The snow was falling, each unique paisley crystalline pattern spiraling gently earthward. It had started just after 8:30 pm and was increasing its rate of descent, by morning Essex Vermont would be snuggled under a cold white blanket. This was not an unusual scene in Essex. Annually Essex receives almost 90 inches of snow fall, but this was only the end of October. That was a little out of character. Why, Alder Brook hadn’t even frozen over yet! Diligently, burnt umber and fiery red leaves were still clinging to the towering sugar maple and yellow birch trees that surrounded Vermont’s largest town. They stood, like silent sentinels guarding the sleepy ville from the ever encroaching outside and modern world. Yet despite the best efforts of the dominant hemlock forest, Essex had been changing. A huge Price Chopper grocery store, complete with a Little Caesars Pizzeria and a new Tattoo parlor were evidence of that. But for some, some like Jed Coleman, Essex would forever be a cozy little backwater where one could live their life as it used to be. Where a man could still be a man, where he could earn nine hours pay for an honest nine hours work and return home to rule his castle. Where a man could run his household as he saw fit, without all the bleeding heart liberal bull pucky that seemed to have ingrained itself in “modern society.” Yes, to some, Essex Vermont was a step back in time.
It was half time of the Monday Night Football game, and The Patriots were rolling over The Jets with little mercy. The analysts and color-men were doing their utmost to keep the game somewhat entertaining, droning on with an inexhaustible supply of statistics and facts about both clubs, but it was a lost cause. Jed began snoring quite happily in his lazy boy recliner that was auspiciously placed cold dead center of the massive 57” plasma TV that stood impressively in the middle of the living room. Not all modern things were a nuisance. In the cup holder on the faux leather armrest of the massive chair was a half empty St. Paulie’s Girl beer, brother to the half dozen crushed and empty cans on the floor beside him.
Jed had headed straight to Cody’s Irish Pub and Grill after work for a few with the boys, and after several hours of good ole camaraderie, had weaved his Chev pickup truck back home. Parking odd angle in the driveway, Jed had half walked half staggered his way to the side door of his house at the end of Cindy Lane and spilled his huge frame into the kitchen.
“Helen?!” he had bellowed, “get your skinny ass down here and fetch my supper.”
After kicking off his boots and still greasy from a day’s work at the garage, he staggered to his chair and flopped into it heavily. “Helen!” he screamed again.
While Jed was frantically searching under his ample posterior for the TV remote, a mousy little woman appeared in the doorway of the kitchen. Her gaunt silhouette stood motionless while her small eyes regarded the scene in front of her.
“Jed…” she whispered, “Are you drunk?”
“What? No! I stopped and had a few with the boys at Cody’s is all. Now fetch my supper, woman!” he slurred at her bitterly.
“Jed, you were supposed to take me to my cooking class tonight.” Helen persisted.
“You’re what?” he barked while locating the remote and flicking on the TV.
“My class, at the library hall, for cooking.” She persisted. “You said you wanted me to take it.”
“Oh that…ya, so I don’t have to eat dog crap five nights a week!” he chuckled at his own cruel remark. “That’s tonight, huh? Well, I’m busy, git your Ma to take you. That old cow should be good for something! And dammit wife, bring me some food or I’ll give you a beating” Jed waved a threatening fist in the air.
On the third ring Jed opened his eyes. The cackling choral of the kitchen phone had stirred him back to consciousness, and he tried earnestly to focus his eyes. His tongue was thick; his mouth felt sale and sour; like it had been stuffed with pig excrement. ‘Prolly from my supper’, he thought to himself. His head was already pounding like a bass drum, and although his immediate state could not yet be described as a full-fledged hangover, it was clear one was on the way. On the way, with a vengeance. The shrill scream of the phone split the air again.
“Alright, god dammit!!” he shouted at whoever was on the other end of the unanswered phone. Shaking the fog from his head, he rose slowly from his lazy boy throne and stood tentatively beside it, grasping the head rest for balance. The phone screamed again and prompted him to cross the living room to the kitchen door. He flipped the light switch and the painful flash of florescent light made him close his eyes. The worn linoleum floor and peeling yellow wall paint were burned onto the back of his eyelids. He stared at the image until it faded, then opened his eyes slowly. With a rolling stomach, he reached out for the lime green plastic receiver hanging beside the cupboards. Lifting it, he cut the last screeching ring in half.
“What?” He bellowed into the mouth piece. There was silence, but someone was there. He could hear their breathing, and the hollow ambient noise that surrounded them. ‘Phone booth?’ he thought absently, but lost track of the idea as a tiny voice spoke to him reluctantly.
“Who the hell else would it be? You phoned my god damned House! Helen? Who is this?” he demanded.
