A Short Story by
A James Hindle
How can writing be this difficult’?
Inspiration had abandoned me. Like my old computer, I frequently required a reboot. I could eat some fatty fish, or I could take a walk and save the upset stomach. I put on my jacket and closed the door behind me.
A woodland trail passes by at the back of my property: a zig-zagging animal path wandering like a lost soul through the growth of Birch and Oak forest.
A short distance along, the trail passes an abandoned cemetery of long-forgotten souls and their stories. As neglected as the graveyard appeared, it always provided me pause as I passed, wondering what afterworld thoughts might linger there — was the trail for their benefit, to wander and lament their eternity? The path continued several miles toward town.
Both the burial ground and the trail were strewn with nature’s clutter. Fallen branches and a dressing of autumn leaves littered the way, creating an idyllic ambience that I relished. The dry leaves crushing beneath my feet, birds singing, and a gentle breeze whispering through the trees provided a therapy I could easily enjoy. Sometimes I might even be treated to a squirrel or deer, scattering off after noticing my presence. And so, nature frequently became my soul energizer.
This time, however, something strange happened. A chilling sound suddenly pierced through the serene atmosphere, freezing me in my step.
It seemed loud at first, then faded into silence. An urgent cry of distress.
‘What was that?’ I remained motionless for several moments.
It is strange how an otherwise peaceful forest can suddenly come alive when you are trying to listen for a particular sound. The chatter of nature had grown to what seemed a ear rumbling argument. I listened to hear a repeat of the noise.
‘Be quiet!’ my mind winced. I strained to filter out the environmental racket. But no matter how hard I listened, the cry remained silent.
‘Please, cry out once more. I’m here. I will hear you ‘, I mentally pleaded.
Then, as suddenly as before.
It had called out again. Fainted still more by the wind, but I had heard it. It was somehow different: weaker, yet still filled with painful distress.
Had it really been a cry for help, or simply the trees rubbing together in the breeze?
The sound had cut through the forest noises as if targeting me, but from what direction? I had to find the source, but no matter how I searched, I neither saw nor heard anything.
I stepped from the path to investigate deeper into the forest growth. I moved cautiously over the leaves and underbrush, trying to keep the sound of my steps to a minimum. My senses were piqued: my ears listening for the slightest of sound.
A twig beneath the leaves snapped under my weight in what seemed an explosive demolition. I stumbled, nearly falling, then paused to take a deep breath and regroup my wits.
‘Settle down,’ I told myself. ‘Relax!’
“Where are you?” I called out as if expecting a voice to reply . . . , “Over here!”
I waited, hoping for a reply, but there was none. Perhaps, whatever had made the sound, had used the last of its energy in one final outcry before its life expired. Now, I had to search further — I could not give up.
A fallen, moss-covered oak provided a sit-upon, and I sat to watch and wait, hoping for just one more signal for help. But was I too late, unable to track the sound in time to have saved a life? NO! I would wait and listen.
To my left I noticed a pile of rocks decorated with nature’s moss and decaying leaves. It reminded me of an ancient Druid ceremonial gathering spot.
My eyes wandered to a cluster of nearby oak trees, checking for mistletoe growth that perhaps a Druid enchantress would have used in a pagan fertility ritual
Then, as sudden as before! There it was.
The lost sound rang out once more — now louder and closer. It had come from the rock pile. I moved to investigate my Druid cairn more closely.
“Are you there?” I called out, pulling moss and rocks from the pile.
“Can you hear me?”
A cry echoed from deep within the mass of stone. It sounded like a trapped animal buried deep within. I feverishly cast the stones to one side. Then, another howl, weaker than the last but still alive. It sounded like a cat. I began removing rocks in greater earnest.
My heart was pounding. I wondered what Druid curse I might incur from my destruction of their shrine. I worked my way downward toward the victim buried below.
As I raced to save this entombed animal, I began thinking of a cat that had strayed into my yard a while back and had chosen to share my property. When the cat had first taken up residence, I was concerned that it might become a threat to my chickens. I had several hens that provided me with eggs. Until the cat’s arrival, raccoons had been a problem in protecting my hen house. I was concerned whether the cat would become a problem. But it did not seem to have any interest in chicken meat or eggs. In fact, besides showing his talents as a yard mouser, one of its favourite foods, it wasn’t long before I realized my raccoon problem had all but disappeared. I was content to allow him the run of the yard. He remained shy of my attempts to befriend him, always keeping his distance when I would approach, although there was no hesitation to feed on the bits of food and cream that I would leave on the porch for it each night. I’d watch from the window as he would sneak between the outbuildings, then bound across the yard and up the steps of the porch for dinner.
Unfortunately, the cat had disappeared as abruptly as he had appeared — moved on. Or he was taken by a raccoon that was too big for him to manage. He left by way of the wanderer —here today, gone tomorrow. But now, I wondered. Was this my tomcat?
Finally, there it was — well, its tail anyway — flicking back and forth as if warning any aggressor to stay back. It must have gone into the pile of stone after a small rodent, but after having gone deep within, could not reverse direction — unable to back out and so, was stuck. Already in its grave, it could only wait for death.
As I removed more stones from around it, I could see it must have been here for several days. One more rock, and I waited for it to back its way out. But it lacked the energy — its life was near spent.
If this frail thing was my stray, he certainly looked different — emaciated and scruffy. I gently wrapped my hands around the cat’s middle, and with no fight left in it to object, I lifted it from the hole. I snuggled it into the fold of my jacket for warmth. It was so weak. Its eyes shifted to meet mine as if to say, ‘Thank you.’
I named him Cairn. It seemed fitting and, I thought, a gesture that might appease any lingering druid spirits that may have been planning a curse on my future.
Cairn made a full recovery and was soon back to controlling my mice population and chicken and egg-stealing raccoons. But, while he enjoyed roaming the yard at night, he had a warm bed on the rug in front of the fireplace or on my lap, as he often chose.
Our relationship had bonded.