Coyote Cal’s Guide to the Weird, Wild West
1. The Sleepy Rider
Steady clop-clopping hooves had lulled him into a light sleep a dozen miles back. He rocked in the saddle as his sweat-drenched steed carried him over a grassy knoll and down into a two-bit town of no repute. Eyes half open, he saw the townspeople watching his dark, lonely figure with dread curiosity. He paid them no mind, heading straight for the first stop his tired animal had made in quite a spell: the town’s only saloon.
The rider awoke with a start as his horse nosed the hitching post. Yawning, he dismounted, tossed the reins lazily over a rough-hewn rail, and swaggered up lopsided steps to the batwing doors. He pushed his way into the hazy interior. The familiar sounds of carousing, drinking, and gambling caused a grin to spread across his chapped lips, baring a mouthful of steel-capped teeth. He ambled toward the bar, leaving the saloon doors swinging in his wake. Silver spurs on his snakeskin boots jingled with each thud of his heels on the plank floor.
“What’s your poison, stranger?” asked the burly barkeep, wiping a shot glass with a dingy white towel.
“Whiskey.” The rider leaned onto the bar, resting one of his boots on the step below as he surveyed the room. Nobody seemed to notice him, but he took careful inventory of the bullet holes in the ceiling.
The barkeep slid him his drink. “Where you from?”
The rider drained the whiskey in one gulp and smacked the shot glass down on the bar. “None of your damned business.”
The barkeep was taken aback. “All right, no good getting riled, stranger. Visitors are a rarity in these here parts. Just curious is all.”
The rider fingered the six-gun strapped to his hip and bared his teeth. This time, he hoped his steel grin came off as malevolent. “Yeah. And you know what they say about curiosity.”
The barkeep looked uncertain. “Uh…”
“It killed the cat.”
The barkeep nodded slowly. “Yeah…we used to have us a black cat around here, but—”
“Where might I find me the owner of this fine establishment?”
“Don’t rightly know.” The barkeep’s shifty eyes darted to the door in back marked BOSS. “Ain’t been in for some time now—”
“Much obliged.” With another steely grin, the rider made straight for that door, passing through a thick cloud of smoke from a crowded poker table. With a yawn, he tried the handle and found it unlocked. Inside, the smoke was even thicker, swirling like a twister behind the massive oak desk.
“What the—!” A woman materialized from the smoke, taking its place, consuming it with her very being. She spun to face the intruder, but her alarm faded even before the waves of her crimson hair had settled. “Well hello there, Sleepy.”
He licked his teeth like a sheepish wolf. “Howdy, Donna.”
2. Almost Pretty Woman
Donna Jamison wasn’t much to look at. But for a man like Sleepy, out on the trail for months at a time, you took what you could get. And right now, he was taking in an eyeful of Donna. She lived comfortably on the younger side of thirty, but her tight facial features and hard eyes—as well as the knife scar over her left ear—marred any semblance of youth or beauty. Still, she wasn’t unattractive, even with the men’s clothing and the fat cigar hanging out of her thick, sensual lips.
She was a dead shot with either of the shooters on her curvy hips and known to be one tough biscuit. The men in town, be they honest townsfolk or other varieties of scum, knew her and respected her. But most of all, they revered her aim—with or without the use of her “dark arts.”
“Why send for me? You seem to be doing pretty well for yourself in this lousy town.” Sleepy collapsed into one of the leather armchairs in front of the desk and started dozing.
Donna came around and nudged him with the toe of her boot. “Stay with me.”
“You still one of the fastest gunslingers this side of the Mississippi?” She reached for his gun. Lightning-quick, he clapped a hand over it. She looked into his eyes, now open and alert. “Cuz I could use your services.”
“Got some trouble?”
“Could be.” She sidled onto the edge of her desk, bumping against an obsidian paperweight the size and shape of a human skull. “Heard from a drunken cowpoke that somebody’s coming to town on the next train. Somebody who could turn out to be a real thorn in my side here.” She eyed him. “Somebody by the name of Coyote Cal.”
Sleepy was on his feet in an instant. “You sure about that?”
“Thought it might interest you.”
“Yeah. And you can count me the hell out.” Just as he reached the door, a buck knife thudded blade-first into the frame and quivered an inch from his shoulder.
“Sit down, Sleepy.” Donna remained seated on her desk, genteel as ever, but now with one of her six-guns aimed between his shoulder blades. She waited until he was back in the armchair before sliding off the desk and bringing the muzzle up under his chin. “Show me those steely whites of yours.”