“It’s Kathrine Jed, I’m sorry. I thought I may have misdialed.” Kathrine was Helen’s mother, and it was obvious by the camber of her voice, she was not relishing this call.
“No, you didn’t misdial, lucky freaking me. What do you want?”
“Can you, I mean please, could you pick Helen up from her class?” Kathrine stammered.
“Why woman? Can’t a man relax and enjoy one confounded evening on his own without being harassed by the meaningless needs of women!” He spat the last word at her like venom from a cobra. “I’m watching the football game! I work damn hard to look after your daughter Kathrine, Damn Hard! And all she has to do is feed me, keep this pigsty clean and spread those skinny little legs of hers once in a while. Not a lot to ask Kathrine! Is it?”
“No, Jed, it’s not. It is my request, not hers.” Her voice dropped as if embarrassed. “There was a coywolf spotted on Center Rd, Jed. I’m scared. The library entrance is on Center Rd.”
“You are a stupid old woman, you know that!?” He shouted. “There ain’t been a coywolf in Essex since before you was born. That was ages ago”
“No no Jed, please, it was on the news. It’s true. They think he’s living in Essex Village Forest.” Jed rolled his eyes as she spoke. “Her class was done ten minutes ago Jed, please. She will be standing out in the parking lot all alone. I’m just too scared to open my door, Jed… please.” Jed cut the conversation short by slamming the receiver back into its cradle.
“Coywolf!” He roared in exasperation. “You simple bitch!”
Shaking his head, Jed bent to pick up his boots. A sudden wave of nausea washed over him and he grabbed the wooden chair by the boot mat to steady himself. He sat and swallowed hard several times forcing the rising bile to retreat down his throat.
“Easy, big fella” he whispered. After a few deep breaths, he laced up his work boots and stood. ‘Damn you Kathrine, I need this like I need another rotten tooth’ he thought. Jed grabbed his truck keys from the hook on the wall and slipped them in his pants pocket as he swung open the side door. The cold slapped him in the face like a scorned mistress; snow was still falling and had already left a good three inches on the ground.
Standing on the single concrete step, Jed looked up to the dark sky and let the flakes settle on his cheeks. A few more deep breaths of the crisp night air helped to steady him. After a moment, he reached back inside the kitchen and flipped the switch for the outside light. The uncut grass tops were illuminated; still poking through the top of the snow, they shimmered green in a sea of white. At this rate it wouldn’t be long before there was a good covering, and Jed wouldn’t need to worry about cutting the grass again until May. It was still a mystery to him why in the hell Helen couldn’t run the mower. Useless, that bloody woman was.
He pulled the door shut behind him and stepped down onto the grass. His left foot slipped just a little and Jed reached out for the door handle. Just at that moment, the bare bulb above the door hissed and popped, painting Jed and the entire backyard in blackness. Jed cursed something unintelligible as his right hand brushed against, but failed to grasp the door handle. His slight slip turned into a stumble, and he lost his balance on the glistening surface. Jed hit the semi-frozen turf hard. A sharp pain shot through his left hip and elbow as he howled in shock and agony. His cry echoed off the trees of the forest behind his house and slowly faded into the muffled and dead air of the night. He lay there wishing all manner of hateful curses on his wife and her mother. They would both pay for this, of that he had no doubt. Slowly he rolled onto his back and sat up, ignoring the pains, he tightly squeezed his eyes shut and slowed his breathing.
It was then he heard it. A low, guttural snarl, somewhere in the darkness, in front of him, just outside of the ribbon of light spilling from the window in the kitchen door. He froze, straining his eyes against the inky blackness. The stillness pounded against his ears like waves crashing against a break wall. Then it came again, closer, menacing… hungry. Could it possibly be? The coywolf? In his backyard? Impossible! More likely a dog scrounging for garbage he startled with his fall and ensuing antics. But a dog would run. His heart pounded and the taste of fear, bitter as sheered copper flooded his mouth.
“Piss off” he shouted into the darkness as he frantically scanned from side to side and tried to pin point the source, or locate a weapon. A few yards to his right, a rusty garden spade lay in the snow. He placed both his palms flat on the ground on either side of his legs and inched himself in that direction. The growl came again, immediately, and seemed to have shifted more to his right side, the spade side. “There’s a good boy”, he soothed as he inched closer to the spade again.”You don’t want an old man like me.” He glanced over his shoulder, the spade was within lunging distance now. Just as Jed decided to go for the spade, the coywolf sprang from the shadows.
