|The Coyote and Road Runner Show
(dedicated to Oboroten, whose wonderful comments made this story what it is today)
by Michael Bard
© Michael Bard -- all rights reserved
Chapter 1: A Point of Honour
David sat down on the balcony to take a break from the Halloween party. It was getting a bit hot and a bit loud for him - so hot that his goggles were starting to fog up. He had come dressed up as Billy Bishop from World War I just to see if anybody figured it out.
Unfortunately two people thought he was the Red Baron, and nobody else even had a clue. He sighed. Nobody cared about the history of the previous millennium anymore.
"Taking a break?"
He turned around and looked up into the face of a pig dressed in a green coverall with a little bit of twisted wire on his head.
He frowned for a bit and then smiled. It had to be Kate - only his friend, and her husband, Stephen would have come up with that costume. And the three of them were probably the only ones who would recognize the ancient cartoon reference.
"Did Duck Dodgers find Planet X without you?"
The pig smiled for a second, and then frowned. There was a momentary flicker, and then the projection of Porky's head vanished, leaving Kate's human face bare. She sighed.
"Its Stephen. Nobody has a clue as to what he is, as I warned him, and he's starting to lose it. And with all he's been drinking... I wanted to get away before the explosion." She sat down.
"Well, the night's almost over, then things will be back to normal for another year."
David stood up. "Here, let me help you relax." He walked around behind her and started massaging her back.
They remained in silence for a few minutes before they were interrupted.
"Billy, take your hands off my sidekick right now, before I'm forced to use my Ultimate Weapon."
David stopped and turned around and looked down at a black duck in a green uniform. He couldn't see Stephen's face beneath the projection, but he could smell the alcohol on his breath.
The duck pulled out a gun (clearly labeled ACME). "I said now!"
David let go. "Stephen, you know I..."
"Who is this Stephen? I am Duck Dodgers, in the 24th and a half century! And what have you done to my sidekick?"
David heard Kate sigh and saw her costume flicker back into existence.
"Stephen, you've had a long night, maybe we should go home," Kate said.
"No! Not until I've found Planet X! I must replenish the Shaving Cream Atom!"
"Stephen, Duck Dodgers, whatever, I'm sorry." David started backing away.
"That's not good enough!" Stephen bounced forward and whipped the side of his pistol against David's cheek.
The blow made David lose his balance and fall off the balcony. Fortunately the artificial-G field caught him, and slowly moved him back to the railing. David grabbed it. He'd never been in danger but his cheek stung. Enough is enough! He'd been tolerant of Stephen's growing annoyance for years, but not anymore.
"Stephen Alfred James, this time you have gone too far. I formally challenge you to combat."
Duck Dodgers' face suddenly calmed and David could no longer smell any alcohol on Stephen's breath. "I accept your challenge. And, as the challenged party, I choose the means of the challenge."
David had a sinking feeling - in fact he felt set up. "And what are your terms?"
Duck Dodgers grinned. "Simple. I will be the Coyote, and you will be the Road Runner. If I can catch you in one week, then I win."
David looked around. A crowd had gathered but none of them had a clue as to what Stephen was talking about. David's mind clicked - of course! Maybe this challenge was what Stephen had wanted all the time. But, what the hell, it could be fun. "I accept."
"Fine. Lets begin in two weeks."
Duck Dodgers helped his sidekick up and the two left. David climbed up and over the railing, watching them walk away. Something about this worried him, it wasn't like Stephen to do things like this. And the fake drunkenness... He shook his head - he would find out in two weeks.
For the next two weeks he read up about the road runner bird. Through Stephen he know of the archaic Warner Brothers version, but since he would become an actual one, just like Stephen would become an actual coyote, David wanted to know all about the actual road runner. And he did find out some interesting things. Road runners were more meat eaters than seed eaters, living primarily off of small rodents. Most interesting was that they could actually fly - they generally just didn't do so.
He smiled - he didn't think Stephen knew about the flight.
And he checked into other things, like other predators he could run into. The first time he'd done this kind of thing, the body he had been using ended up being consumed - he just barely got out in time. He checked and the only predator he really had to worry about, other than Stephen, was the rattlesnake. Fortunately they would almost never attack another predator. Unfortunately when they did attack, they generally wouldn't rattle to warn him. He would have to be careful.
Too soon the two weeks were up and he arrived at the entrance to the MT Suspension Facility. A few minutes later Stephen arrived.
