Copyright © 2017 Chauncey Rogers
All rights reserved.
For Uncle Jason, who I’m sure will forgive me for my marketing decisions.
Other than the stinging sensation in her ears, the cold air caused Jane no discomfort—not only did she have an ample winter’s growth of wool over her body, but she had that inner burn of pregnancy to heat her. She could feel the lamb, even now, moving within her, stretching its limbs within the confines of Jane’s body, working new muscles and exploring its new senses.
Of course, it was all new to Jane as well. New, exciting, painful, and frightening.
The sheep beside Jane fidgeted, bumping up against her nervously. The fidget seemed to spread through the five sheep like a disease, causing each to shift restlessly in turn as an unembodied voice spoke from overhead.
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
Jane turned her head away from a cold gust of wind. Overhead, the person dressed in the bedsheet was joined by a dozen other white-garbed people, their fists clenched against the cold. Together they started to sing.
“Glory to God; Glory to God; Glory to God in the Highest. Peace on Earth, good will to men. Peace on Earth, good will to men.”
Then the bright overhead light dimmed to the sound of sneakers stepping upon scaffolding and loose boards as the multitude of angels began their descent. The light on Jane and the other sheep continued to shine brightly, even blindingly, as one of the shepherds spoke, waving his hands theatrically through the air.
“Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”
Smiling and nodding, the shepherds left the tiny flock, and the overhead lights finally moved on. Jane blinked into the sudden darkness, her eyes still seeing the echo of the stage lights in her vision. She shook her head, too, letting her long ears flap against her jaw; the bright points began to fade.
She hated this part. She’d seen it a few times already, another scene in this strange, incomprehensible ritual, but it still distressed her immensely. Yet she watched closely.
The shepherds walked past the scaffolding, now empty of its occupants, and made their way to the little shelter were the man stood protectively over the woman. She lay on a bed of straw, a feeding trough beside her, the bundle in her arms.
Heads already bowed, the shepherds approached the woman. She smiled, as did the standing man. Then the woman lifted the bundle.
It wasn’t real. Jane flinched, pulling her head back. The thing in the bundle wasn’t real. It wasn’t alive. It stared with cold, dead eyes—eyes that failed to move, failed to glisten, failed to see.
Jane stepped backwards, bumping against one of the other sheep. The ewe headbutted her and bleat. “Back. Back.”
The cold bit their ears. They wanted to be back in their barn, where the other sheep were, where the smells were familiar and there was more heat and less light.
Jane looked away again, shielding her ears from another gust of northern wind as the lamb kicked within her.
Odin padded across the mud, still an awkward puppy in so many ways. The chill of the last few days had broken, and the brown patches of week-old snow had disappeared into slick runs of icy mud. That mud, along with the burrs of a hundred explorations into the woods, clung to Odin’s long coat, sticking patches of long fur together in unseemly wads. He looked every bit the vagabond mongrel dog.
Only, he wasn’t.
Odin was a family dog. A big, soft, slobbery, gentle, furry, family dog. He knew it, and he was good at it. When the kids wanted to wrestle him, he let them. They tugged his hair, and he didn’t snap. If they accidently kneed him, he bore it. He simply took everything in stride—and it was a massive stride, indeed. Only a year old, Odin’s Saint Bernard genes had sprouted long legs and a massive head for him, and he still used them both with a careful gracelessness.
Being a family dog didn’t make him dirty, though. It was the farm-dog aspect of his existence which accomplished that. Unless it was truly cold, his days were spent outdoors. Once he’d aged a bit, perhaps then he would sit on the porch most of the time, like Dingo, the old mutt on the farm. But right now too much life pumped through him for him to be so docile. He had to blunder through the woods, crashing through brush and splashing through half-frozen puddles. The destruction of his beautiful Saint Bernard coat was just unfortunate collateral damage to the irrepressible lifestyle.
He bent and sniffed some droppings. The scent of them came strong and interesting, despite the chilly air. His nose flicked and brushed the scat, turning them over. Another few sniffs and then he lifted his ungainly head.
“What is it?”
“Bird. Those big geese, I should think,” Odin said, turning to his friend. Reeses stood stiffly beside him, trying to restrain a shiver. The shiver won, and her small, short-haired body shook. Then she stepped forward to sniff at the pile of poo.
“I wonder where they came from,” Reeses said, pulling back and running her tongue over her nose. Her breath puffed around the words like a fog.
“Yeah, I don’t—”
Both dogs lifted their heads and looked towards the house, their droopy ears drooping slightly less.
“They’re back,” Reeses said, bolting off through the leafless undergrowth.
Odin tore off after her, crashing through sticks and twigs like a loosed boulder down a mountainside. Still, he couldn’t catch Reeses. Her little short-haired body didn’t get snagged on thorn bushes or tangled in creepers. She didn’t have to muscle her way through anything. She just slipped along, snakelike, dodging and weaving on nimble feet like a flash of brown and white fur rocketing towards the house.
Odin pushed down a rising swell of jealousy as he struggled to keep up with the smaller dog, reminding himself that Reeses reached her adult size long before he did. He’d be quicker, perhaps, if he was more accustomed to himself.
It was no use. Reeses was already free of the woods and racing up the hill. She passed by the sheep shed, scattering the few of them that stood about outside. Then she was under the fence and crossing the yard.
Odin slowed to a jog and began figuring his way through the woods, rather than forcing his way. Loosed boulder or not, he still found it easier to go around the creepers, rather than through them.
By the time Odin had stepped between the slats of the sheep-pasture’s fence, Reeses was already running back and forth in front of a creeping red truck hauling a battered horse trailer. It was a level of excited energy that Odin was incapable of matching. Still, he jogged up the hill with his tongue lolling and tail wagging.
The truck stopped just as he reached the driver’s door. When the door opened, Odin waited with an eager face for the man to climb down.
“Back Odin,” the man said. “Get back. You’re covered in mud. Go on, back.”
Odin took half a step backwards, but his tongue remained out, and his expectations remained high. The man stepped around him, then opened the truck’s back door and began unbuckling children.
“Let’s get the kids in first,” the man said through the cab, “then I’ll take the sheep down.”
A woman’s voice said, “Alright,” then grunted as she hefted down a car seat spilling over with chubby baby boy limbs.
“Here we go,” the man said as he gently lifted a jacket-wrapped toddler from her booster. Her head went to his shoulder, blond locks veiling her face, wet nose leaving a glistening smear on his coat.
