The Ledge By William Rowan
Monday, January 26, 2004
Not rated by the Author.
Two computer engineers, tired of California's Silicon Valley, move to the mountains of Western North Carolina to build a log home. Their solitude is interrupted in a most unusual way.
Abridged for AuthorsDen - I cut it by several pages from the original because it seemed to take too long for it to load. If you enjoy the interaction with the hounds, there are two rather lighthearted foxhound chapters in my semi-humorous murder mystery entitled *Incident at Roan High Bluff*. One of these chapters is posted at my AuthorsDen site, and you are welcome to copy it to a folder on your computer and read later at your leisure. Of course, you can do that with "The Ledge" as well .
Martin Geldi dropped the double-bladed ax in the middle of the trail. Next, he let the come-along winch clatter to the ground. Then, the heavy coil of stiff, new Manila rope skidded the short length of his skinny frame and landed like a huge shattered doughnut about his feet. He stepped free. Hands cupping his knees, doubled over, he took several deep breaths. "Darn path's nearly straight up," he said aloud.
It still galled--the ribbing he had taken from his colleagues in the company lunchroom back in Palo Alto that April day. You're nuts, Martin. His ears still burned with their sardonic taunts. They had all been on him at once. Adrian Fasteners? Crappy little company. Jeeez, Martin! Boondocks of North Carolina? Any stock options? Of course, some of them were jealous. Still, it went all over him.
He dumped an unfinished burger and half a Coke in the trash receptacle and left the lunchroom. Why launch a defense? They would say even worse things if they knew; for the truth was that both he and Cary were just plain sick of the frenetic pace so rampant in the Silicon Valley. They were tired the rush, the tedious commute, the frayed nerves, the coarse language. Then there was that other consideration: the crazy dream that he and Cary wished to indulge, the one they could never realize in the context of the megalopolis south of San Francisco, the log home all their own, built from scratch, not from store-bought, precut logs. He would cut and bark the logs and notch the corners; she would chink the joints. They had entertained their dream almost from the day they first met. They had researched it for months. They had read everything on log construction in the StanfordUniversity library.
It was the dew dripping from the tent fly that awakened him on that first morning tenting on the new property. The night had been cold. The timbered acres they had purchased were located high on the slopes of CairnMountain eight miles northwest of the town of Towhee. Perhaps the nights would always be cold, even in summer. Not so the days--he had already begun to sweat. The tools were heavy; the trail, steep. Perhaps soon he would get his second wind.
His plan that morning was to hike to the hemlock stand three hundred yards above the campsite and cut the first dozen trees. That should not take long. The sketches they had drawn called for small trees, six to eight inches in diameter. He would drag the first log down to the building site on his way to lunch.
A sudden primitive awareness caused him to freeze stock-still. He recognized a faint stench, like that of wet wool in a crowded Honda on a rainy Monday commute. On a rock ledge not twenty-five feet away sat a mature, male gray fox, its head cocked back over the shoulder, watching him with apparent indifference and no sign of fear. The creature's flanks bore pulled tufts of ragged fur. One ear was notched and an ugly, naked scar coursed the left rib cage.
Martin spoke to the animal in casual, friendly tones. "Darn path's nearly straight up," he said again.
Almost imperceptibly, the fox cocked its head at a different angle.
"You been watching me long?" Martin asked.
The fox turned away and looked out to the north past the open fields towards Cairns Road, a quarter-mile away. Martin followed the animal's lead. He counted six or possibly seven homes. Close in, he could trace the course of Cairns Branch as it meandered north from the pond near the building site to the bridge on Cairns Road. There, after passing through huge culverts beneath the road, it began its broad, sweeping turn to the east to join the CatanikaRiver.
"I'll be back in a little bit," Martin said. He gathered up his tools and continued to climb the steep trail.
About , as he came back down the same trail dragging a freshly cut hemlock log by means of the rope, Martin looked towards the rock ledge. The fox had left. He uncoiled the rope from around his waist and stepped cautiously out onto the ledge. What a joy to feel the sun and soft breeze, to be away from the clouds of eye gnats that had plagued him in the hemlock grove. His shirt was soaked. He drew it off over bony ribs and wet hair. It smelled of antiperspirant. He wrung from it drops of warm sweat that spattered on the rocks at his feet. He had felled only three young hemlocks before the ax seemed to double in weight. After a close call with a kneecap, he decided it was risky to continue. Perhaps, in time, his skill and endurance might improve.
