The Hunted

Who is the hunter, and who is the prey?

Jerome sat in the dark. His trusty shotgun rested on his lap. The cold, damp air settled into his old army jacket, seeped past his clothes, and against his skin. The blackness settled into his heart, and he shivered for a moment.

The crisp night felt colder than usual. Perhaps it was because Jerome knew the odds. His trusty semi-automatic shotgun held eight shells, but he was unsure that would be enough. Whatever the number, he knew he better hit his target. After all, his livelihood was now under attack.

The coyote pack began to raid his farm almost nightly. The hardened fences and locked chicken coops had kept the predators at bay, but the hens did not care. They had not laid a single egg in the last week. It was not just impacting his breakfast; it was affecting his spending money. His egg sales supplemented his retirement income. Without that money, life was little more than television and dinner.

A howl interrupted Jerome’s thoughts. Several others followed suit. He shivered again, but it was not from the weather. At least five had answered the leader, and they were close. Jerome shined his flashlight over to his right and saw seven pairs of yellow eyes gleaming back at him. The pack spread apart, and Jerome stood and lifted his shotgun with his flashlight shining down its barrel. Two coyotes had disappeared in a blink of an eye.

The five spread out and drew close enough that he could see their gray fur and snarls. The explosion from the shotgun was followed by a coyote dropping to the ground with barely a yelp. Jerome already had his barrel on the next predator. He picked off another wild canine and then swept back left and shot a third. The remaining coyotes in view yelped and ran off. Jerome held his breath and listened. The only sound was his own breathing. He stood still as a stone until his legs began to ache.

Jerome spoke towards the dirt, “I guess they all ran off. No eggs tonight, but things should improve.”
He turned and started his short journey back to his home. The shotgun rested on his left arm at the ready. Jerome’s body began to relax as the view of home drew closer. What remained of the pack would not be back anytime soon. Jerome heard the snap of a twig and spun around, shotgun butt in his shoulder.

The alpha was sneaking forward, a female behind him. The male stood staring into the flashlight, snarling. The animal defied the death that would soon come to take him. Jerome stood silently. He almost hated to end the life of such a brave animal.
Drool and foam glistened off the light beam. The animal’s jaw did not just snarl; it hung open. Jerome realized this was not only an alpha, but it was also rabid. He had to take out the female behind the male as well, just in case she was rabid too.

Jerome swallowed hard and blinked sweat away from his eyes. He took careful aim and fired. The female behind the rabid coyote flipped backward and was dead before she hit the ground. The male charged. Jerome fired. The alpha’s head jerked back; rabid saliva flung backward as his legs came off the ground. Chunks of diseased flesh scattered behind, and the male fell with part of its head missing.

Jerome had a long night of clean up and hunting ahead. He walked inside his house and picked up the phone to call the Sheriff. They would have to put down the remnants of the pack. He knew the last of the coyotes would be nearby without their leader. The work was nasty, but at least he could count on enjoying an egg for breakfast soon.