Odin followed as the man walked around the front of the truck, then up the stairs to the front door of the low, brick home, where the woman waited for him with the car seat and baby boy. He unlocked the front door, blocked Odin’s entry with his leg, then slipped inside after his wife and closed the door.
Odin stared at the front door for a moment, then sighed and turned away.
Dingo stared at him from beneath a porch swing, fur fluffed out so far she looked almost comical.
“You don’t honestly think they’d let you come inside when you’re so dirty, do you?” she said, guessing at what he wouldn’t say.
He just sniffed in response, then trotted off the porch and towards the trailer, where Reeses stood, paws on the trailer’s battered side, her tail wagging.
“Odin,” she said, “they put some of the sheep inside. Watch this.”
She pulled back, then let her weight fall forwards, barking as her paws hit the side of the trailer. Her paws rattled the side of the trailer slightly, and the sheep inside bleat in alarm.
“Stop. Stop. Stop,” they called.
Reeses looked at Odin with a happy grin, then did it again.
“Stop. Stop. Stop,” they cried.
“It’s okay, dumb sheep,” Reeses said, yapping to them through the trailer’s metal wall. “You’re back home now.”
They stopped bleating, though the sounds of nervously tramping and shifting feet continued.
Odin laughed. Reeses had some clever ideas sometimes.
“Let me try,” he said, stepping up beside her. Standing up, he pushed his front paws forward. They slammed against the metal wall like thunder, his accompanying bark far louder and deeper than Reeses’s yapping.
The sheep within stumbled against one another in fear and began crying out once more. Odin and Reeses howled with laughter, and Dingo rolled her eyes.
The people had isolated Molly late in the morning, sticking her in a small corral with some fresh hay and a bucket of water. Since then she had laid in the same place, every now and again lifting her head into the air and moaning. Mostly, she just lay on her side, breathing heavily.
Jane watched her through the gate, wondering. The smell of blood had been detectable several hours ago, but now it had faded, and the blood beneath Molly’s tail looked dark and scabbed. Jane hadn’t seen a ewe deliver a lamb before, but she could intuit that something was wrong with Molly.
“Help,” Molly moaned. “Help. Help.”
The sheep around Jane stiffened at the sound of boots scraping against stone. En masse, they backed away from the shed’s sliding door, simple eyes open wide. The door screeched backwards, and the man stepped in, pushing the door closed behind him. Then he walked to the corral’s low fence and looked in at Molly.
He leaned against the fence and worked his jaw back and forth in thought for a moment, before pushing himself back and rubbing his palms down the front of his denims. The man glanced at the other sheep, sniffed back the cold air, then left.
Once the sound of his footsteps over the sludgy earth had gone, the sheep began to disperse again, moving steadily out from their corner like molasses poured out.
“Help,” Molly moaned again. “Help.”
Several of the sheep shuffled anxiously, but there was nothing that they could do. Jane went back to the door and peered in once more. Molly still hadn’t moved from the spot.
“Hide. Hide. Hide,” the ram called out. Once more, the sheep bunched up together in the corner of the shed, Jane joining them as the squelching sound of footsteps came from outside.
“If you’ll just hold her head up, maybe. Try and keep her calm.”
The door pulled back once more, and the man and woman stepped into the shed before closing the loud door.
They stepped together to the corral, and the man swung back the gate while the woman said, “Poor girl. It’s okay, Molly. You’re okay. Shhhhh….”
Then they were both inside, and the gate clicked closed behind them.
“So, just hold her—”
“Like this?” the woman said.
“Help. Help,” Molly moaned.
“Shhhh…it’s okay,” the woman whispered, her voice gentle.
“Did you grab the sanitizer and Vaseline?”
“They’re right there. By your foot.”
“Help. Help. Help.”
The man sighed. “Ready?”
“Yeah…. Should you put on more Vaseline?”
“Probably.” He sniffed loudly, then said, “Okay, ready?”
“Yes,” the woman replied, then said, “Shhhhh…. It’s okay, girl. It’s okay, Molly. Shhhhh….”
The sheep in the corner shifted nervously as they listened to Molly’s moans rise in volume.
“Help. Help. Stop. Stop. Stop. STOP.”
She kept going for a few minutes, calling out into the dim light of the shed. The sheep looked at one another, but none of the them moved.
“Can you feel it?” the woman said.
“Yeah, I think so. It’s spun all the wrong way, though. Hold her steady—I’m going to try and twist it.”
“STOP. STOP. Stop. Stop. stop. stop.”
“It’s okay, girl. It’s okay.”
Molly’s cries had gone down to pained breathing, over which the man’s own grunting could be heard.
“I can’t get it to twist,” he said, winded. “Maybe…. Do you think you could prop her up more? Get some of her weight up off the ground?”
Then the woman was grunting, too. Molly’s breathing continued painfully, growing louder and more labored, and the sheep listened to it all from their corner.
“Can you get her a little higher?”
“She’s really heavy,” the woman said.
“Okay. Okay, just hold her. That’s it—I’ve got it now. It’s twisting.”
“Can I set her down?”
“Yeah, go ahead.”
Molly started to cry out again, louder. “Stop. Stop. Stop.”
“Should you pull so hard?” the woman said.
“It needs to come out, Honey.”
“Shhhh…. It’s okay girl. It’s okay.”
“Stop. Stop. Stop. Help.”
“C’mon,” the man breathed. “Come on.”
“Stop. Stop. PLEASE.”
A loud crack filled the shed, and then Molly was quieted.
“Stop. Help. help. help,” she whispered.
“Okay, here it comes,” the man said. “I’ve got it. Here we go, heeeere we go.”
“It’s okay, girl. You’re done. You’re done.”
The man sniffed, and there was the sound of something heavy thudding against the straw-covered floor.
“Yeah,” the man answered. “I think it died a long time ago. But, even if it hadn’t, I’m pretty sure I just broke its back.”
“That’s what that noise was?”
“Think so.” He sighed and stood, and the sheep in the corner were able to see his head, shoulders, and chest rise over the edge of the corral. “Wonder if the ram’s too big.”
“Could be,” the woman said. “She’s pretty old, too. And wasn’t it in the wrong position.”
“Yeah,” the man said, looking down and wiping his nose across his shoulder. “Could be any of those, I guess.”
“Yeah,” the woman agreed, her voice fading into thought. A moment later she stood beside the man, moving to lean against him. She stopped herself, staring down at his glistening arm and thinking better. Then she turned to look back down at the ground. “Think she’ll live?”
