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Because it occurred in , some of the most superstitious citizens considered it an omen, the first step toward the end of time. Others simply shook their heads and said that they knew something like that would happen sooner or later.
In all, nine documented tornadoes would touch down that evening in the eastern part of the state, destroying nearly thirty homes in the process. Telephone lines lay strewn across roads, transformers blazed without anyone to stop them. Thousands of trees were felled, flash floods swept over banks of three major rivers, and lives changed forever with one fell swoop of Mother Nature.
It had begun in an instant. One minute it was cloudy and dark, but not unusually so; in the next, lightning, gale-force winds, and blinding rain exploded from the early summer sky. The system had blown in from the northwest and was crossing the state at nearly forty miles an hour. People who could took cover inside, but people on the highway, like Denise Holton, had no place to go. Now that she was firmly in its midst, there was little she could do.
Rain fell so hard in places that traffic slowed to five miles an hour and Denise held the wheel with white knuckles, her face a mask of concentration. At times it was impossible to see the road through the windshield, but stopping meant certain disaster because of the people on the highway behind her. Pulling the shoulder strap of the seat belt over her head, she leaned over the steering wheel, looking for the dotted lines in the road, catching a glimpse here and there.
There were long stretches during which she felt as if she were driving on instinct alone, because nothing was visible at all. Like an ocean wave, rain poured across her windshield, obscuring nearly everything. Need Download Help? Add To Cart. Add To Cart 0. This Is No Time to Pray: Confession of St.
Patrick - eBook. Lenten Survival Guide for Kids: I am supposed to do what?! What Is God Really Like? Overcoming the Impossible - eBook. Preparing for Jesus - eBook. Trading Places: The Grace Effect: Wake Up Smiling: She was accompanied by two gulls. It was as if she had come out of nowhere. And suddenly Soren felt an immense pull on his downwind wings. Soren thought.
How has this happened so quickly? No one except Poot had ever flown a hurricane—and these young owlets! What ever would happen to them? The eye wall of a hurricane was worse than the eye. It was a wall of thunderstorms that was preceded by the rain bands that delivered violent swirling updrafts that could extend hundreds of leagues from this wall.
And then it was as if they all were sucked up into a swirling shaft. This IS a hurricane! He saw Martin go spinning by in a tawny blur. He heard a sickening gasp and in the blur saw the little beak of the Saw-whet open in a wheeze as Martin tried to gulp air. He must have been in one of the terrible airless vacuums that Soren had heard about. Then Martin vanished, and Soren had to fight with all of his might to stay back up, belly down, and flying.
He could not believe how difficult this was. He had flown through blazing forests harvesting live coals, battling the enormous fire winds and strange contortions of air that the heat made, but this was terrible! Rudder starboard with tail feathers! Extend lulus. Poot was now calling out a string of instructions. Come on, chaw! You can do it! Primary feathers screw down. Level off now. Forward thrust! But where was Martin?
Martin was the smallest owl in the chaw. Soren told himself. Dead bird! Wings torn off! All the horrible stories he had heard about hurricanes came back to Soren. And although owls talked about the deadly eye of the hurricane, he knew there was something worse, really—the rim of that eye. And if the eye was fifty leagues away—well, the rim could be much closer.
But he paid no heed to the slop.
In his eye was the image of little Martin vanishing in a split second and being sucked directly into that rim. The eye of a hurricane was calm, but caught in the rim, a bird could spin around and around, its wings torn off by the second spin and most likely gasping for air until it died. The air started to smooth out and the clammy warmth that had welled up from below subsided as a cooler layer of air floated up from the turbulent waters.
But it had begun to pour hard. A driving rain pushed by the winds slanted in at a steep angle. The sea below seemed to smoke from the force of the rain. They all assumed the positions of their Standard Operational Flight Pattern. Soren swiveled his head to look for Martin off his starboard wing. There was a little blank space where the Northern Saw-whet usually flew. He tipped his head up to where Ruby flew and saw the rusty fluff of her underbelly. She looked down and shook her head sadly.
Soren thought he saw a tear well up in her eye, but it could have been some juice from a leftover meatball. Absence noted? Was that it? Soren gasped. At first, Soren thought Nut Beam had thrown up. But then out of the smoking Sea of Hoole-mere, a seagull rose and in its beak was a wet little form. He hung limply in the beak of the seagull. I have to say, however, that seagull stench is now my favorite fragrance.
When he had first vanished, Martin had been sucked straight up, but it was a narrow funnel of warm air and almost immediately it had swirled into a bank of cold air that created a downdraft, and Martin had plunged into the sea.