It was huge, easily 100 lbs. Its gray fur flashed against the moonlight as he sprinted towards Jed. Jed rolled onto his belly and pushed off with both feet while extending his hands forward. His right hand landed on the shaft of the spade, he gripped it as tightly as he could, despite his hands numbing from the snow. Rolling onto his back, Jed swung the spade in a long overhead arch. The massive gray beast slid under the head of the spade without effort and embedded his long white teeth into Jed’s left calf. They were like porcelain needles, easily piercing his thick cotton pants and sinking deep into the tender flesh. Jed wailed out in anger as he felt the blood spurt from his leg and fill his boot. Then the burn came as if a thousand fire ants were writhing beneath the skin. His eyes blurred with tears as he screamed again and blindly swung the spade at the shaggy mass attached to his leg. The vicious snarls stopped briefly and the scorching pain in his leg tripled as the spade contacted the coywolf. Its teeth sank deeper as it clamped its jaws tighter. It didn’t want to lose its purchase due to the blow. A hollow twang rang out from the spade head, and Jed kicked wildly with his other foot. A loud crack, like the splintering of dry firewood came from the coywolf’s snout as Jed’s boot heel drove down on it. The coywolf yelped and released its grip momentarily. Jed drew both his feet up, pulling his knees to his chest as quickly as possible, narrowly avoiding the snapping jaws of the beast as it tried to regain a solid hold on his flesh. His thigh was seething with pain. The beast retreated slightly, keeping his shoulders square and his eyes locked on Jed’s. The creature coiled back on his rear haunches, but did not pounce. He simply stared. Saliva was dripping from his jowls, the threat of its hunger emanating from deep within it in a terrifying gnarl. Jed grasped the spade handle with both hands, tensing, ready for the next attack, never breaking contact with the black remorseless eyes of the coywolf. It sprang without warning and in a hare’s breath, the snapping jaws were again descending on Jed. He curved the spade in an upward motion and with all his strength, smacked the thin end of the blade against the lunging animals head. He felt the skull split and give way as an inhuman squeal filled the air. The top half of the monster’s head lopped off and flew one way into the shadows while the spade head, flashing briefly in the kitchen light, flew the other. The bulk of its carcass crashed onto Jed’s lap and stayed still.
Jed sat motionless for a minute, feeling the weight of the animal across his legs. Not trusting it was dead, he poked it savagely with the broken handle of the spade. When there was no response, he kicked the carcass off himself and stood. Jed spat on it. Then kicked it, and spat on it again.
“Screw you, you piece of shit!” he roared. “Who in the hell do you think you are!!!” He laughed almost hysterically. Refocusing, Jed realized he had to move fast. Using the broken spade shaft as a crutch, he hobbled his way to his truck. He needed to get to the university medical center as quickly as possible. He was feeling faint, and he knew speed of the blood loss was compounded by the amount of alcohol in his system. Still, he was feeling lucid and figured he could make it. Jed smirked to himself in the darkness. No bloody coywolf would better Jed Coleman. He sure as hell taught that lil doggie a lesson. He stopped beside his truck and fished for his keys in his front pocket.
“Uh huh! Been a lot of underestimating of Ole Jed around here lately!” His numb fingertips dropped the keys as he drew them from his pants and they fell to the snow. He cursed silently. “Well, that’s gonna change right quick round here. Will be a few more lessons coming up!” He muttered as he stooped to pick them up.
“Is that so?” a small voice from behind him asked quite demurely. Jed glanced up to see it was Helen standing just off in the shadows. She stepped forward quickly. What in the hell was that in her hand? A baseball bat?
“Hel…” he didn’t get a chance to complete the word as Helen swung with all her might and the sweet spot of the Louisville Slugger caught Jed right across the temple. The crack that echoed through the still air was rivaled only by The Giants pennant winning “Shot heard round the world” by Bobby Thomson in 1951. With a spray of crimson and an animalistic grunt, Jed collapsed to his knees on the driveway. Helen stepped closer and reloaded the bat up onto her shoulder.
“You ain’t never teaching me a lesson again, Jed Coleman” she hissed and brought the bat down over the back of his head with a sickening thwack. Splintering bone and spraying brain matter spewed in every direction as she brought the solid stick of ash down again and again. Finally, after expelling her years of pent up frustration and misery, she stopped. Quickly she pulled his wallet from his back pocket, took the cash and then tossed the empty purse beside her husband’s lifeless body. She dragged her feet through the snow down the driveway. She was wearing an old pair of Jed’s wellington boots. She would discard them later in the dumpster behind Franks Motorcycle Sales and Service. Right now she had to hurry up the street to Sand Hill Rd. where her mother was waiting in her Honda with a change of clothes. She would change, and mother would drop her back at the library where Helen would phone her old high school sweetheart, the Sheriff. Then, in a very concerned voice, she would tell him Jed had never showed up to fetch her from her cooking class, and could he please, please give her a lift home?