He grimaced, baring his capped teeth. “What you want from me?”
“You’ve got a score to settle, from what I recall. Something about your… brother, was it?”
Sleepy’s left eye twitched; his hands tightened into fists. “You leave Brother Easy out of this. I’ll kill Coyote Cal my own way. Not here in this God-forsaken town—”
“You’ll kill him because I’ll pay you to kill him.” She dropped her gun back into its holster. “And what you do with his carcass is clean up to you.”
Sleepy licked his teeth and salivated at the thought. “You better pay me what I’m worth.”
She nodded to herself. “Oh, I pay very well.”
3. Our Intrepid Hero
Coyote Cal knew by the turn of the season and the chill in the morning air that it was time to visit his friends over in Little Creek for their yearly check-up (standard heroic procedure when a town’s been rid of a serious villain). He set out by train and planned to be there in two days’ time. But as he gazed out the windowpane at the passing countryside, he couldn’t help remembering Big Yap’s parting words…
“It ain’t a good idea, you going off and leaving without me like this. What’s a hero without a sidekick? Ask anybody, and they’ll tell you: not much of a hero at all. That’s right, think about it: Cisco the Kid, Hopalong Cassidy—even the Lone Ranger was never truly alone. They all had trusty sidekicks! You’ll probably go and get yourself killed and then blame it all on me for not being there. Well, don’t you dare expect me to feel sorry for you one whit when it comes time for your funeral. I won’t even shed a tear!”
Good old Yap. Cal loved him like his own brother—but one old enough to be his father, maybe even his grandfather. They’d been through many an adventure together, through thick and through thin, and Cal hated to leave him behind like this. But one of them had to stay back at the Double J Ranch to keep earning their monthly paycheck.
Crime-fighting was one heck of a gig, but it sure didn’t pay squat.
4. Our Vengeful Villain
Sleepy sat mounted at the side of the railroad tracks where they wound through a rock-strewn valley. He wore a black bandana tied around his face and kept checking his gun, rolling the cylinder against his thigh and sighting down the barrel.
How long had it been? Five years now? He was finally going to have his revenge—and eat it, too.
Coyote Cal. Sleepy cursed and spat to the side. The poser.
Not the hero he was purported to be, that’s for sure. Vigilante? Maybe. The last time Sleepy checked, law and order types always wore a badge. Coyote Cal? Not hardly.
So in a way, this was justice. Coyote Cal had gunned down Sleepy’s twin brother in Santa Fe for reasons that had never satisfied anybody. At the time, Sleepy’d been over in Dodge City, and when he’d gotten word that his brother had already been planted and read over, cold in the ground for over a week, it was too late to do anything about it. Coyote Cal had moved on, like so many of those self-proclaimed hero-types tended to do.
But now? Thanks to Donna, Coyote Cal was going to die, and Sleepy would find himself a few thousand dollars richer. And thanks to these new, improved teeth he’d fashioned from old shell casings, he would devour the heart of this “hero” and take whatever heroic energy it contained as his own.
That would show him. Stupid hero.
The sound of an approaching steam locomotive broke Sleepy’s vindictive reverie, and he focused on the black smokestack billowing up into the blue. He checked his gun once more for good measure. Then as the train chugged past, he spurred his mount into a gallop. He came alongside the caboose and reached out for the railing, grasped it tight and swung aboard. Shooting iron at the ready, he kicked open the rear door and fired a warning shot into the ceiling.
He expected there to be screams of sheer terror. He was disappointed to find the car empty.
Sleepy rushed down the center aisle, making it to the other side and opening the door just as the train started up an incline. Thrown off-balance by the sudden shift in gravity, he toppled backward, grasping at the seats to steady himself. Professional gunslinger that he was, it didn’t occur to him to drop his gun and grab on with both hands, so he went tumbling head over heels.
5. A Surprise Visit
“What was that?” cried a startled, well-dressed passenger whose ungainly girth strained the capacity of his vest.
On his feet as soon as he’d heard the shot, Cal boomed, “Stay down!” Folks on either side of the aisle hit the floor.
Meanwhile, Coyote Cal inched his way back to the trailing caboose, his Colts at the ready. Eyes narrowed with heroic precision, he paused just outside the swinging, unlocked door. It slammed closed only to open again, revealing a lone figure fighting to regain his balance halfway down the aisle.
“You there!” Cal boomed.
The staggering fellow squeezed off a pair of shots aimed in Cal’s general direction, but the door caught them both.
