He watched her legs approach in the mirror and smiled down at the butter melting on his pancakes when she sat on the stool beside him.
“You’re free to sit anywhere you like, but I can’t much promise to be good company,” he said.
“Here we go,” she said.
“My dad just won the lottery, nine thousand dollars. Probably be half that after taxes, but he wants me to come home and help him spend it. Shit. Take a lot more money than that to get me back East.”
“He send you any of that money?” she asked.
“I got money. Buy you breakfast? What do you want?”
He waved at the cook until he came over and took the lady’s order. She plucked the ice from her water glass and piled it on a napkin and licked the moisture from her fingers.
She asked him what happened to his hands and he told a story about a small bear coming after his horse while he was up greasing the gearbox on a wind pump.
“Wasn’t that big a bear, but the horse was about ready to shit sideways and die and I liked that horse, so I climbed down before I even realized I was out there without a gun—which was damn stupid I know, but I’m not too proud to admit it when last night’s Em Gee Dee makes me stupid in the morning. Grabbed the closest thing at hand and swung it pretty hard and ended up beating that bear to death with a log chain.”
“No,” she said.
“Yeah. Swear to god.”
She laughed and poked egg yolks with hard-fried bacon and dragged sulfur-yellow stripes through the red chile on her plate.
“You’re a liar,” she said. Which was a true. David hadn’t talked to his father in three years, and the man played the lottery often but never won more than ten dollars. David had never seen a bear in the wild closer than half a mile and the only animal he killed on the ranch was a scrawny dog he shot in the haunches with a rifle and claimed to have mistook for a coyote. The dog’s owner misbelieved David and wouldn’t accept a liar’s apology, so they fought until the man was unconscious and David’s knuckles were swollen beneath broken skin.
“You never did,” she said. “It’s not possible.”
“I swear. You can ask anybody.”
“You beat a bear to death.”
“She wasn’t that big a bear.”
“With a lawn chair.”
He whooped and laughed and pressed his forearm to his mouth to keep from spitting pancakes on the counter.
“Log. Chain,” he said. “I killed her with a log chain.”
“That’s a hell of an accent you’ve got,” she said.
David was born in inland Maine among flat-voiced Protestants, but soaked up accents like a mockingbird. He couldn’t talk to an Irishman for three minutes without catching a brogue, or to a black man from anywhere without embarrassing himself. Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado had all dragged his vowels in different directions, and now cowboying on a ranch in New Mexico had softened his consonants and slowed his cadence, made everything sound a little bit like a question that expected bad news in the answer.
“Are you a cowboy?” she asked.
“I was until last night. As of now, I am unemployed.”
“Got fired,” he said, and: “I’m gonna miss that horse,” his only whole truth of the entire conversation. The man who owned the dog David shot was the son of the woman who owned the ranch.
“What kind of accent is that?” he asked, “Indian?”
“We’re from Mexico.”
“They with you here?”
“Family’s always with you.”
“Shit, mine weren’t. Even when they were around. Where in Mexico? I been to Mexico.”
“All over. We’re gypsies. I’m on my own now.”
“Where are you heading?”
“The city, I guess.”
“I could go to the city,” she said.
She watched him and he couldn’t tell if she was smiling or not. “Do you want a beer?” he said. “I’m gonna get a beer.”
He called out to the cook and ordered.
“I need to piss,” she said, the final word soft and vulgar. He wanted to feel her ear between his teeth. He closed his hand into a fist so it wouldn’t reach out to touch her.
She stepped off the stool and walked across the restaurant, knowing that he was watching her go. The midday sun made a glaring white sheet of the plate glass windows and outlined her dark body against the faded cotton of the shirt. David was glad he was sitting down.
He stared carefully at the beaded condensation on the bottle of beer before him when she walked back a few minutes later.
She said her name was Maribel, and David said his name was Jason.
He told her he was allergic to latex and she said she couldn’t get pregnant anyway.
Afterward, coyotes cried out in the desert. Maribel curled on the sweat-damp sheets and covered her ears.
“Just dogs,” David said.
Maribel shook her head, eyes closed.
Bars of silver pierced the skin under her clavicles, joined by a chain that held a small amulet to the hollow of her throat, a hard-shriveled brown bead set in silver.
“What is that?” David asked. “A piece of an animal?”
“Don’t touch it.”
“Looks like a spider egg.”
