Tag Archives: coyote

Streetlights

Here’s a short Halloween tale, something to stir the imagination. Click the arrow below and I’ll read it to you.

A howl in the night began low and guttural. It intensified like one of those hand-crank air-raid sirens out of an old war movie—wavering and climbing. Others joined in with yips and howls and you could hear a hierarchy there. It was infinitely creepier than the film I was watching—Creature from the Black Lagoon.

It sounded close, but not dangerously so. I stepped out my front door warily and stood on my Halloween doormat to study the yard and then the rest of the neighborhood. The coyotes had moved on and the neighborhood was quiet. My lamppost was the only one lit down the whole street, everyone else had had enough.

I stepped down into my yard and walked out to the street. A thin fog had settled like a shroud, clearly visible in the cone from the streetlight.

It was eerily quiet and so dark I got a sense of being the last man standing. I saw something far down the street walking into the circle cast by the streetlight; a person in silhouette. As quick as I noticed the movement, the person passed beyond the circle of light and melted into the murk of night.

There was purpose in that walk and I waited patiently for another look. I don’t know why I was so interested in the figure and I thought about going back in to catch the rest of the movie instead. Then the silhouette appeared in the cone of the next street light.

The figure was short, the legs seemed unnaturally thick, and there was a tall, wide brimmed hat. It was a boy, I thought; and he was carrying something.

I stepped back onto my lawn when he arrived at the streetlight in front of my house to give him unhindered use of the sidewalk. Instead of passing by though, he stopped in front of me. He was indeed a boy, maybe eight years old. The cowboy outfit he had on wasn’t exactly new and included boots, chaps, and two gun belts that were crossed and worn low on each hip like gunslingers in the movies. He had an old pillowcase gathered in one hand, weighted with candy. With the other he tipped his hat back.

He said, “Evenin’ friend.” His lower lip scraped his upper teeth with the exaggerated first letter of friend.

“Good evening. What can I do for you?” I asked.

He drew a six shooter from its holster and pointed it at me. A curlicue of spent cap paper stuck out from the hammer which he pulled back with his thumb. “Give me your loot,” He said. I noticed dried chocolate at the corners of his mouth when he smiled. It was a devilish smile full of menace.

I raised my hands a little and I don’t know why, but I stammered as though truly threatened and he said, “Don’t make me use this on you.” The hard iron of the six shooter loomed ominously in his hand, even with the spent cap paper jutting out. It could do some real damage, I thought.

I tipped my head back toward the house and said, “The last of my loot’s just inside the door.”

“Alright, but don’t try nuthin’” He motioned to get a move on with his gun and followed behind.

I stepped up to my door, opened it and reached in for the bowl of candy. When I turned he was holding his pillowcase out and open, the six-shooter was pointing off into the shadows—finger out of the trigger guard.

“This is all I got.” I scooped up the box of Dots and three Snickers bars and dropped them into the pillowcase. “Happy Halloween.”

He peered down into the sack and said, “Gee, thanks mister,” and reached in. Tearing open a Snickers and stuffing it into his mouth; he gathered up the sack once more, holstered his piece, and tugged his hat back down. With a mouth too full for words, he nodded once and chocolate glistened again at the corners of his mouth. Strange as it sounds, he seemed more vibrant as if fueled by the chocolate. Then he turned and walked back out to the street, continuing on his way. With distance and through the next streetlight he became a silhouette again.

Beyond that cone of light he blended in with the night. But not before I caught another look. His hat sat on a skull, bleached with time. And that skull was perched on a stack of vertebrae disappearing down the collar of his shirt. He glanced back once, and his jaw opened slightly as if in a rictus smile. A veil of fog and the impenetrable gloom of night swallowed him and I was alone once more.

It occurred to me then, when I had time to think about it, I had seen that boy before. It was last year and he was wearing the same outfit. Why I didn’t remember earlier, I couldn’t say. But there was a magic in the moment of his arrival. And giving him treats left me with a sense that I had averted some trickery as yet undefined.

I wondered about that curlicue of cap paper, evidence he had indeed used the gun. To what end? Or whose?

A chill ran down my spine and I turned off the post light.

~***~

So that’s the story, and I’m sticking to it. Give me a shout out on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, et cetera. And let me know whether you liked it or not, because comments are like chocolate to the spirit in this tale—they fuel me.

Oh, and Happy Halloween!

