He’s back at work after his two-week vacation in Mexico. Doctor Aaron Mullens walks into the animal shelter where he works as the head veterinarian. His supervisor may have told him that vacation time is about self care but Aaron believes that people go away on holiday just to feel good about coming back. Aaron slips on his stiff and starchy white lab coat with glee.
A big inhale with his nose takes in the various smells of pet food, and animal dander that has him think of one thing; home. He looks around to see the large warehouse is just how he left it. Petfood is organized in alphabetical order and broken up into different sections of animals on the shelves against the wall. Leashes and collars of every size and color hang on hooks along the first hip high shelf. On the other side, he would find the various toys that dogs, cats, and critters would spend hours if not days playing with them. The shelf identical to the first one sits two meters beside it. It holds kitty litter, blankets, and other necessities to keep the animals comfortable.
“Aaron!” Says the booming friendly voice accompanied by the long-armed hug of Miguel Sanchez. Aaron eagerly returns the hug as he wraps his arms around Miguel. He has been here since Aaron was fresh out of veterinary school and starting his career here. Immediately, Miguel took Aaron under his wing and today he is like an uncle to him. “Mi amigo! Welcome home!”
“Thanks Miguel. I’m glad to be back.” He says breaking from his paternal embrace. “What did you do while you were down in Cabo?”
Aaron takes his clipboard from the desk, and continues to talk with Miguel. “You were right about Cabo. It was beautiful there. The food, the sights, but my favorite was the stories that I heard.”
“Oh! What stories did you hear about?”
“Well, I went on that tour you suggested.” Aaron begins as he and Miguel walk towards the kennels. “I mean the legends that you guys have. They are so fascinating. I’m going to search for some books or movies to watch about them.”
“That good, eh?” Miguel chuckles.
“Yeah. I mean, La Llorona and the Lechuza?” Aaron beams as he waves his arms in an arch showing off his wonder. “Come on! That’s fascinating.
“And my cousin’s daughter Sofia?” Miguel insinuates nudging his elbow in his ribs. However, Aaron points his clipboard at the door to the kennels.
“Sorry Miguel. Duty calls.” Aaron scoffs with a grin while Miguel shakes his head and puts his hand through his greying curly hair. “It doesn’t hurt to take chances now and again. You going to Mexico proves that!”
His words fall on deaf ears as Aaron walks into the kennels, Miguel turns around and walks in the opposite direction. Aaron is a hard nut to crack but Miguel is determined to get his young friend to spread his wings and find true love. Miguel has found joy in his Maria’s arms; he just wants the same for everyone he cares about.
With a heavy heart, Miguel knows that Aaron has a hard time talking to women. The poor guy is so afraid of saying something stupid that he can’t even approach them without stuttering. It’s a shame because Aaron is such a gentle, caring soul but he needs a little confidence. Miguel had hoped that Mexico would give him what he needs but perhaps he’s wrong.
It’s 10:00 PM on the dot and Aaron is closing up the shelter. He feels the chilling air fill his lungs like a gentle breeze of ice tickling his body. It is a sharp contrast to Mexico where the air is so warm that it fills you on the inside and heats you up. The hair on the back of his neck stands as straight as pin needles, not because of the winter air but a paranoid feeling that he is being watched.
Aaron darts his eyes in every direction and sees nothing but a dark, deserted parking lot. This terrible sense he is feeling won’t leave him alone. The crackle of the gravel behind him has Aaron spin around, putting his fists to his face, and preparing for a fight. Not a person is to be seen but he knows that someone is around. Not thinking twice about it, Aaron runs at his highest speed to his car and locks himself inside.
As he rests his wrists on his steering wheel, he huffs and puffs trying to get as much oxygen back into him as he can. He brushes his hands against his face and looks at them. He calms himself enough to look outside and think rationally. He can see that no one is around but he still can’t understand why he feels so frightened. He’s been through this parking lot thousands of times and has never felt unsafe. He turns his head forward and starts the car. He blinks as he thinks he must be suffering from jetlag. That’s the only logical explanation as to why a sensible level-headed guy like him would suddenly feel this way.
