Web Site: Erin Elder
A family man and postal employee is haunted by a nocturnal creature.
The Owl and the Postman
It was the feeling of being watched that got him. He went to put the bill from the Morris County Electrical Cooperative along with the Pizza Junction flyer for discount lunch specials into the Corder’s mailbox and the sense that something was staring at him caused him to turn around.
First he noticed the beauty of the plush tawny chest. After marveling at the thickness of the feathers, he raised the level of his eyes. Two dark rimmed spectacled eyes gazed at him intensely and he realized it was an owl. A great horned one, standing just a few feet away in the Corder Family’s driveway. It was a bright summer’s morning, around 10:30 am and it was awake and looking right at Jerry Mack, Barton City mailman as if it stayed up late just to stare at him. It was downright creepy.
They stared at each other in the driveway for several moments. Jerry couldn’t say for sure how long. The owl’s gaze was mesmerizing. Well, the Anderson’s phone bill won’t deliver itself, Jerry Mack resolved and kept going. The owl flew away and Barton City’s second oldest postman let out a quick breath that whistled through his tightly pursed lips. A nearby sparrow twittered and its reaction nearly made the man jump as he stepped around the next corner to the Anderson’s house. He breathed loudly through his nostrils and decided to hum a soft nervous tune with no particular melody to calm himself. It’s just a bird that had insomnia, now get over it.
Two driveways down Anne Marie Wilson was planting flowers in her yard and after a brief friendly chat with the retired kindergarten teacher he was able to forget about the owl gradually as the day progressed. He shook it off, and other than being included in light dinner conversation with his wife, and ten year old daughter, the subject of the owl came up no more.
The next two days on the job were uneventful, though he felt slightly apprehensive as he approached the Corder’s driveway. Since nothing was there other than a squirrel or two, his thoughts returned to how to avoid the Miller’s big ugly dog that barked nonstop.
Friday morning was different, however, and he knew it before he ever left the house. The world was dark with no apparent resolve to show light until at least 9 or so in the morning. Memories of the owl returned and somehow Jerry Mack knew he would indeed see the spectacled creature. It was not in the Corder’s driveway. It was not in the Anderson’s driveway, though he found himself looking around as he placed the joyous proclamation that a furniture store was going out of business for the third time that month, buy now and save! in their mailbox. The hairs on the back of his scalp stood straight up and he peered around the side of the blue siding and saw a worm struggling to wriggle over a pile of garden hose. After looking at it for a moment in dazed fascination he turned and walked on.
Anne Marie Wilson’s leg was sticking out from underneath the azaleas. He knew she was dead before he got there, and stunned, he put the furniture flyer and a credit card bill, and what looked to be a wedding invitation in her mailbox before walking over to her. The feeling of being watched was as intense as ever, and he was not at all surprised to see the owl leaning forward intently in the dogwood tree on the other side of her driveway. It sat on a low branch and the Jerry knew that the owl wanted him to see him.
Though he was not related, Jerry went to Anne Marie’s funeral. He couldn’t help himself. He was compelled to listen to the life story of this former teacher before her one and only heart attack. It was a fairly large funeral, there were only two schools in Barton City’s municipality and so many students had been hers.
Jerry told a few co-workers about the owl, but did not emphasize the fact that he had seen it twice during the daytime. Most of them agreed it was strange. Ervin Peters, the town’s oldest postman took him aside. “You ought to get you one of them books about animal symbols. Maybe that owl means somethin.” Jerry shrugged and said maybe he’d check it out, though he thought he probably wouldn’t.
Disturbing dreams about the nocturnal creature nagged at him, however, and within two days he found himself at the Morris County library.
Rhonda Mae, the librarian smiled at the stack of books on animals and American Indian folklore. “Didn’t know you were such a fan of wildlife, Jerry.”
“Oh, uh, this is stuff for one of Megan’s reports at school,” he replied calmly.
“Now, I hope you’re not helping her too much with her work. It’s good practice for children to do their own research.”
“Now, you know I wouldn’t do that. This is just a quick favor. She’s extra busy with school activities this week. Soccer practice runs pretty close to supper time.” He grinned and kept what he hoped was a cool exterior. He wasn’t ready to tell anyone he thought he was being personally visited by an owl.