“What is the meaning of this?” Cal demanded. “Are you attempting to rob this train?”
“No,” the man said, squinting down the barrel of his shooter and waiting for the train’s motion to throw the door open again.
“Do you have a gang, or are you working alone?”
“I’m solo.” The gunman grimaced, seeming to instantly regret the confession.
“What is your purpose here?”
The man cleared his throat, spread his boots, bending his knees with the movement of the train. It was plain to see he was waiting for the door to swing open just long enough to plant a slug in our hero’s chest.
“I’m gonna kill you!”
Cal nodded to himself. Big Yap had been right. He should have taken the old sidekick along, after all. Three guns were always better than two, and Yap was pretty good with that sawed-off shotgun of his. “Is that so?”
“Then I’m gonna eat your heart!”
Cal frowned. It wasn’t the sort of thing he was accustomed to hearing in these situations. And he’d been in many before. Something about being a crime-fighter; it was like sewing a big red target on your back and asking every two-bit bandit with a grudge against law and order to take a shot at you. He never enjoyed a moment’s peace, really.
“Is that so?” He didn’t know how else to respond.
“Yeah! I got me these teeth-caps, see, and they’re razor sharp. I keep cutting my tongue on them all the time.”
“That must be unpleasant.”
“Shut up and listen to me! I’m gonna eat straight through you, see? Right into your chest cavity, and then I’m gonna rip out your heart while it’s still beating, and then I’ll—”
Cal kicked open the door with both Colts blazing. Sleepy went down limp and twitchy with a gruesome explosion of blood, brains, and cranium, the shooter skittering free from his grasp.
“So much for this being a kid-friendly tale,” Cal mused.
6. Little Creek Showdown
The train didn’t exactly stop off at Little Creek. The depot was located in Big Creek, a fair-sized town ten miles or so due east, so our hero had to backtrack it on foot until he arrived at the grassy rise commanding him a view of Little Creek in all its two-bit entirety. (This of course after delivering the remains of Sleepy the dead gunslinger to the local authorities. Coyote Cal was known for cleaning up his own messes.)
The locals saw him coming and recognized him immediately, calling out his name for all to hear, and he soon found himself surrounded by quite the adoring throng.
“What’s brought you out this way again, Coyote Cal?”
“How long you gonna stay with us, Coyote Cal?”
“What you been up to, Coyote Cal?”
“Where’s Big Yap, Coyote Cal—he dead yet?”
And so on, and so forth, until one voice rang out above them all:
“Coyote Cal, you’re DEAD MEAT!”
The adoring throng scattered like chaff in the wind, and the street opened up wide, muddy, and vacant. At one end of town stood a perplexed Coyote Cal. At the other end of town, looking like he’d seen much better days, stood Sleepy the Gunslinger.
Cal was in the middle of one serious frown. “But…you’re already dead meat.”
“Afraid not, Cal.” Donna Jamison stepped off the boardwalk in front of the mercantile, her thumbs hooked into her gun belt. “You must be confusing him with that dopey thug I sent after you. Honest mistake. They were twin brothers. This one here is Easy Rider.”
Cal narrowed his heroic gaze and widened his heroic stance, prepared for anything. “Donna ‘The Witch’ Jamison. I thought I ran you out of this town.”
“That you did, Coyote Cal,” cheered the townsfolk. “But she came back the very next day!” A chorus of boos ensued.
“I’m like a bad penny,” Donna said with a smirk. “You can’t get rid of me.”
“That ain’t how the cliché goes,” said Easy, frowning.
“Shut up,” said Donna.
“Your black magic has no place in the Wild West, Donna.” Cal’s hands hovered steadily over his six-guns. “Go back to New Orleans where you belong.”
Donna shook her head. “This ain’t been the Wild West for years, Cal. Where the hell have you been?” She took a step toward him. “It’s the Weird West now. Witches like me, zombies like him—” She jerked her head back toward Easy. “It’s our time. Heroes like you…” She released a mirthless chuckle. “You’re dying out like the buffalo.”
Cal’s jaw muscle twitched. “Zombie, eh? Is that what he is?”
Easy stumbled forward with a sudden scowl. “Is that what I am?”
7. Dead or Alive
“Shut up,” said Donna. She faced Cal. “Spent some time back home after you were so kind to kick me out of this lovely town. Learned all about reanimating the dead and whatnot while I was there. It’s all the rage now. I’m thinking it might be fun to bring back all the outlaws you’ve buried over the years and put them hot on your trail. Give you a real dead reckoning for your sins.”
