The stone fences sloped into one final pile of loose stones, turning over the work to a long stretch of split rail fence. They enclosed the fields of a tidy Dutch farm, the snow capping the massive round rolls of hay left in the winter. The Brits and the French, they usually barned their hay, not yet thinking this Dutch way made much sense to them. My Grandfather still pitchforked his hay into haystacks. But that was his way ... always clinging a little longer to the ways he had known, surrendering to the inevitable, reluctantly. Up ahead one of those wheels of hay, now half broken apart, was spilling through the fence. You could smell the savory scent of the well-aged straw. I took the time to breathe it in. I had always loved the smell of hay, and the feel of it in sunshine September days, warmer days, brighter days, days that now seemed so far away. To sleep high on the haystack, face skyward into the sun and the clouds above. And I was there for a moment, but then a winter wind shot into my bones, returning to this winter's night.
"Boy, let's go," the Old Man commanded cuffing his calloused hands around my neck. I obeyed. But as I walked on I ran my free hand along the top board of the gate, that is, until my fingers got snagged on a tangle of wires that apparently served as its latch to the sturdy, wood post. "Daggumit!" I cursed half-cursing, having been strictly coached by my godly Grandmother to go no further than that.
"What happened," my Grandfather asked, whipping his lantern about.
"Oh nothing, just some old wire." But still he took time to examine my fingers in the kersoene light. Satisfied that I had survived, he started to move on, but then he stopped, stopped dead still.
He hid his lantern behind him, and then motioned for me to do the same. He thought he saw shadows on the move, from behind the hay rolls, halfway across the field. His eyes were searching the night, it seemed to me in a rather worried way. Then his eyes followed something I could not see.
"Let's go, boy, let's go quietly."
As we moved on at better pace, I thought it best not to speak, but rather to make distance, letting the split rails to race by until they were no more. It was there that the maples and poplars returned in full force, the farmland surrendering to thick forest, the moonlight lost on the treetops.
We had many steps in this darker world, all the while my Grandfather giving nervous glances to his right, looking something, something I knew he did not want to see.
The road began to fall slowly away, then more quickly away. We were descending; we were bending sharply to the right. And suddenly a dark cave faced us ...
"The Bethel Bridge," his gravelly voice announced.
Ah yes, the cavern I first saw was but the opening of this almost hidden covered bridge that led to the Old Quaker Church that still held services once a year for old time's sake.
The lanterns in our hands flooded the bridge with light, turning the black nothingness into the glory of an amber-hued chapel of axe-hewn timbers. As I lifted my lantern upward to check for more owls sleeping above, my Grandfather lowered his lantern to the thick dust on the wooden road bed.
He said to himself in a voice I could still hear, "Wolves."
"See the prints in the dust, many wolves have crossed just ahead of us," he said solemnly as he now tracked them onward through the bridge into the snow beyond.
I knew it was but a self-created spectre in my soul, but I swore I could smell it, the hot, heated hunting breath of the pack on the prowl; and here we were walking on the same path where the wolves had been not long before.