She turned away from him and he lay listening to the coyotes yell at the sky.
They found cash in an unlocked motel room and bought tickets on the Greyhound north to Taos to find her brother.
“He needs to pay me back some money,” she said.
They walked from the bus depot into the desert and to a few trailers parked in the lot of an abandoned gas station. Maribel pointed out her brother’s trailer and David knocked.
A fat old woman in a slip too small for her opened the door and laughed and picked at her scalp and told Maribel that her brother was out drinking.
“You send him back to me, all right?” the old woman said, scraping a nail on her tooth.
When they found her brother, he was in a hat several sizes too small, drunk and insulting the bartender.
He said, “Maribel!” and hugged her, and, “Who the fuck is this?”
She introduced him as Jason and her brother ignored David’s offer of a handshake.
“I’m Diego,” her brother said and tried to put his hat on David’s head. David ducked out of the way.
“What are you doing, man?” David asked.
“You need a hat, bro.”
“I’m all right.”
“Diego,” Maribel said.
“He’d look good in the hat, wouldn’t he?” Diego said, balancing it atop his head as he carefully tilted more Jim Beam down his throat.
The bartender served David and Maribel and gave Diego a hard time. Diego wouldn’t let them pay for the drinks but wasn’t carrying any cash himself. He kept trying to put his tiny hat on David’s head.
All three were drunk by the time they walked back to Diego’s trailer. They ate potato chips and watched Diego and the old woman smoke meth.
David told an entirely false story from his teenage years about saving a boy’s life who’d stopped breathing after inhaling nitrous oxide.
“You going to make my sister a mother?” Diego asked without looking at him.
“Jesus Christ,” David said.
“Shut up, Diego,” Maribel said.
“Way of the world, man. You gonna do it?”
“We met two days ago.”
“But you gonna do it, right? Dear old mamma,” Diego said and smiled at his sister and poured a little beer on the floor.
“What’s that mean?” David asked.
They watched TV for a while. Maribel found an incomplete deck of cards and carefully assembled a tenuous house.
Diego put his hat on David’s head and he let it rest there.
“How I look?” David asked.
“Like a cowboy,” Maribel said.
“That’s my hat, motherfucker,” Diego said, and slapped David across the mouth. They fought inside the trailer until the fat woman pushed them out and kicked David in the throat where he landed.
David hit the fat woman in the jaw and knocked her unconscious. She smiled obscenely, asleep with her eyes open.
Diego knocked David down and stomped on his hand, breaking a finger. David kicked Diego in the knee and, when he fell, grabbed a folding lawn chair and beat him with it until he stopped struggling.
They went back inside and Maribel taped David’s fingers together while the fat woman traded some cough medicine for beers from a neighbor.
David gave Diego his hat back and they smoked meth together and Diego said, “I think he’ll do pretty good.”
David and the fat woman laughed at each other while Diego and Maribel argued in Spanish.
In the morning, her brother gave Maribel nearly three thousand dollars in dry cash.
“I got twelve more I could give you,” Diego said.
“I only want mine,” Maribel said.
“I’d give you the twelve for that pacifier.”
Diego touched the amulet at Maribel’s throat through her shirt.
“Fuck yourself, Diego,” she said, and he laughed.
“Twelve thousand?” David asked.
“No. We’re going,” Maribel said.
“Give your man a say in the matter. Good as family now,” Diego said.
“Shut up,” Maribel said.
“You send me your address when you figure a place to live,” Diego said.
“I’m not doing that,” Maribel said.
David stretched and rubbed his knuckles against the small of his back. Meth always made his kidneys hurt the next day.
They used a thousand dollars to buy a thoroughly used car and drove south toward Albuquerque.
Maribel said, “That’s the last you’re going to meet of my family.”
“He seemed all right,” David said.
“He’s got his problems.”
“You got other brothers and sisters?”
“I got two brothers, both older,” David said.
“I’m the baby of the family,” said Maribel.
“Bastards, both of them.” David broke his left thighbone at the age of fourteen when his oldest brother, Jason, pushed him off the roof of the house.
“You didn’t know your father?”
“I did, he was around. He was a bastard, too. What was that business about your mom?” David asked.
“Nothing,” Maribel said.
“Is she dead?”
“Yeah. I never knew her.”
