Story One / Nightfall
It was not the first time that Avianna woke up to find herself out at midnight sitting on a low-curved branch of the Crissmere Tree. The brown spotted bats hung fearlessly not more than six inches from her pretty face, and the piercing yet soft call from the North Star Owl could be heard throughout the night sky.
Avianna stood, her bare feet against the moist grass where thick clover gathered and grew at the tree's large, reaching roots.
"Why-Lee," she called to the owl, cupping her hands over her mouth to direct the sound away from her house and toward where she knew the owl most likely would be.
"Why-Lee," she called again in a near whisper, and then he was there, perched on a branch, just above her head of long, dark hair.
Avianna reached up to him and he lowered his head to gently touch her forefinger with his sharp, curved beak.
Although he did not speak in words, he communicated his thoughts to Avianna, and she, in turn, spoke to him.
"I don't know what brought me here to this tree again tonight, Why-Lee. I woke up here. What have you been doing? You aren't frightening the rabbits and mice in the fields, are you?"
"Of course not," Why-Lee said with a blink of his very round eyes.
Avianna hoped this to be true and, knowing that he could read her thoughts, she was careful not to seem accusatory.
"Are you finding enough to eat, Why-Lee? You know I don't want you to go hungry."
"You also don't want me to eat the things in the fields," he said.
Avianna sighed. It was a perplexing problem, not wanting her friend to starve but also not wanting the little animals to become prey.
"What have you eaten tonight?" she asked. "I could bring you some protein from home. You seemed to like those beans I gave you a few nights ago, and the peanut butter sandwiches must have been tasty. It's all good food, Why-Lee, and nothing had to die."
Why-Lee lowered his head momentarily, but had no response. He still would have enjoyed the hunt and the taste of a fat mouse or chubby hare.
"I'm waiting for something to expire," Why-Lee said matter-of-factly.
Avianna smiled. "I understand," she said. "And as long as it's truly dead, I suppose that's okay."
"I would not dream of enhancing its demise," the owl noted with a haughty turn of his head. "You've requested that I not and my promise is valid."
Avianna looked him directly in the eyes. "I know," she said.
The two friends sat quietly for a few minutes listening to the crickets and watching the fireflies twinkling in the dark.
It was Avianna who broke the silence. "I'm going for a walk toward the river, Why-Lee. You're welcome to come along if you wish."
"Do you sense trouble?" Why-Lee asked.
Avianna wasn't sure. Something seemed off and that was enough to lead her to the rippling water's edge. "I feel the call but I don't know why. It may be nothing more than my imagination. It wouldn't be the first time."
Why-Lee knew about her sensitivities, that they were sometimes mistaken, but he also knew that most often her concerns were genuine. "I'll go along with you," he said.
Avianna moved carefully across the land at the end of her yard, then into the wooded area where a familiar path, bathed in gentle moonlight, led to the river. She saw movement by a cluster of poplar trees and then she could see a young deer. She thought at first it was eating the leaves, but then it became apparent the small doe was entangled in prickly vines and could not move without being torn and tortured by the penetrating thorns.
"I'm going to need your help, Why-Lee. I'll try my best to assure the deer that I am here to help, but you know better what to say. I may need your talons to help me undo those vicious vines. I've clipped many of them away from time to time, but still, they serve a purpose in shielding the birds from ... "
"Yes, I know," said Why-Lee, "from the likes of me and mine."
Avianna had no wish to offend Why-Lee, but it was true, the thorns which could so mutilate some, offered protection to others. She moved forward slowly as the frightened deer struggled to be free. Why-Lee cooed a multi-syllable series of sounds and the anxious young doe was stilled, her eyes fastened on Avianna.
With strategic breaks in the vines, a few punctures to her slim hands, and a maneuvering of twisted tendrils, Avianna carefully disentangled the terrified deer. Once freed, the animal looked directly into Avianna's eyes and then, with a graceful dart across the shallow stream, was magically gone into the deeper woods.
"Perhaps you now know why you were called to the night again," Why-Lee commented. "You are not relaxing company," he added.
Avianna smiled as she rubbed gently at her bleeding palms. "I should go back home," she said. "I have school and a test first thing in the morning. I need to be well-rested for that. But, Why-Lee, thank you for your assistance. I couldn't have helped the doe without you. What did you say to calm her?"
Why-Lee looked away, turning his head one hundred and eighty-degrees, then brought his eyes back to Avianna's. "I told her that you were a human who did not understand what a tasty meal she had in her sights, and that you were there only to be of help."
"Wow," Avianna said. "Goodnight, Why-Lee, and thank you again for your help."
Making her way back home from the river, darker now because of her own shadow closing out the moonlight, she walked the winding path through the woods. In her expansive backyard where her botanist father's prized Crissmere Trees grew among chestnuts and maples, Avianna found that her night vision had adjusted well. She could plainly see where she was stepping so as not to injure her bare feet on twigs and small stones.
As she continued to navigate the yard, avoiding the shallow goldfish pond and the surrounding dwarf pines, Avianna became aware of an unfamiliar sound. She stopped and listened. With her keen night vision, she could see next-door to a man digging an ample hole in the dark. She watched him intently, his face reflecting misery, and she wondered what he was doing.
As she stepped forward, a twig snapped beneath her foot. The man stopped what he was doing and looked her way. Though Avianna's eyes worked well in the dark, surely this person could not see her slender form next to the protective trunk of the hearty Crissmere. She watched for a few moments longer and the man resumed his digging as Avianna moved cautiously on.
Entering the house through the kitchen door where she told her Yorkshire Terrier, Wolfie, to be quiet, she walked to her bedroom where she found her cats, Toby, Cookie, and Cat, sprawled on her bed looking at her with questions. She wished that she could communicate with them as she could with Why-Lee, but she could not; she was, however, certain that they had a general understanding.
Avianna stroked the three purring creatures gently and assured them that all was well. Recalling the digging in the yard next door, she shivered, then climbed beneath the covers to claim sleep in the remaining hours before morning.