The howl spilled into the library. Through the window, it swept the stacks like fog, spreading along the floor before lifting to the ceiling. Two younger men looked at each other. They laughed nervously. An older woman with no chin sat at one of the computers and slowly typed how to tell if howl wolf or coyote before aggressively hitting enter. A little boy who had pulled every picture book off the lowest shelf was now staring up at his father, wide-eyed, mouth hanging open. He shuffled over, raised his hands.
Carol was in her office when the howl reached her. She stood up. She closed her eyes.
When Carol was 22, a momentary ache lived in her. It was there and gone, but it sat in the cup of her stomach even after it had lost its pulse. Carol only knew the ache as an illness, but after it left her, a different ache took its place. Her doctor informed her that she had been pregnant. A miscarriage. Now the old ache had a shape, Carol imagined, a bundle of named blood.
After she left the doctor, she sat down on the vinyl cushions of the waiting room, cried into her scarf, and knew she would not tell Max. Yes. That would be for the best. She went home. She sat on the couch. She swallowed her spit in great gulps. She went through the conversations she would have with Max when he got home.
Hi, how are you? he would say.
I’m okay. A bit sick.
Did you tell the library?
Yes, they know. How was work?
It was alright. That dump of snow has made the yard impossible, so we spent most of the day creating pathways, and—
Max would tell her about the snow, how they needed to move it in order to get the plows and motor graders out of the warehouses and into the streets. He would tell her about complaints the city had received, about how, with this new deluge of snow, he would have to work fourteen-hour days for the next while. He would ask her how she was feeling, was she sick, she looked sick, was there anything he could do, maybe make some soup, he thought they had some cans, he could go to Save-On maybe.
But when Max got home, and the conversation started, Carol quickly put her hand over his mouth, guided him to the couch, his wet boots fingerprinting the carpet, and she lay on top of him, gently resting her head beneath his chin. She felt Max’s mouth move beneath her hand, open, close, open, before sealing itself. He held her, and Carol thought of their blood clot, their ache. All was tangled. So she breathed into Max’s clavicle and held him tighter. Let the pressure break it all down.
There was a coyote at the door, sleeping. That morning, Carol was the first to arrive at work. It was her second time opening the library. Years later, Carol looked back and thought how silly it was that they let her do that. She was a new employee. A young employee. An employee who did not know what to do if a small coyote appeared at the door at eight in the morning.
She looked around to see if there was another one. Carol knew that if a baby was visible—and this was a baby—then the mother would not be far off. Once, Max stumbled upon a young moose calf, just north of the Yellowhead. Curiosity compelled him. He smiled at its gawkiness, imagined it as a pimple-faced teenager, long limbs it didn’t know what to do with.
But then the mother emerged from the woods, stood tall, broad, and looked at Max with caution.
Like she was warning me off, Max said later that night.
But Carol couldn’t see any other coyotes. Carol couldn’t see anyone. The sun was still rising, its morning light recasting the trees as falling shadows, black floorboards lining night-blue snow. The coyote’s breaths still rattled. Carol pulled out her phone. She paused. She looked at the coyote. Small roll of fluff. Stuttered coughs.
His mouth opened and closed. No fangs yet. All gums. Maybe a faint glimmer of small white teeth. She put her phone away. She bent down. She reached out. Her hand shook in the cold. It cupped the baby coyote’s little body, felt the uncertain warmth of his blood. She picked him up. Held him like a human child. His short legs pointed skyward. The body shuddered, then curled up and sank into Carol’s down jacket. Carol looked around again. Still no one, human or coyote. The sun crested the tree line.
In the library, she took some sweaters and socks from the Lost and Found and made a small bed for the coyote under her desk. She would go out later and buy some milk. She would Google tips for caring for a coyote. She planned to release him back into the woods. But when she watched him sleep, awash in the warm hum of her computer, his legs kicking into dreamspace, she knew that it would be difficult.
In her backyard, she played tug-of-war with the coyote. She had bought him dog toys from the pet store in Spruce Grove, and the second his teeth came in, a game was born. He was still small. Carol was stronger and could take the toy, a stuffed squirrel, from him easily. She threw it, and he ran to find it, his legs popping into the air, excited. Before reaching the squirrel stuffy, he often crouched down, inched forward, pounced, hundreds of thousands of years of hunting technique molding his movements, his muscles.
She called him Caillou.
Carol set up a home for the small coyote in the basement laundry room, a place she knew Max rarely visited. Because of this and Max’s long days of work, he didn’t learn about Caillou for months. After Carol got home from work, she went down to Caillou immediately, letting him out into the house.