They walked through the entrance to the waiting room where they were greeted by Dr. Brandon.
"Gentlemen, are you ready?"
They both nodded.
"Then, unless you have any questions..." He raised his eyebrows.
David knew what was going to happen - he had vacationed here before, often with Stephen, but not in the last few years. They would be put to sleep in tubes and their minds would be linked electronically with the nervous system of the chosen animals. Even though their bodies would be here asleep, for all intents they would be the creatures.
"Lets be on our way then. Everything is already set up - if you'll follow me?"
Dr. Brandon turned and David and Stephen followed. Shortly they arrived in the suspension room and both climbed into their glass coffins.
"Before I put you out I am required to remind you that at any time you can end your experience and return here just by willing it. I must also remind you that if the animal you are controlling dies while you are in control of it, you will likely die with it. You've both signed the waiver forms but I still have to ask you to confirm this."
"Yes." David and Stephen both answered together.
"Fine, then lets get you to sleep."
Some assistants helped them remove their clothes and climb into the glass coffins where various monitors and tubes were attached. Then the tops closed and a cold mist flowed into the tubes. David closed his eyes and soon his mind was gone.
Chapter 2: Road Runner (Tid-Bittius Velocitus)
He was perched on a rock looking out over a tangle of dried out brush lit by the setting moon. He could see the head of a rattlesnake hanging out of his mouth and could feel the body of the snake extending down into his stomach. Opening his beak, he swallowed a few more inches.
It was odd feeling a snake stretch down his throat - odd but strangely comfortable.
He hopped off the rock and onto the dirt, the head of the snake bouncing up and down.
Now what? He closed his eyes and concentrated - there. The coyote was off that way, about one kilometre - probably on that hill David could see. Good, that meant that the implant he had was working - the game wouldn't be much fun if they couldn't find each other. Better yet, he wasn't thirsty, and wouldn't need any food until he finished digesting the snake.
He looked up at the moon - it was so clear he could even see some lights from the lunar cities. Given how close the moon was to the horizon, and when he went under, it should be almost dawn. He looked around and found a dried out bush. He bounded over and wiggled under its branches, forcing a small depression into the dirt. Then he turned around to look out towards where the coyote was.
He would wait out the heat of the day and see what happened.
Gradually the sun rose and he began to doze off. He opened his beak and swallowed a few more inches of snake - the head just beginning to enter his beak. Looking around he could see nothing threatening, and could only hear a few insects. He closed his eyes and went to sleep.
Some time later he awoke - the sun was high in the sky. He swallowed a few more inches of rattlesnake and looked around - what had awakened him? Then he heard it - a high pitched but faint whine that was growing louder. He wiggled out from under the bush and looked around.
There it was - a flyer, bright red, running low to the ground, its gravity fields raising a faint cloud of dust. It would pass almost over top of him. Shit! He closed his eyes and concentrated - good, it wasn't Stephen. He started to turn around but then he noticed a logo in bold yellow letters on the side of the craft.
If his beak wasn't already open, it would have dropped.
The flyer was clearly labeled: ACME.
But there was no ACME!...unless Stephen had created it just for this.
David spun around and wiggled back under the bush and turned back around to keep an eye out for predators.
So, Stephen wanted to play it that way. David should have known. He would have to look for some other road runners that he could use as decoys, but that would have to wait until closer to dusk after the wilderness had cooled down. He went back to sleep.
He woke up late in the afternoon. First he gulped down the last of the snake. Then he wiggled out from under the bush and looked around.
Nothing. Nothing but dried out brush and dried out dirt. At least he didn't need to find water - the snake had provided plenty of liquid. He turned and looked in the direction the flyer had been going - he could see the small hill he had detected Stephen on. He squinted his eyes and could see the flash of something metal from the hill.
A puff of dirt burst from the ground just in front of him.
He heard the bang of a gunshot echoing in the wilderness.
He turned and ran away, his head bobbing to keep his balance. He ran behind the bush he had been sleeping under just in time to see another puff of dirt beside him. He stretched his wings and bounded into the air and flew a few feet until he was behind the rock he'd awoken on.
He heard the crack of a bullet ricocheting off the rock. A couple seconds later he heard the sound of the rifle off in the distance. He was safe for the moment.
He looked around, trying to find options. All he could see was some brush and lots of small rocks. He looked around more desperately as another puff of dirt appeared off to the side.
