The otherworldly hiss broke Moslay from his napping, sending the daggers of ice up and down his spine. As the hounds began to bark, the old man knew he was going to need the scattergun. If the graying man hadn’t enough warning, the sprite that shot in through the window gave him a certainty that he could not deny. He slipped shells out of his breast pocket as he neared the door, Moslay found his heavy iron waiting, propped beside the door. Yanking it up by the sling, his ears were struck with another of those sinister calls as the hounds let out another volley of shouts and curses.
Flinging open the door, Moslay pulled up the gun, only taking the slightest survey of what was before him, then firing. All Moslay cared was that he didn’t hit one of the dogs or anyone who may be passing on those seldom-traveled roads deep in the Gardens. Intense, almost electric, lime light burst from the muzzle, sending a cluster of jagged metal at the beast. Normally, Moslay would wait before firing off another round at any target, no reason to waste those precious shells, but this wasn’t the average prey. He pumped and fired three more shots before taking one of the spares and pumping it into the open action. The gun smoke cleared, the world around Moslay’s old lot fell silent, and what little peace of mind the man had returned to him.
Clumps of bright orange fur lay scattered all across his front lawn, as though he had randomly planted bunches of marigolds everywhere. The fence with its string of bottles holding lesser sprites was askew, looking as though someone had run a full team of horses through part of it. Moslay’s garden was half dug up, something he wished he could blame the hares or hounds for. And then his eyes fixed on the two great dogs, still at the end of their chains growling at such a constant and steady level Moslay could barely tell they made a noise at all.
He stuck two cracked old fingers in his mouth and let out a whistle that caused both hounds to snap out of their current moods. Their chains fell slack, and the younger of the two, still barely more than a pup, began an anxious whine. Moslay’s older one didn’t give in to such immature acts; Ams was too much of a veteran for that. Taking his gun in one hand, Moslay made his way over to the dog house, keeping cautious eyes on the road. He didn’t think the hag’s little ‘kit’ would make a second stop at his place tonight, but he’d been wrong before.
Moslay stepped passed Ams, giving him a pat on his muzzle, and moved to reign in the less than calm Perc. With one well-timed grab, he snatched the jade-colored chain of the mutt and brought its big brown eyes down to his level. He knew the dogs were just that, dogs, only different from any other hound because of their size. Still, Moslay would talk to them like any enchanted creature. They wouldn’t respond, couldn’t, and probably would not understand, but Moslay was just that way with animals. Gesturing down the path, Moslay began, “Perc! The damn fox is long gone! If you’d wanted to tackle that runt down, then you shoulda when it done came into our yard!” He gave the pup a wallop on the muzzle, sending the gray coated hound running for its shelter. Then, Moslay fixed eyes on Ams, “And what’s your excuse? You’re supposed to be showin’ that one how to guard this place! You’re the captain, and the captain has to get his paws dirty too. Don’t just leave it up to the little ‘en to catch that skulkin’ rat! Next time, you bring me that things tail, show Perc how it’s done!”
Twilight was fading fast into the deep dark of night in the woods, a silence permeated the air, making everything feel uncomfortable. Moslay got back to the porch, watching as Ams causally wandered around to his shared shelter. The old man wanted to curse himself out for falling asleep, but maybe more so for scolding the hounds like he did. Looking down to his hands, Moslay saw the answer for why he would act in that way he always did. Life hadn’t been hard, it was easy now, but life was always easier if you had all the hard out of the way. Then he fixed on the gun and wondered if there wasn’t another way around this whole mess. Gripping the well-worn piece of metal tight, Moslay agreed with himself on that thought. If the varmint didn’t come back in the night, he would go down to the old woman’s hut and try to talk some sense into her.
He had lived down the lane from old miss Winifred half his life now. They weren’t the kind of neighbors to have one another over for a cup of tea or coffee like folks from some nice picture book. Moslay hadn’t minded the old woman, despite every last rumor claiming that she was a witch come in from the southern seas. That kind of talk only went so far with Moslay; he didn’t buy it or bother with it. He would often enough help the pumpkin-faced old woman, plowing her walkway in the winters, taking the scythe to grass in the summers, and keeping the animals out of her yard and garden. Moslay could only expect that she would be amenable to his request if only he asked. That reminded the old man just how little he liked dealing with other folk. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t like others, but it seemed no matter what any conversation he tried to make turned sour quicker than a jug of milk in the summer sun. He could only hope Winifred would be a little more reasonable than any number of folk back in town. For the sake of his hounds and livestock, Moslay had only hope to give for them.