It’s ten o’clock at night deep in farm country on the outskirts of Lochapoka, Alabama. It’s the middle of July, and chicken farmer Tate Hicks has just sent his ten-year-old daughter to bed and is sipping on a Bud and scrolling through a movie streaming service at the kitchen table. He’s just about hit play on I Know What You Did Last Autumn, Two when he pauses and raises his head, listening.
Was that a coyote? Between the roar of the tree frogs and cicadas and the buzz of the A/C, it’s hard to tell. He stands up, Bud in hand, and turns around to face the window unit, taking the opportunity to both look out toward the chicken houses and direct a bit of cool air up his shirt. Fuck, it’s hot.
After an uneventful moment or two, he starts to sit back down when the chicken houses erupt all at once in a flurry of squawks. Aw, shit. He had just patched a set of coyote holes last week and had been hoping the wire would hold this time.
Better try and run them off just in case, he thinks. He grabs his shotgun from the bedroom and takes a ginger step or two into the overgrown front yard. It’s already damp with heat and dew and the crabgrass itches his bare calves. He fires two shots into the night sky and pauses, hoping it might be enough.
Then he sees a flash of light in one of the houses, then another, and the chickens just keep squawking.
That ain’t a coyote, Tate thinks. He turns back into the house and double locks the door. He lays the shotgun on the table, heads to the pantry, and grabs the Folgers.
“Daddy?” His daughter, Emmakate, stands in the hallway, eyeing the shotgun. He can’t hardly believe it, but she just turned nine last month, and already she’s smarter than a whip. “What happened?’
“It’s nothing, sweetheart,” he says, not thinking for a second that she’ll believe him, but he doesn’t want to say the alternative out loud. “Coyotes in the chicken houses again. I was just trying to scare them off.”
Emmakate looks at the can of coffee in his hand but says nothing. Smart as a whip.
She turns to head back to bed, and Tate takes one more look out the window as he scoops out enough coffee for a full pot. The flashes of light have stopped, but the moon is so big and bright it almost feels like twilight. In the distance, he can just make out a large, dark shape lumbering away from the chicken houses and back toward the woods.
It’s going to be a long night.