A quiet drive on the road has Aaron feel like everything is okay again. He just needs to go home and get some much-needed sleep. Who knew that traveling could do this to you? Aaron thinks silently to himself. The long, winding road has no surprises to it. No one is on it but him, the passing of the streetlights have the same rhythm as they always do, and the soft hum of his car is the only sensation that he has.
The funny thing with Aaron is, this normalcy is very reassuring for him. He isn’t a man who likes surprises or changes to his routine. He is a man who finds comfort with the static and timeless. Little does he know that this is about to change. He hears a strange whistle that is unlike anything he has ever heard before. It sounds a lot like the howl of the wind, mixed with a person whistling, and owl’s hoot. He wants to ignore it but it’s piercing. Something is not right here.
He can’t be sure but out at the corner of his eye, he sees large black wings that are spread out fifteen feet coming straight at him. It is only a split second that whatever this is hits him and sends his car rolling over into the frostbitten grassy ditch. Aaron is struck with a dizzying feeling as he tumbles inside of his car over and over.
When the car finally stops spinning Aaron is upside down. Thanks to his seatbelt he is alive and conscious. Slowly, he puts his hands to the ground before he clicks off his safety restraint. He groans as he crawls out of his shattered driver door window. Although in a daze, Aaron inspects himself for any cuts, broken bones, or bruising. Luckily, all he has is a couple of nicks on his arms and bruising on his torso where his seatbelt was pressed into him.
He looks at his car and it is totalled. The whole body is crushed in on the driver’s side closest to his trunk. The door that he emerged from swings open, tilts itself, and dangles on its hinge before it topples to the ground. The car looks like a crumpled candy wrapper that’s been thrown into the garbage. Anger builds up from his gut as it works its way up to his brain until he flies into an uncharacteristic rage.
He spins around to scream at whatever did this to him. “What the fuck! Where are you? You twisted cock-sucker! You just about killed me! Come out so I can fucking rip this damage out of your hide you evil shitfaced bastard! I’m gonna…”
Aaron grabs the door that fell to the ground and holds it in front of his chest like he is going to use it as either a shield or a battering ram. “I’ll find you! And when I do, I will shove this door up your ass!”
Although no one is in sight, he knows that someone is there, he can feel it. Whomever struck him is out there in the darkness. Before he could rage any further, he is interrupted by a loud screech blasting out at him. It sounds like a bird being tortured and trying to escape. A harsh whoosh hits him seconds after and he covers himself with his broken car door. This unnatural gust sends him flying back towards his rumpled car and he hits it hard with his back.
Confused at what just happened, Aaron looks around again only to be met with nothingness. The feeling of being watched is gone and he is all alone. Not wasting any more time, Aaron takes out his cell phone from his jean’s back pocket to make some calls. He needs to go to the hospital to get himself checked out, and call a towing company for his car. After that, he doesn’t know what he is going to do.
A week has passed and Aaron walks into his apartment with his closest friend and neighbor, Miranda Tracy trailing close behind him. His left arm has three band-aids covering his cuts and his right arm is in a sling thanks to his shoulder being a little banged up from getting thrown onto his car. He steps inside his apartment and drops himself on his couch. Miranda with her petite frame, short pixie brown hair, and thin but surprisingly strong arms steps inside his apartment after him. She drops his duffle bag beside the door.
“You, okay?” She says in a jolly tone but looks at him worriedly.
Aaron shakes his head, and runs a hand over his face. “I don’t know what it was that hit me that night, Miranda but it wasn’t a truck.”
She closes his door and walks over to the couch to sit next to him. He has been playing that night over and over in his head. He can’t get figure out the answer for what he saw. Miranda rubs his shoulder in a affable way and listens to him talk. “The police say it was a hit and run. But no one else has turned up with vehicle damages so that can’t be it.”
