Foxhound: V

At first, Moslay wasn’t sure he was still alive. He had considered that those jagged points driving into his arms were no more than a final embrace. He felt that any moment the fox’s teeth should close around his skull and kill him in an instant, yet that didn’t come. What did was the feeling of weightlessness followed by branches and leaves smacking into his arms and legs. Opening his eyes, unaware he had slammed them closed out of fright, Moslay saw the forest like he never had before. The ground raced below him, the tops of trees almost as shrubs underfoot, and the starry night nearly fully visible.

Though the sight of the lands for miles around was something that took Moslay’s breath away, it had to contend with another vision. Two massive talons held his shoulders, pinching tight enough to keep him from sliding but not enough to penetrate flesh. Looking up, Moslay could see little more than feathers, though the creature’s head extended forward. The sheen of one glowing eye was only barely visible from below, but that massive orb only helped give away the animal’s identity. With that, a chill crept up Moslay spine, the concern that this may have been the same owl that troubled his sleep earlier in the year.

In had been an awful time to be losing sleep for Moslay. Having to break in a new pup, handling flare-ups of rigidity in his fingers, and getting burned on some of his dealings in Haludram had gotten him in a terrible temper. Night after night, waking to the booming calls of that redpine owl only served to push him over the limit. Moslay wasn’t wholly fury and fire; he was somewhat patient. There were several nights wherein he intended to wait the owl out and sleep through the early morning. That was a mistake on his part; Moslay had almost forgotten about the shrieking songbirds and their dreadfully high pitched songs. Other nights he would drink himself into a stupor, it would drown out the noise, but it would also make rising at a reasonable hour less than possible. Finally, after almost a month of poor sleep, Moslay had to take matters into his own hands.

Firstly, he decided to deal with the gang of songbirds that would park themselves across the lane from his home. Laying down seed, Moslay gained their trust, not as though they had reason to distrust him in the first. Then, after those glorified vultures had become a little too comfortable with the setup, Moslay spiked the seeds. They seemed wary of the offering that morning, picking at it and turning over the feed as though unable to trust it. As one ventured to try the seeds only to begin to choke, the rest realized they had been tricked. Moslay had kept an eye on the situation, as the birds began to caw and cry, he let loose one shot with his shotgun and let the dogs loose on the birds. It was strange; however, after it was all said and done, there was little more than some fallen feathers on the ground in place of any bodies.

Returning to the present, Moslay found the owl was diving into a clearing in the trees. From what he could see from his vantage, the opening did not lead to the forest floor but a tangle of tree limbs. As they neared, Moslay could make out the cluster of stolen materials that made up what could only be a nest. This massive owl had been busy since being driven from its old nest. There were bits and pieces from all sorts of sources holding the thing together. He could even make out an old troth that had sat behind his house since the pigs had been taken in the night years ago. With a careless twitch of the talons, the owl let Moslay drop into its nest.

Though he landed in the center, momentum almost caused Moslay to tumble all the way off the edge. That fall wouldn’t have been fatal, another nest sat on a lower set of branches, yet Moslay wouldn’t want to fall any further than he had. It took him a moment to pull himself up from the far side of the nest. As he did so, Moslay found his revolver sitting there, almost falling through a break in the nest. Once he was up, Moslay checked on his shoulders. They were sore but not even bleeding after all that time being carried. Then, after a quiet minute alone, the owl’s call roared through the air, and its wings stirred the breeze as it landed in the nest opposite Moslay.

One shining silvery eye fixed Moslay, the other, an almost opaque ebony, didn’t seem to look at anything at all. Moslay took stock of the owl’s head and recalled how horribly drunk he had been the night he scared that one away. He had stumbled out of the house, trying to silence his mind with the simplicity of home-brewed honey wine, but it wasn’t cutting it anymore. Popping three rounds of surge into the shotgun, Moslay went out looking for the howling bird. It was not seated in the trees the songbirds used, nor anywhere in the front lot, yet as he turned about, Moslay found three moons in the sky. There was the sliver far off in the night sky, then the two silver orbs that seemed to lean down almost in front of the porch.

Atop the house, the owl sat, the half digest body of a forest hog clutched in one of its talons. The tremendous bird with its blood-red feathers looked down on Moslay as though he would be his next meal. Those hungry eyes made the quills that spotted the owl’s body look almost welcoming. He had to wonder if this had been the bird’s plan all along, to lure Moslay outside in the dead of night to swallow him up. Before the bird could move a muscle, Moslay had pulled up his gun and fired off two rounds of the electrically endowed shells. The first shot had gone wild, Moslay couldn’t tell if it hit, while the second definitely struck the owl though where he could never know. It was the last time the owl would bother Moslay, that was until he had been snatched up by the mongrel.

