by Luke Geddes
Illustration by Seb Tanti Burlo’
The coyote, yellow eyes leery, fierce brows knit in concentration, crouches alert behind the Brittlebush that grows along I-19 in the Arizona desert. Perhaps he thinks enviously of his ancestors, of the freedom they had before man’s arrival, when the desert was theirs and theirs alone. Perhaps he feels God’s loving presence in the quickening beat of his heart, in the way the clouds blow across the sun carrying cool shade to his warm fur. No, for as that blur of blue and violet streaks by, a cloud of dust following it like the exhaust of man’s automobiles, surely all he thinks is: Hunger.
The coyote is smart. He has studied his prey, watched and followed the roadrunner through Arizona, Mexico, Texas and back, although man-made geographic distinctions mean nothing to him. Sometimes he feels he’ll never catch it, that he wouldn’t even know what to do if he did. But then God’s love overwhelms him, and though the coyote is too ignorant to recognize it, its effects are visceral; is it not this love, more than base survival, that evokes his hunger, his insatiability at once his bane and élan vital? Without conflict, life is purgatory, and the coyote’s story has no beginning, middle, or end.
The coyote knows the roadrunner more intimately than the bitches with which he has mated. A nomad, a rebel: unlike the other, uxorious males of his species, he’s abandoned his cubs and mates for the lonely pursuit of prey. His nose, kissing the cracked desert floor like a wet stone, picks up the faint, familiar scent, like rubber and licorice, of the roadrunner. It intensifies, crawling through his nostrils and down the edge of his throat; the roadrunner nears, circling back. Stupid creature.
Because he is a wily predator, because he has been chosen by God, because he is slow and lumbering compared to his nimble prey, the coyote must employ tools to catch the roadrunner. From where do they come? Only God may know. An enormous length of thick polyester rope lay coiled near his feet, four stark white letters printed across the braided fibers at one end: ACME. He holds the lassoed end of it in his paws and sets the hoop in the center of the road, then ties the opposite end to his wrist and crouches again behind the Brittlebush, tongue swelling, ears pinned back in anticipation.
The roadrunner speeds along the highway, almost more machine than bird. As it rounds a dusty mesa, it turns its head and calls, Beep! Beep! The coyote licks his chops, the roadrunner’s cloud of debris like an arrow pointing to his prey. He clenches the rope, muscles tensed. The roadrunner surges closer and closer, a gust of wind that blows the flowers off the cacti. The great orange sun shines on the coyote. He covers his brow with his free paw and arches his other arm back. Time slows in his eyes and he watches the roadrunner’s three-pronged feet step in slow motion along the dashed line of the road.
Just as the deliciousness of the bird’s scent threatens to send him into delirium, the coyote yanks the rope, the lasso tightening around the roadrunner’s ankle. Success, after an eternity of hunger, is hardly recognizable to the predator. He salivates so uncontrollably and his heart beats so rapidly in bestial arousal that he neglects to reel in his catch. The roadrunner runs on, dragging the rope as it snakes miles down the road in mere seconds.
Beep! Beep! is the last thing the coyote hears before the ground sucks out from under him and he is dragged through the Brittlebush and into the road. Skidding, asphalt waves grate him as the roadrunner’s dust blows into his throat, eyes, nose. Fur and skin tear loose from his body, tiny rocks like teeth bite his flesh. Blood streaking the paint of the white lines pink, the rope carries him until finally the roadrunner turns sharply and the coyote swings, the arm of the rope drawing a perfect parabolic arc, into a prickly cactus. The coyote stuck in a gap in the desert plant’s green arms, the rope pulls, pulls, pulls, and snaps, catapulting the coyote into the fluorescent sky. He crashes like a misfired rocket into a low lying mountain and slides down its jagged edge, dead.
Because God has blessed the coyote with a unique adaptability, death for him is as transitory a state as sleep. Though his lifeless body lies still as the sun falls off the horizon like a dropped anvil, through the cold desert night he works at his regeneration. God alone, watching from the cosmos, sees the coyote’s skin, flayed and hanging loose on each side of his neck like lapels, stitch itself back together. He sees the coyote’s squashed and cracked eyeball roll snugly into its socket. The coyote blinks once and it’s gleaming and whole. And inside, sinews reconnect muscle to bone, heart begins to pump with the vigor of rebirth. By sunrise it is complete.
The coyote gasps awake and sits upright, clenching his sharp, white teeth. What does he remember of his death? Only God may know. It matters little to the predator; to him, the hunt is all that matters. Almost immediately his nose begins to twitch. Though his snout is crooked, the coyote possesses an extraordinary sense of smell.
