too many words by laura lemay

under siege by the dogs of war

There’s a pack of coyotes that’s been hanging out at my house recently. They lurk on the edges of the lawn near the bushes and they watch the house. Shifty creatures. They’re after the cat.

A few weeks back it was just one coyote, and he would just pass back and forth on from one side of the lawn to the other or sit at a distance and watch the house. He was a nice-looking coyote, too, a younger one, silver and orange, with a black nose and black at the tip of his tail. Given that we don’t see coyotes that often I thought it was kind of cool. I was really naive.

Fierce Cat was not at all pleased with this new visitor. Fierce Cat was mostly wild when she showed up on our doorstep six years ago, and has had many fights with wildlife since then. As she’s grown older she spends more of her time indoors, but she still goes out to prowl the yard every day and hunt bunnies. She’s a big, tough, muscular cat with long claws; she has no trouble with any other cats, including the bobcats that are half again her size. But the coyotes are bigger and meaner than anything else in the woods, they hunt in packs, and they’ll eat her if they catch her. When the coyotes show up, she usually decides its time to come in NOW.

And then there was the confrontation. One day I came downstairs from my office for lunch and Fierce Cat was at the door wanting to be let out. I opened the door without thinking and looked out at the same time. The coyote was standing right in the middle of the lawn less than ten feet from the door.

OHSHIT, thought I, and stuck my foot out to keep Fierce Cat from going out. She darted right over it, out onto the porch and onto the stairs. There was a half a pause as Fierce Cat saw the coyote and the coyote saw Fierce Cat. And then Fierce Cat PUFFED up all her fur, HISSED murderously, and with a dark yowl from the depths of hell took off running down the stairs TOWARD the coyote.

OHSHIT, thought the coyote, turned around, and ran at full speed back toward the safety of the edge of the lawn. I ran after both of them, not really knowing what I was going to do or who I was going to be saving from whom. Fierce Cat’s show of force was actually short-lived and she stopped just a few feet past the initial charge, but I followed the coyote all the way past the tree and down the hill and called it bad names as it disappeared into the bushes.

Naively I thought perhaps we had chased the coyote away. But more and more the coyote appeared on the edges of the lawn. I would see him almost every day, becoming bolder, sometimes sitting right out in the middle of the yard, and he showed no fear at all when I went outside. I collected a bucket of pine cones and I pitch cones at the coyote if I see it. This actually has no effect whatsoever because I have terrible aim. Even when I do get close the coyote just jumps back a few steps and stops. He has no fear at all. And he’s watching, watching, watching the house.

One night the coyote got revenge on us for trying to chase it off by standing right next to the house at 3AM and howling. Coyotes don’t howl like wolves do; there are no melodic transylvanian howls here. Coyotes have more of a creepy barking yodel, a big doggy squeaky toy yelp that jars your bones. And It just goes on and on and on. We turned on the outside lights and the coyote wasn’t the least bit perturbed. He stood right out in the yard just outside the glow of the lights and danced as he barked, stuck his nose in the air like some kind of gibbering insane southwestern cliche and barked on for an hour or so. By the time he stopped we were fully awake, the cats were frantic and war had been declared.

We thought we had the upper hand in this war, after all there was just one of him and three of us (Well, four of us if you count George but George is kind of a noncombatant. If we are suddenly besieged by an army of wet rubber bands or sluggish house flies, George will be our man.) But then the odds changed. There was the barking one morning in the twilight and then we saw them: a second coyote, and a third. A pack of coyotes, all standing on the edges of the lawn in the bushes, and all of them watching, watching, as if to say “send out the cat, heh heh.”

Now sometimes I think I can see coyotes in the yard even when there are no coyotes, motions in the bushes, flashes of silver and grey out of the edges of my vision. I hear the barking, hear it repeated at dusk in a persistent cry all around us, a howl that swells menacingly like the first howl of a rising storm. Don’t you hear it? Can’t you hear it? Oh my god! The barking! The barking!