“I don’t know,” the man mumbled. “I’m sure that was pretty traumatic. I’ll give her some antibiotics, try and prevent an infection setting in, but it’s gonna be a long recovery if she does manage to pull through.”
They both stared down for a minute longer, and all the shed simply listened to Molly’s quiet, labored breathing. Then the man nodded towards the door. “C’mon.”
He bent and hefted something off the ground.
“What was it? Boy or girl?” the woman asked.
“It was…a boy. Big’un, too. Thing’s heavy.”
“Yeah,” the woman said. “Here, I’ll get the door.”
She swung back the corral’s creaky gate, then moved aside for the man to go through with his cargo. He stepped through the gate and from his hands, in plain view of the sheep in the corner, swung a limp lamb. It’s eyes—eyes that never saw light—now stared blankly around the room. Those eyes seemed to look through Jane—they seemed to look into Jane, to fall upon her own unborn lamb.
“No,” Jane called, stepping backwards and bumping up against another ewe.
The ewe headbutted Jane. “Away!” Jane stumbled, turning in surprise and fear to look at the older ewe. By the time she looked back, the man and woman were gone, and the door to the shed was screeching into place.
Then the squelching footsteps disappeared, too, taking the unseeing lamb with them.
Gradually, the bundle of sheep began to disperse, spreading evenly across the floor of the small shed. Once more, Jane found herself before the gate of the corral, looking in.
Molly lay still upon the bloody straw, slowly breathing in and out. In…and out.
Something familiar hung in the air. Odin could smell it, the scent of memory wafting out from the large dumpster beside the porch, but try as he might, he just couldn’t pin the odor down well enough to know what it reminded him of. Mostly, he smelled the mud.
Odin rolled onto his back atop the scratchy doormat, then thought better of exposing his belly to the cold morning breeze. He lay back down and put his head on his paws.
“It’s cold,” he muttered.
“Happens this time of year,” Dingo said. “Just be glad that you have a thick coat to keep you warm.”
Odin huffed, pressing himself harder against the doorframe. He could feel heat leaking out from beneath the door. Comfortable, relaxing heat. “If I had short hair, I probably would get to go inside, like Reeses.”
“Maybe,” Dingo said.
Odin rolled his eyes, then closed them. He hated trying to talk to Dingo. The ancient dog always bored him, and seemed determined to continue doing so.
And the warmth leaking through the door taunted him more than anything else. He pushed himself up to his feet.
Dingo lifted her head and watched him step off the porch, waiting until he stood on the soggy, half-frozen grass before saying, “Where are you going?”
Odin looked out across the short yard and into the close, thorny woods, then down towards the ramshackle sheep shed and pasture. “Dunno,” he finally said. “I just feel like moving.”
“Huh,” Dingo said, letting her head fall back to rest beside her.
As Odin trotted down the yard towards the fence, he realized that the real problem with the cold wasn’t the cold itself—at least, not for him. It was just so boring. The lack of stimulation numbed him more than the chill winds ever did. All the things he had enjoyed doing through the summer and fall had become unavailable. The squirrels hid in their treehouses, far from where he could chase them, or watch them jump through the leaves with their tails twitching nervously. The ground was frozen more often than not now, and when it wasn’t frozen it was still hard and cold, slick and rough—unsuitable for digging.
The people kept indoors, too. It seemed as if they only came out now to release the sheep or lock them up again in their little shack. That, and get dried wood from the enormous pile beside the house, or get in one of the cars. But his little squeaky ball hadn’t been tossed for him in weeks. His belly hadn’t been rubbed in nearly the same amount of time, either. Just little pats on the head and demands that he get out of the way.
As he climbed through the fence, Odin concluded he did not like winter.
Once he’d climbed through he stretched out, trying to get his warm blood to pump through his cold legs. The nearest sheep trotted away from him, then bent to nibble at other blades of yellow grass. It was something to do, he supposed, but even the sheep look bored.
He thought of chasing them, and his leg muscles twitched, his mouth filling with warm saliva at the thought. That would be fun.
After a glance up at towards the house, he started cantering towards the nearest group of sheep. They instantly began to move away, casually at first, but then much faster as Odin altered course to continue after them. One of them cried and started to run, and the panic spread.
Odin had to swallow a bark. It wanted to come—wanted to explode out of his mouth after the fleeing fleece-balls—but he didn’t let it. Instead, he wrestled control of himself and veered away from the sheep, moving instead to the opposite fence and the woods. There was a ravine there, just a little ways beyond the tree line. It was an interesting place, constantly filled with mud and changing smells. Perhaps he’d go there and explore for a while.
He was feeling much better, after all.
The sheep sensed that it was still cloudy outside. The winter sun did little to warm their shack, and the little light that managed to come through the wooden slats did even less to illuminate it, but still they could tell that the rising sun was floating beyond a veil of clouds. Perhaps it would rain. It might even snow. They could never guess.
Jane lay on the ground, feeling heavy and tired. She hadn’t been sleeping well lately. The nights were long, her naps during the day too few and too brief. She felt perpetually uncomfortable and short-breathed, but the worst was the fear. It clung to her mind and heart like the burrs clung to her fur. She couldn’t shake it, but neither could she define it. It nagged at her, stressing her. She could neither see nor smell any predators nearby, and yet she felt a malignant gaze fixed upon her from afar, and it tormented her.
She had spent the night pacing back and forth between short spurts of sleep; but the sleep was tainted by a touch of the doom she felt, and the pacing did nothing to relax her or to calm her nerves.
Now, the rest of the sheep milled about in what little space was available, bumping into one another and growing angrier and more irritated by the passing minute. They were hungry. The people would toss them a can or two of feed and some flakes of hay in the morning, but it always disappeared down hungry throats far too quickly. The rest of the day they’d spend foraging, combing over a field that had precious little to offer.
Beyond the door, one of the dogs barked. The sheep stiffened, turning as one in the direction of the door. A moment later, it slid back, and the woman’s silhouette stood against the cold light of morning.
“Come on out. Out. Out,” she said, stepping in and shooing the sheep. They jostled to get around her, trying to reach the door without going near the woman or her clapping hands.
Jane left near the back of the group, pressing up against the wall and moving timidly forwards. Once she was even with the woman, she bolted, just like the rest of the sheep, running out onto the dreary field. As she left the shed, she glanced in on Molly. She was breathing normally now, but she still had not stood up again.
Odin snapped his teeth together, but carefully. It didn’t matter—Reeses’s tail was already out of reach.
“Too slow, big boy,” she said, bounding away from him with her hind end happily wiggling.
