"The Smiling Owl"
With a terrible taste in my mouth, I awoke from a slumber that seemed so deep I would never emerge. Having gone to bed at 1:17 am, it was now only 2:47 am. My hour and a half of sleep had seemed infinity longer than that, filled with twists and turns of the subconscious dream state. But now, reality was all too real. When I say this taste in my mouth was terrible, I don’t mean that standard gopher shit breath every middle aged man has when he wakes up. This taste was very abrasive and unusual; not bitter, but sickly sweet, making me want to vomit. The closest thing I could compare it to, would be the aftertaste of cheap rum mixed with some form of liquified candy corn.
My bare feet touched the cold, hard ground of my new studio apartment, and I walked past my bedroom window and into the bathroom. Looking in the mirror, I opened my mouth in hopes of identifying the source of the taste, only to find that my tongue was covered in white gunk; almost like plaque. Confused, I then brushed my tongue and teeth to eliminate the taste, to no avail.
Beginning to become restless, I then went into the kitchen. Opening the cabinets one by one, I had my mind set on finding something to cut through this terrible flavor. The best option I found was lemon juice, and began downing it like water. Frustratingly enough, the liquid glided over the plaque on my tongue like a protective film, never even touching my taste buds. Throwing the lemon juice to the ground, I went back into my bedroom.
Suddenly and all at once, I was aware of a presence. A warm, throbbing, almost painful sensation came over me; almost like an external source of nerve stimuli, boldly yet calmly letting me know that I wasn’t alone. It was the kind of inherent awareness one would experience in a dream, only this wasn’t a dream. My instincts directed my attention to my bedroom window, to which, almost in a trance, I then walked to and peered out of. What I saw was the visage of an owl, sitting on a tree branch. Not a screech owl or a spotted owl, but more of a barn owl if I had to guess. It was very large, and almost immaculately white.
For the longest time, I was paralyzed, staring into it’s crimson, saucer-like eyes. I didn’t know if I was frightened or intrigued, because this animal wasn’t just staring at me, it seemed to be staring relentlessly into me. After at least 4 or 5 minutes of this, the owl then, with an air of utter calm, smiled at me. Looking into it’s eyes, I felt strangely comforted. The very moment I broke it’s gaze however, everything changed. My tongue began throbbing with a writhing pain I can’t even describe. Almost like every individual muscle inside of it was tearing itself apart. I ran into the kitchen to put water onto it, but it dried up like acid as soon as it touched. Panicking now, I put everything I could think of on my tongue to help alleviate the pain. Nothing seemed to be helping, but I was determined not to give up until the pain abated.
It was 10 minutes later when the swelling began. In addition to the writhing pain that had not let up one iota, now my tongue felt like it was being inflated with air from the inside. Barely able to close my mouth, I ran past my window again towards my bedside; the owl was still there with a smile as big as ever. Reaching for a bottle of ibuprofen, I try to down a handful at once, hoping it will help the swelling. I was unable to swallow though, and the pills fell abruptly out of my mouth.
Nothing seemed to be helping, and in a complete act of desperation, I ran back to the kitchen, past the smiling owl and to the silverware drawer. Opening it, I reluctantly pulled out my sharpest serrated steak knife. Holding my breath, I punctured my tongue with the knife, hoping the wound would release some of the pressure. Instead, all my muscles tightened around the knife hole, making my tongue’s pain increase double-fold. Reduced to flailing on the floor now, I did the only thing left that any rational human being would do. I put the knife in my mouth and began sawing at my tongue. The pain of the blade was nothing compared to what I had been experiencing. Once my tongue was half way severed, I paused for a second so as not to choke on my own blood, which was now pooling quite dramatically on the floor around me. Gagging on the knife blade, I finished the job, ripping the remaining tendrils in half as I yanked the wretched thing out. Showering the floor with blood, my severed tongue landed in front of me, squirming and flapping like a fish out of water.
Disgusted and mortified, I kicked it across the floor into the bedroom and closed the kitchen door so as not to see it, and even worse, not to hear it; flapping around. Plugging my mouth with paper towels, trying desperately to maintain the bleeding, I sat crouched in the corner, suspended by shock and disbelief. As my heart rate finally slowed, I was still frozen with fear. So many thoughts were rushing through my mind, they were almost indecipherable. “What the hell just happened?, is that a medical condition?, am I dreaming?, What was with that owl?, Was that an owl?”. Then, all too suddenly, the most horrifying revelation came over me like a dark cloud.
That owl had smiled at me through the window. It is anatomically impossible for an owl to smile. Overcome with a raw sense of primordial dread, I realized the truth. “That’s not an owl! There is no owl! That’s not an owl!” I screamed to myself. The glowering question now remained, if it wasn’t an owl, what was it? I was beyond caring, I didn’t want to know the truth, I didn’t even want my tongue back. In that moment, all I wanted was to get away from the owl and back to placid safety. That is when a swooping noise broke my train of thought. Quickly, all fell silent; almost as if things were normal again.
After waiting, I slowly opened the kitchen door to find that the severed tongue was gone. Approaching the bloody pool on the ground, I looked out the window once more, which was now strangely open. Staring back at me with crimson eyes, the owl was still perched on the branch, however now, it was poised to open it’s mouth. What happened next is beyond my realm of understanding. I knew it was impossible yet it happened anyway. The owl opened it’s mouth, and with a brand new tongue, spoke to me with an unholy voice. “I will survive” it said. It’s smile then spread wider than it had before, revealing a pearly white set of teeth. It was at this point that I blacked out from fear.
Once I awoke, the owl was nowhere to be found. The bleeding in my mouth had clotted and I immediately got my things together and headed to the hospital. Once I was in the emergency room, having to communicate with a pad and pencil, I informed the chief surgeon where I came from. A look of general unease came over his face as he reluctantly told me that the previous tenant of my apartment came in exactly one month prior, mysteriously missing all of her teeth.