November 10, 2012 at 4:07pm
It's been 10 days since NaNo started, and things are insane (and very dusty) at my house. As many of you know, Avon Books will accept romance submissions from all Nanoers who hit the 50K word limit. I just read on their site that they do not want any animals killed in the stories submitted. My book has a family of coyotes as minor characters. I'm hoping Avon's comment doesn't include animals hunting other animals, but was meant to exclude twisted people torturing pets. Let me know what you think of this section. Should I keep it, trash it or let the groundhog escape? BTW: Forgive the errors, I'm typing like a maniac and haven't had time to edit yet.
The clearing was brightly lit and seemed to be in constant motion, as the breeze gently raked the top of grasses that had finally reached their full height. Wildflowers bloomed in a vivid array of colors. Brilliant yellows, soft pinks, and deep purples were but a few of the shades that beckoned the bees and butterflies to caress their silken petals. Hummingbirds hovered over the blossoms of thick vines that were woven around each other in a silent race to reach for the rays of the sun.
New life filled the clearing, as rabbits, groundhogs, mice, and other woodland creatures ate their fill of tender new leaves. Wild fowl fluttered and squawked as they pecked and scratched around rocks and roots, uncovering tasty grubs and other insect morsels. Ground squirrels popped from their burrows, chattering and scampering this way and that. It was a normal day for the inhabitants of the land.
The two coyotes watched the interplay of action on the clearing from the darker confines of the forest's edge. The nighttime hunting ritual that was normal for them was slightly out of kilter. With five new pups to feed, they had increased their hunting hours to include the early part of the morning. The female, having spent a good deal of her time in the dark den nursing her pups, blinked to adjust her vision to the brightness of the day. It had been a while since she joined her mate in securing the necessary meat to nourish herself and the pups, who would soon be weaned. It was better to hunt as a team.
A slight waver in a bush at the edge of the clearing caught the attention of both coyotes. A large, fat groundhog sat on his haunches, bending a branch lower with his paws to nibble its succulent berries, unaware of the predators just a short distance away. Instinctively, each coyote knew its role in the ensuing attack as they separated to flank their prey.
The wind suddenly changed direction, bringing the scent of its peril to the nose of the groundhog. It released the branch and for a moment tensed--then twisted around and ran for its life. The short legs of the groundhog proved no challenge for coyotes capable of bursts of speed up to forty miles an hour. The hunt was over in seconds, but the coyotes didn't linger over their meal. The pups now required meat of their own and until they could join the hunt, their parents would have to provide it.
Morning stretched into noon before the coyotes returned to the cool, shaded area where they made their home. Yelps and whines emerged from the mouth of the den, alerting the parents to the objections of their offspring for having been left alone so long. Carrying a plump rabbit, the last prey taken on the morning hunt, the female entered the den and tended to her young. Tired from the hunt, the male settled down at the entrance of the hole that he had dug for his family and drifted off to sleep.
The day was not yet over when tiny teeth gnawing at an ear awakened the male coyote. He shook his head and knocked the attacker away, and then with his long, pointed snout, he nuzzled the offending ball of fur. His family encircled him, the young pouncing on each other and growling in puppy fashion. He moved deeper into the forest but returned in moments, a live mouse held gingerly between his teeth. Releasing the mouse in the midst of his barking young, the father sat quietly and watched as the pups stalked and played with the trembling rodent and began to learn the skills of the hunt. When the mouse was dead and partially eaten, training time was over. One by one the pups found their mother and began to nurse. When their bellies were full, the mother cleaned each sleepy, miniature hunter, and then carried them back into the den.
Twilight fell again and with it came the instinctual urge to hunt. But night was not the time to leave the young alone and unprotected in the woods. Even coyote pups could fall prey to an unseen predator.
The male coyote entered the den as if to check his family before he left to hunt alone. His mate's head was raised, though she lay curled around the pups, providing comfort with the warmth of her body. She wagged her tail as he approached and licked his face as he, in turn, licked hers. The show of affection over, her turned and went in search of food.
Coyotes prefer hunting in pairs or packs. They pursue their prey in relays, running it to ground. Hunting alone takes different skills. The lone male felt rather than knew this, as he turned away from the clearing. He padded through the brush and thick cover of the forest floor until he came to the edge, marked by a long wooden fence. Beyond the fence was pasture, pasture that he had hunted on before. It always provided a source of food that was trapped within the boundaries of the fence, making hunting easier when alone. Not bothering to look for a gap in the fence, he bent to the business of tunneling under the barrier blocking his passage.
There was a strong smell of sheep as the solitary coyote loped along at a quickening pace. They dotted the field in groups of threes and fours, the white wool coats easy to detect in the fading light. He increased his gait to a run, scattering the nearest group in order to detect which animal was the most vulnerable. A young lamb soon fell behind the others, as they ran bleating and thundering across the flat pasture. The coyote cut it off from its intended route, and then moved in for the kill. He leaped to execute the final assault when a thunderous noise reverberated through the evening air, knocking him off balance.