“Never really knew my mom either,” David said. “She got an infection from a bad tooth before I even learned to walk, got down into her heart. She was around for another dozen years or so, but never really matched up with the stories I’d hear about what she had been like before. She was all right though. If you could make her laugh she’d forget about being sick for a while.”
“Coyotes killed my mother,” Maribel said.
“Okay, you win,” David said, laughing.
“Killed my mother.”
“Like. Ate her?”
“I was just a baby.”
Liars don’t trust anybody and David had his doubts.
They rented half a house in Albuquerque in David’s name alone. He got a cash-under-the-table job with a pest control company that he had to give up on account of how much the idea of steel traps upset Maribel.
They drank prodigiously and fucked more often than David ever had in his life, even as a teenager. He got used to being called Jason.
He learned to go back to sleep when Maribel woke screaming in the night. He learned to ignore the banging on the walls from the old woman who lived next door.
There was about twelve hundred dollars left in a folded piece of newspaper that Maribel didn’t seem especially concerned about.
David once left a cousin—on his mother’s side—atop a mountain forty miles from the nearest drinkable water for three hundred and eighty dollars and a roll of nickels. He assumed Gerald had lived but hadn’t talked to him since.
David sometimes thumbed through the money when Maribel was sleeping and thought about ways to leave if he had to go fast.
Naked in bed, David asked her why she couldn’t get pregnant.
“I got fixed,” she said.
“Fixed is the word they use on dogs.”
He asked why her brother had called the thing chained to her neck a “pacifier” and she told him to mind his own grits.
A dry season drove animals in from the desert and deer and coyote were spotted in the city, cannily watching shoppers from the fields of cars surrounding the big box stores. Cats went missing.
A few times they heard coyotes at night and Maribel would cry and pretend she was asleep.
David came back from the bar one afternoon and found Maribel sitting on the steps with a lit Parliament between her fingers, blowing smoke at the passing cars.
“I didn’t know you smoked,” he said.
She shook her head and tears brimmed her eyes.
“At least give me one.”
David sat beside her and took a cigarette and lit it. He grimaced and tried to lick the taste from his own mouth but kept smoking.
“I’m pregnant,” she said.
“Okay,” he said.
He thought about absolutely nothing at all and smoked the cigarette.
“It’s not possible,” she said.
“That’s what I thought,” David said. He tried to make sense of the vanity plate on a passing van that read “OU6ETHNG.”
She cried and leaned into him and asked what they were going to do. David figured she’d get an abortion if he didn’t say anything.
She smoked heavily and didn’t stop drinking. Every time he suggested they go to a doctor, she would scream at him beyond all reason. He stopped bringing it up.
After a month, he noticed more flesh in her face. She smoked less because the aftertaste of vomit took her out of flavor country.
“Are you going to do something?” he asked. “About the baby?”
She watched him carefully.
“It will be too late soon, right?”
“It’s already too late,” she said.
They still fucked constantly. She screamed at him daily over nothing at all. Her hips were wider, the skin softer and smelling faintly of loam. She held her belly while she slept and no longer woke screaming.
“I’m going for a walk,” Maribel said in a tone that didn’t invite company or further questions.
David opened a beer and sat on the stoop and watched her walk out of sight around the block, trying to remember the exact words he’d once heard an old drunk say about two animals wrestling in a bag. Cats or dogs. Midgets, maybe.
The old woman from the other half of the house came out and sat beside him uninvited. Oily currents of gin swirled in her iced tea.
She called him Jason even though they’d never been introduced. David imagined her muting the television to listen to them argue and fuck.
She said she had two children who took no interest in her, and a husband who “died just in time to avoid the hassle of a divorce.”
She winked at him and laughed, told him to enjoy the early years.
“She’s having a baby,” David said.
“Oh, well,” the old woman said.
“February. March, maybe.”
“It’s going to be girls.”
“How can you tell?”
“You’re the type,” the old woman said.
“You’re not ready.”
“What do you mean I’m not ready?” David asked.
“Men never are. It’s why women have to be moms and men get to be dads.”
“That’s kind of shitty.”
“There’s a tradition,” the old woman said.
She insulted him for a little while and David told her lies about his own childhood to contradict her. They refilled their drinks and disparaged the institution of marriage. David realized she was flirting with him and made excuses to go back inside and she told him the story of La Llorona.
“Mexican legend, followed them up North but slowly. Not many whites know about it, but for them it’s like Dracula. This woman, she’s a real innocent, young thing, falls in love with some fast-talking man about town. A Don. He talks her into bed before they’re married and she gets familyish.”