He wanders through the desert, a never-ending expanse of physically illogical rock formations and deflated plants teeming with hidden life. The lonely trek suits him; the coyote is a solitary creature. One of a kind, he stands on two feet, evolved. Does the journey last days? Weeks? Months? The calendar of man is useless to him. Near the Mexican border, where the engine sounds of the roadrunner buzz in his ears like a small insect, the coyote conjures up his next plan—or rather, the plan conjures him. He emerges from a deep arroyo and it’s resting beside the road, calling to him like a burning bush.
The catapult is large and sturdy, emblazoned with the ACME logo, a large rock preloaded onto the spoon tied to the base. All the coyote will have to do is pull the trigger mechanism at the right moment and the roadrunner will be crushed flat enough to fry like a tortilla. But the coyote is careful. He learns from his mistakes. He adapts. He marks the projected landing point of the rock in the road with some ACME brand paint and launches it in a test-run. The rock hits precisely on the X, and the coyote smiles a twisted, wolfish, hungry smile.
The trap is set. The coyote has sprinkled bird seed in the road for bait, has constructed a sign that reads Free Bird Seed so that it won’t be missed. He sits on his haunches at the side of the road, perfectly still, his paws clasped together in patience or perhaps prayer.
As if on cue, the roadrunner comes zooming toward the trap. The coyote rises, dashes to the base of the catapult, and grasps the trigger rope tightly in his paw. The roadrunner skids to a stop, pecks vacantly at the seed, its snakelike neck outstretched, the usual stupid, aloof expression playing on its face. The coyote can almost taste it now, can almost feel bits of its flesh stuck between his teeth. He licks his lips in a counterclockwise direction and pulls the rope. Instantly a familiar uneasiness overcomes him.
The enormous rock rolls backward off the catapult and topples onto the coyote, crushing his bones to chalky dust, his brain and tongue and eyeballs a pink and yellow mass of liquid goo. The roadrunner, oblivious, sprints onward.
Will it ever end? An ACME brand giant rubber band tied to two boulders at opposite ends of the road snaps the boulders together, crushing the coyote between them. From out of a painted tunnel a truck emerges, its wheels flattening the coyote’s organs against the pavement. The force of a cannonball expelled from an ACME cannon sends the coyote careening off a cliff’s ledge. The roadrunner charges through a pit of superglue at such velocity that it sends waves of the adhesive splattering onto the coyote, catching and drying instantly in his nose and throat, suffocating him. An anvil dropped from an air balloon trampolines off a pair of power lines, hitting the coyote smack in the snout.
And through it all, God watches—for surely there must be something out there that gives meaning to the coyote’s meaningless pursuit. The animal’s pain and anguish saddens this omnipotent force, and yet He concedes the necessity of pain. Still, God wonders, perhaps the creature has suffered enough.
The coyote gallops behind the roadrunner. He has eschewed traps and other devices now for a simple but fruitless hunt. After all, this is how his ancestors did it, an eternal race for survival, bestowed by God with nothing more than the vague and powerful instincts that spurred them onward to the kill. Of course, the coyote’s ancestors did not carry in their paws stainless steel forks and knives the way he does, did not tie napkins around their necks like bibs. The ACME brand silverware is just there, in the coyote’s paws, as if it had always been.
And has he ever wondered? Has the coyote ever thought to ask himself where all the tools come from, what the letters stand for? No. Absorbed by the chase, sprinting on two-feet-become-many, he simply follows his nose.
Beep! Beep! The roadrunner, heels digging into the road like two jackhammers, skids to a stop. The coyote doesn’t. Bursting through a Road Closed sign like a finish line, further and faster he runs, and then gradually, tenuously, he pauses.
There he stands, suspended midair above a great chasm between two towering mountains, only his faith keeping him alive. He looks down, can make out the distant, hard ground below just barely. He pats the floor that’s not there with his foot, his paw. Frowning, broken, he looks down again and gulps. Outward he gazes, as if at God, as if to say, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” As if to say, “Uh-oh.” And he drops, the fading sound of a whistle echoing through the canyon, and collapses like an accordion when he lands, an inert sack of organs.
This time, there is no resurrection. This time, that’s all folks. The coyote’s soul slips out of his body like smoke from a fuse. He floats high over the desert, beckoned upward by a great force toward a realm in which there are no beginnings, middles, or ends. It’s a tremendous relief to be falling in a direction he’s never fallen before. From this high up all the noise of the world is nothing more than a faint beep. The Earth grows distant and shrinks, and the coyote—the essence that was once the coyote—prepares to let go, to allow his soul to be enveloped by the force—God, if one must name it—that has watched over him all this while. And in his last moments as a solitary spirit, absolute knowledge flows into him and he realizes what should have been clear all along: this force, this God, this all-encompassing entity that made the coyote, that lit the first boom and created everything out of nothing, what else could it be but ACME?