(for Heather Almond, Ryan, Quinn, Jake, & of course Hank)
Hank the Dog had one blue eye and one brown. Ryan often wondered at this because both of his eyes were blue. Ryan’s dad had eyes like Ryan – blue like the summer sky. Ryan’s mother had brown eyes – dark like chocolate. So if anyone ought have one blue eye and one brown, Ryan though it should be him. But it wasn’t. It was Hank – one eye blue like the sky and one eye brown like wheat.
Ryan never remembered a time without Hank. They had been friends since the day Ryan was born. Hank loved to run and chase a ball, and he loved Ryan. When Hank was around, Ryan always felt safe, even if he and his sister Quinn were playing alone in the yard.
Ryan and Quinn lived in an area where the town met the country. Even though there were plenty of houses and yards, giant grain fields and dense woods loomed nearby. “Don’t leave the yard,” Ryan’s mom warned him and his sister. “You don’t want to get lost. There are snakes in the fields and foxes in the woods and many other animals that bite.” Ryan didn’t like getting bit, so everyday when they went out to play, Ryan was careful to stay in the yard. He kept Quinn there too.
One day, in the late summer, Ryan, Quinn, and Hank the Dog were playing in the yard when the wind picked up. The air whipped around so much that it ruffled Ryan’s hair and caused Quinn’s to stick in her eyes. Ryan looked around for a storm but couldn’t find any other signs of one. The sun still shined, and no clouds threatened the sky. Ryan felt a little uneasy as he scanned the area, but then just as quickly as the wind picked up, it died down again.
Hank marched around the perimeter of the yard. His big ears pricked up high, and the hairs at the base of his neck bristled. His black, grey, and white mottled coat moved as he did. Every few feet, he stopped, listened, and growled. Ryan looked around for a while too, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Quinn was happily rolling a ball through the grass, and Ryan went back to playing with his dump truck. Hank was standing guard, so Ryan felt sure they were safe.
While loading some rocks into the little bed of his truck, Ryan felt the wind tickle the back of his neck. Hearing a flutter, he looked up and found a whirlwind dancing about six feet away from him. It was a little taller than Ryan’s dad, and leaves danced around inside of it. Hank the Dog let out a harsh bark, but the whirlwind didn’t seem too scary. So Ryan stepped inside.
Instantly, he laughed. The wind lashed around him, tossing his hair and causing his shirt to flap. Quinn tottered over. On the other side of the whirlwind, her hair lay still, and her dress hung flat. Hank trotted up. His fur only moved when he did. Pacing around the whirlwind, his ears were pricked. Ryan laughed more.
Quinn tried to follow Ryan into the whirlwind, but it darted away. Ryan’s hair and clothing flopped down in the still air, and he felt suddenly, very disappointed. “Come on, Quinn,” he called and ran after the whirlwind. Hank barked, and Ryan thought he heard a little growl in the bark, rather like a warning. But he really just wanted to be back in the cool breeze. So he and Quinn went chasing after the whirlwind. Hank barked again, several times, but Ryan kept going.
Out of the yard they ran and into the field where the wheat was beginning to ripen.
Some stalks already blushed golden brown; some remained green, while others boasted various transitory shades. The little whirlwind ripped at the stalks, which bowed in submission. Those that weren’t so submissive lost a few leaves, and these spiraled up and down in endless cycles.
“Come on! Wait up,” Ryan called.
As if on cue, the whirlwind ceased its forward motion yet continued to throw air up in spirals. Ryan raced forward, and Quinn followed, while Hank the Dog, trotting behind them, barked again and again. Ryan knew he should probably turn back, but he just wanted to step inside the whirlwind again and feel the cool breeze around him. After all, nothing had happened the first time.
So Ryan stepped back inside.
Instantly, the wind whipped his hair and blew his shirt so hard he could hear it flapping. He couldn’t hear much else, but outside, he could see Quinn was laughing at him. So Ryan smiled and reached out to her. “Come on in!” She took his hand. And Ryan tugged her inside.
He could suddenly hear her laughter again – delicate and musical. She squeezed his hand and giggled like she did when he tickled her.
Then, the air grew cold, the wind picked up, and the whirlwind became twice as tall as Ryan’s dad. Faster and faster, it swirled around Ryan and Quinn. And Hank the Dog barked louder and louder, fiercer and fiercer. A ridge of fur stood high on Hank’s back, and he showed his teeth. Ryan felt his heart thump harder and faster in his chest. Hank didn’t usually behave this way, and the wind was getting a little rough.