There! About ten metres away he could see a steep gully. Perfect cover. But he would have to time it just right...
He waited as the bang of the gun echoed. A few seconds passed, and then he saw a puff of dirt, again off to the side. Now! He raced out and launched himself just off the ground, flapping his wings frantically. They couldn't keep him up for long - that's why road runners ran - but should for long enough.
Finally the sound of the gun firing caught up to him. By then he was at the edge of the gully and dove into it, flapping his wings to try to slow down.
He slammed into the bottom and shook his head to clear it. He had practiced in simulations but obviously hadn't mastered flight yet.
It was dim in the gully and getting darker as the sun went down. He heard another crack of a rifle firing. He turned to the left and ran down the gully, keeping to the side closest to the coyote. Leisurely he kept his speed at about 20 kilometers per hour.
The night passed slowly, and each time David checked he could sense Stephen behind him - Stephen didn't seem to be moving. Thanks to the snake David wasn't hungry or thirsty so he could keep running. The gully deepened for a ways, but then started to shallow. Near dawn it was almost gone, but Stephen was much further away. David found a crevice with some bushes and hid underneath one of them. Then he went to sleep.
He awoke late in the day, feeling hungry. It wasn't the same as when he was human, it was more a feeling of slight dryness and hollowness, rather than the grumbling of his stomach. He crept out from under the bush and started traveling roughly east, the same direction that the gully had been going. He kept a wary eye out for something to eat.
Slowly the sun set, and slowly David's need for food increased. It wasn't until the sun was almost below the horizon that he finally saw something - a rodent off to the left in the shadows. He turned and raced after it. Somehow, the rodent sensed him and fled down a hole long before David got near.
It was time for patience.
David moved downwind from the burrow and crouched down on the ground and waited, his beady eyes glaring at the hole. The sun set and the moon began to rise, giving some light, although more was given from the sun's reflection off the communication-wings high over the cities off to the west. Gradually that light dimmed as the sun fell further beneath the horizon until only the moon lit the darkness.
David stared at the hole.
Then there was movement. It was gone.
More movement. The rodent was coming back out.
David did nothing.
The rodent sniffed and then crept out of its burrow.
The rodent started to move away, slowly, often stopping. A little further. Now about half a metre.
David leapt forward and opened his beak and grabbed his victim's neck in his beak and crunched down.
The rodent squeaked, then died.
David smiled to himself. He let the rodent drop and then grabbed it with his beak and slowly gulped it down. It tasted hot and salty, and crunched in his beak. He could even feel its fur tickling his throat.
He felt much better.
He paused, dropped a few dry pellets, and continued on eastward.
For the rest of the night David kept on the move, slowly heading east. He had a plan - he would rest during the day, hunt in the early evening, and travel through the night, pausing to grab a snack when he could. He passed a large, dense area of brush and rocks and could see movement within it - but he was full and he wanted to keep ahead of Stephen. And since Stephen would have to stop to eat, it shouldn't be difficult.
This contest should actually be easy.
Finally, when he could see the sun starting to peep across the horizon, he looked for another good hiding place to spend the day. This time he found a crevice in some rocks. Nice, safe, and well shaded during the day.
And Stephen was kilometres away to the west.
David awoke around the middle of the afternoon. It was hot and dry, and he felt uncomfortable even in the shade. So why had he woken up?
He looked around and listened. There, off to the west - a cloud of dust and the whine of an electric engine. Probably just somebody else - although this preserve was supposed to be kept clear for the duration. He wiggled back further into his hole and watched.
The cloud of dust got closer and soon David could make out that it was indeed a vehicle - a green jeep of some kind. David strained to make out the driver as it got closer and finally he could.
It was a coyote.
David shook his head and watched, hoping his eyes were deceiving him.
He watched as the jeep came closer. He could see the coyote holding the steering wheel in his jaws. Although David was in a bit of shock, and worried, he still idly wondered how the coyote was controlling the speed. Stephen was taking this much too seriously. It got worse though. In the back of the vehicle was a large, horribly archaic, machine gun.
David swallowed and backed as far into his hole as he could go.
The vehicle stopped about 50 metres away from David's hiding place. He could see it clearly now. He watched as the coyote jumped into the back and grasped the handle of a machine gun in his mouth. There was silence for a moment as the coyote moved the machine gun. Then, with a crashing roar of gunpowder, it fired.
David pulled his neck flush against his body. That's it - Stephen had won. He surrendered and willed his mind back to his body before it was too late.
