Johnathan Sterling had been fishing Brant Creek for over an hour before he heard the first high pitched yips. They sounded far off though, and he payed them no mind. It was his first time fishing Brant creek, and he firmly believed he had found himself a honey hole as he steadily pulled in bass and crappie. As he fished he reminded himself he would have to buy Jimmy Samuels at the County Line Bar a beer or two for telling him about it. Three largemouth bass, all of them at least four pounds, plus a few twelve inch crappie, were floating stiffly in the stream, tethered to the bank by a stringer. He had just reeled in his fourth bass when he heard a howl, much closer now, and behind him. This did concern him, because the only way to get back to his truck, parked miles back on the shoulder of county road 451, was via a narrowly cut trail. It was the only way back, so far as Johnathon knew, because he wasn’t familiar with this stretch of woods past Green mills. There was nothing out this way except a cement plant situated at the confluence where Brant creek drained into the Mississippi some five miles downstream, and Jimmy warned him to fuel up before driving out there; the nearest gas station was some twenty miles away in Bollinger. In essence, he was in the middle of nowhere.

For a moment, he got spooked and considered leaving. Then he reminded himself he was thirty, not thirteen, and being out in the woods by yourself was no big deal. He cemented this fact into his brain as he reached into the small cooler he brought with him. He cracked open a Steel Reserve, his third one that day. He decided he would leave when he ran out of beer, and judging by the two he had left, he guessed he had another hour and a half of fishing. In the back of his mind, he tried to tell himself that he should be heading home by then anyway. But another little voice chimed in to interrupt, that insistent nagging anxiety that reminded him he had been drinking every day of his life for ten years. It told him that he knew he would be scampering back to civilization to refuel on booze because he was afraid of being completely sober. He knew at this point, he pretty much had to stay at least buzzed every hour in order to keep the shakes away. To keep the black wave of dread that threatened to wash over him at the first moment of true sobriety at bay. He managed to successfully drown this voice out every day, and he resumed back to a contented state of casting out the crank bait, reeling it in, casting out and repeating, a sort of manly meditation that calmed him through its repetitive motions.

But this tranquil state was soon broken as something caught the corner of his eye. He turned his head and saw that a skinny, almost emaciated coyote had come loping out of the thick wall of forest that lined the bank. It appeared to cautiously approach the water, sniff it, the mangy ears flattened, growling, backing away from the water and keeping close to the trees. What the hell? John thought as he observed the coyote’s strange behavior. During this whole time, he had stood completely still, rod frozen in mid swing, lure dangling over his shoulder. He relaxed and put down the fishing rod. The crank bait, which was filled with ceramic rattlers to attract mid spawn bass, rattled briefly as he set it down, a very soft, small sound. But the coyote had flinched and shot its head immediately in his direction as soon as the rod touched the ground.

Johnathan froze again as the coyote stared at him, yellow eyes unmoving, its tense bony body rigid. The thing looked sick to Johnathan. He realized he was letting himself be worked up by a stupid, dying mutt. He laughed at himself, and straightened up. The coyote started growling, and stalked towards John, hackles raised, teeth bared in a snarl. John’s eyebrows raised, because he knew coyotes were usually skittish creatures, and normally didn’t grow enough balls to attack anyone unless they were in a pack. What the hell is this lone “wolf” going to do? Johnathan kept a small air powered pellet gun in his tacklebox in case he came across copperheads near his fishing spots. The little pistol was made to look like a Glock 17, but only fired pellet rounds. From ten yards, he could kill a squirrel or a bird with it, but right now, he was just aiming to get the coyote off his ass. He reached into the tacklebox and brought it out.

“Fuck off.” He yelled, and fired the gun right at the animal’s face. It was about twenty feet away and John had a good buzz going. He wasn’t sure if he could hit it, but the coyote let out a shrill whine and flinched back. For a frenzied second, it ran around in a circle, flailing its head around, spit and foam flying off it in wild arcs, before it disappeared back into the woods. He heard more howls from multiple animals far off in the woods, and he decided maybe it was time to head out after all.

He hastily packed up, carrying his stringer of fish and his pole in one hand, the fingers of the other awkwardly hooked into the handles of the tacklebox and cooler. He began his walk back towards his truck.


Johnathan was about halfway down the trail and was rounding a bend in the small footpath when he stopped abruptly. Two coyotes stood side by side thirty feet in front of him, blocking the trail. The moment seemed suspended in time as they looked at each other; one coyote’s head kept tilting from side to side, staring at Johnathan with that cock-eared expression that usually looked adorable on domestic dogs. This however, lent a touch of madness to the creature. Its lips peeled back into a silent snarl as small dollops of foam leaked out of the side of its tilted mouth. The other one simply stared with its head down, mouth shut, ears flat against its long skull. It looked at Johnathan with glassy bloodshot eyes that were rimmed with a yellow-green scum that trailed in two crusty streaks down the corners of its snout. Rabies, he thought to himself, and he felt his bowels lurch like oily snakes in his body.