He leaped after her, but she had already shot beneath him, laughing as he twisted around to try and snap at her again. His mouth closed on air, while she nipped his tail. Twisting faster, he managed to kick her with one of his front paws, and she tumbled onto the grass, laughing. He laughed, too, but before he stopped she had already twisted to her feet and dashed off, running across the yard. He loped heavily after her, plopping his large paws through the mud.
Yesterday’s overcast weather had cleared up, and a bright sun shone down on them from a cloudless sky, repeating the messy cycle of freezing and thawing the surface water, but never warming enough to thaw the soil and allow the water to soak into the ground.
Just before Odin caught up with Reeses, she dodged to the left. He tried to follow, but his foot landed on a slick patch of bald grass, and he slipped, rolling onto himself in a yelping bundle of oversized limbs.
Reeses paused for a second, worried. Then Odin untangled himself, still laughing, and launched back into the chase.
It felt so good to run, to chase, to snap at Reeses’s weaving and dodging tail. Maybe, just maybe, I can catch her, he thought.
He was nearly upon her again. This time, he predicted her drive to the left, and moved along with her, catching her in the side with his nose. Reeses tumbled over onto her back, with Odin tumbling over the top of her, both of them snapping playfully at each other.
They disentangled themselves, still laughing. When they saw one another clearly, they laughed even harder through their open, panting mouths. Mud clung to both of them, sticking along the lengths of their backs. They looked like entirely different dogs.
Reeses got control of herself first, standing and shaking off as much mud as she could. Then she started trotting up to the porch.
“Where you going?” Odin said, rising to follow her.
“I’m tired,” she called back over her shoulder. “I’m gonna take a rest and try and get myself cleaned off a bit.”
Odin trailed behind. He supposed he could try and clean himself up a bit, too. Maybe he’d be able to get some of the mud off this time.
Even though she had never delivered a lamb before, Jane could tell that her body was ready. She could feel the changes already occurring within her, preparing her to push out a new life, to free the thing that wriggled and kicked so impatiently within her.
And it frightened her terribly.
She had separated herself from the other sheep as well as she could earlier in the day, wandering off to lay down between a few saplings, far from the shed where Molly still lay, where the dead lamb had been.
Through the dark, Jane could see the other sheep, already gathered around the shed, waiting to be let back in. There would be food in there, as well as water that wasn’t frozen over with a sheet of thick ice. More importantly, there would be warmth and light. Yet Jane could not bring herself to go to the shed. Not tonight. Not with her baby coming. Whenever she thought of going into the shack, she would see the eyes. Dead eyes, like the lamb’s. Unseeing eyes, like the little baby she had seen night after night. She shuddered uncomfortably and settled down on the frozen ground, waiting as her body marched irrepressibly towards the inevitable conclusion of this pregnancy.
Odin kept his mouth closed, breathing slowly through his nose instead. Every breath in tickled the ice crystals around the edge of his nostrils. Every breath out half melted them again. Against his side, Reeses shivered.
“I’m sure that they’ll let you inside soon,” Odin said for the umpteenth time. Reeses raised her eyebrows but didn’t say anything. A few feet from them, Dingo sneezed into the cold air, then yawned and curled herself back up again, wrapping her bushy tail over her feet.
“If you want my opinion, I would say that they won’t. If they were going to, they would have done it a long time ago. Now that it’s this late…. Well, they don’t really do anything this late.”
Reeses shot her a miserable look, then returned to her shivering. Dingo just shrugged.
“Just saying…” she mumbled.
Odin lay his head over his little friend, wishing that he could share some of his thick fur with her. As much as he hated to admit it, Dingo’s pessimism was probably correct by now—they weren’t going to let any of them in, including Reeses. The day had been warm and clear, and the night was just as clear, and just as cold as it had been warm. The temperature had probably dropped twenty degrees already, and seemed to still be creeping downwards. The one relief was that the air was still.
Perhaps the people inside really had just forgotten about them. Or maybe they hadn’t realized how cold it was going to be that night. It didn’t really matter—not now. They’d be alright, Odin decided.
He scooted a little closer to Reeses, then let his eyes close. He probably wouldn’t get any sleep with her shaking and shivering up against him, but he could at least try.
The frozen grass crackled beneath Jane as she shifted uncomfortably. The baby would come soon, much sooner than she wanted.
Something cracked in the woods behind her, and she stiffened, her hears sticking straight out, eyes wide and afraid. Suddenly, she wished that she were in the shed.
She had time still. It was cold, and it was dark, but it wasn’t too late. She pushed herself up to her feet, slowly and laboriously, then tottered for just a moment on her stiff limbs before moving forwards over the frozen ground. The mud from yesterday’s thaw had frozen once more, hard and unforgiving, but not too slick. She carefully traversed the field, her eyes locked on the shed and the slivers of light that shone through its wooden walls.
Jane had never thought of the shed’s small electric light as being bright. Quite the contrary, it seemed dim inside, unable to illuminate the low cobwebbed corners of the little shack. But out here, without the walls, she found a new appreciation for even that dim light. The stars overhead were too distant, too cold and remote. A sliver of a moon peered down as well, but only lazily, with its dark lid mostly veiling its bright eye. On the ground, patches of ice caught and reflected the occasional prick of starlight, making the ground a dimmer and more dispersed view of the night sky—stars above and stars beneath. And yet, for all the thousands of points of light, the world remained a dark place indeed.
But inside the shed there was light and warmth.
And Molly. And the dead eyes.
She hesitated, standing stock still in the middle of the field, feeling terribly naked and exposed. No tall grass to hide her, no clouds or leaves as a veil, just Jane who, were it not for the pressure of the frozen earth against her hooves, would be drifting in a sea of purple and black, the stars a fence of light in an enormous empty pasture of her own.
She shot out a frozen breath and saw it plume in ice crystals before her, then disappear. Then she continued forwards. The empty cold was dangerous. She needed the shed.
She moved forwards, slipping an inch over a slab of ice. A half minute more of careful walking, and she was alongside the door to the shed. It was closed tight.
Jane could hear the sheep beyond the door—her friends—gathering into the corner of the shed at the sound of her approach, frightened by the thing they could not see. Frightened by her.
Or, maybe, of something else?
“Help,” she called out. “Help. Help.”
“Away,” the ram bleated. “Away. Away.”
Jane butted up against the door. She knew that it could be opened. She even knew where the opening began, and the direction it always spread in, but she couldn’t do it herself.
“Away. Away,” some of the other ewes called.