He waited a moment and opened his eyes - he was still hiding in the rocks.
He tried again - nothing.
And why wasn't he dead?
He stretched out his head and looked out of his hole.
The jeep was still there, but the coyote had left. David looked around and saw him checking the body of another road runner.
Thank god, a decoy. Thank god the sensors they both had were inaccurate. But then, it wouldn't have been much of a contest if they weren't.
But it wouldn't last long. If the other road runner wasn't dead already, it would be soon. And when Stephen wasn't returned to his body he would know that he had shot the wrong one.
But Stephen was away from his jeep - it was time to flee - now. But where? David remembered the dense brush and rocks he had seen last night - that would have to be it. The jeep shouldn't be able to travel around there. He would have to hide there for another four days. David swallowed dryly, and leapt out of his hole and ran as fast as he could back the way he had come. Occasionally his panic pushed him into the air for a few seconds.
For a few minutes he heard nothing. But then, much too soon, he heard the whine of the jeep from behind him.
He prayed that the machine gun had a tiny label warning that it would not work against road runners, but he knew that wasn't the case - it had already killed one road runner.
He ran faster and tried to fly further, but he could still hear the jeep catching up. Then the whine stopped.
He slowed down for a second. What? Then it hit him - the machine gun! He turned sharply to the left towards some rocks just as the machine gun barked into life behind him. The bullets kicked up dust from where he'd been a moment before.
He leapt into the air as the machine gun stopped for a second. Then it started again. He could feel the force of bullets whizzing by just behind him.
He couldn't fly anymore and landed, running for his life. The machine gun fire stopped.
No time to wonder why. He was almost there. He leapt into the air and flapped his wings frantically, zigzagging to the left and to the right, but the machine gun remained silent.
Then he was in the brush.
Exhausted, he landed and scurried behind some rocks.
He opened his beak panting for breath. Slowly he stretched his neck so he could see out.
There was the jeep - it was stopped. And there was the coyote with the machine gun. He was wrestling with something with his mouth. David squinted - it looked like another belt of ammo - the gun must have run out! Now he had some time.
He spun around and dashed further into the brush and rocks looking for a deep hole. After a few minutes of dodging around boulders and flying over crevices he found a small hole. He slipped into the tunnel and started wiggling down into it.
Then, in front of him, he heard a rasping scrape of scales against stone.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit!
He started backing out of the hole as the rasping got louder.
He didn't have time for this. Road runners ate snakes, but he wasn't sure if he could kill one. Thank god the snake wouldn't chase him. All he had to do was back out quietly and worry about the coyote.
He heard a rasping scrape inside the tunnel, and a faint hiss. The snake was following him.
What the hell? It shouldn't be doing this! Maybe it was mating or something. He reached the entrance and backed away. The rattlesnake followed.
He couldn't run, he didn't have time to run. He could fell the machine gun pointing at his back. But he had to ignore that and concentrate on the snake in front of him. At least it wasn't too big - only half a metre or so long. Maybe it was attacking him because it was too young to know better.
Be he couldn't worry about the reason now.
He watched the snake intently as it raised it's head off the ground. The forked tongue slowly slipped in and out. Its rattle remained silent.
The head started to move.
He leapt off to his right, just in time as the strike missed. Not completely though as it got a tail feather and ripped it out.
Pain. But no time for pain now. He spun around and watched the snake. He would have to fight back. At the next strike he would go for the throat.
He waited and watched, his head slowly bobbing up and down watching the snake. He saw the snake tense. He saw the head start to move.
Now! He leapt forward under the strike and grabbed the snakes neck, or at least its body behind its mouth, in his beak. Or tried to. He got a bit, but then the snake slithered back and got free. Shit, he should have leapt after it. Then he remembered - it wasn't the neck that a road runner went for, it was the tail!
He watched the snake, waiting for it to strike. The snake watched him. He waited. He knew the coyote was moving, but he couldn't concentrate to confirm. He had to watch the snake. The snakes head bobbed and he bobbed his head with it.
It stopped. It tensed. It struck.
He leapt straight towards it, keeping his body low to the ground. He half saw the snake strike the ground and start to slither back but this time he flapped his wings and flew after and over it. He got his beak around its tail near its rattle and squeezed, flapping and pushing the snake backwards. Then he strained with his neck and whipped the snake as though it was a whip, slamming its head into the ground.