Cal remained stolid. “I do only what must be done in the name of the law. Every life I take is for the greater good.”
“Who died and made you God?”
“I can’t let you remain here, Donna. These are good folk—”
“They’re sheep,” she scoffed. “Look at them, will you?”
Cal did, and for a moment they actually looked like a flock of wide-eyed, huddled sheep dressed in the garb of Little Creek’s townspeople. But he knew this was only the witch’s magic interfering with his perception. He blinked and shook his head to clear it.
“I’ll tell you the same thing I did before,” he said. “You can leave on your own two feet, or you can leave in a pine box. The choice is yours. But I’m not moving until you’ve decided one way or the other.”
She chuckled. “This ain’t like the last time, Cal.”
“Granted.” He cast the zombie a wary eye.
“We’ve got you outnumbered and outgunned. And we aim to kill you outright.”
“Yes,” groaned Easy with another unsteady lurch forward.
Cal pointed straight at him. “You stay put. I killed you once, and I’ll do it again.”
“And what about me, Cal?” Donna stepped out into the middle of the street, halfway between our hero and the zombie gunslinger. “What law says you’re free to kill an honest saloon owner such as myself?”
His gaze went cold. “‘Never suffer a witch to live.’ Book of Exodus, chapter twenty-two, verse eighteen.”
“Quoting scriptures now? Didn’t know you could read.” She laughed out loud. “But if you wanted me dead, you should have killed me the last time.”
Both hands went to her guns, and they cleared leather before Cal even had a chance to grab for his Colts. She was that fast. Easy, on the other hand, was still reaching for his shooting iron, his arm bent upward at an awkward angle and his crooked fingers crackling as they twitched, unable to find the holster.
“Now what, hero?” Donna grinned.
“Looks like you’ve got the drop on me.”
“That I do.” She pulled the trigger of her left-handed shooter. Cal’s charcoal Stetson went sailing through the air. The townsfolk let out a collective gasp. “And I plan to take full advantage of it.”
8. Deus ex Machina
Next to go was the Colt holstered at Cal’s right hip, followed by the one at his left, shot clean off with a surgeon’s accuracy. The townsfolk began to “Ooooh” and “Aaaaah” at Donna Jamison’s prowess with a six-gun. And she started to get a real kick out of it, truth be told.
“So this is what it’s like to be the star of the show!” She shot off his belt, and his trousers dropped to the dust. “Not bad.” She gave him a broad wink.
Coyote Cal remained immovable. “This is your last warning, Donna. Clear out, or face the consequences.”
She cursed. “Do you heroes have some kind of script you go by? Don’t you get the context here? I’m toying with you like a cat with a scrawny, flea-bitten mouse. Then I’m gonna kill you! Right here in front of your adoring fans. I’m going to feed your brain to my pet zombie—”
“BRAINS!” Easy growled, giving up on his gun and shambling forward in excitement.
“Does he know how you used his brother?”
Donna frowned. “What’s that?”
Cal narrowed his heroic gaze even further. “You sent Sleepy Rider after me knowing full well he would die at my hands. He didn’t stand a chance. To you, he was merely a pawn. Expendable.”
“What?” The zombie halted, head wobbling. “Sleepy’s dead?”
“Shut up,” she said. Back to Cal: “I had no idea he wouldn’t—”
“And did Sleepy have any idea what you’d done to his brother? This…crime against nature? This abomination?”
“It’s what he’s always wanted! To have his brother back—the brother you shot down in cold blood—”
“So you planned to reunite them.”
“Of course! That’s how I planned to pay him for offing you!” She waved her gun at him. “If he was able to get the job done.”
Cal nodded. “Hear that, Easy?”
The zombie only growled. After a slight course correction, he made straight for Donna Jamison.
She reeled around to face him. “Stay back! I command you: Eat him. Now, do it!”
“Never suffer a witch to live,” Easy groaned, both arms extended toward her.
“I gave you life!” she shrieked.
“Never asked for it.”
She cursed the futility of her best-laid plans and fired both her shooters until they clicked empty, every round aimed at the zombie’s face and finding its mark. Easy Rider’s head exploded with a magnificent display of undead cranial matter, earning the applause of the crowd, and the rest of the zombie collapsed like a rag doll into the dust.
Full red in the face, Donna turned to find our hero in full possession of his two loaded Colts. “Damn you, Coyote Cal!”
