The ornithology professor told the student to look through the telescope set at the base of the pine grove and report back every detail about the bird. The student closed one eye, peered into the long tube, and jumped back immediately. "A golden eye," he said. "A giant, golden eye." The professor laughed. "You mean a Great Horned Owl or Bubo Virginianus," he said. "It's one of the most common owls in North America, and one of the fiercest predators. It can hunt and kill prey larger than its two-foot size, though commonly stalks its natural enemy, the crow." The professor smiled then gestured the student to take another look.
The student approached, slower this time, scanning the pine forest before looking through the scope. There it was again! The eye filling the entire view. The angry black pupil at the center the only thing breaking the spell of golden fire. He fought the urge to pull away, to escape the all-consuming gaze. "Make careful note of what you see," the professor said. "So you can record it in your field book later. Note the plumage. The white patch at the throat. The reddish-brown facial disc. The tufted feathers commonly called horns but known in the scientific world as plumicorns." The student stepped back, shaking his head as if to escape the vision. "All I see is an eye."
The student turned to the professor, a question on his tongue, but was startled by his beak-like nose. Had his nose always been that way? And then there were the professor's eyes like tiny black beads. He hadn't noticed that before either. Something akin to hunger stirred inside him. "Why doesn't it move?" he asked. "The eye, I mean." The professor gestured to the student's unopened textbook, lying on a rock by his backpack. "Owls don't have eyeballs like humans do," the professor pontificated. "Their eyes are tubes. Fixed in place. That's why they turn their heads around to see." The professor cocked his head sideways as if to better see further up the pine-covered hillside. "Take one more look. See if you can note their zygodactyl claws, two forward facing, two rear. They use them to sever the spines of their prey before swallowing them whole." The student slowly stepped toward the telescope, grabbed the tripod for support, closed one eye and brought the other to the lens. There it was. That golden eye larger than the sun. "Do you see?" the professor's voice cawed behind him. "Yes," he replied.
"Do you really see what I'm talking about?" the professor cawed louder or perhaps nearer this time. "I see everything," the student replied, "Everything there is to see." The professor's hand rested on the student's shoulder, then nudged him to step away. "I don't think you're getting the whole picture," the professor said. "Let me show you." But the student didn't budge. The eye wouldn't let go. In the distance, the student heard a faint, "Who." The sound repeated, and as it repeated, it seemed no longer to be coming from far away but rather from inside him. "Who," "Who," "Who." The sound filled the student's body in the same way the eye filled his head. The eye grew larger and larger until the student became the eye.
"No," the professor cawed, the sound competing with the "Who" in the student's ear. "You're not seeing what I need you to see." The professor tried to pull the student from the telescope, but the student didn't move. "We need to get going," the professor continued. "Birds wait for no man!"
The student faced forward, claws clenched around the tripod, only the head turning to look behind. There the professor stood, hopping and squawking on and on about something, black feathers polluting the golden fire that burned about the world.
Peter Grandbois is the author of ten books, the most recent of which is half-burnt (Spuyten Duyvil, 2019). His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in over one hundred journals. His plays have been performed in St. Louis, Columbus, Los Angeles, and New York. He is the Poetry Editor for Boulevard magazine and teaches at Denison University in Ohio. You can find him at www.petergrandbois.com. His story, "Sewing," appeared in Issue #34 of The Cafe Irreal as well as in our print anthology, The Irreal Reader.