Scarlet’s eyes were fixed on a sky she had never seen before. It flashed wide with thunderous light, with a cascade of electric fire, as if the night-time clouds were at war with each other. But there was just as much unrest on the ground, below the treetops, in the yard, where the autumn leaves scurried across the garden as though running from something absolutely terrifying.
Amidst the noise of thunderclaps and screams, Scarlet sat with her tail wrapped beneath her shivering hind legs, wondering in a way that dogs don’t often do. She thought of what was beyond the distant fence that surrounded the farm. There could be anything out there. Food. More trees. Other animals. More food. Or something completely unrelated to trees, animals or food.
Though this gave her a boost of excitement to imagine, it also gave her a painful sense of unease. Her heavy eyes drifted over to the wooden porch and to the dimmed light in the window. This anything came not only from above in a violent and uncertain sky, not only beyond the distant fence, but also from here in this very farmhouse.
The rusty screen door opened with a reassuring creak. Scarlet lowered her head and shot her eyes up, while the farmer’s mud-crusted boots rested by her side. The wrinkled man stroked his rough palm along Scarlet’s dry fur, into which he let his cracked fingers disappear. Both of them listened. Both unable to speak.
Because of the rain, it had been over a week since Scarlet had enjoyed her favourite corner of the farmyard by the garden where the sun’s rays shone the longest. She loved to lie there on long, warm afternoons, wagging her tail now and then to let the chickens in the feeding coup know she was there, ready and willing to pounce on them with her paws if they became too tricky. And the chickens were indeed devious at times.
Scarlet loved her garden spot because it was high up on a wide hill where she could oversee the entire farm. It had a large garden, a wooden hen house and farmhouse, which was surrounded by a brown flimsy fence. Looking beyond the drooping fence from her favourite spot, she could see large cornfields down the hill, along with rolling fields of bright yellow hay and wheat, and a dark pointed line of trees at the top of the hill that looked like jagged teeth.
The farmer sometimes referred to this landscape, this countryside as a land called S———. And Scarlet believed it to be the most beautiful place in the world, though she couldn’t imagine what things looked like anywhere else.
This farmhouse was her home since she was a young pup, and she liked it so much she wished that it would never change.
Never before had she worried about anything beyond the farm. In fact, she had always been quite happy going about her usual business, watching over the other animals, the farmer and the farmer’s wife.
Scarlet heard a brief sound from inside the house. It was a shrill cry. She watched with concern as the farmer rushed in. The screen door snapped at the wood as its hinges squeezed shut.
Scarlet liked the farmer’s wife because she was the one who built the spot by the garden that Scarlet loved so much. She had also planted such pretty flowers around the fence while humming the most beautiful music. Sometimes when Scarlet felt uneasy about the farm and needed to think of something peaceful, she would recall the farmer’s wife and the felicity of her voice.
But the farmer’s wife had recently begun spending all her time inside. And Scarlet’s attention drifted further outside. Looking to what was beyond the farm, Scarlet wondered if there was something out there that had caused this change in the farmer’s wife, or if there was something, anything, in that sky she had never seen before that make things the way they were again.
Turning her attention from the sound of pained crying and the loud pattering of rain hitting the porch roof, Scarlet listened carefully to determine what the chickens were up to in the hen house across the garden.
‘I’d guess it’s the usual games and gossip,’ she thought to herself as she scratched her thick scarlet-brown fur with her hind leg.
When they weren’t playing poker, the chickens were chatting and playing tricks on each other. Even Scarlet was a victim of the chicken’s trickery! The worst incident happened the first week she arrived on the farm. It was earlier in the year, and she was just a few weeks old and unsure why she was there. This was in the spring before the garden had grown, so she didn’t even know what a garden was.
The farmer had tilled the garden, and afterwards the chickens told Scarlet that it was her responsibility as the farm dog to ensure that nothing came out of the ground. Absolutely nothing!
“And if anything does come out,” one ugly chicken named Ivan warned, “you’ll be in so much trouble! Maybe you’ll even get kicked off the farm and be sent to the fields of Kisber, a place no animal returns from.”
Wanting to do her best, and avoid the mysterious fields of Kisber, Scarlet obeyed and began to watch over the large stretch of tilled dirt. She would circle the garden, from corner to corner to corner, at least six times an hour, checking to make sure nothing changed. Meanwhile, the chickens laughed and clucked loudly to themselves, delighting in their chicken trickery.
