by Michæl Bergey
Text ©2009 Michæl Bergey; illustration ©2009 Kenket
= prologue =
I was not a normal pup. Mooneys friends told each other it was something done to me in the research lab where I was born. I was healthy enough, certainly. Ive always been healthy and full of energy. Its just that I didnt grow very fast, and I didnt stop growing when I should have, and I wasnt
normal. Sometimes I would forget myself and do things no natural coyote should do, and that would frighten people, sometimes. When I was nine years old I was almost a hundred pounds and still growingstill long-legged and gangling like a puppy, but no longer clumsy like one. My puppy teeth had worn out years before, and no new ones had come in. I lived with Mooney and her goats and chickens and raspberry fields and pot plants in a commune called Sunbow Farms. It wasnt really a commune any more because all the other humans had left when I was very small, but sometimes they would come back to visit or help. Mostly it was just Mooney and me. And the goats. I herded Mooneys goats for her, which is also not a natural sort of thing for a coyote to do.
I was nine years old when I took them out for the last time.
= chapter 1 =
Herding goats is pleasant work. Its peaceful. And safe, too, if no cougars come by. And when the goats misbehave, you get to chase them. Mooney and I both thought it a fine joke that her goat herd should be entrusted to a coyote for protection.
Our flock consisted of two elderly Alpine nannys with bad knees named Capri and Corney, and a formidable middle-aged Saanen named Baby. Baby had been bred the previous fall and now jealously guarded a pair of male kids named Thing One and Thing Two. Capri and Corney were too old for breeding, and didnt have any use I could see except for pruning blackberries and alders, and producing fertilizer.
Mooney has accused me of being less than diligent with my herding duties, and she may have some grounds for complaint. I have been known to leave my charges unsupervised from time to time. The goats never complained, though. Only Mooney. On this day I had left them for an hour or so while investigating a party of Wynoochee River picnickers and their lunch. When I returned, I found that Baby had led the others astray and was eating the marijuana again. She knew she was not supposed to do that.
Quickly and quietly I came in from behind and a bit to the left, and slammed my shoulder hard into Babys flank. She was caught completely by surprise this time and fell over, then thrashed clumsily to her feet and darted off uphill, bleating in terror. Thing One and Thing Two scrambled up the slope behind her, kicking dirt and gravel in my face.
I lunged past the kids and snapped toothlessly at Babys throat to keep her moving to the right and toward home. This whole area was off-limits to her. It was Weyerhaeuser timberland which had been clear-cut and planted six years before, and the new fir trees were just the right size to hide Mooneys marijuana from casual aerial surveillance. She had planted ten weeks previously, during the time of warm spring rains, and now her crop was almost ready to harvest.
After I had Baby moving properly I circled back to round up Corney and Capri, but for a wonder I found those two bumping briskly along behind us as if tethered. Couldnt believe it. Mooney assures me that goats are flocking animals which naturally stay together, but shes not the one who has to run them down when they forget. Not that I have anything against chasing the odd goat from time to time, mind you. I mentioned that before. But still, the creatures can be rather trying when the mood strikes them. Even slugs like Capri and Corny could make trouble for me by pretending to be spooked by some silly little thing, and then flying off simultaneously in opposite directions.
This time my herd came together effortlessly and stayed that way. Very strange.
I snorted the dust from my nose and checked carefully for scents. Nothing directly upwind besides the goats in front of me. I would have noticed anything else right away. Downwind was the area we had just left. I worked my way crosswind and up the slope, pushing under a dense vine maple thicket to break through directly onto the ridge top. It was just a little ridge, and only took a moment to climb.
A scent hit me and I froze, stomach clenched. My neck and shoulders tingled as the fur lifted. It was human urine I smelledmale humanand not from anyone I knew.
I remained frozen for a minute, then relaxed. The urine scent was close by, but the man was not. Bruised fir needles revealed the path by which he had come and gone. I followed that trail for a short distance, sniffing carefully to eliminate any possibility of error, then returned to the ridge top. In typical human fashion the man had piddled away his entire allotment in one spot. I marked there too, then moved over to an area where the grass and dirt had been flattened suspiciously. There I scented gun oil and leather, old burned gunpowder, Tide detergent from the clothes, fresh sweat, fir and hemlock sap, other plant juicesall the usual one would expect from a police officer hiking through heavy brush. The man had not come to that place by accident.
I brought the goats straight home, and found Mooney out working her raspberry fields. She was sweaty and dirty and smelled wonderful. I put my paws on her shoulders and tried to lick her face, but she pushed me away so I dropped down and licked her ankles instead. They tasted as good as they smelledrich and sour and salty, with just a trace of camomile shampoo. Humans taste the best of any animal except horses. Maybe its the salt.
Mooney knelt down and rubbed my ears and neck affectionately. Whats up, Stinkylips? Youre home early.
