“Coyote” by Colin Winnette

coyoteI’ve told the same story over and over again, to the police, to the reporters, to the prep-interviewers and interviewers and celebrity guests and you name it. I tell them the same story every time: we put her to bed, and when we woke up she was gone.

So begins Coyote, Colin Winnette’s jarring novella about a missing girl, a family’s despair over losing her, and a mother’s relentless descent into madness. At 96 pages (many of them nearly blank), the story’s size is dwarfed by its heft. Weeks after finishing, I still can’t shake it.

WHAT WAS SHE LIKE?

This question, from a disembodied voice, gets put forth throughout the tale. Sometimes the mother answers, sometimes the father. Sometimes no one. We never learn who’s asking, just as we never learn the parents’ names, the vanished child’s name, or the specifics of place or time. There aren’t even any quotation marks.

What there is, though, is a mounting sense of dread as the man and woman lash out at themselves and each other, drawing ever tauter and snapping strand by strand as the days go by.

Then a different missing child is found months after disappearing. Suddenly, there’s hope.

I dragged him into the living room and pointed at the television. There sat a family: mother, father, and daughter. The daughter was in blue and white like the Virgin Mary. She sat atop her mother’s lap.
He watched for a moment. His anger seemed to leave him like a flock of birds.
What am I doing here? he asked.
They found a girl, I told him.
He nodded, watched the TV.
They’re finding girls, I said.

But not their girl. At least not yet. Fractured weeks continue to pass, but she stays gone. The man grows ever more resigned; the woman, clawing with ragged fingernails, continues losing her grip. Each time their world erupts, the lava scorches them both.

He throws a hammer at the TV. They remain perpetually in limbo.

We slept on the couch together that night, her Dad and I. Or, truthfully, he slept with his arms around me and I stared for hours at the broken television. I looked out the window too, but I could only see a reflection of myself. There is…nothing worse than your own reflection where the rest of the world should be.

Nothing better than a short tale with the power to linger — and haunt — long after it’s put back on the shelf. Colin Winnette’s Coyote is one of them.

We had another bad night together. A particularly bad one. The kind of bad I couldn’t ignore…Some kinds of bad can’t be undone.

And some kinds of stories can’t be forgotten.

[This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books.]

 

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In Defense of Scary Stories

Sometimes an ax murdererscary is just an ax murderer. But you wouldn’t know it by reading many of the titles on “scariest books” lists haunting the internet this time of year.

When asked to name the most frightening tales they’ve ever read, cultural critics inevitably feel compelled to go all highfalutin and throw in a few that illuminate man’s inhumanity toward man, the hollowness of existentialism, or worst of all, the Tea Party.

“Ghost stories are fine,” says Erudite Author X, “but the most terrifying thing I’ve ever read is 18th-century philosopher Gottfried Leibniz’s Monadology. Its positions on the nature of the universe and occasionalism are truly chilling.”

Well.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, just once, the learned among us stopped being so insufferable? Imagine George Will naming his five favorite horror stories and somehow doing it in under 60,000 words. Or Charles Krauthammer rattling off the world’s most fearful monsters without once mentioning President Obama.

There’s a thrill to wrapping up in a blanket, clutching an eerie tale, and tucking your feet in so the thing under the bed can’t get them. It’s primal, and it doesn’t need to be defended.

So this Halloween, don’t renounce your love of unabashedly scary reads. Proclaim it! Life’s too short to keep Pet Sematary hidden inside a Brave New World book jacket, don’t you think?

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books.

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