How the World Could Have Been by Justin Lawrence Daugherty

Monday, February 4, 2013


This is a story of

–the mother, swelling with child, stumbling through the dust and dirt and clouds swirling with sand and heat, her dress thick with grime, and the snakes trailing behind, the snakes watching from the furrows in the sand, the snakes witnessing. The lizard-boy in her womb, growing;

–swarms of bees and hornets following in the dark, a chorus;

–this man, this coyote, leading the mother to the border, to another place, to New Mexico, the rusted pistol shining with the glinted sun, how he looked nervously at the mother, at her stomach bulging with child.

–visions of the boy’s future razing of the earth below him and around him and above, the burning of fields of wheat and cotton and corn, the dismantling of machines, the slow, death-hum of birds, lake shores turgid with the bodies of fish and toads.

–the mother, knowing it would come, all of it, unable or unwilling to stop it, if only because of her selfish need for oxygen, of her love of this lizard-boy before his birth, despite what he would bring, despite his deformities, despite his wretchedness. Knowing she could beg for the bullet from the coyote’s gun, just one, digging deep into her brain. Knowing he would do this if she only asked because of what she had seen in visions, what the coyote would do after they crossed the border.

–the mother, grasping the coyote’s shoulder as they approached the river, of stars sending their light, of howls in the dark, of the coyote stopping, saying, no, no, we must keep going, we must not stop, not ever, and of the mother’s one moment of possible mercy spoiled by her not asking the coyote then to take her life, to take the lizard-boy’s life, by her failure to save us because of the things she would do out of love.

–the border, the crossing, the hornets and bees, the birth:

–the whir of hornets buzzing in the dark, close, moving as a body over the land and the water, and, below, the mother with her lizard-boy inside and the coyote, crossing the river.

–the mother falling to the earth, gripping handfuls of sand and desert insects and the dust of bone and teeth and skin, and the coyote cowering in the dark at her screams, and the lizard-boy seeking the world outside of his mother, and the coyote crouching to the earth, crawling toward the mother’s open, billowing dress as if it was an altar, and of the mother’s no no no no no’s muffled by the howling of beasts and her own howls as the coyote gnawed his fingernails and the dead skin of his fingers, and the coyote close enough to feel the heat coming off her with hands open to receive the child, and of the slick, hairless, scaled head emerging first from the mother, the yellow eyes.

–the pistol in the sand, dropped to the earth by the coyote upon witnessing the horror of the lizard-boy, of the coyote backing away, saying no no no no no, of the mother grasping the pistol and firing it into the night in the direction of the coyote, saying, ayuda ayuda, and of coyote coming close again, trembling, gripping the head of the boy, the lizardy head, and kneeling as a supplicant in the sand and swirling dust and releasing the lizard-child into the world.

–the coyote handing over the swaddled child, waiting for the mother to release the gun and, when she did, the coyote picking up the gun and pressing it to the newborn’s skull, yelling of the coming of the Devil.

–one moment of mercy, of grace, of the coyote, eyes swelling with tears, hand shaking with the gun, one moment of hesitation.

–the moment this man, like the mother before him, could have saved us all.

–the hornets and bees swarming around the coyote, stinging his flesh by the thousands, of the hornets and bees protecting the child from this would-be savior, of how the lives of men and women would have turned out if the coyote had not hesitated, of how the world could have been, of what it could be.

–many fates of this wretched earth, this being just one.


Justin Lawrence Daugherty writes and runs Sundog Lit from Omaha, Nebraska. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared or is coming soon from The Normal School, Housefire, Bluestem, Barrelhouse, Midwestern Gothic. “How the World Could Have Been” is an excerpt from an unfinished novella.

© 2013, Metazen.

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