From the ledge, he could see the exact spot on the road where the rutted, red-dirt right-of-way turned into Cairns Cove and curved up towards him past the barns and the big white house that belonged to aging Ivy Cairns. A swirl of smoke drifted from her chimney. Between her house and his property line at the base of the hill, the warm sun painted a sea of tassels in her field of corn.
A few hundred feet to the northeast, the small, gray, clapboard cottage of Art and Frances McKay stood nestled in a stand of pine. Martin and Cary shared the dirt right-of-way in from Cairns Road with the McKays.
Reluctantly, Martin returned to the trail to resume the task of towing his heavy burden down to the campsite. Begrudgingly, he acknowledged another point where his Palo Alto colleagues had been right. Number crunching eight hours every day was poor preparation for a lumberjack. The log hauling should properly belong to a team of oxen. But not on your life would he be deterred. He and Cary would build their dream house and they would have it dried in before September when his new job was slated to begin.
As he skidded the log close to the building site, Cary looked up from the picnic table beside the pond. Her delicate--even frail--features seemed pale except for a blush of red from too much of yesterday's sun. Yesterday, she had clipped her golden hair short, a change that accentuated her girlish frame. Like Martin, she basked that day in spiritual contentment for the first time in a long time. Could it last? Or was their mountain cove, back from the road, with its rushing branch and stocked pond, a Brigadoon or Immensee, here for a day only to melt away with tomorrow morning's mist?
Most of their acres consisted of steep mountainside, dense with oak, eastern tulip poplar, hemlock, and hickory extending southward to the ridge. The building site they had selected was more open. Only a few large tulip poplars and one ancient white oak stood nearby. That afternoon, Martin brought down the two other hemlock logs. With his library notes close at hand, he spent the remainder of the day practicing the art of notching corners. Evening was upon them almost before they knew it. Cary built a campfire, heated a can of soup, and made a giant pan of corn bread. After supper they relaxed by the water's edge comparing the chaotic rat race of California's Silicon Valley with the perfect solitude of their new home. As they absorbed the mood of this wondrous setting, they agreed that even in the beautiful Sierras they had never experienced so lovely a campsite. The serenity of the quiet cove enshrouded them with calm. Surely, their happiness that day had to be a good omen.
In the days that followed, work on the house proceeded more slowly at times than expected. Cutting, dragging, and barking the logs proved to be a monumental task. Had the hemlock grove not been up hill from the building site, the sheer foot-pounds of work required would have made the undertaking impossible.
Each morning, they rose sore and stiff from the exertions of the previous day to tend yesterday's cuts and bruises, to sip strong herb tea, to strive to muster their courage for the hard work that lay before them.
One hot June afternoon Martin worked until dark while Cary prepared supper by candlelight at the campfire. Together, after eating, they enjoyed the glowing embers, watched trout rise for damselflies on the still surface of the pond, counted the voices of tree frogs in the laurel underbrush and spoke softly so as not to disturb the harmony of their quiet woods. He talked on about details of the house. She seemed not to be listening. Suddenly, she touched his arm and nodded in the direction of the imperfect roadbed that they used to reach the building site from the right-of-way at the base of the hillside. A gray fox stepped from the meadow and sat down in the drive not fifty feet away.
"That's him," he said.
"Not so loud," she warned.
"He doesn't spook . . . There's something about him." Martin rose, walked towards the fox, scaled a slice of sandwich bread into the drive and returned to the table. The fox made no move. Then, it disappeared in an instant, as though it had vaporized, as they were distracted by a sound from a different direction.
The ritual occurred almost the same way the following evening. This time, as the fox rose to leave, it inched forward towards the bread, made a dive for it and melted into the underbrush beside the drive.
The next evening was similar. The fox appeared, sat, and watched for the bread. However, after several anxious glances in the direction of the road and the bridge, it vanished.
"Seemed nervous," Cary observed.
"Something to do with what happens down by the road . . . Behaved the same on the ledge. Almost as though he's trying to tell us something."
After another hour enjoying the peace and quiet of the night, they quit the comfort of the campfire. They picked their way through the darkness to the tent. They were lulled to sleep by the comfortable familiarity of night sounds: the rustle of a mole or field mouse foraging outside the canvas, an occasional hoot owl deep in the woods, whippoorwills courting far back in the cove.
