What an amazing creature. The small, dull-colored Merlin that flew past had wide wings, but they were also short. The bird had a long tail, and at first I took it for a mourning dove, as the graceful, brown-gray shape flew silently overhead. It went diving down into the low trees of the park.
This was no dove. At the high speed it was gliding, wings extended, it must have come down from on high, and then pulled out, flat and level. It was one of those misty, half-lit days in November. I was out walking in sheer boredom. Most of the leaves were gone from the trees, although a few wine-colored ones trembled on the end of a maple branch to my left. Patches of color stood out in high contrast against the blue bottoms of the low clouds above.
Merlins have a mottled chest, yellow, naked lower legs, and a slate-colored back on the males. The long tail is barred with light and dark. They have golden-yellow eyes. This one was clearly a female. A ringing ki-ki-ki—ki—ki sound rang out around the little patch of forest. It had to be sitting on a branch less than fifty metres away.
Once in the trees, they’re all but invisible.
I wondered where it went. It was prowling for a meal, with its stealthy approach, down low, coming out of the mist, almost invisible against the dull sky. It must have been going over a hundred kilometres an hour, the perfect predator. Perhaps it had made a kill of some small songbird or a rodent, about all there is to eat for an animal like that around here.
I stepped off the graveled track, walking on the fringe of grass that ran between it and the flower gardens that line this part of the path. There’s an arboretum right behind my house. I’ve taken a lot of photos there. I didn’t have my camera this time.
Faint noises came out of a clump of cedars, ahead and off to my right. A thicket of shrubs with long, arching, trailing yellow stems covered in small red berries hid my approach.
Otherwise she would have heard my coming.
I caught a glimpse of something pale through the trees as something moved in there. There are sheltered places. People go there to get out of the rain, teenagers party after dark, kids played hide and seek in there in the good weather.
I was curious to see how close I could get, so I stayed on the grass and let my feet naturally fall into stalking mode. When I was very young, I dreamed of being a woodsman, just like in an old Zane Grey novel. I must have gotten pretty good at it, as she never heard me coming.
A girl stood in a glade. She was hurriedly dressing herself in a faded pair of jeans. Her back turned, she tucked in an old plaid bush shirt in, then fastened her belt. A pair of boots were on the ground beside her.
She pulled a jacket from a small, dark green day pack, resting under some overhanging branches. With my heart pounding in my chest, I backed up suddenly, to say the least. Was she dressing in there?
But why? What had she been doing? I backtracked silently as far as I could get. I mean, I’m not a peeping Tom or anything like that, although the clear impression in my head was of a very beautiful young woman with long, blond hair, in her early twenties, about one-hundred-seventy centimetres tall. She was nicely built.
She didn’t look homeless, and I was pretty sure she hadn’t been having a pee in the bushes. So I stepped back on the path and began moving towards where she had been. There was a bit of a curve in the path, and as I came around the corner, there she was, standing in the middle of the trail, all properly dressed and with the pack-straps visible on her shoulders.
She faced me and stared right into my eyes. She must have known I was there.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to spy on you.”
“I know you.”
My heart almost stopped dead. Her voice was low, smooth, and surprising in its warmth. Her calm, green eyes regarded me in curiosity and recognition.
“I know you. You’re the gentle one. I’ve seen you talk to the squirrels. And sometimes the little ones, the lovely little red birds, the ones that sit in the top of a pine-tree and sing, pipi-pipi-pipi-pip-pip-pip. You feed half the cats in the neighborhood. They like to come over and get a snack, or a drink of water, or a pat on the head.”
She regarded me with tolerant humor. I chuckled. This was a very strange conversation. Just a scruffy old man, I’m actually quite shy where stunningly attractive young women are concerned.
“Um, yeah, oh, well. I guess I like cats and stuff.”
I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Just as I was about to step around and keep going, she reached over and patted my arm near the shoulder.
“Why don’t you meet me here tomorrow, about one o’clock? You can watch me fly.”
I stood gaping. She smiled sweetly and then turned and walked off up the trail.
I watched her lithe, athletic form as she strode purposefully away. She took one last look back over her shoulder.
“Okay! I’ll be here.”
Demure yet mischievous, she smiled mysteriously. She turned a corner and disappeared. All around was silence, except for the low rumble of a jetliner cruising past above the dark, wet-looking clouds. Yeah, I’ll be here tomorrow.
She was one wild-looking girl, or shape-shifter, or whatever. I have nothing to lose, if you care to look at it that way.