The Wandering Coyote

Author's note: I'm a believer that chronologically the films go in order of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly to A Fistful of Dollars to For a Few Dollars More, so this particular fanfic is set - as a vague marker - some time after the events of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The Man with No Name is a wonderful antihero. I love the slight but subtle character development he experiences during the trilogy, as we see him evolve from a cruel and remorseless killer to a man who pauses to comfort a dying soldier or free an enslaved woman, who can perhaps come to value human life and honour in the harsh American West. But as I wrote this fanfic I was very much aware that he is still a man rooted in crime and death. He is by no means a flawless hero: the land he inhabits does not enable him to be.

By the end of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Blondie has earned himself a small fortune of $100,000. One unexplained mystery in the trilogy is why he would work for money in A Fistful of Dollars if he was already a rich man. Personally, I believe the Man with No Name has lost his money somehow between these two films. I don't believe a man like him could hold onto such a large amount of gold for too long, as he will always be a penniless wanderer at heart.

As for the "coyote" part of the title: the more I learnt about coyotes, both as a creature and a symbol, the more I drew parallels between them and the Man with No Name. The coyote is well-known in Native American mythology as a sly trickster, determined on getting his way, but also capable of great compassion. I also thought that it was apt to draw comparisons between the scruffy, untamed appearance of both subjects. :)

The Man with No Name does not seek friendship or close companions. He does not seek heroism or renown. He does not seek connection, understanding, approval, redemption. He is not a wholly good man, but neither is he a wholly bad one. He is not classifiable in any of the simple ways people like to classify each other: he is not the clean-shaven hero, the dark monster hiding in his cellar, the giddy young man out to prove himself. He is not a bandit - not a champion - not a figure easy to discern. These are all the things he is not.

He is a figure who consists of shadows and ambiguities. The Man with No Name is a trickster coyote, one who has broken away from the pack. He is a coyote, wily, scruff, lean and mean. When he sidles into town on horseback with the sun beating down, he is not looking to win admirers. He plays by his own rules. He spits his cigarillo away like it is of particular annoyance to him, but he will light up a new one only minutes later. He eyes stray around as freely as bullets when he takes in new surroundings.

His gun is for hire, but his loyalty is not. And various other services may also be on offer in the right circumstances. It is not uncommon for impressionable young girls to trail him with hungering eyes, day dreaming of wild romances with wild men. If encounters take place, he does not make much of them. He is a drifter, and if he desires company it is only fleeting, with girls who are too eager to refuse. He is lone, but he does not appear to be lonesome. The elders in these towns cannot understand such schoolgirl obsession with dangerous strangers. The Man with No Name does not care - he passes on with a smirk.

The life he leads is not an easy one to understand, much like himself. In such treacherous lands, where drought and heat can be as deadly as thieves and brigands, most people seek the security of small towns and settlements, of family communities and mutually supportive societies where safety in numbers is the only saving grace. The badlands of the West are not lands to traverse alone. Here, lawlessness is king. And yet wanderers do exist - mainly aggressive young men who ride fast, fight hard, and die too soon. Those who are settled wonder what kind of a life such solitariness can provide. The Man with No Name cannot provide an answer to that, but this is the only way he knows. Like a coyote he is strong and harsh. Born and raised upon the unforgiving land of the Wild West, he is no more able to change his instinctive ways than the coyote is able to sit down in a saloon and play poker.

The Man with No Name stands alone in a barren land, surrounded by winds of red dust, broken carriages and screeching vultures, but he does not falter. The Man with No Name is stuck halfway between hero and outlaw, reluctant to make commitment to either side. As he enters this particular settlement the townspeople disappear through closed doorways and shaded archways, slinking away as though ashamed of their shabby colony. All townships along the Western frontier look innately foolish, thinks the stranger: small outposts huddled together on the endless prairie, pretending to be legitimate settlements when they are merely disordered specks upon bare terrain, battling against colossal forces of rage, greed, and fire, both on the scorching plains and within the human soul; the last barrier protecting the cultured East from the savage West.

He brings his mount to a slow trot. His dark eyes say he is trying to weigh up if it could be worth his while to stop in this dusty old town. A man sidles towards him, with hastily stifled reluctance, as stifled as the hot midday air. These people don't want dark and dangerous strangers threatening their fragile way of life. They'd just as rather be left well alone, thank you and good day.

The stranger looks down upon the approaching gentleman. A dull sheriff's badge glints unconvincingly from his shirt, and his moustachioed face is set in a suitably serious mask. This wandering coyote does not need to hear what the sheriff has to say: he has heard it many times before, and he can conjure the words in his own head. So he continues on, through the town centre, scouring his glare across building and dry earth alike. The sheriff watches after him, arms crossed.

The Man with No Name thinks he may find somebody willing to hire him here. There is a saloon, a store, and one or two more stately houses where wickedness is likely to lurk in extravagantly furnished corners. Surely someone will have a bounty to offer, or an unpleasant errand to propose. One thing he has learnt on his travels: the more order is present, the more anarchy it will inevitably breed.

If he were a rich man, he would have no need to pass through towns such as these, toiling for dollars. He had riches once, briefly, he remembers still, although that memory is aging and lingers on his tongue like aging tobacco. He had plans once too, but now he knows better than that. Better to take what life gives you and run with it, run far away before misfortune or justice can track you down. Plans can only be shattered - never fulfilled. But he does not waste time on regret.

