A radiant sun burned to embers in the west, the last light of a long day. Beneath its broken beams lay a forest of brilliant green that rolled into hills and valleys as far as one might might care to look until the trees exhausted themselves against the wall of a snowcapped mountain. Amid the prickly firs, a wide glade spread its welcoming arms. At its center an ancient cedar rustled, a timeless spire in the forest fortress.
The cedar’s roots dug deeply, past the loam and down to bedrock where they sipped cool clean water untouched and unseen on the surface for many years. Beneath the highest and largest of these roots, a mole made her home. She worried the tunnels and tended the young, burrowing further and further by the day. After the father had gone, her maze grew complex, intricate, and careworn with comings and goings—as the lairs of such moles often do in stories like these.
Outside, thistles rustled in response to the old cedar. They were softer still, though their barbs were sharp. Here, a doe and her fawn grazed warily. Were a twig to snap, her head would rise, alert, and stone still.
Above them all, in the cedar’s highest boughs, perched an owl, out a bit early and all the more observant. He rotated his head, sentry and assassin in one, wise as any of the creatures below—and as the stories go, wisest of them all.
Before the light faded into blackness and glittering stars, the mole nudged her way to the surface, tasting the air with a quivering nose and tiny dim eyes. The doe saw her there, saw the snout in the air, saw the whiskers twitching. The fawn did not, but he knew the value of a child seen and not heard. His mother did not agree with the old adage as a way of life, but she tried to instill its better applications where she could.
Slowly, the doe approached the mole, afraid that she might scare one so used to the darkness and damp. “Excuse me?” she asked, in her calmest voice. “Why do you not step into the sunlight more often? The wind moves the grass, and flowers perfume the air. Up here, I can hear birdsong and running water and the pounding of my hooves in the soft soil.”
More than a bit startled, the mole retreated a step, then inched forward. “I might ask the same of you,” she admonished, though not too strongly. “Down here, I am safe and warm. I know the many twisting ways that I have built. I know them better than my own heart.” She sniffed. “And besides. You also hear the howling wolves and sometimes distant gunfire up there with the chirping birds. I hear them too, but they are muffled and far away. I—we—are safe down here.”
The doe nodded and looked nervously at her fawn. She understood what it meant to protect those who need protecting. “That is true,” she said. “I will never know your secret ways. Nor would I fit in your tunnel,” she added with a laugh, “but I do enjoy the open air.”
They agreed to disagree.
Above them, the owl looked down, a gruff condescension ruffling somewhere between his glorious plumage and the withered skin beneath. Were those feathers stripped away, he might look a frightening picture, a winged skeleton wrapped in shriveled skin. But such owls never know this about themselves in stories, and so he looked down on them literally as well as figuratively.
“Had I the chance to help those poor creatures,” he thought to himself, “I would inform them of the secrets the wind whispers in the trees at night. I would educate them concerning the rush of air through one’s feathers and of the world rolling by swiftly, a hundred feet below. Surely they don’t know about it, considering they live on and below the ground respectively.”
He went on—to himself—for a while. These owls can be painfully verbose when the mood strikes them. And after it all, he simply chuckled at the silly debate between the doe and the mole, knowing right down to his growling belly that he was right, of course.
But, after a long winded explanation and a great deal of frustration from the two who would never have asked his opinion in the first place, he would’ve done the polite thing and agreed to disagree.
Before he took flight, he swiveled his head, his beak notched squarely between the angle of his impassively folded wingspan, and he remembered the thin film of glass behind him. It was always there, though he never crashed into it, because more or less he would only catch a glimpse of its shimmer and glare on the rarest of occasions. As he always did, he turned away from the glimmering wall and spread his wings. The wind took them, and he was off. The night’s feast awaited.
On the other side of the glass sat a man and a woman. Her hands clutched a small dark object, upon which her thumbs wagged and tapped, like deer hooves in the soft soil. She tilted her head at the glowing screen and set the controller on the table.
“What was that all about?!” she wondered.
The man shifted against the couch, angling for an itch he had been unable to scratch. He shook his head.
“I was just going to ask you the same thing.”