Cooter’s Tale

I’m reading my NaNoWriMo novel from 2010, hoping to get it in shape to pitch at the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association conference in Seattle this July. It’s called You Jane, and its heroine writes little fables that just happen to come true, and cause havoc in her life and the lives of those around her. Here’s an excerpt, polished up a bit, that made me smile. Thanks to my friends Marie and Kurt for the inspiration. And it’s this week’s Project Create.

ImageOnce upon a time, it was a dark and stormy night. A shot rang out.

The dog, Ranger, looked toward the door and gave a mournful howl.

Cooter reached for his shotgun. He’d grown up around here, and had the teeth to prove it. More accurately, he was missing the teeth to prove it. Poverty, lack of fluoride in the water, and a brutal father took care of three upper and two lower teeth. Cooter grabbed the shotgun and opened the door for Ranger, and they went to the pickup truck. It was big and grey and could seat four people, but there was never anyone to ride in it other than Cooter and Ranger. You might think someone as poor and ignorant as Cooter would also be a mean sonofabitch. But he loved his dog, and took better care of Ranger than he did of himself. Ranger, of course, had all his original teeth.

They drove in the dark a ways; living far away from any one else there was no reason for street lights. Cooter was pretty sure he knew where the shot came from, and he’d had about enough of it. The Green family on the other side of the hill were not good to their dogs. Them Greens were always shooting at something, and one of these days someone was going to get hurt.

Cooter had that thought  – someones gonna get hurt – right before he came around the curve and the truck’s lights caught the tall, lanky man out walking in the road with his knapsack. Cooter saw the man just in time to swerve and miss hitting him, landing the big grey truck in the shallow ditch by the side of the road. Shit, thought Cooter, now I have to deal with this instead of giving them Greens a piece of my mind.

The man with the knapsack walked over to him. “Oh, I’m so sorry, sir,” he said to Cooter. “All my fault. No way I should’ve been walking down the middle of the road like that. It’s just been such a long time since anyone went by, and I was kind of lost in my thoughts.”

Cooter was too stunned at being called “sir” to wonder how the man had been finding his way in the dark, too stunned to reply right away, which made the knapsack man think he might be hurt. “Sir, are you hurt?” the man asked Cooter. Ranger came trotting around the truck, having used the opportunity to water a nearby shrub. The man was relieved too, knowing that the dog would be far more upset if his human was seriously hurt.

Seeing his dog shook Cooter back to the immediate situation, and he got himself out of the truck, stood back, and took a look. “Nah, no serious damage. Ditch is too shallow, truck is too big, and my head is too hard,” Cooter grinned.

“Well, sir, I’m sure relieved,” said the knapsack man. “Let me help you push the truck back on the road at least.” They did, together, in a burst of effort that didn’t take much more than twenty minutes, while Ranger ran from one side to the other, tongue lolling, tail wagging. As soon as the truck was righted, the two men leaned against it, gazed at the night sky, glad the rain had stopped, and wondered how best to take their leave from one another.

Suddenly Ranger stiffened, and the fur on his back stood up. He let out a low growl. Both men stood up straight. “What is it, boy,” Cooter said quietly, less a question than an acknowledgement. For the second time that night, just as he thought something, it happened, and it came into view.

A coyote.

The coyote looked at them, from one to the other – Cooter, knapsack man, and Ranger. Then it did something unusual.

It sat down.

Then it did something downright strange.

It spoke.

Later Cooter would never be sure any of this really happened. But at the time, he was sure that coyote had itself a little conversation with the knapsack man.

“I’ve been looking for you,” it said. “You were supposed to stay with me.”

The knapsack man looked sad. “I know,” he said. “I got lost.”

“You didn’t get lost, you left,” said the coyote.

“I left because I was lost,” said the man.

“So,” said the coyote. “Are you still lost or can we go now?”

“I’m not sure,” said the man. “But let’s go anyway, and see where we wind up.”

And off they strolled, coyote and knapsack man. Ranger stood and wagged his tail after them. 

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