The storm raged on the Hoffer Farm, sending all of the kids down to the basement for shelter. Before anymore water could leak into their house, the parents decided it best to get them dry, warm, and out of the way from this ice storm.
Candles lit, blankets covered them, and Mara Hoffer led the children in songs they learned in Sunday School as her husband, Daniel, sought to repair the sighting that was ripped away by the wild torrent sweeping across their fields.
Tori, the youngest Hoffer, noticed that her dog, Ghost, was pacing wildly by the foot of the stairs. She broke from the family’s huddle to see what upset Ghost. The golden retriever squealed, scanning the room feverishly with her brown eyes.
“What’s the matter, Ghost?” she asked as she looked in Ghost’s bed. Ghost, recently, had pups and kept them altogether in her bed. Tori counted the pups, discovering that one was missing.
“Smirk is missing, isn’t she?” Tori asked Ghost and the dog simply paced wildly, trying to find her missing daughter.
Smirk could never stick with the pack, always wandering away from the Hoffer family and Ghost’s small band. Even at a young age, Smirk had gotten into mischief by chewing up Mara’s work boot and gnawing her way through the family’s garbage. Daniel Hoffer once said that Smirk was headed for a one way ticket to “doggy heaven”.
He was kidding, but on that night no one laughed considered that possibility.
The swing of a door opening sounded upstairs and Ghost shot up the steps. Tori heard her father yelp and a small crash followed. She ran upstairs and found her father on the floor with the door wide open.
“Ghost just ran past me and knocked me over. She ran outside and couldn’t be stopped,” he said. “Stay here, Tori. I’ll go fetch Ghost. She can’t be outside on a night like tonight.”
“Come here,” Mara said to her daughter. “I’m reading the Scriptures.” Tori sat next to her mom, wrapped up in a blanket as the family’s old Bible was read. “O Jerusalem, O Jerusalem, thou hast killest the prophets, and stonest them-“
“Why did Jesus say that?” Thomas asked, Tori’s eldest brother.
“Jesus knew that Jerusalem, like all cities, try to do things on their own. They wander away from God’s plan and are miserable.” She continued to read. “…how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens-“
“I don’t understand. Let’s read another passage, mom.”
She stumbled through the Bible at random. “’And Jesus said to them, ‘What man shall there be among you, that shall have 100 sheep, doth not leave the 99 in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost until he find it?”
“I still don’t understand.”
They decided to put the Bible on the shelf and sing some more songs. The storm whipped and howled outside, the children were safe inside, and Daniel had not returned. One by one, the Hoffer children went to sleep with Tori being last, waiting for her dog to return.
The next morning, the children awoke to do their chores. The storm had passed and sunlight returned to their valley. Tori, when she awoke, quickly learned that Ghost had not returned to her bed, caring for her young pups.
When Tori got outside, her father asked her to follow him to the edge of their property. Mounting his horse, they headed across the acres of land they ripped apart by the wind and ice. As the horse slowed to a stop, Tori’s father hugged her tightly and said he loved her.
Quickly, her eyes were drawn to the brown color of Ghost’s coat. She approached her dog, slumped by the side of a tree, still and cold as the ground.
Before the tears, before it sunk in to what happened Tori had to hear it first from her father. “What happened?”
“As far I can figure, Ghost left our house to find Smirk. She found her, but they couldn’t get back to the house. So Ghost placed her pup next to the tree and, with her own body, provided a shield from the ice and the wind.” Smirk quickly emerged from Ghost’s still repose. A quick bark, Smirk ran over to Tori. “Ghost gave her life so that Smirk wouldn’t catch cold from the storm. She gathered the pup close to her, saving her life.”
Tori shut her eyes and her mouth turned into a square as she inhaled right before she cried.
An hour later, Tori returned to the farmhouse holding Smirk. Mara had told Tori’s sibling of Ghost’s passing as they quietly finished up their breakfast. Tori took her usual seat at the table, never letting Smirk go as she ate.
“Can I get you anything?” Mara asked.
“Can we say grace? I’d like it if you could use that Scripture we read last night in our prayer. The one about the hen and the sheep.”
“Sure,” Mara said. “Dear Jesus, you are like our good friend, Ghost. You gathered us up when we wanted to go our own way. You kept us safe. You died for us. And you keep us close and safe today. Hold us close and teach us not to wander. Thank you for this food. A-men.”
Smirk squealed and Tori pet his small head as she began to eat, trying recall everything that was said in the Scripture about the Hen and the Sheep.