Catbird Press - Floyd Kemske -- D3/C8

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Catbird Press -- Draft 3
Ongoing Fiction Editing Project -- Floyd Kemske

Third Draft - Chapter Eight

When Pierce arrived in America, he did not seek out another paper mill. He'd had enough of paper-making. Indeed, as soon as he set foot on New World soil, he realized he'd had enough of living in one place.

America celebrated transience. Everyone there was engaged in traveling on a road or building one. The nonchalance of the country seduced him, and for a length of time, he lost himself in its brawny roughness. He drifted about on riverboats, walked aimlessly along barely graded dirt roads, sat in waystations and listened to conversations. Every day brought new landscapes and strange human beings of a highly practical (not to say mindless) outlook. He allowed the rootless, purposeless wandering that was the normal way of his kind to take complete possession of him.

He lost his sense of time, and he would go for weeks without speaking to anyone, which gave him a sort of freedom he hadn't known for a hundred years. Unfortunately, sustenance was hard to come by on the young country's back roads. One could walk those roads for weeks without ever encountering an idea, and Pierce found he had to feed a great deal more than usual to keep even the barest mental acuity. He took nearly every solitary traveler he encountered. It was a good strategy, for they often had luggage from which he could clothe himself and small amounts of money to defray his modest needs. And they could be used with little risk, for it is always a long time before anyone misses a traveler, and then the people who miss him are far, far away.

Nevertheless, he moved constantly. He knew exactly how many deaths a community could accept before becoming panicked, and the number was not generally very high.

He was not at all aware how long he'd been wandering the countryside (he knew it was some years, but it may have been decades) when he found himself in western Massachusetts tramping a rolling landscape of heather and grass. He'd heard on the road of a magnificent manufacturing establishment being constructed in a small town to the east called Waltham. The mill, it was said, was the project of a man named Francis Cabot Lowell, and its construction had engaged more workmen than any project in recent memory. The locals spoke boastfully of Lowell's stunning feat of industrial piracy.

Traveling in England for his health, Lowell posed as a buyer of textiles in order to gain entry to some of the country's principal mills. While pretending to look at cloth, he actually studied the designs of the power looms used for its manufacture. Distribution of these designs was strictly prohibited by the British government. But Lowell obtained them by memorizing the machinery when he saw it operating.

Now, back in America, he was engaged in recreating the mechanisms. Pierce thought about going to see this mill, but he was much too content with his life as it was. It was true that the countryside offered him little in the way of nourishment, but he didn't seem to need much.

It was late fall, cold and blustery, and Pierce was walking eastward, toward Waltham. He had never been particularly sensitive to cold. He enjoyed the activity of striding across fields and vaulting stone fences. As he gained the brow of a modest hill, he saw something in a broad meadow covering the shallow basin below: a flock of sheep with a small black shape racing around them. A man stood on the slope of the hill upwind of him and did not hear him approach, so Pierce stopped and watched without being noticed.

He recognized the small black shape for a border collie. Running low against the ground, the dog raced to and fro in half circles, nimbly charging wayward sheep in a way that kept the creatures huddled closely together.

Sometimes the dog circled all the way around the flock. By subtle alterations in its path around the sheep, it pushed the skittish flock in different directions. It was thus able to move the flock about the meadow where the man wanted them. These desires the man conveyed by means of whistles, signals with a walking stick, and shouts of "hup, hup!" Although the man's signals were frequent, the flock never traveled in a straight line, tacking continually about the hillside like a small sailing craft gaining headway against the meadow's incessant wind.

In their work, both the man and the dog appeared to watch the flock, but each attended chiefly to the other, searching apparently for signs of desired and undesired consequences and correcting their actions accordingly. That the man directed the dog's actions was perhaps only his illusion. From Pierce's disinterested vantage point, he could see the two of them worked their program out together, creating a result greater than the intentions of either.

Watching them, Pierce wondered if their work could be considered communication. They obviously tried to make themselves aware of each others' desires, but their actions had none of the intimacy of the intercourse between man and man or between dog and dog, none of the unspoken annotation that gave deep meaning to exchanges between creatures that instinctively understood each others' raison d'ątre. They shared work, but they had no communication, no more than Pierce had communication with human beings. Nevertheless, they herded the sheep competently together, certainly better than either could do alone.

Pierce never once saw the dog bite a sheep, and it seemed to him a remarkable economy of effort by which the system of man, dog, and sheep, all working toward different goals, achieved movement of the flock away from threats and toward safety.

He was utterly lost in the spectacle when he realized he hadn't heard the man calling to the dog for some moments. He came to himself and saw the man had turned around and was staring at him. Pierce walked down the slope and spoke to the man.

"I was watching you and your dog."

The man leaned on his stick, spat on the ground, and then turned back toward the dog. "Hup!"

Pierce looked over and wondered why the man had called to the dog, who seemed to have the flock well under control.

"Your control over him impresses me, sir," said Pierce.

The man spat again, then spoke without looking at Pierce. "Damned dog grew up with sheep. Thinks they're his pack."

It was a small idea, but most of them were in this country. Pierce wondered if there were anything deeper behind it.

"Hup!" The man wiped his nose on his jacket sleeve, then turned back toward Pierce.

When Pierce took him, he struggled more than most. He flailed at Pierce first with his walking stick and then, after dropping it, with horny, calloused hands. Pierce, intoxicated in the act of feeding, delighted in the creature's impotent blows. The struggle, however, was the best of it.

The man was as shallow as ditch water and gave Pierce nothing more than a logy, bloated feeling. Pierce sat on the hillside beside the body and nursed his disappointment.

It took him some moments to rouse himself and begin to prepare a stake from the man's walking stick. The creature's shallowness should not be given the opportunity for revenance. Pierce leaned against the stake to drive it home through the center of the body, and then stood up again and looked around to see if anyone might be about. No one was. The blustery air was silent, and Pierce became aware there was no barking. The dog had apparently herded the sheep over the crest of the next hill and was gone.

That was a pity. The dog had more to offer him than this creature. And he realized the one idea he'd gained from the sheepherder: he must find deeper prey than what he'd been tolerating here.

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