Erin's debut ticks all the boxes...
COUNT THE EYES
“Something is spookin’ the horses, Glenn!” I hollered from the kitchen, wiping the juice of pickled beets from my hands.
“Well, get off yer’ ass and go see what’s wrong,” he replied with his usual dumb glare, mouth agape beneath relentless, olive eyes. He took another swig of his Pabst and kicked his feet up in the recliner.
I was off my ass and decided that investigating night shadows was better than listening to his shit. We’d only been married six years, but God damn, it felt like an eternity already. I flipped on the porch light and saw my buckskin Penny up by the barn.
“Hell, it’s probably just Bear, Ted’s husky on the loose again,” Glenn sputtered from the mouth of his beer can. “Sonna bitch better not dig up my irrigation line.”
I rolled my eyes, grabbed my jacket and a flashlight, and went out into the cold. It was crisper than a cracker outside and my breath clouded past me as I jogged across the driveway, shadowed by a large pine. I grabbed a carrot from the bucket next to the water barrel to give to Penny. She had scrunched herself into the corner where the gate connected to the side of the barn — there was no mistaking that she wanted out of there.
“Easy girl,” I said, petting the side of her head and handing her the carrot. She jerked her head away and I felt myself stiffen with nervous eyes. I scanned the grounds with the light, slowly searching the shadows. Something was in the pasture…Penny wouldn’t turn down a carrot if the sky was raining mice.
“Glenn!” I shouted.
He kicked the screen door open. “What the hell!” he stammered.
“I can’t calm Penny down; she’s upset. I think there’s a coyote in the pasture.”
“Shit, and you need me for that?” In his socks, he swaggered towards me. “I’ll tie her up in the barn. Go count the eyes,” he said, motioning to the flashlight in my hand. It was an expression we used to make sure all the horses were still fenced in, since last year we’d had a problem with the electrical wires and a loose pole allowed two of our pintos to trot down to Mike’s pasture. He didn’t appreciate their droppings and I don’t think they enjoyed his fire crackers either.
“Glenn, it’s dark out. I don’t want to go down there.” And I really didn’t, having no problem resorting to the stereotypical vulnerabilities of my female nature.
“Well, I ain’t got no boots on,” Glenn replied.
A planned arrangement, I knew. “Whatever,” I said, and then headed out to the field along the fence line. I regretted not taking the rifle with me because it was real dark and I could hear the horses’ hooves thundering, running, from something.
We had seven horses total: two pintos, one draft horse, and three stock horses. I shone the flashlight towards the commotion in the field and immediately saw three of the horses. Count the eyes. One for Penny, so two, three, four. I searched the field with the beam of light, passing over the glowing, round eyes of the three I’d just counted. In the distance, I spotted two more, our draft horse, Guinness, and Cheyenne, my Appaloosa. Five, six. There was one more set of eyes I couldn’t see — Bud, the chocolate brown Mustang. His dark coat and stealthy character provided him excellent camouflage on a night like this.
“Jodi, Bandit…” I said to the two pintos, “…where’s Bud?” Guinness came up and nuzzled my hand. I flashed the light to my right, towards the back of the property and saw eyes, galloping towards me. Bud. That made seven. I moved the flashlight to the side of Bud waiting for him to come, when another set of eyes reflected back at me.
What the hell? I thought, whipping the beam of light back to where I’d seen Bud running. He was still there, charging towards me, fast.
“Glenn, you’d better get out here quick!”
With my view obstructed by a lively mass of hooves and fur, I darted down the fence to try and get a glimpse of Bud, shinning the light behind him. I could see something following him in the distance. Its eyes weren’t much shorter than his. The animal was large. It couldn’t be a dog, I thought. My heart kicked in my chest and I felt panic stealing my breath. I turned back towards the barn. I saw Glenn running towards me with the shotgun.
“There’s something in the field chasin’ Bud!”
“Where is it?” He growled as he got closer, the heavy smell of beer stinking from his mouth. “I’m gonna shoot that sonna bitch!” He cocked the barrel of the gun and aimed into the darkness.
“I don’t think it’s dog or a coyote. It’s big.”
He gave me a double look. “Whaddaya mean big? Like a wolf?”
I shook my head. I couldn’t say what I was thinking.
“I gotta double barrel shot gun that’ll blow yer head off!” He turned to me. “Gimme that flashlight.”
The horses had quieted but I had a funny feeling in my intestines that whatever was following Bud still lurked in the field. It came to me to let Glenn discover it for himself. That son of a bitch deserved a good fright.
“Can you see anything?” I said to him, as I started backing up towards the house.
“I don’t see anythin’ but horse shit, Brenda.” He turned to me, shinning the light in my eyes. “Where are you goin’? What… you afraid of the dark?” Drunk laughter escaped his soft belly.
“Dammit, Glenn, cut it out!” I didn’t want to admit it to him because he was the sort of person who liked to know about others’ weaknesses.
“Hey, check this out.” He switched off the flashlight and howled obnoxiously. “Watch out, Brenda… the boogie man’s comin’ to get ya.”
I couldn’t contain my scream, even though I knew it would only fuel his cruelty. But something shut the both of us up real quick. A grunt sounded nearby…only it was more like a screech. A sound so dreadful, even Glenn kept silent. Then the smell of rotten flesh hit me and I felt a subtle change in air pressure like I was standing near a wall. I cried out and spun around, tripping over my own feet. Glenn’s flashlight came back on and the deafening blast of his shot gun pierced my ears. He must have shot towards the field because I felt the shell hit my leg as it popped from the side of his gun.
The beam of the flashlight crisscrossed wildly and then stopped.
“Jesus Christ!” He shrieked. The flashlight fell to the ground and then I heard his throaty scream. Stumbling to my feet, I dove for the flashlight and swiped the beam through the darkness. That’s when I saw Glenn’s feet, in mid air. I turned and ran like hell.
That’s exactly what I said to the officers too. But from their mocking glances at one another, I knew that they had been the ones who had started the rumors that Glenn skipped town with another broad, because they never did find his body — just the partial carcass of a coyote. Still, from time to time, animals and people go missing. I lock my horses up in the barn every evening now — and I never go outside at night any more.
Erin Cole resides in Portland, Oregon and writes for the love of mystery and murder. She has been published on Six Sentences, has sold work at Helium, received Honorable Mention for the Kay Snow Writing Contest, and will appear on Full of Crow in fall 2009. Currently, she is in the processing of working to publish her novel Unearthing Jev and has begun writing the sequel. She blogs regularly at: http://erincolelive.blogspot.com