ROADRUNNER by Dave Housley

ROADRUNNER by Dave Housley

Roadrunner can see the arches in the distance. Behind them, the mountains. He is running, moving as always, minding the blur of the desert on either side, the potential for danger in the road ahead. Is that a rock mound or an anvil, the shimmer sun a hundred wicks of dynamite simmering.

He moves up a hill and smells the creature, a whiff and then a beak full of rot, a flash of mottled fur and the coyote is lumbering behind. The beast clutches something in his paw. A detonator or a hand crossbow or the complete Acme Mail Order Catalog.

Roadrunner slows a fraction and turns. “Why are you chasing me?” he shouts into the wind.  As always his legs move effortlessly, his body leans slightly forward. His vision blurs as the air rushes around his head.

But the coyote has never endeavored to so much as understand his language and his entreaties will sound like nothing so much as a simple “beep beep” to the animal’s incurious ears.

He runs on. The road dips and rises. The blue horizon remains fixed. The mountains loom ever closer. He feels it before he hears it and before his brain has processed anything the roadrunner finds himself leaning left. Zip! An arrow passes on his right, a few inches from his head. He dips and another arrow flies over his head. He jumps and then watches as another passes under his feet.

He wonders at the coyote, almost respects the animal’s pure drive. After all these years, after each time he crashed into a mountainside or blew himself up or ran smack into a cleverly planted anvil, the coyote continues his pursuit. If Roadrunner weren’t the object of the animal’s murderous objective, he might find the sense of duty admirable.

Roadrunner can hear the coyote’s ragged breath, the lopsided carriage of his claws scrabbling away. He rounds a turn and pauses. A pass, a narrow suspension bridge, a rocky canyon below.

Coyote stops as well. He sucks the air in great, desperate gulps. His rotten breath is like an oppressive heat. Roadrunner wonders if he is going to have a heart attack right here on this road.

“Let us stop this madness,” he says.

Coyote bares his fangs. He swipes his back paws on the road. Roadrunner wonders where he will go to lick his wounds, if there are cubs there to greet him, a partner, a pack. Even as he pities the poor creature, his brain is gauging distances, his muscles coiled and ready. “You do know the definition of madness?” he says.

Coyote wipes drool from his face. He walks a few steps and then he is running, his paws clenched, fangs bent to either side of his face, eyes closed in concentration.

Roadrunner retakes his path with the animal close behind. He allows the coyote to gain until just before the bridge. He stops, darts right, and cuts the ropes. He waits to hear the scream, the crash of the coyote’s body on the canyon floor, but there is nothing but the wind.

He turns his back to the canyon. He runs.

Dave Housley's first novel, “This Darkness Got to Give,” was released in 2018. He is the author of four story collections, most recently “Massive Cleansing Fire” and “If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home.” He is one of the founding editors and do-stuff people at Barrelhouse, and he makes his actual living as a web strategist and manager at Penn State. He tweets at @housleydave.