I saw a man shapeshift into a coyote. It happened at the part of the trail that bends closest to the river, you know, by the burned clearing with the white tree trunk and everyone’s initials in ash.
The man squatted naked in the middle of the trail. He was talking to himself. I was talking to myself, too, but I was dressed because it was cold.
Exoskeletons of cicadas stuck to the slender trunks of trees and the wind died down then rose up again from the north. The man was young with dark hair.
Excuse me, I said, as I tiptoed around him, and the second I got far enough away I clenched my pepper spray in one hand. Then he changed into the coyote, of course. He crashed through the woods and ran right past me.
A few months ago a friend changed from living to dead, just like that. He took too much fentanyl. The fentanyl had too much fentanyl in it. When he visited me in a dream a week later, he told me, It’s okay, sweetheart. But I could see he was still drunk, so I didn’t trust him.
Last summer, when things were better, a man took me on a bike ride at night through this same spot. We saw a porcupine, then two. Three, then four. They were huge and didn’t care about us at all.
I once saw a Child of the Earth along this trail, but it didn’t scream.
Now, at the second duck pond: a diving duck and a flying one and standing egrets and flying ones of those, too. I see a fish jump, and then a man jump, and every time I cross this bridge I say a little prayer even though I don’t believe in anything but time going under.
Cell phone reception at the parking lot. Rotting pumpkins and a flyer for someone’s lost turquoise bracelet; banana peels tossed at the base of the garbage can.
Life’s really long, my friend says. But he has a son and job and a wife. I have nothing. I have nothing, I tell him. Don’t say that, he says, Some people are dead.
Becca Yenser is author of Bang the Dream (Selcouth Station Press, 2021), The Grief Lottery (forthcoming, ELJ Editions, 2022) and A Constellation of Wounds (forthcoming, Bone and Ink Press, 2022). Their semi-autobiographical novella, The Ms. Pac Man Chronicles, won the Daily Drunk Mag’s 2021 novella chapbook contest. Recent fiction, poetry, and nonfiction appear in Hobart, Bending Genres, Tiny Molecules, Heavy Feather Review, Susan, Ink Node, Fanzine, Superfroot Magazine, and X-Ray Literary Journal. Yenser was born in Iowa, raised in Oregon, and currently resides in New Mexico.