“Pregnant. She gets pregnant. You listening?”
“She gets pregnant and goes to the Don to tell him so, but when she finds him, she doesn’t just find him, but him and his whole family. Wife, kids, mistress, dog, the whole can of beans. And the Don needs another kid and another mistress like he needs another asshole, so he looks at this little pregnant girl and goes—who the hell are you?”
“Yes, it is. So she says I’m pregnant and the baby’s yours and the Don says—no lover of mine would be dumb enough to get pregnant, and he threatens to sic the dogs on her if she don’t get off the yard. So she goes back to her mom, but when her belly starts to show, her mom says—no daughter of mine would be slut enough to get pregnant if she weren’t married, and kicks her out of the house.”
“I thought Dracula was the bad guy.”
“I’m getting there. So she wanders homeless for months through the winter as her belly swells and she eats garbage and begs and gets chased around by dogs and boys with rocks. Till finally she’s big enough to burst and goes ahead and does it. Has the baby all on her own on a cold and rainy night while the Don is having a big dinner by the fire with his family.
“And this woman is so crazed with love and despair that she takes the baby down to the river before she’s named it, before she’s even cut the umbilical, she’s still connected to this child, and she puts it in the water and holds it down until her hands go numb. But when she pulls it back up, the baby’s not dead. It was still attached. You see?”
David nodded, though he didn’t understand.
“She tore the umbilical cord with her teeth, like an animal, and put the baby back into the water bleeding and held him down until he was dead.
“Then she went and found the Don. And she said—I done it. And he said—done what? And she said the baby’s dead. Like he was never born. We can be together. There’s she standing in her homeless rags, all stained with the blood of birth and filth from the river saying you can love me again. And the Don tells her to get good and fucked off and releases his dogs, who chase her down on account of the blood and they rough her up awfully before she climbs the wall and gets back out into the streets.
“And there she is with nothing left, the murderess of her own child, cast off by everyone who was supposed to love her. And she walks into the river and drowns herself.”
“And then here’s where it gets scary. Because late nights, people by the river can hear this woman screaming, but when they go to investigate there’s nothing there, just the rushing of the water. And they go home and tell their children not to be afraid, that it’s just the wind and the water. But the kids say—how can wind and water sound just like laughter? ’Cause when the kids hear it, they hear this sound like the best birthday party the nicest lady in the world was throwing you, laughing and singing. And some of those kids, the Don’s kids, are the first ones to do it, go to investigate. And when they get to the river’s edge, La Llorona, the weeping woman, rises up and pulls them in and holds them down until they drown.”
She stopped speaking and looked at David until he said, “Okay.”
“She can be anywhere there’s water and people to believe in her. Enough Mexicans up here now I expect we got her, too.”
“So you’re saying I ought to be a better dad than that rich old Mexican guy?”
“That’s part of it.”
“I’ll do the best I can.”
It was noon and he was drunk when the telephone rang.
“Hello?” he said.
He could hear fabric move against rough skin, a muted television in the background playing violent cartoons.
They called back three more times before dusk. Each time David listened to them breathe a little longer.
The fifth time they called, Maribel had returned from what she called a walk and David pretended to be asleep.
David listened with eyes closed to half of a hissed argument in Spanish.
She told whoever was on the far end that she would kill them and herself if she had to and hung up the phone.
Twenty minutes later, David pretended to wake up at the sound of Maribel packing.
“Where are you going?” he said.
“I have to go. You can come with me.”
“I don’t know. Into the mountains maybe. Someplace we can hide.”
“What’s going on? Baby . . .” he touched her arm and she snapped around at him like a trap, taking shuddering breaths.
“Baby?” he said.
“Can we just go? Can you not ask and we can just go? I need you.”
“I love you,” she said.
“Yeah, okay, let’s go then.”
They put everything in plastic Walmart bags and piled it into the trunk of the car. David drank the last of the beer so it wouldn’t go to waste and Maribel filled a box with their few kitchen utensils.
He found her staring at their bare mattress in an empty bedroom and took her hand. She kissed his lips and he kissed her neck and slid a hand beneath her shirt.
They didn’t hear the window glass break for the sound of the bedsprings.
Maribel screamed when they came in the room and David sprang out of the bed, naked, erect and ridiculous.
