Stream bed. Modified Flickr Image, original by William Warby
Shouts followed us, the clipped voices of men trained in the hunt. “Warren take the left flank; you take the right. Cover the end of the field and make sure the bird doesn’t exit that way. The rest of you, form a line. Come on!” Then footsteps advancing steadily through the tall grass, the thud of heavy boots on tilled soil.
“If they catch us they will kill us.” We had no idea why these men had bundled Farmer John away and murdered Cosima’s flock, or why they were pursuing us with such vehemence. All we knew was fear. The need to escape. To run!
The land sloped away from Farmer John’s house and barn and we followed it’s gravity as if it were guiding us gently toward safety. I sensed Cosima had roamed here before, that he had sought refuge and respite from his flock on occasion, following the rumpled contours of the property to their natural conclusion. I sensed a trickle running into a stream to the southwest, and the stream tumbling through a verdant tunnel of underbrush.
Panicked as he was, Cosima knew this would be our only hope of escape…
“Our!” The sentiment surprised me. That moment, in the midst of our terror, was the first time I felt acceptance from Cosima. He didn’t translate this broadened conception of self into syllables, didn’t actually pronounce the word ‘our’ and think through its implications. But he was afraid for us not just himself, and he was aware that I feared for him too.
No time! Dogs! What we had thought of as panic suddenly spiked into something without a name. Our heart thumped, our mind raced, legs churned. But in the midst of this whirling commotion, calm. In fact, I had never felt so centered, so determined.
There could be no wrong or right to our choice. We plunged through the clutching grass toward the gully that was our only hope. Cosima instinctively wanted to run away from the shouts of the men and the baying of their dogs. But he understood we had cut across the bias and make for the stream course etched into his geography.
Two scenarios had to be escaped. In the first, we would be overtaken by the men and their dogs; in the second, spotted crossing the open ground at the verge of Farmer John’s hayfield. The first ended with us torn to bloodied shreds; the second in an explosion of feathers and guts. The dogs must have been specially trained to track fugitives, which meant they could not have picked up our scent yet – if they had, they would have been upon us already…
Movement. A fleeting shape romping through the grass ahead of us, darting in and out of our field of vision.
Cosima balked, the urge to turn and run from this specter overpowering. I laughed, a reaction that puzzled him. “Neutrino!” I thought gleefully. Neutrino raced round and round, pure spirit zipping in and out of consciousness, as if the interstices in the long grass were wormholes through space and time. He wasn’t a construct of flesh and bone, but his panting aura was tangible and I couldn’t help but remember the rough affection of his tongue rasping my cheek.
All this time he had been near us at Farmer John’s, hiding, waiting for a moment to be found. Suddenly he was gone again, and I knew he had become a confounding scent in the nostrils of our pursuers, a shadow that would distract them. I knew also that this would always be Neutrino’s way – to appear suddenly, then vanish.
Almost there. We were making straight for the place in Cosima’s map where the runoff of the land dribbled into a collecting stream, which wound its way at an oblique angle toward Revoucnav and Lake Ecnastcon.
Funny how the mind works. For a glimmer I was sad this stream we were making for would never have a chance to grow to be a river. I surmised from my morning trip into Revoucnav with Cosima that there was no river between where we were and the shores of Lake Ecnastcon, which must have been this stream’s destination. Then it dawned on me how much had happened since our morning foray, how our world had changed. Cosima was not aware of these thoughts. They were utterly extraneous to the situation.
He dashed toward the slight depression in the land that marked the point of runoff from Farmer John’s Field. As we got closer his focus narrowed, until he was aware of nothing but that dip and the safety we would find if only we could reach the dense underbrush.
The stormtroopers had been left behind as they methodically flailed the grass, trying to flush us, hoping their dogs would catch our scent and could be unleashed. I suppose Cosima had been spurred on by this, his excitement mounting in inverse proportion to the distance we put between us and them. A form of ecstasy had overcome him, like the sense of accomplishment a sprinter might feel a couple of strides from the finish line…
“Stop!” With every ounce of authority I could muster I bellow this command. “Crouch!”
Just in time we ducked down. The thudding boots of the stormtrooper, who had been sent to patrol the western edge of Farmer John’s field, passed us by.
We darted behind him, into sanctuary.
It was cool in forest. Quiet. The stormtroopers were still beating their way through Farmer John’s field. But they inhabited a different world and would not find us, not so long as Neutrino interfered with the senses of their hounds. Cosima bobbed and strutted along the stream bed, ducking under branches, scrabbling around boulders. The water burbled, merrily out of tune with the drama taking place not fifty paces away.
A strange thought occurred to me: How many murdered souls would it take to create a stream like this of blood instead of water. How many men, women, dogs, cats, cattle, elephants, giraffes, pigs, rats, mink, whales, horses would it take to effect that transubstantiation? And where would the factory be located, whose workers sluiced the butcher’s offal down the drain, through a pipe and into their cesspool?
As if he understood this lurid vision Cosima stopped for an instant and cocked his head. Was he aware of my reckoning? Or simply listening to make sure the hunters had not discovered our escape route?
We continued on our way, a little uncomfortable in each others company, but certain there could be no parting. “Until death do us part,” I muttered. “Until we find my boy.”