During the 1920s, a rabies epidemic swept across northern Nevada, decimating wildlife and livestock herds. This historic event is the background for acclaimed writer Robert Laxalt’s brilliant new novella. Set on a sheep ranch in the desert foothills near Carson City, Time of the Rabies follows owner Pete Lorda and his family and ranch hands as the epidemic swirls around them, pulling humans and animals into a battle against an invisible but deadly foe. Beginning when a roving coyote is bitten by a rabid bat, the epidemic spreads like wildfire through the local coyote population, and soon whole bands of rabid coyotes are attacking Lorda’s sheep flocks. As he and his hands struggle to protect the sheep, the disease appears on the home ranch itself, infecting first valued animals and then some of the hands. Once again, Robert Laxalt has produced a lively, unforgettable story of the West and its hardy people. No other writer has captured so vividly the character of the Basque sheepmen and their harsh, solitary lives, or the precarious community of a ranch besieged by an insidious, lethal enemy. Laxalt’s genius seems to grow with each new work, and Time of the Rabies is the creation of a major writer at the peak of his powers. This is a tale of the true West, full of authentic heroes and the memorable sense of place that only a writer as skilled and experienced as Laxalt can create.
About the Author
Robert Laxalt graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1947. Laxalt joined the staff of the university in 1954, first as director of News and Publications and later as director of the University of Nevada Press, which he founded. He was named a Reynolds Distinguished Visiting Professor and held the position of Distinguished Nevada Author Chair. He is the author of seventeen books, including the critically acclaimed Sweet Promised Land. He lived in Washoe Valley until his death in 2001.
Read an Excerpt
At the base of the jumble of boulders, there was a black hole that penetrated the hillside. The dozing coyote's attention was caught by a flutter of movement as the bat emerged from the hole.
If the coyote were equipped to wonder about such things, he would have been surprised to see a bat come out into the daylight. Night was the time for bats to emerge from their subterranean chambers.
The coyote watched as the bat fluttered erratically over the tops of the sagebrush that concealed the hole in the boulders. The bat seemed to have no destination at all, until it saw the coyote. Then its flight straightened as it clasped its webbed wings together and dived at the coyote.
Never having been confronted by such an attack, the coyote raised his head in wonder. The next thing he knew, the bat had fastened itself on his nose, sinking its eyeteeth into the tender flesh.
The coyote yelped in his surprise, which turned quickly into anger. His paw reached out to strike the bat away from his nose. To his amazement, this was not an easy task. The bat's hold was like a vise. The coyote raised his other paw, grasped the bat, and pulled. Finally, he succeeded in tearing the bat loose, but not until he had caught a glimpse of the bat's vampirelike teeth stained with blood.
In a rage, the coyote closed his jaws shut on the bat and crushed it into a tangle of bones and webbing. With a toss of his head, he threw the bat into the sagebrush. Then he tended to his hurt. The tip of his tongue barely reached the bloody punctures thebat had made in his nose. The coyote licked at the wound and was reminded of the time a spitting bobcat had clawed his nose when he had tried to get at her cubs in their den.
This wound, however, had a different quality about it. The coyote's nose felt as hot as fire. There was a spring nearby, and the coyote trotted to it and dipped his nose into the icy water until relief came.
Then the coyote went back to his rocky ledge and resumed his patient watch on the flock of sheep grazing across the ravine.
The coyote was not to be granted surcease from his troubles. This time, the big tawny sheepdog that was guarding the band of ewes sighted his movements. Barking in outrage, the sheepdog rushed like a whirlwind at his old enemy, leaping over the tops of the sagebrush in his pursuit.
Disgusted at the way his day had turned out, the coyote took to his heels. He was lean and fast and easily outdistanced the sheepdog. When the dog gave up the chase and went back to his sheep, the coyote rested until his breath had come back and then turned his attention to hunting out a jackrabbit. He stopped first, however, to paw at the burning puncture wounds the bat had inflicted on his nose.
* * *
The coyote roused from his sleep when the moon was high in the sky. He awoke out of sorts with the world, so much so that he growled at his mate when she awakened.
His mate approached him subserviently, hoping to better his mood. Instead, the coyote rushed snarling at her. She leaped away from his attack, but not before the coyote had bitten her on the shoulder. When that happened, the bitch gave up trying to assuage her mate. She simply fled away.
To her surprise, the coyote did not pursue her. Instead, he sat back on his haunches and howled. It was not a hunting or a courting call. It was the howl of an animal in pain.
A day passed. When night came again, the coyote was wandering aimlessly through the sagebrush hills. He needed sleep desperately, but sleep had been denied him through the day. All that his body would allow him to do was run. He roamed through the sagebrush until he came to a stream. Beside sleep, he needed water. His thirst was raging. He plunged his muzzle into the water and tried to lap and suck liquid down his throat. He succeeded in wetting his mouth, but his throat constricted when he tried to swallow. The liquid simply dribbled out of the corners of his mouth.
When drinking failed him, he was suddenly obsessed with the desire to bite. Not bushes or wood, but living flesh. He flushed a rabbit out of hiding, but he was too weak to pursue it. The coyote could not know it, but he had slowly been losing his senses.
By the time dusk was falling and he smelled the band of sheep, he was mad.