By Sarah Monette
Luther shot the coyote bitch on Wednesday. She didn’t make a sound, just fell ass over teakettle into the defile, blood blooming across her neck and chest. She was dead—there was no doubt about that, then or later.
It put Luther in a foul mood. He’s wild for trophies, is Luther Sibley, even just a skinny coyote bitch, but that defile had pricker bushes that thought they were gonna grow up to be barbed wire, and rattlers liked it. We lost a cow down there every so often—my granny, who was superstitious about that sort of thing, would have called it a bad place, and I didn’t like it myself. Even to Luther, a coyote bitch wasn’t worth it,especially since he had the pelts of probably half her kin already. So we went on and didn’t think no more about it.
Saturday night, a coyote got into the hen house. You could hear Luther cussing clear out to the highway—but not about the hens. What put the bug up Luther’s butt was a coyote getting into a hen house he’d made coyote-proof with his own two hands.
The next day was Sunday, and Luther having strong feelings about the Sabbath, everyone who worked for the Double Tree Ranch went to church. I sat in the pew and listened to the preacher and hoped next week would be better. But God must have had bigger fish to fry.
Sun-up Monday morning, I came out and found something had knocked over the whole line of garbage cans behind the kitchen. I was still standing there cussing a pretty fair blue streak when Luther came howling out of the stables to say something had gotten in and spoiled the feed. And Aaron came and caught my arm and said, “Come look at this and tell me I ain’t gone out of my head.”
So I went with him. “What was it? Mice? Raccoons?”
“Be damned if I know.” He opened the door and watched while I took the smell full in the face and went staggering back.
“What the hell?” I said when I could say anything. “You been keeping dead goats in here?”
“Well, it sure smells like something crawled in there and been dead a week. But there ain’t nothing there. No dead goats. Not even a dead baby bunny rabbit.”
We spent the morning emptying the feed room and scrubbing it down, and although the grain that’d been fine the night before was wet and reeking, half-fermented and half-rotted, Aaron was right—there were no corpses, no stashed carrion, nothing but a tuft of coyote fur to show there’d been anything there at all.
Monday set the tone for the week. Tuesday, something spooked the horses as we were rounding them up. Billy and Travis swore up, down, and sideways that it was a coyote, although none of us had ever heard of a coyote acting like that. The mutter of rabies went round the hired hands, but nobody’d been bitten and none of the horses seemed hurt, and we hoped we were wrong. Luther called us a bunch of sissies, but he wasn’t happy, either.
Wednesday, Travis heard the cows bawling while he was mending fences, and called Luther on his cell. Luther shouted for me, and we rode out, although it was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. Same damn defile where Luther’d shot the coyote bitch the week before, and the dead yearling heifer was draped over the lip of it like a woman half-in, half-out of her bath. Luther was already cussing when he shoved Whitefoot’s reins at me and went to look. The horses were nervous, shifting and stamping, but I put it down to the dead cow and the defile’s bad mojo, until a movement across the way caught my eye.
It was that coyote bitch, grinning at me the way they do, with her chest torn open and her fur stiff and black with dried blood, and a light in her eyes that was as cold and hard as the rattle of a rattlesnake. There were two pups sitting beside her, so skinny you could count every rib they had, with the same light in their eyes, and while I watched, a third scrambled out to join them, still licking the heifer’s dead blood off its dead muzzle.
I crossed myself and said a jingle my granny’d taught me for warding off bad spirits, and then it was stupid, but I said, “I’m sorry.” Because I don’t like coyotes, either, but she hadn’t been doing any harm when Luther shot her, and even if I should have been glad those three little coyotes weren’t going to grow up and have little coyotes of their own, I wasn’t.
And the coyote bitch cocked her head at me—so at least she heard me—and then she and her children loped off. From the back, they didn’t hardly look dead at all.
“What the hell you mumbling at?” Luther wanted to know. I said something, don’t remember what. Not the truth, for damn sure.
Things got better after that, and maybe it was because I told that dead coyote bitch I was sorry, and maybe it wasn’t. Feed wasn’t spoiled again, anyway, and we didn’t lose any more cows. She loved spooking the horses, though, and Luther eventually gave up on hens entirely.
I still see her from time to time, if I’m out near the defile. Her and her children, laughing at me the way coyotes do. The bones are starting to show through their pelts, and one of the little ones only has about half a face left. But their eyes are still cold and hard and full of light, and I figure as long as they’ve got bodies to move and mischief to do with them, they’ll keep trying to work Luther into the stroke we all know is coming.
Coyote gets his own back, my granny would have said.
Sarah Monette lives in a 105-year-old house with a great many books, two cats, one grand piano, and one husband. She has published more than forty short stories and has two short story collections out: The Bone Key (Prime Books 2007—with a shiny second edition in 2011) and Somewhere Beneath Those Waves (Prime Books, 2011). She has written two novels (A Companion to Wolves, Tor Books, 2007, The Tempering of Men, Tor Books, 2011) and three short stories with Elizabeth Bear, and hopes to write more. Her first four novels (Melusine, The Virtu, The Mirador, Corambis) were published by Ace. Her next novel, The Goblin Emperor, will come out from Tor under the name Katherine Addison. Visit her online at www.sarahmonette.com.