They are two stains against the wine-colored dusk. If fall has been lagging behind this year then the birds never noticed: the flocks fluctuate above their heads like oil spills.
One is very small. One is tall and square-shaped if seen from afar. They drag each other towards various directions but mostly the small shape is seen adhering to the large one, and then they become a single shadow, stumbling through the stony glade. It becomes clear that they are heading towards the tuft of trees sticking out lopsided around the crest of the hill, spilling out to the dry fields below.
The smaller shape breaks free. It runs in the opposite direction, and falls. No voices are discernable through the din of the flying geese. The tall shape turns and walks slowly towards the runaway. It takes its time. The terrain is tricky, all patches of mud, puddles of unexpected depths, rocks that fall apart without warning. It grabs the smaller shape by the clothes and hauls it up. It offers no resistance. They go into the trees. They can no longer be seen.
The night is falling. Only the tall shape emerges. It pauses to look at the evening star hanging low above the plains. It’s a leaner shape now, as if it has shed a bulky item of clothing. Even from afar its hands can be seen moving in a violent shiver.
It’s not too far up north for absolute things, but it is far enough for these: a flat, clear sky, spattered everywhere with stars like broken glass and spilled mercury. An unforgiving earth, yielding nothing to the scouting coyotes and foxes and odd skinny wolf. A night frozen solid, when small prey burrows and hides, and yellow-teethed mouths hang empty with lolling tongues.
Some wild things may be a little less hungry tonight. It is a frost. The young are dying in their sleep, in nests, in holes, on the ground. The young are beginning to rot with sorrowful cracking of fur and skin. This young went with its beak open. That young went with its cries muffled and lips pale blue. It has soft blond hair with purple butterfly clips and a coat with hearts for pockets. Its mittens are being already nibbled on by scurrying things.
The tall, ragged shape is reaching the highway, stepping into the light. Its face is glistening, all tears and sweat and snot. It is mumbling a prayer with wide eyes and its stare is broken, erratic and unseeing. It crosses the road while cars shriek and spit to avoid it. Its slippers on the tarmac make a heartbreaking sound. It wanders into the frozen field, following the hooting of nocturnal birds. It doesn’t seem to hear the sirens, or the voices calling. It’s already deep into the whispering grass, looking for that crisp strip of land where seasons are said to change.
They catch up to it. They ask questions. It’s a hungry world, the tall shape replies. Everything wails in starvation. Winter is cruel. The animals scratch on the door every night, they tap on the window, they pant in the darkness, begging. I only wanted to feed them, it says. We are so desperate. We are so hungry.
Photo by Dean Pasch