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 . . . ,
‘What was that?’ My
consciousness was tweaked. A subdued, yet piercing cry of distress through the
euphony of natures chatter. It had snapped at my senses.
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. Now, it seemed any hope of hearing a repeat of that one particular minute noise was lost in nature’s din.
‘Be quiet!’ my mind coaxed — my senses straining to filter out natures racket. But, no matter how hard I strained to hear it, a repeat of the sound could not be heard.
‘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 . . .
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. Perhaps it was simply intertwined trees, groaning as they rubbed together in the breeze. But, my curiosity had intensified. I had to find the source.
The sound had cut through the forest noises as if targeting me. But from where? From what direction had it came? I spun in circles, scanning for a possible location, but saw nothing. I left the path to investigate deeper into the forest, moving forward cautiously over on the leaves and underbrush, trying to keep the crushing sound of my steps to a minimum. My senses were piqued; my ears attuned for the slightest of sound.
A twig, hidden beneath the leaves snapped in 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! 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, 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 for just one more cry of distress, becoming frustrated that I was too late — unable to track the sound in time to have saved a life? I would wait and listen.
A short distance to my left was a pile of rocks, decorated similar to my log, with nature’s moss and decaying leaves. It reminded me of an ancient druid ceremonial gathering spot. As I sat there pondering this 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 the Druid enchantress Morgan le Fay of Arthurian legend would have used in her pagan fertility rituals. How the mind can drift. ‘Different country. Different time. Different . . . . everything. ‘
Suddenly, in a moment of instantaneous symphonic respite, the sound rang-out once more. It was louder . . . and closer. I was certain it had come from the rock pile. I moved to investigate this ceremonious cairn more closely.
“Are you there?” I
called out, leaning over the piled rocks.
“Can you hear me?”
A cry echoed from deep within the mass. It sounded like an entrapped animal — buried and lost within. 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 to their . . . whatever. I frantically 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.