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Why did you land on my weary head?

Despite the burdens I carried, your slightest touch seemed to lift them away. I pretended not to notice, to ignore the song you sang as I tugged my heavy yoke through the muddy field. But still, you cheerfully persisted.

I stopped and shook my horns at you, irritated by the interruption. Let me wallow here. There is no time to entertain your folly. I have work to do and following this endless rut is all I know.

But feathered creatures are not easily swayed. They are born of the wind, used to the ever-changing currents that ebb and flow. How can one argue with a being that dances in the air?

You resisted my efforts, flitting around as I listlessly dragged my cumbersome sorrows. Though I swished my tail and snorted in protest, you once again alighted on my cracked horns and resumed your sweet tune. What could I do but listen?

When I finally set down my load and rested, you stayed. We lay there, beneath that glorious moon. Bathing in celestial rays, slumbering as the luminous planets silently watched over this peculiar pair. That night, we shared a dream.

Day broke, spilling across the marshy pasture I called my own.

To my surprise, I found the crushing millstone had vanished during the night. I gloomily expected you to follow suit. Perhaps I imagined this, a blissful fantasy I wanted so dearly. But when I turned my head, you were there.

You laughed at my wonder, at the thought of even questioning your existence. The sound of your melodious mirth lifted my morose spirit. Never had I heard anything so enchanting.

I watched you preen your amethyst wings, captivated by the sight. You ruffled your feathers at me and hopped away in discomfort but I couldn't help myself. I felt if I took my eyes off you, the illusion would shatter and you would fade back into the nether from whence you came.

We traveled the mire where I lived until I reached my favorite grassy knoll.

You chirped and serenaded me as the warm green blades tickled my time-worn body. I listened to many stories of distant lands, colorful places filled with excitement and mystery that you explored with endless curiosity. Entranced by these tales, I scarcely noticed as the day flew by.

At length, the cool breeze changed direction. Sensing this, you grew restless and sadly conveyed a desire to depart. There was much to do, plenty to see for an inquisitive bird like you. I never wanted to see you go but understood we were from different worlds.

Our goodbye was wistful and bittersweet. I implored you to return if the winds blew my way once again. You gave me a cheeky wink and said perhaps. With that, you drifted off alone into those cerulean skies.

A piece of me left with you that day, but you didn't know it. An invisible passenger, riding on those soft wings. Can you feel it gently beating there, as you venture off to lands unseen? Will you discard it if it weighs you down?

I sighed and picked up my yoke once more.

Where do you go, little bird? What kind of friends do you have up there in the clouds? What is it like to be unchained and free, to soar on transparent roads leading anywhere? An earthly creature like me could never know the joy you must feel up there in the heavens, for I am trapped here by a cumbersome body and unbreakable bonds.

All I had was this never-ending rut. Perhaps it would be better if you never returned, for what could I offer to a whimsical being? The opportunity to be stuck on this accursed ground? I would only drag you down with me.

As I slowly trudged along this familiar path, the groove became ever deeper. I couldn't escape it. Perhaps I didn't want to, resigning myself to this dismal fate. What else was there for me to do? I was used to this work, I was made for it, born to follow the same routine until I died.

At times, the burden was too great even for me. On days like these, I withdrew into myself and settled in the cool muck until I found the will to move.

It was a day like that when you first appeared to me.

Since you left, I felt my collar choke me once more. The millstone hadn't gone away, I was so blinded by the brilliance of my visitor that it was simply overlooked. But I felt a new strength within, a powerful will long-buried beneath years of dejection. Somehow, I could go on longer than I had before.

I pawed at the earth, panting as I yanked my impossible burden. Though my neck was bent, I did not stare at the ground. My vision was ever skyward. At night, I watched the stars and wondered if it was possible to transcend this muddy prison and become a wispy being.

Sweating beneath a scorching sun, I paused my struggle and gasped for breath. Familiar claws gently scratched at my scalp. I sighed in relief, pausing my arduous task. "I never thought I'd see you again."

Flying to the ground, you hopped a few steps and flicked your lavender feathers. "Why do you carry this?" You puzzled, cocking your head.

I frowned at the question, whipping my tail in thought. Nobody had asked me that before. I scarcely knew the answer myself. "Because I must, I suppose. I've always carried this wherever I go."

With a rustle of wings, you flitted over to my harness and pecked at the straps until they came loose. "There," You chirped. "Now you don't have to bear it any longer."

