A Short Story
by A James Hindle
‘What was that?’
I was certain I’d just heard a wailing, plaintiff cry for help.
It’s strange how the peacefulness of a quiet forest can suddenly come alive with natures sonance when you’re trying to listen for a particular sound — when any hope of hearing the repeat of one particular tiny noise is lost in nature’s sinfonietta of tree branches whispering with a light breeze, leaves rustling under your feet, or the song of birds singing.
‘Be quiet!’ my mind screamed, while other senses were straining to filter out natures racket so I could hear my sound again. But it all failed.
‘Just cry out once more — I’m here,‘ I mentally pleaded, questioning my sanity in searching for a sound I wasn’t even certain had occurred.
There it was again. Lost in wind, but I had definitely heard it. Different — muffled — weaker — but filled with the same painful distress. Perhaps it was simply a pair of intertwined trees, twisted and groaning as they rubbed against each other in the breeze. My curiosity intensified. I had to find the source.
The sound had somehow cut its way through the forest noises as if trying to reach me but from where? I turned in a circle, scanning for a possible location but saw nothing. I decided to leave the path and investigate deeper into the forest. I moved forward, stepping cautiously on the leaf and underbrush covering the ground, trying to keep the rustling sound of my steps to a minimum. My senses were piqued; my ears attuned for the slightest of sound.
A twig beneath the leaves snapped in an explosive demolition under my weight. I jumped as if I was about to be attacked, tripping, nearly stumbling to the ground. I took a deep breath.
“Settle down! Relax!” I told myself.
“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, used its last ounce of energy in one final outcry before its life expired . . . for good. I had to try a little longer. A fallen moss-covered oak provided a sit-upon. I sat down, to watch and wait for just one more cry of distress, yet frustrated that I was too late — unable to track the sound in time to have saved a life? I would wait and listen.
Fifty feet to my left I noticed a pile of rocks, decorated like my log with moss and decaying leaves. It made me think of an ancient druid ceremonial gathering spot. As I sat there pondering the cairn of stones, my sight wandered to a cluster nearby oak trees, and I found myself searching for bits of mistletoe growth that perhaps the Druid enchantress Morgan le Fay of Arthurian legend would have used in her pagan fertility rituals. ‘Different country. Different time. Different . . . . ‘
In a moment of instant symphonic respite, the sound happened once more. It was louder and closer. I was certain it had come from the rock pile. I moved to investigate this ‘cairn-of-ceremony‘ more closely.
“Are you there?” I called out, leaning over the tomb of rocks. “Can you hear me?” A cry echoed from deep within the pile. It sounded like an animal — somehow trapped. I moved a few rocks to one side and heard another weak howl. It sounded like a cat. Whatever it was, it was still alive and I was here to rescue it. My efforts would not be in vain.
My heart was pounding as I removed stone after stone. I began to wonder what Druid curse I might incur in my destruction of this possible shrine. I frantically worked my way down to the animal buried below me.
As I thought about the entombed animal I was attempting to save, my thoughts drifted, to a stray cat that had chosen to allow me to share my property with it over the past year. When it first took up residence in my yard, I was concerned that it might become a threat to my chickens. I only had a few hens, mostly for the eggs — and Rusty my rooster. Until the cat’s arrival, raccoons had been my biggest problem. I didn’t want to have to also defend my chickens against a cat. But it seemed to have no interest in chicken meat or their eggs.
In fact, besides showing his talents as a yard mouser — apparently one of its favorite foods — it wasn’t long before I realized my raccoon problem had all but disappeared. I was quite content to allow him the run of the yard. I had determined it was a Tom. For whatever reason, he remained shy of my efforts of friendship, always keeping his distance when I’d approach. Although there was no hesitation to feed on the bits of food and cream I’d 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 for dinner.
Unfortunately, the cat had disappeared as he had appeared; moved on; or he was possibly taken by a raccoon that was too big to handle. The way of the wanderer —here today, gone tomorrow. Now I began to wonder. Was this my tom-cat?
There it was — well, its tail anyway — flicking back and forth as if warning an aggressor to, stay back. It had found its way into the pile, perhaps after a small rodent, but having gone too far, was unable to reverse direction 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 some time. A few more rocks and I waited for it to back out, but it appeared to lack the energy for even that. If it was my stray, he certainly looked different, very scruffy and emaciated. 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. It was pathetically weak, as I coddled it into the fold of my jacket for warmth. Its eyes shifted to meet mine in a weak thank-you. We headed home.
I named him Cairn. It seemed fitting and I thought it might appease any Druid spirits that might be evaluating me. A symbolic gesture of respect. Cairn regained his strength and made his return to controlling the mice, and chicken and egg-stealing raccoons. But he spent his nights in the house, either on the rug in front of the fireplace or on my lap. Our relationship had bonded.