| Walking slowly onto the front porch, Ileina handed her father the paper she had drafted.|
"Is this okay, Pa?"
Ivan Jared Williams took the paper and looked it over.
" Pleasant Plains Elk Ranch
Ten exceptional cows. Great lineages. Included are top performers such as cows producing 14+ lb. two year olds. They will be naturally bred to exceptional bulls. Call us for more details.
-Plus Hunt Bulls-
Exceptional young hunt bulls."
"Okay, now write down the phone number and the directions to the ranch. I'll take it to the news, tomorrow."
The fire in front of the house was dying down. Only the snap and crackle of the lightning bugs shone against the faces of the dancing teens.
"Ileina, aren't you going to dance a little more with the others?" Ileina's mother, Marya, asked.
Ileina raised her eyes to the dirt dance floor on the side of the ranch house. The tight-lock wire posts of the enclosures for the elk and wapiti were barely visible in the dusk as the distant outline of the Cypress Hills rose against the prairie sky.
"No, Ma. It's getting a bit chilly." She was still tender-minded because of the possible slaughter of her pet elk, Poor Poet.
If Poor Poet could be alive now, he'd be ready by August 5 for The Saskatchewan showcase. Ileina was sure he would have gotten the first place award. If only he hadn't escaped into the wild with the hunt bulls...It wasn't the hunters' fault that Poor Poet had probably become meat and a wall trophy in a stranger's home with his insides ending up in the Elk Processing Plant. Mostly she blamed herself for being careless with the gate lock.
"The Indians say dancing after dark should be around the fire or the spirit of the stags will drag you to the wind," Ileina's Grandmother warned.
Grandma was from Qu'appelle Valley. "Qu'appelle," she had told Ileina, "It means 'who calls.' Because the spirits come calling at night." Grandma trusted the Indian legends. Unlike most of the family, she once had belonged with an Indian tribe.
"Better tell them the dancing's over," Grandma continued.
"No, Ma. Let them." Marya said. "If we build another fire, they'll take longer to scatter, and we'll never get our sleep."
"That's what you get for adding visitor cottages to the property," Grandma chided. "They are more trouble than income."
When Ileina came back on the porch again, the dusk had thickened into the dark of the night. The fire had died down, and the dancing people had left. Ma and Grandma were in the kitchen and Pa was dozing off in front of the TV.
Just where the road ended, Ileina saw a figure coming toward her.
"Must be a visitor lost," she thought. "The cottages are on the right side," she yelled. The figure turned toward the right. Ileina took a few steps forward to see who the visitor was, but in the dark she slipped off the last step down.
Hoof beats and something nuzzling in her hair...Ileina opened her eyes, as she mumbled in shock, "Poor Poet!" Gleaming with tears, the elk's eyes wore a human expression, meaning, "You're okay."
The elk shuddered and ran back into the darkness. But, he is the one who is not okay, Ileina thought as she suddenly saw the moon touch the horizon. Against the full moon was the silhouette of the elk, sending a myriad of sparks.
"Ileina, are you all right?" Grandma asked, kneeling down beside her. "I saw you slip and fall. You were so quiet for a while. I was worried."
"I am fine. Grandma. Poor Poet was here. He went up with the moon."
"So you have seen the animal's soul, haven't you? Sometimes, I too hear the hooves of elks and the wapiti, like heartbeats." Grandma stroked her hair. "Harder for animals now, but their souls are still trying, calling out for their bodies."
"Is there a place, Grandma, where the animals' souls go when they are killed?"
"They come back in some form or other. Sometimes in body sometimes not. That's all I know," Grandma said.
Next morning when Ileina came down for breakfast, Ivan was standing by the door.
"Come on, Girl," he said. "I got something to show you."
Ileina shrieked with joy when she saw Poor Poet inside the enclosure.
"Ralph found him. All through the night, he kept running around trying to get in." Ivan said. "Now shouldn't you stop believing your Grandma's stories?"