The blood and the owl.
He slowed his pace and watched the trail of blood wind its way down the snow covered trail. He had first noticed it only a short while into his run but he hadn’t thought much of it. Now, however, he looked closer and saw that the blood followed the paw prints of a dog—just the left paw. Glancing around nervously he started running again, half expecting some wounded animal to come bounding out from behind a tree or around a dip in the trail. Of course neither happened. He quickened his pace until the trail sloped upward and the hill began dragging him backwards, the heavy snow sliding from under his feet. Breathing heavy he crested the hill and suddenly remembered the blood, which was still spaced out across the white snow ahead of him. Heavier in some places it still followed the dog’s prints, which, he now saw, were relatively fresh and continued alongside a set of boot prints. Maybe it stepped on something—various scenarios floated through his head, and again he glanced around looking for any sign of the wounded animal. His focus on the blood, his search for the animal, his attempt to maintain his footing, his breath weighing heavy in his lungs—all of these things made the large swooping form all the more startling. He swore and stopped running, looking up towards the place where the form and just been, eventually following its path to where it now sat on the limb of a tree branch, high up in the skeletal canopy.
He had run these trails for nearly two years and never had he seen an owl. Crows? all the time. Hawks? less so. An owl? Never. For a moment it seem to disappear into trees, but has he kept it in focus he saw that its body was facing the opposite direction. Just as he noticed this, its head swiveled around and it stared down at him. His breath caught, almost stopping, as he tried to refrain from making a sound. Everything was so quiet, so still. It simply looked back at him. Slowly he started walking. It was only about 50 yards away, high up to his left, and he assumed his movement would make it take flight. It didn’t. Its head simply. slowly. turned. following his movement. Its eyes remained fixed. Dark orbs surrounded by stripped plumage. He stopped walking and took one last look up, wanting desperately to express something Thanks? for the moment of reprieve and stillness. Then, turning his head back to the trail, he set off, following the path of red that marked the white snow and wondering what else lay in store.