The old barn overlooked the old house, half-sunk now into the mud, prickle stem and stinging nettle and marsh grass all clambering for supremacy in the space between. The barn, at least, maintained some semblance of its original shape and thus, amid its creaking wooden beams and walls of faded paint, preserved a certain dignity.
The house, however, held not even the semblance of dignity. It leaned and groaned and was held together only by repairs carried out with rotten planks of wood and bits of rusted metal.
The owl that roosted in the barn was aware of the house. Every night at around the same time there came the sound of a cord being pulled and a generator spluttering into life. A few moments later, light bloomed in the dirty window that faced out at the barn, and that same dirty light flashed in the eyes of owl as it awoke to the hunt.
Vermin swarmed and teemed within the rusted machinery and long spoiled bags of grain. For the owl, the barn was a palace of sorts, providing shelter from the elements and an endless supply of food.
The owl lived in the barn and They lived in the house, though She was seldom seen outside of it. Once She had caught freedom and ran bare-legged out amongst the weeds that clawed at her skin. When she reached the barn she looked up and glimpsed the blazing eyes of the owl, whereupon she had screamed and run back inside.
And still She toiled each night beyond that grimy window. The metal pipes, barely clinging to the wall, perhaps more wall than the walls themselves, clunked and chattered and eventually spat out dirty water which she dared not complain about. The water was pumped from a collapsed well and there was no filter.
He sometimes went places in a truck that was only marginally more dignified than the house. Whenever he returned he had cigarettes, a jerry can full of fuel and a case full of brown bottles that he did not share.
The owl sometimes heard them: voices raised, banging and crashing. Wails and screams and cuss-words that the owl did not need to understand in order to understand. It picked apart still-living mice with its talons and listened impassively to the violence.
Afterwards there would be silence, except for the sounds of the bog. Fireflies danced across what was once a field of crops and frogs croaked and crickets sang their serenades into the night.
Then, the very next night: the splutter of the generator, the rattle of the pipes, the light in the window, raised voices, the sounds of things being broken that had already been broken. Dust drifted in motes from the long wooden beams in the barn. A dark shadow scurried through the weeds and the owl swooped down, wings flashing like a ghost of the night.
This was the rhythm of the place, this was the uncanny music of the swamp and the barn and of those who lived there. He had inherited the farm from his gran-mammy and when she once suggested that they should change the wallpaper he screamed and shouted: “mah gran-mammy choosed that, it ain’t ever changin’! Not ever!”
She never asked again.
The owl did not count the years or days and did not know for how long it perceived this unchanging pattern of events, as immutable perhaps as the sinking of the farm into the mud or the reclamation of the fields by the weeds. A hundred days of this? A thousand? More?
The lights went on and off. The generator shuddered. The pipes burst and he mended them until they burst again.
The lights came on. Her familiar, faded shadow appeared on the ground outside. The eyes of the owl flashed as it came awake. The crickets sang. The weeds encroached, ever closer and the trees came with them, creeping ever-so-slowly towards the farm house and the old barn.
A shadow moved between the house and the truck. The owl knew it was Her, by the tentative steps that she took. She scurried, like a mouse, and by her motions the owl was transfixed. She slid beneath the truck, vanishing from view. Afterwards, She ran back to the house as fast as she could and eased the door gently closed behind her.
The next day: the truck would not start.
First He directed his rage towards the unthinking machine, but found the unyielding nature of its metal an unsatisfying target for his fists. He went inside and there was screaming. A muffled thud. A whimper. He came outside again, clutching his stomach. His hands were red with blood. He staggered and fell down to die amongst the weeds.
When the barn owl awoke that night it immediately sensed Him laying there, for a great swarm of insects had gathered around the body to pay their respects. The owl swooped down from its perch and dug its talons into the back of his head. It pecked, disinterestedly, at his greasy hair and at his flesh.
The light in the window did not come on.