The strange scent had vanished and he couldn’t pick it back up. Not for lack of trying. He scented his way around the dooryard, keeping one eye out for Rachel. He finally saw the short woman standing on the top of the newly completed tower. Her shoulder length dark hair hung straight down, even so high up the air was still. Lucky trotted over to the base of the tower. Steep steps, almost a ladder, led up the back and he climbed them carefully. The tower itself was about four stories tall with a wall around it that was taller than Lucky at the shoulders, but shorter than the diminutive shape of Rachel.
The woman looked over her shoulder as she heard Lucky’s claws hit the plywood flooring. Her dark eyes, the color of slate, were troubled and they narrowed when she saw him. Each step across the plywood added another heavy rock to the weighted sensation that filled him. He tried to shake it off, actually shaking out his fur halfway across the flooring to the woman.
He tried out a few greetings in his head as he walked over, finally settling on, “Hi.”
“Hi.” Her voice was terse and clipped. “What are you doing up here?”
Lucky’s tail was low, held in a mostly neutral position and not wagging in the slightest. His ears were up and forward and while his body remained tense, he didn’t project anger. He wasn’t sure what to expect from Rachel. There had been so much said the previous night and he wasn’t quite sure where any of it came from.
“I actually came up here to talk to you.”
“What do you want?” She asked.
“Can we just talk?”
She turned back to looking out over the dooryard from the top of the tower. There was a rifle leaned against the low wall at her side. “I said what I wanted to say last night.”
“Not really.” Lucky padded over to stand next to her, lifting up to put his paws on the low wall and peer over it. “You have concerns about me. We should talk about it. Maybe we can get past it.”
“I’m not sure I want to, Lucky.”
Lucky’s brow furrowed and he glanced at her again. She wasn’t paying any attention to her, she was staring off into the middle distance, probably not even keeping watch as well as she should be. “What do you mean?”
“This whole thing is more than I ever wanted. I lost my husband in the Winds. He had been a little sick before, but he was getting better. Whatever this is?” She ran a hand through her hair and Lucky realized she must have done it a hundred times before. “Whatever this is, it took that away from me. Whatever we may have been, it’s gone. Whatever time I may have had with him, it’s gone. This took that from me, he was cancer free. Four more months and he would have been declared in remission. He could have been healthy again. We had hope.”
The big dog let out a faint whine, but he didn’t respond immediately. “I’m sorry.” He said at last. “I’m not sure I understand what that has to do with us talking about our disagreements.”
Her slate colored eyes met his for a long time, as though she was searching for something in their depths. Eventually she looked away with a sigh. “This bullshit has ruined my life.” Her cheeks flushed red and her eyes flashed as she went on. “Ruined it. I lost my husband, my house.” She shook her head. “My cat has disappeared and Nicky is beside himself. He’s lost so much.”
Lucky winced. “Simon’s fine. I just dropped him off at the Barn with his Boy. He doesn’t like being cooped up inside all the time, he asked me to talk to you and his Boy about it. I didn’t get the chance to ask about it yesterday.”
She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. “You could have opened with that.”
“I should have.” He admitted. “I guess I wanted to try to get us sorted out.”
She sighed, leaning her elbows on the wall and putting her head in her hands. “It doesn’t matter what I think, Lucky. You’re the Chosen One.”
“That’s not true at all. Your opinion matters.”
“It really doesn’t, Lucky. You control the territory, you control your pack, you control the dogs, and the coyotes, and the fox, and the squirrel, and now you’re giving me demands from my cat.”
“It’s not a demand, Rachel. Simon can’t talk to you himself and he asked me to be his voice.”
“That’s not the point!” Her voice was rising again. “The point is, you’ve got everything. You haven’t lost anything. You have superpowers, for God’s sake!”
“You can too.”
“Again, Lucky, not the point.” She shook her head, fingers digging into her hair and palms hiding most of her face.
“What is the point?”
“None of it matters. Just go, Lucky. I’ll let the damn cat out in the mornings, but you need to go.”
“But… I don’t understand!”
“It’s not my job to make you understand. Just go!”
Lucky whined as he dropped back onto his feet. He stood for a moment watching her as she leaned on the wall. He could smell the tears that dampened her cheeks, but he didn’t have any idea how to fix it. He whined again and took a step toward her.
“I said GO!” She was yelling now, her voice thick and choked.
He didn’t know what else to do, so he went. Climbing down the steep stairs was even harder than climbing up it. Lucky placed each step carefully. At the bottom, he trotted back over to the Barn and looked in at Simon and his Boy. The Boy still hadn’t let Simon go and the cat was starting to look a little disgruntled. He was standing in the Barn’s doorway.
“Simon, Rachel will let you out in the mornings.”
The cat’s eyes met Lucky’s and he nodded his head.
Darkness swelled behind Lucky, washing over his sunwarmed back. A sudden chill raced up his spine, lifting the hackles between his shoulders. The awful, unsettled weight seemed to balloon in his chest. His heart stumbled. He turned quickly back to the dooryard. The ash colored sky was awash with clouds now. In an instant the dooryard was coated in darkness. The still air seemed suddenly oppressive and dense with humidity.
Others in the dooryard were staring at the sky. Lucky stepped closer to the center of the yard and he froze midstep. That strange scent teased his nose again. He closed his eyes and lifted his nose, sniffing left and right trying to find a greater intensity of the scent. It was gone as quickly as it had arrived. A low, rumbling growl filled the still air.
Girl was helping Gran in the kitchen again, enjoying the bright sunlight that poured through the window and the soft sounds of the radio playing jazz while they worked. The sunlight vanished, sending the kitchen into sudden darkness. Girl immediately rushed to the window as Gran turned on the kitchen lights.
Outside the sky was an ominous mix of greys, from a pale ash to a deep charcoal. The sun blazed behind a thin layer of clouds like a burning ember. The trees around the dooryard were still. Lucky was standing near the middle of the dooryard, one paw lifted and his nose in the air. The fur between his shoulders stood on end, making the already large dog look enormous. People outside started running for shelter. Lucky didn’t move as people went by him, thundering up the steps and into the house. He was so still.
“Isobel! Where are you going?” Gran yelled as Girl raced out of the kitchen.
Slowly his foot dropped to the ground, his stance widening until he had all four paws planted firmly beneath him. People ran past him, rushing for the Big House and the basement beneath it. The terrible bass rumble bounded and rebounded off the surrounding trees and buildings. It seemed like it was building. Sound piled upon sound, each increase like an additional weight added to Lucky’s spirit.
He trembled as the last of the people ran past him. The dogs followed closely. Ro with her kit was close on their heels. Lucky was a stone in the river of their passing. To his left and right they went, some calling his name, encouraging him to follow. Lucky’s eyes were distan. The big dog didn’t move at all as everyone passed him. His eyes never left the charred sky.
Girl shoved her way out the door, fighting against the tide of people, pushing her way through. When she reached the porch, instead of going down the stairs, she leapt over the railing and stumbled into the dooryard. Lucky was a colorful statue of a dog. It seemed he was barely breathing, she couldn’t detect the movement of his chest. His tail was still and there was no breeze to ruffle his fur.
She stumbled to a stop, a few feet from him, just out of reach. The ever intensifying growl washed over her and stilled her. They stood, two statues. One reaching for the other, hand outstretched but not quite able to reach.
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Hi! My name is Skwrepb (pronounced Jen, I swear). I'm a stay at home mother of three with not enough time on my hands. I've been writing since I could hold a pen and I have so many stories to tell!
I'm an avid reader and The Wandering Inn is what brought me to Royal Road. I have been devouring stories here ever since.