At , they were awakened by a howl at least as heinous as the one that caused primitive man to invent the devil. She clutched him in a frightened embrace as he threw back the covers and sat up. The tone of the tormented howl changed. It rose to a new pitch, then fell, then rose again. From a greater distance, a new tone intervened. Then, close at hand, another, and yet another, the tones converging into dissonant chords. The howl grew louder as though approaching on the wind. Surely, this doleful evil was headed straight for the tent, at times seeming to outrun, then lag, then outrun again the very speed of sound itself.
He leaped to his feet, burst from the tent, grabbed a heavy hemlock club and cocked it back, his bare, bony knees flexed, his small feet planted firmly in the forest duff, ready to protect tent, loved one and all his earthly possessions even unto death.
Through the woods, left and right, barely visible in the filtered moonlight, charged at least a dozen beasts--nearly uniform in color and size, like clones from the same set of genes, the more ghostly for their similar appearance. Only the pitch of their offensive cries distinguished them one from the other.
"My God," he exclaimed. "Cary, it was dogs. A pack of dogs. What in blazes--"
"Dogs?" she said.
"Dogs. All the same. Almost like they were running through air. Like ghosts. Pale, white ghosts of a dozen identical dogs."
He tossed away his club. Angered by the disturbance to his sleep, he picked it up again. He might still need it. He swung it in pantomimed defiance of the mysterious pack, then leaned it at the entrance to the tent and returned to his place in the bed. He was too tired to speculate on what he had seen. Minutes later, he was asleep.
Cary lay awake listening. Was that a dog far back in the cove? Perhaps an owl instead. Nearly an hour passed before a mournful howl came from the meadow below, somewhere near Cairns Road. Then another and another. The tone changed; the volume increased. "Martin." She clutched his shoulder. "They're coming back."
Again, Martin sat up. They listened. "Jeez," he said, "from the same direction. Must be another litter of the devils."
"Maybe they've circled around," she said.
Reluctantly, Martin crawled out of bed again and left the tent to take up his hemlock club. Again, the volume of the beastly cries reached deafening decibels. Dry laurel snapped and crackled like a forest fire as the howling pack charged past.
"Well, they're not ghosts," Martin called to Cary from outside the tent.
"And apparently, they're not after us," she said.
He returned to bed. They tried to rest, but the hounds passed the tent four more times before dawn. Each time, it was the anticipation of the creatures' return that stole their sleep. They would talk, begin to drift off, then one or the other would catch a first wretched wail carried on the wind.
Crawling out with the dawn to tend yesterday's aches and bruises proved almost too difficult to bear. They were both too tired to speak. He lit the campfire. She fixed breakfast.
A moment later, as she turned from the campfire, she detected movement at the far side of the pond. A mere specter of a hound--ribs protruding, limping, a female, white with black blotches, cut and gouged by snags from the laurel hell, half-starved and bathed in sweat--crossed the inlet stream and hobbled towards them. Cary fixed a pan of warm milk. The animal drank, vomited, and collapsed in its own curdled mess. After breakfast, she cleaned its wounds and fed it bread soaked in milk. That combination stayed down. It slept. Martin examined the brass tag attached to the collar. Etched into the shiny metal were the words Clyde Ledbetter, Cairns Road, Towhee, NC.
"Best take her home," Cary said.
"Let him come for her," Martin grumbled.
The animal stayed with them for two days and nights. It followed Martin up to the hemlock grove and back down to the log pile near the house. It followed Cary to the campfire as lunchtime drew near. It slept beside their tent. On the morning of the third day, as Cary unloaded groceries from the van, it sprang in through the open cargo entrance, tore into a shopping bag, and devoured a quarter loaf of rye bread before she could intercede.
"That does it," Martin said. He loaded the creature into the van and drove out to Cairns Road. He found Clyde Ledbetter's mailbox and inched the van along the driveway to the back of the house. No one responded to his knock. He wrote a note on a paper scrap. He shut the animal in the garage, attached the note to the door, and drove back to the cove.
Three hours later, a pickup truck paused on the right-of-way by the bridge. It proceeded tentatively past the Cairns house, then charged up the hill. Martin walked out to the drive; Cary followed.
Clyde Ledbetter was a mountain of a man--tousled white hair, ruddy face, muscular shoulders and arms. He extended a powerful paw through the truck window. "I thank thee for returning my bitch," he said. "She's a good 'un. Just a mite inexperienced."
"Yes," Martin said.
"Lost two more, same night, over the ridge near the gorge. Fellow phoned me this morning. Must have been over there when you come by with Dolley."
Martin looked blank.
