He’d had nightmares about that coyote for years. Until he’d reached his teens, he would often wake in the middle of the night, soaked in sweat with a scream lodged in his throat.

The nightmare was often the same. His father would pull on a pair of thick, well-worn gloves, he would grab up the coyote by the back legs, and would drag the thing along the gravel of the highway’s shoulder toward the back of the truck.

“Be a man!” His father would shout. “Stop crying and help me with this thing.”

Eric would then leap to do exactly that. He’d learned even at the tender age of seven not to dally when his father barked orders at him.

But then something would happen in the dream, as it had that night, that would freeze him in his tracks. As he would take his first step toward the truck, the coyote would turn its head and look him directly in the eye.

He couldn’t recall how long he had stood there in the gravel of the shoulder, the cars speeding past as he stared into the eyes of the dead animal. In the nightmare, it was always forever. In the nightmare he’d be pulled into the gaze, the glistening blackness calling to him, yearning for him, needing nothing but Eric.

The eyes would grow until they became one, stretching off into eternity like a vast, dark emptiness.

JOIN, a voice would say, coming from within that inky void.

The voice was everything. It surrounded him. Encompassed him. It crawled across him like the maggots that writhed and swarmed over the coyote’s flesh.


The great black void would undulate with the word, rippling like a thin, oily membrane stretched taut across an immense toothy maw.




The words would spread over him, covering him in a greasy film that ran thickly into his mouth, down his throat.




The words sounded with each beat of his heart.




He would suffocate on the words, choke on the thickness of them.


Eventually he would wake. The ghost of the words still thick in his throat.

He’d known for years that the coyote hadn’t actually turned its head to look at him that night. It had been nothing more than cause and effect. As his father had pulled the thing along the gravel of the shoulder, the head had caught on a rock, or a stick, and had turned. Nothing more.

He knew that now.

But as a child . . .

He hadn’t had the nightmare for years. He’d eventually let the memory slide off into one of those dark rooms in his brain where memories often go to hibernate as new ones take root. Yet, the moment the stench that rolled off of his last passenger slammed into him, the memory came flooding back. The smell had invaded that dark room, took hold of the memory of that night, and brought it screaming out into the light.

And that’s when he realized, even standing four rows away, that the man slumped there along the back row of seats wasn’t sleeping off a night of drinking and debauchery.

The man was dead.

To be continued . . .

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