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Excerpt - Where A Wild Wind Blows
Short Story by Richard Speights
It was a brilliant day in a short summer of bright, hot days tempered by cool dry mountain air. Inside, Rick walked through an empty house. It had a fresh scrubbed look and the odor of carpet cleaning solution. He closed the door locked and then stepped out into the light and called his German shepherd. They went out through the back gate and walked down the tracked road.
At the barn, dark green paint, fading where it was exposed to the sun, clung peeling to the heavy plank board walls, and the doors sagged on their hinges. He sent the dog to search the empty stalls and storage rooms. A red fox had made her den under the barn that spring, and Deke had been able to scent her and her kits through the gaps in boarded floor. They were gone.
Back out in the sunshine, they left the tracked road and walked through tall grass, golden brown, the tips heavy with seed, and then up a small hill. Grasshoppers moved ahead in a wave of trembling silver wings and yellow speckled brown bodies. The grass camouflaged the grasshoppers, and Rick couldn’t see them until they jumped clear and flew. At the crest of the hill they had eaten the grass to the roots and were engrossed in reproduction. The ground moved with them.
He stopped and looked north beyond the barbed wire fence across a large field that slopped up to the edge of the national forest and then up the mountainside muted in dark green watercolors of Ponderosa and Tamarack to its rocky pyramid peak. Throughout the winter and most of the spring, Squaw peak was white with snow. It was now dark granite gray.
Large herds of deer often grazed the field in the late evenings. Once, an elk cow and her two calves were among them. Coyotes occasionally crossed the field, and a breeding pair of eagles often perched in the pines along the far side. One afternoon that past spring, Rick watched a large unkindness of immature ravens harass a stray, suspended over the dog on steady black wings like a dark cloud.
He turned and looked down toward Nine Mile creek and listened to the faint rushing of the small waterfall near the one-lane bridge. Rick had wanted to buy a fly rod and stand in the dark smooth current. He had wanted to hold the long curved line over his head, 10-and-2, and then drop a little yellow speckled artificial fly onto the mirrored surface. He regretted it never happened.
He had arrived in this country late last summer. It had been terribly hot and humid the night he packed his truck on the Gulf Coast. He had sweated his clothes soaked. There had been no money for hotels, and he and Deke had suffered the hot night at a crowded rest area near Amarillo. After passing through Denver, they had driven up into the mountains and cooler air and had slept solidly in the cab under an unzipped sleeping bag as a blanket. Early the next morning, they had walked through piney woods on soft soil. The air was finally fresh and clean, and he had tried to leave the Southland behind.
The house hadn’t been ready when they had arrived in the Nine Mile Valley, and Rich pitched a tent in the expansive yard of dry grass under a cluster of large tall pines. Later that night, wolves began howling off to the west, and, to the east, coyotes had answered with nervous yelps. He had not known about the wolves, but he was glad they were there and had lain awake deep into the night listening to their song.
The next day he had unloaded his things into the house and then set up his writing desk in a little log cabin off to the side of the property among some pines. The day after, he had begun writing his novel. The story had been long waiting, and now his expressions poured onto the pages. Isolated and focused, nothing was more important than the next word. But when winter had brought the snow and sub zero temperatures and unbelievably short days, it had overwhelmed him with an oppression he had not expected. He did his best to resist, but in the end, it had been stronger than he. That had been the beginning of a sadness that had grown until it had become a miserable depression. By the winter holidays, he had spent more time tending the fireplace than writing words.
There had been days, though, when the sky had become a flawless blue, and he and Deke had walked through snow frosted pines, the beauty coming in a rush as the sunrise sparkled through crystallized snowflakes in silvers and blues and reds and turquoise greens. Then the cold didn’t seem so bitter. The winter didn’t seem so long.
Beauty's charm doesn’t last, though, and the snow’s charisma had faded months before winter’s end. Rick had waited with waning spirit as spring finally melted the white into patches of dark earth that grew slowly around islands of white until there had been no white at all but a thin veil of new green among the stones. Tossing his heavy Sorels and thermals into the back of the closet, he had enjoyed the freedom of shorts and tee shirts. His hiking boots felt light on his feet, and without the detention of deep snow, he had finally been free to wander wherever he liked.
