Monday, October 22, 2007

Flash Fiction Interlude: The Message

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This piece is not one of the "Will and Diana Adventures," and is contemporaneous with the beginning of "My New-Found Land." I've wondered for a long time how Will found out Diana had run away and how he reacted. I finally decided to ask, and this was the answer. Language alert for sensitive readers.

Coyote had spent the day jumping at shadows and scanning the bleak December horizon. When the rider trotted into camp at supper time announcing, “Message for William Channing,” he cursed.

Will had just sat down with a bowl of beans. After casting a worried glance at Coyote, he stood and reached for the note. His reading skills were poor, but he managed the message with unusual speed. The blood drained from his face and he crumpled the note. “Who gave you these lies?”

“Came in on the official line, sir. They wouldn’t have sent it through if it wasn’t legit.”

Harley pushed through the knot of curious soldiers and camp supporters and held out his hand. “Let me see.”

Will threw the balled-up paper at him and lunged at the messenger. “You let her get away!"

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just the messenger.”

Harley made a dismissing motion and the boy wheeled his horse and kicked it hard.

Will turned on Harley, his eyes wild with panic. “What did you do that for? Now how am I going to find her?”

“The boy has nothing to do with it. Maybe you should—”

“Go to hell.” He took off toward the corral. Harley called after him but Will was out the gate in minutes, his horse’s hooves thundering across the desert.

Cursing, Coyote saddled his mare and gave chase. But as he galloped across the scrubland, agitated thoughts intruded, blocking the voices that had warned him this would happen and that might offer clues as to where Will was going. As night fell and the tracks grew dim, he wondered if he would find him or be left wandering the desert.

The sound of gunfire gave Coyote his answer. He came over a sand hill and saw dark forms scattered around a campfire over which a kettle still simmered. A few nervous donkeys tugged at their tethers and somewhere a dog whined. Coyote jumped off his horse and walked toward the only person still standing.

“Killing refugees won’t fix anything.”

Will advanced on him with murder in his eyes. “You fucking son of a bitch. You knew.”

“They don’t let me change the future, Will.”

“Maybe not.” He leveled his pistol. “But I’m sure as hell going to change yours.”

Coyote spread his arms wide. “Go ahead.”

Moments passed. The wind blew a wisp of cloud across the moon and whistled through a patch of tumbleweed.

“I said—”

Coyote felt the bullet whine past his ear and heard the next one drop into the chamber. He closed his eyes.

Instead of firing, Will dropped to his knees. He howled and tore at the earth as if the entire planet had given offense. When the ground made no move to swallow him and no lightning descended from the heavens to take him from this hell, he collapsed into keening sobs.

Coyote walked over and made as if to touch him, but thought better of it and sat down instead. Noticing that Will was bleeding, he shrugged off his jacket and took a knife to the hem of his shirt, tearing it away in a long strip. “How about you let me bandage that arm?”

Getting no answer, he stood and put another branch on the fire. He examined the bodies scattered about, silently cursing whoever thought giving Will this news by messenger was a good idea. Finding no survivors, he returned to the fire and lifted the lid of the kettle. Soup. He ladled some into a cup and took it to where Will lay breathing in ragged gasps.

“Drink some of this.” He held out the cup and fumbled in his pocket. “And here’s a handkerchief. It’s mostly clean.”

Will swiped at his nose. “Go away.”

Coyote sat down, and after setting the cup aside, began bandaging Will’s wounded arm.

Will stared into the darkness beyond the fire’s glow. “Did your voices say where she went?”


“Would you tell me if they did?”

“Probably not.”

“She didn’t go with him, did she?”

“No.” Coyote tied the ends of the bandage in a knot. “I can tell you that for sure.”

Will wiped his face with Coyote’s handkerchief and looked away. “She was my only friend.”

Coyote jumped to his feet. “You fucking ingrate! I let you cuss at me. I let you shoot at me, and I still tried to feed and bandage you after. If you don't think that's friendship, you’re one selfish son of a bitch.” He put a hand on his gun. “Maybe I should be doing the shooting around here.”

“Maybe you should.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake.” Coyote kicked a rock, then stomped off to check on the refugees' donkeys. Under one of the carts he found a white dog that whined and lapped his hand when he bent to smooth its matted fur.

The dog followed him back to the fire where Coyote ladled another cup of soup and investigated a rucksack where he found a bottle of murky homebrew. He winced at the taste, but the warmth spreading through his body took the chill off the night. He fished a piece of gristle out of the soup and shared it with the mutt.

After a long while, Will sat down beside him. "I'm sorry, Joseph."

Coyote looked at him, startled. It was the first time Will had ever called him by his given name. When Will wouldn't meet his eyes, he turned back to his cup with a grunt that could've meant anything.

Will poked the fire with a stick. "How's the soup?"

"Just refugee crap."

"And the whiskey?"

"Sucks." Coyote handed him the bottle.

Will examined it in the fire's light and took a long pull. "I promise," he said. "I won't cuss at you or shoot at you ever again."

Coyote took the bottle back. "It's okay if you cuss at me. Just don't shoot any more."

"I missed on purpose, you know."


Will frowned. "Your voices didn't tell you I would?"

Coyote took another drink from the bottle and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. "They don't tell me stuff about my own future."

"So you would've let me. . ."

"You gotta do what you gotta do."

Will pondered this in silence, shivering as the stars came out and the cold deepened. “Any more of that soup?” he finally said.

Coyote scooped some into his own cup and handed it over. “Anything for a friend.”


Michael said...

Again, I'm at a loss for words. So very profound and emotionally charging. And you just keep pumping them out! Maybe I should try something in the flash fiction range...

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Wow, Bunny.

The best part of this, for me, is that I see a lot of the Trevor-Mitchell dynamic going on between Will and Coyote. Which, of course, I love, go figure.

But to me, that means you've nailed the characters and are really bringing them to life.


Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Michael, I thought I couldn't write anything this short but decided to give it a try for the AW Flash Fiction Carnival. Now I'm enjoying it and I think this kind of practice will ultimately make me a better writer by teaching me to get to the point quickly and choose precisely the right words.

Obviously I've by no means perfected the art of writing short, but I'm growing a lot by forcing big ideas into little boxes. Paradoxical, isn't it?

Portia Da Costa said...

Wonderful stuff!

I've never considered flash fiction myself, as I'm far too long-winded. LOL

Well done on your Sweat70 progress so far. :)

Michael said...

Well, you have inspired me, and last night I started on a story that I thought would be flash fiction, but I'm already 2000 words into it! It will, it seems, be shorter than anything I've written so far, but still too long for flash.

And that's not a complaint, because I have this story pretty well planned, and I think I can finish a draft within a couple days at most. WHOO-HOO! I'm on a roll!

Anonymous said...

Outstanding, bunnygirl.

In reading My New-Found Land, I've wondered, too, how Will would react to Diana's running away. This piece is an excellent complement to the book.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Thanks, Thomma. Will has some serious trust issues and he gambled everything on Diana. I should post a character sketch of him.

Bernita said...

This is a very moving piece.
And I like the scene touches of nervous donkeys and the dog.
Well done!

Alice Audrey said...

I'm glad to see Will recognize he does have another friend, but I thought Diana was more than that to him.