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Coyote the Younger by Stephen Aubrey


“Coyote the Younger” by Stephen Aubrey is one of four winners of the Editors’ Choice Round from the 2019 CRAFT Flash Fiction Contest. Our editors chose four pieces that showcase some of the range of forms and styles in flash fiction.


Stephen Aubrey’s “Coyote the Younger” mixes a consistent (and delightful) satirical tone with high diction and complex sentence structure to explore the internal struggle of woebegone and misunderstood Wile E. Coyote. Inspired by a workshop challenge (see Aubrey’s author’s note for backstory on the fifteen years of revision this story has weathered), this piece transcends the shallow humor of the source material, using the allusion to provide a unique entry to the father-son relationship canon and to explore the magic of belief.  —CRAFT


 

In all those moments after he’d lit the fuse but before the rocket-powered roller skates propelled him across the yellow desert at sublimely sub-sonic speeds, in all those moments what came most vividly to Coyote the Younger were the memories of his father, Coyote the Elder. How he had crept across an inky horizon, quietly and carefully, instinctively. How power and grace were inscribed upon his long muzzle. How he had held the Road Runner’s neck almost tenderly under his paw. How the Road Runner would stare back at him, its eyes filled with something almost like love.

Coyote the Elder had been a hunter—the last, and perhaps the greatest of a line that dwindled to an end in Coyote the Younger. The son who had forsaken the ways of his fathers, surrendered instinct and the Old Ways. Traded them for the blueprints and patents of Acme Corporation. Secrets industrial, not ancestral.

As road signs blurred to meaninglessness, as the unfathomable velocity of his rocket-skates peeled at his face, pulling lip from dulling tooth, Coyote the Younger would find himself finally able to think clearly, ensconced in the warm moment before disaster. He would consider the breadth of his betrayal of the ways of the coyote, the ways of the Eatius birdius. And for what? A small collection of explosives and improbably backfiring gadgets?

But the skates were already strapped to his feet. There was nowhere to go but forward. No choice but to search for the speeding blur of indigo against an expansive canvas of azure, its meeps thundering across the mesa, harbingers of the irresistible.

As his willowy body propelled through the tight turns of asphalt, he would pass the boulder where Coyote the Elder died moments after catching his forty-second Road Runner. Cataractous and shivering with tremors, he had stalked by scent alone. And there, below that butte, was the den where Coyote the Younger had been brought when he was but a whelp. The only time he had met his grandfather, Coyote the Proud, the one said to have caught sixty-seven Road Runners (though Road Runners were also said to have been far slower and more abundant in those days, days which Coyote the Younger habitually visualized in black and white). He saw himself in the den again, shivering in the pre-dawn wind of the desert, as he stared at his grandfather’s sinewy body. The fragmentary feeling of a wet nose brushing against his passed through the veil.

Growing behind Coyote the Younger was an unbroken path of antecedents—generations who had relied on nothing except their forelegs, their hind legs, and whatever interjections could fit on a single wooden sign; simpler animals, creatures of tradition and ritual, not mail-order merchandise—who haunted the dust beside the never-ending highway that Coyote the Younger flew relentlessly upon, leaving a spiraling trail of smoke in his wake.

But then the crest of the Road Runner would peek over the next knoll and Coyote the Younger would slide his goggles down from his forehead. His vision would narrow, the periphery fade. Nothing except the distance now.


And then there was that moment before he struck the side of the canyon; that moment when the ruffling tail feathers of the Road Runner would tickle his snout and the odor of his prey’s damp sweat would mingle with his own; that moment when Coyote the Younger would close his eyes and reach forward to seize what was his, forgetting about the hairpin turn ahead, only opening his eyes quickly enough to see all his momentum about to come to an inevitable nothing. Had his father ever felt this way?


In all those moments afterwards, his broken body several feet deep in a coyote-shaped hole in the side of a canyon, knowing that he had failed in some essential way, that he was the last of his kind and there would be none after him, Coyote the Younger would listen, as he drifted in and out of consciousness, to the double meep of the Road Runner.

As he lies there, the sky stretched taut above him, a shade of his father returns to him. In pantomime, Coyote the Elder explains that the Road Runner is no faster, smarter, or braver than the coyote. What the Road Runner possesses, even the Acme Corporation in all its grandeur cannot provide: faith in the magic of the Fathers. Faith that the road will go on forever without end, faith that one can pass through even the landscapes painted upon the dusty wall of a canyon. A power greater than any giant rocket, any oversized catapult, any bundle of TNT, any Burmese tiger trap.

In every of Coyote the Younger’s failures, there is the same singular lesson: that he must learn to believe, always. To have perfect faith. For it is only when he looks at his feet, only when he looks for the firmness of the ground he need never doubt, it is only then that the Coyote will find nothing beneath him; only then that he will fall to the earth.

Coyote the Younger can only manage one phrase in response to his father, can hoist only a single placard out from the hole he finds himself in, the same block letters scrawled on both sides.

I DON’T KNOW HOW TO BELIEVE.

 


STEPHEN AUBREY is a writer and theater-maker living in Brooklyn, New York. His writing has appeared in Electric Literature, Publishing Genius, and The Brooklyn Review.

 

Author’s Note

“Coyote the Younger” was written as a dare to myself years ago when I was a student. Exasperated by the glut of one-dimensional characters in our stories, a creative writing teacher once gave my entire workshop the assignment to write a one-page character study. You can’t write good fiction with cartoon characters, she told us. So, of course, I went home and decided to write about Wile E. Coyote.

I was still an inexperienced writer at this point, and as I struggled to understand the inner thoughts of a cartoon coyote who never spoke, I felt on the cusp of something I struggled to articulate. I worked through drafts, drawing closer to the marrow each time but never quite finding the balance between the absurdity of Wile E. Coyote’s quotidian existence and the secret turmoils and joys of his inner life. And so this story sat on my hard drive (and in my head) for nearly fifteen years. As I grew as a writer, I would open the file every so often and work on it, slowly bringing it towards the shape it has now found. I worked with little hope or expectation, but I worked nonetheless.

I don’t believe in too many absolute rules about fiction, but here’s something I do believe: to do something seemingly stupid over and over again in the hopes that you will get it right this time around, that this time it will be different, is a fundamentally human act. And one necessary to being a writer.

The writing life–we are exhaustively reminded, as if we were unaware or could forget it–can be lonely and without much reward. It is sustained, much like the coyote going over the edge of the cliff, by pure will, by pure belief that we can keep going. We may have our tricks and our superstitions, we may cling animisticly to our tools–this brand of pen, I say, holding it aloft, will finally let me tell my story right–but at the end of the day, it comes down to our willingness to fail. Again and again.

This, ironically, was the lesson Coyote the Younger needed to learn as well: no amount of cleverness can substitute for the work. We’re all stumbling blindly as we create, things only revealing themselves to us incrementally. I couldn’t have known this fifteen years ago when I started this story; I had to wait–and to work–before “Coyote the Younger” could teach me how to finally finish it.

 

I should mention that Wile E. Coyote actually catches the Road Runner in the 1980 special “Soup or Sonic?” And while I don’t completely condone that creative decision, it is reassuring to remember that if you keep going long enough, something is bound to happen. One day, you’ll catch the stupid bird. Or publish the stupid story.

 


STEPHEN AUBREY is a writer and theater-maker living in Brooklyn, New York. His writing has appeared in Electric Literature, Publishing Genius, and The Brooklyn Review.