Once, when Caillou had already been living in the basement for a couple of weeks, his body building up faster than Carol would have expected, her sister Catherine stopped by with her three-year-old daughter Annie. They drank tea. Her sister told her about their aunt’s mastectomy. They talked about how motherhood was for Catherine. Carol’s stomach shivered. At some point, Carol’s niece left the room. The sisters kept chatting. Anyways, Aunt Mary is so tired, Catherine said, eyes wet, blinking. She did not notice her daughter was not in the room until she had to leave. They looked all over the main floor. They called her name. Carol searched her own bedroom, acted like their niece was playing a game of hide-and-go-seek. Where’s Annie? she said. Is she behind the curtain?
She wasn’t. Carol? her sister said. There was an apprehensive pinch in her voice. Carol’s eyes widened. She tore down the stairs, sprinted down the hall and found Catherine standing at the laundry room doorway, her own eyes wide now, mouth slightly agape. Annie, Catherine finally said, come here honey. She reached for her daughter. But Annie stayed put. She was playing tug-of-war with Caillou. She was smiling. She was excited. She held the squirrel’s tail tightly.
I’m — Carol began, but Catherine interrupted.
What is that?
You got a dog?
Not quite, I —
Carol, that’s not a —
She nodded. But he’s —
Catherine lunged forward, grabbed Annie. Annie’s smile disappeared. Caillou hopped up on his hind legs, still playing a game.
He’s a wild animal, Carol!
Catherine took her daughter in her arms. She stomped off.
Carol turned to Caillou. Caillou’s tail was shaking, his pointed eyes focused. She crouched on her knees and gently placed her hand on his ear. She massaged it, and Caillou leaned into her palm’s warmth. You’re okay, she said.
It’s got to go, Carol.
She shook her head. Carol had come home to find Max sitting at the dinner table, nursing a mug of tea.
It’s dangerous, he told her. It’s small now, but sooner or later, that coyote is going to get bigger. Its teeth’ll get sharper.
He’s not going anywhere, Carol said. She was looking at the grain of the table. Walnut.
I get that you want to save the puppies, Max said, waving his hands in the air, rolling his eyes. I’ve had my moments when I’ve found a baby boar out in the fields and really thought about taking it home. But I didn’t, because it’s not a pet. It’s a wild animal.
He needs me, Carol said.
It doesn’t, though, Carol. It needs to be outside. Anywhere but in a basement laundry room. Sooner or later, it’s gonna realize that, and I don’t want to come home and find you bleeding out on the floor.
He’s a coyote, Max, not a wolf. Carol rolled her wet eyes.
Max slammed his hands on the table. His eyes were closed. Get rid of it, he said.
Otherwise, I’ll get Ben to call the animal control guys in.
Max stood up. Conversation ended.
He needs me, Carol said. She massaged the walnut table, pushed the grain, tried to change the pattern. But it held anyways.
They ran in the snow-white fields. Caillou’s legs were longer now. His fur was coarser. To avoid Max calling in Ben, Carol had put together a small enclosure—crude chicken wire and dead wood—on Alan deBoer’s property. She knew Alan rarely got out anymore, old as he was. No children to check on his land to see if a coyote had taken up residence.
She visited Caillou every day. On lunch breaks, they ran in Mr. deBoer’s fields. Caillou would leap into the air and dive nose-first into the snow. Carol marveled at his perfect arc, then laughed at the plunk of his body in the snow.
Sometimes, they raced each other. Carol lunged through the thigh-deep snow as best she could. Once, during a blip of warmth in the cold winter, the snow melted a bit, and Carol was able to properly run. She sprinted as fast as she could, the crunch of crystalized snow under her feet. Beside her, Caillou darted. He looked up at her. She glanced back at him. And as they ran next to each other, Carol almost doubled over, hands on the ground, all four limbs moving in sync like a locomotive, her shoulders rolling. She felt her face get hot, her skin felt longer like fur, her eyes sharpening, her tongue lolling, licking at the flavors of sky, the wild yeasts frozen in mid-air, her young beside her.
Caillou, she said later, closing up the enclosure. Don’t run off, Caillou. But Caillou was not listening. He was pawing at something in the snow. His nose shot down. A squeal, small and creaky. He turned around, and Carol saw what had caught his eye.
A mouse twitched in his mouth.
Days later, the neighbor’s rabbits went missing. Carol came home to find Ellie and Sam calling out their names. Tipsy! they cried. Harry! they cried. Carol did not know where they were. It could not have been Caillou, she thought. He was far away. Safe. But the duvet of snow that stretched out behind their backyards looked inviting. If she were a rabbit, Carol could see wanting to stretch her legs out there. Regain some of the wildness that surely still stuck to their tendons.
She went inside. Max was sitting at the kitchen table. Where’s the coyote? he said.
What? Carol said.
There’s fur all over your clothes, Carol. Max held up a white sweater. Sketches of grey crosshatched the arms, the chest.
I haven’t washed that in a while, she said.
Carol, you can’t hang around this thing, he said. It’s dangerous.