9. A Heartwarming Denouement
Big Yap arrived on the next train, and after hoofing it ten miles over to Little Creek on foot, he found himself in need of refreshment. The townsfolk recognized him instantly, and with cheerful smiles and hearty whacks on his aching back, they escorted him to the saloon.
“On the house!” The barkeep slapped down a shot of whiskey.
“Don’t mind if I do,” said Yap. “And I’ll drink to your health, Mr. Barkeeper Man, that I will.” He downed the shot and grimaced, leaving a trickle of amber drizzling down his grizzly beard. “But say, I’d be in your debt if you could point me in the direction of a hero by the name of Coyote Cal. He sent for me, you see, saying it was urgent that I drop everything and head on over here, and he said he’d meet me at this here saloon—”
The barkeep chuckled.
“How’s that now? I say something that strikes your funny bone, is that it?”
“Not at all. You’re right, he’s here. And he’s been waiting for you.” The barkeep grinned and nodded toward the door in back, the one marked BOSS. “Go on inside.”
Big Yap nodded, a quizzical frown ensconced on his brow. “All right then.” Muttering to himself, he rounded the bar and passed through a cloud of tobacco smoke at a crowded poker table. He cleared his throat and knocked once on the door
“Come on in,” came Cal’s voice from the other side. Yap found him kicking back behind a massive oak desk with his boots off, feet up, hands clasped behind his head, and smoking a fat cigar.
“Well now, look at you. That’s what I say: look at you. Living the good life, eh? Living it up real good? While I’m back at the Double J breaking my back to earn us both a paycheck, you’re out here in the land of milk and honey—”
Cal grinned. “Good to see you, too.”
Yap shrugged, dropping into a leather armchair. He took off his weather-beaten hat and dusted it off across his knee. “Yeah, I reckon so.”
Cal leaned back and closed his eyes for a moment. “Our days at the Double J are over, my friend. We’re making Little Creek our new base of operations.”
Yap raised an eyebrow. “That so?”
“Yes indeed. And we’re adding a new member to this crime-fighting team.”
Yap’s eyebrow fell. “Don’t know if I like the sound of that.”
Cal leaned forward, dropped his feet to the floor, and gestured to the end table and kerosene lantern beside Big Yap’s chair which had, until this moment, appeared to be nothing but an end table and kerosene lantern. Now that illusion was fading, so they resembled the curves of—
“Meet Donna Jamison. Our guide to the Weird, Wild West.”
“Good to see you again,” she said, taking the stunned sidekick’s hand in a bone-crushing grip. “Been a while.”
Big Yap found himself speechless.
Cal paced the room in his stocking feet. “If what I’ve seen in the past few days is any indication, the times are changing. This is no longer the Wild West of stagecoach robberies and feisty banditos. No, there is much more going on than what meets the eye.”
“Ain’t she the wicked witch we kicked out of town last year?” Yap hissed.
“Bygones,” said Cal.
“Bygones,” said Donna with a shrug.
“Bygones?” mused Yap.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Cal winked at Donna. “And a threefold strand is not easily broken. I find it in our best interest to keep our friends close and our enemies—”
“You lay off the platitudes, I don’t shoot you in your sleep.” Donna said with a wince. “That was the deal, hero. That, and one hundred percent of the reward money you collect.”
“Reward money? There ain’t never been no reward money.” Big Yap glanced at Cal with uncertainty. “Has there ever been reward money?”
“Justice is its own reward, my friend.”
“Maybe for you.” Donna spat into the corner.
Cal chuckled. “Yes, that’s our deal. As well as you teaching us the ways of the vampire, the werewolf, and the zombie—and whatever else has sprung up from the pits of Hell in these latter days.”
A slack-jawed expression froze on Big Yap’s wizened face.
Coyote Cal put one arm over the shoulders of his trusty old sidekick and the other over his newfound guide through the netherworld. “I believe this is the beginning of a fortuitous friendship,” he said with a squeeze. “I can feel it.”
Yap and Donna shared an audible groan.
“Crazy as the coyotes that raised you,” Big Yap muttered.
Donna frowned. “Huh?”
Cal chuckled and turned to give you, dear reader, a dazzling hero’s smile. “Now that’s a story for another time!”
Milo James Fowler is a junior high English teacher by day and a writer by night. His work has recently appeared in Allegory, Port Iris Magazine, Residential Aliens, and Flash Me Magazine, among other fine venues. He’s known Coyote Cal and Big Yap for twenty years now, and they’ve helped him to become the struggling writer he is today. Visit him anytime: www.milo-inmediasres.com.
© 2011 All rights reserved Milo James Fowler