“The fuck?” David said.
“Hey, Sis,” said Diego. The other man looked just like him but bigger.
“Put some clothes on and let’s go,” Diego said. “Van’s waiting.”
Maribel swung out of the bed and crouched over an open box and came up all in one motion with a bread knife in her hand.
She screamed and swung the blade like she was walking through a cloud of flies. Cuts opened on Diego’s arms before the big one grabbed Maribel’s wrist and squeezed the knife from her grip.
David punched the big one in the throat and pushed a thumb in his eye. He let go of Maribel and she fell to the ground and scrambled back to the kitchen box.
Diego yelled and when David turned on him was momentarily stunned and amused by the sight of his dick. David grabbed Diego by the shirt and drove his forehead into the bridge of his nose. Blood splattered onto David’s naked chest.
The big one tried to grab David’s balls and Maribel stuck a steak knife in his calf. He howled and slapped her and ran from the house crying.
Diego punched and kicked at David from the floor, and David stomped on his head until he stopped moving.
They dragged Diego into the closet and shut the door but could still hear the wet suck of his breathing. David shoved the bed in front of the closet door and they pulled their clothes on and ran to the car.
“Alfonso will come back with others,” Maribel said.
“He’s the one with the knife in his leg.”
David started the car.
“I don’t want to meet any more of your family,” he said.
They maxed out their credit cards on cash advances and then gave them to a homeless man.
Autumn accelerated as they drove north and into the mountains. By mid-Idaho they didn’t have enough clothing and had to stop at a Salvation Army.
They followed signs to a man-made lake on the assumption it would be empty through the winter. They spent a day and a half driving on dirt roads before they found a cabin Maribel thought looked lonely enough.
David couldn’t jimmy the lock, so he kicked in the door to the mudroom. There were pictures inside of a family David guessed were too blond and too satisfied to be anything but Mormons. Inside they found a month’s worth of dried and canned food, paperback mysteries, board games, puzzles, and a hunting rifle.
David gathered wood and beat a trail to the lake. Maribel cleaned and organized the cabin, suddenly cheerful and industrious as her belly grew.
Every couple of weeks, David would broach the subject of her family again, and again be met with such energetic vitriol that he would shrink from the topic like a flame.
He killed deer and rabbits to supplement their dwindling stores. Whole weeks passed in which Maribel ate nothing but flesh. Days passed without a spoken word. David read mysteries with predictable endings.
“Jason is a good name for a baby,” Maribel said sometime after Christmas. They sat before a fire in a cabin surrounded by woods and knee-high snow.
David felt movement in her belly and tried to understand that he was going to be delivering a baby.
David broke a three-day silence with an elaborate story about his sister-in-law’s pregnancy that ran so far askew of the facts of Maribel’s basic empirical experience that she laughed until she pissed herself. David tried to talk through her laughter, but his words slowed and floundered and eventually he just watched her laugh and wished the cabin had something to drink in it.
“God damn Mormons,” he said.
He shot a doe through the haunches at dusk and then followed the trail of blood a quarter mile to where she stood wavering like a lost drunk. He shot her in the neck and she died.
He unzipped her from sternum to asshole and opened her up and spilled her guts onto the ground.
The sky was fleshy and red, smeared with ashy clouds, the snow banks a dirty pink.
Gray shapes moved in the corner of his eye, behind the steam rising from the carcass. They vanished when he looked at them directly.
He wet the blood on his hands with snow and wiped them on his pants and picked up his rifle.
Shadows moved at the edges of his vision all around, lost in the pinkish gray swells between trees.
He became still and rested the rifle on his knees. He focused his eyes on the doe’s bloody ear and counted to ninety-nine, watching the coyotes move at the edge of his vision.
He could see eleven of them. The sun kept sinking.
David raised the rifle. The coyotes waited.
He fired a shot skyward, a sharp crack in cold air.
The coyotes waited.
David stood and looked at them all. Their fur was the yellowish gray of dead men’s teeth, eyes black and bright. Thick plumes of breath fogged their muzzles.
David raised the rifle and sited the nearest of them and pulled the trigger.
Snow jumped behind the coyote and he turned and trotted back into the woods. David looked for the others and they were gone.
He dragged the deer back to the cabin and hoisted it by a post on the deck and ripped its skin off.
“I want the heart,” Maribel said. She wore panties and a thin t-shirt despite the cold, her belly huge and tight.