Jane felt herself constricting with anxiety. This wouldn’t do. She couldn’t get in, and their noises were upsetting her. Unless, of course, they were trying to warn her….
The conflicted thoughts clashed within her mind, and all that she could think to do was scurry away from the door. She moved as quickly as her confidence on the frozen mud allowed, moving to the backside of the shade. Here, even the squinted eye of the moon could not find her. She tried to calm herself, then settled down onto the ice, pressing her body up against the shed’s splintery wall and cowering in the night shadow of the sheep shack.
The baby was coming now.
She groaned, and her body went to work.
Reeses stirred against Odin—not the shake and shiver that she had been doing, but a purpose-driven, wakeful stirring. He opened his eyes and looked down at her in the starlight.
She’d lifted her head to peer over his body and down across the yard, looking through the darkness, alert.
“What is it?” he said.
“I thought I heard something.”
He watched her tense posture, caught between nestling up beside him again and running down to investigate.
“Do you want to check it out?”
Her tail wagged and she pushed herself up. “Sure,” she said. “I can’t sleep anyways.”
Odin got up and stretched. The porch wasn’t exactly a comfortable place to lie down, and trying to position himself to keep Reeses warmer had done nothing to improve that. His claws pressed against the concrete, scratching noisily as he yawned.
Dingo raised her head. “What’s going on?”
“We’re going for a walk,” Reeses said. “Want to come.”
Dingo huffed and let her head fall back down to push into her coat once more. Through the fur they heard a muffled, “No thanks,” and then it seemed that her breathing had gone back to that slow rhythm of sleep.
Reeses’s short legs hopped down the steps and then started across the frozen ground. Odin followed after, the pair of them moving like shadows across the frozen field.
It was over. Jane panted in the cold, shocked by the experience. She shook her head, her ears flapping about wildly. Then, slowly, she turned.
A new thing sat beside her on the ground, small and fragile, all made of long limbs and innocence. It needed her, and she responded to that need, licking and nuzzling it. The thing wiggled, shifting around and pushing its nose into Jane’s side. Jane shifted to expose her underside, and the lamb latched and began to nurse, guided by the forceful hand of million-year-old instincts.
Jane groaned again. There was something else—something more. Her body went to work again, constricting and tightening. She pushed, moaning, and it passed. A pile of steaming meat lay behind her, raw, red, and slick. Jane twisted to smell it, then returned to licking the new lamb.
The moon, hidden behind the shed, winked at them, then went out, covered by a drifting cloud.
Soft footsteps approached. The sound of padded feet on hard mud. On the other side of the coarse wooden wall, a stampede of sheep feet gathering to the enclosure’s corner brought Jane back to the moment. She stopped licking and raised her head, listening.
The footsteps were faint, but the sound of snuffling noses was loud, and growing louder.
Maternal instincts clashed with herd sense and swirling primal fears. Jane lowered herself over the little lamb, her sore body tensing, her heart hammering.
Scents tended to blend together down near the sheep shed, everything smelling more or less like sheep urine. But a different smell hung near the ground, distinct. Odin and Reeses both smelled it, wagging happily as they continued their investigation silently. There was no need to ask what the smell was. This one came preprogrammed in their olfactory and brain: the sweet and sticky scent of blood.
“It’s—it’s coming from over here,” Reeses said, panting with the kind of eagerness that only blood in the night can awaken.
Odin followed after her as she rounded the back of the sheep shack; they both paused, staring. One of the sheep lay on the ground, half curled and watching them.
“One of the sheep…” Odin breathed.
Reeses took a half-step towards it. “What’s it doing out here?”
“Back,” the sheep said. “Back. Back.”
Reeses’s head cocked to the side. “And why does it smell like blood?” She took another half step forwards, sniffing.
The sheep jerked, quickly putting two of its legs beneath it, preparing to stand up. Its head shook, ears quivering in the dark as Odin stepped up beside Reeses.
“Back,” the sheep said again, this time rising shakily to her front feet.
Reeses’s tail wagged happily. “I think she’s really scared,” she said. Then she said in a whining, dummy voice, “It’s okay little sheepy, we’re not going to hurt you.”
The dogs had appeared from nowhere, unexpected and awful. Now they stalked closer and closer to Jane and her lamb, the small one coming nearest, the large one lagging behind. Both of them kept their heads low, curious eyes shining darkly.
“Back,” Jane called again. It was nearly all she could stand. She felt her legs quivering beneath her, compelling her to bolt. But then there was the new lamb, a biological anchor holding her in place. It was so fresh, so innocent—it would die without her. But if she were to die, it would die anyways.
Jane rose to her back feet now, standing fully, and the little lamb detached from beneath her. Summoning her courage, Jane stamped forwards, pounding her weary feet against the ground. The dogs flinched, but did not retreat. Instead, tongues slick with saliva lolled from both their mouths as they eyed her.
Her courage was spent.
She kicked out one final time, inadvertently knocking the lamb back against the wall. Then she fled.
The sheep was suddenly running away, bounding awkwardly over the frozen mud.
“There she goes!” Reeses called. Together, the two dogs gave chase, drawn forwards in flapping excitement, compelled by the need to chase what runs.
Even over the ice and mud, Reeses moved with grace, leaping now and again but landing as smooth as if it were a dance. Odin was fast, but even in the excitement of the chase he could feel the jarring manner in which he ran, bounding like some lopsided thing. Still, ungainly as his gait was, it proved sufficient to keep up with the sheep.
After a few seconds’ chase, Reeses managed to come up alongside the sheep, and she snapped playfully at it, the same way she and Odin snapped at one another.
The sheep tried to bound to the right, but its feet slipped on the hard earth, and it came down heavily on its side. In a flopping, desperate tangle of feet and muddied wool, the sheep righted itself and took off running once more, just as Odin came up by it.
“Away! Away!” the sheep called, its yells jarred and broken by its own uneven race.
“Stop, you dumb sheep,” Reeses jeered. “There’s a fence—there’s nowhere for you to go.”
Odin wasn’t sure if the sheep didn’t hear or didn’t understand, but it kept running in a wild panic, and the dogs both began to laugh, falling behind in a hilarious ecstasy as they watched the sheep’s awkward running, no longer feeling the cold.
The sheep began jerking this way and that, as if dodging phantoms the dogs could not see. Then it ran straight towards the fence.
Odin stopped. “Is it going to jump the fence?”
“Sheep can’t jump the fence,” Reeses laughed, “they’re too dumb!”
Odin started trotting again, watching as the sheep neared the fence without slowing. Then it slammed against the fence, crying out, “Away. Help. Away.”
