I had heard it on previous nights; an ominous noise in the background of my world. It made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. There was some deeply ingrained primal fear as I lay in the dark and listened. But until this night it had been, somehow, at a distance. Over there. Not imminently threatening. Tonight it had changed. It was in my room.
In, out; in, out.
I turned all the lights on but the sound did not stop. In, out. I looked uneasily at my cupboard. There was not a great deal of room inside for someone to sleep there. But the noise was too close and persistent to let the possibility go without investigating. Hesitantly I crept across the room and flung open the door of the most likely cupboard that would house the intruder. Empty. Just my few clothes hanging there.
In, out; in out;
I checked the other cupboards. I thought the sound was too loud for a small intruder who could fit in between the shelves but I wanted to make sure. Nothing. It was difficult to pin the source to one part of the room. It was all pervasive. A ripple of fear crept up my spine as I wondered about the space under the bed. And behind the curtains. The windows, with their opening doors (which were closed and locked) had floor to ceiling curtains and I peeped behind them one by one. I was hesitant to sweep them back in case there was someone – something – outside who would be able to see me with the lights on and the curtains open. Nobody.
In, out; in, out.
Very hesitantly I knelt to look under the bed. It was dark under there, in shadow. What is it about the space beneath a bed that concerns us so? Perhaps it is the memory of feared monsters as a child. Now the fear was not imaginary but real. Clear. The room was empty. Yet I could still hear it.
In, out; in, out.
I stood still, all my senses alert, trying to pinpoint the direction. Could it be outside? I knew I had to try to find the answer before I could sleep. Reluctantly I opened my bathroom window a crack. There it was. In, out; in, out. Louder now. Definitely outside then. I breathed a sigh of relief but still felt uncomfortable. Someone was breathing heavily outside my room. I needed help. I burst out of my bedroom and called my friends. Puzzled they came back into the room with me. They agreed with me that it was breathing, and that it was outside. None of us was keen to go out to investigate. It was as if we all felt that ‘here there be dragons’ – and to an extent we were right. Relieved at the double realization that whatever it was, the creature was outside, and I was not imagining it, I said goodnight to my companions, prayed for protection and climbed into bed, turning the final light out. I thought I would lie there with my eyes wide open all night, listening, listening. But it was a regular sound and gradually my own breathing joined it in chorus In, out; in … out; in… I slept.
The next day was glorious. Clear blue skies and such a beautiful sunset that we all sat on the verandah taking pictures of the molten gold sky as it turned to flame and the sun sank behind the hills. And as it did so a dark shape flew towards us and landed in the tree to the west of the house. An owl. A barn owl. I was so excited. I love birds. God often speaks His love for me through them, so to see an owl when it was still light enough for a few photos was a thrill. It watched us, its head on one side. I could not believe our luck as it took off and flew closer – up onto the chimney and began to talk to us.
Screech, screech. In, out; in, out!
My intruder who had worried me so much the night before was a barn owl at Gondwana Game Reserve! He had obviously been using the chimney of the house for a lookout perch and he was just following his habitual evening routine. But on this evening we were outside and had seen him arrive. He sat on the chimney for a while and twisted his neck so he could see us round the corner. Hissing gently he gave us a rendition of his repertoire.
In, out. In, out.
The thing I had feared was, in fact, a gift of God for me. Another bird to add to my list; a token of God’s love, and a fear understood and conquered. I smile now as I think of the lesson God taught me through this event. Sometimes, the things we fear are, in fact, His gift to a greater blessing. I worshipped Him as I watched the owl. His love overwhelmed me and my heart sang in praise.
by Mandy Hackland