Smatt, who had been navigating between these funnels of warm and cold air, plunged in after him and grabbed him in his beak as he might have grabbed a fish—although Martin was considerably smaller than any fish that seagulls normally ate. They had lighted down now on the mainland, in a wooded area on a peninsula that fingered out into the sea. It seemed, for the moment, calm. Although Soren, as he glanced around, found the forest quite strange.
All the trees were white-barked and not one had a single leaf. Indeed, although it was night, this forest had a kind of luminance that made the moon pale by comparison. It sounded to him as if Otulissa was trying to sum up the weather situation the way Ezylryb would have, being the most knowledgeable owl of all about weather. Poot, who had succeeded him as chaw captain, really had very little knowledge in comparison, but he was a great flier.
Now it seemed as if Otulissa had become the self-appointed weather expert. Poot looked around uneasily. A fetid smell wafted toward them. In a flash he had lifted off and vanished. Then, as if to prove it, he lifted off and began to search for a tree to light down in. But Soren thought that maybe after having been sucked up in a rain band, then dropped into the sea, a scroom was nothing to Martin.
Scrooms were disembodied spirits of owls who had died and had not quite made it all the way to glaumora, which was the special owl heaven where the souls of owls went. Nut Beam and Silver, however, had begun to cry uncontrollably. An atmospheric disturbance. False light. Strix Emerilla has written about it in a very erudite book entitled, Spectroscopic Anomalies: Shifts in Shape and Light.
Too inexperienced. And as if on cue, Silver started to wail again. Ruby flew up and then lighted directly in front of the two owlets. She looked almost twice her size as her rust-colored feathers had puffed up in the manner of owls who are extremely angry.
In the pale eerie white of the forest, Ruby looked like a ball of red-hot embers.
I want a nice fat rat or vole. Then I want to go to sleep. He began to flutter about the group. They felt the absence of Ezylryb more than ever. But then, Poot seemed to be jarred into action. He swelled up with authority and tried his best to sound like a leader. We got some hungry beaks here. Martin and Otulissa can cover the southwest one. You scared, Soren?
Guess so? Soren blinked at Ruby. She was a fantastic flier and a great chaw mate and lots of fun but, although she felt things in her gizzard like all owls, she was not given to reflecting deeply.
But now she surprised him. How would she know? She, like all other owls, had great respect for the extraordinary hearing abilities of Barn Owls. And Ruby, who was incredibly fast with her talons, managed to get two in one single slicing swipe. They were more successful than Martin and Otulissa, who had only come back with two very small mice. It was customary that the owls who did the hunting got first choice of the catch. Soren chose a thigh from his ground squirrel.
Then Soren had a creepy thought. Maybe they fed on scrooms or perhaps scrooms fed on them—spirit food. His gizzard hardly had to work to pack in those bones and fur. By the time they had finished eating, the night was thinning into day. Although with the mist that seemed to wrap itself through the branches of the white-barked trees, Soren thought that it seemed like twilight in these woods.
No fear of crows around here. Like Ezylryb? Never like the Captain. A hush fell upon the group. Soren thought he could hear the beat of their hearts quicken. This scroom stuff must really be serious, he said to himself. Even Ruby looked a little nervous. For an owl to sleep on the ground was almost unheard of, unless, of course, it was a Burrowing Owl who lived in the desert, like Digger.
There were dangers on the ground. Predators—like raccoons. Got more experience. Otulissa and Ruby you take the next. And Soren you take the last. You have to do it alone, but it be the shortest one, lad. Soren thought, but he knew that the one thing a chaw owl never did was question a command.
All of the owls turned their heads toward Soren. Martin stepped forward. You must already be tired. The truth was that during that first watch they were all too nervous to sleep and the ground was a terrible place to even try to sleep to begin with. But as the dark faded and the white of the trees melted into the lightness of the morning, they did grow sleepier and sleepier.
His eyes blinked open. He lifted his head. There is nothing out here. Not a raccoon, not a scroom, not a scroom of a raccoon. Soren walked over to the watch mound that was in a small clearing. He spread his wings and, in one brief upstroke, rose to settle on the top of the mound. The fog in the forest had thickened again. A soft breeze swirled through the woods, stirring and spinning the mist into fluffy shapes. Some of the mist clouds were long and skinny, others puffy.
Soren thought of the silly jabber of the young owlets when they had been flying earlier, before encountering the hurricane. The owlets were sort of cute, he guessed, in their own annoying little way. It was hard to believe, however, that he had ever been that young. He had barely known his parents before he had been snatched, and he had never known his grandparents. There had been no time.
He blinked his eyes at the mist that was now whirling into new shapes. It was strange how one could start to read this ground mist like clouds, find pictures in them—a raccoon, a deer bounding over a tree stump, a fish leaping from a river.
