Two Legs

by Aeryn Rudel

There had been no meat for too long. Mother’s pups, now weaned off her milk, whined and yipped when she returned to the den, her jaws and belly empty. The squirrels and rabbits had gone, and nothing remained but parched desert and scorching heat. The smallest of her litter had already died, and its body had kept its brothers and sisters alive a little longer. 

Mother lay down in the shade of the den. Her pups soon realized there would be no meat and curled up around her. She would sleep and conserve energy and then hunt in the cool of the night. 

Sleep was almost upon her when a strange scent blew into her den on the acrid desert breeze. Mother breathed deep, and her keen nose built a picture in her mind. Two Legs. She raised her head, her ears swiveling, but heard nothing. 

She had learned about the danger of the Two Legs from her dam. They kept meat selfishly behind barricades of wire and wood, and they could kill from a distance when unwary coyotes wandered too close to their dens. 

Mother’s mouth watered. Two Legs were dangerous, but beneath their strange scent, they were meat like everything else. She glanced at her pups and licked the nearest in her sleep. She had seen most of her own brothers and sisters die in the lean times, and she would do anything to keep that from happening to her own get. 

She stood, the scent of the Two Legs stronger, closer. Mother was big, but Two Legs were larger than any coyote could safely kill alone. Taking prey of that size would require every ounce of strength and cunning she possessed, and success was still unlikely. 

She looked at her pups again and made her decision. 

Mother left the den and tracked the Two Legs over the hills and canyons, sticking to the shade to avoid the sun. She found her prey easily enough, walking alone along the bottom of a ravine. Mother licked her muzzle, excitement building. It was a female Two Legs, an adult, but a small one. It walked slowly, holding a small black box up to the sky that glinted in the sunlight. The two legs twisting about, as if confused, and it reeked of panic and fear. 

Her prey distracted, a plan formed in Mother’s mind. She had once come across a deer with a wounded leg. The beast had escaped a larger predator, perhaps a wolf or a mountain lion, but the wound had turned bad, and the deer had become too weak to run or even stand. It had been an easy kill, and she had gorged for weeks on the carcass. 

Mother started down the side of the ravine, slinking low, using the shadows beneath the scrub brush to hide her silhouette. Two Legs could see well, but they did not smell or hear like a coyote. She moved closer, her mouth hanging open, tongue lolling from hunger and dehydration. She would have to be quick. 

The Two Legs had not seen her. It was preoccupied with the black box. It turned its back to her, and Mother sprang out from beneath a concealing bit of scrub, jaws agape. The Two Legs turned but too late. Mother locked her jaws around one of its legs, rich coppery blood filling her mouth, and shook her head violently. 

The Two Legs howled and beat at her head, but Mother held on, shaking until she ripped a chunk of meat free, and then darted away. She ran up the side of the ravine, gobbling down the meat in one swallow. It would give her strength for what was to come. 

When she reached the top of the ravine, she looked down. The Two Legs had fallen and was dragging itself along the ravine floor, making the shrill noises of injured prey. Now she just had to wait and hope the other predators in the area would not find her prize. 

*

A few days later, Mother led her pups to where the Two Legs had holed up in a small cave. Relieved, she smelled no other predators in the area. Her prey had nearly succumbed to its wound, and the bite on its leg had blackened with a spidery corona of infection. 

The black box had fallen near the entrance of the cave, and it showed a curious image of smaller Two Legs. Mother realized they were pups, maybe her prey’s own pups. She licked the black box. It tasted like sweat and blood. An odd compulsion seized her, and she picked up the strange object in her jaws and carried it over to the Two Legs. It moaned softly as Mother approached and it tried to crawl away, but it had little strength left. Mother dropped the box next to it and backed away, shooing her pups back with nips on their flanks. 

The Two Legs quieted and picked up the box and stared at it for a time. Its breathing became labored and thick, and Mother smelled the change from life to death. The Two Legs released a long rattling breath and lay still. 

The pups yipped and howled around Mother, their desperate hunger and the scent of blood and meat driving them into a frenzy. Still, she kept them back and walked slowly up to the Two Legs and sniffed. It was dead and no danger. Mother yipped at her pups to come close, and they descended on the Two Legs. 

Mother would eat when her pups had had their fill. She lay down in the shade near the cave entrance and listened to her get feasting and took contentment in the fading, alien smell of the Two Legs and the welcome and familiar smell of meat.

Aeryn Rudel is a writer from Seattle, Washington. His second novel, Aftershock, was recently published by Privateer Press, and his short fiction has appeared in The Arcanist, The Molotov Cocktail, and Pseudopod, among others. He occasionally offers dubious advice on writing and rejection (mostly rejection) at www.rejectomancy.com or on Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel.
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