After days on the road, Robbie ran out of numbers for counting road signs and clouds, which was fine since he’d already counted all of them anyway. He switched to counting things that weren’t there and ticked imaginary numbers off in his head whenever he didn’t see something.
He thought he didn’t see a motorcycle but the absence was only a mirage, he realized when a black-clad biker gang rumbled past, stirring the desert to thunderous life before returning to the kind of silence that inspired Robby to consider counting things he didn’t hear as well as things unseen.
He thought he didn’t hear a coyote, so he eased his pickup off the highway to make sure the animal wasn’t there before adding it to his tally. Robby was scrupulously honest with himself about all things and wanted to ensure the accuracy of his count especially since the coyote, if it wasn’t there, would be the 500ith item on his list.
When he stepped out of his truck, the wind tore at his hair and clawed his jacket. He looked around trying to see if there was nothing there to count, but the desert, much to Robby’s disappointment, was full of things and besides he wanted that coyote to be the 500ith thing that wasn’t there. Nearly i0 hours from the road, he didn’t see the coyote, which wasn’t sitting in a three-legged chair. He resisted the urge to count the chair’s missing leg.
He approached iCoyote slowly and knelt before his absence, staring up at the thin clouds in the sky where iCoyote’s head would have been.
“I thought I’d be able to see you,” Robbie whispered, his voice nearly lost in the wind as he added iCoyote to his tally.
“Divide out the i’s,” iCoyote didn’t say.
Robbie thought back to half-remembered math classes, wondered if i worked like a variable, could be solved like x. “I’d have to do that to both sides of the equation, wouldn’t I?” Robby asked and noticed that he’d lifted his hands like an equal sign between them. “To balance it out, right?”
iCoyote didn’t say, “You’ll get your proof.”
Robbie divided out the i and saw the coyote grinning at him from the chair. The coyote hopped down, walked through Robbie as if he were a mere fraction reduced to the lowest terms of what he had been, and trotted off in the direction of Robbie’s truck.
Robbie looked around and saw all the things that weren’t there. He subtracted frantically, his list cratering before his open eyes. In the distance, he didn’t hear his engine start and he didn’t hear it drive down the highway without him.
I never know what to label stuff like this. Short story? Flash fiction? Prose poem? Prose poem feels right since that’s the intention I started with.
I have no idea if I got the math right. As with Robbie, my math classes were a long time ago.
Be sure to read what others did with this prompt.