Let’s all find a nice place to curl up and sleep for a few hours. Then we can see what else lies in store for us.”