David cut the heart out and gave it to her.
“Come in and eat. You can butcher her in the morning.”
“It’ll be froze by morning,” David said.
She shrugged and smiled and smelled the bloody heart and walked back into the candle-lit cabin.
David built a fire to work by. He set a tin pitcher of snow by the fire to melt. He sharpened his knife on a stone and roughly sawed meat from the carcass and piled it in the snow. Runnels of blood froze.
When half of the meat was processed, he paused to carry it inside and pile it in the sink.
Maribel stood over the stove mechanically shoveling pieces of warmed heart into her mouth.
David went back into the yard and stood by the fire and drank from the pitcher of melted snow.
A dozen pairs of silver eyes watched him from the woods. He stared back at them, tightening a bloody fist around his knife.
“Go on,” he said.
A few coyotes moved closer, orange light from the fire burning around the edges of their flat eyes like the moment of an eclipse.
“Go! Go!” he shouted, and then roared at them without language.
They watched him. With the fire at his back, his vision adjusted to the darkness and he saw pieces of teeth hanging beneath their eyes.
He screamed at them in the darkness.
“They want our babies,” Maribel said from the porch.
David didn’t turn to look at her.
“It’s the blood. The deer.”
“It is blood,” she said, “You have to kill them.”
“Don’t let them take our babies.”
“Nobody’s taking our child.”
He folded the knife and put it in his pocket and backed to the porch and picked up his rifle.
He walked out past the fire and cocked the rifle and took careful aim at the nearest pair of eyes and fired.
The eyes blinked and juked sideways and then settled on him.
He aimed and fired again and again until the rifle clicked empty.
A coyote leapt from where there had been only darkness and bit his arm, hanging briefly before flesh tore free. David yelled and cursed as the coyote fell and scrambled, smiling, back into the darkness, licking blood from his chops.
“Get inside,” he told Maribel.
The coyotes swept in, moving over the ground like the shadows of birds. David ran, blood sheeting from his arm, swinging the rifle as a club.
Maribel stood huge and wavering inside with the door all but closed.
David kicked a coyote into the fire and it rolled away smiling in the snow, trailing smoke.
Jaws snapped at his legs, tearing canvas and flesh.
A coyote leapt and clawed its way up his back and bit off a piece of David’s ear.
He stumbled on the stairs of the porch and fell and three coyotes climbed his back. David looked up at Maribel inside the door and knew that she would close the door and leave him out here to be eaten before risking the life of their unborn and love filled him up.
A coyote ran past him toward Maribel and he grabbed its tail. It turned in a moment and bit through the webbing between his thumb and forefinger.
David rolled and crushed away the coyotes on his back. Another sunk its teeth into his shoulder and David bit the dog’s neck, grinding his teeth until it released him.
He flailed and swung and fell inside and kicked the door closed.
“Lock it,” he said, “and shutter the windows.”
She did, and he pushed more bullets into the rifle until it was full. He bled all over the floor and kitchen table.
Claws scraped on the porch and at the door. They heard a coyote climb the propane tank to the tool shed to the roof and pace above.
She wiped the blood away until she could see his wounds. He screamed when she poured rubbing alcohol into them, loud enough that the coyotes outside paused to listen. He gasped and wept while she taped pieces of towel over the holes ripped in his skin.
“You’re not strong enough to kill them all, are you?” Maribel asked.
“You’re a hard woman to be in love with,” David said.
“What in hell is going on?”
“I don’t know,” Maribel said.
“You knew they were coming?”
“My family is cursed,” she said.
“Okay,” David said. “So we got that going for us. Will they go away?”
She looked toward the sound of claws scraping on wood outside the door and shook her head.
They sat through the night and all the next day listening to the coyotes outside, pacing, growling, leaping to tear pieces from the half-butchered doe.
Beyond their breath and their claws, the coyotes were silent.
David passed in and out of sleep, tongue thick in his head. He woke twice to Maribel pouring melted snow down his throat, chewing deer meat and expelling it into his mouth and rubbing his throat until he swallowed. It was raw and sweet-tasting with her saliva.
Every other time he woke, she was standing by the kitchen table and eating as if filling a hole. She watched the door and listened to the coyotes pace.
He slept for fourteen hours and dreamed about a shaggy deer rubbing its head violently on the trees to wear away its scalp and expose its horns.
