The moist, tree pollen scented wind threw small boughs and branches skyward under the blurred and watery light of a cloud-covered moon. Lightning flashed silently, too far away to be heard. He laid his hand on a wet tree trunk and tried to keep from slipping on the slimy wet moss underfoot.
Normally he'd be asleep at this hour, but something had awakened him and had sparked his curiosity into a fully fledged forest fire. For some inexplicable reason he felt he would cease to exist if he did not find the source of the sound he'd heard.
It was delicate, but not a tree frog; loud, but not a screech owl; frightening, but not a bobcat, coyote, puma, or bear; musical, but not a katydid or cricket; strong, but not a deer; intelligent, but not exactly human.
The notes were elusive. They seemed to come from the pond. When he neared the pond, however, he heard them towards the head of the spring-fed creek. When he approached it again, they paused for a moment, and then continued from the deep, rocky ditch between two extremely steep hills, where if one were not careful it might be possible to step into a nest of pit vipers. The fire within that compelled him to seek the sound felt as if he'd sooner do just that than deny it the journey. He went on.
Now it seemed to come from the tip top of an isolated bluff. Thunder from the far away storm became slightly audible, and the winds grew even rougher. Immune to any danger except that of stopping, he climbed. His fingers were barely able to keep hold of the rock face. Gravel and earth rolled beneath his feet, and the stone was carpeted with wet moss and grimy rotted leaves--no easy hold. He inched to the top, victorious in small steps. He was nearly there. The sound did not abate. This time it did not move. The eerie notes poured forth as he surmounted the crest of the bluff and found--the neighbor's dog.
Frankie was a large, protective golden retriever who had been a help to all the community, a friend of children, and the guardian of his house and yard. The fact that the dog had died three years ago did not seem to affect him as much as it should have. The great dog gazed at him with its deep yellow eyes and seemed to recognize him, then continued in a long, musical howl.
He noticed a bluish light in the valley on the side opposite the one he'd climbed--a steady glow as of the moonlight, yet softer. Musical notes now faded, now floated up out of its center.
Slowly his eyes accustomed. He began to see several forms taking shape. One was an old man in blue jeans and a wide brimmed hat. His fingers gripped a sweet, polished fiddle which he played devoutly. The second and third had flutes, a fourth held an old guitar. Three women played mellow mandolins. A drummer held his sticks in solemn silence, as though this song had no room for him. One very fat man in glasses played a jug, and two gaunt lads held jaw harps to their mouths. A little boy somberly coaxed the music out of his harmonica. A very wise looking woman wrestled a large accordion, and wielded it as though her strength were exceedingly great.
He wanted to retreat, but the force that drove him there refused to allow his feet to move. The dog nuzzled his hand, and its breath was warm. It stepped forward and then paused, looking at him as if to say, "Come on!"
"Well, look!" said the fat old man. They all stopped. He felt thirteen faces and a dog staring at him. He walked forward in a shuffling, half apprehensive fashion, convinced they were ghosts and not convinced they had good intentions.
"Play," said one of the lanky lads, and from somewhere he found a guitar thrust into his hands.
"I haven't played in years," he protested.
"Play!" they all repeated.
He found he had the rhythm of a rock star, and the agility of a classical musician. The strength of a dozen warriors coursed down his arms, and the attitude of a hundred winning teams sang in his voice. The guitar expressed every happy moment he'd ever had and a million he'd never known. The musicians began dancing wildly to its music, leaping from rock to rock and over tree stumps and bushes. He found he could not stop playing, and he played for a very long time.
When he finally felt the time to end was now approaching, the storm clouds had passed to the south with very little rain, and the sun's first blood red rays burned through them.
"Thank ye," said the fiddler as he took the guitar with a country sort of nod. "That'll do."
He now felt as weak as a newborn kitten. He found he was wrapped in a coat that clung to his shoulders, and he pulled it loose with a great amount of effort. It stuck to him as he fought to free himself. He gasped for air. The coat was not a coat, but a sheet, a sheet soaked with sweat. He threw it off and found he was at home in bed, with the remnants of a storm rumbling south, and blood red rays of sunlight peering through the window.
"Well," he said to himself, "I've sweated out the fever. I guess I'm going to make it."