“Let’s go back, Quinn,” Ryan said to his sister as she started to whimper.
But when Ryan stepped to the edge of the whirlwind, the air currents pushed him back. Scowling, he tried again. And again, the whirlwind pushed him back. Quinn started to cry, and Ryan’s heart pounded now. Once more he tried, charging forward while he held tightly to Quinn’s hand. But the wind shoved them back so hard that both siblings almost lost their footing. And if Ryan hadn’t been holding onto Quinn, she would certainly have fallen.
Then Ryan shivered while his sister clung to him tightly, for in the wind, they heard a menacing cackle.
And outside the whirlwind, Hank’s aggression renewed with ferocity.
“Wh—who are you?” Ryan stammered, as he looked around. He could only see Hank, the field, and the effects of the whirlwind, but he knew something else was there.
The cackle broke through the air again, coming from everywhere and nowhere all at once. “Who? Who am I? I am the voice of the field. The lady in the grain. I—.” She put emphasis on the I. “—am the Wheat Mother.”
Ryan felt a chill, like when he stepped from a hot room to a cold one, or vice versa, but he plucked up his courage. “You don’t sound like a mother to me,” he snapped. “You sound mean and hateful. You’re not like my mother at all! She’s kind and good.”
“Oh, but I am your mother now,” the voice hissed. “You abandoned your dear, kind mother when you left the yard and came into the field. You decided to disobey her and chose me. I’ve been without children for quite some time now. You and your sister will fill that void nicely.”
“No!” Ryan yelled as he charged forward again, still holding tightly to Quinn’s hand. But try as he might, he could not escape. The wind blew even faster and harder, and Quinn begin to lift off the ground. While Ryan pulled and pulled, trying in vain to bring her back down, he found himself lifting off the ground too.
Then, they begin to move as the wind carried them further into the field, further away from the house, and closer to the woods. The whirlwind ripped up the wheat scattering it as they moved.
Hank ran close behind, barking and snarling as if he were ready to rip something apart. “Hank!” Ryan called for help. But he doubted Hank would be able to do anything. Even though Ryan could hear the Wheat Mother and even though she was taking them away, he could not see her.
But Hank the Dog still raced after them. With a burst of speed, he charged past the whirlwind, and skidding as he turned hard, he stopped between them and the woods.
And the whirlwind stopped. Ryan and Quinn hovered, suspended in the air by the rushing wind currents. Dust, blades of grass, and even heads of wheat raced around them. So much debris filled the air it was getting hard for Ryan to see Hank, but he could just make out Hank’s lips curling back to reveal his sharp, fang teeth. Ryan was sure he growled – even though Ryan couldn’t hear him.
And Hank leaped into the air. He didn’t enter the whirlwind but latched onto something right in front of it, something Ryan could not see.
The Wheat Mother screeched, and the wind speed lessened. Ryan and Quinn tumbled to the ground. Luckily, the wheat broke their fall somewhat, though Quinn cried a little. Ryan pulled her close.
Hank tumbled through the wheat, growling, snarling, and biting at what looked like air. And the longer Hank fought, the less intensely the wind blew.
Finally, the whirlwind died enough that Ryan could break free. Picking up Quinn, he escaped the air currents, and after putting a few yards between him and the Wheat Mother, he turned back to see Hank prancing toward them, his ears pricked up, his tail held high, and the fur on his back standing upright like a ridge. Every couple steps, Hank stole a look over his shoulder, turning his wheat brown eye in the direction of the woods.
Ryan lost no time. He ran all the way out of the field before he finally put Quinn down and let her toddle beside him back into the yard. Hank stopped at the edge of the field and gave a sharp warning bark, and even though Ryan still could not see the Wheat Mother, he watched Hank the Dog until he ceased scrutinizing the area and came all the way back in the yard.
“Come on, Quinn,” Ryan told his sister. And he, she, and Hank the Dog went inside the house.
Ryan’s mom had a snack waiting for them, but before Ryan would eat, he hugged his mother tightly and asked if he could give Hank a treat. Ryan’s mom hugged him back, said “of course,” and retrieved the treat for Hank. Breaking the biscuit in two, Ryan let Quinn give Hank part of it. And when Hank had finished, Ryan threw his arms around Hank’s neck and hugged him. “Thank you,” he whispered and knew he would never ignore Hank’s warning again. Hank licked his ear.
Then pulling back, Ryan smiled at Hank’s one blue eye and one brown and gave him the rest of the biscuit.