“Well, I hope that Megan realizes what supportive parents she has.” Rhonda Mae smiled as she stamped the card and slipped it inside the slot in the book’s cover.
“Well, if she doesn’t, I’ll just have to cut off her allowance.” Both public service employees chuckled and he left with four books.
He had not especially looked at the books while at the library. Except for a cursory glance at the indexes, he barely perused what was in between the books’ covers and closed them. He wanted to look at these in the privacy of his own home. If he looked too fascinated, his story about his daughter’s homework would be blown.
At home, however, with Megan at soccer practice, his wife Angie was there with her, he had the house to himself. With Angus, the bull mastiff drooling in a nap on the floor beside him at the kitchen table, and Sophie the cat sleeping across the entryway, leaving a pile of gray fur on the blue couch, he was finally, almost blissfully able to read through his books.
“The owl is a harbinger of death.” one book said dramatically. Jerry looked around as if one were watching him at that moment. Bella stretched luxuriously, then put her paw on her nose. Jerry gazed at her fondly for a few moments and continued reading. Over and over, for the next two hours, as Jerry went through the books, most of them stated that the owl was a messenger of sorts, often seen before deaths. One book theorized that “owls symbolized wisdom and the viewer’s ability to deal with deception.” Anne Marie had had a heart attack. From what he could tell, she had not been one to deal much with mystery and intrigue. Jerry chuckled softly to himself at the thought of Anne Marie Wilson, the world’s sweetest retired kindergarten teacher caught up in some type of crime ring. Visions of Anne Marie, ‘Mrs. Wilson’ to so many, barking orders at a bunch of thugs made him laugh out loud just as Angie and Megan came walking in the door. Angus scooched up and trotted over, stubby tail wagging for attention from the returning females.
“Well, what’s so amusing?” laughed Angie. “Must be something in those books.” She reached down to scratch the huge dog’s head.
“Oh, yeah, I saw an owl a couple of times and I was curious to see what kind it was,” Jerry recovered brilliantly fast.
To his horror, Megan began picking up the Indian folklore book. “What’s this Dad? It looks cool.” Her eyes were drinking in the colorful artwork on the cover.
“Oh, that.” Jerry smiled casually and tried to look as though he thought the book silly. “I just thought it might be interesting to see if there were any owls in, you know, old Indian stories.”
“Can I look at it?” Megan asked.
“Oh, uh, sure. Just don’t let any of it give you bad dreams.”
Megan looked a little concerned about this. “Uh, okay, I’ll be careful.” She headed down the hall to her room, taking the book with her. Angus followed her, in hopes of another scratch behind his ears, Megan’s specialty.
Angie opened the fridge and pulled out a canned soda. “Want one?” she offered Jerry.
“No, no thanks. I’m fine for now.”
Angie sat down and swept her dark hair back. She opened her soda and took a sip. Jerry knew he had to stop looking at the books for now. Angie would know something was up if he continued to read. “How’d practice go?
“It went okay. Megan scored in the scrimmage game.”
“That’s great! Why didn’t she say anything when she came in?”
“We had that talk about bragging too much.”
“Oh, well, it worked I guess.” Jerry drummed his hands on the stack of books and tried to look casual.
“Jerry, hon, what’s wrong.” It was more of a statement than a question.
Busted. Jerry looked directly at the dark eyes of his wife. “The owl was there again when I found Anne Marie. All these books say that owls are messengers of death and doom, gloom, something.”
Angie was incredulous. “National Geographic Books said that?”
Jerry felt laughter bubbling up in his throat but he fought it down.
“No, that book, and this one,” he responded as he picked up what looked to be an old high school textbook, “said that they are not seen in the daytime.”
In the end, while Angie finished her diet soda and Megan did her math homework, Jerry explained what had seen. At age forty-four he had not had a real interesting life, but a fairly pleasant one with a secure job that kept him fit. He did mail delivery in a friendly southern town and felt like he knew everyone, well, sort of. He was a down-to-earth man with few expectations. Usually you got what you reaped; as the deliverer of overdue bills to houses with fancy cars, medical bills to the town drunks, he knew there was a certain logic to what happened to folks, much of the time.