Before the dogs had come much closer to it, the sheep had begun scrambling against the fence, kicking and wriggling. Surprise slowed Odin’s progress once again as he watched the sheep force its fleecy body between the fence’s horizontal slats.
“It’s getting through the fence,” Reeses yelped. “Come on, Odin, we need to stop it. The sheep aren’t supposed to get out.”
Odin picked up speed again, following after Reeses and only half believing that the sheep would get out. They continued laughing, but now a streak of worry lurked just beneath the gaiety.
And then, before they reached the sheep, it gave a colossal push forwards and tore its way through the fence, leaving patches of discarded wool clinging to the splintery boards. Odin slowed to step through the fence himself, watching Reeses—who had slipped through the fence with her typical grace—plunge into the woods after the sheep.
There was no stopping. There was no slowing. There was just the horror that pushed through her body with every pounding thump of her terror-stricken heart. Her body hurt from giving birth, it hurt from falling on the ground and slamming against the fence, it hurt from being crammed between the slats and then tearing through the rough branches and graspers blindly, but none of that pain mattered.
They were the only thoughts she had. The dogs were close behind her, she knew. She could hear them, could feel them at her heels, hungry and crazed. Flight was her only option. Unseeing, unthinking, panicked flight.
And then she was flying.
And then she was falling, and tumbling, and sliding.
She tried to scramble to her feet, but they wouldn’t move. She pulled and yanked at them, but they would not rise from the ground, and a new and sudden numbness began rising through her limbs, creeping towards her throbbing heart.
Odin pushed through the tangled branches and dead, frozen creepers, listening ahead for the crashing of the sheep and Reeses’s little barks. Odin paused—he could no longer hear either noise. Then the sheep broke the quiet of the black woods.
Odin pressed forwards, eager once more, excited to be part of the chase. Besides, it had now become his duty to hunt down and recover the sheep; they were supposed to stay in their pasture, after all. This one had just been too dumb and escaped.
He crashed over a bush, then stopped. Reeses’s eyes looked at him, reflecting dimly the starlight that shone through the naked branches overhead. They were anxious eyes.
“She fell,” Reeses said.
“She just ran right over the edge, down into the ravine.”
The sheep’s voice sounded from deep below, rising to them over the sloshing noise of disturbed mud.
“C’mon,” Reeses said, turning towards the ravine. “We’ll try and chase the idiot back out.”
Odin wasn’t sure how they would do that, but it sounded as if Reeses had a plan. Her tail disappeared over the edge of the ravine, and when Odin looked over the side he could see that she had already dropped a quarter of the way down, half stepping and half sliding towards the bottom, where Odin could just see the lighter shade of floor that must have been the sheep. Carefully, he stepped down as well. Like Reeses’s, his own feet began to slide. By scrambling and turning sideways, he managed to control his descent; it seemed like a long way down to him. To think the sheep had jumped the whole distance. It really mustn’t be very smart.
Odin stopped at the bottom of the ravine, where his feet cracked the top layer of ice that frosted the muddy floor, allowing the black ooze to seep up over his feet. It was startlingly cold, and he shook involuntarily. Ahead, Reeses had stepped over the ice without breaking it, and now faced the sheep.
“HELP. HELP,” the sheep called.
“Odin, this doesn’t look good. The thing’s gotten itself stuck really badly.”
Odin stepped forwards, cracking more of the ice. Even in the dark, it was obvious that the sheep had sunk deeply into the mud—it appeared as if it no longer had legs, and the mud and water pressed up against its stomach and wooly sides. The sheep’s head shook with fear and the cold, and it held its wide eyes as far from the dogs as it could, calling, “HELP. HELP.”
Odin watched with an excited fascination. It seemed so helpless.
“Ugh,” Reeses said. “It’s so loud and stupid.” She grinned in the dark, then lowered down and leapt towards its face, pretending to snap at its nose. The sheep lurched, cutting off mid call and nearly falling backwards before sinking back down in the mud. Reeses laughed. “Idiot,” she said. “Maybe we can scare it out. Let’s get behind it.”
The black water and mud had soaked from Jane’s belly to halfway up her side, and everywhere it went she became numb. But no matter how cold she became, it would never numb her fear. It gripped her mind in thin, wriggly, flighty fingers that stabbed through her painfully. She couldn’t control herself, couldn’t stop herself from urinating into the water. She thrashed and squirmed against her muddy shackles, but her efforts only sank her deeper.
The dogs had moved behind her, barking and growling, dodging forward to nip at her haunches and tail—never very hard, but always enough to ratchet her panic to a new height. She thought she might pass out, she wished that she could lose consciousness and escape this torture, but all she could do was flail her wide-eyed head and struggle against the inevitable and unconquerable: death. It was coming for her. She knew it, beneath the clutches of her fear-strangled mind, she knew it. She felt it, too, in the split-second breaks between every painful pound of her struggling heart.
Death was coming. It was behind her already, barking.
Odin could feel his excitement growing, adrenaline flooding into him as he and Reeses barked about the struggling sheep’s hindquarters. The exhilaration of it all pounded through him like a beat, matching pace with his steadily quickening heart, thumping through his brain until it became audible to him.
Reeses laughed beside him, then dove in and nipped at the sheep’s short tail. The animal struggled, twisting in the muck.
“HELP,” it screamed. “HELP!”
Odin barked loudly and jumped at it. “Come on! Sheep! Move! Come…. Move!” He tried to encourage it, but could feel his grip upon himself weakening, waning with the thumping of the primal beat.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
Reeses jumped forward and bit at it once more, snagging some of its wool between his teeth, then pulled quickly back, small and lithe, like a snake.
Reeses was agile, but Odin knew that his biology graced him with a power and strength that Reeses could only dream of.
He wanted to use that power.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
He needed to use it.
Barking, Odin sprang forwards again, giving into his cravings. He let his teeth dig deeply through the layer of wool and pierce the warm flesh beneath. A hint of blood stuck to his teeth as he pulled back, wrenching upwards as he did so. The sheep screamed and lurched, pushing itself farther out of the mud than ever before.
Odin released the sheep and pulled back, eyes wide and brain buzzing strangely. Through it, he could barely hear Reeses shouting euphorically, laughing.
“Wow, Odin! That was amazing! She nearly jumped out of the mud that time.”
Odin’s mouth felt tight. He wanted to do it again. Wanted to really do it.
“Come on! We’ll get her out for sure!”
Thud-thump! Thud-thump! Thud-thump!
