A Song of Night
& The Naming of Things
We noticed the sow had disappeared long before we heard the whispers, but, looking back, we figure they may have been there all along. Low, at first, and subtle, like wind whistling through the moss that sagged from the branches, telling tales of things long dead and buried, promising hopes and sorrows yet to come. Whispers that lifted through the night air like lullabies. Like hawks. But the night was always filled with sounds like that, at least around here, so we paid it no mind.
A rail in the sty was missing, too, which must’ve been how she’d gotten out. I ran my fingers over the splintered wood while Brother perched atop a nearby post, squinting at the trees that lined our property. He shielded his eyes with his hands and looked for any disruption in the leaves.
“I’m guessing she went that away. She can’t have gotten too far.”
I’d named her Sue though Pa and Brother had forbidden such eccentricities. Pigs—blue ribbon like her or not—were for breeding and eating; not for naming. But I could disguise it as a call by adding an “-ey” to it if they ever heard me talking to her.
“We best get on out there ‘fore she gets too far gone.”
Brother jumped off the post and shook his head at the whole situation. He was older than me, so he’d seen more of this sort of thing. Every escape had brought with it a wrangling and a return. He was bored with it already.
My fingers stopped over the exposed nail in the railing, black and tough and suspended there amongst all the dry wood. A tiny scratch of blood had dried and crystalized on its point. I wondered to myself if the price of freedom was always some sort of pain. Growing up down here made that seem like fact: true as the sky was blue and the dirt road leading past our house dried redder after each rain.
We searched the wood for hours, Brother stomping through the underbrush with a whooping holler meant to scare her out of hiding; and me seeking out the spaces where the blackberry vines grew thick and puckered with juice—the spots I knew I’d run to if the going got bad and the forest held less secrets. By the time the sun was pushing shadows through the pines, signaling mid-morning and stretching on toward noon, all we’d found were a few muddy prints that could’ve been either hoof or paw before the dirt slid off in obfuscation.
Three days later, Ms. Bessmer lost her entire coop of hens. “Wire was pushed out from the inside,” I heard her telling Pa. “Like they all got together to plan an escape. I ain’t never seen nothing like it,” she said.
Then it was a milking cow from over at the Johnston’s. After that Mr. Melton’s dog Fetch, who ain’t never strayed more than fifteen feet from his owner, left in the middle of the night.
Betty Lynn, a friend from school, said all the stray cats she liked to feed had stopped turning up to their dishes and there were piles of tunafish going rank and rotting in the sun.
“I reckon you can smell it all the way over in Forsyth when the wind blows just so,” she laughed, scrunching her nose up and sticking out her tongue. I tried to laugh with her, but when I inhaled, I had to hold my breath, ‘cause the truth was: the whole town was starting to smell like death, and I wasn’t so sure it was thanks to a few ripened cans of tuna.
It wasn’t until Mr. Atkins lost his mare and his stallion one night that gossip switched to worry and people started paying attention. He’d been out there in his stables, he said, shotgun pitched and cocked in case, as he put it, any “rapscallions” thought they’d steal his horses. Dusk had just finished her show of evening colors, and night itself had already taken hold of the wood, so he was lighting up the wick in his lantern when he heard it. Low and subtle. A whisper on the wind.
The mare’s ears twitched at the sound of her name undulating through the air. Her hooves scratched at the hay surrounding her feet, and she whinnied as she nosed the door of her stall. Mr. Atkins barely had time to grab his gun when another voice joined in to call the stallion.
“Copper Cash… Cooper Cash....”
He did his best to imitate the voices when he told the story, but he promised us he wasn’t doing them justice. And he promised us that what happened next was the whole truth.
The voices grew louder, he said, working both his animals into a tizzy. He opened the stable door and used the site on his shotgun to look out into the wood, to try to trace the voices to their source. And that’s when he saw them: two wolves lurking there. They smiled right at him as they called out once more. His horses jumped their stalls and nearly trampled him—knocking him down and knocking him out—as they galloped off. By the time he’d come to, there was no sign of the wolves or his horses.
Most folks ‘round here, they laughed at the idea of talking wolves. So much so, that when Mr. Atkins disappeared, they thought they’d embarrassed him out of town.
But three days ago, Betty Lynn from my class went away.
And this morning there was no sign of Brother.
Pa won’t let me go outside, so I’ve been staring out my window all day, watching the trees grow dark with the sunset.
Night ‘round these parts is really beautiful so I open the window. There’s jasmine in the air, and a blackness that can make the slitted eyes of the wild glow yellow.
And then there’s the song—that beautiful song!
Nighttime singing my name.
About the Creator
Andrew Forrest Baker
he | him
Southern gothic storyteller.
My new novel, The House That Wasn't There, is out now from April Gloaming Publishing.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Zero grammar & spelling mistakes
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
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