There was a small rustling in the woods and a scattering of forest floor; Toby watched as fox ran along the edge of the border of trees and back into the folds of the woods. That’s when he heard the bark. He knew that bark. His head shot up and he strained his eyes. It had come from just outside his vision on the far northern end. That was Lilly. It had to be. It sounded just like her. He carefully put down his beer and leaned forward in his chair.
“Lilly?” He asked the night.
“Lilly, is that you?”
He was about to get out of his chair and stopped in mid ascent. He sighed, again, and sat back in the seat feeling a little stupid. It was impossible, of course. Lilly was dead. His best friend had passed on last fall. She was old, and time had had its way with her. She was diagnosed with hip dysplasia, and the arthritis eventually had spread so bad he had had to put her to sleep. She was living in pain everyday and Toby had had enough of the grief, seeing her limp around. He had decided he was keeping her alive for his own benefit and it was time to let go. As he sat back in his chair, he looked down to where she used to sit during their nightly ritual, and felt a low tightening in his stomach, tears threatening to escape his eyes.
“Just, stop it Toby.” He said to himself, “She’s gone and that’s that.”
He took the last slug of his beer and considered going and grabbing another, when he heard the bark again. It was clear in the still, night air. The sound was far off at the northern edge of the woods but close enough to make Toby wonder if a stray had wandered onto his property. But the bark was so familiar. He had heard it every day for the past thirteen years.
For a moment he didn’t really know what to do. It sounded like Lilly, so it must be a Lab and they weren’t much of a threat. Then again, they weren’t the kind to go off wandering on their own either. He heard another rustling in the woods. No bark. Toby leaned towards the yard in his chair, mouth slightly open, eyes, squinting into the, now dark, distance of the northern edge, concentrating.The night just hung there, silent save for the sounds of crickets. Continuing to stare at the trees, and beyond, he slowly sat back in his chair and decided to dismiss the whole thing and wondered if he really needed another cold one. When the barking came again, this time it was a little more frantic. Toby was up right, instantly. It wasn’t the barking of a dog in pain or danger. It was the sound of a lab on the hunt. A dog alerting her master that she had found the fowl. Come, over here, that barking said, it fell over here. Toby stood, and walked to the edge of the porch.
“Lilly.” he said out loud and caught himself. The name had escaped his lips without him even thinking. Lilly was dead, he knew that, but, it had just come out. The dog barked a few more times and sounded as if it was running back and forth trying to get someone’s attention. Whoever would listen, it seemed. Well, Toby was listening and the rustling he had heard in the woods was not coming from the north end of the woods where he heard the barking, it was more towards his position but deeper in the trees. The barking stopped again.
The farmer resolved to go and take a look. Since he couldn’t hear the dog rustling when it barked maybe it was in some sort of trap. No, Toby thought, that’s just ridiculous. He had no traps laid out on his property. He heard the rustling deep in the woods again and it sounded like the scrambling of not one, but a couple of, what he assumed to be, foxes. He had just seen one not, five minutes ago.
He walked across the porch and went into the house. Toby realized how fast he was walking and his heartbeat quickened, slight mists of fear matching his pace.