Coyote Moon

Coyote Night by Zoe Murdock It was late when Scott awoke to the sound of coyotes yipping. They were usually in the river basin behind the house, but tonight they sounded closer, and there were more of them, making a real raucous about something. He decided he’d better check it out. He pulled on his pants, grabbed his sandals, and slipped quietly out of the bedroom trying not to wake Betsy. When he got downstairs, the coyotes were so loud he wondered if they were out by the coop where he kept his prize chickens. “Oh, man. How did they get in there?” He hurried outside, but when he closed the door, the coyotes must have heard him because they stopped yipping. He wasn’t sure where they were. He stood perfectly still, listening, but the night was suddenly silent. A full moon, high above the twirling windmill, spilled blue-white light across the yard, casting eerie shadows beneath the oak trees. He thought he saw something move through the orchard, but it might have just been the wind, which had cooled and freshened since the afternoon. Although it wasn’t all that cold, he felt a sudden chill. He moved quietly toward the chicken coup, wondering if it was a smart idea to confront a pack of coyotes with their kill. One coyote was no problem, and he could probably handle two or three, but a whole pack might be trouble. He stooped and picked up a thick stick and held it out before him as he went slowly down the path. The coyotes were still keeping their silence. He couldn’t see them, but maybe they were on the far side of the coup. Or maybe they had somehow gotten inside. He hurried his pace until he got to the chicken coop. He looked through the wire that covered the windows. The chickens clucked softly, and shifted on their perch, but everything seemed fine. So where were the coyotes and what had they been so excited about? He braced himself against the chicken coop, barely breathing. If he didn’t make a sound, maybe the coyotes would reveal themselves. He stayed like that for quite some time, becoming more sensitive to the sounds of the night: the whirling chatter of the windmill, the rustling of leaves in the trees, a few sleepless crickets keeping track of the temperature. There was a smell of crushed sage and lilac. Then he heard it; one little yip, and then another. Soon the whole pack was going again. They were close, out by the pool. He took off his sandals and walked bare-footed, stepping carefully so as not to step on anything that would make a sound. The coyotes were going crazy. As he got closer, he realized they were on the far side of the pool, beneath the oak trees. Hurrying forward, he stepped on something that stuck into his foot, and he said, “Damn,” before he could stop himself The coyotes may have heard him, but for some reason they didn’t seem to care. They were in a frenzy, and now he could see them leaping wildly beneath one of the oak trees. There must be something up there, he thought. A cat? A possum? A squirrel? It seemed like a lot of effort for something that small. It wouldn’t make much of a meal for so many coyotes. There must have been six or seven coyotes around the base of the tree, all jumping and yowling. He didn’t know what to do, or if he should do anything. They deserved to have their food, didn’t they? But he was curious. He wanted to know what they had treed. Maybe it was the neighbor’s cat. They wouldn’t be happy if the coyotes killed their cat. Maybe he’d better scare them off. He stepped forward, waving his stick and shouting, “Hey, get out of here.” The coyotes stood their ground. He wondered if they were thinking of exchanging him for what was in the tree. He stepped closer, and shouted again, louder. This time, they scattered and took up positions some distance away. It was dark beneath the oak tree, and, at first, he couldn’t see anything in the branches. Then adjusted to the dark, and he saw the flash of yellow eyes. They were large and far apart. He couldn’t stop looking at them. Finally, as the wind rustled the leaves, letting moonlight through, he saw what it was. A mountain lion. And oh man, it was big. He felt the hair stand up on his arms, and suddenly he could hear the sound of his own heart beating loudly in his ears. He knew better than to run. Stand your ground. Show your size. He glanced over to where the coyotes were. They were still there, watching, and maybe even a little closer now. That’s all he needed. His attention was drawn back to the lion when he heard it shift in the branches. Was it coming down? Would it pounce? Maybe the coyotes had scared it so much it would attack anything. He kept his attention on the shadow in the branches. What to do? Back away? Make more noise? He decided on a different tact. He began to hum, then to sing, Oh, Sayulita, mi senorita Te encanta cantar The yellow eyes flickered and then he thought he saw them glisten. He sang a little louder, and the coyotes joined in the chorus with their mournful cries. Oh, Sayulita, mi senorita Te encanta cantar The days melt away and the evening, I pray, will go on and on Into the hours when only your voice fills the night “Te Amo,” I plead, as your song goes higher and higher But in your dark eyes there burns an unreachable light. He finished the song in a whisper, and the voices of the coyotes died out. Then, for some reason, they turned and trotted away towards ridge of the river basin. As they disappeared over the edge, Scott looked back up into the tree and thought he heard the mountain lion sigh. Scott decided it was time to back away and leave her in peace. As he came out from under the trees, he saw Betsy standing in the backyard, the white fabric of her nightgown fluttering in the breeze beneath the translucent moonlight. When he got to her, she said, “Since when have you been sneaking out to sing with the coyotes.” Scott just smiled. He put his arm around her shoulder and they walked slowly back up to the house. Zoe Murdock - My Birthday Story (May 14, 2009)

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