This time, Moslay didn’t bother to wait and wonder what was about to happen; however, neither did the owl. It charged in, its coiled horns low, looking to end it as quickly as it had snatched him from the ground. The revolver came up and took out the half-ruined eye that sat on the left side of the owl’s too round head. It seemed hardly harmed by the first shot, the second did no better as Moslay aimed for the forehead and came up striking a horn instead. Perhaps the first had served as a warning, but the second was a definite sign for the owl. It lunged at Moslay before he could get off another shot.

The razor-sharp beak scraped across Moslay’s side as he tumbled backward, stepping over the edge and plummeting down onto the second nest. Bones and branches snapped beneath his weight, Moslay counted himself lucky that none of the crackling noises came from within his own body. Rolling about, he found this nest was a discard bin of sorts, a place where bodies that had been picked dry could go. However, that struck Moslay as funny, redpine owls would eat the bones, their unique digestive system made it almost a necessity to consume bone marrow. Pushing himself up on his knees, Moslay panicked as he found the shape of a bird just on the other end of the nest from him. Yet this was not the rounded off owl shape that now hung high above him, and it bolstered more than that one good eye.

Five heads, their necks twisted together like creeping vines and even some overlapping as though wicked together, faced Moslay. He felt his luck, if he ever had any to start with, finally had run out. Even with a full cylinder, he could only do away with these strange shapes, which meant the owl would still be a problem. Thinking of that giant above him, Moslay glanced up to find the creature had vanished suddenly. That wasn’t the most reassuring thing, but it was comforting enough for Moslay to consider a means of escape. The other shadowy thing, definitely something bolstering five heads connected to one body, lurched closer. As it did, Moslay searched below, hoping the ground wouldn’t be terribly far down. Rather than the earth, Moslay found more and more nests running all the way down the tree. They looked smaller, growing less and less in size the closer they got to the ground, but that didn’t reassure him that they would be empty. Turning back to the creature in this nest with him, Moslay laid eyes on the host now illuminate in the pale emerald moonlight.

It was a misshapen blob of feather and bony protrusions that looked poorly assembled at best. Upon a second glance, Moslay realized it wasn’t a natural creation but something held together by stitches and other poorly sealed wounds. Five narrow, stocky necks jet out of the hideous multi-colored bulk; some of them stood independent while those closer to the nucleus had begun to meld together or had been patched together in that manner. The various beaks and colored heads made it obvious this wasn’t a creature that was supposed to be, but upon a second glance, Moslay realized he knew those faces.

They were the songbirds that Moslay could not be mistaken on. There was the dove and robin, the green fluter, its ebony counterpart, and the rainbow-breasted saw wing. The others, there had been thirteen when they infested his lot, were missing. Glancing over the edge once more, Moslay was sure he saw shifting in the nests below. They were undoubtedly down there, waiting to catch whatever prey could fall from on high and then elude this amalgamation that caught what the owl could not. Moslay was willing to take his chances with those below, even if one of the more fearsome birds was in the next nest down. He would have a better chance with his single bullet then he would against this thing. Then, just as the five-headed bird moved closer and Moslay prepared to jump, a shriek broke his concentration.

A silver sliver was growing larger, closer, by the second, as it descended from directly above. Moslay put it together in seconds; the owl still was after him and must have let out a warning

cry to scare away any competition. He could always jump from the nest, but even if he eluded the hungry night bird that way, it would still know he was creeping about in the forest. Moslay’s end was coming; he felt confident in that much, so he would make a bold decision to speed things along. Whipping the gun to point for the heavens, Moslay took good aim, drawing all his concentration into that one shot. He steadied his nerves, forced his shooting hand to stillness using the other to support it, fixed his sight clear on that silver eye, and pressed down on the trigger.

Everything that came after the crack of thunder that jolted out of the barrel came faster than that initial sound. The owl let out a terrible screech as its right eye erupted, causing a cloud of blood to rain down. Before that owl could come crashing down, the songbirds realized just what had happened and cried with intense fury at Moslay. His gun was empty else he would have turned it on the three heads that jerked forward, trying to snatch him up. Yet Moslay kept his eyes fixed upward, as the owl neared, he threw his body into motion.

Just as the owl’s beak dove into the nest, Moslay leapt upward, catching the feathers on the back of the bird’s neck. As it crashed through the first nest and branch, Moslay’s grip slipped, and he was forced to grab a set of quills further down and another still after that as it continued down the tree’s length. As the bird finally crushed against the ground, Moslay was holding tight to the final tail feather, assisted by one of the owl’s quills. The wreckage and ruined beasts broke his fall only slightly, still, it was enough to save his life. Moslay wasn’t sure he should have been thankful to keep going on after scrapping with the bird for a second time, but he wasn’t going to deny that he was still alive.

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