The howling woke him. He startled to his feet and spun drunkenly around. He thought first of a hurricane or avalanche, a sound scaled like weather. Dozens of coyotes yelled at the sky.
Maribel stood with one hand on the bloody kitchen table, the other at her belly, thick water dripping from between her legs.
“Here they come,” she said, smiling.
“What do I do?” he said.
He put his arm under hers and helped her walk to the bed.
The coyotes kept howling.
“Shut up,” David yelled.
Maribel moaned and it sounded like pleasure.
He added the last of the wood to the fire and filled a pitcher with water and washed his hands. Maribel peeled off her shirt and panties and lolled ponderously on the bed. The coyotes howled and scraped at the walls.
David washed his hands again and again, but the water kept sheeting off coppery red.
A small body slammed against the door. The pitch of scraped claws against lumber deepened, teeth gouging at wood.
“Fuck,” David said.
Maribel moaned and David went to her and squeezed her hand.
“Stay here,” she said.
David flinched each time the coyotes threw themselves at the door. The wood shook, the hinges rattling. The howling never stopped.
Maribel clawed at the amulet at her throat like it was burning her, pulling until the piercings at her clavicles broke and bled. David tried to take her hand away and she tore the skin from his ring finger with her teeth.
He yelled and pulled back and she ripped the piercings from her chest and threw the bloody chain across the room.
“Now,” she said.
David watched her heave, drawing ragged breaths through tiny, sharp teeth.
“Don’t let them have the babies,” Maribel said.
David pulled the rifle close to the bed.
Time unmoored. The smells of animal blood and birthing saturated the deep animal crevices of David’s brain and all the pretenses of humanity slept. He held Maribel down and let her tear at his skin while the pains wracked her. She cursed him and laughed and begged him to make it stop and keep the dogs away. The coyotes howled. They scraped the wood of the door thin enough that David could hear the ragged hiss of their breaths in between Maribel’s contractions.
Just before dawn, she passed a tooth, a tiny canine triangle in a slick of blood between her legs. David picked it up and held it between his thumb and forefinger.
Maribel screamed and lifted from the bed so that only her heels and the back of her head touched the blood and sweat-stained linens.
David wrapped his arms around her and tried to push her down and a dozen tiny teeth snapped into his arm. Her belly bulged in four different directions, a starburst with rounded edges. Teeth punctured the drum-tight skin from inside, bright red spots centering vascular stains of burst vessels. David held tighter, trying to push her down, and their children tore upward through the skin of her belly and snapped at his arms and face.
He fell deeper into her as she fell apart, and scrambled for purchase, trying to keep his face out of the blood and fur.
The pups squirmed in their mother’s gore, tiny and sightless, as she died.
The door cracked inward and a snout and paw wormed through the splintered wood. The coyote growled and whined and the wood broke and he ran for the bed. Coyotes poured like water through the hole and surrounded the bed, snapping at David’s heels.
He drew his legs up onto the bed, curled up as if in a kiddy pool filled with coyote pups, blood, and bones. The tiny, nearly hairless dogs nipped at him and struggled to rise from the slick.
The adults put their forepaws on the edges of the bed and gently lifted pups from the slurry by the napes of their necks.
“No,” David said.
The adult trotted with the pups back through the shattered door.
An adult bit his face and when he rolled away, lifted a pup from beneath him.
In moments all the pups were gone but one, scrawny and blood-soaked, pushing against David’s chest.
He grabbed the pup and held her close.
Three adults remained. They growled and snapped at David. The pup squirmed in his arms.
“She’s mine,” he said.
The dogs leapt onto the bed and took his flesh in their teeth and shook their heads. David curled tighter, holding on to the pup, screaming.
He let them chew on his back and arms and neck until the sun reached in through the broken door and the others began howling from deep in the woods.
The three raised their bloody snouts and looked toward the sound and then jumped off the bed and were gone.
David uncurled and looked down at his pup. Blind and gore-slicked, she huddled against her father and licked at a wound on his chest.
“Baby,” David said, and closed his eyes and slept.
He named the puppy Sheila, after his mother.
He healed and took Sheila to Mexico, where a grotesquely scarred Gringo was no stranger than a grotesquely scarred Gringo with a pet coyote.
David watched her closely, waiting for Sheila to become a human girl, and wondering how long it would take her kind to find her.
© 2012 J.T. Petty.