The Last Prisoner

 

Donald Conrad

The Last Prisoner

 

The first explosion stopped him dead.

A coyote began to growl and he couldn’t turn away from it to look. He had made it to his first goal, the rocky outcropping. It was the closest change in the barren waste. There were probably more coyote around, but so far it was the only one to show.

When the bus went over, he knew he would run. The rumor-mill inside never mentioned successful escapes. The sequence of events—tire blow-out, bus swerve, ditch, and flip—offered an opportunity. The iron grate in the roof popped out like an escape hatch when the bus twisted to a stop.

He was looking at the horizon behind him when the plume from the second explosion rose in the air. His mind flashed to an old Monty Python episode in which everything seemed under attack with an occasional and curt, “Waaah” thrown in for effect. As if the one being blown to bits could utter such an exclamation. The realization struck him that the inside of the bus must be splattered with gore.

He didn’t see exactly what happened as the bus was going into the ditch, worried as he was for his own skin. Of the seven prisoners being transferred, he was the first to move. His chain was locked to Mini’s seat. When the bus went over, Mini’s weight tore the seat from its mountings. Mini was the biggest friggin’ Mexican he had ever seen, and now was glad for the acquaintance.

Someone else must have gotten out. The third explosion came from a different direction. They were going off a couple of minutes apart. He went through the order. “Ram” Ramirez had been shackled into the front seat. He was the most likely to be a problem, easily flared into violence. Then there was SoCal Sam who liked them young yet understood that beggars couldn’t be choosers. The third one was St. Pierre. He talked to himself. Surprisingly, he had enough wits about him to get away.

The Wander Guard got him anyway.

He pulled the opening of his shirt away to look down at the lump under his skin. Between his left nipple and his breast bone a tube had been inserted as big as a cigarette. It was the one thing he received on his first day at Louksome Prison that he didn’t have to carry to his cell. Proximity to the prison kept it inactive. During transport, the guard in charge carried a device with which he had to account for each prisoner every ninety minutes.

There was a little more time before the forth was taken out; perhaps four or five minutes. It came from the direction of the bus. The coyote walked to a new position, undecided on whether to attack or wait it out for a better opportunity.

He thought about the last time the officer had scanned the Wander Guards. He had just finished St. Pierre and was just about to scan Tupper, the big smiling black guy, when Ram started in on SoCal Sam’s sexual preferences which appeared to be all-encompassing. It slowed the guard down. Ram’s actions, then, had bought Tupper another minute later on, perhaps with which to pray. Knowing Tupper, that’s exactly what he did with his time.

He looked to his hand, the one with the broken bottle neck. It was a tall boy; Schlitz. The bottle broke just where the dark brown glass began to flare out from the neck. His motivation for picking it up outside the bus was as weaponry. It might have been discarded years ago awaiting his arrival.

He considered the Wander Guard he carried. Supposedly, there was no surviving its small explosion, given its location. If it didn’t blow a hole in your heart, the shrapnel shredded the wearer’s innards.

He uncurled his fingers to study the jagged edge of the bottleneck. He could do this. He pulled his shirt away again to see the lump.

The fifth explosion came from the direction of the bus. It had to be the Weasel. That skinny bastard definitely had it coming.

Time was running out; a minute or two at best. He felt as though he didn’t have it coming. He hadn’t killed anyone like these other men had. The coyote took a few steps back to its original vantage point.

He turned the bottleneck to an advantageous edge and dug in, scooping the tube shaped thing under his skin and cutting into flesh. Blood welled up as he tried to fish it out. It had been inserted while he was sedated. There was no scar; there would be now.

Another explosion—from the bus again. Mini was simply too big to get out the hole in the roof of the bus. Girth had its drawbacks.

He was next, the last prisoner. He had a finger under the skin, his other hand pushing the tube shaped thing from the lower end. He didn’t relinquish his pain with a scream, gritting his teeth instead.

He growled—pushing one end and prodding with a finger.

It was coming.

He could feel tearing under the skin.

It was anchored somehow. Finally he had a grip and yanked it out. With a fluid motion he threw it away from him, not taking time to study his potential assassin.

He watched it spin end for end. The coyote snatched it out of the air. It swallowed and licked its chops.

The explosion was muffled more than he was prepared for. The coyote emitted a light whine as it toppled over.

The last prisoner felt exonerated, abandoned, and free. He began walking toward the foothills that were miles away, thinking of new names.