The moment was broken when Johnathan realized his hand was cramping from holding the tacklebox and cooler in such a clumsy grip. The pellet gun was in the tacklebox. Slowly, delicately, he lowered his items to the ground, remembering somewhere in a distant alternate reality when he was still a boy, listening to his dad swap hunting stories with his friends from the steel mill as they sat around the dining room table drinking Wild turkey and indulging in their weekly poker game. Something about his dad telling the guys he had come across a rabid bear once while hunting in Colorado – Had to move slow, backed away all gentle like, cause you know, sudden movements scare them and shit, his dad’s whiskey-slurred voice rang back to him.

He had no idea if this tidbit was true, but it seemed to be working nonetheless. He lowered everything to the ground, and had both hands on the lid of the tackle box, not once taking his eyes off the two canines as they stood their ground. He unclipped the buckle that held the lid down, his hand only five inches away from the pellet gun when he heard a twig snap behind him. He whirled around reflexively, hands frozen in the tacklebox. Two more coyotes had joined the Mexican standoff, blocking the path from behind. These two also exhibited telltale signs of infection, and he noted with silent, savage glee that the one on the left was sporting a round bleeding lump on the side of its twitching snout. He wished desperately that he had his .22 with him, but after his second DUI, the Missouri branch of the ATF were notified and Johnathan was ordered to remove all the fire arms from his home. Fuckin’ stupid government pigs and their dumb laws gonna get my ass killed, he thought bitterly just before he heard movement back towards the front. The coyote with the tilting head was charging towards him, bolting down the trail like a kinetic brown bolt of energy, the second one trailing him.

He dropped the tacklebox and clumsily stumbled into the tree line on the side of the path, tripping over his fishing rods and then sprinting madly as he got his foothold. Branches and brambles whipped and clawed at his arms and legs as he ran through the thick brush in nothing but hole ridden jeans and a STAG BEER T-shirt. Through the wild crashing of his footfalls, he heard frenzied panting and yipping right behind him, growing closer. “Fuck fuck FUCK!” he repeated as he sprinted, his flabby body, fueled strictly by bottom-shelf alcohol and Hungry Man microwave meals, rapidly reached its threshold.

He scanned the motioned-blurred scenery of useless saplings and bushes until he saw the thick brown trunk of a tall cedar tree twenty feet ahead. Using the last of his energy, he sprinted for the tree, trying to run up the bark and make a jumping leap for the nearest low-hanging branch that would support his two hundred and fifty pounds of sweating mass. His hands closed around a branch the thickness of his calf and he tried to pull himself up. He then felt a vice lock onto one of his engineer’s boots as one of the coyotes clamped onto his dangling foot. The extra weight caused his arms to start slipping from the half-hugging embrace he had on the branch. He grunted and flailed his legs wildly, and felt a satisfying thud as one of his boots connected with the skull of the coyote. There was a high-pitched cry and then his foot was free, he scrambling the rest of the way up the branch, sitting on it awkwardly, trying not to lose his balance as he tried to get situated.

Five feet below, the coyotes began jumping and snapping at the air, trying desperately to reach him.

“Fuck you furballs,” Johnathan said, and rested his head back against the tree.


Three maddening hours had gone by, the twilight slowly shifting into full on darkness. It was mid-summer, and despite the sun’s retreat, it was still very warm and humid. He had to keep his hands braced against the tree and his legs crossed around the branch to keep his balance. But every five minutes or so, he had to quickly take one hand and swat at the merciless horde of mosquitos that buzzed around his face and engulfed his arms with a litany of small burning bites. Once he almost lost his balance in doing so, and as soon as his leg dipped below the branch, he sensed movement as one of the coyotes lurched up to snap at the meaty prize. Every minute that crawled by, he told himself they would get bored with this stupid charade and go off to find the fish he had left on the trail.

They did not retreat. All four of them sat around the base of the tree, occasionally looking up and sniffing the air to make sure he was still there. To add to this excruciating war of attrition was the fact he could feel the phantom waves of withdrawal steadily snaking their way into his nerves. He was very thirsty, and he made a mental game to pass the time, trying to conjure up the various depraved scenarios he would put himself through in order to have a cold brew in his hands, hands that began to tremble as hour four ticked by. Despite the damp warmness he was cloaked in, he periodically felt a cold chill wash over his body, and he would experience a brief wave of shivers which threatened to throw him off balance. The two beers on the ground, a tantalizing twenty yards away, called out to him like a distress beacon, and the longer he waited, the more he felt like taking his chances to just drop down there, fight off those mutts and make a run for it.

