Donna pulled the alarm clock closer to the bed so she could see the time without putting on her glasses. 2:47 a.m.
“Dale,” she said softly, wanting to wake her husband without startling him.
When there was no answer, she tried again, louder.
The third time that she called his name, Dale woke up, jerking his head and yelling, “What? What’s wrong?”
“Can’t you hear it?” Donna said. “I can’t believe you’re sleeping through this. Those coyotes have been yelping for at least an hour.”
They were both quiet for a minute, listening to the high-pitched howls.
“Yup,” Dale said. “That’s coyotes.” He rolled over and put his head back down on the pillow. The coyotes kept yipping, interspersed with barks from the dog.
“Dale!” Donna said. “Listen to them! There’s at least half a dozen. And I think they’re getting closer.”
“Buddy’s out there,” Dale grumbled.
“That’s what I’m worried about. Buddy’s not the brightest dog in the world.”
“You woke me up to insult my dog?”
“What if they lure him away from the yard? And hurt him?”
Although the rest of the Hansons had finally recovered, Dale was still laid low by the stomach flu. He could barely keep awake. “He’ll be fine. There’s been coyotes in the yard before,” Dale muttered, and went back to sleep.
Donna lay on her back, listening to the eerie noise. If she didn’t know it was coming from coyotes, what would she think was making that sound? Ghosts? Demons? She checked the clock. 2:49.
Buddy barked again. But this time his bark didn’t seem quite as loud. Was he getting farther from the house? The coyotes seemed to be laughing at him.
Donna sighed. She’d have to go herself.
She left the warmth of the duvet, stood up, and put on her glasses. She pulled on socks and some old sweatpants she kept in the drawer by the bed, just in case. Then she went to the kitchen cabinet where they hid the key, and took it down to the basement, to the pine gun cabinet Dale had made himself when he was wondering if he might enjoy woodworking as a hobby. She opened the gun cabinet and took out Dale’s old .22.
“Nobody mentioned anything like this on our wedding day,” Donna muttered to herself as she took the rifle upstairs to the porch. She put on her warmest coat, pulled on an old toque with a seed logo on it, and found a worn pair of gloves. Then she rooted in the box in the closet for a handful of shells and put all but one in her parka pocket. She slid the remaining shell into the rifle, put on the gloves, then opened the door and went out.
Dale had convinced Donna to let him teach her how to shoot the rifle years ago when she’d first moved to the farm. “Just in case,” he’d said. “What if there’s a skunk on the lawn? Or you find a deer in pain out behind the trees?” Over the years, she’d rarely shot it. A badger once, too close to the house. And she’d taken aim at a coyote, when Dale had been away for a fishing weekend and she’d worried about a dog they’d had long before Buddy. She’d missed that coyote, but her shot had come close enough to scare it away.
The cold night air hit her like a wall of glass. She could hear the crinkle of her parka and the crunch of her boots on the snow. The coyotes’ yelps echoed around the farm buildings. It was a clear night with full stars, but dark, with the moon low. Donna realized the yard light had burned out again. She’d have to ask her son Jeff to change the bulb tomorrow.
“Buddy!” she called, as she started walking north along the side of the shop, toward the noise. “Buddy! Get over here!” The coyotes kept yipping, as if they hadn’t heard a thing.
“Buddy!” she called again. But either the dog didn’t hear or he was mesmerized by the coyotes. Maybe thrilled by the idea of running off with them? Like a straight-laced teenager imagining a night out with the bad kids?
When Donna reached the north end of the shop, the whole yard was open in front of her, although it was too dark to see much. She was closer to the coyotes, but she could only see a vague shape that might be a dog. Should she fire into the air, to scare them away? Would that be enough? There were at least six of them. What if they didn’t get the message? Buddy would be in danger all night.
But she didn’t want to hit Buddy.
She lifted the .22, looked through the scope, got ready to pull the trigger, then took a sharp breath. There was another shadow moving in the yard, north of the shop. A deer? A person? Her heart sped up, and blood rushed to her head. Could it be an intruder? She kept her .22 at the ready, glad she’d brought it with her. She hated the idea of using a gun as protection from a person. A lot of things could go wrong.
Then she heard the crack of a gunshot. The howls of the yipping coyotes grew quieter as they scattered.
“Buddy. Here!” the dark shadow called. Jeff.
Donna froze, panting. She lowered the rifle and held her forehead with one hand.
She could have shot her son.
“Jeff!” She called.
Now the dog heard her, and came running, probably hoping she had dog treats in her pocket.
“Mom?” Jeff hollered back, puzzled. “What are you doing out here?” They walked toward each other in the darkness.
“Didn’t you hear me calling the dog?” she asked, frantic.
“No!” Jeff said, reaching up under the hood of his jacket to pull something out to show her as he came closer. “I’m wearing earmuffs. It’s cold.”
“What are you doing?” Donna asked.
Jeff looked down at her rifle. “Same as you, I guess. When did you take up shooting?”
“I could’ve shot you!” Donna said. “I didn’t know you were out here!”
“Elaine sent me,” Jeff said. “She was worked up about the cats. ‘What’ll you tell the kids if they go out and find half a cat in the yard in the morning?’ she kept saying.”
“It’s 35 below!” Donna laughed giddily, shaken by what could have happened. “The cats won’t leave the shop in this weather. They’re safer than you out here.”
Ten minutes later, Donna and Jeff had decided that every adult in the yard should text every other adult before leaving the house at night with a rifle. She walked back to the house, put away her parka, scarf, gloves and shells, then took the .22 downstairs to lock it back into the basement gun cabinet. She re-hid the key, and went back to the bedroom where she took off her glasses and sweatpants and crept back under the covers, trying not to wake Dale.
Donna lay on her back, thinking about what could have happened. Watching the clock. 3:17.