by Larry Brody
A new mystery greeted me when I awoke the other day.
Cloud Creek Ranch’s very own Midnight Massacre.
The night had been filled with the sounds of a typical Paradise thunderstorm. The roll of thunder. The crack of lightning. The click-beep of appliances as the power went off and on. By the time daylight arrived, the rain was a steady, rooftop drizzle and the only loud sounds came from the dogs, who’d slept inside all night and wanted out. “Now! Now! Immediately!”
That may seem all fine and dandy, but what it really meant was just the opposite. A normal sound, one that had greeted the ears of both Gwen the Beautiful and myself every morning for many years, was nowhere to be heard.
The sound of chickens.
Of roosters proudly crowing to announce to the world that, “These hens are ours!” And of hens cackling otherwise, “In your dreams!”
I pulled on my boots and my duster, plopped a baseball cap onto my head, and let the dogs out onto the front porch while I continued around the side of the house to the chicken yard, where our fine flock of silly, almost poodle-like silkies should’ve been scratching away at the dirt.
I saw the first silky on the way. In the clearing, near the big stone fire pit on the little rise we call The Mound. Headless and soaked, the chicken lay on a pile of feathers. When I knelt down, I saw the long spurs that told me this was all that remained of our two roosters. Beyond the dead rooster, on the other side of the fire pit, were several more piles of feathers.
I hurried to the chicken yard. The gate was closed, the latch double-clipped into place. Within the yard, two bedraggled white hens cowered against the trunk of tree that’d fallen about a year ago but was way too big for me to cut up and cart away. Behind them, between the two small coops, another headless body lay.
Another hen, the one we called Orange Chicken. She’d been the sole survivor of the dozen chickens we’d inherited when we first bought this place. Which mean she also was the last chicken to whom we’d given a name.
I moved through the chicken yard, hoping to find more survivors hiding in its nooks and crannies. There wasn’t a one. Didn’t find any more bodies either, but, brother, did I see feathers. Everyplace!
I turned to the two remaining hens. “How—?” I said. And, “Who—”
No reply. Instead they clutched at each other in the way that’d taught me, years ago, what very real and sensitive spirits even these creatures have.
The rain began coming down harder, but I had a mystery to solve. I walked along the fence, looking for a break that would let a marauder in. All was secure. Except—
Yep, there it was. A place where the chain link was bent back, just a little. A place where something small, smart, and determined could force itself through. And a few feet away, where the clearing met the woods I saw something fitting that description.
Quickly, I left the chicken yard and pushed through the brush to a dead weasel. Its mouth was drawn back in a snarl, and its body was intact as though it had been shaken to death, the way a dog might do the deed.
Weasels hunt in families. I know that from the Discovery Channel. It seemed to me that what must have happened was that several weasels had wormed their way in but been chased off, along with some squawking victims, by a defending dog.
The only problem with that theory was that the most likely reason the weasels had made their move was that Emmy the Bold and her gang had been inside.
From behind me came the sound of panting breath. A twig snapped, and I turned to see what looked like a large, tan dog watching from the trees a few feet away. Our eyes met. I reached out to it…
And the dog faded—no, wafted—into the woods, vanishing like smoke.
The Cloud Creek Ranch Ghost Dog.
The rain grew even stronger, but I stood there for I don’t know how long. I realized that in spite of the carnage I was smiling.
“The greatest,” I said, this time with no sarcasm at all.
And I ran back to the house to tell Gwen.