In its panic the snake started to rattle.
As it rattled, it struggled and tried to position itself to strike its foe, but David kept whipping the snake's body back and forth. His neck grew tired but he couldn't stop. Gradually, slowly, the rattle stopped and David felt the snake give a last shudder as it died.
David collapsed to the ground exhausted, but he forced himself to get up. He shook the snake a bit to make sure it was dead and it was. Then he hopped over to the tail and grabbed it in his beak and began swallowing the snake. He got the tail down and than backed into the hole, dragging the rest of the snake with him.
Finally he reached the end of the hole and swallowed some more snake - about 10 centimetres of the it was still sticking out.
He collapsed in exhaustion but refused to fall asleep.
Slowly his breath calmed as nothing happened. Just silence and the occasional whisper of the wind.
Finally he relaxed and had time to think. What had happened? Stephen was going insane about this. But why so lethal? If the machine gun had raked him, he might not have had time to flip back. But then he had tried and couldn't. Why was that?
He swallowed some more of the snake.
Had somebody sabotaged his connection? Had Stephen? Was he that jealous that he would attempt murder?
No, David couldn't believe that. But...
He would have to survive for the next four days and then other systems would hopefully return his mind to controlling his actual body.
Unless Stephen was able to stop that too.
No! David refused to believe it. It had to be a fault.
It had to be.
Gradually David fell into restless napping, occasionally gulping down some more of the snake.
Chapter 3: Classic Tricks that Shouldn't Work
The next night passed safely as David was able to remain near the hole the rattler had been using. First he stopped and concentrated on the coyote - Stephen was moving around the brush, but David had no idea what he was planning. Then, as the sun set, he crept out of his hole and looked for food, staying near it just in case. With the dawn he returned to his hole and went back to a light sleep.
Only three more days to go.
He woke up late in the afternoon. He didn't feel normal. It wasn't hunger as he couldn't feel the slight emptiness he had felt before. He didn't think it was thirst. Still... He crept to the entrance of his hole to look around.
It was hot and dry, with a noticeable breeze raising a little bit of dust. He concentrated. The coyote was a good distance away. Still, it was better to remain safe. But he couldn't...
He felt drawn. He needed to get out. Almost against his will he crept the rest of the way out of his hole. It was like he could smell something... Something wonderful. He stretched his head high and looked around.
Nothing. Just brush, rocks, and dust. But, over there, there was something.
He dashed across the open ground and under a bush so that he could see the object clearly.
It was a small red dish piled high with something. Stuck into it was a white sign clearly labeled "Bird Seed."
He stopped. What the hell? Road runners rarely ate seed. Why was it so attractive?
He crept a bit closer. He felt drawn, he couldn't resist. But he knew it was a trap.
He shook his head and forced himself to dash off to the left and under another bush. Even though he hadn't wanted to, he still moved closer.
It smelled so good, so wonderful...
He shook his head. It was a trap - it had to be a trap.
He opened his beak and panted. That cleared his head a little. He closed his eyes and forced himself to think.
It wasn't the seeds themselves, it must be something added to them. Maybe it was a pheromone of some kind. That made sense and would explain why it was so hard to resist. Maybe if he got upwind?
He looked around and saw another bush. He dashed to it. But still he couldn't help but move a little closer.
It was so good!
No! He shook his head. He was about a quarter of the way around. Just a little bit more. He selected another bush, making sure it was further away this time.
He ran over to it and ducked underneath.
And he had moved further away.
He closed his eyes and concentrated - the need was no longer as urgent. He'd escaped. But what had he escaped? He opened his eyes and looked carefully at the trap.
There was a bowl and seed out in the open. He could see no strings or chains. He waited until the wind blew some dust but there was nothing. No lasers. So what was it?
He concentrated on the coyote and sensed him about half a kilometre away, nearly directly opposite the trap from him. He looked. Off in the distance the ground rose to a rocky outcropping. That was probably where the coyote was. He watched and waited.
There! A flash of light.
The coyote must be up there with a rifle and a scope waiting.
He shook his head. So simple. The pheromones lure him out, and the coyote shoots him at a distance.
It was a bit early, but he could start hunting anyway. He began to move away from the trap looking for food.
He wanted to get as much distance as possible in case the wind changed.
The rest of the day and night were quiet and David was even able to catch a fat mouse. He found a small crevice in a pile of broken rocks to sleep in through the day.
This time he made sure it was empty first.
