Dried Out Baby By Will Musgrove

           Baby skinned the coyote’s mate. Good riddance, he thought as he tossed the bloody gray pelt onto the dry brush. A dozen feet away, his fellow brewers—out of necessity—waited for him around a fire, where they sampled each other’s moonshine recipes and their stomachs rumbled like the missing thunder.
           Baby, who had shot at the dog-like creatures when he noticed them stalking the remnants of his herd, which had dwindled to twenty or so thirsty heads, sprinkled salt on the coyote’s cherry flesh. Then, he downed a glass of his own concoction. The throat-burning alcohol reminded him of the scorching promise in the escaped prairie wolf’s eyes before it zig-zagged across the cracked, flaking crust and disappeared into the infinite rusted horizon.
           Let it come, Baby whispered to himself as he carried slabs of seasoned coyote to his companions, who discussed elixirs like jewelers examining a diamond’s carat.
           Baby laid the meat in the skillet engulfed in the fire’s licking tendrils. The heat shrank the tissue like parched lips slinking away from his cows’ gums. Rubbing the stubble on his face, Baby watched the fire, searching for explanations.
           After a few seconds of staring and getting no answers, he wanted to step into the flames. He wanted to fade away like everything else, acquiesce in the war against Mother Nature. But he knew she’d take him last. She’d strip him of everything, leaving him to wring droplets from cactus needles as punishment.
           Baby glanced up, trying to feel moisture in his joints. White, streamer-shaped clouds streaked the otherwise blank sky. Rays constantly tapped his shoulder blades, not letting him forget. He closed his eyes and tried to remember who he used to be. He strained his mind but only saw his future.
           Soon, he was asleep.
           The coyotes and Baby swam in a seemingly endless ocean. How long had they been flailing their tired limbs? Baby wondered. His mouth dipped under, but he managed to grab handfuls of the coyotes’ fur and crawl onto their backs to save himself, drowning them in the process.
           Baby awoke. His fire had transformed into a pile of black goo. His fellow brewers were gone, but he was not alone. He heard the engine-like growling before he saw the porcelain fangs. Baby stood. Drool dripped from the coyote’s maw, and Baby wished he could lick the fluid off the dying ground.
           As the coyote circled him, Baby inched his hand into his pants pocket, wrapping his fingers around his knife. Like a popping switchblade, the coyote lunged, knocking Baby over and landing atop him. The coyote tore at Baby’s neck. Baby stabbed at the coyote’s ribs. Then, as if they both knew the damage was enough, they ended their assaults.
           Exhausted, the coyote slid off Baby. Gummy claret bubbled from the hole in his esophagus. Baby watched as the coyote stumbled away, its lungs expanding and contracting like a punctured accordion. The coyote collapsed. Baby gurgled an apology, thankful he and the coyote would perish together.

Will Musgrove is a writer and journalist from Iowa. He received an MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and his work has appeared most recently in Ghost Parachute and 5×5 Literary Magazine.


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