As the stranger is passing the saloon, he hears a commotion from within, of breaking glass and desperate shrieks. It is the music of the West. Suddenly a woman tears through the saloon doors, leaving them swinging in an erratic tangent, where they are stopped forcibly by the dark silhouette of a man. She races past the stranger's horse, and it shies away before he can control it. The man from the saloon steps onto the street, his gun already cocked, snarling like a feral wolf. He is bellowing an almost indiscernible string of obscenities towards the cowering woman.

"You filthy bitch! You second-rate whore, you dirty demon woman!"

The Man with No Name takes quick stock of the situation. The woman has taken advantage of her circumstances and hides trembling behind his horse, out of sight of the enraged man. He swings his arm, motioning violently for the stranger to get out of the way. "Move aside, amigo."

"Why are you yelling at this woman?"

"I really don't think that concerns you, you bastardo. Move!"

But the tall coyote of a man stands his ground, his black horse shifting to better conceal the woman. His eyes are dark slits and their intent is shadowed by the brim of his hat. The infuriated man cannot really believe this idiot outsider is getting involved. By now a hushed crowd has begun to gather by the saloon, and the stranger can feel the eyes of the sheriff piercing the back of his head.

He gestures with his head towards the saloon. "Go back inside."

This stranger's voice is so hushed and calm, so authoritative without being raucous, it seems like a direct insult to the other man's vicious cries. It only serves to madden his foe even more. He grimaces, exposing teeth like wolfish fangs.

"I'll do whatever the hell I want! She's my wife, and if she chooses to go sleeping around like the sluttish hussy she is then it's only right that I discipline her. I won't tell you anymore. Get out of the way."

The man advances on the stranger and his horse, eyes blood red like hellfire. Coolly the stranger folds back his sarape and takes his pistol, cocks it, and aims it in the man's direction. Now they both freeze. They have created a shallow cross in the centre of the street, a disruption at the heart of this sleepy town. Only the woman's ragged breathing can be heard.

Both wolf and coyote stare each other down. They fondle their weapons.

"Now, the smart thing to do in this situation would be to head inside," says the Man with No Name. "I only hope you've got enough brains to make the right decision."

The other man falters. He seems to be weighing up his pride with his life. But perhaps it is not much of an choice; in this chaotic territory a man's life can only truly be measured by reputation. If his life has no worth, pride can at least bring him value and comfort in his own heart.

An eagle calls out from high above. The stranger's horse shifts on its legs, a warm wind stirs the sand in the street. The angry man makes his decision, twitches his finger, is too slow for the stranger, takes a bullet to the chest before he can react, and in a heartbeat and cloud of gunsmoke he is dead. The Man with No Name takes a moment to survey what he has done, then holsters his pistol. The newly deceased crumples to the ground. A patch of bright red seeps into the dust around his body.

The stranger knows he cannot stay here now. He must move on, before his actions can cause him trouble. If he feels any remorse for his behaviour, it does not show, and the townspeople sense that he would not hesitate to do the same thing again. In fact it was something of a similar circumstance, almost painful in its ironic parallel, which caused him to lose the elusive fortune which he has been chasing ever since. He had had so much, more than most men could dream of. But the right of possession is only an imprecise idea in these lands, and he knows it well, and if the money belongs to other men now it is through some fault of his own, so he cannot mourn the loss. Just as this dead man can only attribute his death to his own foolishness.

It is difficult to say how the inhabitants of the town as a whole feel about what has just transpired. The crowd at the saloon is beginning to disperse, some of them gazing at the stranger with awe and admiration, others with arresting fear, others with raw disgust. The body in the street looks back up at its killer in disbelief.

The surviving duelist strikes a match upon the leg of his jeans, then lights up a cigarillo. He urges his horse forwards past the watching people, past the corpse, past another quiet town he has left behind on his travels. He wonders if he is a fool for drifting while aspiring for stability, for toiling for dollars while so freely partaking in activities which rid him of them. And perhaps worst of all, for killing and murdering and betraying the minute, hopeful warmth within him that perhaps a certain honour can exist in even the most ruthless of men.

But killing crooks is nothing. The stranger should know, because he counts himself as one; all bloodthirsty and brutal, the lot of them, without a hope or a virtue between them, and he is no different. But killing innocents - women and children - well, that's something else. They aren't signed up for a life of immorality, aren't yet sinners or felons, and they don't deserve to suffer the consequences. Taking the life of an innocent is a sin no man can easily be forgiven for, a blood which is harder than most to purge from the skin. A life may be a life but this stranger knows that some are worth more than others. This is why he never regrets, why he never falters.

If he has one law to live by, it is only one, and this is it. When you must kill, kill without guilt, but never kill the pure.

The late man's wife is sobbing softly. Her muted lament follows the Man with No Name as he rides back out of town as quietly as he arrived. The earth is dusty and the sky dustier as the wandering coyote continues on across the sprawling scrublands, sarape on his back, cigarillo in his mouth, warm pistol at his side. He stands halfway between here and there, forever in the middle, never quite reaching his destination. Like the coyote he is adaptive and enduring. Like the coyote he is a nomad, a restless roamer unable to defy instinct or the solitary beat of his own pulse. He is alone, alert, alive. These are all the things he is.