David was just waking up at the end of the afternoon when he heard a whining buzz in the distance. At first he could barely make it out, but it steadily grew louder. Eventually the volume stopped rising and remained constant. David looked up and thought he could see a plane up in the sky, circling the area. But it didn't look right.
It looked far away, but sounded close.
Then it hit him - it was a model plane.
But why would a model plane be circling around here. Unless it was controlled by the coyote.
Which meant it had to be a trap.
He would wait and see what would happen.
He scrunched back into his hole, until his tail was bent painfully and waited.
Time passed. Gradually the wildlife got use to the noise as nothing happened. David could see a mouse in the wilderness. Then he noticed another road runner watching the mouse.
His hunting skills could probably use a teacher so he watched and waited.
Time passed and the mouse moved further from its burrow. The road runner just waited. Then, in an instant, it leapt forward and pounced on the mouse and killed it.
David wasn't sure how as it had been too fast to follow.
Suddenly the buzzing whine grew louder and David looked up just in time to see the plane glinting in the light from the setting sun as it dove onto the road runner that was eating the mouse.
The plane hit the ground and exploded, leaving a crater. There was no sign of the road runner or its mouse.
David shook his head to collect his thoughts.
So that was the current plan. He vaguely remembered planes like that from one of the cartoons.
And unfortunately, as had been proven, the little planes likely did not have a tiny label warning that they would not work against road runners.
He waited, afraid to move.
Gradually the wildlife calmed down and went back to feeding. Then David could hear another faint buzz in the distance getting louder.
But how would Stephen know he wasn't killed? Of course, Stephen would still be a coyote. Even more, with that kind of damage his transmitter would be destroyed. Since the coyote could still sense him, he would know that he'd gotten the wrong one. But how were the planes being guided? There must be some kind of camera in the nose or belly.
If he could, he would quit and return to his body. With that kind of firepower he could be completely destroyed before any kind of fail safes could return him. This was getting ridiculous! He tried willing the return anyway.
Of course nothing happened.
Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!
But why was Stephen using such overwhelming force? Maybe the planes had some kind of device to force him back before impact. But maybe they didn't. Maybe Stephen did want to actually kill him.
He wouldn't give Stephen the satisfaction!
Ok. Now what?
Since there had been only one plane at a time, it seemed likely that Stephen could only control one at a time. That meant that there would be a short period of safety between the time one plane hit it's target and the next one arrived. He would have to use that gap to get better cover. And hopefully grab some food, although that would be difficult. Fortunately he'd eaten well last night so he wasn't desperate.
He waited a while until the buzz suddenly grew louder and there was another explosion.
And another dead road runner.
But no time to worry about that. He dashed out and ran full out back towards the hole he had killed the rattlesnake in. That was the best cover he knew of.
He had made it almost half way before he heard another buzz in the distance.
He looked around for the nearest bush and dashed under it, getting as far under as he could. Then he waited.
He had to do something. He had tonight and one more night to go, but he couldn't survive that long without any food. And as long as those planes were around he couldn't hunt.
He waited, and eventually there was another loud explosion, and another dead road runner.
He made it the rest of the way back to the rattlesnake's hole before the next buzz got too loud and carefully crept into it - watching and listening for new owners.
It was still empty.
He was at the bottom when the buzz stopped increasing in volume. He waited, knowing what would happen.
He knew what he would have to do. He would have to wait the night out. He would have to survive without food. And, during the heat of the day while the coyote napped, he would have to attack.
It was time to change the rules of the game.
Chapter 4: Changing the Rules
David tried napping during the night but didn't have much success. The three more explosions along with their three more dead road runners certainly didn't help either. Finally, with agonizing slowness, the sun started to rise.
David peeped out of his hole and listened. Nothing but silence, along with a faint buzzing. Another plane on watch.
He waited at the edge of his hole. Eventually the plane would go back as the coyote napped.
The sun rose and the day grew hot.
Finally, late in the morning, or what seemed like it, the buzzing grew faint and finally faded out.
David still waited. He waited, watching the sun rise slowly. He waited until noon. And all this time there was silence.
Finally he crept out of his hole.
He thought and sensed the coyote. Stephen was about four kilometres away, off to the south. But how had he moved so far? David looked and could barely make out some outcroppings in the distance. Those were probably where his enemy was. And he remembered the jeep - that was how Stephen was able to move around so fast.
David faced south and started running.
