Clive Matson writes from an itch in his body
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Jimmy’s telling me to stop, but no dice. It’s my best coyote yipping. I’m on a roll.

“Yip! Yip! Yip! Yapyapyapyap! Yip-yip!”

You can hear the echoes off the ridge but the rest of the calls go into the big emptiness. Wow. It’s huge out here. The moon full, maybe two fingers above the mountains. The Kingston Range, black peaks under that sky.

Jimmy tells me again and now Big Brother joins in. He’s shining his flashlight in my eyes. And wagging his finger. The shadow of the wag cuts across my nose.

He’s serious. “Hey! Cut it.”

Why should I stop? I can feel my coyote lungs whooshing with desert air. The loneliness. The call of the mountains. I’m leaning against the truck hood and it’s cold on my back.

“Awoouhoooo! Yip-yip-awoouhoooo-ou!”

Any coyote out there’s going to come down this draw. For sure. Find out who’s yipping. Who’s his cousin. And it’s cold. My breath makes a big plume of vapor. Probably turning to ice.

“Hey!” Big Brother grabs my arms. Pinches hard. “Something out there.”

Okay, okay. I stop. That big sky is really empty now. Huger. And silent, so silent.

Then I hear it. Something calling, “Ey! Ey!”

Then nothing. But that’s a ghetto call. I heard black guys calling like that, in East LA when Jimmy took us there. Calling like that across the empty lots. A gang call.

“Ey!”

That one’s louder. Jimmy and Big Brother swing their lights across the bushes and the boulders. Two beams, big ones. Zigging back and forth. Wish I had a flash myself.

“What is it?” My whisper comes out hoarse. It makes another vapor cloud. Ice crystals by now.

Jimmy’s light catches the top of a bush. It’s moving. Like something’s underneath, coming through it. Maybe my coyote. Where’s the gun, you guys? Jimmy had it cradled in his arms. Give it to me.

“Yip-yip-yip! Yap! Yap! Auoooou!”

Jimmy hits me with the flashlight. Top of my shoulder. Ouch. He did that hard, it hurts.

‘ I whisper, “Dude, it’s the coyote I’m calling! Get ready to shoot! It’s the coyote!” I’m whispering but I want to shout. I want the gun myself. Another beer and I’ll run out there after him. With no gun. Bare-handed.

They don’t say nothing. Then Jimmy pipes up.

“That’s no animal. That’s a guy.”

He moves to the side. He’s in front of the truck. It’s like he wants to duck behind the fender.

“Ey! Yo!”

What? Brooklyn and the ghetto? Too weird. I should be sighting down a barrel. But suddenly I’m scared. This was supposed to be fun. We’d have some beer and come out hunting coyotes. Shoot one, maybe. That’d be hot. And now what? Dead out here where you don’t see a car for three days? Rotting under a bush. Eaten by a pack of werewolves. Under the full moon.

“Who’s there?”

That’s Big Brother. Mostly it’s Jimmy who takes charge. Mostly. But Brother jumps in this time.

Then we see him. He’s coming through two bushes, not too tall. Hey. He’s a kid. Same age as me. Sixteen, maybe fifteen. Standing straight. Got his hand over his eyes. Well, hell. The flashlights’re in his face.

“We hear you’all out here. Thought maybe you’s in trouble?”

Huh? He’s talking black, but he’s white! Or is he? And he’s got on a t-shirt and a flannel shirt or something. Nothing else on top. And it’s freezing. And a cap, a dark one, over his head.

I see Jimmy reach behind. To the hood of the truck. He’s going for the gun? No. He’s putting it down. He must have had it out, in front of him.

The kid’s stopped walking. He’s just standing there. Arms at his sides. Hasn’t got a weapon.

“You’s no need help?”

Jimmy finds his voice. “No.” He shrugs. “We’re fine. Just out here, coyote hunting.”

The kid smirks? No, now he’s cool. His face is cool. He’s white but man he looks black. Like suddenly I think it’s dumb. Like any coyote could tell we’re not coyotes. Fuck, we drove up in a truck. Out here where you don’t see a car in three days. The Kingston Range.

“That’s cool.”

Like he’s going to tell us we’re cool? What the fuck. What’s with Jimmy, why don’t you show him the gun! Have another beer, get some courage. Give me the piece! But I don’t move. Maybe, I think, how fast can I reach it? I slide by the door. Big Brother stares at me. Okay, okay. I stop.

“Hey, you want a beer?”

It’s Jimmy. I can’t believe he said that. Show him the gun, Dude! But they’re both standing there. Just shining flashlights on him.

“I’m good.” The kid shrugs. “Thanks.” Like he is cool. Not pretending.

Jimmy and Big Brother look at each other. Jimmy tilts his head. You can see they’re thinking about this. Wonder what they’ll do? The moon cuts through the bush tops. The wash. Everything lit in a soft glow. The kid in spotlights.

“You got a car around here?” Jimmy asks. Real polite. He’s still shining the light in the kid’s face.

“Yeah.”

But the kid doesn’t say where. I’ll bet he didn’t drive it. Who the fuck is out here? Where’s the gun? The hood of the truck. I could reach it in one step. Sideways. Fast.

Kid speaks. “That’s good. You don’t need no help.”

I stop. There’s a plume of frost coming out his mouth, too. I guess he’s no werewolf, is he? Would they breathe frost? I think they’re cold-blooded. Their breath would come out as cold as the air. No frost.

“Nah. We’re fine.”

That’s Jimmy again. He set the tone. He set the whole thing. Well, not the kid. That’s something.

And the kid waves. “It’s all good. See ya.”

He turns away, starts walking, pushes between those two sage bushes. With his back to us. Jeeze, show him the gun! But he’s gone. In a second.

Jimmy keeps his light on the bushes where the kid went. Like he expects something else to come through. What, a gang of black dudes? A truck full of rednecks? He whispers. To Big Brother. What the fuck.

Big Brother comes over, reaches across the truck. “You want to shoot, don’t you?”

What the bleep! He could tell. Well, he must have thought about it, himself. He hands me the gun. Now? Why now?

“Go ahead,” he says.

And I grab the gun. I’m ready to run into the bushes. But Big Brother stops me. Steps in front with his hands out. His knee up.

“That way.” He points to the ridge behind us.

Pow! That felt good. I didn’t aim at anything. Just pulled the trigger.

Jimmy hardly notices. He’s talking, like almost to himself. To Big Brother? “Could be anybody out there. A gang. But probably ordinary campers. No place for our party. We’ll go out to the eastern end of the Kingstons.”

Big Brother looks at me. “Do it again.” He says this. Kind, this time.

Behind him, Jimmy’s getting in the truck.

This time I point the gun. Down about chest level on the kid. Shooting the other way. At a boulder. But in my mind, it’s him. Pow! The gun kicks. Over my shoulder. Kick of a nine millimeter.

Sure I’d hit him. I can shoot. But he was a ghost. In the moonlight. Eerie. His vapor hovering over the bushes. Turning to ice.