"It's not that simple. Tomorrow it will be back around my neck as if nothing happened." I grumbled as I shrugged off the load.

"But you choose to keep it there."

I knew you were right. It was my choice to make, yet I was stubborn and refused to take your words to heart. Why should I free myself if you were there to help me?

"Come with me." You warbled brightly. I was powerless to refuse any one of your sonorous requests.

Leading me out of the dreary field, I followed as you flew over bubbling rivers and rolling hills. We passed through dense thickets and deep gullies, winding between mossy boulders until we reached our destination.

A vast forest stretched out before us. I could hear the voices of many animals calling from those unknown woods, so many that it was impossible to know what they were saying.

"Let me show you my nest." You smiled, eyes shining excitedly. It was infectious, your elation. I was thrilled to see something other than what I'd always known. Especially with you.

The forest was filled with an enormous variety of creatures, some of which I had never seen before. Owls, badgers, snakes, deer, rabbits, squirrels... But there were also gorgeous vistas to experience. Decadent waterfalls roared, flowering ivy swayed, lily pads drifted over crystal pools. I felt overwhelmed by the sights and sounds. So much to do and so much to see, I understood why you lived in a place like this.

Once we arrived at the gnarled oak you called home, the weariness of our long journey swept over me, causing my legs to buckle. I yawned and stretched out on the velvety moss that flourished over the forest floor. "Will you still be here when I wake?" I mumbled to you.

"Of course." You whispered in my ear. "Go to sleep, silly bull." And so I did.

Sunbeams and birdsong roused me from my slumber. I cracked open an eye and observed the waking woods with interest, watching dragonflies and blue-bottles chase each other over clover blossoms. You lay on my stomach, feathers fluttering slightly.

Once you awoke, we breakfasted together. You caught some dragonflies and I munched on the sweet lemongrass growing beside an algae-covered pond.

"I have some business to attend to in the woods today," You admitted between gulps of insects. "Oh no," I groaned with disappointment. "I was hoping to spend the day with you."

Talons shifting uncomfortably, you shuffled your violet wings. "I have to visit some family and friends, I'm really sorry."

I shook my horns and snorted. "Don't apologize. I should have asked what your plans for the day were."

You flew to my head and gently nibbled on my hide before warbling in my ear. "Meet me back here by sunset?" I bellowed in agreement.

Chirping happily, you swooped onto a branch. "It's settled then. Be careful not to get lost in the forest! I'll see you tonight."

Once again, I felt a pang of longing as I watched you soar into the green canopy above. What was I to do with myself, now that you were gone?

I decided to see what these woods had to offer a solitary bull, wandering about from copse to clearing. A cheerful raccoon offered me some mushrooms he was picking. I respectfully declined, stating they didn't agree with me. He shrugged, rubbing his paws together. "More for me!"

The gurgle of running water drew me to a wide river, where a family of beavers was busy constructing a dam. I drank from that clear stream, savoring the pure taste. "Oi! Buddy, we're workin' 'ere!" I lifted my dripping head and blinked at the beavers. They were arguing with several otters, one of which had a wriggling trout hanging from his mouth.

I turned away as the angry shouting continued. Time to search for quieter surroundings.

A crimson fox scurried across my path, a fluffy trio of pups yipping at her heels. She paused to glance at me warily, yellow eyes flashing. I nodded at her politely and she resumed her unknown trek through the underbrush. I supposed I must have stood out to the inhabitants of this forest.

Vigilant eyes watched me wherever I went, assessing whether I was a threat or not. I calmly ignored these stares, even though they made my hide prickle.

At last, I found a place free from suspicious glares. The trees opened into a sunny dell filled with plenty of tall weeds and no animals, perfect for a midday nap. I trampled enough plants to lie down comfortably and basked in the warm sunshine. Several birds drew near as I lay, half-dreaming.

Cheeps and trills wormed their way into this fragile oblivion, meaningless gossip twisting darkness, forming intangible reality. A brown bear lumbered into the clearing, carrying a rotten log. Bees spilled from the moldy wood, swarming the hulking beast with angry buzzing. When the living cloud disappeared, the bear had morphed. A giant obsidian snake was coiled on the ground. Slowly it unraveled, hissing and slithering towards me, malice boiling within its reptilian eyes.

I tried to bolt, but the collar was around my neck again.

Desperately, I strained against the back-breaking weight as the sinister vermin glided closer. Opening its maw, two glistening fangs slid forth. Venom dripped from those wicked needles, spilling on a forked tongue writhing in the air. Bellowing helplessly, my eyes rolled in terror as doom prepared to strike.

