Silent Night | Cheryl Fairclough

Adaption is survival


Silent Night

Cheryl Fairclough

The Sanctuary of Lost Souls Award  


The boobook heard them first. Perched on the top branch of her enclosure, she was enjoying the soft touch of warm air currents and eying tasty morsels in the undergrowth below. She rarely sat this high, but tonight she was on watch.

The soft squelch of a rubber sole in a puddle didn’t disturb the other sleeping birds, but the boobook swivelled her owl head to track the stealthy silhouettes. Her feathers fluffed in annoyance.  The sharp metallic scent of spray paint offended all the raptors and the damage to enclosures had freed birds unlikely to survive outside.

A silent shadow, she glided to the tree fork stuffed with sticks, pebbles, and the metal bottle caps the bower bird had suggested.  Tiny objects rained down on the concrete below – rattling, bouncing, clattering.

The cockatoos, woken suddenly, shrieked a harsh grating chorus.

“Shit.”

“Forget it.  There’s no-one around this late.”

When the vandal boys were seen at The Sanctuary in brazen daylight, the eagle had suggested the quick slash of a talon. But warmer heads prevailed. A warning. Fair play. Though that provoked a debate about double-standards.

The humans themselves had provided the answer to the birds’ dilemma – though only one of their number could access it.  Now all the birds sat mute, waiting.

Deep silence settled back over The Sanctuary and into the space it created crept a tiny wailing sound. Far off, distant but growing, rolling forward, ever nearer, ever louder, ebbing and flowing.  A siren.

The figures froze. The sound wailed around and between and through the enclosures. But no bird cry joined in. As suddenly as it began, it cut off. Then they heard the clang of metal gates, the static of police radios, and – in a moment of utter stillness – the unmistakable ratchet of a shotgun.

“SHIT!” yelled the big one, flying back down the path, the smaller one a sobbing shadow a metre behind. Swooping around corners, over bins and benches, they vanished. The back fence rang twice.  A paint can rolled slowly away. Silence fell again.

The undergrowth rustled as a bird shook out its flamboyant curved tail and settled back for the night. He’d not been sure he could manage it, but he’d always been up for a new challenge. When the loggers had arrived in his forest he’d mastered the sound of the chainsaw. Hunters had taught him the rifle and drunken hoons the shotgun. When they built the resort he’d learnt the whirring camera shutter and the beep beep of trucks reversing.  Now, with suburbia pressing in around The Sanctuary, the lyrebird had adapted again – adding the night sounds of the city to his repertoire.

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