"Dolley," Clyde repeated. "Full name's Dolley Madison. Name them all after presidents or presidents' wives. My lead's named Ted. The Rough Riders. You see how it works? The personalities have to match. I love history. Cal's my best. Never runs trash. Reliable. They're just like people."
"Yes, well," Martin tried to think how to begin. "The thing is, the other night your dogs--"
"Correction. No offense. Hounds. Hounds is not just dogs in the ordinary sense. But, as I say, no offense. All you newcomers make that same mistake."
In his mind, Martin began to build a profile of this man. The vibes were not good. The confrontation was not starting as he had hoped. "The thing is, my companion Cary--"
"Nice to meet you, ma'am."
"Cary and I bought this property because of its apparent tranquillity and beauty. We selected it because we longed for a quiet, peaceful place to live. And then, here came this incredible disturbance the other night from the dogs."
"Yes. Well . . . we just didn't expect it. In fact, we are pretty upset about it."
Clyde Ledbetter crumpled an empty cigarette pack and tossed it on the seat beside him. "Barth Cairns and me used to run Cairns Cove together--up over the ridge, back down near MinersvilleCenter, back around by my place. He bred some right good stock. Bequeathed four to me the year he died, including his best bitch. In fact, she was Dolley's grandmother. It's both a science and a recreation, you see. And they're good hounds. They won't give you one speck of trouble."
"Well," Martin said, "they have already been a 'speck of trouble,' as you say. We own the whole upper part of the cove now, and we'd rather you didn't hunt on it. Cary doesn't approve of firearms. Neither do I."
"Firearms?" Clyde practically shouted the word. "There's no firearms about it." Then, apparently striving for control, he continued in a more subdued manner, " We don't shoot the foxes. We just run them. The hounds don't even catch them. Fact, we don't even go along. Usually, anyway."
"Then how do you know the dogs don't catch them?"
"Because we know what . . . Because the hounds can't . . ." The big man's face flushed with a curious, uneven pattern of angry red that spread rapidly from whiskered jowls to his temples and then across his forehead. For a moment, the tenor of his voice bore the heavy scratchiness of someone tired of the need for explanation. "Fox hunting ain't a blood sport like 'coon hunting." He spoke softly, now, without a hint of bluster. "'Coon hunters will cut or burn a tree so their hounds can tear a treed 'coon or possum to bits. Coonhounds need to taste blood to keep their interest. Foxhounds maintain interest all on their own. They're smart, you see."
"But, foxhounds are way too slow to catch a fox, unless he's sick or something."
"Then, what's the point of it?" Martin said.
Clyde started to answer and stopped. He started again and stopped. Finally, he started. "Marvin--"
"Yes. One evening, when I plan to go out with the hounds--I said we don't usually go along, but we do when we're breaking in pups--I'd like for you, and the missis, too, if she wants, to come along. We'd release the hounds, spend the evening, and I'd teach you what it's all about. You'd learn their calls. Every call has a purpose. Once you learn their calls you'll begin to appreciate what it's all about. They're talking the entire time. They're signaling back to tell me what they've found. That's the whole point and nothing but the point."
"Interpreting their calls?"
"Exactly. I can tell who's wandered off, who's runnin' trash. I can tell who's in the lead, who's lagging. That's how I choose which to breed for pups. I can guarantee you'll have a good time."
Martin took several short steps back from the truck and tucked his arms over his thin chest. "Not a chance. Sorry. It's not my idea of fun. I'm afraid I'm resolutely on the side of the fox, and I don't want him or any other wild creature driven off from here by your pack of predatory, howling dogs."
Now, Clyde's entire face, though seasoned and tanned by years of hard outdoor mountain labor, turned red as a Tartar Ridge apple. He seemed about to correct Martin again. Instead, he started the truck's engine. "Suit yourself." His big hands closed around the steering wheel. "I guess I'd just as well to get on home."
A week passed before the disturbance of the hounds occurred again. The sequence was much the same. In the twilight, the fox stepped onto the drive and sat down. Martin offered bread but the fox left. Then, from midnight until dawn, the heinous howl of the hounds echoed every forty minutes through the cove--long, hideous, bugling howls; primitive, discordant, mysterious; the tonal coordination of a hunting pack close on the heels of its terrified prey. Oh, how Martin hated the concept. He loathed the thought that modern humans could delight in inflicting such ancient and unnecessary cruelty on another living creature. Cary shared his depression over the plague that seemed to rape the sanctity of their peaceful homestead.
Yet one day, as they lay in bed and listened to the pack, she said, "Well, I must admit, I can pick out Dolley."
