Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Skinwalker

A Haibun

The first days were hardest. This, Alex thought, was no great insight. Grateful Dead lyrics, if he remembered correctly. “Come see Uncle John’s band…” and so forth. The heat during the middle of the day cooked him, and trying to find anywhere to take shelter was a big challenge. It wasn’t the Kalahari, but it was rough country. He was just glad he knew it. Knowing, however, didn’t buy you that much. Landmarks, distances, what to expect at various times of the year. Knowing, from a human’s perspective, wasn’t quite enough.

A lot to get used to. The quiet. The fact that there was no television to watch in the still of the evening. There were no paychecks to look forward to, and no beers to drink at the end of the day. Then there was the food. He remembered the first time he’d caught something, cracking the struggling lizard’s back between his back teeth and dropping it. He’d watched it try to claw itself forward across the slick rock, only its front legs still animate, a blood trail stretching from its pierced side. This had gone on for some time before the lizard had, at last, gone still.

The hunger in his stomach had finally decided it. He’d scooped it up and, chewing as little as he could, swallowed the dead creature down whole. The blood had tasted salty and disgusting on his tongue, and he’d skipped away, down to the shores of the shallow lake to drink the aftermath away. Since then, there’d been lizards, mice, a few snakes, countless insects, and one quail he’d surprised next to the split rail fence bordering the dusty road. He hoped for litter now. Sometimes there’d be part of a burger or a few stale French fries in the bottom of a wadded Burger King bag at the side of the road. Of course, things didn’t taste the same now, but he took what he could take. Coyotes always did.

Alex sat by the road, far enough back that the rooster tails of dust didn’t get him when a truck came barreling along, and looked up at the moon. That night, he’d eaten well enough, and it was comfortably warm that night. He rested his chin on his paws and listened to the sound of a Chevy small block recede, then an old Ford straight six come closer. At first, he’d come closer to town, desperate to see and hear and smell all that he’d been and known. The kids had thrown rocks at him from the patchy grass next to the cinderblock Community Center. One had hit him right on the hip, stinging like crazy.

He’d wondered if he could survive like this. He’d wondered if he wanted to. He couldn’t see a way back, not to walking upright and being what he’d been. His job at the power station was far behind now, and his little trailer probably given to one of the relatives he didn’t like much. If he wanted to end it, it would be easy enough to dart in front of a vehicle at twilight. If the tire him square-on, it would be quick. Just a sharp pain, then nothing. Someone would come by with a shovel or a stick and pitch him off the side of the road. The big ravens that lived by the lake and ate the marina scraps would come down on him when he started to stink, and the bugs would finish up after that. No remark, no remorse, no evidence of his ever having existed. Just like before. The world moves on, and taking one person out of it, even a person whose importance is lauded, means very little in the end. If he wanted to, he could just fade away.

But he found he didn’t want that. It was hard at first, and life was a progression of fears and hopes and hungers, but he guessed that was just the same as it had ever been. Things were just simpler now. A little owl fluttered overhead, lighting on the top rail of the fence. It had a mouse in its claws, and it ripped it up, swallowing each piece with a twitch of its head and a click of its beak. It turned its big, lamp-like yellow eyes to him and stared, like owls do. He wondered if they were wise, or if it was only the way they were shaped that gave that impression. His chin came up just a little. Alex wondered if he could move and leap quickly enough to catch it. Chances were slim. He didn’t try. There was always something. If it came down to it, he could always steal food from the cans on the verge of town. Maybe catch someone’s overfed house cat. For tonight, it was good enough to watch the road, and think of things that had happened to him back when he lived there.

These things I have been
roads walked, houses owned, people
I once cared about

The town once contained
me, I always looked outward
now I gaze back in

What was once a man
is now clad in fur and tooth
watching from the dust

Is there belonging
for any of us in life
should we expect it?

The violence of
blood on the tongue calls down peace
stomach once more filled

Moon above the sand
an owl upon the fencepost
the truck’s dust settles

11 comments:

swiftboat said...

What a great short story. Quite engaging. I've always liked tails of outdoor survival - they seem to get to the core of things quite rapidly. It's an entiging metamorphasis, man to coyote. I like that you didn't give the dog any supernatural capability. It's been a while since you graced us with a Haibun. Thanks.

drthunder said...

Fascinating right to the last word. This is another one that you ended while I still wanted more.

Bill said...

Yep.... me too!! I could have easily read this tale for an hour... it moved very well, and had my mind quite busy with thoughts of "wouldn't it be more than a little hellish, to fully remember that past life??"

I also liked the instant switch... as the words led me there, and it was an easy shift.

Is there belonging for any of us in life should we expect it?

A question for the ages!!

Billy Jones said...

I’m sorry if you think this comment SPAM, I just popped in to tell you about Poets101.com and the list of 100 Blogging Poets In 100 Days-- Episode II. By the way, you made the list-- Congratulations.

Firehawk said...

Swiftboat,

I think that they take a bit more effort than some of the other forms, but I like the haibun pretty well. Melds my fiction guy with my poetry guy. I didn't want to overplay the supernatural angle on this one. Having a guy turn into a coyote was, I think, as far as I needed it to go. Thanks for coming by.

Doc,

I thought about amplifying this one into an extensive short story interspersed with haikus, but I felt like the kernel of the story worked, and didn't see a reason to keep going. I felt that anything further would run the risk of diluting the impact.

Bill,

I think the burning ember at the core of any metamorphic story is the question of fitting in and making peace with a "place in life".

These questions are easy enough to ask. It's the answering that gets tricky.

Bloggingpoet,

Glad to be included on your list. Sorry I've updated both the tagline and the "About me" part since you put your information up, but I didn't think anyone was watching. In any case, it's an honor, and I hope your listing brings a few people over to see what I'm doing.

As always, thanks to everyone, both commenting and not, for coming by.

Mushster said...

You didn't see a reason to keep going? Tsk tsk your fans always want more! ;)

Seriously though, Mr Fiction Guy should write a book. I'd buy it :)

MB said...

What a treat to come back to this, Firehawk. I, too, was left wanting more. That's a good thing, really. This was quite wonderful.

But I was left with questions... how and why the change from man to coyote... and how could this character stand its current life... in what ways was he still human (or not)... and... what next?

But I think it makes sense that you stopped where you did. It's a good stopping point. To go further perhaps would take a larger scale leap. Or maybe it could be done in a series, I don't know.

And yes, I miss Ken very much, too.

Firehawk said...

Mush,

I have been known to write a book from time to time. Hoping to one day find an agent who knows an editor who knows a publisher...

MB,

I thought briefly about making this one a really long one, but by the time I'd written down this first segment, I felt that the most vital and vibrant things about the character and his situation had already been expressed.

The questions about how the condition came about and why are not addressed, though I allude to the Navajo idea of Skinwalkers, people who can assume the shape of animals. I guess I didn't want to bog this one down in detail and backstory too much. I try not to overexplain. Sometimes I "underexplain".

Glad to see you back. Hope your time away was well spent.

Yes, the blogging community is diminished in Ken's absence. He was one of the very few, and will be missed.

Bill said...

Firehawk... I was thinking about Ken, just the other day... I miss his visits to my site, almost as much as I miss his work

Firehawk said...

Bill,

Yes, Ken's deep, clear thinking is something I often miss.

Frann said...

See? I'm not the only one you leave wanting more...

Keep Smilin'!

About Science

The density of objects activations in space voids within them as they spin, a thousand invisible quanta things only made real b...