Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Category: Fiction (page 1 of 2)

November Microfiction 6-10

The backhoe hit something solid. The road workers grumbled to a stop and stared at the great metallic wings among the fossilized shells.

Terrified by what I’d built, I drowned my robot in the creek behind the house. At night, he returned. Said I never gave him lungs.

Just north of the border, traffic came to a stop. She practiced her smile, took his hand off her leg and put it back in the glovebox.

“Fox!” the boy called with little interest. He missed the days before budget cuts and downsizing when he had been the boy who cried wolf.

No way this thing should be able to fly. I mean who makes their own helicopters? I glance down at the ground and wish I’d learned to land.

///

These are originally posted on Twitter (@jdbrush). I’m trying to do one per day this month.

November Microfiction 1-5

He wore a hatful of moonlight and in the daytime pretended to ignore the inconvenient coyotes trailing him through the streets, howling.

Savage! The savage savage savagely savaged the other savages for their refusal to act as pronouns, prepositions, or conjunctions.

Years later, she opened the book and saw the letters had slid off the pages and clumped in the gutter. She pieced together a new scripture.

The leviathan, hungry for prophets, swam in ever-widening circles and considered the ursine shore, the polar bear market.

The old astronaut in the tee box glanced at Cygnus. He was go for the black hole in one. It was a par 3.1555787×10e18, but he felt lucky.

///

These are originally posted on Twitter (@jdbrush). I’m trying to do one per day this month.

Small Adjustments

First he thought it was the stars, that creaking groan and grind of tired years but with time the tension grew and he realized the problem lay not overhead but underfoot (as problems often do). Some days the gripping stuckness beneath his feet felt tighter and other days it felt looser like someone else’s shoes depending on where he walked and what he ate for breakfast. Out on the plains where the stars rattled so faintly as to be almost inaudible, he located the source of this tension, unzipped the blackland earth and studied the dull gears that moved the gears that made the world go round. He turned a wrench against the machine—so surprisingly simple to adjust, this mechanical universe—and retuned the planet’s motion relative to the earthly key of his own aspirations. That’s the way he explained his good fortune years later as he leaned back in the worn leather chair of his old age, smiling in the knowledge that he was now very close to achieving his lifelong goal of living happily ever after.

For Magpie Tales #109

Here We Go Again

She holds her smoke. She’s swallowed the sun. Tendrils drift blue from her nose, a curtain obscuring the year. Cars weave through the lot. She stands among leaves, refusing to flinch at the sound of tires rolling over gravel like fragile bones. Her resistance radiates through the trees’ bare branches and out to space with the smoke from her lungs as the light between her fingers fades. She flicks the butt to the sidewalk, a comet to inspire the prophesies and curses of the ants. She runs her hands through her long and tired hair, pushes open the door surprising herself by humming snatches of a tune she thought she’d forgotten. The ants gather to celebrate this thing, this fire, they believe is theirs.

Prose poem or flash fiction? Who knows. This is based on this old post from 2009.

A Trip to the Zoo

I still remember the day my grandpa took me to the zoo to see all the animals. We started in the aviary. He opened drawer after drawer, pulling withered birds from thin glass formaldehyde-filled tombs. I stared in wonder at their soggy bodies and imagined them flying through the air singing their forgotten songs while he read the tags attached to their legs by thin pieces of wire.

Aren’t they beautiful, he whispered, holding them out for me to admire one-by-one. Here in his wizened old hands were the passenger pigeon, the Carolina parakeet, the dusky seaside sparrow, the Bachman’s warbler, the Eskimo curlew, the great auk, the Labrador duck, the ivory-billed woodpecker. He told me how someday their DNA would be used to bring them back, but he didn’t believe it any more than I did; it was only rote justification recited like a verbal ghost dance, a spell to ward away despair.

In another drawer, he showed me the tufted titmouse, northern cardinal, turkey vulture, house sparrow and common grackle. I marveled at the play of light in the grackle’s iridescent feathers, moving my head back-and-forth to find the place where purple became black, all the while wondering at the beauty the thing must have once possessed. I’m sorry, Grandpa said over and over again, looking away from dead eyes and knowing that these birds would only ever fly again in the memories of his generation, a generation soon to be consigned to its own silent aviaries.