Soren had tried sometimes to make up stories about cloud pictures when he was flying. The vapors just ahead of him had clumped together into one large shapeless mass, but now they seemed to be pulling apart again into two clumps. There was something vaguely familiar about the shapes that these clumps were becoming. What was it? A lovely downy bundle that looked so soft and warm. Something seemed to call to him and yet there was no sound.
How could that be? Soren grew very still. Something was happening. He was not frightened. No, not frightened at all. But sad, yes, deeply and terribly sad. He felt himself drawn to these two shapes.
They were fluffy and their heads were cocked in such a familiar way as if they were listening to him.
And they were calling to him, and they were saying things but there were no sounds. It was as if the voices were sealed inside his head. Just then, he felt himself step out of his body. He felt his wings spread. He was lifting, and yet he was still there on the mound. He could see his talons planted on the mossy top with the tangle of ivy. But, at the same time, he could see something moving out of him.
It was him—but not him. It was his shape, pale and misty and swirling like the other shapes. The thing that was him but not him was lifting, rising, and spreading its wings in flight to perch in the big white tree at the edge of the clearing where the two other misty figures perched. False light? No, not false light, Soren. If you must. The mist seemed to shiver and glint like moonlight scattered on water.
He floated over the mound but when he looked back he saw his own figure still standing there. He extended a talon but it was transparent! And then he lighted down on the branch. In that instant, Soren realized he felt in a strange way complete. It was as if there had been a hole in his gizzard and now it had been filled and closed. He reached out with his talon to touch his mum but it simply passed through her.
Am I dying? Am I becoming a scroom? No, dearest. Soren cocked his head and tried to look at his parents, but the mist was continually shifting, sliding, and recom-posing itself into their shapes. They were recognizable but yet it was not images he was seeing. It was more like a foggy shadow. Still, he knew without a doubt it was them. But why, why after all this time were they here, seeking him out?
Unfinished business? Is that what it is? We think so. It was the voice of his father in his head. Not exactly, dear. We have feelings, but no real answers to these feelings. Are you trying to warn me of something? Yes, yes. Soren wondered if they knew about Kludd. Something stopped in his brain.
Words began to tumble out of his mouth, and now he could actually hear those words. He was telling them about Kludd, but his mum and da were unmoved. They were not hearing anything of what he was saying. And there was a blank-ness now in his head. This was all very weird. When he could hear his own voice, the words in the normal way, his parents could not.
Their only way of speaking to one another was this silent language that seemed to exist only in their heads. And yet Soren could not form the ideas in his head to tell them about Kludd, and they could not tell him about the danger. Beware Metal Beak! It was the voice of his father but it seemed to have taken all his energy to do this. His father was dissolving before his eyes.
His mother as well. The mists that had been their shapes were swirling, seeping away. Soren reached out with his talons to hold them. Come back. Wake us all up, will you? How had he gotten on the ground? He had been in that tree a second ago but he had no memory of flying down from it. And there was no mist now. None at all. I flew up into that tree there. I thought I saw something. You were standing right here on the mound. Perfectly alert—being a good lookout.
I would have noticed you up in the tree, believe me. But it felt so real. It was real. Pink clouds sliding against it. The others were beginning to stir from their daytime slumbers. It was to be a ground start, which was a bit harder than taking off from a branch.
But they did it nonetheless. Soren and Martin were the last to rise in flight. They ascended in tight spiraling circles and were soon clear of the spirit woods.
When Soren looked back, he saw the mist gathering again. Like silky scarves, it began to wind through the trees. He strained his eyes to find those two familiar shapes. One more glimpse. But the mist lay thick and shapeless over the white forest.
Had Soren been able to see through it, however, he might have spotted a feather, just like one of his, but nearly transparent, drifting lazily down from the branch of a tree in the spirit woods. But every day when he fell to sleep he dreamed of the scrooms of his parents. Had it been a dream in the spirit woods as well, just a dream?
And the words Metal Beak, those two words seemed to almost clang in his brain and send ominous quivers to his gizzard. The words took on a life of their own and grew more dreadful with each passing hour. Soren had been reading a really good book, but he was distracted and had read the same sentence about five times.
Leave it to Digger to pick up on the worries that haunted him day and night.
The fluffy white brow tufts that framed his deep yellow eyes waggled a bit. Soren looked back at Digger. Should I tell him about the scrooms—about Metal Beak? Do you understand? The shelf was next to the table where Ezylryb always sat absorbed in his studies, munching on his little pile of dried caterpillars.
Nothing seemed the same without him. Soren slid the book back into its place on the shelf. As he turned to leave, a book on metals caught his eye.
He must go to see Bubo, the blacksmith. Soren might not be ready to tell Digger, but he was ready to tell Bubo—not all of it, but part of it—the part about Metal Beak. It was to this forge that Soren and the other members of the colliering chaw brought the live coals that fed the fires, which smelted the metals used for everything from pots and pans to battle claws and shields for the great tree.