I thrashed awake among a tangle of weeds. Chest heaving, I spun around wildly, searching for the dreadful monster. The soothing melody of cricket-song eased my pounding heart until fresh panic washed the nightmare away.

It was now dusk. And I had no idea where I was in this unfamiliar terrain.

From off in the distance, howls rose eerily. Shadows shifted as trees swayed in the chilly breeze. I could not recall which direction I came from, for the path was no longer visible. I had been transported to a different world.

This was the realm of predators, creatures that lived in gloom, waiting for blind prey to stumble into their ravenous jaws.

My hooves inched forward, taking tentative steps towards the murky woods. Bitterly, I wished I hadn't wandered so far. It seemed more and more likely that the only way I would see you again would be in spirit.

Twigs snapped behind me. I flinched, listening anxiously. The crickets had ceased chirping, when had that happened? Not daring to budge even a whisker, I silently waited for the unseen animal to move.

Dry leaves rustled as a freezing wind sighed through the forest. I fought back the urge to shiver. My limbs threatened to tremble, whether from chill or fear I did not know. A small eternity passed while the silver moon slowly rose over the treetops.

Another branch crackled, slightly closer. Sweat trickled down my neck, cold droplets feeling as though ants were crawling over my hide.

From the shadows beside me, a low growl rumbled. Two golden orbs glittered. Vapor rose in the cool air as the carnivore panted hungrily. A horrible smell wafted from the bushes. The stench of rancid blood stung my nostrils, primal fear overtaking my bovine brain.

I bolted.

It lunged at me, teeth snapping at my heels. Stinging thorns lashed my sides as I blindly plowed into the bushes. Snarling viciously, the wolf raced after me. A branch whipped me across the muzzle, tangling my horns before I yanked them free. I leaped over a fallen tree, skidding in a patch of mud before regaining my footing once more. There was no time to think. No room for error.

The wolf was almost upon me.

I could feel the heat of his breath, saliva flying from its frothing snout as it nipped at my back legs. Bellowing in terror, I frantically tried to shake my quarry. Slipping between two saplings, I twisted down a worn game trail and galloped with all the strength I could muster.

But it was not enough. My pursuer was relentless, doggedly chasing its prey. I could feel these limbs slowing, lungs heaving, burning for breath.

Agony tore my right leg. Sinking his fangs into my flesh, the wolf howled in triumph. I cried out in pain, bucking and kicking at the savage beast. At last, a hoof struck home. Releasing me with a whimper, the predator shied back as I limped away.

From nearby, multiple howls arose. I felt despair smother my spirit, knowing the pack was lurking nearby. They could smell the warm blood oozing from my wound, knowing I was maimed and unable to run. I was never leaving these woods again.

Something swooped down from the branches above, landing on my head. I knew that touch, the gentle feeling of those claws.

"Turn left! Don't give up!" You chirped frantically. Twisting around, I wheezed and followed your instruction. Behind us, I glimpsed my attacker get up, and join in the howling chorus. It wouldn't be long before razor teeth tore me once again.

The trees were thicker here, forcing me to pick my way through them. I could scarcely move faster than a walk, wincing every time I put weight on my lacerated leg.

"Leave me, before they get you too," I begged as I dragged myself through the underbrush.

You pecked me harshly. "Shut up. Keep moving, you're almost there!"

It sounded like a whisper, faintly murmuring. I recognized that sound. Ahead of us lay the river, my last chance at survival.

Shadowed figures rushed through the trees. Paws padded closer, wolves baying and yipping at the prospect of a juicy feast. I could feel those jaws closing around my neck, ripping at me as I sank to the cold earth...

You jabbed me again, spurring me onward. "Come on! You're almost there!"

I could see the rippling water now, reflecting countless crescent moons. The rocky bank was perilously steep. Behind me erupted ferocious cries of pure bloodlust, a signal for the final assault. My torn leg threatened to crumple, sending me sprawling in the dirt.

Braying in anguish, I strained against the limits of my body as the pack closed in. Salvation was a few feet away. It seemed an insurmountable distance, stretching miles as the ravenous hunters revealed themselves.

A legion of yellow eyes burned, endless teeth glistered viciously. The forest was a rolling sea of coarse fur and gnashing fangs, about to crash over me in a gory wave. With a hideous roar, they sprang. I closed my eyes.

And jumped.

Submitted: April 15, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Ray Scrivener. All rights reserved.


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