The numbness that had rapidly worked its way through Jane could not hide from her what had happened. She’d felt the piercing teeth break through her skin and pull her body. The dogs had begun biting her. They were going to eat her.
She wrenched and twisted in horror, hearing their barking laughter reverberate off the dark ravine walls and magnify themselves in her ears. They teased and laughed, the little one chattering almost incessantly now, the larger one just barking and barking, leaping forwards and then springing away as she squirmed.
They began edging their way around the front of her, the little one yammering up close beside her, sometimes even placing its paws upon her side before darting back away, as if afraid that Jane would do something to it. The big one, however, wasn’t laughing the way it had been before, and its new look was even more terrifying. It bounded differently now, snapping closer, seeming to work its way towards something in particular.
High overhead, some unfelt breeze pushed the solitary cloud through the sky, and the moon’s heavy lid lifted. Through Jane’s thrashing, she saw the slivered eye look down on them, saw it reflected in the big dog’s wild eyes.
Then the big dog lunged forward. It’s jaws enveloped Jane’s neck and then snapped closed. Jane hadn’t realized she’d been frantically screaming until the screams were suddenly cut off.
The silence was complete. Thick, warm blood pulsed into Odin’s mouth, familiar yet alien. The gush of it shocked him, and he pulled back. Cold air smacked him in the face, and his mind suddenly became remarkably clear.
There was blood in his mouth. Blood stained his chest, too. He looked at the sheep.
It still sat in the mud, trembling all over. It’s simple eyes met his and shook with fear. Wiggling, it tried to call out again, tried to scream as it had before, but the sound seemed caught in its throat. Instead of its bleating cry, a gurgling whistle came from its throat, and droplets of blood flicked through the moonlight to stain the black mud.
Odin took another step back, shocked. The laughter was gone, the barking disappeared. Silence reigned, then the gurgled whistling returned, and the droplets of blood falling to the ground.
The third round of silence was broken by a voice from the top of the ravine.
“What’s going on down there?”
Odin and Reeses both turned, their tails hidden beneath their legs.
“Nothing,” Reeses said. It came out too quickly, as if she’d been waiting for that very question. Odin, on the other hand, was speechless—he couldn’t talk. Not with the blood still coating his teeth and tongue like a fresh dewfall.
When the voice came again, Odin registered that it belonged to Dingo. “Nothing? Sure was a lot of noise—”
She cut off as the whistling gurgle came from the still-struggling sheep.
“What is— Is that one of the sheep?”
“It fell down here,” Reeses began to explain. The sheep stirred again, still trying to work itself free, though now with visibly less energy than before. “We were trying—”
“Shut up,” Dingo snapped. “I’m not a pup like the two of you. I’ll—” She sighed, then starting to climb down. “Don’t move. Either of you.”
Odin didn’t move. Neither did Reeses. They stood stock still, positioned so that they could see the sheep’s slowing struggles on one side, and Dingo’s careful descent on the other. It seemed that it took Dingo a long time to reach the bottom of the ravine. When she finally did, Odin looked away from her.
She walked past him towards the sheep, then stopped abruptly. “You—” she began, then stepped back, tense and afraid. “What have you two done?”
“She’s okay,” Reeses said. “It was just a little accident. We were trying to get her out of the mud and back into the pasture, I swear.”
But Dingo didn’t believe it. None of them did. Nobody could believe it. Not with the blood there, and the awful gurgling whistle sounding again—a whistle calling the spirit of the trembling sheep to whatever lay beyond that great sleep called death.
“She’s not okay,” Dingo finally said once the whistle had subsided.
Nobody spoke again. Odin hadn’t managed to lift his head. He couldn’t look at Dingo. He couldn’t look at Reeses or the sheep. His head hung, and as the next whistle sounded he thought he could see the blood droplets flicker in the moonlight before plopping into the mud before him.
“So, what do we do?” Reeses said.
It was quiet again. Dingo may have been thinking of an answer. Odin’s brain still felt fuzzy, but his stomach felt as if a boulder had been dropped into it. Maybe Dingo was thinking of something to say, maybe not. He couldn’t have guessed how much time had passed before Dingo simply turned and left, moving slowly back up the ravine’s steep bank.
After another few whistles of unnerving silence, Odin realized that Reeses had gone, too, disappeared quietly up the ravine’s wall after Dingo, leaving him alone with the shaking and gurgling sheep.
He watched it through the darkness—the fearful eyes, the quivering ears, the oozing blood, and the overall resignation the thing now exuded.
Odin wretched, then scampered up the bank after his friends, carrying the smell of sheep’s blood on his coat. Just as he moved over the top of the ravine, he heard a last whistling moan from down below, a single word just under it, managing to escape beyond the sodden, crimson blowhole.
Jane slipped back into lucidity. The dogs had been gone for a while now, it seemed. Maybe it had only been a few minutes, but it could have been an eternity. She felt a coolness through her whole body, a relaxing hand that seemed to painfully massage out the life of her. Her head hurt, aching dully beneath the chill and numbness. The only sensation that truly remained in force was the pain of the hole torn through her neck, through which every breath whistled and gurgled.
Yes, the dogs had gone, hadn’t they?
She tried to breathe deeply, but her body wasn’t taking orders anymore. She sucked in a ragged breath, then coughed all the air out weakly, blowing bubbly red spittle from her neck.
Her head fell to the side, where it lay atop the frozen earth. A minute later, the pain in her head had largely faded, leaving only the stinging, oozing sensation in her neck. Soon, that would be fade, too. Then she would fade.
She’d probably go and join her baby—the kicking, nursing stranger she had met so briefly. Maybe the dogs had gone back for it?
The thought gave her one last ounce of strength with which she could struggle against the mud. She burned through it after a few seconds, then lay still again, staring up at the dying stars.
She watched each of them disappear in turn, fading from east to west overhead. Maybe she would go where they went. Maybe she would go nowhere. She wished she were already there.
Her breath whistled out of her again, too weak to fling the foamy blood into the air. It simply leaked from her now, draining down her wooly neck to mix with the filthy black mud below, stirred together from her vain struggles, seeping down, down, down.
She twitched, trying to lift her head to look behind her. The strength simply wasn’t there. Her muscles failed her, and her head lay heavily against the ground. She tried to lift her head again, but didn’t even come close to succeeding.
She wanted to see what new thing was behind her.
It didn’t feel like one of the dogs, though with the delirium of blood loss and a rapidly sliding body temperature, she couldn’t be sure. But something was there. Her prey instincts had, miraculously, flared up one final time, warning her to run.