The ground was warm under his feet, and he breathed easily. He kept running. He could have gone faster, but he wanted to keep his strength, and to keep from getting too hot. He also kept an eye out for holes in case he heard buzzing.
But all he heard was silence.
And god, was it hot. It was really, really hot.
He kept his beak open and panted, if that was the right word. He slowed down until he was just walking, but he still grew more and more uncomfortable. It was so really, really, really hot.
He spotted a rock outcropping and moved into its shade to take a break. Better, but it still wasn't comfortable. He waited to let his body cool off as much as it could. Even though it never became completely comfortable he could bear it.
He would have to.
He rested in the shade for about an hour. Thinking and concentrating he knew that he only had about one kilometre to go. But the heat of the day was still rising.
He gulped and started on his way, trying to keep to shade as much as possible.
It wasn't easy, and it definitely wasn't comfortable because it was so hot. So incredibly hot. He wanted desperately to stop and rest. No! He would end it today once and for all.
He kept arguing with himself, forcing himself to go on at all costs, and then he was suddenly at the base of a slope of pebbles and rubble.
He looked up and saw the hot sun glinting off of Stephen's jeep.
This was it. But he would have to be ready.
He found a large piece of rubble that provided some shade and crouched in it's shadow. His body cooled a bit and he felt better. He looked around the side of the rock and up at the coyote.
He saw the jeep, but nothing else. No movement; no coyote.
Could this be a more subtle trap?
He would have to be very careful.
He watched and waited.
David was afraid. He didn't want to go, but he knew he had to go. He had to run up the slope or he would die. But if he ran up the slope, then he would die in the trap. His mind flashed back and forth between the two choices. He was safe now - if he went up he would die. But if he didn't go he would be safe. But then he would be blown up later.
The sun started to set. An hour passed and there was no sign of movement.
David still couldn't decide.
Then he shut his beak hard and shook his head.
He would do it, and he would do it now!
Taking a deep breath he ran out of his cover and started running up the slope.
His progress was slower then he'd hoped, but nothing happened. There was no flash of sights, no explosion of gunpowder. Just silence except for the occasional clack of a pebble that he loosened in his passage sliding down the slope.
Then he was at the top. And he was alive.
He stopped and looked.
On the centre of the plateau the jeep was parked. The machine gun was still there, facing down, and it did have an ammo belt attached. Off to the left he could see some kind of long table with a number of small planes at one end. Rigidly attached to it and hanging down was some kind of face covering - it didn't look like it would fit a human, but it did look like it would fit a coyote.
That had to be what he was using to control the planes. Maybe it recognized eye movement? But he had more important things to worry about.
Where was the coyote?
David crouched down and looked around slowly and carefully.
He saw the jeep, the planes, and off to the right some cardboard and a pile of cans. He could even make out their labels: "ACME Coyote Chow."
Keeping his head down he started to carefully make his way to the jeep. Maybe he could use the machine gun to disable the planes.
He crept forward. Nothing. No sound, no wind, and no coyote. Where the hell was Stephen?
It couldn't be this easy.
He stopped and looked around again.
There! He cocked his head to look off to the right. He could see a thin metal wire extending about half a metre from the ground, its top reflecting the setting sun in flashes of a deep red. He turned and looked off to the left, and, with a bit of effort, could make out another post. He looked and thought that he could see others surrounding the jeep and launch table.
A laser fence - probably made by ACME too. He would cross it and an alarm would go off, and that would be it. He looked at the two nearest posts and mentally drew a straight line between them. Then he walked up, almost to the line and stopped. He picked up a bit of dirt with his right foot and managed to throw it towards where the fence would be.
For a second he could see a bit of the fence.
Now he had to get across it. Given the posts, the fence would be about half a metre high. He would have to fly over it.
He smiled in his mind. Fortunately he had recently had lots of practice.
He stepped back and then ran, and flapping his wings frantically, flew as high as he could. It had to be high enough. But he couldn't keep it up.
Finally he thudded onto the ground.
But there was silence - no alarm. He'd made it.
Then, out of the corner of his eye he saw movement. There, under the jeep.
It was the coyote - he'd been asleep. Been.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit!
Stephen was still looking around groggily.
Where to go? The jeep! David flapped his wings and landed on the back of the jeep.
Now what? He was trapped. No, he had a weapon now. He flapped some more and landed on the bar at the back of the machine gun. It was of shiny plastic, but soft, as though it could be squeezed. The trigger! That was how Stephen had fired - he had just bitten down on it. Now David had the firepower.