I’m sorry, he kept repeating as his shaky hands placed the bird back with the rest of its flock. I’m so sorry. I couldn’t bear to see him this way so I just asked him if we could go see the tigers and bears next. Maybe get a hot dog.

iCoyote

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.

This is a response to Read Write Poem prompt #111, a picture of a guy kneeling in front of an empty three-legged chair. It’s a remarkable photo.

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.

The Man Who Spoke the Law

My short prose piece “The Man Who Spoke the Law” is up over at qarrtsiluni. It’s part of the “Words of Power” issue, which is running through December. There’s lots of great stuff over there so check it out.

Transcript of a Recording Found in a Briefcase Abandoned on the Plains (c. 1977)

It’s hot here.
I don’t mind.

Was it in Memphis?
Hot?

No. You know. Where it happened.
Not Memphis. No.

Where? If you don’t mind.
Tucumcari.

Tucumcari?
Yes.

You thought it would be somewhere else,
but things can happen anywhere.

You left there and came here?
Pretty much.

Is it true you won the lottery?
Just a scratch-off.

But you did win.
It was cursed.

Don’t laugh at me.

Sorry. Cursed how?
I see people as they really are. Their true faces.

What do you see when you look at me?

What?

Please.
Is that really what you want?
You’ll understand what… happened…
better than you might really want to.

Tell me.
Can I tell you a secret first?

This was inspired by the latest image prompt at Read Write Poem (prompt #81). To see the photo (“XX” by nwolc), which is really cool, follow the link to the prompt or go straight to its Flickr page.

Curiosity Blew Up the Town

When I was teaching at a junior high, I once had a kid ask, “What does e=mc2 mean?” Clearly, whatever point of sentence construction I was elaborating on wasn’t sinking in with this kid.

“Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared,” I said as I underlined a predicate.

He squinted his eyes a bit, probably wondering whether or not he could trust an English teacher on this, but then nodded and jotted something down in his notebook. He looked up again. “Okay, what’s the speed of light?”

I stopped and looked at him. “186,000 miles per second.”

He nodded and scribbled the equation in his spiral, his number two pencil working madly. “Whoooaa,” he said, looking up.

“What?”

“That’s a lot of energy. Even if the mass is just 1.”

I nodded. “Yes, it is.”

He stared at his notebook, trying to make sense of the enormity of those numbers. “I mean, you could probably blow up a whole city with that kind of energy, right?”

I think the next few sentences we analyzed were about nuclear bombs.

Red River

A few months ago, my wife and I were on our way to a party her company was hosting at a downtown club. We had had dinner and had some time to kill so we stopped for a pint at Bull McCabe’s on Red River. We sat at a rickety table on the porch, enjoying the springtime weather and watched people walk up and down the street, drifting from club to club.

The homeless shelter is right around the corner so along with music lovers, there tends to be an abundance of homeless people mingling about the area, often indistinguishable from the music fans until they ask for a handout.

One guy, probably in his mid-thirties, came shuffling onto the porch. He wore a few extra sweaters under a grimy red coat out of which a white cable grew like a vine that terminated in his ears. I wondered if he actually had an ipod under there somewhere.

“Hey,” he said, walking up to our table. “You got any cash?”

My wife and I shook our heads. “Sorry, no.”

He stared at our beers and looked back at us. “What about them?”

I shrugged. “No cash.”

“Can you charge me a beer then?”

“No.”

“Aw, come on, man, you can just get me a beer. I won’t bother you. You can afford another one.”

I didn’t say, yes, I could afford more, and had he asked, I might have bought him a burger, but he just stared at us, clearly annoyed, small muscles ticking beneath his face. “What do you do for a living?” he asked, his voice challenging, likely trying to prove to us that we made enough to buy him a beer.

“I’m a teacher,” I said.

His body language changed with that last word. He relaxed, making me realize for the first time just how wound up and intense he was under all those used-up old clothes. He took a polite step back. “Aw, man, I’m sorry. I won’t bother you. You have a good night. You’re good people.”

He backed out of the bar and smiled at us again as he shuffled down the street, leaving us to wonder what teacher he had had that made such an impression on him that he refused to bother a teacher. I also wondered what would have happened had I been an investment banker.

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