There were two things that stopped him. One was that he had heard about the horrible stomach shots one had to go through when getting treated for rabies, and the fact that once you contracted it, the disease was uncurable, and was supposed to be one of the most horrible ways to die known to man. The second was that it was just a shade above pitch black, the cloud-shrouded moon throwing off a weak, gray illumination that barely penetrated the forest canopy, and in his growing state of agitation and delirium, he had to admit to himself that he would have a hard time telling which way he needed to go to get back on the trail.

Hour five ticked by, and Johnathan’s legs and ass had gone totally numb. He felt a combination of rage, fatigue, hopelessness and nausea which caused him to produce the occasional pitiful moan. He went through a mental battle as he sat up there, trying desperately to come up with a plan, but all he could think about was booze. He told himself if he… no, not if he, but when he got out of this situation alive, he would march his ass right down to the county line bar, and drink himself under the table. 

He hadn’t looked down in a while, because every time he looked down and saw the stupid mongrels still sitting there, their yellow eyes glinting off the weak ambient light of the stars, his despair grew more intense. So, he forced himself not to look for as long as he could.

Finally, after yet another hour, he looked down again, and had to blink a few times to clear away the disbelief at what he saw, or rather, didn’t see. He expected four piss-colored sets of eyes to be glaring up at him eagerly, but instead he only saw one. Johnathan felt a wave of exhilaration at this. He could take on one of those mutts, no problem.

He strained his eyes to look around, seeing if he could make out any of the other coyotes in the immediate area. He could only see about fifteen feet on all sides, but he told himself the area was clear. Had to be clear. He looked down at the lone canine that sat directly below him, and he grinned, not realizing he looked like an absolute madman with a sweat-streaked face the color of cigarette ash, eyes wide and maniacal. He tried to move his toes and stretch his legs a bit to get some feeling back into them, and he winced at the pins and needles as circulation slowly made its way to his lower extremities. After five minutes, he knew he was as ready as he was going to be.

He slowly scooted himself over the side of the branch, lowering both legs like he was sitting on a bench. The coyote noticed this immediately and began to growl low in his throat.

“That’s right, you want some of this, you stupid fuckin mutt?” Johnathan called down to the coyote. He waited until just the right moment, when he could see the coyote tensing itself up to jump. Right as it was about to spring, Johnathan ungracefully scooted off the branch, his heavy CAT boots driving his full body weight straight down on top of the creature. It tried to move out of the way at the last minute, but Johnathan still managed to slam onto the thing’s shoulders, and there were several loud cracks as he crushed the coyote with his impact. There was a single loud cry followed by a low whining as the coyote twitched and writhed under him.

He clumsily got to his feet, and turned around and began kicking the creature savagely, his initial plan of retreat forgotten as a sudden rage overtook him. For a space of five minutes, the sound of thumping and grunts cut through the chorus of cicadas and crickets that sang in the woods. By the time he was done, Johnathan’s right boot was covered in blood and fur. Breathing raggedly and still smiling, he began to half trot, half stumble to where he thought the path was, all the while scratching his arms madly as the hundreds of mosquito bites itched simultaneously. He tried to run, but his body ached horribly, he felt like he had the flu, and his gait was shambling at best. But he went on, trying to keep a look out for the other coyotes.


By some miracle, he eventually found the path again, crying out in joy as he saw the pale dirt clearing snaking along the ground. He followed this for some time, trying to keep an eye out for the road, and his truck. Instead, he came to the creek that he had fished earlier. He yelled “Fuck!” as loud as he could, and heard rustling from behind him as the scream echoed off. During the entire time he walked, he dared not look behind him, only in front as he focused on the trail. So, he did not realize the three remaining coyotes had carefully stalked him down the path.

They were there waiting for him now, blocking the path entrance. They slowly inched closer to him, all growling in unison. He turned and looked at the creek, which was more like a small river, about forty feet across with a semi swift current, and noticed five brown canine shapes waiting on the other side of the creek. Johnathan sighed, looked around him, seeing he was surrounded, and laughed. Then, as the original group of mutts closed in, he turned and jumped into the creek, not seeing any other option.

The current was stronger than it looked, and his weakened, fatigued body locked up as the cool water hit him. He hyperventilated and tried to stay afloat, but his arms barely worked, everything cramping. He tried to make his way over to the other side of the bank, but the new group of coyotes waited for him, following his progress downstream, closer to the mighty Mississippi. Both packs followed him on either side as he tried to find purchase towards either bank, but the creek was deeper than it looked. He screamed and flailed as he tried to force his body to swim, but his muscles were slowly but surely cramping up, and his head kept going under.

The coyotes stalked and waited patiently, not daring to go in the water, which smelled wrong and foul to them, even as this unknown interloper died slowly before them. They followed him all the way to the confluence of the river, where his body was spit out into the large brown river.