Willow Bud
E-Mail   by STEVE KING AINSWORTH  Bio/Address
Death Row, San Quentin

from WRITINGS FROM DEATH ROW a collection of Short Stories

    WRINKLING MY NOSE and sniffing the air, the scent of change came into my lair. Looking over at my mate who was nursing our children with a loving mother's care, I told her that I thought Spring had broken and I would go out in search of food.
    As the babies nursed she expressed concern about the risks involved and the dangers above. As she spoke my stomach growled; a last note of caution reached my ears as I broke through the fresh crust of snow and stepped into the chill morning light, her last kiss still sweet on my cheek.
    Steamy tendrils of mist were rising from the river's surface, giving the whole landscape a surreal look. Soon the sun would warm it all and the drip, drip of melting snow would encompass the glade, adding to the cacophony of nature waking.
    Carefully I made my way, ever alert, stopping now and then to look around ... my ears pricked up for danger's sound ... sniffin' the air for any strange smell. Quickly moving from cover to cover down the hill. My feet not breaking through the snow's crust where the shadows fell. From memory I knew where to go ... near the stream banks the food I liked best grew.
    Closer and closer I moved. just as I stepped from the last dump of brush closest to the riverbank, a monster charged at me in silent stealth. Luckily I saw his quick move as he lunged and was able to slip aside. He skidded to a stop in a spray of snow, spun around, his eyes wide, and the chase was on.
    I bent low to the ground and ran with fright! I zigged and zagged to the left and right! The fury monster stayed right on my trail, taking swipes with his arms trying to knock me over. His yellow eyes gleaming - the pupils just slits; I hastened my steps as he slashed at my hips! Right! Left! Circle! Spin! Reverse! I tried au my best moves to avoid his thirst. Snow and earth flew as I was pursued ... into a brush pile, a haven of sorts ... I stopped, my heart beating a tempo fit to burst. Through the tangle of branches I could see the tufted-eared monster circling my redoubt. Back and forth, he moved, every now and then he would fake a rush to see if I would stir.
    Breathlessly, I waited, finally when the big monster was furthest away on the other side of my hideout, I crept out and dashed out of his sight, quickly away I looked back and chuckled in delight. I was not going to make the monster's day.
    The chase had gotten me too far off the track. I could still see the misty swirls from the river off to the right. The cover would be thin, but I could make it over there with heed.
    Slowly, picking my steps and argus-eyed, stopping often to take a survey, I made my way towards the river's edge, where after a half hour of casual travel, I was rewarded with quite a sight!
    All along the riverbank, where the sun hit first, little green shoots and buds had burst. Forgetting caution I ran to the delicacies with utter delight. I had gone through hell to get here and monsters be damned!
    The green shoots under foot went fast. I had saved the ambrosia of tender willow buds for last. Up on my feet I reached all I could, stuffing myself on the sweet young wood.
    Satiated at last I paused to rest near the willow trunk ... rubbing my tummy full of spring's repast I didn't notice the raptor's shadow pass, but just as I was about to make my way back to the wife and kids, the ominous beating of the birds' fleeting flight stopped my movement; ducking my head and hugging the ground, I watched the sinister shadow slide across the snow and out of sight ... surreptitiously I moved off and away, picking my path prudently from one brush pile to the clump of another uphill towards the warmth of my abode.
    Suddenly there was a swoosh of sound above and behind! The great bird of prey had struck! Its sharp talons ripped into my butt; ass end over tea kettle in the snow we went. Scrambling to my feet with a thrust from the ground, I broke free and dashed around as the bird recovered and lifted to flight. Blood on its talons and a meal in sight...
    Eerie flapping sounds ringing in my ears, specks of red flying from where the talons had bit, I got my bearings and with a limp I made my way towards the dark opening some yards away ... then again the golden-headed raptor swept in, feet thrust forward with claws poised. I tried feebly to swerve from their deadly grasp... screamed in pain as they struck ... biting into my vitals, the bird's eyes glowing with blood lust. Another painful scream as the raptor squeezed and held me down under its mantled wings.
    Struggling and striking out with feet in a final frantic flurry, the deadly grip was broken. Miraculously I again broke free. With a shudder and a crippled gait, I scrambled and tumbled into my burrow ... I lay there gasping for breath. The eagle screeched and swooped across the light above. Painfully, I crawled along the burrow's tunnel; deeper I moved towards my love's sweet embrace.
    She moved towards me, we touched noses ... the children stared with quizzical looks at me all covered with blood.
    As I lay dying she told them of the dangers that lurked in the world beyond, where the hare's place was just above that of the taste of the sweet willow's buds.

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