Escape, they said.
But she couldn’t. All she could do was watch the burning red of her life blood mix itself with the black mud at the bottom of the ravine, streaming steadily away behind her.
The last of the stars overhead were fading. The sun turned the sky a dull gray, naked of glory or luster, but at least it was light. That light crept steadily over the sky, warming a cold and frozen world.
But none of it reached down into the ravine. It stopped at its broken lips, and by its contrast cast them into an even darker hue: two insurmountable walls reaching up on either side of her to close out the sun.
Jane lay on the frozen ground, half submerged and waiting for the light to touch her one last time. She died first, held in a vicelike grip between two shadows.
They hadn’t spoken a word to each other since coming up from the ravine. They lay on the porch in perfect silence, filled with guilt and worry.
When the people came out, neither Dingo nor Odin had stirred—they had kept laying on the porch, pushed away from the door. Reeses had gotten halfway up and offered a subdued wag of her tail, but the woman didn’t stop to scratch her head, and so she settled back down again, waiting to see what would happen when their deeds were discovered. And they would be. They always were, eventually.
Now they watched as the woman re-crossed the yard, returning from the sheep pasture with her arms held over her chest. Between her arms they could see a rough blanket from the shed, and poking from between the folds of cloth was a lamb’s small head, shivering from the cold.
The woman walked past the dogs, fixing each of them with an angry glare. When she looked at Odin, she must have seen the blood on his muzzle and fur, because the stare hardened further. Then she opened the door, still hugging the lamb, and went inside.
“Shut up,” Dingo said. “You’re in for it now, stupid. I can’t believe you….” From the corner of his eye, Odin could see Dingo’s face. She shook her head slowly at him, then turned so that she could no longer see him.
After a few minutes, the woman came back out. There was no lamb in her arms now, but she still reeked with the scent of it.
“Odin,” she snapped.
He got to his feet, his tail still between his legs and his head hanging lowly. She unceremoniously grabbed his collar and jerked him towards the side of the house.
“You bad dog,” she said, speaking low. “You bad, bad, bad dog. We don’t hurt sheep.” She pulled him around towards the side door and pulled it open. It protested loudly on squeaking hinges, and the smell of laundry soap poured out. “Bad dog, Odin. Bad dog.” She pushed him through, unable to pitch him in like she might have liked due to his enormous size. Then the door slammed shut behind him.
Mud streaks covered the linoleum floor from several weeks’ worth of dirty boots tromping through. The washer sat still, but the dryer hummed and rocked, radiating warmth into the small room. Odin immediately lay down, his back to the dryer, its rhythmic motion steadily massaging the guilt from him.
A bad dog, he thought, and lowered his head.
The smell of lamb had been so familiar on the woman. Like the smell behind the sheep shed.
Then he remembered. It had been a long time ago, but he’d played with a lamb before, when he was just a puppy. He’d chased it around the field, laughing and barking happily. There’d been no shame, then. Not at first. Once he’d killed it, he’d eaten half of it without feeling a twinge of guilt, then he’d brought the remnants up to the house, to show and to share.
They’d called him a bad dog then, too.
There’s a different sort of silence that reigns in the woods during the winter. Many things sleep, retreating from the cold to wait for the call of spring. Others leave, traveling great distances to escape the cold. And others die, done in by the cold.
Jane had mouldered on the floor of the ravine for four days. It wasn’t until the previous night that the process had really begun—before, it had been too cold, and her corpse had waited, undiscovered. But last night a hungry coyote had been lucky enough to stumble upon it. Now large pieces of Jane lay about, scattered around the ravine haphazardly. Other parts were missing entirely.
She didn’t care, of course.
As the waxing moon rose, a raccoon slid from his den and scurried along the ground, pausing occasionally to sniff about. It was still cold, but a feast such as this was certainly worth the excursion. He’d been smelling it for a while now, only faintly before the coyote, but now it overwhelmed and intoxicated.
Scratching and scrambling, the raccoon ran along the side of the ravine’s sloping wall, then down it to where the buffet had been so carelessly laid for him.
He was large, and his hunger was large as well. He seized upon the first piece of frozen sheep and began to eat. The meat tasted rich and felt good, in spite of being frozen. The raccoon didn’t think much about it—he simply ate—but if he had he might have guessed that the sheep had been young. Perhaps only a year old.
He stopped suddenly and looked up, sniffing at the air and clutching his food tightly. He lifted the scrap to his mouth and prepared to run back to his den where we could enjoy it in peace, but then he stopped. After a minute of waiting and watching, he settled back down and resumed his meal among the carnage.
He had felt something, a prickling of that sixth sense that alerts the body when it is being watched. But when he’d looked around, he had seen nothing. Only shadows.
And as he continued eating, the shadows continued watching.
Odin rolled onto his back and put his paws in the air, then rolled heavily back to his side. He didn’t like being in the laundry room. At least, not anymore. At first, it had been nice—warm, with gentle noises and nice smells. But now he was terribly bored with it all.
Why was he in there, anyway?
He raised his eyebrows and thought about it. Something to do with the bleating sounds of the little lamb inside the house, he thought. He couldn’t be totally sure though. Remembering what had happened a few days ago was like trying to look into a past life sometimes.
Odin got to his feet and went to the door. If he jumped up on his hind legs, he could look outside and see Reeses playing in the sun. She was already outside, barking at birds and running around. He wished he could join her.
But he didn’t jump up to look out the window. The people wouldn’t want him to do that, he felt. He quieted the desire and sat back down, waiting.
The tap-dance of small hooves and whisper of socked feet moved to the door into the house, and Odin turned towards it. The door cracked open and the woman stepped in, gently pushing a small black nose and face back into the hall.
“No, Melly, you can’t come in here. Back. Get back.”
She clicked the door closed, then turned into the room. Odin perked up—she wasn’t carrying a basket full of cloth, and she didn’t move immediately towards either of the noisy boxes against the wall. Instead, she faced him.
“Are you ready to go back outside, Odin?”
He stood, letting his tongue droop from his mouth; his tail gave a little, anxious wag.
The woman stepped up beside him and patted him on the head, scratching between his ears as she pulled up the creaky door to outside.
“Good boy, Odin. Go on; go play.”
Tail wagging fully, Odin stepped out into the sun and let the cold air sting deeply into his nostrils.
Good boy, she had said.
He stepped down into the yard, and Reeses ran towards him. Awkwardly, but happily, he bounded towards her over the frozen grass.
He was a good boy.