When her mother is killed by a roving militia, Silende struggles to survive in a harsh world of scarcity, and sudden, violent death. She is taken in by the itinerant Don Coyote, but soon discovers that his guise of easygoing, feckless detachment conceals far more calculating and complex motives.
Though “Don Coyote” is a stand alone novella, “Jemelle’s Exile”, which is included in “Persephone’s Library and Other Short Stories”, is a separate, sequel story that returns to the characters from “Don Coyote” several years later.
Excerpt from “Don Coyote”:
Silende had to listen hard for the early warning: a heavy, deep rumble that she always felt first under the soles of her feet and in the depths of her chest.
When she was little, Meme had treated it as a game. “Go on and play Tires ‘n Twine. Hurry now! If you’re quiet like I said, I’ll give you a surprise when you get out.”
Then Silende would scramble under the stilts of the old shack, and hide herself in the dugout, between the worn out tires and the piles of old twine.
And she’d pretend like she was one of them.
Like as not, the rumbling would just stay off in the distance, barely audible, but for the deep feeling of the earth vibrating beneath her. Sometimes, a convoy of Mershants would happen to find their dusty old road. They’d stop by the shack and try to sell Meme something, before going on their way.
* * *
That afternoon, when Meme said, “Go on and play Tires ‘n Twine, baby,” her mouth turned all tense and white the way it usually got when they heard the rumbles.
Seeing that, Silende didn’t protest that she wasn’t a baby anymore—she just slipped out the back of the shack, crawled underneath and settled herself under a pile of twine.
The rules for playing Tires ‘n Twine were as follows:
Rule number 1:
Hide. Cover up with the twine. Stay quiet, no matter what you hear or see. Pretend like you’re one of the tires, or like you’re another big old pile of twine.
Rule number 2:
Only respond if Meme calls you by your own name. If she says anything different than your own name, then pretend you’re just tires ‘n twine.
Rule number 3:
If she doesn’t call your name, then stay hid. Stay hid no matter what. Until the rumbling is long gone. All night if need be.
Rule number 4:
Stay hid except for when you have to sneak out for food. If there’s any rumbles, be tires ‘n twine and wait for Uncle Coyote. He’s gotta come sooner or later.
Rule number 5:
Don’t come out for anyone else.
* * *
Silende peered out from under the shack. She could just manage to glimpse the tires of the vehicles stopping in the front of the property. And then the scuffed boots of the men, stepping out and walking around. Try though she might, she couldn’t see anything else.
She heard Meme’s screams, though. She heard the curses, and she heard the men laughing.
And, “Where’s the other? The baby?”
“Ain’t no baby!” Meme screamed.
“Don’t give me no crap about there bein’ no baby, woman! I ain’t stupid. There’s girl clothes hangin’ out, and girl panties and is this or ain’t this a girl doll right here?”
Silende swallowed. In her rush to hide, she’d left Kari up there. She no longer played with the doll much anymore, but suddenly she wished she had thought to bring it into hiding with her. Now the men had both Kari and Meme. The only two people—aside from Uncle Coyote—that Silende cared about in the whole world, even if Kari was just a toy.
But she kept her mouth pinned shut. She was twine. Twine didn’t move or do anything or think anything. It just was.
“My baby been dead this past time but I can’t let none of this go.”
“Well ain’t that just the saddest thing I ever heard.”
More laughter. More screams. Grunts and gasps and broken moans.
There was screaming inside her head, too. At least two voices, moaning and screaming and wanting to get out.
But Silende was twine.
Then, strange, wet, heavy breathing and a final whisper from Meme, “Curse you and your damn Mlisha. Curse you all to hell.”
The rumble of them riding off in their convoy. And silence.
Silende stayed twine for hours. She stayed twine even though she had to pee.
And then her legs were wet, and the back of her panties heavy, and she could smell the stink, but still she stayed twine. And she stayed, into the dark silence of the night, with the rank wetness on her legs, as she drifted off to sleep from sheer exhaustion.
* * *
She dreamed of the other place. The place of tall, green bumps in a shifting expanse of blue.
She dreamed that her world was an island, covered in grass and meadows—that she worked in the fields in the mornings and went to school in the afternoons. And that she was safe because all around was water—more water than she had ever seen in her life. She could see other islands, when she climbed high, high up to the top of the hill—up to where the rows upon rows of tall, bright wind turbines were perched. She could see their own village from up there as well, sheltered from the breezes, the solar panels on the roofs swallowing up the sunlight.
And everyone was safe; the people living there were happy. The world was green and there were children—lots of children—to play with. She had dreamed of this place many times before.
But this was the first time she also found herself hating it.
* * *
Silende woke the next day to a foul, stifling silence. It weighed her down and curdled the air in her nostrils. But she stayed listening, straining to hear even the faintest of stirrings. Nothing.
Only then did she sneak out of her hiding place, her long game of Tires ‘n Twine over at last.