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Last updated on January 17, 2021

CAIRN – A short story
 by A James Hindle

The leaves crackling beneath my feet — the breeze whispering through the trees created a musical backcloth to the melody of singing birds and scurrying animals.  Ahhh! The peaceful renewing of the soul that a quiet walk in the forest can bring — a regeneration of the soul.
Then . . .  ,   a strange sound.
“YeeeOWLLLL !” A subdued, sharp cry of distress through nature’s chatter, had teased my senses.  It echoed through my head. ‘What was it?’  

It’s strange how the peacefulness of a forest can suddenly come alive when you’re trying to listen for a particular sound. Now, it seemed any hope of hearing a repeat of the noise was lost in nature’s din.

‘Be quiet!’  my mind coaxed — I strained to filter out nature’s racket. But no matter how hard I listened, the cry remained silent.

Just cry out once more. I’m here,‘ I mentally pleaded, questioning my sanity in searching for a sound that I wasn’t even certain had occurred.

Suddenly . . . 

“Yeeowllll !”

There it was again. Still lost in wind, but I had definitely heard it. It was different now — muffled — weaker — but filled with the same painful distress. Was it simply the trees, intertwined and groaning as they rubbed together in the breeze? My resolve intensified. I had to find the source.

The sound seemingly cut through the forest noises as if targeting me. But from what direction was it coming? I twisted in circles . . . scanning left and right . . . but saw nothing. I stepped from the path to investigate deeper into the forest, moving cautiously over on the leaves and underbrush, trying to keep the 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 what seemed an explosive demolition under my weight. I jumped, as if about to be attacked, tripping, nearly stumbling to the ground. I took a deep breath.

‘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 it’s life expired. I had to search further — I couldn’t give up yet.

A fallen, moss-covered oak provided a sit-upon. I sat, to watch and wait, hoping for just one more cry of distress. Was I too late — unable to track the sound in time to have saved a life? NO! I would wait and listen.

Rock Cairn

A short distance to my left was a pile of rocks, decorated with nature’s moss and decaying leaves. It reminded me of an ancient druid ceremonial gathering spot. Pondering the cairn of stones, my sight wandered to a cluster nearby oak trees and I found myself searching them for bits of mistletoe growth that perhaps a Druid enchantress would have used in her pagan fertility rituals. How the mind can drift. ‘Different country. Different time. Different  . . . . everything. ‘

Suddenly, in a moment of symphonic respite, the lost sound rang-out once more. It seemed louder . . . and closer. I was certain it had come from the rock pile. I moved to investigate the ceremonious cairn more closely.

“Are you there?” I called out, pulling rocks from the pile.
 “Can you hear me?”

A cry echoed from deep within the mass. It sounded like a chambered, trapped animal — buried deep within. I moved a few rocks to one side and heard another howl, weaker than the last. It sounded like a cat. Whatever it was, it was still alive. I began removing rocks in earnest.

My heart was pounding as I removed stone after stone. I wondered what Druid curse I might incur, in my destruction of this possible shrine to their . . .  whatever. I worked my way down toward the victim buried below.

As I raced to save the entombed animal, my thoughts drifted, to a cat that had strayed into my yard some time ago and had chosen to share my property. When the cat had first taken up residence in my yard, I was concerned that it might become a threat to my chickens. I 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 didn’t seem to have any 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 that 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 of the porch, for dinner.

Unfortunately, the cat had disappeared as abruptly as he had appeared —  moved on. Or, he was possibly taken by a raccoon that was too big for him to handle. He left by way of the wanderer —here today, gone tomorrow. But now, I began to wonder. Was this my tom-cat?

Finally, there it was — well, its tail anyway — flicking gently back and forth as if warning any aggressor to stay back. It appeared to have found its way into the pile, perhaps after a small rodent, but having gone deep within, was unable to reverse direction or 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 some time. A few more rocks and I waited for it to back its way out, but it appeared to lack the energy. If this frail thing was my stray, he certainly looked different, 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 so weak, as I coddled it into the fold of my jacket for warmth. Its eyes shifted to meet mine as if to say, ‘thank-you’. We headed home.

I named him Cairn. It seemed fitting, and a gesture that might appease any lingering druid spirits that may be considering 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 when he chose. Our relationship had bonded.

Published ina walk in the forestnatureshort storystorieswriting

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