The coyote lurked right at the edge of the yard, where the light from the porch reached that place where the darkness of night overwhelmed the glow. Even at that edge, I could see the reflection in his eyes. Two red orbs that looked back at me every time he whipped his head in my direction. For the most part he didn’t do that though. He paced back and forth right at that edge. From one end of the yard to the other. Not looking at me, or at the house. Just straight ahead. To that end. And then turning and jogging back to the other end. Back and forth he went.
I wondered what it was he was waiting for. The last chicken had died months ago. The lambs to the slaughter shortly after that. Wrapping things up before we moved meant there wasn’t much livestock left. Moving back to the city can do that.
Dora and I had tried to make a go of country life. Escaping the mad dash of urbanity. We had quit our jobs at the health care company where we both worked. It had been two years, but we had yet to figure out a way to make a real go of it. Our savings dwindled, our patience with each other at a breaking point, we caved. Two weeks before, escrow closed on the property and we had two days left in the country home that we had hoped for so hard. Tails between our legs, we were moving in with her parents until we figured out what was next.
“Hey honey, whatcha doing?” Dora called from the kitchen.
I ignored her. I wasn’t sure what she would think about the coyote on the fringe of the yard. I took a seat on the top step of the porch and watched him some more.
“Honey, you out there?”
I could tell her voice was closer. She was coming out.
“I’m just sitting out here, enjoying the night,” I finally replied. “The stars are …”
That’s when the screen door wheezed open and Dora stepped on to the porch. “Wow. Look at the moon,” she sighed.
“Yeah.” I looked back at her and patted the step next to me. She was right. It was huge. Round. Full. And lurked just above the horizon, filtered through a few trees. It had just a hint of orange to it as well. If it wasn’t for the coyote, that’s what I probably would have been looking at.
It was then that the coyote’s pacing changed. He stopped and turned his attention to the porch. I felt his eyes bore into me and as Dora sat next to me, the coyote charged. Leaving the comfort of the half dark edge of light, he came across the yard. Straight towards us.
I rose and pulled Dora up with me. “What the hell!” she whispered to me, grabbing my hand.
“Go inside,” I screamed and pulled the screen door open, shoving her in. I followed her, and before slamming the front door shut, I took one glance back at the coyote. For the first time, I saw the foam dripping from its jaws, and I could have sworn the animal was smiling at me. Or leering. Or something.
And then I thought about Cujo, that Stephen King novel I read when I was a kid. The one that put me in fear of dogs for years. I slammed the door shut, turned the bolt, just as I heard the coyote come up the steps and slam into the screen, setting the springs and hinges to jangling.
Dora and I got a dog a year before. A corgi. At first, I was terrified because I’d never had a dog as a child and there was that damn King story. It only took a few weeks until I realized how foolish I had been. Seriously. Who could be afraid of a corgi? Me.
But I got over it. Ralph, the dog and don’t ask, had been shipped to the in-laws the day before. I was thankful for that. Typically, in the evenings he roamed the property before coming in and curling up at the foot of the bed. I can’t imagine what the coyote would have done with Ralph if he’d been outside that night. I caught myself with an image in my head. Blood and a dead dog.
* * * * *
I was riding my bike along the trail that winds along the American River and decided to take a rest before turning back into the head wind that always pushed against me when heading back to Sac State. There was a little park tucked along a curve of the trail. Plenty of shade and a couple of picnic tables.
It’s where Dora and I met. She was at one of those tables, reading a book. We got married less than a year later. We promised each other a few things that day.
“I promise to love you forever.”
“And I do you too,” Dora responded. “I promise to be your friend no matter what.”
“As do I to you.” I looked down at the paper shaking in my hand. “We will grow old together.”
“With children and grandchildren.”
“And happiness and love.”
I held my hand out to her and we danced under the moon that night.
In the months that followed, we were eager to begin fulfilling those promises. It didn’t matter if we lived in a small apartment at the time, but six months after the wedding, Dora had her first miscarriage. It took a month or two, but she recovered and we kept on trying.
The second miscarriage, though, took someothing out of her. I wondered if the hole would ever get plugged again.
Truthfully, the corgi wasn’t just for me. To get over my fear of dogs. Cujo!!! No, it was also for her. To give Dora a thing to care for. To love, as she would a baby. Maybe. Maybe she would heal and be whole again. She loved the dog, but it didn’t help. Not really. We had started fertility treatments and that was a whole other thing that seemed to suck the life out of her.
* * * * *
It was quiet outside for a moment and then the coyote slammed against the screen door again. It growled. No, it wasn’t a growl. It was an unearthly shriek that split the air.
I looked back at Dora. “What do we do?” she said to me, her voice barely above a whisper.
“You stay here. I’m going to get the gun.”
“What else can we do?”
“No. I’ll take care of this.”
We’d bought the gun when we moved in. I thought it was necessary since we were out in the middle of nowhere, but I hadn’t fired it in almost the entire two years we had lived there. When I first got it, I shot at old cans on a tree stump back behind the house. But I quickly tired of that, and the gun had been upstairs for too long.
I turned to the stairs and took them three at a time, with Dora pleading, “Just call 911. You don’t need to do this,” while the damn coyote kept attacking the screen door and splitting the air with its shrieks.
The gun was in a shoe box in our closet, with the clips scattered loosely at the bottom of the box. I reached around in the dark until I found it and then picked the whole thing up and raced back downstairs.
“Here,” I handed the box to Dora and ripped the lid off.
“Please just call the police, Jeremiah, please,” Dora pleaded. She held the box in one hand and had her phone in the other. “Here. Please.”