Near the middle of the following week, Scarlet awoke to discover several green sprouts rising from the sun-dried soil. As the other farm animals began to wake and gather nearby, she panicked and gobbled up every single vestige of greenness. The next morning, though, she found even more green sprouts rising from the soil. In a panic, she ate those as well.
This went on for some time.
Every day she would get up earlier than the other animals in order to clear the garden of anything green.
‘It’s a strange and tedious job,’ she thought to herself, ‘but if that’s what farm dogs do, that’s what I’ll do.’
This went on for weeks until one evening when Scarlet fell ill. After eating so much every morning, she no longer had an appetite for her regular food. The farmer’s wife brought food scraps for her, but Scarlet’s stomach grumbled and pleaded no more, no more!
In her dulcet voice, the farmer’s wife asked Scarlet about her unusual appetite. But Scarlet just rolled over, whining, and looked up at her with large pouty eyes.
Until it was time to sleep, Scarlet lay alone by the garden moaning to herself. This behaviour was so unique that the other animals took notice. One particularly inquisitive goose confronted Scarlet about it. The radiant Blue Goose oversaw the geese of the farm, and she was the unofficial farm nurse. The tall, slender animal with a gentle call was known to be wise and always willing to help with any of the animals’ problems. Scarlet, however, was hesitant to admit why she had fallen ill.
“I’m just not hungry,” she said with a crackled gruff.
Blue Goose swayed her head back and forth and inquired further.
“You know, Scarlet, it isn’t normal for a dog like you to reject table scraps, especially meat! It’s important that you’re honest with me now. If something’s wrong, I can help you.”
“But I swear it’s the truth. I’m just not hungry!” Scarlet defended—though this was followed by a loud stomach growl and a moment of uncomfortable silence.
Scarlet’s face cringed.
She could no longer keep it in—bleh!
“So that’s what you’ve been eating!” Blue Goose laughed.
Scarlet had coughed up the entire course of her green breakfast at the base of Blue Goose’s webbed feet.
“Please don’t tell the chickens!” Scarlet pleaded. “They said these things shouldn’t be in the garden, and it’s my job to make it stay that way. Yet they just keep coming up. I feel horrible!”
Blue Goose lifted her wing and patted Scarlet’s quivering back.
“The chickens have played a nasty trick on you. Those green sprouts are called plants, and they’re supposed to be there. They grow into larger plants that provide food for the farmer, his wife and all the farm animals.”
Scarlet was devastated.
The gentle goose tried to comfort Scarlet as much as she could, but the poor dog felt awful.
The farmer was furious with what Scarlet had done, and the chickens laughed hysterically, especially that dark grungy chicken named Ivan.
“Isn’t it funny?” teased Ivan. “If you could see the terrible look on your face, you would be laughing too!”
Ivan tossed around on the ground in laughter, and the other chickens followed his lead. Ivan’s dirty feathers dropped on the ground everywhere, as if he was shedding.
“Why is that chicken so nasty to me?” Scarlet asked Blue Goose.
“Oh, don’t mind Ivan,” she said. “He’s only bitter to others because he’s so unhappy here on the farm. He’s always wishing he were somewhere else. It’s a terrible attitude.”
Scarlet didn’t quite understand, but she also didn’t ask further because she didn’t want to appear ignorant—though she later regretted this.
Over time Scarlet began to trust Blue Goose more than any other animal on the farm, and she also began to learn from her wisdom. In return for this trust, the graceful goose would confide in Scarlet many farm secrets that the chickens didn’t know. She told Scarlet about a broken fence post in the upper corner of the yard behind the hen house. The post could easily be pushed open to let any farm animal out.
‘If only the chickens knew!’ Scarlet chuckled to herself. For a moment she thought about telling Ivan with the hopes that he would lead the rest of the chickens to run away and disappear for good. But Blue Goose said it would ruin the farm if all the animals were to leave.
‘It isn’t how things are meant to be,’ she would say. And from then on, Scarlet understood that her role on the farm was to make sure things happened the way they were meant to, and she was glad to have Blue Goose there to help her with that. Scarlet was thankful for the goose’s guidance, as well as the sweet voice of the farmer’s wife. Indeed, these were happy times for Scarlet, and Blue Goose too.
But now, as the darkened farm was doused in heavy rain, Scarlet turned an ear back to the farmhouse, which had gone completely silent. And as the light in the window was turned off, and the farmhouse turned to black, Scarlet knew things weren’t the way they were meant to be. No, things were changing.