The night sky over the savannah sparkled with a dense carpet of stars. Across them, a small, black shadow darted furiously, and traced a blazing path of startling constellations.
It was a little owl, under moonlight the color of a late savannah dusk. Seen from below against the backdrop of stars it was blackest black, a hurtling blot of deep, deep nothingness.
It seemed to ricochet against the stars, it darted so frantically, and with each sudden turn there was a flash of light.
The owl had begun its hunt at dusk and spotted its first prey—a Caterpillar—in the waning daylight. But what ought to have been an easy catch had gone badly. The sluggish looking worm had a defensive trick. As soon as the array of tiny spots on her back sensed the owl’s breath, she spasmed into a tight curl and then jerked straight. The force launched her up, and should have tossed her out of danger. Instead, she landed on the owl’s back.
Owls, even small ones, are not prone to panic, but they can become fiercely and increasingly determined. At first, the owl simply beat its wings, hovering just above the undergrowth. When that failed, it heaved itself high into the darkening sky.
The caterpillar seemed to have an iron grasp. She did slip—twice, but both times caught a new pincer-full of feathers before she could fall.
Now the owl began to truly wheel and soar, plummeting and abruptly rising, turning and suddenly changing course in its attempts to shake away the unwelcome passenger. Each time the owl snapped to a new direction, it wrenched the caterpillar taut and fired every bioluminescent phosphor she possessed. She possessed thousands.
flash, flash –
To anyone watching from below (though no one was), it would have looked like distant celestial explosions.
Nothing spins in the air quite like a plump, velvety worm. She held on as her body plunged and sheared. She was curled, whipped into a taut line (flash), twisted serpentine, whipped straight again (flash). The world was a blinding blur of hard white stars and pungent blue-gray feathers.
The night deepened, the stars brightened. For a bug’s eternity, there was only the soft foom of owl wings and silent flashes of light.
Caterpillar’s escape trick had taken a huge amount of energy. Each burst of light took more. Stunned and dizzy, she simply clung, barely understanding what she clung to. The same fierce impulse that had driven her to arch and spring now compelled her to hold on tight.
Finally, she did begin to ache and wonder. She began to long for rest.
By good fortune, so did the bird. Utterly exhausted and hungrier than ever, it coasted with a wobble to the bare, but dewy savannah floor.
Its final lurch and sudden stillness were all the signal the caterpillar needed. She released her grip. Her tired body had frozen into a curl and she fell with a faint patter.
The owl wanted nothing to do with her now, and stood resting for as long as it dared. There was the faintest shush of dry earth as a snake began to uncoil, but the bird was gone as soon as it had breath to spare.
Caterpillar took much longer to recover, but her paralysis hid her until the sun began to rise. Refreshed by a new layer of dew, she rolled to her feet and hurried off in search of shelter and food.