So, where would the coyote come out?
David got ready with his wings to turn the gun and then spun his head back and forth frantically, waiting for the coyote to come out.
There, to the left. No, wait, just some dust. But... Yes, there, Stephen's head.
David flapped and struggled to turn the machine gun around, trying not to squeeze to hard on the handle.
The gun began to turn.
The coyote spun around and looked up.
The gun wasn't quite in position. David flapped harder. Almost...
The coyote scrunched down preparing to leap.
There, ready! David squeezed with his talons. Nothing! What?!
The coyote leaped.
It had to be strength. David clenched his feet as hard as he could, and then harder still.
The machine roared and rattled. David shook with it but refused to let go.
The coyote hit the gun and collapsed onto the floor of the jeep, bleeding from countless wounds.
David loosened his grip and the roar died to reveal the slight whimpering of a dying coyote. David waited, ready to try and fly away.
Then his implant let him know that Stephen had willed his mind back into his body. Now if only David could. He watched the coyote shudder, and then die.
He breathed deeply.
It was over - he'd actually won!
But then why was he still here?
He spun his head around looking for enemies. Nothing. But meant nothing. Maybe Stephen was killing his body right now. But then he'd die with it. But Stephen wouldn't do that!
But he had to give a signal. He had to give Stephen as little time as possible, just in case.
He looked around and saw the dashboard of the jeep. There was a large button off to the left that was scratched and battered by claws.
That's it! The button was the signal. But how?
David flapped and leaped over and onto the dashboard by the button. He stepped over and pushed it down with his left foot.
He released it and there was silence.
Of course! The old, ancient, Morse code. Stephen would certainly know that, and David at least knew some. He could remember some kind of help signal, vaguely. It was three dots and three dashes and three dots.
Or was it three dashes, three dots, and three dashes?
No time. He'd just start with dots and eventually get it right.
He sent. Three dots. Pause. Three dashes. Pause. Three dots. Pause. Again.
Nothing. Why was he still here? How long would he still be here? Would he die here?
But this was all he could do.
He kept signaling.
Suddenly he blacked out.
Chapter 5: The End
He work up in darkness. All he could hear was the harsh rattle of his breath. He could feel a harsh dryness in his throat and pain in all of his muscles.
And he felt cold.
And he felt odd... His tail was gone. He face was different, his wings...
He tried to open his eyes and could see a blurred glow. It began to clear and he could make out two people standing over him. They were saying something but he couldn't make it out.
A few seconds passed and his vision cleared some more and he recognized Stephen and Dr. Brandon. He began to understand what they were saying.
"...right?" Stephen asked. His voice was a harsh whisper.
David tried to speak but the only sound he could make was a groan.
"Don't try to speak." It was Dr. Brandon. "It'll take you a few moments, and then a day or so to fully recover."
"Whaaaaa...." David tried to ask what had happened.
"You want to know why you couldn't bring yourself back?" Dr. Brandon asked.
"We were able to trace the problem to a fluke power outage. It happened shortly after you went under. The automatics caught it before it hurt Mr. James," he motioned towards Stephen, "but damaged the circuit connected to your body to monitor your mind for the return request. It worked intermittently which is why the automatics didn't catch the flaw."
"We do apologize and will return your full payment."
David stated to nod, but then paused. That explanation was too pat! He had almost died! But, if it was a lie, he couldn't let anybody know he thought it was a lie. Slowly he nodded.
Stephen moved around and leaned over and looked down. "This is the most fun I've had in years," he managed to whisper. "Congratulations on your win."
He reached down to clasp David's hand.
David managed to force himself not to recoil away from his friend who had tried to kill him. But...
Stephen shook his hand. Then he spoke, "Do you want to do it again next year?"
David's eyes widened. Then he smiled. It had been fun. In fact it was the most alive he'd felt in years. But he had almost died. But, if it had been a plot that had failed he would have to agree to next year to stay alive. So he whispered: "Yes."
Stephen smiled and whispered back, "And next year you can try being the rabbit instead."
The rabbit? Then he remembered the one episode where Bugs Bunny had replaced the Road Runner because the Road Runner was sick. But this time he would be careful. He had a year to prepare. A year to find out the truth. And a year to get ready to make Stephen pay for what he'd done.
Website Copyright 2004,2005 Michael Bard. Please send any comments or questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org