The fire had been dampened down, however, and there was no sign of Bubo. Perhaps he was inside. Although Bubo was not a Burrowing Owl, who always made their nests in the ground, he preferred living in a cave to a tree. As he had once explained to Soren, blacksmiths like himself, no matter if they were Great Horned Owls, Snowies, Spotted, or Great Grays, were drawn to the earth where, indeed, the metals lodged. Deep inside, he could see the glints of the whirlyglasses that Bubo had strung up.
These contraptions were made from bits of colored glass and when light crept into the cave and struck the glass, reflections spun through the air and bounced off the walls in swirling dapples of color. There was no moonlight tonight, though. It was the time of the dwenking when the moon disappeared to barely a sliver. He waited. His two ear tufts, which grew straight up over each eye, were exceedingly bushy, giving him a slightly threatening demeanor. But Soren knew that beneath the gruffness there was no owl who had a gentler heart than Bubo.
Such fires have special hues and colors unlike ordinary ones. Bubo also could be said to have bonking colorful plumage. It was as if he had been clothed in the flames of his own forge instead of just the usual drab feathers of his species. Yes, he had suspected flecks because it was Bubo himself who had first explained to him that the flecks they had been forced to pick at St.
He was relieved that Metal Beak had nothing to do with flecks. But why was Bubo so agitated? The big, flaming Horned Owl was almost hopping out of his feathers. Well, maybe Barn Owl but bigger, much bigger, but not as big as a Great Gray. Others say no. To Soren and his mates it looked like a murder by St. And the dying Barred Owl had responded with his last breath. It was something far worse. Believe me—St. You only wish! But the Barred Owl had told them differently.
There was something far worse. But now Bubo was telling him of this brutal owl known as Metal Beak. So Soren did not feel reluctant to press him. Dropped a coal in his eye, direct hit from how far up was it? But tell me this—do you think that the Barred Owl might have been done in by this Metal Beak? Possible, indeed. Maybe even probable, which, as you know if you study your arithmetic, can happen more often than possible.
In other words, probable is more possible than possible. But why would it be very possible, or maybe even probable, that this Metal Beak killed the Barred Owl? It was as if Bubo was saying that if an owl was a rogue smith, this sometimes could happen. A rogue smith is a blacksmith just like me. But these rogue smiths, they know about forging some and they mostly make battle claws.
Weapons, you know. They have to deal with rogue colliers. Get a lot from them. You mean colliers like me and Otulissa and Martin and Ruby? You get it? They just go it alone. This Barred was a slipgizzle. Keeps their eyes and ears open for any news, then reports back to us. But they never stay long when they come. They likes living wild. I think I recall this Barred Owl coming in here once a while back. A rough-trade sort of bird. Said candlelight, smell of wax wobbled his gizzard.
An idea was forming in his head. Bubo nodded. Most of them rogue smiths keep their names to themselves. After all, they make weapons. Gylfie turned and kicked him in his talons.
You could be a little more sensitive! It was them. I felt their spirits, and their words were not out-loud words but seemed to form in my brain. First, they would come like fog or mist, and then they would gather into a shape that had meaning, a picture. But I felt so close to them. I knew it was them. Plithiver told me that one reason the scrooms of owls do not go to glaumora is because they have unfinished business on earth. We must find this Metal Beak, and I think that the best way is to go to the rogue smith of Silverveil.
She says that these are the most important days for the tree. Indeed, there was hardly a part of the tree that was not used in some way. They say the rybs always get very tipsy on the milkberry wine. She sounded slightly deflated as if some last hope had vanished for her. They began making plans immediately. Should it just be the five of them or should they include others like Martin and Ruby? Soren felt it might be a good idea because colliers knew the ways of smiths and other colliers and, quite honestly, Soren realized he did not want to take on the entire burden with this rogue smith.
She might prove difficult. He wondered to himself if Eglantine was really strong enough to go yet. She still seemed frail to him—even though it had been almost two months since her rescue—not just physically frail, but frail in the gizzard. Then again, would her feelings be hurt if she were left behind? Then another thought suddenly occurred to him. No, they would be found out immediately even if the older owls were tipsy. Could they leave any earlier? What weather was coming in? If it was a south wind and they were flying south by southeast, it could slow them down.
Amid all this jabber there was one little pocket of silence. And that was when Eglantine retreated to her own corner of the hollow and tried to weep as silently as possible in the fluffy nest of down. She had just told him that she was strong enough to fly with them to Silverveil. She wanted to be included so much. Well, there was only one place to go when she was feeling this bad—to Mrs. She hoped Mrs.