written by Thom Garrett
edited by Danna Colman
I left out all the coyote traps. They weren’t worth a damn from what I’d seen so far. I’d snared rabbits and squirrels, funnel-trapped trout, snagged a wild turkey or two and a few grouse, even got me a little whitetail once, but not a single coyote. Those clever bastards could get in and out with my bait and never trigger the spring. Beats me how they do it, but I left out the traps all the same. Maybe I’ll get lucky.
I don’t want to eat the coyotes. I just want them dead and gone. Same reason I shoot the hawks and owls when I see them. They’re the competition. They eat what I eat, so if there are fewer of them, there’s more for me. I didn’t move out here a hundred miles from nowhere to be one with Nature. I came here to kick Nature’s butt, and I will kill anything that gets in my way.
As far as I can tell, there hasn’t been another human being up on this plateau in years, maybe not ever. It was almost impossible to get to, and not exactly a Garden of Eden once I’d made it. Still, I’ve managed to clear a plot of land right by the lake, and I’ve built a cabin that’s solid enough to get me through the winter. It’s all old-school here. No electricity, no gasoline or kerosene. Hell, I don’t even have any matches. I hauled in an axe and a knife, a rifle with a few cases of precious rounds, and some snares and traps, including those damn coyote traps. The rest has to be locally sourced. I have no Plan B.
I walk the trap lines every day. The crows announce my progress as I move from gully to ridge and down the other side. They gather noisily, crying out their hatred for me, a “murder” of crows. They are loud and visible, but they are not alone. I don’t see the others, but I know they’re there. I can feel their eyes, I can feel their hatred, and I can feel their fear. As I walk the lines today, I retrieve one small rabbit. I eat a lot of rabbit. They must be the stupidest animal in the forest, but there are lots of them, and they’re damn tasty. I head back to my cabin holding my catch by the ears, surrounded by the cacophony of crows.
Sitting on a stump, I gut and skin the tiny carcass quickly and efficiently, spit the meat, and stir the morning embers back to life. I toss some kindling on top and then carefully add some split logs, settling back to roast my dinner. As the meat heats, the fat begins to sizzle and pop, dripping into the fire with tiny explosions of flame. And then I notice that the hissing and crackling are the only sounds I hear. The crows are silent. The forest is silent.
I pull the spit from the fire and listen. Nothing. Not a bird, not a bug. Nothing. But then I hear it, something so quiet I have to strain to catch the sound. Whimpering, almost inaudible, but growing louder, and then a few yips and barks. It’s a frightened animal, an animal in pain. A coyote in a trap!
I drop the uncooked rabbit and grab my rifle, jogging into the forest, following the sounds of the crying coyote. I push through some thick brush, and there it is, standing in a small clearing, biting at the steel jaws of the sprung trap latched securely around its ankle. It hears my approach and falls silent, raising its head. Our eyes meet, and I look for the fear I expect to see, but it’s not there. It looks at me with a shining intelligence, as if it’s watching to see what my next move will be. It tips its head with curiosity.
I am infuriated by its brazen lack of fear. I spit an obscenity and take three steps closer. “You’re not so smart now, are you!”
It lets out a single, sharp bark which is answered from behind me. I spin around but see nothing in the fading light of the setting sun. The trapped animal barks again, and I whip back around. A response comes from the shadows to my left and then another to my right.
“Come on!” I shout. “Get out here where I can see you, and I’ll kill you first!”
The trapped one answers with a series of high-pitched yips. I turn to face it once again, and it steps forward, dragging the trap. That puzzles me because these traps are supposed to be staked down. What good is a trap if the prey can just run off with it? As if to make my point, the coyote raises its leg with the trap dangling from it. It has a look that I can only describe as defiant.
I raise my gun.
Above me, there is an ear-splitting scream. I look up in shock as an enormous hawk drops out of the branches, its talons spread wide. At that exact moment, the coyote to my right leaps from the bushes, charging straight at me. As one tears at the skin of my face, the other smashes into me, knocking the gun from my hands.
I reach up, but the bird is gone. I put both hands to my face, and they come away dripping red with blood. Something else moves above me, swooping down silently. An owl, even larger than the hawk, flies straight for my eyes. I shelter under my arms, but it beats its wings against my head and shoulders, and I blindly stagger backwards. I hear a loud snap and feel a sharp pain as the teeth of one of my own traps bite into my ankle. The owl seems to vanish.
With the owl gone, I reach down to free myself from the powerful jaws of the steel trap, but just then the coyote that had been to my left leaps from hiding and barrels into me. Knocked off balance, I tumble to the ground, reaching out with my right arm to stop my fall. There is another snap and blinding pain in my wrist.
I am on my back, stretched out and staked to the ground. The pain is almost unbearable, and I gasp as I writhe there, trying to free my wrist and ankle. The blood from my tattered face drips into my eyes, blurring my vision, but I see something small moving toward me. It stops, stands tall and sniffs the air tentatively. The rabbit, instinctively cautious, approaches. Suddenly it bolts forward and sinks its teeth into my hand, held still by the trap around my wrist.
I howl and grab for it with my other hand, but it’s already gone. I feel sharp teeth grab my ear. Another rabbit! I bat it away, but then there’s another one tearing at my other ear. I slap at it and another is at my head, ripping the hair from my scalp. As more rabbits sprint forward to take painful nips out of my head and hand, crows drop from the branches above and land on my legs, driving their sharp, black beaks through the fabric of my clothes. I kick and scream and try to drive them away with my free hand, but the two coyotes return and grab for that arm, clinching it in their jaws.
The sun sets, and in the dying light I see darker shapes emerging from the shadows surrounding me. They come out the bushes, down from the trees, and up from the ground, dozens of birds and beasts of all kinds. They come slowly, not from fear but with patience. Squirrels, pheasants, mice, deer. There are more crows, hawks, and owls. And there are many, many more rabbits.