He also carried medical bills to the homes of children in wheelchairs, a sadness that tugged at his heart whenever he slipped the envelopes with the hospital logo inside that particular family’s mailbox. But there were also foundation letters delivered in the same mailboxes of these struggling families, and it was great to know that there were organizations and people who wanted to help. So these good families were able to reap good things, too.
“So why Anne Marie? Why one of the best people that ever lived? Why was an owl there? Just to tell me it was her time to go?” Jerry beseeched his wife. “Was I supposed to say something to her?”
“I want to just say it was all coincidence, but I don’t think you’ll buy it,” said Angie. “If you have a feeling, just keep your eyes open. Maybe it’s trying to warn you of danger. Maybe you should have a medical check up, just to make sure.”
Jerry agreed. “Can’t hurt. I’m due for my annual in a couple of months, I reckon Dr. Heflin won’t care if I show up early. I’ll just tell him I want to go on a vacation and would like to get the yearly physical out of the way.”
“Good, that’s a start. Be careful. Maybe you’re too complacent on your route, you know? Maybe you should just look around more, check the street out when you’re crossing it more carefully. Maybe it’s trying to warn you about some danger, a poisonous snake in someone’s yard, whatever.”
“Okay, sure. Good idea. Now, what’s for supper?”
“Oh, I forgot to tell you, you’re grilling. Better get to it. Don’t forget to praise Megan for her score at practice today. She’s in the first game of the season next week, the first Thursday in September.”
After dinner, Jerry tried to put visions of owls out of his head and decided to go to bed early. He woke up in the morning feeling refreshed and thought that perhaps this business was just a lot of hooey. He would call the clinic on his lunch break and have his yearly exam; just to get it out of the way, so he could move on to other things.
Late in the afternoon a car’s tire blew and he jumped into a ditch, sure he’d been shot. He had to laugh at himself over that. Until he looked up and saw the owl, 4 o’clock in the afternoon sitting in a pine tree staring straight at him.
When he got back to the post office to check his messages and get things lined up for the next day’s delivery, there was a message and a very sad group of people to greet him.
“Did you hear?” Renee King, one of the other mail clerks asked.
He sat in the dining room, hands shaking. He pulled out his pocket calendar, a gift from his wife who always had wanted him to be more organized, and made a note of his medical exam in two weeks. After all, he needed to take extra good care of himself, now that he was Barton City’s oldest postman.
Angie came in the door with a sack of groceries. “I picked up the ingredients for the green bean casserole to take to the Peter’s,” she told him. We can take it over there tomorrow night. I take it you’re going to both the wake and the funeral?”
“I think I should, though Heaven only knows how much I hate these things.”
“I know, hon, but he was a co-worker and you guys always were friendly. I think we should do whatever we can.”
“I agree.” He got up and went into his daughter’s room to see if she had had enough of that book. He was through looking at owls, through reading about them and was considering asking for a transfer. This town, happy as he’d been until now was starting to creep him out.
There were a lot of people at the viewing for poor Ervin Peters, stroke victim. He had been a nice man. Like Jerry Mack and Anne Marie Wilson, he had lived in the area all of his life. Ervin had gone to Barton City High, played Barton City football, and coached junior league at the community center in his spare time. He was loved by all. Just as I am loved by owl, Jerry almost laughed at his pun and had to fake a coughing fit. People turned and tried to make sure that Jerry Mack was okay. After all, he had worked with the man and they were friendly. Rumor had it that they were actually buddies and got together once in awhile for a cold beer and the occasional barbecue at one or another’s house. After watching him cough and straighten up, they surmised that he was fine, perhaps a bit shaken up, and they left him, with the arm or hand pat here and there.
Later, Rhonda Mae, the town librarian came by, wished him well and made small talk about Megan’s report. Jerry said, not a lie, “She was real fascinated with the one Indian folklore book especially.” Rhonda Mae smiled warmly and said, “Well, Jerry, you just take care. This town has had two recent deaths…and you know what they say. It always comes in threes.”
She left and the next coughing fit from Jerry Mack had everyone around him handing him napkins and advising him to take a few sips of water for quite a few minutes.
