My dog seems to have a project going, the goal of which I have not yet sorted out.
To the best of my recollection, the project kicked off a week or so ago. Harry started collecting all of his toys and putting them in one location: Mr. Pig, Mr. Moose, Squirrelly, Chippy, Mr. Dog, Rocky, and Mr. Bug. Normally the toys are scattered all over the house, squeaking surprises that I step on in dark hallways. Lately, though, any room in which I happen to be is soon filled with every creature from Harry's toy basket. There's something a little eerie about it: I'll be working at my computer and hear the tick-tick of his footsteps. I'll turn around and there's Mr. Bug. More ticking and soon there's Chippy, and finally, after much ticking, there are the rest of them, gathering one by one like the crows on the jungle gym that caused villagers to freak out in The Birds. After awhile, when they're all gathered there on the rug behind me. I'll sneak another peek and Harry will be among them, staring at me from the midst of his one-eyed raccoon and earless pig. "What?" I'm finally forced to say, but of course he doesn't respond; only sits there wearing an urgent expression that I'm unable to decipher.
Then on Wednesday I realized there was more to the project. The back door was open and Harry was outside, uncharacteristically out of earshot for a long stretch of time. I glanced through the door on my way through the family room and saw him going past at a purposeful clip, Squirrelly stuffed in his mouth. He disappeared, then reappeared, Squirrelly deposited somewhere. A minute or so later he returned, again with purpose, and this time there was Mr. Bug, its many stuffed legs dangling from Harry's maw. In both instances he seemed to be bringing the toys onto the porch from the yard. As he was passing back by, again toyless, I stepped outside to see what was up.
By the time I got down the steps he'd vanished. When I heard scratching, I looked around the corner of the house and there he was, digging for all he was worth at the side of the porch. He'd managed to get a decent sized hole dug and had already wiggled himself halfway under the latticework, on the brink of vanishing into parts unknown beneath the house. I hauled him out and realized there was a second hole, this one at the base of the steps. There were no toys around (as I mentioned, he'd been carrying those onto the porch), so I didn't get the feeling he was burying anything. But clearly he was heading somewhere, maybe stalking a real chipmunk, or perhaps fashioning a jailbreak tunnel under the property to escape his fenced-in world.
I shooed him into the house and filled the holes in with the impressive pile of dirt my 15-pound dog had succeeded in accumulating. Of course this didn't work. The minute I let him out again he was back at it, soil flying, legs kicking, and face blackened like football players on a muddy day. I then put him inside behind closed doors and blocked the holes with big pieces of firewood. After a few hours I let him out again and spied on him from behind a curtain; he seemed to have forgotten about the earlier excavation, but the toy transference has continued. What can he be up to? This isn't typical dog goofing around. Harry has something in mind, exhibiting behavior that's deliberate and unwavering, like sparrows flying out of a nest and returning over and over to feed their young. But my Harry has no young, only raggedy chew toys purchased at the dollar store. Is he trying to tell me something? His earnest looks are unnerving, and along with them are now verbal clues: whining, groaning, and...just today...some low howling. Does Harry know something we humans don't?
As I've been writing this near midnight there's been ticking in other parts of the house, up the stairs and down the hall and now, here in my office where only my computer screen glows. I hesitate to turn around for fear I'll see forty crows perched in the shadows at the far end of the room, blinking at me. I'm sure it's only Mr. Moose. And Chippy. And the rest of them, along with a small dog with a dirt-streaked face trying to communicate some message to a tall creature who doesn't speak his language. I'll turn around in a minute, because of course it's just Harry and his toys behind me, right? Just Harry working on his strange project making that funny sound, like feathers fluttering.
It's just Harry and his toys back there.