“What do you think it is if not that?” She asks him sympathetically. “What do you remember?”
“It was out of the corner of my eye.” Aaron explains. “But I swear it was something with these huge wings.”
“Huge wings? And it hits like a tank?” Miranda states, remembering what he had told the police. In a nervous habit, Miranda tugs on her fuzzy plaid blouse. She wants to say the right thing to comfort him but settles with telling him her sincere thoughts on the matter. “You know I believe you but when you can’t explain something, then what else could it be other than a huge truck that hit you?”
“You’re right.” He says looking to her. “Thanks for bringing me home from the hospital and your offer to take me to work tomorrow. I hope it still stands.”
“Of course,” She smiles and nods at him. She gives him a playful but mild shove on his shoulder before she picks up the TV remote. “Now I know what will take your mind off of this. Let’s watch some good old documentaries of the Serengeti. It’ll cheer you up.”
She is right about that. Hell, Miranda is right about a lot of things when he can’t rationalize them. They have been best friends since middle school due to their shared love of the outdoors, animals, and cars that they have stayed that way. Suddenly, she stands up and goes to his kitchen.
“I’m going to get a whiskey. Would you like one?” She calls after opening the cupboard.
“Yeah, with a little ice please.” He calls back. And they both like whiskey.
At least with each other, there is no mystery. He knows he is not going to solve this one so he might as well put this whole situation out of his mind. Starting with the whisky that Miranda places in his hand and watching the buffalo run on the vast rolling plains of Africa. Tomorrow is another day after all.
Aaron’s work day is over and it is a quiet night. He is riding in the passenger seat of Miguel’s jeep. His spirit is lifted despite his shoulder still aching. He loves riding in Miguel’s jeep because it feels like he is going on safari to explore the wildlife around him. It is certainly safer than what he sees people doing on the TV shows that he watches but it is still an adventure to him.
“How’re you feeling these days mi amigo?” Miguel says showing care. “Your arm still hurting?”
Aaron turns to look at him with kind eyes. He always appreciates Miguel’s concerns surrounding him. “Yeah shoulder’s sore but nothing I can’t handle.”
Miguel nods at him and asks. “So, what about your car? What are you going to do now?”
“I guess I will buy another one. Or maybe I should do something healthier like take up biking.” Aaron responds
“In this weather?” Miguel mocks looking out the window, gazing at the light dusting of show that is falling from the sky and onto his vehicle. “You do know that snow, rain, and anything else that isn’t sunshine comes out in this place man?”
Aaron looks over at Miguel and laughs. “Maybe it’ll toughen me up.”
“Do you hear that, Miguel?”
Miguel’s eyes scan in every direction that he could look as his bottom lip begins to tremble. The look of fear on Miguel’s face makes Aaron nervous. Aaron looks outside to see if he can see what is causing this weeping.
“Miguel, what is that?” Aaron asks as fear spreads through him as the bawling becomes so loud that it can’t be ignored.
In the middle of the road, a seven-foot-tall figure lands in front of the car as it drops from the sky. Miguel fearfully swerves to the right side of the road avoiding this imposing form. The men crash headlong into the ditch. The two of them and the jeep receive no damage but their concern lies to whoever that is on the road. Miguel and Aaron turn around in their seats looking towards what ambushed them.
The figure turns and faces them. With long, slow strides, the being walks under a street light, revealing itself. The face is round and wrinkled as if it belongs to an old woman who has long string-like black hair with a single white streak growing out of the top of her head. The eyes are dead white like two opaque marbles with the nose and chin pointing in the direction of each other as if to combine in the shape of a beak. The body is plump but shapeless and completely covered in black feathers. This kind of body belongs on a bird not a person.
“Lechuza.” Miguel whispers to Aaron.
