The Ranger’s Calendar

The leaves on the path crackled as they walked. For a while they heard nothing but their footsteps on leaves that were dying.
A woodpecker called from a pine, its drum echoing through the woods.
‘Aren’t you afraid here?’ asked the girl.
‘Why should I be?’
‘It will get dark later and there might be…wolves.’
‘There are no wolves.’
‘How can you know for sure?’
‘There are no wolves. We killed them all. Some in the mountains want to bring them back.’
‘Do you want that to happen?’
‘They will eat the sheep. And we will end up killing them again.’
They turned into a narrow path that opened out to fields on each side.
His fists were clenched now, but a finger opened again, as though he were counting. When nine fingers were up, he clenched his fists again.
‘Do you always sleep like how we did last night? Gosh it was warm outside.’
They had fallen asleep on a field under a ceiling lit up by stars, till dawn broke on the field, bare but for a stubble of wheat.
‘Sometimes. I like being outside. We are going to the cabin tonight. You can sleep on a bed.’
‘I don’t mind. I like being outside too. I feel safe with you.’
The reeds shook with the wind and the air was filled with the chirp of crickets.
They had been walking for some hours without passing anyone else.
‘Theo’, the girl said again, ‘do you remember your dreams?’
‘I don’t know, sometimes.’
‘Yesterday, I had two dreams.’
‘You probably had more. Maybe five.’
‘Well, I remember two…aren’t you going to ask me what they were?’
‘What were your two dreams, Freya?’
‘I will tell you. This was the first one. It was very dark. I couldn’t see any stars. There was no wind. I started to see shapes around us. It took me a while to recognize them. Then I saw there were deer all around us in a circle. I could hear you breathing next to me, you were still sleeping. I didn’t know what to do. Mum said they could hurt us if there were many. They were getting closer. Then I don’t remember anymore.’
They arrived at the foot of a hill.
‘You go ahead of me.’
Freya nodded and walked ahead, short of breath.
They arrived at the top, fields and hills all around, the sky without a cloud for miles.
‘See the big white boat up there? That’s the sea.’
‘I can’t see.’
Theo picked her up.
‘Now, see in that direction?’
‘Oh! You are right. How wonderful. Everything is shining.’
Theo put her down.
‘Is that where Mum is this weekend?’
‘She’s probably on a smaller boat, sailing.’
He lay down. Freya looked at him and then lay down too.
‘Do you have things to do all year?’
‘Even in the winter?’
‘Even in the winter.’
‘It might be hard for you to visit for Christmas then…’
Theo said nothing.
‘What kinds of things? In the winter?’
‘One day, I’ll tell you, not now.’
‘Steven said you had a gun.’
‘He said that huh?’
‘Do you?’
‘Does he talk about me with you much?’
‘Not too much. Mum told him not to.’
‘I see.’
‘How long has it been since you lived here?’
‘A few years.’
‘Do you think…I could be a ranger?’
‘Maybe. It’s not an easy job. You must think in centuries. You must like to be alone.’
‘But you have got Skipper.’
‘Does he go with you everywhere?’
‘He does.’
‘And you don’t mind lending him to the others?’
‘On occasion. There was a visit at the forest today. Skipper does tricks.’
Freya rolled over. Then she sat up and put out a hand. ‘Like this.’
Theo laughed. ‘Something like that, yeah.’ Freya lay back down again. They lay there a while in silence.
‘Are those parachutes?’
‘Have you ever done that?’
‘A long time ago.’
‘It must have been frightening.’
‘Only at first, then you realize you are flying and you lose all the weight of the Earth.’
They watched a paraglider rising upwards, past all the other paragliders, till she looked like a small bird.
‘And what was your second dream?’
‘The second dream was this. The deer were still around us. You got up and they scattered. Then you followed them out into the woods and you didn’t come back for a long time. You came back at dawn and you smelt funny.’
‘How many did you see?’
‘It was a dream.’
‘Many. Maybe Ten?’
Theo stared at her.
‘What is it?’
‘You have got quite an imagination for a ten year old.’
‘Do you think so?’
‘Yes. Let’s go now. We need to get back to the cabin by dusk.’
The cabin was at the edge of a forest. They walked through the woods as the last rays of the sun seeped through the gaps in the trees.
‘Shh, Freya, you hear that?’ whispered Theo.
‘No, what…?’
‘Shh…there is something in those woods up there on the other side of the cabin.’
He pulled her to the side. They waited.
A herd of deer was grazing behind the cabin. A buck lifted his head and looked up at them, his antlers radiant in the twilight. Freya made a movement as though to get closer to them. The herd scattered and ran. Moments later, all the deer were gone.
They went inside the cabin. Theo started getting pots out for dinner. Freya sat at the table, fidgeting.
‘What’s that by the freezer, Theo?’ She walked up to the freezer. ‘It’s like a calendar.’
‘It’s for work, don’t worry about it.’
Freya looked at the calendar then went and sat down at the table again, her head down.
‘Tired? Dinner is almost ready.’
‘What are you cooking? Stew?’
‘Yeah. Smells good?’
Freya’s eyes grew wider.
‘There were nine now. There were ten in my dream. I’m sure of it now.’
‘That’s very precise, for a dream.’
‘I remember because I counted, on my fingers.’
‘That imagination…I must tell your Mum. Now, let’s eat.’
Theo put two bowls of stew out on the table.
Freya looked at the bowl and pushed it away. ‘I don’t want any.’
‘You will go hungry, Freya.’
Freya made a face at him. He didn’t see her as he ate. Long after he had several helpings, as her stomach rumbled, she took a spoon and began to eat big spoonfuls, tears rolling down her cheek.

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