This is my Friday Flash Fiction. 'Tis a darkling tale, one for which there might be answers, though perhaps not. Enjoy or ponder, if that be your wont.The GleaningSoon the pickers will come; their baskets covered and darkly empty. Who will survive this season’s harvest? How many can we get to safety in the caverns below? And how many will survive the terror of remaining below until the sky homes are again safe?Our new leader perches, grasping his branch of authority so tightly his talons have sunken into the bark, almost heartwood deep. Families gather to hear his plans for leaving our sky homes for burrowed havens during this time of The Gleaning. Not even sky’s soft breath disturbs the silence holding our attention.“This night will see us gone from these homes. Each parent pair holds responsibility for their young ones.”Fledglings tuck up against parents’ sides, beneath sheltering wing power. Feet shuffle and scrape bark with restless talons. The scouts must have reported the pickers on their way to the forest.Leader spreads wings to call order and flips them again to his back. “Our fasting will begin at full dawn. The hardship of the season is upon us. Feed well before entering the burrows. It will be the last for a foot of moon rises.”The sound of his last instruction faded. Leader departed to get his own charges on the ground and fed before dawn. Each small group moves forward to launch. Fledglings balk, hesitating. They are shoved off for their first flight. For them the dark unknown rushes to meet them, not caring that this is new and frightening for these small feathered bodies. Moss hummocks and short leaf blades cushion their landings and bounces. One parent accompanies each new flyer and examines for injuries at the landing spot.As soon as able-bodied fledglings are grounded, parents roam the sky homes looking for stragglers. Here and there weak calls come from homes, where those too weak or ill have been left behind. Their sacrifice will ensure that the fit will survive The Gleaning.As the sun begins to streak the forest with its rays, the people begin to stuff last meals down their gullets. Many will be too weak and malnourished to hunt after The Gleaning. Designated caretakers go through the crowds before each burrow, marking the ones to watch for when the safety call comes from the watch patrol. Thank the Great Winged One, the watch patrol will gather larger meals for that unearthing time. Calls from overhead alert those who need to hide. Young ones are pushed into burrow entrances, followed closely by adults. In moments only the patrol remains; covering entrances with harvested mosses to disguise the havens from the pickers. Task complete, they leap into the air, flapping for altitude into the high reaches, where pickers never climb. The wait begins; the wait for sky’s freedom for the people. With full light, the pickers arrive, their baskets covered, darkly empty. Soon those sacrificed will have given their glorious feathers to occupy those baskets.