Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.
Day Three Hundred and Two
There are few predators remaining in the Lost Quarter. Coyotes and foxes, of course, for they can find their place anywhere in this world it seems, lurking on mankind’s edges, mostly unseen. Nights in the Quarter are filled with their high and lonesome cries, calling back and forth, singing their songs in the quiet of darkness.
Birds of prey as well. One only has to look above any tractor working over a field, trailing a cloud of dust, to see hawks hanging in the air, waiting for what will come scurrying out in its wake. Owls are ever-present, though rarely seen. The signs of their presence are everywhere though. Pellets of feathers and fur at the base of trees. In winter you can see the impressions their wings leave in the snow at the same point where the tracks of some unfortunate mouse or vole comes to an end.
Once wolves, cougar and bear wandered the Quarter, staying mostly to the river valleys but sometimes wandering afield. The arrival of farmers among Those Who Came meant the wolves and bear were hunted and driven back into the mountains. They are not seen in these parts anymore. Nor are cougars, but that is by choice, for they still lurk in the river valleys and other wilder places where game gathers. On the rolling plains of the Quarter they are never seen, for they do not venture where there is not cover.
That is why no one believed a word Old Ryan said when he told anyone who would listen he had spotted a cougar bounding across the road in front of him not far from Miller’s place. There were jokes about fat tomcats and mutant coyotes, and not a few worried murmurs about whether Old Ryan was going soft in the head, but he remained insistent. “Who would mistake a cat for a cougar?” he said and they had to agree it was unlikely. Not more unlikely than a cougar in the central parts of the Quarter at least two day’s journey from a river valley. The old timers, of which Old Ryan was one, all said they had never heard of a cougar in these parts.
No one gave the matter much thought. It was an interesting story to tell, and soon everyone in the area had heard it. There were no further sightings though and after a day or two everyone pretty much forgot the matter.
Miller came out into his yard ready to his chores one morning five days after the sighting and saw that the steers he had in a pen, ready for pick up the next week, had gotten out. They were scattered in the pasture beyond the yard eating contentedly. He swore and went to see how they had gotten out, expecting to find the gate ajar because someone hadn’t closed it properly.
The gate, however, was firmly closed. Instead, he saw, the steers had escaped by breaking the upper two boards on the south side of the pen. This shocked him; he had never known cattle to break boards like that, unless they were rotten. A closer inspection showed the wood was fine, or had been until the steers had assaulted it.
What, he wondered, could have made them hurtle themselves at two inch thick wood without heed? There had been a thunderstorm last evening, but no lightning strikes close enough to startle the cattle. Mostly they had just gotten some much needed rain.
He was not a man for pondering things so he just chalked it up to one of those eternal mysteries that would never be solved and set about fixing the fence. When he was done he rounded up the steers and chased them, bucking and snorting, back into the pen, counting them carefully to make sure none had gone further astray.
It was as he was on his way out to his day’s other tasks that Miller noticed the footprints, near the fence, not far from the gate. He wasn’t sure how he had missed them the first time. They were massive, longer than his boots, the impressions deep in the mud. He stared at them, a chill running down his spine, knowing what they had to be but not quite willing to believe the evidence before him.
When he was done looking he went inside to call Old Ryan and collect his rifle.