"Me too," he said. "I think Ted must be the one with the lowest voice. Seems to be more out front than the others. Faster and stronger, probably."
An opportunity came, the next day, for Martin to discuss the problem of the hounds with his immediate neighbor, Art McKay. He and Art had agreed to meet that day to patch the fence along the right-of-way.
Martin was not much help with the fence and Art was no help at all about the hounds. "You may get used to them," Art said. "Me and Frances, we don't even hear them much anymore. Well, we always laugh about Ellie when we hear her. He told you how he gets his names? But, I can understand what you're saying. It ain't right. A fox has a right to the peaceful enjoyment of his home same as you and me."
Again, the hounds came. Cal nearly crashed into the tent on the first go-around. Martin kicked at him from the bed. They kept coming all night, round after round. By morning, Martin had worked himself into such a state that he set out for town before breakfast to talk to the sheriff.
"You'd have to have proof," the sheriff said. "You'd have to show it's his hounds. You'd have to have evidence that would stand up in court. Even then, all you'd probably get might be an injunction."
"But, that would stop it once and for all, wouldn't it?" Martin asked.
"Son," the sheriff said, "You're getting into something that just won't work the way you think it will. Running hounds in these woods is over two hundred years old. I'll admit there is a county leash law, but it won't stand up against two hundred years of doing something another way. All you'll get yourself is one unhappy neighbor, an unhappy judge and begging your pardon even an unhappy sheriff."
"But, there is a law?"
"There is. And I'm not saying I won't attempt to uphold the law if you was to succeed in getting an injunction. I'm just suggesting that it might be there's a more neighborly way to go about it. Can you appreciate that?"
Discouraged, Martin sat at the wheel of the van for a long time before starting the engine. Perhaps the entire change--leaving California, building the house, the new job--was a colossal mistake.
When he returned to the building site, he told Cary of his encounter with the sheriff and described his thoughts as he sat in the van outside the sheriff's office. Cary listened in silence. She wiped tears from her eyes.
By late-July they finished the walls and framed the windows. They were ready for the rafters. Yet, even that success could not bring back the excitement and enthusiasm of those first days in the cove. After the rafters were in place, they took a day off to attend the County fair. It brought them little comfort.
The melons were beginning to ripen in Frances McKay's garden next door. Ivy Cairns's sweet corn was ready to pick. Tomatoes were cheap in the stores. Summer was well underway. How they longed to drive to the coast to see Kitty Hawk, perhaps New Bern. However, they dared not spare the time. And they needed to conserve their strength for the difficult work of sheathing and shingling the roof.
Clyde provided no respite. His spring pups had most of their growth and needed to begin training. Short runs, and often, that was his method. Get them broke in before the harvest moon.
Martin and Cary turned in early upon their return from the fair, and Clyde's villainous pack thundered past the tent three times before Martin fell asleep. The yips and yaps of the new pups only seemed to amplify the discord caused by the older hounds. Suddenly, after the fourth or fifth pass, Cary awoke from a deep sleep.
"Martin," she said, touching his shoulder.
"Go back to sleep," he said.
"I mean it. Something's wrong."
He rolled over onto his back to listen. "What do you mean she's stopped."
"Her pitch changed. She's signaling Ted."
They listened for several minutes.
He said, "Ted's almost at the ridge, but he's not running fox. He's moving back this way."
"The pups are silent."
"I noticed," he said. He sprang to his feet and stepped into his pants. "I'm going up. I hear Cal near the hemlock. But he's heading back now, too."
"I'll come with you," she said.
"Bring the extra flashlight, then." He stuffed two sets of new batteries in his jacket pocket and stepped out into the night air. "It's chilly. Better wear your sweater."
They moved up the hemlock path in the direction of Dolley's calls. Dolley came to greet them and led them back up the trail to the base of the rock ledge.
There, beneath the ledge, Clyde Ledbetter's huge frame was sprawled on the stones. He was conscious but badly hurt. "Danged little Bess," he said.
"What happened?" Martin asked.
"Ran betwixt my legs. Knocked me head over heels off the ledge. No account little bitch." His shirt was torn and stained. A ragged white shaft of bone protruded from his bloodied left forearm. His backpack had spilled its contents of rope and gear for ten feet around. For a moment he passed out, then regained consciousness.
Martin could not tell if there might be broken ribs or internal damage. Even worse, there could be injury to his spine. "Chest hurt?"
"You're damned right it hurts."
"Best not try to get up," Cary said. "We need to figure out if you've injured your back."