“What?” Aaron asks, not taking his eyes off of this horrifyingly anomaly behind them.
“It’s the Lechuza.” Miguel explains as he frantically pulls out the rosary that he keeps in his left shirt pocket at all times. “It’s a witch that has made a pact with the devil in order to gain more power. She was murdered and wants revenge.”
“Yeah yeah yeah.” Aaron yells in a whisper to Miguel, interrupting him. “I remember the story but what do we do?”
“Pray with me.” He says frantically. “Pray with me Aaron.”
The two of them start praying to be saved by this creature as she starts walking towards them. Something of a smile cracks on her crumpled lips as she enjoys watching the two men’s terror. The anguish that these two men are going to meet by her talons is stimulating her desire. Like when a predator who loves the smell of its prey’s distress before the kill. To the Lechuza, it makes the flesh more luscious. Her voracious appetite calls for their sweet blood and sumptuous organs. She will have them both soon in her stomach for both the nourishment and pleasure.
The two men tremble as she strides forward with her giant clawed feet. Suddenly, the Lechuza gets a surprise of her own. A white barn owl with brown on its wings dives down and nudges her at the top of her head. She lets out a squawk as the men look up to the trees in front of them. A parliament of barn owls are sitting in theses trees and staring down fearlessly at the hideous monster.
Each owl has a heart-shaped concave face with dark eyes that contrast its pale colored feathers. Each of their bills has a deadly sharp curve that matches the equally lethal talons at their feet. Half of them have dusky speckles on their breasts while others have fewer. All of them have ombre tawny feathers on their wings that make them look both terrifying and beautiful at the same time. With quick speed, all of the owls leap from their branches and fly towards the Lechuza.
Their beaks are open and claws are out. They scratch and bite this demon in a frenzy of dive bombs and maneuvers. The monster screams in agony as each of these birds manage to harm her every time, they come at her.
“Wow!” Aaron pipes up with his mouth agape. He has never been so happy to see so many birds in one place and attacking. “Go Miguel! Go, go, go, go, go!”
Miguel quickly starts the jeep and drives off, leaving the Lechuza to be ripped apart by the barn owls. Aaron looks back to make sure that they aren’t being followed by this thing. He realizes that the Lechuza is not pursuing and for now, the two of them are safe.
Since that night, Aaron has gained some more knowledge of the Lechuza. Today, he walks out of his apartment with a confident glow. In his new hiking boots, and leather jacket, Aaron feels that he can take on just about anything after his frightening experience. He steps towards his brand-new lime jeep courteous of Miguel’s favorite dealership. As soon as he goes inside the vehicle, Aaron breathes in that fresh, clean smell of leather. A new beginning is upon him. He traces his hand down to the pouch of salt that he now keeps around his neck for protection against the monster.
Although the Lechuza has not crossed his path for five months he would rather be safe than sorry. If he ever runs into that creature again, Aaron knows that he has to throw salt on her to ward her off. As it turns out, cursing her out works as well but it is only a temporary solution. It was why she didn’t attack him on their first encounter and why she came back. Now as he has just discovered, keeping some owls close by will keep a person safe. For reasons he didn’t know, owls hate her and will assault her.
He looks down to the paperwork he has on his passenger seat. He is pulling some strings at the animal shelter to open themselves up to wild animals as well as domestic. He plans to win over the owners and investors with pain-staking research and the new classes he has been taking.
But that is not what is on his mind tonight. On this sunny summer evening, he is going on a blind date to meet Miguel’s cousin’s daughter Sofia at a taco joint where margaritas are on special. After his whole ordeal with the Lechuza, he decides that no risk could ever be as scary as it was facing that entity. So, it’s time to get out of his comfort zone and live.
A Special Thanks to:
AARCS Safe Haven - Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society - For all the great things they do and for taking me on to help those wonderful creatures find their true home. 5060 74 Ave SE, Calgary, AB T2C 3C9 https://aarcs.ca/