Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Flash Fiction Interlude: Coyote

(A 'Will and Diana' Adventure)

Coyote tethered his horse to a mesquite and unstrapped a canvas pack that clanked as he carried it through the high grass. He scrambled up the embankment with the careless agility of fifteen and stood balancing on a gleaming rail, sighing with pleasure at the tracks stretching to infinity. Although there was nothing to hear but the whisper of the desert wind, he listened carefully and nodded in satisfaction. This was the place.

He dropped the pack, took out his tools and got to work. Sweat beaded on his forehead, then evaporated in the desert air. His calloused hands worked the crowbar and pried the spikes free. When he had enough, he went down the line, placing each spike carefully on the rails, stepping back to admire them, as if they were works of art.

And indeed they were. The voices said derailments were a matter of physics. Science. But Coyote had been doing this for three years, since he wasn't even quite a teenager. His early attempts had been crude, but now he knew better. Derailing trains was an art.

Spikes laid, he nearly danced back to where he had started and began energetically working the wrench and crowbar to pull the tracks out of alignment. By the time he was through, not even the dry wind could keep up with his sweat and he mopped his face with a dirty bandana before picking up his bag of tools and walking back to his horse. He traded tools for a rifle and a canteen, then returned to the tracks.

This time he selected a spot farther down the line. Far enough to be out of danger, but not so far he couldn't get a close view of the fun. He had done this so many times he could calculate the correct distance the way a watchmaker could make an old timepiece tick. He paused, listening again.

It wasn't time yet.

He made himself a nest in the warm gramma grass, drank some water and stretched out on his back, head pillowed in his clasped fingers. He gazed so long at the intense blue sky that eventually blueness surrounded and overwhelmed him, and the next thing he was aware of were voices. Unlike the ones he had been listening to earlier, these were outside his head. He grabbed his rifle and jumped to his feet.

A girl and boy, both about his own age, stood looking at him. The boy was tall and powerfully built, with a hard look about his eyes. But the girl seemed harmless enough, for all that she was pointing a pistol right at him. The expression on her face was one of wariness, but not malice.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" the boy said.

"Why do you care? You with the train company or something?"

"We're clearing the lines for a delivery. And if you know what's good for you, you'll fix these rails."

Coyote darted a glance at the tracks. He listened for the familiar voices but heard only the wind.

"Well?" the girl asked.

"No time. The train should be along any minute."

"Don't be ridiculous," the boy said. "It's not coming until tomorrow."

"That's not what they said." Coyote looked from one to the other of them in confusion. Suddenly the voices flooded back, deep inside his brain, audible to him alone. "Dammit!" He threw down his rifle. "The bastards tricked me! They said to come here, they said this was the spot, they said if I came today--

The girl and boy were staring.

"I swear I'm not crazy! They talk to me all the time! They know things!"

"I believe you," the girl said, lowering her weapon and ignoring her companion's warning look. "You're him, aren't you? The maverick. The demolition expert."

"I'm no expert. I just like trains."

"Then why do you destroy them?"

He ducked his head. "I don't know."

The boy took a step toward him. "Look, we need tomorrow's train to get through. We can't stop the war just so people like you can play games. But we could use someone like you. I'm--

Coyote had only been half-listening. The whispering in his head took precedence. "I know who you are," he said. "You're Will Channing and this is your sister, Diana. You're with Unitas, the 'free and fair elections' people." He rubbed his face and gave a final glance down the tracks. His beautiful derailment was not to be.

"They sent me here so you could find me," he said in resignation. "Go ahead, take me to your unit commander. The voices want me to work for you."

"The what?" Will asked.

Coyote picked up his canteen and rifle. "Never mind. Let's just go, before I change my mind about listening this time."

He walked toward the scrub, scowling, with Will and Diana trailing behind and speaking in low tones. He couldn't make out all their words but he distinctly heard Will say, "We can't trust him. He's obviously insane."

"I heard that!" Coyote called over his shoulder.

They retrieved their horses in silence, swung themselves into the saddles, then sat looking at each other.

"Well?" Coyote asked.

"What do you mean? Don't the voices know where our camp is?"

Coyote ignored the note of sarcasm in Will's voice. "Of course they do," he said. "But that doesn't mean they want to tell me." He looked from one to the other of them. "So come on. Do you want someone to destroy trains for you or not?"

NOTE: This is one of a series of just-for-fun short stories that tie loosely to my blog fiction and book.


Kate Thornton said...

I love reading these wonderful stories! What a treat, and just when I was looking for a lift - thanks so much!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I dig Coyote.

More! More!

Samuel Tinianow said...

I enjoyed this, despite having no prior familiarity with the series.

Bill Fullerton said...

Entertaining read, Bunnygirl.

Here a couple items you might or might not want to consider.

If Coyote puts the spikes on the rails, then moves the rails, wouldn't the spikes fall off?

Wouldn't he be less conspicuous if he did this at night?

And if the train is coming at noon (no matter the day) on a straight stretch of track somewhere in the desert, there would seem to be a good chance mis-alighned rails would be spotted in time to stop.

My RL quibbles aside, it was an enjoyable read.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Bill, the word limit constraints of the flash fiction carnival didn't allow for a full explanation of Coyote's technique, which I've described more fully in other writings on his derailment escapades.

Rails are laid in sections, so if you lay spikes along one part, they won't necessarily fall off if pull a different section out of alignment.

Also, he doesn't pull the rails so far out of alignment that it's visible far up the track. The debris on the tracks is enough to make the train unstable, and by the time the skidding train does reach the small misalignment, the engineer isn't looking at the rail because he's too busy trying to controll the train.

A small misalignment is sufficient to tip the lead engine in the right direction, if it's still on the tracks at all by the time it gets there.

Coyote would actually prefer to use explosives, though, if he can get them. :-)

I'm from a family of railroaders. My grandfather made his career with the Santa Fe, which cut through his sheep pasture and where we kids liked to sneak out to watch the trains pass and speculate on how to make mayhem. I also have a cousin who is a train engineer, although he's been deployed, so he's not driving trains these days. :-(

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

I wanted to add that in retrospect, maybe I should've had Coyote planning an explosion rather than one of his more subtle and complicated derailments. It would've been less confusing.

I'm still new at writing short pieces.

Anonymous said...

I just love writers who chastise themselves for not planning explosions. I, too, dig Coyote.

Shauna said...

Great story! Not something I would usually read on my own, but I really enjoyed it! guess that's the benefit of this carnival, isn't it? Thanks for sharing it with us.

Virginia Lee said...

BG, I'm so sorry. I'd have sworn I'd gotten here already. Please forgive the delay.

Well, I'm hooked. I tend to avoid reading people's creative writing blogs because, well, I just do, but I'm going to dip into yours now for certain.

I like these characters and want to know much more about them. I'm so glad you shared this as part of the carnival.

Alice Audrey said...

I like the simplicity and subtlety of his usual method of derailment. At lest seen from his point of view it works well.