by Kristy Gherlone
The eagle watches the doe step cautiously into the fringes of the Klondike.
He has been stalking her for days, waiting for a moment like this. The vastness of the terrain will give him an edge.
He studies her with hunger and curiosity. These willowy beings dance about on earthbound legs that are as delicate as spring shoots. He knows from experience, however, that they only appear that way. She will slice through him in seconds with those sharp hooves if she can. It is a risk he is willing to take. Starvation is all around him. It has been some time since he’s had fresh meat.
The withering grassland comes to life with scattering creatures as the doe begins her passage.
Chickadee’s chatter, seet seet,dee dee dee, before taking flight to hide among the brush.
His attention is averted by a flash of white. A snowshoe hare darts in and out of a maze of burrows. He is tempted but bound by a greater purpose than himself.
His focus sharpens as the doe stops to sniff around. The north winds would reveal much, but the air is as still as the frozen surface of the river.
She is winter-weak and pregnant. Her coat is sparse and ragged. With the safety of the forest still in her midst, she proceeds, nibbling at bits of evergreen along the way.
His talons retract, and he breaks away from the balsam to follow. His shadow spirits where the light touches the remaining snow.
She senses his presence. Her nostrils flare, sending out wisps of smoke as she wheezes in the chilly, spring air. The white of her tail signals an alarm.
He lands silently onto a Candlewood branch nearby. The bough dips under his weight before bouncing back in to place.
She stomps a warning, her muscles twitching, as she decides whether to stay or to flee. The veins pulse in her neck.
His stomach tightens as he breathes in the scent of adrenaline rich blood, but he must wait.
Eventually, she relaxes again and wobbles over to a patch of grass. She paws at the earth and lies down. The bulging hulk of her middle heaves with contractions.
The eagle regards the terrain. A lone coyote hides among the cedars. Careful, yet daring, he emerges. Without a pack, he will go into battle alone. He lowers his head and begins to advance. His lolling tongue drips with saliva as he zig-zags over the plain.
The doe’s eyes widen as she realizes the danger. She bleats and tries to rise, but water gushes from her hindquarters. Her knees buckle, and she falls back to the ground.
The coyote prances all around her, narrowing the gap with every rotation. He lashes out with snarled lips and bared teeth, taking nips wherever he finds purchase.
She kicks, sending him backwards. Dust and debris fly into the air. Dazed but unbroken, he lies askew. He shakes his head, trying to regain composure before beginning again.
The eagle descends. The tips of his wings brush the snow where he lands. He waits patiently in the shadows.
She turns her attention to the birth. Gangly feet dangle precariously from her rump. She tugs at them with her teeth.
The coyote rises.
Light mist begins to fall. Beads of moisture collect on budded branches and spill over. Mixing with blood, they carve red rivers into the turf as they wash away. The air begins to move, sending wafts of flavor all around them.
The coyote can wait no longer. The pads of his feet hit the ground, thumping in rhythm with beating hearts. He growls and lunges, striking her throat. His teeth clamp down and hold. The doe flips her body, trying shake him, but it does nothing more than hasten her demise. He tears through her neck. Her eyes fix on the horizon, looking toward something the eagle cannot see.
The coyote raises his head and announces victory. He rips through her flesh, tossing out tufts of fur to get to the meat. Captured by the wind, they swirl through the air and alight into the sky.
New life emerges into a motherless world. It squirms inside of a sack, trying to break free.
Awkward upon landing, the eagle hops over to the bundle, casting a wary eye towards the coyote. He may rule the skies, but on earth he is merely a beggar.
The coyote stops his feast. They stare at one another. A silent agreement passes between them.
The eagle uses both beak and feet to open the pouch. Water oozes out, spilling the tiny fawn onto the grass. It blinks up at him and mewls, its gaze full of needful wanting. He cocks his head, reminded of his own young. Each newborn beast is so similar until they are polluted by age and circumstance.
He leans in to take a whiff. It smells delicious.
He snatches it and pushes off, using the currents to keep him aloft. The strength of his wings are tested under the weight of his wiggling bundle. He digs in, trying to maintain hold. The creature is silenced.
His journey is long. On the distant horizon, where the mountain meets the sky and dark green hills erupt from the earth, waterfalls pause suspended, and the lakes are still mirrors of glass, he finds home. He has been gone a long time.
He calls out, wheee hee. Wheee hee hee.
His mate does not reply. He hears only the wind and the sound of his own voice echoing through the empty places in the valley.
Wheee hee. He calls again.
There is no movement as he nears. He lands to find the nest empty. Downy feathers whirl around in the breeze.
He lays down the fawn and begins to feast. Tomorrow he must begin anew.
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