I hear them now, even at this hour. I stand on the patio and listen to the mournful cries of a pup.
Pain? Sorrow? Isolation?
The language might change, but the sentiment remains clear.
I let the sidewalk carry me toward the lake. The sound of my shoes scuffing along the pavement walkway echoes even on a night filled with wind and blowing leaves.
The storms will come, the rain, the feeble attempt to stop drought, but they will not satiate the night’s desire to amplify this creature’s distress.
I set those thoughts aside, push them under a rug of detritus made from despair and disinterest.
I am not that man.
That’s not enough.
Plaintive. Can one describe them any other way?
What terror besets this animal? What anguish does it sing upon the wind?
My steps cross from concrete to grass. The cold of human approach turns to something different, something alien yet welcome, something threatening and promising all at once.
I no longer recognize my path.
My shadow elongates and tracks across the ground as I pass a light in the distance. I no longer recognize my shadow either.
But I walk on.
Stabbing me with each call is apparent distress.
Why does no one answer?
Because no one cares.
The voices in my head become a vile thing, a ghoulish thing, a revolting thing of cold and relentless debate.
Yet I still hear it.
A branch scrapes against my bare arm leaving a badge of exposure. I scarcely notice such things anymore. No one else notices.
Somewhere in the night a car door slams and feet shuffle momentarily before briskly moving further into the darkness. Eventually they disappear behind the cloak of sound that defines this moment: the rustling of leaves, the wind stirring against my face, the wandering voices of tree frogs and what few insects remain, the occasional hoot of an owl.
And, of course, the poor lamentation coming from a small animal I have yet to find.
You won’t be able to help.
Should that stop me from trying?
But I’m not that man.
Maybe you should be.
Leave me alone.
To my left I hear the trickling of water. The creek remains bathed in shadow and only a few reflections of light dance on its surface; just enough to guide me along its banks.
Crumbling earth. Rocks splashing. Not me, though. Ahead, somewhere ahead where I cannot see, someone or something moves along the same bank and stirs the soil from its rest by being too near the edge.
Stopped dead in my tracks, I whisper, “Hello?”
You’ll die out here tonight. Turn back now.
“Is someone there?” The words tremble a bit, something I fear is too obvious. Then in a deeper, more confident voice: “I asked if someone is there?”
Now is a good time to consider running, yes?
I’ve had enough of you.
Obviously not as you’re still out here.
For the last time, be quiet.
Is it worth your life to pursue this? You haven’t a clue what you’re looking for, what might be happening. Is that enough?
A stirring of leaves upon the ground, this time not by the wind but instead by something still hidden that has moved closer to me without being seen or heard.
I stare into the darkness.
Something is out there, something dangerous, something evil. Run!
I will not.
Then I’ll play no part in this game. You carry us to toward our death.
Two eyes. Two eyes that reflect back to me the pittance of light that exists in the deep of night. Two eyes in the darkness.
And again the small lamentations of a beast in despair.
Then the shadow peals back enough for me to see a female coyote no more than ten feet/two meters away.
She protects something.
Yes, she protects her domain, her health. Tell me why we’re still here!
Because we care.
Care enough to face death?
Then so be it. Behold…
The cloak of blindness falls away rapidly such that I stumble back a step or two, my feet looking for steady ground in the face of that which brought me here: a coyote mother protecting her offspring who finds itself stranded on a small bit of rock in the middle of a creek.
The leap to shore seems minuscule, a minute jump even for a child.
Yet the pup cries out again, unleashes its fear upon the wind and night.
And the mother takes one more step toward me, one more deliberate movement telling me I am not welcome.