You’ve said that, she said.
Why haven’t you heard me then?
She shook her head. She was tired of this. She went to bed.
Hours later, she woke up cold. No one was beside her. She stood up, opened the door. No lights on. Max, she called out. She was met with silence. She went to the kitchen. Blue light hung over the room. On the table, the white sweater, now painted twilight. The hairs looked like scratches now. She picked up the sweater. Held it to herself.
Caillou does not see the woman for a while. Moon comes up, then sun, then moon, then sun. Then it is cloudy for a while. He aches for her, but distracts himself with mice, chasing squirrels up trees, leaping after magpies. The snow piles up and Caillou thinks himself the king of his fenced-off area. Sometimes, he leaps over the fence, but always he comes back, hoping to see the woman.
She comes one day when the sun is hot. It melts the snow. Caillou paws at the small rivulets forming, tributaries leading to lakes of runoff. The woman’s body is sunk. Haunches slung low, eyes puffed and dark like a skunk. She smells too, not like a skunk, but more like how she smelled when Caillou first woke up in her world. Like she was wet and salty, exhausted, pained. A smell like snow mold. Thinking she is perhaps hungry, Caillou brings the woman a crushed magpie. She grimaces, shakes her head, which falls into her hands. He loves her hands. They seem so graceful, spindly like the narrowest branches, yet sometimes they move so lightly, like a feather.
The woman shakes a bit, then makes a groaning sound, a heaving sound, then nothing.
He watches for a moment. Smells what she is containing. Sees the heat spilling from her eyes. He goes to her. He nudges her hands, her chin. He presses his wet snout to her cheek. He lets a quiet hum out, a whisper. She raises her head. Her face is mottled and pink. The ache. He saw it before. He yelps a bit, nudges her again. Like this, he says. He howls. He cries out. In the distance, he can hear others like him, singing the song. He remembers the first time he heard another coyote howl. He first heard it when he lived in the woman’s home. It was as if the howl was calling him, and in the song, he understood the ache he had seen in her. So now he howls, nudging her to join in. She doesn’t. She just watches, listens, closes her eyes. The red is leaving her face. He sings some more.
That night, she does not close the fence. Caillou tries to play with the woman, but she just looks at him sweetly. She says something to him, and the tone of her voice tells him it is something good. As she speaks, it is like she is scratching behind his ears, rubbing his belly.
Then she turns, goes, leaves the gate open.
Suns, moons, clouds, glacier blue skies pass. He does not leave the fence until he is certain she is not returning. He runs in the fields, imagines she is with him, leaps to entertain her, to love her, to greedily accept her attention. But she is not with him, and after a while, Caillou’s imagination gets tired and he sees the shadows for the trees that they are and not the woman standing over him. He meets other coyotes. He finds a mate, has children. He lives with this family for a while.
But no one calls him by his name. They do not call out Caillou. They sing to each other, familiar songs, but he misses his name.
He goes on moonlit walks. Catches creatures in the night. He goes into the peopled area sometimes. Sometimes, he sees her. She looks different. Haunches less heavy. Sometimes, she is with a man, though not the same one as before. Sometimes, she is with a woman, the loud one he saw as a pup. They hold mugs of steam and laugh and touch each other’s arms like they’re playing. The other woman looks like her.
Only once has he smelled on her the same sadness she held the night she left the fence open. When he notices it, he looks at her, eyes wide, trying to shout her name with his gaze. He sits low, ready to leap if she looks his way. But she doesn’t. She wipes at her face and walks down the road.
After this, Caillou—though he tries to forget that name—does not return to the people area. He still walks at night, but it is strictly for hunting purposes. He catches mice, magpies, sparrows, swallows, gophers, squirrels. He sees his pack often, makes more pups, then some more. He is content in the snow, grass, woods. He enjoys the warmth of the other coyotes, the feeling of another’s fangs gently biting his neck. He thrills at the wrestling and sometimes outright fighting he does with the others, and the hunts too.
One night, he walks across a snow-spilled field. He finds two sleeping gophers. The moon casts its light onto a distant patch of woods. A good place for mice. He quickly sprints forward, stopping at the edge of the woods. He notices a circle of trampled-upon wire, brokedown trees. He sniffs at it. A fence. He tries calling it home and it fits. He hums and his memory flickers just long enough to call up the woman. He has not given her any thought for several seasons. He recalls her face. The hunger of it. That ache. What was that ache? He wants to run but does not want the loneliness of it. So he walks aimlessly around, finds his way to the center of the circle. He howls, he howls, he howls, and he hopes that he is heard.
Matt Kingcroft is a writer based in Vancouver, Canada. He has his MA in Film Studies from Concordia University and is now working on his Master of Library and Information Studies degree at the University of British Columbia. His short fiction has been published in Shotgun Honey and Haunted Waters Press.