It was not a dark and stormy night, no shots rang out, no maids screamed, no pirate ships (i.e. British frigates) appeared upon the horizon. Yet scudding clouds covered the gibbous moon more often than not. Some of the clouds elsewhere in the sky caught enough light from the moon to cast a wan surreality over the street; an effect that was augmented by wisps of fog curling around the corners. Down the street, a momentary glimmer of moonlight shone on roof tiles before that area was again cast into obscurity. Almost overhead on a treetop, a hunched figure and the gleam of a large eye betrayed the position of an owl. The operculum on its ear twitched; the owl spotted Jack Aubrey, screeched in tones no man had ever heard before, swiveling its head to stare at him, and in its abject terror, plummeted from the tree like a landlubber from a foretopsailmast, bouncing once from a branch before crashing at Jack's feet, a lone feather floating past Jack's nose as the owl's huge night eyes clouded, dimmed, closed for the last time.
Jack's attention was caught by a sleepy-eyed rider, cantering homeward. The horse stared suspiciously at Jack, his numinous eyes slowly widening in fear. Jack stared back for a few seconds, then backed away placatingly. The horse whined, moaned, and abruptly reared, throwing his rider. Jack stared in amazement. He started to the rider's assistance. The horse emitted an almost human scream, whipped his tail around and fled; the rider rubbed his head and glared angrily towards Jack, but stopped in his tracks at the sight of the ribbons and bows, flashes, epaulettes, clanking medals, webelos aquanaut patch, gold hoop earrings, multi-buckled castineted flamenco boots, spats and chelengks.
"How odd," Captain Aubrey thought to himself. Like a true Royal Naval officer, he felt more curiosity than remorse for the deaths caused by his passage. He took a fish from the pocket of his boatcloak and munched it as he continued in his path, inwardly pleased that Stephen Maturin had not observed the event; Stephen surely would have delivered a homily about institutional memory in animals, or some petty comment about horse sense. An inchoate jest rose in his mind, and he chuckled prematurely, dispelling the conclusion. His chuckles turned to guffaws, his eyes starting to stream and his face reddening to a bright scarlet as he bellowed and gasped. A small squirrel or rat peered at him, chuttered nervously, and ran, ran, ran.
© 1998 Susan Wenger