By Jon Moray
This story first appeared in print for Grey Wolfe’s Write to Wildlife Anthology Series in September 2016 and then later online for FreedomFiction.com in August 2021. This piece is my first published superhero story. Enjoy!
“Where do we set up camp?” asked Conrad, the eager camper that just earned a degree in Wildlife Science.
“Just a few hundred yards more. My dad and I used to come here when I was a kid,” answered David, Conrad’s best friend in college.
“You said that a hundred yards ago. My feet are aching,” complained Ralph, the less than enthusiastic of the three, bringing up the rear.
The trio had just graduated college together and decided to celebrate on a get-away-from-it-all camping trip in the woods and enjoy or brave the mysteries of the wild. Conrad and David knew they would have to do most of the grunt work since Ralph, the city boy, was clueless on outdoor survival. The Rambo movies were the extent of his exposure on how to survive without the basic necessities.
Nightfall cast an ebony sky surrounding a full off-white moon as they began to build their tents. Ralph was leery of the darkness and hastily pitched his tent improperly despite the ample glow of his bright lantern that sat on the leaf lined terrain. They finally settled in amid the smell of rotting wood and was huddled around a crackling fire when they heard ear ringing howls off in the distance. The truck was parked a half-mile west in the wooded parking area, so as the bays loomed louder, Ralph found refuge in his tent.
“C’mon out Ralph. It won’t bother us as long as this fire is burning,” called Conrad. The howls turned into growls and not just by one animal. Conrad yielded his rifle and as he spun around toward the direction of the cries, a Gray alpha wolf leaped on him and forced him to the ground. Ralph emerged from the tent and his initial “oh my God” reaction had him racing like a thoroughbred towards the truck. David went for his rifle but was intercepted by a foaming at the mouth wolf zoning in on its newly discovered five-foot ten, one-hundred and seventy-pound prey. David’s only defense was to make a run for it and he took no time putting that plan into motion.
Conrad, bloodied and scraped, managed to kick the attacking grizzled Gray wolf off of him only to be met by two others biting at his limbs. The pack of five wolves surrounded him while his rifle lay out of reach. The sharp bites and the gradual loss of blood caused him to lose consciousness. The feeding frenzy was on when from the trees emerged a half dozen Great Horned owls, surprisingly to the rescue. The yellow-orange eyed night birds swooped down displaying an array of high pitched shrieks and violently clawed at the heads of each wolf. The inability to fend off the tuft feathered saviors sent the pack scattering. Conrad was only moments away from certain death until six unlikely heroes intervened.
The reddish brown owls managed to lift Conrad off the ground by clutching each limb and parts of clothing in their talons. They carried him to the center of a huge deciduous pine tree with branches that spanned out horizontally, leaving a comfortable pad for Conrad to rest. They ministered to him using fluids that seeped from their beaks serving as ointment for the open wounds. One of the owls clawed into it’s fur and then inserted it into the open cut under Conrad’s left cheekbone, sealing the puncture. The poking and the fluid transfer continued for about twenty minutes until he regained consciousness.
Conrad instantly sat up only to be surprised by the six owls curiously peering down at him. His startled body spasm convinced the strigiform birds to stay a safe distance away. The owls took watch at high branches as Conrad adjusted to his surroundings. As he was became fully cognizant, he noticed a sudden dramatic improvement to his vision. He turned and witnessed crawling critters that could only be seen by a magnifier with the aid of lumens. His quick head turn rotated almost 180 degrees to his piqued jaw dropping interest.
He was now bewildered with wonder as he adapted to his new bird-like properties. One of the owls hooted at him, and to his amazement, he understood it as an explanation for his transformation. Conrad tried to shake off the mind bending reality only to battle the owls continuing communication to him. His attention now turned to getting out of the tree and as he was attempting the climb down, the parliament of owls clutched his arms and flew him upward about forty feet above the ground. They began to soar higher when suddenly the owls released their clutches and left Conrad to fight gravity alone. He was falling at a rapid pace when his new instincts made him flail his arms as if they were wings. Seconds from grave impact, he began to slowly float upward through the arms of whistling outstretched branches . His shock soon turned to confidence as he glided effortlessly toward the night clouds. The owls joined him in celebration of his aerial discovery. As he continued his flight, Conrad noticed the pack of wolves attacking the jeep with his friends trapped inside.
Swooping onto the scene, Conrad zeroed in with aggressive, animal bravado. The life saving owls hung back to witness whether Conrad could handle the task on his own. Conrad didn’t disappoint as one by one he grabbed each rabid wolf by the nape and hurled them like boomerangs into surrounding trees, rendering bone cracking sounds. Not wanting any further confrontation with the man turned super owl, the wolves hobbled away, disturbing the fallen pine needles and dead branches in their path. When all was safe, his friends exited the vehicle in awe of Conrad’s supernatural power.
The father owl squawked off a final message and Conrad understood it as a warning not to display his powers for selfish exhibition. Conrad nodded thankfully as the owls flew off into the black wilderness.
“What was that all about and what the hell happened to you? Did I see you flying to the rescue?” asked David, demanding a plausible explanation.
“You’re not going to believe this, but those owls rescued me and injected me with fluids from their bodies that enabled me to inherit their attributes,” Conrad explained, as he turned his head slowly 179 degrees to illustrate his point.
“Wow, how did you do that? I mean, you really are doing things an owl would do. This is too fantastic. Right out of a comic book,” said Ralph, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Well, he always was into the comic books. Instead of Spiderman, he can become Owlman,” added David.
Conrad looked to the moon as he massaged his chin in thought. “How about Panorama – The Night Owl Superhero?” he asked, with his hand slowly waving at the air as if he were reading the name off a intermittingly lit movie marquee.