“No. We need to do this. That thing is rabid. There’s no telling what it’ll do in the time it takes a deputy to get here.” To prove my point, the coyote slammed into the screen door again and I heard the screen clatter as it fell to the porch floor. The next charge was straight into the door. It didn’t seem like anything was going to stop the beast.
“You’re not going to shoot that thing!” Dora screamed this at me, but she also held the box out to me while I reached in for the gun. “You can’t do that, can you? Shoot an animal?”
I fumbled in the box for a clip and dropped it to the floor before I slammed another into the heel of the gun. I grabbed a second clip, putting it in my pocket and dropping the box to the floor.
“Honey, please. That thing isn’t going to be able to get through the door.”
I noticed that the coyote had stopped, that it was silent on the other side of the door. Maybe I wouldn’t need the gun, and then I heard the growl. Followed by a shriek, and instead of slamming into the door again, the coyote went at the window next to the door. The window shattered and the coyote’s head was in the house. It’s red eyes darted around. Foam, mixed with fresh blood beginning to ooze from cuts on its snout, dripped to the floor.
* * * * *
Back when we were making promises to each other, I made a few of my own.
“I promise to keep you safe and to protect you.” I said this to Dora when I proposed to her. Back at the bench in the park along the American River where we first met. “If you will marry me, I promise to always be there for you, to slay your demons, and bring light into your world.”
You see, Dora had some issues. I learned about them late at night, when the world was dark and quiet. Occasionally, Dora wasn’t so quiet. In her sleep, she would cry and yell. When she did, I’d reach out and hold her until she calmed down. In the mornings that followed, she would tell me of her nightmares. Some of them were actual dreams. Some weren’t. Some were all too real memories of her past. I meant to protect her from all of them.
That morning when I proposed to her, Cora cried for a bit before she accepted my proposal. She wrapped her arms around my neck and breathed into my ear, “Yes, oh definitely, yes.”
For a time her night terrors seemed to pass. Maybe, the mere fact that I had committed to her forever had eased her fears. For months we were happy, there was definitely light in our lives.
We rode together along the bike trail, we ate breakfast in bed, and stayed up late playing cribbage and nuzzling each other as we slept through the night. After the first miscarriage, something changed. I’m not sure she slept more than a few hours for the next three or four days. She called in sick at work. “Babe, I just need some time,” she told me, when I suggested we get away together. “By myself. You go to work.”
I did, because I wasn’t sure what else to do. This was a thing I wasn’t prepared for. My wife mourning a child that never was. And when she finally was able to sleep, she began to cry in her sleep again. All I could do was hold her.
When she got pregnant again, things were better. Until they weren’t and the second miscarriage came almost immediately after we got the good news. I learned then that my promise was empty. I couldn’t protect her from everything. There were some demons that couldn’t be slayed, and all I could do was watch and catch her if she fell too far.
But this, this damn coyote, this was something I could save her from. I had a gun and a clip, a spare in my pocket. The coyote wasn’t going to get any further.
That’s when it shrieked again — an ear-splitting, unholy sound that ripped through the air. And I dropped the gun, while the coyote pushed further through the shattered window.
“Jeremiah!” came another shriek from behind me.
“Go upstairs. To our bedroom. Shut the door and move something in front of the door. Barricade yourself in there.”
“I’m calling 911.”
“Fine.” I bent down, not taking my eyes off the coyote, and felt around for the gun. “Just do it from upstairs.”
As Dora turned and walked upstairs, I mumbled to her, “They won’t get here in time.”
After what felt like three hours of groping for the gun, while the coyote growled and spit and Dora slammed the bedroom door, I finally looked away from the threat and looked down. It was right there, in the one spot I hadn’t reached. I grabbed it and held it in both hands, turning it on the coyote.
I was breathing hard, my hands were shaking. I looked at the red eyes and bloody snout and tried to calm down. If I pulled the trigger right then, there was no telling where the bullet would end up. I needed everything to stop. Just for a few seconds. To get my breath under control, to steady my hands, and to convince myself to do it.
Dora was right. I couldn’t shoot it. It sounds stupid, but … I closed my eyes on the beast and counted backwards from ten. It was a trick my mom taught me when I was a kid. To calm myself whenever I was feeling nervous or scared.
The coyote growled from deep down its throat.
I could hear Dora pushing the dresser across the floor of our bedroom.
Breathe in, breathe out.
I thought of the one ultrasound we had, from the first pregnancy. There was a little peanut growing inside of Dora’s body. It was ours.
More glass broke off from the window, clattering to the floor. I wanted to open my eyes. I didn’t.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Dora yelled down to me, “I’ve got 911 on now.”
Steady hands. Steady.
The coyote shrieked again.
Breathe in, breathe out.
I felt hot breath on me.
I opened my eyes and fired, and missed wildly. The bullet shattered a window on the other side of the door, but the blast from the gun at least stopped the coyote and set my ears to ringing so loudly I couldn’t hear a thing.
From behind me, two arms reached around me and grabbed onto my wrists. “You’ve got this,” Dora whispered in my ear.
I pointed the gun at the coyote, my wife steadied my hands. We waited to see what the thing would do. When it growled again and lifted its red eyes to leer at us, I pulled the trigger.
“We got it,” I whispered to Dora as I dropped the gun to the floor.
If you’ve got this far, I need to thank my new writing accountability partner who will remain nameless for the moment. If not for this new accountability effort and the fellow writer who has joined the effort, I probably would not have finished this today.