Yet the spring and summer had not been warm enough or long enough to heal the damage done. And the next coming winter had occupied his mind and replaced all other thought. By midsummer, he had written only half the novel’s first draft. It was now late October, and the cold was overdue.
He called Deke, and they moved down the far side of the hill and then up into the Ponderosa grove. The grove was distinctly cooler than the open field and the tall grass. They climbed the rise through the trees and then walked across a small sloping meadow and into a thicker wood. The trunks of the pines rose thirty feet bare to the first branches and evergreen. Under the trees, the ground was dark and moist.
They followed a path worn by daily walks, and Rick moved slowly, scenting the air and touching the rough tree bark under a soft cloudless blue sky. He found a stick and threw it down a narrow clearing. Deke burst after it; ears laid back, claws kicking up bits of earth. The dog pounced the stick and then trotted back. Deke’s version of the game included keep-away. So Rick threw a second stick, and Deke, dropping the first, burst after it. Twenty minutes and the dog stood panting and happy. Rick turned a cut log up onto one end and, sitting, looked out through the trees at some distant mountains. Deke brought the stick and watched his man for a while and then dropped it and sat and observed his world with sharp eyes and alert ears.
It had been only a minute when something moving fast off to the right caught Rick’s attention. The fox and her seven kits were coming up over the rise from the creek, moving fast through the underbrush, running and jumping over fallen branches. They ran one behind the other in a line and hadn’t noticed Rick or Deke at the edge of the clearing.
Before Rick could speak, Deke burst, ears back, and was closing fast on the line of foxes. When he was almost on them, the line bent, and just as he reached them, it broke; and then foxes were running everywhere. Deke singled out the closest and nearly had it when the young fox doubled back. The heavier shepherd overran the fox, stumbling as he turned. He closed the distance quickly and was on the fox’s tail when the young fox stopped and curled and snapped at the dog. Deke again overran the fox, stumbling, reaching, snapping. The fox recovered and ran fast down the slope toward the creek. Deke was behind it quickly. The mother followed Deke, chasing the danger that chased her kit.
The three disappeared over the rise, and then the mother and Deke reappeared off to the left without the kit. She led the dog through the meadow, then into the far trees and underbrush, over fallen trees, and under branches. Rick watched the power of the dog pursue the grace of the fox. Deke ran hard with the speed of a greyhound. The fox seemed to run without effort. Rick glanced around for the kits. They had vanished.
Past the trees, the fox ran under the barbed wire fence and out into the large field. Deke stopped. He had been taught never to cross the fence, and he stood panting and watching the fox run. When she realized he wasn’t following, she stopped and turned and barked. It was a strange, short, high-pitched sound, a noise Rick imagined a bird might make if it could cough. Deke paced the fence, but he stayed and watched her with his intense stare and forward facing ears.
Rick was pleased the young dog had remembered his training through the excitement. He called, and Deke trotted back, breathless and full of life. They moved toward the meadow. The fox crossed the fence and barked. They cast a glance back. As they reached the meadow, the fox circled through the trees and then ran across the meadow in front of them. Deke burst after her again. And again, she led him through the meadow and into the trees and under the barbed wire fence along the same path as before. Deke stopped at the fence. She barked. He stayed.
After a while he called him back. They crossed the meadow, and the fox followed, barking constantly. She moved from one side of the meadow to the other behind them, stopping to bark, and then running back across the meadow again.
“Her kits must be hiding all around us,” Rick said. “Or they’ve run to the barn, and she’s trying to lead you the other way, eh Deke?”
They moved out of the trees and through the tall grass. The grasshoppers swarmed, and the fox came out of the trees and circled to their right. She disappeared into the grass, but Rick followed her barks.
She came up behind them on the tracked road and gave up barking when they entered the back gate. They crossed the yard to the driveway, and Rick checked the straps holding the heavy canvas tarpaulin down over his things in the truck bed. He checked over the vehicle for the road.
He opened the driver’s door, and the fox barked. She was on the hilltop, moving back and forth. Each time she barked, she tossed back her head. Deke and Rick stood beside the truck and watched her a long time. Finally, the fox sat and wrapped her tail around her feet, gazing down the hill at them. Rick looked away at the little log cabin and then out at the distant piney woods and mountains.
“It’s late, Deke,” Rick said. “We might as well go.”