"Landed on my arm, mostly. Gave my head a whack. Just come to when I heard you talking."
Cary ran her hands over both his legs. "Try pulling your right leg up just a tiny bit towards your chest."
Clyde managed it.
"Okay, try the left."
That one worked, too. However, he complained about his left hip.
The pack had gathered by now, and sat in a semicircle a few feet away. Dolley was closest, then Ted. Bess was flat on her belly looking guilty as sin.
Cary said, "Raise first one foot an inch or two and rotate it in both directions. Then do the other foot."
Clyde managed that maneuver.
"Your back is probably okay, but we mustn't take a chance," Cary said as she rigged a sling for the shattered arm.
Just then, a light flashed on the path. Cal barked softly.
"Clyde, you there?" It was Art and Frances.
"He's up this way," Martin called.
Art continued talking as he approached, "Dolley stopped. We heard Ted and Cal head back. Thought something must be wrong."
As he approached the base of the ledge, Art sized up the situation. "Well, golly ding, Clyde. You okay?"
"No, I aren't."
"My pride, I reckon."
"How about that arm?"
"'Fraid so." Clyde admired the sling. He looked at Martin. "Your missis is real handy."
"Thanks," Martin said.
"Should be me doing the thanking," Clyde answered.
Frances asked about his back.
"The little missus okayed it. I reckon I'll try to get up."
Art said, "Let me and Martin raise you up. We'd best not touch that arm. Don't try to help. Just stiffen up some so's you're not a dead weight."
Together, the two men got Clyde to his feet. He wobbled, but was able to take a step or two.
"Hurts like fire," Clyde said. "It's my chest and my hip. I know I've got busted ribs. You reckon I could have busted my hip?"
"We'd better rig a litter," Martin said. "The girls can hold the flashlights and light the trail."
Not until a rope-and-sapling litter was ready did the hounds rise in unison to lead the way.
"Kick that blessed little Bess if she gets underfoot," Clyde said. "She'll have us all busted up if she can."
Art reported to Martin the next day that things were not as bad as they first seemed: a mild concussion, a compound fracture of the left arm, and four cracked ribs. The hip was okay. The patient would be allowed to recover at home.
Martin could not resist a certain air of frivolity that evening by the fire as he opened a bottle of Barbera and poured Cary and himself a liberal glass of the heavy wine.
"I really wouldn't care to be little Bess for the next couple of years," he said. "She'll have to run a fox to ground solo to get back on his good side."
Cary laughed a compulsive laugh of relief.
"I really shouldn't make light of his misfortune," he said. "It's just that the vibes seemed so good when I talked to Art."
"How so?" she asked.
"Clyde asked Art to convey his thanks. Said he's grateful. Told Art especially to thank 'the little missus.'"
"That's nice," she said.
As July transformed into August, with the roof well underway, the pressure to hurry seemed less severe. They often ended a day of hard work with a leisurely dip in the pond. Often, before supper, they would pick blackberries for dessert on the sunny bench up by the ledge, or search the deep woods along the branch for mushrooms to add variety to the evening meal.
The dog days of August, as he often referred to them just for fun, were punctuated by the busy cries of starlings feeding in the corn, or the long rattle of a solitaire kingfisher gliding across the pond. Then, late on especially hot afternoons, all other voices of nature paused while the stridulous cadence of cicadas, high in the tallest trees, rose and fell.
Most evenings, the gray fox appeared and sat patiently in the drive until invited closer to the campfire with scraps of bread. It had lost its timidity.
Most nights a hoot owl could be heard deep in the woods, or the whippoorwills far up in the cove. On rare occasions, the penetrating scream of a bobcat brought them from a deep sleep. The fog crept in on especially cool nights, first to the treetops, and then to bathe the laurel and rhododendron slicks.
As the month progressed, Art helped split shingles for the roof. No doubt, it seemed the neighborly thing to do. Occasionally, Martin a day off from the house construction to work with Art repairing the fence along the right-of-way from Cairns Road. Clyde brought his tractor several days to help set posts.
And from the day of the accident forward, never again did the melancholy howls of those cloned white ghosts race like an evil wind the length and breadth of Cairns Cove.
This one took my breath away. Bar none, one of the best stories I've read in a long time. I feel as if O Henry came back and penned a story set in the country. Your imagery, use of description to heighten the rushing sensation of Martin's falling headlong into this new way of life, the very cadence of your sentances is perfect. I only bemoan the few pages trimmed before posting - would have loved to read them as well.