There’s these birds of prey in Australia, firehawk raptors, that use fire as a tool. They hunt like a pack sometimes, intentionally setting forests on fire to flush out all the rodents. Then they set up a dragnet to catch the prey when it comes running out into the fields. Aboriginal people have known the raptors’ feeding strategy for centuries, but white scientists are just starting to catch on, so now it’s called a fact.
What happens is, there’ll be a brushfire, and just when firefighters think they have it under control, one of these raptors will wheel down out of the sky, over the fire line, and pick up a burning stick. The bird will carry this stick past the containment zone and start a new blaze, in a completely different part of the forest, so now the firefighters have to go battle a second fire while the first one is still burning.
I knew a guy like that once. Or maybe it was my father.
When the new fires start, whole warrens of rabbits or field mice or voles or whatever juicy morsels live in the bushes come streaking out to escape the smoke and the heat. Some are just singed, some carry flames on their backs like babies. And while people are running toward the new fire to put it out, the rodents are running away from it, smoking and squealing.
The raptors pounce on the prey as it streams out of the fire — I knew another guy like that, or maybe it was my cousin — and the rabbits don’t know what hits them, what knocks the wind out of them and squeezes its talons around their bellies — or was it my uncle that time — and lifts them into the air, until it’s too late.
And I have to wonder, if the rabbits knew what was coming, would they still run out of the forest? Is it better to run around in circles on the ground, one step ahead of the flames, or to get one last glimpse from the air and think maybe, just for a moment, I can stop running, rise above the smoke, fly like a bird, and see forever.
Tara Campbell (www.taracampbell.com) is a Kimbilio Fellow, a fiction editor at Barrelhouse, and an MFA candidate at American University. Prior publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Jellyfish Review, Booth, and Strange Horizons. Her novel TreeVolution was published in 2016, followed in 2018 by her fiction and poetry collection Circe’s Bicycle. Her third book, a short story collection called Midnight at the Organporium, will be released by Aqueduct Press in 2019.
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Image (modified): Mark Marathon CC3.0