Come, brother. He is slow to answer. He was resting, but there is no time, now, for sleepy thoughts. The moon is sinking, see. The leaves overhead are slick with its death. The moon is sinking and my hatchlings scream for food. My ears bleed. His tail twitches laughter at me. Laughter comes easily to him. He is young yet, and only male. Come, brother. He comes.
There are not so many of us now. Our sisters left when the rains came, drowning the earth. They have not returned. I believe they are dead. Brother believes nothing. It is how he keeps happy and that is no small thing. The hatchlings prefer his company, but they are mine and I do not need love to know I must feed them. They will understand soon and learn patience. Then his empty-headedness will be a nuisance, but he is my brother; I will always have patience for him. They will learn this too. They will learn many things as they grow quiet too many things. For now though, their chittering will ruin my effort to hide them. Rotting leaves do not usually squirm either. Little creepers.
Brother's tail twitches; I hiss. Come.
He was in the egg when the rains came, still curled up in dreaming. He did not know this place as it was, Before. There are no memories swirling through his small head. He knows more hunger than I knew at his age, but he does not complain. There is nothing but hunger for him to know. That is why I have patience with him: his glee is not his fault.
I am old now the oldest, in any case, with five years beneath my wings I hold the memories for my people. There is more sun in them, more bloated bellies. Shadows were more plentiful; they were easier to find. Many left when our sisters did, when the rains came. Those who stayed... They are like me: stubborn and stupid. They are hard to kill, but there will be more soon; that is my hope. There are more bugs for them, now. One just landed on my eye. Brother's tail twitches; I blink and spread my wings.
The moon is sinking. Come.
Brother's wing grazes mine as he passes. He is smaller, faster... I am old and slow. Little creeper. He circles back to fly beside me. It is more comfortable to be together, but he is impatient. (As I have told him before, the moon is sinking.) He flies up and down, searching to the sides for shadows. His eyes are eager, hungry. If they are there, he will find them.
When the rains came, it was impossible to hunt. The drops were too heavy for our wings. Even I, the largest of our sisters, could only fly a short time and the clouds made the sun hide in fear of being eaten. The moon never rose. Everywhere was darkness. In darkness, there are no shadows.
Water covered the ground. It washed away many of our eggs, our hatchlings and Mother. Then the hunger washed away our sisters. It did not last long, just long enough. When this last moon was young, it stopped. But the moon is old again and our sisters have not yet returned. I am grateful Brother is still young. He is helpful now; he would not be if he left to find a mate and did not return. A dead family is of little use.
Brother gurgles, low in his throat, and lands on a tree; he sees something. I land beside him. My wings stir a small storm of insects and scents from the bark: rotting wood. This tree is old, but I do not think it will get much older. I sneeze; Brother's tail twitches, but he is gurgling. He is sure now. I follow his eyes into the silvered night. There. Three shadows are hanging from a branch near the ground, wings folded neatly. Their eyes glitter as they shuffle for position. Gurgling, I stretch my wings and glide to the swampy ground. Brother follows. One is enough. My hatchlings will not go hungry this night.
Even Brother sinks into the mud, though his toes are splayed. I keep my wings tucked, tight and low. Mud is disgusting. It smells of a thousand dead things, but no food. We will smell the same, now. Disgusting. Brother does not laugh. He is hungry and I am wasting time. Disgusting. He gurgles and slinks forward.
I follow, silent: shadows hear everything.
It is hard to walk in mud. Our feet sink only a little, but it is enough. We move slow or the shadows will see us, but the moon is sinking. We do not have time for patience. Too much patience and they will see us anyway. But now, I am a leaf. Bright and dead and muddy... Very muddy. Brother is nothing. He hides well. Moonlight dies on his skin. He is nothing. Water. Mud. He gurgles. I see their ears twitch at the noise. Careful, Brother.
One step. One more step. Moonlight glints in their eyes black, blinking eyes. Watching. These shadows are not stupid. They shuffle from foot to foot, big claws scratching the bark. Careful. I am nothing: a leaf. Brother is nothing. We are nothing. Their ears twitch. One step. Two step. A shadow yawns, mouth open wide. See, Brother, the teeth. They are white and sharp. More rustling. A wing stretches and I can see the naked body of a newborn. It clutches its mother's breast. Shadows do not have eggs, only hatchlings. They taste well. Sweet. Easy. That one, Brother. See?
A shadow moves. They squeak, distracted. Brother darts forward. He climbs a dead tree beside them. I pull myself onto a rock. They are above me. They are big. Brother is small. He will be careful. We have done this before. He is a strong male... Shadows are stronger. Brother... His tail twitches; he is laughing at my worry. If I hiss, they will hear. I stay quiet as he slides closer.
Shadows killed my first brother. It was his first hunt. He was smaller than Brother is now. He was stupid and it is easy to think killing shadows is not difficult. They are big, but they are not slow and they are strong. My first brother did not understand my warnings. His teeth weren't sharp enough to pierce the adult's skin. He was young. He is dead now. This is not Brother's first hunt. But... Careful. He climbs closer.
Again, the mother stretches her wing. Quick, Brother. He leaps and grabs the newborn. Its claws tear the mother's fur. They are all squalling. It is loud, but Brother is gone. He is safe. I can hear the newborn behind me. It shrieks as Brother kills it. The mother opens her wings and falls from the branch. She is uncertain, scared. I pounce.
Blood floods my mouth. It tastes sweet.
I grasp the shadow's body with my claws and lurch into the air. Brother is already flying. It will take longer to fly back to my hatchlings... They will be loud. My ears bleed. Brother's tail twitches. Little creeper. They will be loud, but this night, they will not be hungry.