Poppy (Poppy Stories Series)by Avi, Brian Floca
At the very edge of Dimwood Forest stood an old charred oak where, silhouetted by the moon, a great horned owl sat waiting. The owls name was Mr. Ocax, and he looked like death himself. With his piercing gaze, he surveyed the lands he called his own, watching for the creatures he considered his subjects. Not one of them/center>/b>… See more details below
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At the very edge of Dimwood Forest stood an old charred oak where, silhouetted by the moon, a great horned owl sat waiting. The owls name was Mr. Ocax, and he looked like death himself. With his piercing gaze, he surveyed the lands he called his own, watching for the creatures he considered his subjects. Not one of them ever dared to cross his path. . .until the terrible night when two little mice went dancing in the moonlight. . .
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Mr. OcaxA thin crescent moon, high in the sky, shed faint white light over Dimwood Forest. Stars glowed. Breezes full of ripe summer fragrance floated over nearby meadow and hill. Dimwood it self, veiled in darkness, lay utterly still.
At the very edge of this forest stood an old charred oak on which sat a great horned owl. The owl's name was Mr. Ocax, and he looked like death himself.
Mr. Ocax's eyes-flat upon his face were round and yellow with large ebony pupils that enabled him to see as few other creatures could. Moon light even faint moonlight-was as good as day light for him.
With his piercing gaze, Mr. Ocax surveyed the lands he called his own, watching for the comings and goings of the creatures he considered his subjects-and his dinners. ~e looked at Glitter Creek, home to the fish he found so appetizing, the Tar Road, across which tasty rabbits were known to hop; Jayswood, where meaty chipmunks some times skittered before dawn. By swiveling his head he searched the Marsh for a savory frog, then New Field, where, usually, he could count on a delicious vole or two. He looked at Gray House, where Farmer Lamout used to live, then upon the Old Orchard. He even looked, nervously, toward New House. But nowhere did he see a thing to eat. Profoundly annoyed, Mr. Ocax was beginning to think he would have no dinner that night.
But finally, there near the top of Bannock Hill, where the ponderosa pines had all been cut, where only a few struggling saplings and bushes grew- he saw movement. Just the glimmer of food was enough to cause his owl's heart to pound, his curved black beak to clack, his feathered horns to stand uptall.
Mr. Ocax shifted his head from right to left, for ward and back. When he did so, he beheld . . . two mice! Of all the creatures the owl hunted, he enjoyed mice the most. They were the best eating, to be sure, but better still, they were the most fearful, and Mr. Ocax found deep satisfaction in having others afraid of him. And here, after a wait of nearly the whole night, were two savory subjects to terrify before he ate them.
One of the two, a deer mouse, crouched cautiously beneath a length of rotten bark. The other, a golden mouse, stood in the open on his hind legs, his short tail sticking straight out behind for
Ragweed laughed. "Dude, you must think I'm as dull as a dormouse. You just want to get some of this nut."
I don't want any of your precious nut," Poppy insisted. "I want to give you my answer. And I want to dance! Isn't that the reason we came up the hill? Only it's not safe out there."
"Oh, tell me about it."
"You heard my father's warnings," Poppy went on. "It's Mr. Ocax. He might be watching and listening."
"Get off," Ragweed sneered. "Your pop talks about that Ocax dude just to scare you and keep you under control."
"Ragweed," Poppy cried, "that's ridiculous. Mr. Ocax does rule Dimwood. So we have to ask his permission to be here. And you know perfectly well we never did."
"Dude, I'm not going to spend my life asking an old owl's okay every time I want to have fun. Know what I'm saying? This is our moment, girl, right? And now that I've dug this nut up, I'm going to enjoy it. Besides," he said, "it's too dark for an old owl to see me.""POPPY," Mr. Ocax scoffed under his breath. "Ragweed What stupid names mice have. Now, if only that deer mouse will move just a little farther out from under cover, I'll be able to snare both mice at once."
The mere thought of such a double catch made Mr. Ocax hiss with pleasure. Then he clacked his beak, spread his wings, and rose into the night air. Up he circled, his fluted flight feathers beating the air silently.
High above Bannock Hill, he looked down. The golden mouse the one eating the nut-was still in the open. So brazen. So foolish. Nevertheless, Mr. Ocax decided to hold back another moment to see if the deer mouse might budge.
"RAGWEED," Poppy pleaded, "please get under here."
"Girl," Ragweed said, "do you know what your problem is? You let your tail lead the way."
Poppy, hurt and wanting to show she was not a coward, poked her nose and whiskers out from under the bark. "Ragweed," she persisted even as she began to creep into the open, "being careless is stupid."
Her friend took another scrape of the nut and sighed with pleasure. "Poppy," he said, "you may be my best girl, but admit it, you don't know how to live like I do."
Poppy took two more steps beyond the bark.
Just then, Mr. Ocax pulled his wings close to his body and plunged.- In an instant he was right above and behind the two mice. Once there, he threw out his wings-to brake his speed; pulled back his head-to protect his eyes; and thrust his claws forward and wide like grappling hooks-to pounce.
It was Poppy who saw him. "Ragweed!" she shrieked in terror as she hurled herself back undercover. "It's Ocax!"
But the owl was already upon them. Down came his right claw. It scratched the tip of Poppy's nose. Down came his left claw. It was more successful, clamping around Ragweed's head and neck like a vise of needles, killing him instantly. The next moment the owl soared back into the air. A lifeless Ragweed earring glittering in the moonlight- hung from a claw. As for the hazelnut, it fell to the earth like a cold stone.
Powerful but leisurely strokes brought Mr. Ocax back to his watching tree. Once there, he shifted the dead Ragweed from talon to beak in one gulp. The mouse disappeared down his throat, earring and all.
His hunger momentarily satisfied, Mr. Ocax tilted back his head and let forth a long, low cry of triumph. "Whooo-whooo!"
Poppy did not hear the call. In her terror she had fainted. Now she lay unconscious beneath the length of rotten bark.
The owl did not mind. He had enjoyed the first mouse so much he decided to wait for the second. Indeed, Mr. Ocax was not entirely sorry that Poppy had escaped. She was terrified, and he enjoyed that. And for sure, he would get her soon. "Oh yes," he murmured to himself, "mice are the most fun to catch." Then Mr. Ocax did that rare thing for an owl: He smiled. Poppy. Copyright © by John Avi. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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