The woods were quiet in the evening, though he could remember a time in his childhood when that wasn't the case. Every year, the waves of wildlife crept closer and tried to steal back the niche or land he and his wife carved out for themselves to build a family, but they weren't going to let it go easily.
Some humans would, to his understanding. As the population shrunk, so did the city, pulling itself in tighter and tighter until what was once a miles-to-a-side-square bustling metropolis now occupied a small section of that. The Rockefeller's nearest neighbor, a scant dozen miles down the road, gave up his homestead earlier that year, despite plenty of previous years vowing to hang on tooth and nail. While he didn't quite move downtown, he moved in as close as he once was to the outer edge when he was when he first moved in down the road.
John shook his head, watching the dogs tire themselves outside, aside from Pharaoh who had dedicated herself his personal guardian and foot-warmer, sitting obediantly right in front of him, scanning the land just the same.
He'd just gotten off the comm-set with Johnson Birch before letting them out for their last bathroom break and romp prior to bedtime, and mused on the conversation.
"I've got nothing new since this morning, I'm afraid. Still in Shortgrass, and for how much longer, I don't know. Maybe as much as a week before I trickle south once more."
"Could it be another mass migration?"
"I certainly hope not. I... I don't think so. It smells different, but whether it's better or worse news is too soon to say. But as soon as I figure it out, I'll pass the word on. As much as you know I love that Mother is making a comeback, when she does it destructively, it doesn't benefit anyone."
"Well, if you need any shelter, we can put you up for as long as you need. I how you're staying safe out there?"
"Thanks, Joann offered the same. And yes, I am. Charlie came up with me, and he keeps watch while I nod off mid-day and mid-night. Everything interesting happens in the transitioning hours between. Umm, Joann got a little touchy this morning..."
"Yeah, I noticed. Cecil?"
"Should I stop asking or...?"
"No, I think it's better for her than she's willing to admit. News filters through all the time, and I suspect half the rumors we hear are about him, even when his name isn't attached."
" 'Noah', they've been calling him, saving the animals in two-by-twos."
"Noah is Cecil? I remember that old habit of his, but I didn't make the connection until now. I've been hearing whispers of someone building a pack of paired animals, calling them 'Today's Noah' but if it's your son... Okay, that settles it. I'll be out of here in a week at the outside, and I'll swing by. I just hope my meddling doesn't ruin your home life too much."
"Is it that bad?"
"I would rather be there, face-to-face to have that conversation. I don't want there to be any misunderstandings between us, and over comm-sets, it's just too easily to lose context. And if there's any chance of Cecil being in the neighborhood, all the better."
John sighed. He son wasn't a problem child, as such things go, he just had his own way about him, which probably hadn't been helped by their decision to dis-enroll him from the state educational program and home-school him instead.
Birch was a regular teacher and tutor of Cecil's, teaching him more about the way the world once was, how "Mother" nature treated humans and her other stead on the good days and warning him about the bad ones. They went out on camping trips, deep into the wild green, and covered survival and safety, mythology and more. Johnson never seemed to say it in words, but it felt like he discouraged Cecil from taking a pack and instead learning to coexist with Mother instead of warring with her.
On his eighteenth birthday, Cecil bought a synthkit with accumulated saving, fired up his vomeronasal organ, and walked out. Since then, they'd only seen him for a few days to a week once every few months, and in the last year, he'd grown more distant still.
As he more and more distant, rumors of a new alpha grew, unnamed but nicked as Noah, for recruiting his animal in pairs--siblings, mates, twins--instead of whole families.
Sudden barking interrupted his reverie, and John shook himself quickly, and raced over on the heels of Pharaoh to where the trouble could be found.