Leaves rustle, a twig snaps. My eyes flash open, two sulfurous spheres wide on my dish-like face. My white feathers are rumpled, awry, and misplaced on my back. I peer out of the tree, gazing out through my window, a round hole in the rough bark. Moonlight glimmers off every surface, landing in shimmering pools, splashed there. The rippling of the nearby brook, lapping at a damp and pebbled bank, singing a sweet, low lullaby, whispers through the night. My nest of twigs, leaves, and grasses fills most of the hollow, providing me and my eggs with a soft and comfortable residence. Beneath me, I feel movement, minute, miniscule movement, so small that I barely feel it. Hatch time is nearing, my chicks will soon emerge into this world, in need of life-giving sustenance, no more than ruffles of fluff. They will break free of their shells, naked of the thick protecting feathers I possess, and cry for food, shrill cries of hunger. They will need that sustenance for survival. I inch my head out of the knothole, finally emerging. The cold midnight wind slices through the air like a claw, and I spread my wings, embracing it, feeling the wind through my feathers.
The moonlight casts a pale sheen on my snow-white feathers, glistening and dancing on the stream below. Through my precise eyes, I can glimpse every pebble, pushed along by the gentle current. I glide on the wind, flapping my wings every now and then. Silently, I fly through the trees, dodging askew branches and watching ever so intently for the movement of prey. The trees thin and the undergrowth begins to fall back, replaced by sparse, green grass. My eyes scan relentlessly, searching, ever searching, following the law put down by my ancestors, a law that has reigned above all others for millennia. Eat or be eaten, eat or die. The strongest survive. Those who are weak live for one purpose and one purpose only. To ensure that the strong survive.
I search the ground, the trees cleared out completely, so that my vision is acute and free of blemishes. There, there it is. I wheel around towards the movement, focusing in on a quivering patch of rye grass. My talons open wide, eager to grasp the warm, living prey. The small miniscule ears twitch within the grass, with no inclination that I even exist. My silent wings flap steadily, placing me in position to dive and seize my prey. Eagerly, I focus on the minute, camouflaged body shuffling below. I tuck my wings and dive, talons outstretched. The unsuspecting prey moves nary an inch as I swoop in. Talon meets flesh, claw meets fur, and I snap out my wings, catching a drift upwards. The mouse entrapped in my talons wriggles and fights, but fruitless remain its attempts, for my claws hold fast to the rodent. Its fight weakens, its life source seeping away slowly until it hangs limp. The law has been followed, and the strong live on.
I soar silently through the night, the moonlight pale and clear on the world. I pass back into the shadow of the trees, gliding back home to my soon-to-be-hatched brood. A shrill cry echoes through the air, I can feel the vibrations, hear its tune. It is a cry of victory in finding a good meal. Its vibrant tone reawakens my mind to the concept that my clutch is never safe without my keen eye watching over them. My wings flap with more force than before, with more urgency in each stroke. My tree appears, but there is something amiss, a feeling, a movement, a sound. A fleeting black shadow approaches the hollow I call home, climbing slowly. Cold realization hits me, akin to a branch in mid-flight. This is no shadow, rather, a predator, with eager lust for the consumption of my brood.
Rage washes over me in a boiling hot wave, consuming me in tongues of flame. I drop my catch and streak towards the tree, my feathers catching the wind and propelling faster. Viciously, I slam into the shadow, raking and stabbing with my talons and beak, driven by a fierce, instinctive protectiveness. Midnight’s song plays in my head, an inborn tune that tells me exactly every stab to make. This vicious onslaught is no fight, but a wild, dangerous dance to the song of night, danced by my ancestors. The predator scrabbles desperately on the bark, squealing in pain. Momentarily, I can see its face, two gleaming yellow eyes, framed by a deep black mask. A raccoon, bandits of the dark. Why did I ever leave my nest?
I give one last well-aimed stab and the bandit falls to the ground, twisting and wriggling, landing with a puff of dust on the ground below. Stunned, it lies there for a moment, before darting off into the shadows. Victory lifts me into the air, dancing on moonlight. I swoop down and snatch up the mouse I left behind on the leaves, not willing to allow a lowly bandit to ruin my catch. Concerned, I give one last flap of my mighty, speckled wings and soar into the hollow, the musty smell of leaves and bark engulfing me. My eggs are safe, unscathed and whole as ever. All at once, all is silent. In the distance, I hear the stream, singing its song. Footsteps interrupt the lull, and I look out to glimpse a scarlet fox, limping on a front leg, passing by, its tail dragging through the leaves. Beneath me, an egg twitches, stirring the mouse I have set beside me, still warm. I shift around, turning to watch as cracks appear in the thin shells, doorways opening for life. Beaks appear as they thrust themselves into the world, tiny weak chicks, crying out shrilly. My family has arrived.
My steely gaze rolls over my chicks. Though they are minute and weak, barely consisting of several bits of ﬂuff, they will learn. They will learn of the law, in which only the strongest among us survive. They will gain the raw power of flight, wings that will enable them to soar high. I will teach them to hunt, to spot a mouse from a hundred feet in the air. I shall teach them to protect their young, to fight bandits of the night. Ultimately, I shall teach them to dance, the practiced steps, danced for millennia, to dance to the tune of midnight’s wild song.