Strix Aluco

It was a warm late spring evening with hardly a cloud to tarnish the heavens, and a cooling breeze gently tickled the oak tree's branches at the end of the Radford's garden. The sun had disappeared, but there was still a tinge of pale blue on the western horizon. Street lights were flicking on throughout the neighbourhood. One's peculiar orange glow formed a pool around three people standing conversing on the front doorstep.

"Are you sure you'll be alright on your own?" asked Mrs. Radford again.

"I'll be fine Mum! I'm not on my own. Stop worrying," answered Georgia, a twelve-year-old girl with light brown hair. Around her legs wove a small grey tabby called Angel, who followed her everywhere. They were both looking forward to eating prawn cocktail crisps in front of the television, and watching movies until late, things they were not usually allowed to do under the kind but firm law of her parents.

"OK love, we'll be back from the party about one, but I expect you'll be asleep by then. I know it's the weekend, but you need your sleep," said her dad. The two parents kissed her on the cheek and got into the car.

Finally, after lots of waving and reminders of, "Don't answer the door," and, "The restaurant's number is on the fridge," shouted through the window, the shiny red Ford left the drive and disappeared around the corner by the road sign stating 'Tawny Close'.

Georgia shut and locked the front door. Grabbing a ham sandwich she'd made earlier, she made her way through the house and out the back door, pausing only to pull on a jacket. She lay down on the grass, Angel curling up on her chest. Birds were flying to and fro across the darkening sky. The evening chorus resounded from the black lines of hedges, beauty bursting forth from the beaks among the branches.

While she chewed a bite of sandwich, she noticed something tiny drop, like a small stone, out of the hole in the hollow oak, near the top. Feeling curious, she decided to investigate and got to her feet. Its trunk was huge and rough, the branches spreading out wide and leafy as though they held up the sky itself. Jumping up, she grabbed two of the lowest branches then swung herself over. Angel tried to follow her, but she slipped and pretended she'd done it on purpose, like cats always do, and began licking herself all over.

Meanwhile, Georgia had reached the hole and she peered inside. It was gloomy and littered with little bones and pellets.

"An owl's nest!" she gasped excitedly. A pair of bright black piercing eyes spun round to look at her, a feathery dappled-grey face encircling them. It hooted softly and rose it's soft, downy wings in warning.

"Aawwww, only a baby," cooed Georgia mockingly. She wasn't well known for her love of nature, apart from her devotion to Angel, and often didn't give a single thought to her actions. She reached above her and snapped a twig from the branch by her head. She jabbed it cruelly towards the vulnerable form. It gave a shriek and flapped about wildly, trying to escape its tormentor, but Georgia poked it again, wanting to see what it would do. The poor young tawny owl screamed and hooted until it reached the edge of the hole, its back to Georgia, and tried to fly away. Being only a chick, it fluttered uselessly, teetering on the edge of the opening, before falling straight to the ground. Georgia dropped out of the oak and peered at the unmoving bird, spread-eagled on the grass.

"Huh, boring bird." Angel looked up at her, then the owl. She bounded over, sniffed it and turned away. It was dead.

They left the corpse lying there, alone in the gently waving grass, that bowed and scraped like wailing mourners, and went inside, conscience absent, to find something to have for dinner.

After they had eaten and watched a few videos, Georgia gave a jaw-cracking yawn, picked up Angel who was sleeping belly-up on the sofa and staggered upstairs. She brushed her teeth, put on her pyjamas and clambered into bed, with Angel at her feet. She snuggled down under the duvet, bouncing her head on the pillow a few times to make it more comfortable. Her cat curled her tail around herself.

Everything was calm and quiet, except for the occasional car driving past. The breeze blew in through her slightly open window, making the curtain ripple and billow like a flag. Georgia's brown eyes began to close. She was just about drop off when she heard a shrill screech, high and supernatural.

"Wh-who's there?" stuttered Georgia, sitting up quickly. No-one answered. Angel was the only one there, her orange eyes blazing through the darkness, ears pinned back. Georgia calmed her down, scratching her velvety head, then lay back down.

"Must have been something outside," she mumbled.

Once again, she was just about to fall asleep when the sound came a second time, echoing eerily round her bedroom. With a start, she awoke from her drifting conscious state, and peered fearfully into the gloom. There was still no-one there. Nothing. She reached out carefully and stroked Angel for reassurance. She shook herself firmly and burrowed deep under the covers.

"It was just a bird outside or something," she whispered, "just a silly bird."

Something was nagging at the back of her mind, tugging and shouting, but she ignored it and closed her eyes. Within minutes she had dropped into a peaceful slumber.

Then the hooting screech rang out for the third time, louder, closer, and fiercer than anything she had ever heard before, splitting her dreams into a thousand pieces. With a yell, she tried to twist herself out of the cold, tight, clawed grasp around her wrists. Talons dug harshly into her fragile skin; a feather, ghostly white in the moonlight, blew into eye and then away over her shoulder. Wind slapped her face and buffeted her dangling legs as she struggled wildly with the shadowy foe.

Suddenly the grip relented, and too late Georgia realised she was a hundred metres above the slated town rooves, and now was plummeting downwards, past the disused, rusting water tower and then past the red brick chimneys. Georgia screamed until her throat burned in agony, flailing helplessly in a way that reminded her too much of the owl she had killed earlier that same day.

She finally understood as she hit the empty cobbled town square. Stillness captured her body. The young girl gazed up while her life trickled away like a handful of water, and saw the same black eyes, glinting sinisterly, framed by deathly-pale grey. It hooted loudly, mocking her. A ghastly revenge had ripped apart the starlight night. She was dead.

A/N- I am sorry this story is not particularly good as I wrote it when I was 13 as a school-born ghost story.
-no pun intended with the "spread-eagled" description of the owl. It was the only description I could think of that fitted.
- Strix Aluco is the Latin name for the Tawny Owl. I was stuck for a title, and didn't want any clich├ęs about death/ghosts/revenge.