I heard the door open. My father stood holding his Russian made SKS looking out into the garden. The sun had gone down and I was already in my pajamas.
“Coyotes,” he said. “They’re gettin’ the chickens again.”
My father was a deacon and my mother a Sunday school teacher. His hobby was guns and hers collecting home and garden magazines. They both had too many. Every Saturday they would drive a half an hour to the flea market looking for ammo and a new craft project. I was twelve years old and neither interested me.
Dad aimed his rifle and shot. The coyotes barked, one yelped. He never liked killing animals, but I guess losing a chicken was worse. We had eggs for breakfast the next morning.
I grew up learning how to handle a weapon. Dad would get annoyed if I called it just a gun.
“It’s not just a gun,” he would say. “They are dangerous and require respect. It’s a weapon. Use it properly”
It wasn’t a bad hobby, I just enjoyed baseball more. But I could clean his SKS, .45, Glock, and if it was one of his new firearms, I could handle it well enough. In a southern Ohio farm town, guns were as commonplace as the bible. I learned to use both, but I didn’t have my own gun yet.
In the winter he would take me hunting and in the summer, fishing. Both needed a patience I didn’t have, but I enjoyed the food. His specialty was fried catfish and venison jerky. On Sundays we would hand out samples of the jerky after church and host fish fries in the spring. I would sit in the back of his red pickup truck with bags of dried meat and treat smiling old men to free dried deer. But I never killed any of the animals.
It was a hot August night. That summer had been especially dry. Dad thought the coyotes were hungry and desperate. He joked that they were slowly turning into people that lived in southern Ohio. I asked him what he would do with the dead coyote. “I’ll put it in the ground” he said.
I asked if he needed help. “No, stay inside and get ready for bed. I killed it.”
He went back outside into the night with his flashlight and six shot. He moved the truck in front of the chicken coup. I watched through the window as he grabbed a shovel and a grain sac from the shed and loaded them into the truck.
The moon was bright, but clouds covered most of the stars. A cool breeze blew through the window. Maybe rain was finally coming. Dad’s garden was dying and it made him irritable. I heard a loud THUD and then the grinding engine turn over. I watched as the taillights disappeared into the drive by the woods.
My mother was reading a magazine on the couch. I said goodnight and walked up the stairs into my room. I lay in my bed with the lamp on, trying to decide if I should make my mom happy by reading a chapter in the bible or read one of my magazines hidden under the bed. After a few minutes of reading, my mother said goodnight through my closed door and went to sleep.
I flipped a few more pages and heard rustling by the garden. I walked out of my room and to the window. The door to the chicken coup was wide open, the yellow porch light reflected several pairs of eyes creeping by the door.
A single chicken screamed. Then they all screamed.
I ran downstairs and to the cabinet where dad keeps his rifles. The door was still unlocked and his SKS was still on top. I grabbed it and a clip. I ran through our front door and to the side of the deck. I could still see the eyes near the hen house, chickens cawing like the devil.
The clip jammed in the dark. Underneath the porch light I unwedged the metal, slid it back in, and flipped the safety off. I stood tall, feet apart. The stock pressed firmly against my shoulder, weight on my front foot. I took aim and fired.
The eyes scattered.
My mother ran down the stairs asking what the hell I was doing. I told her about the coyotes. How dad was up in the woods burying another. I removed the cartridge from the gun and emptied the chamber. I put the rifle back into the cabinet and grabbed my father’s colt. I found my white tennis shoes and another flashlight and went back outside.
As I neared the chickens I could hear an almost silent, difficult wheeze. Lying on the ground near the door was a dead chicken and a coyote bleeding from the neck. As I neared, it tried to stand up and run, but it lost too much blood. Blood soaked its fur, the ground beside, and the chicken. The two animals’ blood mixed together and sank into the earth.
I shined the light on Coyote’s head, took aim again and fired. Not the way my father taught me. I missed his head and shot it in the shoulder. I heard another wince of pain. The coyote couldn’t even call out. The eyes now looked on me with fear. I took proper aim this time, steadied the gun on top of my left wrist with the flashlight facing the coyote. My weight on my front foot, shoulder width apart. I found his head and squeezed the trigger. This shot was clean.
I removed the magazine and the bullet from the chamber. I put them back inside the gun cabinet. I walked back outside then into the shed and grabbed another grain sac. I heard the gravel crunch underneath the tires of my dad’s truck. The door slammed. I walked back outside and saw my father looking down at the dead animal.
“Shovel’s already in the back,” he said. “Here are the keys.”
My dad went back inside.
I grabbed the coyote by the hind legs and slid the sac over its body. Blood splashed on my sneakers. I tried to throw the carcass into the bed of the truck like my father, but it bounced off the side and the body spilled onto the ground. I slid the bag back over the dead animal and managed to lift it onto the tailgate. I climbed into the driver’s seat and started the engine.
Digging the grave took the longest. Spraying the back of my dad’s truck was the easy part. My clothes were stained and my shoes were ruined. My mother asked my father why he made me bury the coyote by myself.
“Because he killed it alone.”
I was only twelve, just a boy that knew how to handle a weapon, I still didn’t get my own