I didn't see it at first, but the loud cracking of dry bush couldn't have been a bird or a rabbit.
An hour and a half before, I had headed out for the hills, not realizing how soon the sun would set. Halfway through, near the peak, an purplish orange sky tinted by the smoke off the Malibu Hills signaled I now had to pick between the shortest or the longest way home. The short way followed a narrow path I hadn't hiked on in more than a year. Lots of it could have changed in that time. Would I see the path when it got dark? The longest way guaranteed it'd be dark by the time I stepped back on a paved road, however the path was large and I knew it well. I chose the long way.
Once night set in, I picked up a stick and a heavy fist-size rock.
Coyotes live in those hills as well as mountain lions. A coyote won't generally attack a creature larger than itself, but in a small pack, and at night, when they start hunting, how certain would you feel?
Only about 100 yards to go. It's dark. Still no sign of the moon. The eyes can't see far. Smudges of dark and darker black surround me. I hear dry brushes crackle on both side of the path. I grip my rock, stand tall, keep on pacing. When I look to the side, something moved. I keep walking. Then the silhouette of a coyote, not 30 feet from me, overlooking the trail cuts against the charcoal gray of the hills. The predator looks about with a jitter, as coyotes often do. I reach the road. A sigh of relief and excitement. What was on the other side of the trail?