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Fall '23

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MARINA RICHARDS

Everybody called my old man the Coyote Man. Whenever someone around town saw a 'yote, they'd ring him up, and no matter what else he was doing, he'd haul out to their place like there was a fire.


He'd study everything the creatures did: looking under porches, searching for tracks and scent rubs on railings and sheds, bits of bone, piles of scat, puppy dens, tufts of fur. He'd raise his head, tilt his chin, and sniff the air with his big bloodhound nose, and know which direction the coyote went.


He took pictures so he could remember the animal, and lots of times he took me with him. It was fun, but he always made sure I never ventured too far. After all, you never knew what you'd find.

 


One time we found a dead yote flat on its side in the woods. Flies swarming in circles, spinning around its fangs like on a merry-go-round, and skating in and out of its pink flat tongue.


Their dry buzz was loud in my ears, and I asked him what happened to it.


Shot, Daddy said, touching its fur, his fingers coming up red. Female.

 


I thought for sure he was gonna high-five me. He hated coyotes after they'd gotten Momma's favorite cat a couple years ago. But a light went out in his eyes and he lowered to his haunches, squinting out into the distance—a grey sort of sadness on his face. Ain't the way it's supposed to be, Sawyer.


I didn't get it, staring at the beast—my heart bouncing because I was so physically close—relieved it couldn't hurt me. What was the big deal? It was just another vermin yote.


When Daddy stood to take pictures, I picked up her paw and squeezed it. Heavy and warm, pads crusty like a dog's. I ran my hand down the coat, avoiding the hole in her side, wondering how old she was and what I would've named her if I'd raised her. I guess she reminded me of our old shepherd mix, Myrtle.


Daddy told me this was probably the alpha that'd been killing the songbirds in Mrs. Evington's yard and scattering dead coons around the neighborhood. He said she'd definitely had pups at some point.


...She's married? 


He reached out his hand, messing with the top of my head. Something like that.

 


I thought about my parents. They been together since they were 14. What would Daddy do if Momma was laying out here in the dark, all sprawled out for the flies and buzzards to eat?


He got out his measuring tape, told me to grab one end, and we stretched it across: nose to tail. Then we got its girth, sliding our gloved hands underneath, moving it around and over the rocks and crackling leaves.


We heard growling not far off, just beyond a patch of scrub trees. Daddy grabbed the metal stick he carried for protection, yanked me by my collar, and pulled me close. Gestured for me to be quiet. Said the male coyote was probably out there watching us messing with his mate.


It was then the woods exploded in yip-yip-yip howls, sorta like my aunts at Gramma Jean's funeral. The high-pitched sounds wouldn't stop. I couldn't tell any more which direction they came from, but our truck was at least a quarter mile back, and it was getting dark, and I was getting scared.

 


We studied the woods as we edged back, treading soft across the decaying ground, leaves and sticks crunching under our boots. Daddy told me to make myself look as tall as possible. I was short and skinny for my age, but I got up on my toes pretending I was big as him, even though I was shaking.


Every time we got farther back, the harsh growling followed. I think my old man was a little scared, too, even though I couldn't see his face no more.


But I saw the shine of the metal stick in his hand.


When the yips and growls got closer, he said he'd wished he'd brought his .22.

 


I wished he had, too. Wished I didn't feel like I was gonna piss myself right then and there after seeing a pair of yellow eyes flash behind a rock. They disappeared fast as they came. We knew the male was stalking us, preparing to attack once it got a fair assessment of us.


Coyotes learn from the time they're pups how to hunt, fight, kill. They're smart and cunning, and can adapt to any situation, unlike people who can't see in the pitch black and need weapons. I was sure the beast in the woods would eat us alive. Like mice in the mouths of cats—we were doomed.


Daddy halted, flinging me behind him, and raised the stick.


Before I could take another breath, a shadowy streak lunged for him.


I heard a crack and a buncha throaty growls—alpha male on top of my old man, trying to tear him to pieces.


Rocks and dirt kicked up all around me. I started to cry.


Daddy roared like he was fighting a bear. Get the hell out of here, Sawyer! Go!


Gut churning, I stuck my hands over my face. But I couldn't move my feet.


More yips and roars came out of the animal. Daddy yelled like a crazy man. I'd never heard him do that before, and it scared me. Yet, somehow, I felt comfort.


Peeking through the slots between my fingers, I saw him throw the animal off his neck. Then he whipped the silvery stick across the blue-black shadows. Again, and again.


Finally, after one last whoosh of the weapon, the forest returned to its stealth quiet. Like nothing had ever happened.


Daddy grabbed me by my arm and gave me a hard shove. Get to the truck, Sawyer. My heart pumping like a basketball, this time I went. 


He arrived a few minutes later, the stick all bashed in, blood and fur stuck to it.

 


He didn't say a word about what happened to the boy. I didn't ask. Daddy gripped the steering wheel, shaking and sweating, blood dribbling down his arms into the seat, tooth punctures all over his fleshy hands, two at the side of his neck.


When we got home, he didn't even go to the doctor for a rabies shot. But it turned out okay once Momma stitched him up.


Later, he never talked about what happened.

 

 


I'd ask him why the boy stayed in the woods—if he thought it could feel sadness or anger like people—and he'd stare at me like I was stupid. I felt like I was looking back at gauze.


A fire had gone out in him that night. Like when you expect the sun to shine, but you get dark clouds instead.

 

 


Not long after, he quit being the Coyote Man. Ripped all his signs outta our front yard, gathered up his books, tapes, videos, writings, and burned them in the barrel out back.


Whenever somebody'd call about coyote troubles, he'd say he was out of business.


Some folks cussed him and slammed the phones. Others cried, begging for advice.


Use common sense. Bang some pots and pans, he'd snarl back. And don't be goin' outside. Keep your babies and pets locked up, too.


You see a coyote out by the river fog or under the bone-white sun or beneath the slate clouds, don't trouble it with your human curiosity. Treat it gentle like you would a child or friend.


Better yet, pass it by. Don't stop. Especially if it's dead.


Because where there's one, there's another.


And another.


Waiting, weeping, watching.


You.

Marina Richards' work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Hooghly Review, Waccamaw Journal, Flash Fiction Magazine, Mystery Tribune, The Hawaii Pacific Review, Up The Staircase Quarterly, and elsewhere. She won 1st Place for YA Fiction in the 2022 Writer's Digest Competition, and lives in Massachusetts with her husband and cat. She can be found on Twitter @marinarichards and Instagram @marinawrite.

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