He went home and barely slept a wink that night. Exhausted, he got up and went to work. The day was a hazy, humid blur. He practically staggered into the door and walked past wife, child, dog and cat and went to sleep. Finally at 7:30 that night he woke up, ate a few bites of sloppy joe on a bun, and went back to bed until close to 9:15 Saturday morning. He knew the owl was coming for him. He just didn’t know why.
The day was dreamlike. Jerry mowed the lawn. Though it was not a big yard, it seemed to last forever. The drone of the mower hummed in the background corners of his mind, although he knew it was loud. His mind was in the treetops, searching out every branch, every driveway that he could see in the cul-de-sac. Megan was proud of her homemade lemonade and he drank it and acted thrilled. He asked for more, just a half glass this time. Megan poured it and he smiled and drank it. As he looked past his brown-haired daughter’s smile, he saw a man walking up the street staring at the house. He did a double-take because the man was wearing dark, round glasses like the owl. Jerry handed Megan the glass back and thanked her very much. Megan went back inside. When he looked back at the man, he was a stick figure far up the path. Great, now I think people look like owls. If Megan needs glasses, I’m telling her no. It’ll give me a nervous breakdown. He chuckled to himself, then started up the mower, cursing as it hit a rock.
Later, after putting the mower in the separate tool shed, he walked back across the yard and stepped inside where he had a nice, cold beer. He and the family watched a movie that he didn’t especially pay attention to, and went to sleep.
The owl came crashing through the window. Angie screamed as she jumped out of the bed, seemingly in just one movement. This caused the little patter of feet to run down the hall. Megan burst into the room to see her father being attacked by a large bird. Tears welled up into her eyes as she cowered in a corner, unable to do anything. The dog’s loud barking did nothing to distract the bird. Its glaring eyes were focused, unblinking. The owl’s talons were scraping his face and he was bleeding. Angie was trying to beat it with a pillow, but to no avail. It knew who it wanted. It wanted Jerry Mack. It came for Jerry Mack, now Barton City’s oldest postman.
Jerry thrashed about in the bed until close to 3:00 am. After Angie comforted him, he pretended to be all right and pretended to sleep. He got up later and drank a glass of water, searching the windows.
He had decided one thing. The next day he was going owl hunting. He wasn’t sure if it was illegal, he didn’t particularly care. No owl was going to come and hurt him or his family.
Sunday morning they all went to church. Jerry listened to parts of the sermon, mostly it was about forgiving those who trespass against us. This sermon does not apply to me at this time. He smiled at the minister, at Rhonda Mae, at Arlene Peters, now a widow. He left.
After Sunday dinner, he went for a stroll. He concealed a handgun in his shorts. Yes, Mister Owl, I am happy to see you. He would have taken a rifle, but assumed no one would think he was that thrilled to see anyone. He asked Angie to bake him a pie and Megan to practice her soccer so he could play with her later. Let’s see, a perfect Sunday for the perfect Christian. Church. My wife’s macaroni and cheese for Sunday dinner followed by a pleasant walk where I find an owl who has no business being up at this hour. So then I kill him with a gun. I enjoy the last piece of Angie’s blueberry pie I’ll have for a long time after I play with my daughter for the last time in God knows when because I have to kill some owl that animal rights folk will protest over. Then I will go to jail. Pay a fine I can’t afford. When I get out I will have lost my job. My wife, who will probably divorce me, will have to work two jobs to hang onto the house and Megan will be a latchkey kid. Have I covered everything? Oh yeah, we will all be outcasts. The other kids will laugh at Megan because her weirdo dad freaked out one day and shot an owl with a handgun. Okay, that might be just about it.
The owl must have taken the day off because he did not see it.
A few more days went by and were uneventful. This time he was not fooled. He kept a look out, drove his wife and daughter to school, told them to watch out for each other and was adamant that they followed curfews. After Megan scored twice in the school soccer game, it was a quick serving of french fries and coke with some other kids and an immediate drive home. The shutters on every window was closed and locked each night. No exceptions would be made. “You’re starting to act like a jailer,” Angie told him. Then she smiled. “But we can play that, Mister Officer, if you like.” Jerry smiled, raised an eyebrow, and made love to his wife while rain poured outside.
