Ryan was just a fucking kid. A lacrosse player with acne where he wished a beard would be. Of course, I didn’t say that in my eulogy. I said something about how strong and sweet and kind he was, bullshit words I felt like a sister was supposed to use to talk about her little brother.
The night of the funeral, after dragging some cousins to a bar to have fifteen shots to celebrate the fifteen years of Ryan’s life, a mottled brown owl landed on the tree branch outside of my bedroom window.
I chalked it up to the alcohol. Ryan loved nature, watched those David Attenborough documentaries more than I watched porn, so my mind conjured up the image of an owl to deal with his death. To make me feel like he was there, watching over me or some metaphysical shit like that.
But then it happened again the next night when I was completely sober. It just sat there, staring into my window with its oversized eyes. It didn’t twist or turn its head. It didn’t even blink. Its company should’ve calmed me, but it just creeped me out. Like I was performing some sort of peep show for it.
That night, the second night, I walked over to the window to see if I could scare it away, but it wouldn’t budge. I flapped my arms, yelled a little, and even stuck my arm out the window, but it stayed put. I would’ve tried tossing something at it, but I’m not a total asshole. Only when I’m angry.
The next few nights, it repeated the routine. One second, it wasn’t there. The next second, it was. Always at 10:55. Always at the time of Ryan’s death.
Then, about a week after the funeral, it did something new. It made a screeching noise. One that sounded like it was in excruciating pain, caught in a trap it had no clue how to wiggle out of. It reminded me of the sound Ryan made when he died. The one before he gasped and clutched the air, trying to scoop it back into his lungs.
I didn’t want to make a fool of myself by running to my friends with a half-assed horror story about an owl, so I did the logical thing and consulted Google. A Wikipedia page popped up first:
“Among the Kikuyu of Kenya, it was believed that owls were harbingers of death. If one saw an owl or heard its hoot, someone was going to die. In general, owls are viewed as harbingers of bad luck, ill health, or death.”
If the owl was trying to warm me of death, it was a little too late. I could’ve used that message a week earlier, but now? It was useless. So I scrolled down a little lower.
“People often allude to the reputation of owls as bearers of supernatural danger when they tell misbehaving children, ‘the owls will get you.’”
Supernatural danger? Did that mean ghosts or zombies or fairies? Or did it just mean bullshit? I scrolled a little more.
“Sometimes owls are said to carry messages from beyond the grave or deliver supernatural warnings to people who have broken tribal taboos.”
I wasn’t exactly sure what a tribal taboo referred to, but I hadn’t done anything I deserved to be punished for. I was a model student in the best college our state had to offer. I balanced out all my drinking by visiting the gym six times a week. And I was a loyal girlfriend when I wasn’t actually single. Sure, I made one or two not-so-minor mistakes, but I was already paying for them. Dealing with Ryan’s death was punishment enough.
That night, when the owl returned, it held something in its talons. I assumed it was a mouse, but I couldn’t see a tail, so I crept over to the window. The tip of my nose grazed the glass as I squinted through it.
Flesh. Human flesh. Cartilage, actually. An ear.
There was still blood on it, crusted over the edges like a dark purple question mark. It looked just like Ryan’s ear looked when they tossed his pieces into the body bag.
But it was rare for owls to attack humans. I learned that during my miniature research session. Maybe I’d been hallucinating every damn time I saw the creature. Maybe it was all in my head.
In an attempt to wipe the image from my mind, I retreated to my bed, twisted until I was facing the windowless wall, and didn’t bother to set an alarm. I needed sleep. I needed a clear head.
Even though I’d gotten eight hours of rest, ate three meals, and worked out for a good hour, the owl was back the next night. But this time, it looked less like a bird and more like a blob of blackness, a shadowy creature made up of blurry shapes. Its new form threw me off. It distracted me from seeing the object glittering in its claws.
Either it could read my mind or it was all in my mind, because as soon as I noticed the knife, the owl pushed its head against my window. Even though it was closed (and locked), it dug its head through. No blood. No broken glass. It just popped from one side to the other, like it was stepping through a bubble.
I couldn’t move from my spot on the bed. Not out of fear. I physically couldn’t move. Like some supernatural force was holding me in place.
The creature shot straight from the window to my chest, landing on top of my stuttering heart. I thought it was going to rip apart my skin with its claws or peck me in the eyes, but it did something else.
The two-pound body grew to 120 pounds. The wings grew into arms. The talons grew into legs. And the banana yellow eyes shrunk into baby blue ones.
Instead of an owl, Ryan was now on top of me, sitting on my torso, just like when we used to play wrestle.
But he still had the knife. He looked at it with a tilted head, like he was deciding what to do, even though I could guess. He would use it to slice off my ear. And then make a slit in my chest. For good measure, he would snap my neck into an unnatural angle, the way only an owl should turn.
He would do all of the things I did to him the night of his death.