by Matthew Morgan III, 1247 words

By the time the overnight patrol car slouched down the country road to where the woman said a pickup had rolled, said truck was devoid of human life. Officer Barney Pfeffer had lit up the car and wandered in an ever-wider circle around the battered Ford. He would have called for backup, but everyone else was asleep, and he would rather find the body himself, assuming the driver had been ejected. That was when he would call for an ambulance.

The truck had fetched up against the cedar. Barney thought of it as “the” cedar because, to his knowledge, it was the only old-growth Western Red Cedar for more than a hundred miles from here. And the idiot, most likely drunk, who had driven into the trunk might have done some damage to it. If the tree died, Barney would find the murderer and pump all of his rounds into the jerk. But maybe he’d save one for the next guy who asked if he kept his only bullet in his shirt pocket.

He was hungry, so when the pair of Barred Owls that nested in the cedar started talking about cooking, he muttered that he’d appreciate it if they cooked for him. Rather than providing him food, which would probably be a still-warm mouse, the owls circled overhead, then started a slow march northward along the road. Barney was sure they were leading him to the missing driver, but he hoped they didn’t make him walk too far. The chances of the driver circling back and stealing the cruiser weren’t good, but Barney liked his job.

After fifteen minutes, he absolutely knew they were guiding him to an important discovery, but he was straying too far from his car. He called to them, “Sorry, friends, but I have to get the car. Can you stay with me?”

When he turned back and lit the road with his spotlight, hoping to help them understand his quandary, the owls, heretofore silent but for the hint of air under their wings, started talking about cooking again and circled around him with increasing agitation. Before he made it halfway to the car, the owls gave up on him and swung back toward town. Barney could have sworn they hooted “We’re not cooking for you.”

He waited till almost the end of his shift to call in a BOLO on the driver.


Bilan, standing amid the stink and wetness of the diner, watched in awe as one of the owls she often saw as she walked to work dive-bombed the blond man, who cowered and shielded his face with his arms. The other owl followed the first, screaming what sounded like English words. Bilan thought the owls might be looking for nesting material, as they both grabbed tufts of blond hair, but then she realized they lived in holes in a tree and probably didn’t need to build a nest.

The man screamed loudly enough to attract the attention of passersby who had not noticed Bilan and him while they prospected for the gold coin. A couple of people yelled at them to get the heck away from their precious diner, and Bilan decided to take their advice. As for the man, he stumbled in circles beneath the barrage of Barred-Owl vengeance. Once she made it outside the yellow tape, Bilan watched the spectacle of a man, who had been threatening to her but a coward when faced with birds, crying and begging his tormentors for mercy.

When a patrol car pulled up to the curb, Bilan rejoiced that she was outside the off-limits area. The man did not notice the police car until its lights blazed into life, then he tried to run away from the car. The birds, however, herded him toward the street, approaching him from two angles over and over to keep him from escaping.

At that point, Bilan chose to fade into the background. She was well-regarded in town, but she knew that immigrants did not always get fair treatment from law enforcement.


It took Phyllis one day more than it should have to realize why Amy’s stalker had peeped in her window. Now that they knew Willoughby was their arsonist, and thank goodness he was a burner rather than a shooter, they needed police protection around every building Willoughby could associate with the diner and Amy.

She wondered for a moment if Ted, Jerome, and perhaps Dwayne could be deputized for the purpose, which would allow Jerome and Dwayne to draw some pay. She discarded the idea, as Dwayne was too eager to be a hero, and Jerome might not be allowed to carry. She didn’t know enough about his background.

Assuming the proper thing to do was call in the real police, who probably should have contacted her already, she called 911.


After Bilan stripped off her stinky clothes, she soaked in a hot bath to hold a migraine at bay and forget the trauma of the morning. When she nearly fell asleep in the tub, she climbed out, pruny and shivering, and dressed in the fashion of her culture.

She settled on the couch and pulled out her phone to start her daily dose of Duolingo. Today she would not have to stop and prepare for work, but she wondered how much new English she could handle in one sitting. She would find out.

As always, she lamented that Duolingo did not have a course of English for Somali-speakers. She had to settle for English for Arabic-speakers, which left her struggling in two languages at once. And yet, the benefits of this little programme, which had opened this new world to her, were priceless.

She checked first to see her ranking in the Diamond League. She was #4 at the moment, but #2 was attainable today with a little effort. Some student with nothing else to do had 3,000 more XP than she did. She would not finish first this week.

Now, to learn. First up was a listening exercise: “I will cook a chicken for dinner tonight.” She was given a list of buttons to tap, each one containing one of the words she had heard. When she hit the Continue button, her answer turned red, and she realized she had forgotten the “a.” Not a great way to start the session.

Next up, a sentence in Arabic:

.سوف تجد العملة الذهبية في جيب عامل المنجم

She frowned. This was where a Somali-to-English course would help a lot. Fortunately, the English words were supplied, and she simply had to arrange them properly.

She tapped, “You will find the gold coin in the miner’s pocket.”

Her answer turned green; it was correct.

Next, another translation:

.يجب أن يتحدث أخوك مع معلمه ليدفع للجميع أجر شهر واحد

She tapped, “Your brother should talk to his mentor to pay everyone one month’s wages.”

When her answer turned green and she read it, she screamed and dropped her phone on the rug. She started babbling to herself:

“Tani waa inay noqotaa riyo. Duolingo igama hadli karo noloshayda. Malaha waan waalanayaa!”

She had promised herself to speak only English here, but this dream, or hallucination, could not be expressed in English. She grabbed her phone, which fortunately was not broken and still showed the Duolingo sentence. She took a screen shot to prove she was not crazy, and she did as the Duolingo owl had told her: She called her brother.