Then the following Friday morning it happened. Megan had the day off, it was teacher’s workday. He left his wife and child sleeping. The owl was in his driveway. It made no effort to move from its spot right smack in the asphalt’s middle as Jerry walked toward it. Jerry picked up a felled branch from the previous night’s rain and kept walking. The bird remained motionless. Its unblinking eyes burned his. They stood and stared at each other, man and raptor. Finally the bird flew up into a nearby tree and Jerry stood there for a moment wondering why he didn’t swing the large stick at the wretched thing. It was as though it had hypnotized him.
He went on to work, though he wasn’t comfortable. How long before the bird would leave the vicinity of his house? At least Megan had the day off and wouldn’t likely come to harm. He put it out of his head for a while, but later as he walked past the Miller’s barking dog, he could swear he heard the woof of his own Angus in the back of his mind. Then he took off running back to the mail jeep.
The good people of Barton City had never seen a speeding mail jeep. Usually they are the annoying vehicles that stop repeatedly in front of your car as you are hurrying down the road to wherever. They, like buses, are what get in front of you the day you oversleep. They are God’s punishment for the dawdlers of this world. The citizens of this fair town watched the jeep fly past, as it changed lanes as often as possible. They got out of the way as quickly as they could.
The man with the dark rimmed eyeglasses was hiding in the tool shed when Jerry found him. The stranger had been watching the house for some time, and had noticed that not only had the tool shed housed the mower, but outdoor toys as well; such as Megan’s soccer ball. The owl, waiting for this moment, swooped down with a terrible speed and clawed at the man’s throat. The wingspan was so huge it knocked Jerry Mack back and he fell against the door, banging his right elbow. Angus could be heard barking ferociously, frustrated that he couldn’t get out to help his master.
Megan had stopped dead still halfway across the yard, alarmed to see her father’s mail jeep screeching up the driveway. Mom had just left for a few minutes to run to the store. It had seemed harmless enough in this good, happy town to step outside for just a few minutes and get her soccer ball. After all, she had the whole day to practice. Her Dad had yelled at her. “DON’T MOVE!” and, shocked, she was unable to anyway. She stood confused as she watched a huge creature catapult out of the oak in the backyard and brush against her Dad. She couldn’t see much after that, but she could hear the choking screams of the man in the shed being attacked. She regained her composure and ran into the house to dial 911.
For a long time after that Angie joked about not being able to leave the house for fear she’d miss excitement, but it was clearly a mother’s concern. The terror was that the man had seventeen warrants out for him on charges of theft, rape and child molestation. Privately she cried to Jerry, but she remained calm and practical in front of Megan. She praised Megan for calling 911. She could not bring herself to chide her for leaving the house while she was gone. It was pointless. Megan had lost that little bit of innocence, and had new fears now.
Jerry Mack had scooped up the owl feathers that landed in the garage and put them in the locked gun case. He them put the gun case high, high up. He did not want to see any more owls staring at him in his yard, but he would hunt them no more.
No owl ever stared at Jerry Mack again. Except occasionally in his dreams.
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|Reviewed by m j hollingshead
enjoyed reading your narrative.
|Reviewed by Gwen Dickerson
|Very well done! I enjoyed.|
|Reviewed by Nickolaus Pacione
|I agree with Stember on this one, I wish I found this story a little sooner though but hell it is a strong delivery. Seriously you should get this one published somewhere. In fact I know of a place you can send it to -- talk to Ronald Hanna because he does a showcase for horror and other speculative fiction. Speaking as someone who've written quite a few horror stories in their own right you do have a voice with this one -- quite archiac in the delivery. I am definately going to be watching you in the near future.|
|Reviewed by Shirley Cheng
|I love owls, so I really like your story. I like the ending, too. It's nice.|
|Reviewed by Chuckie Finn
|Wow, talk about a wild ride. Just a chilling tale! My compliments!
|Reviewed by Nicholas Stember
I always loved owls so this story really got to me, I could almost see the owl's eyes burning into mine :o) Great story!
|Reviewed by Elizabeth Taylor
|This is darn good. In my newsletter I have markets for this kind of work. You might want to subscribe...it's free. This should be published.|
|Reviewed by Gladys
|Good quick read. When ever I hear an owl, I will think of this story.
|Reviewed by Mandy
|I love a good supernatural short story. . . I read it twice!