The water, still and dark, mirrored a starry sky and a floating, lonely moon in the autumn sky. Teams of crawling duos of yellow lights crept along the well-illuminated streets among buildings tall and small, as well as across the water on the bridge. The cars, full of life and laughter, carried their occupants to and from the town with no thought given towards the teeming life in an wholly different world underneath the surface. Water striders moved across the surface of the river, leaving an echo of ripples behind them, only to be snapped up by the hungry bass and trout scouring their turf. A turtle on the bank closest to the river moved a foot slowly towards the shore, only to tucker out and rest again in his shell, his sanctuary. A crowd of deer thirstily lapped up water from the bank on the side of the forest, watched with interest by a bear, hiding within the tree line. The trees, swaying with the wind, emitted its own symphony of the night. The sound of leaves shaking and old branches moving reminded those who inhabited it that life wasn't characterized by the biological cycle of an individual, the temporary self. It could be much older, much larger than that.
Falling from the bridge, a plastic cup hits the surface of the water. The trout, disengaged from his water strider hunt, inspects the cup, but he quickly loses interest and swims away, happy to search for a bug or two or ten.
He watched all this from his perch, a tall pine he had known for many moons, when the valley was still young. He had aged with the pine, their relationship marked by their growth and scars. He closed his eyes and spoke to the forest, just as he had when those with only fire and sticks and stones had resided in the valley. The forest spoke back, in a voice tinged by sadness and resignation. He shared its feeling and listened, kindly, to the old maples and oaks. The trees were old and they spoke in a dour tone. It was a deep sadness that they shared with him.
The trees finished their song, He opened his eyes, beaming with a red glow. He touched his hand to the pine to say goodbye. With that, he spread his wings and let himself fall from the ceiling of the forest. He let himself drop, whistling through the wind, then he righted himself and beat his wings, propelling him in an angle parallel to the ground. His downward momentum accelerated him towards the black mass of water. The cool autumn hair rushed past his antennae as he glanced into the cloudless sky,
The sky had looked much like this when he was born. Eons ago, when the rivers were little more than streams, and the mountains had stood tall, proud in their youth. He had come of consciousness along the same time that this valley had, born with the voice of the forest and rush of the river in his ears. He had watched and guarded and loved this valley. He served as a gatekeeper for the life that resided there since his first memory. He guided the bears and the deer and the fish and the squirrel from this plane to the next.
He was called tonight to do the same, as he had done for ages in this valley. An opossum, curled up beside the edge of the gray asphalt top. Before these last moments, it had been scared and confused. It had unknowingly come to a crossing of the moving pieces of metal with the yellow lights and come into contact with one. Wounded, it ceased to move beside the road. It could go no farther.
He gently landed beside the opossum and crouched down beside it. He ran his hand on its bloody fur to put it at ease. Its breathing slowed in tandem with its heart. "Rest, little one." he said as he stroked its fur. The opossum closed its eyes and the world faded to black. In a moment, its eyes seemed to come open again. It no longer felt fear or terror, but comfort and contentment. It felt safe as it looked down upon its earthly form on the ground as it was held aloft in the arms of the red eyed man with wings. He scratched under its neck and stroked its ears. It sighed happily as he flapped his wings and elevated into the night sky, on a journey to the next realm where there was an abundance of tics and bugs to feast on.
He had made the journey too many times in the last millennia.
Those who walked on two legs were different than the others. They seemed to not bend to the voice of the forest and the river but sought to bend it to their own wishes with little thought of repercussion to his guardianship. He had guided many friends, unlucky in their contact with those on two legs in their moving metal masses, and foresters with axes and saws, to the realm beyond. In the old times, the valley had lived in harmony with those who lived in the valley. They took from the valley, but with gratitude and love for the woods and the river. They celebrated the deer, bear, and the fish around their fires in the night. He remembered the songs they would sing in thanks to the valley. That was long ago. The memory seemed more distant than it had before, fuzzy and opaque. Before those on two legs learned to take and build and tear and rip. The valley had been punished and he felt the effects increasing in magnitude.
He ascended over the bridge and fell deeper into his reverie.
He remembered the cry of the forest as it had been stripped bare with little thought of what would replace it or how. He had been horrified as the machines ripped the old ones, trees with age beyond measure, almost as old as him, out from the ground with roots and all. He had lost many friends in those years, friends he still yearned to speak and commune with and missed. Over the years, old ones such as himself, had been lost to the creep and stretch of civilization. The valley and the mountains had been depleted of their old magic, and the giant fish of the river and creatures of the forest had gradually disappeared, gone to the realm he had just returned from with his opossum friend.
Every trip, it had become harder to return. The trees knew his wishes and encouraged him to leave. But he didn't want to leave this place. Not yet. He still loved the valley, and even those with two legs within it.
Some had love for the valley like those of old. They fished and hunted with grateful hearts while others planted trees and cleaned the old rivers. As he soared above the illuminated banks of the river, he saw a fire burning with old wood and heard the singing voices around it. It wasn't so different a scene as what he had used to see, before the lights and machines.
He knew his story would end soon. He had seen it, vividly, looking through the loop of time that his kind had the ability to view. He knew in the near future, he would be called to guide those with two legs, in a large number, out of the valley and to a different place. With them, he would go and stay for good. He yearned to be with those of his kind, in a new valley with new trees and bears and deer. A moment would come whenever he would be able to scratch behind his opossum friend's ears again, without a worry in the world.