Said the Crows

It was heavy, that fog, but Lincoln plowed ahead regardless. There were crickets in his mind and in the field, and he dodged cow and bale to catch them. The stagnant air made the stiff creatures soft. A calf tried to join in the shepherd’s play, kicking up clods of grass and spraying drool everywhere in its attempt to keep up. Otherwise, he was left alone, with the crickets.

The gloom didn’t bother him in the least; indeed, his surroundings were usually pretty low in saturation. He existed in a perpetual twilight world. It was delightful. Lincoln would have been delighted no matter the view, because he was a dog, and available to him was a fountain of information inaccessible to his friend, the Farmer. What did he care for the rainbow? Of a far greater interest to him was the aroma that preceded the death of the leaves, not their array of autumn colors.

He turned towards the creek, bored of the fruitless chase. Pushing easily through the surrounding reeds and cattails, the russet-furred canine wondered how the fog moved so smoothly over the water with no legs. There were crickets there, too, but they grew mute in the presence of the large intruder. Paying their defiance no heed, Lincoln trotted into the middle of the water, his legs stiff in order to keep his balance on the slippery bedrock. A gentle plip from the other bank snagged his attention for a moment. Whiskers trembled as he dipped his nose just beneath the surface, in part to blow pleasing bubbles, and partly to bring his eyes closer to the bedrock, so he could see whatever had just leapt into the creek. A few flashes to his right — a few teenaged tadpoles, more leg than tail.

But to his left there came a hazier flash of gold, and Lincoln raised his amber sights to find a coyote watching him from the reeds. They stared at each other, hackles raised, but not unwilling to engage. The domesticated creature raised his nose high, searching for aggression in the air. He found none.

“Mornin’, brother,” said the coyote. Lincoln waited a moment before responding.

“Morning. Know any news?”

“I might, I might,” the lankier Canis drawled vaguely, lowering her nose to the ground as if distracted by a passing bug, but she kept her sights trained on Lincoln through her short lashes. She allowed a few moments to build suspense — though the shepherd tried not to let his interest leak into his body language — then continued. “I heard from the crows that a ghost strayed from the graveyard the night before last. Said it’s been walkin’ around on the fog.” This she said with an indulged creep forward.

“You’re lying!”

“Naw, I heard it from the crows.”

Lincoln ducked his head and tried to shake himself of the fear building in his belly, but the coyote smelled it and parted her jaws in a triumphant grin. It was so easy to tug at the superstitions of subservient creatures. A breeze tumbled down the hill and carried more of her scent to him. Tall grass and rancid meat dominated it, but he could just catch the glee she felt at getting under his skin. Annoyed, he wrinkled his nose at her and emitted a low growl.

Immediately her ears fell back, and she darted over the bank and up the hill. Instinct and the desire to chase urged Lincoln forward, and he took off after her without thinking about it. The cattails knocked against each other behind him as he launched himself out of the creek.

“Quit followin’ me,” the coyote shrieked over her shoulder as she dodged the same hay-bales and cows. The shepherd didn’t answer, his tongue lolling and the blood roaring in his ears from excitement. He was only a few feet behind, and the bushy tail that streamed behind her was so enticing he forgot the civil interaction they’d had mere moments before. The fog parted before the pair, and the cows scrambled away from the chase, suddenly aware of their surroundings. A few crows followed the commotion from an old stone fence. They took noisily to the air as the fleeing animal turned towards them, desperately searching for an escape.

Bunching her hind legs, she took a flying leap over the fence and stumbled to her paws on the other side. Dead leaves, disturbed by the impact, flew into the air behind her, and she took advantage of the obstacle to change her course and slip into a patch of bushes.

Lincoln covered the fence with less grace, sliding to a halt on his right shoulder. Leaves and dust settled over him as he caught his breath, and the crows laughed from their new perch in a tree. Ashamed and worn out, the light-furred dog pushed himself up and abandoned the chase, moving instead along the fence in the direction of home. By then the fog had been largely eaten by sunlight, and Lincoln’s embarrassment was forgotten in his enjoyment of the warmth.

He stepped gingerly over a dilapidated area of the fence, when he came to it. From the high field on the other side he could see the farmhouse, and the hills beyond it. Considering them, he listened for the familiar symphony they played — the instruments, of course, being the whir of farm equipment and the lowing of livestock. Sometimes he wondered if the Farmer made the hills or if the hills made the Farmer. Then he would remember that such thinking was pointless — of course the Farmer could do what he pleased. His friend, the Farmer, could do anything.

The tail! Lincoln just noticed it before it disappeared into a small circle of trees to his right. Interest renewed, he bounded in that direction. The scenery he’d previously studied blurred insignificantly as his vision turned into a tunnel, the end of which was the spot where the coyote had disappeared.

His pace slowed as he approached the trees. Here the fog still lingered, but it was cool, and dark. Lincoln was unsure which mattered more to him — the creepiness of the space, or his increasing desire to catch that tail and get it between his jaws. In the end, he stepped into the shadows and fog, but he moved slowly. The world beneath the low-hanging branches was devoid of scent and sound, and the deeper he went, the more the fur on his nape and back pricked.

Several times he thought he felt a touch — a stroke against his throat, or a brush along his flank. The fog seemed to move with him, cool and heavier than the fog in the field. He felt bogged down by the weight of it, and his eyes turned into tired slits. His senses dulled. A voice whispered in his ear, but he couldn’t notice it.

He came quickly to the other side of the trees, disoriented and disturbed. Up ahead the coyote watched his appearance with a similar look in her eyes. For a moment they considered each other, but Lincoln hadn’t the heart anymore for the chase, so he turned away and again headed towards home. The coyote did the same, but before she left, she looked back to the trees.

From the brush emerged a silhouette, pale and out of focus in the fog. For a long time it lingered, staring into the air inches before it, but seeing nothing beyond that. Then the light touched the fog, and the figure returned to the shadows, leaving only an un-hearable whisper on the breeze.

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