The Choosing Chain
The fields outside had gone to seed.
When she was a young girl, that phrase had always seemed poetic to her. The combination of letters and sounds strung together to form a sentence that spoke of things far older and more earthbound than herself. It evoked a connection to ancestors that had risen before the kiss of dawn to heft their tools, tending to the soil until they pried life from its tilled womb.
She, herself, had never done much farming, but as she had aged, she had felt that life calling to her. It was as though the legacy of agriculture was sewn into her bones, tattooed into her blood with ink that spun deeper into her soul with each passing season. Perhaps it was awareness of the cycles that propelled them through the years, a realization that the constant rhythm to the life of a tree would bring its bark more wisdom than she could earn with all her mobility and freedom.
She had grown old, and in that process, she learned that she had more roots than she knew of. Roots as deep and seasoned as that of the great oak that stood outside the dingy window. The oak that rose from the dirt and weeds, defiant against the early autumn sky in front of the fields, which had certainly gone to seed.
It was scenery that was familiar, an image that had greeted her every morning for countless days in a row. It was part of her routine to gaze at the fallow hills encroaching on the edge of the yard, at the gnarled tree that still sprouted leaves each spring despite looking ghastly and dead come winter. Her eyes would dart along the rugged curve of the horizon, watching the light of the sun leech across the sky and bleed into the wispy clouds that stretched and curled like lazy cats.
It had not changed beyond the march of seasons in all the years which she had viewed it.
Something about this morning had felt off from the beginning, though. From the moment that she had pried her eyelids apart, she had felt an energy in the air that made it taste of lightning and copper. There was change afoot, of that she was sure. As she had dragged herself from the covers to ready the components for coffee, she had groused to herself about the portent. Change was rarely welcome, and on this day in particular she felt it an unwelcome guest. There were things to do. Coffee to be sipped, books to be read, an old man in fuzzy slippers to be kicked out of bed for his own good. She had no time for a dawn fraught with alterations that she could not understand.
Thus, being a practical person, she had assembled her breakfast and steaming coffee as she always would have, wandering to stand in front of the window to gaze at the fields as she completed the waking process.
Looking outside, she spotted a goose. It was a graceful thing, feathers shining as though lit from within, feet padding on the ground with a delicate step as though she were wary to trample the already struggling weeds. Most notable, however, was the sunny daffodil tied around her neck, bobbing lightly as she strolled back and forth in front of the fence.
All the geese should have flown south by now. The winter crept closer with each turn of the sun, the autumn leaves nearly done with giving up the ghost and drifting to the ground. No goose worth its migratory salt would remain so close to the coming frost, yet here one was, strutting with pride. In arrogant defiance of the wintry chill seeping into the air on the wings of the wind.
She set her coffee on the side table, on the coaster that kept the warmth from damaging the wood. She puttered to the door, sliding her feet in her slippers before unlatching the lock and swinging it wide, passing through the threshold with only a moment’s hesitation. She went outside, walking towards the goose, and was curious to note it did not move to flee at her approach.
“Shouldn’t you be south, with your flock?” she asked, hands on her hip.
“My flock left many seasons ago, and they did not go south.”
She blinked, looking around. She had spoken as one would to a household cat or stray dog, not expecting an answer from such a creature who should not know her tongue. Surely this was a mistake, a joke of some kind. Her children or her children’s children, stopping by to pull a prank. She squinted at the goose, looking for a speaker or recording device. The goose ruffled its feathers.
“It’s impolite to stare.” It seemed unperturbed by its own voice, which she found only more curious considering how unexpected it was to herself.
“What sort of trick is this?”
“Tricks are for the spirits and the foxes. I, ma’am, am a goose, and offer nothing but honest conversation.” The goose looked peeved at her confusion.
“Sorry.” She replied automatically, feeling ridiculous for speaking to a goose. “I’ve just…never had a conversation with a goose, honest or otherwise.”
“Have you tried?”
“Not that I can recall.”
“Well, then that is the most likely cause to your lack of goose discourse.”
“Fair point, I suppose.” They stared at each other, a minute passing by and feeling as confused as she. “So, why are you in my yard?”
“Is it yours?”
“Last time I checked, yeah.”
“Hm.” The goose looked up into the sky, gazing at the clouds as they passed overhead. “I could be lost.”
It seemed a monumental admission for the goose. As though admitting error, no matter how slight, was a great burden for such a regal bird. Her feathers were speckled with grey, the rich browns fading into lackluster tans. She wondered how many years the gander had been around, traipsing across people’s yards on foot, as though she were an ordinary goose, with neither the ability to fly nor speak.
“Well, where is it that you were going?”
“If we’re doing process of elimination, we’re going to be here awhile.”
“True.” She nosed her feathers, every move graceful and measured. “I travel to a place difficult to find. I do not know which direction it lies, only that it rests at the end of a journey.”
She snorted. “Well, that’s vague as shit.”
“That is, perhaps, why I am lost.” The goose looked at her carefully, tilting her head to the side so that her gaze was nearly upside down. “You may be able to help me. It would be much to ask, but if you choose you could give me aid.”
“I don’t know anything about geese.”
“Do you feel that you must know much about a person to help them?”
She thought about it, weighing the heft of the question in her head like a bowling ball tumbling back and forth. She liked the feel of it, much as she had liked the feel of the phrase ‘gone to seed’. The words imparted something beyond simple meaning, connecting threads of concepts that were previously beyond one’s grasp, now suddenly clutched between valiant fingers. It was an important question, and as she looked at it from every direction that she could, she realized it only had one answer. “No, I don’t suppose you do. Alright, goose, you’ve got a helper. What do you need me to do?”