Caught up in his thoughts about the dream, Jase went about his chores
more out of habit than out of any kind of conscious attention to what he was
doing. He milked the cow, fed the animals, turned the horses into the pasture,
then mucked their stalls with barely a thought to any of it. It wasn’t until the
sun crested the edge of the forest and a fan of orange bathed the lawn that he
paused to glance around the yard, surprised to find himself finished.
He looked at the horses standing beyond the fence and shook his head,
bewildered by how absent-minded he had been. He didn’t even remember
putting them there. Fortunately, he had remembered to close the gate.
Growling filled the air behind him, and he turned to see Sam and Jes
wrestling playfully near the smokehouse. Sam lay on his back with his legs
sticking skyward, his fangs bared in a mock snarl, while Jes gnawed on his
exposed neck. He had always wondered why Sam, who was six years Jes’ senior,
allowed the younger dog to take such a dominant position. Especially
considering how, if push came to shove, Sam could take Jes’ hide off without
He joined them in their play, kneeling to grapple with them as they bumped
and shouldered each other for his attention, their tails wagging so hard he
thought they might fly off their rumps at any moment. “Oh, you are good boys,”
he told them in a smoochy voice, amazed by how quickly the tension he’d been
feeling about his dream vanished. He scratched their necks for a moment, then
moved to the smokehouse to check the venison he was curing. He opened the
door and stepped back as a wall of smoke billowed outward.
Several quarters were done, so he removed them, wrapped them in burlap
sacks, and loaded them into the wagon. Zander Neils, owner of the mercantile
in Kindel’s Grove, would be ready to restock his supplies. Neither of them would
make any money on the sale of the meat, but that wasn’t the purpose. The meat
would be given to those who needed it, free of charge.
He reentered the smokehouse, filled the cooking drum with more hickory
chips, blew on them until they started to smolder, then replaced the lid and
adjusted the air intakes. With the smoke billowing thick and white, he made a
quick exit, shoving the door shut behind him and nearly tripping over Sam and
Drool hung heavy from the sides of their mouths, but he held out his hands
in apology. “Sorry boys, I don’t have any scraps today. And don’t even think
about stealing what’s in the wagon.” He spotted his mother’s cat Shadow
sneaking along the side of the house and turned Sam’s head toward him. “Go
get him, boy!” he said, and Sam bolted forward, tail no longer wagging as he
bore down on the unsuspecting cat.
Jes, only a step behind, began howling at the top of his lungs, and Shadow
looked up just in time to keep from getting bowled over by Sam. The three
animals disappeared into the woods behind the house in a chorus of muffled
barks and mewing.
Jase turned away from the scene and found his mother sitting on the steps
of the porch. Her disapproving frown showed she had seen the whole thing.
“I don’t think they’ll actually catch him,” he said, joining her on the steps.
“They better not,” she warned, “or I’ll get a panther like the one Lord
Chellum has. That would break those two of harassing innocent cats.”
“They’re only doing what comes natural,” Jase countered.
“Not all dogs chase cats,” she told him pointedly.
He shrugged. “The good ones do.”
She ignored the comment, looking instead at the sacks in the wagon. “Since
you are going to Zander’s, there are a few things I’d like you to pick up for me.”
She handed him a list.
“Sure. Is there anything else?”
She fastened her emerald gaze on him. “I dreamed about your father last
The tone in her voice sent a shiver through him, and he blinked, suddenly
aware of how on edge she seemed.
“And...?” he asked carefully.
“I don’t know, exactly,” she said. “It was a strange dream. Unlike any I’ve
had in a very long time. He never spoke to me. He tried to, but he couldn’t for
some reason. I...” she hesitated, “I got the feeling he was trying to tell me we are