I dont like that name. I am very clean, including my mouth. I just happen to enjoy some things Mooney disapproves of. Nark was here, I said shortly. Those words were easy, and came out clearly. Some other words are impossible to pronounce properly because of the p and b sounds, which come out as pff or worse. In those days, without my teeth, I also had trouble with th. Yes, I know: Talking is also not a natural thing for a coyote to do. I never spoke to anyone except Mooney.
Mooney stood up suddenly. Humans always do that when theyre worried or surprised. Show me the place, she said.
I described the scents and pointed out the path taken, and Mooney agreed it had to be a government agent rather than a hiker or pot freeloader. She had been growing grass on the Olympic Peninsula for many years, and had quite a bit of experience with these things.
Mooneys crop was a constant worry to her, and I often wished she would give it up. I couldnt understand what was so attractive about the plants. Theyre pleasantly musky and resinousnice to roll in but not much good to eat. I ate a young plant once anyway, and it made me dizzy and a little sick. Then I fell asleep.
I know humans like to smoke and eat pot. Mooney tried to explain to me that our crop was very special because it was organically grown, but I couldnt see what was so special about that. Our raspberries were organic too, and they tasted just the same as Mr. Bells. Mr. Bell was our neighbor and enemy, and his garden was very definitely not organic, although he used plenty of cow manure. Mr. Bell was a dairyman.
Mooney and I looked out over her secret fields that were no longer secret, and I could feel her distress. She was going to lose her crop, and that would be a disaster for her. I had asked her before why she grew so much, far more than she could use for herself or give away to friends. Mooney had tried to explain about property taxes, repossession, income from raspberry sales and duty to the land, and it had made no sense to me at first.
Over time I had begun to understand bits and pieces, and finally the whole situation, more or less. Its like this: Mooneys full name is Monica Eve Sklarsen, which means a lot to the other humans around us. It seems that Sunbow is actually part of a rather large piece of land which Mooney had inherited from her grandfather. Part of his personal estate, not the logging company he founded. The land is all surveyed now, but the original grant had specified the entire drainage of Fry Creek. That area is over fifteen square miles, and most of it old growth timber. Mooney owned the land, but the money she had inherited with it had been used up paying estate taxes and establishing the commune, and she had nothing left with which to pay property taxes. Mooneys raspberry fields earned enough for living expenses, but her tax bill was monstrous, and raspberry money was not nearly enough to deal with it. She was compelled to grow pot in order to make up the difference.
That concept gave me a particularly hard time. I couldnt understand why it was necessary for Mooney to break one law in order to obey another one. Personally, I dont bother much with laws.
Mooneys Wood was quite a wild place. She didnt even know it very well herself. It missed being logged in the early 1900s because it was too rugged to be attractive at the time, and also because it developed a reputation for being a place of bad luck. Death Creek, they called it, and several different companies tried the land before moving on to easier country up-valley. Before the second wave of logging began, Mooneys grandfather bought it for a very nice price and decided to keep it undisturbed for possible future use. The land never brought bad luck to old man Sklarsen or his granddaughter, but then neither of them had tried to log it.
There were areas in there where I was afraid to go without a human for protection, but which were too tangled for a human to push through easily. I was afraid because of the cougars. Our undisturbed forest was the center of a highly prized territory, and was always occupied by the meanest and strongest. Cougars eat coyotes if they can catch them. I sometimes thought I might take a small radio with me so that the voices would scare the cougars away, but Mooney didnt have one like that, and she wouldnt buy me one. I was keeping an eye out on my picnic raids, but hadnt found the right kind yet. I had already checked Mr. Bells place without success.
Enough daydreaming. I nuzzled Mooneys hand. Will he pffe pffack? By habit I used the proper ear positions to specify be back rather than the various alternatives, but Mooney didnt bother to look. She didnt need that extra help any more. Always knew what I was trying to say.
Hell be back, Mooney said. And soon, too. Theyll rip out the whole lot. Her voice was raw, but she was not going to let herself cry. Not yet.
I stood silently beside Mooney, shoulder pressed lightly against her hip, and waited for her to decide what to do. We had a good view from where we were standing. Fir trees studded the land below us and to our left, widely spaced and all the same size. They were twice as tall as Mooney, but rather thin and ragged-looking, and the spaces between them were thick with wildflowers, blackberries and red alder seedlings in various stages of development. All the larger alders had been cut down recently, but the blackberries were doing just fine. To our right sprawled last years clear-cut, shocked and dry and dead, with its splintered stumps, fresh burn pile circles, and evenly spaced, almost invisible fir seedlings tucked carefully into the rubble.
Not far behind us, Mooneys Wood was so tall it was like a hill made out of living trees. When she was ready, we walked back that way.
= chapter 2 =
Usually I would help Mooney with her evening chores. I made sure all the chickens were locked into their coyote- and fox- and bobcat- and raccoon- and weasel- and otter-proof coop. I made sure that any spilled goat milk was cleaned up, and licked the bucket, too. I gave advice and sometimes even made a joke, although Mooney actually did most of the talking. This time we were both quiet, and worked faster than usual. It was still quite light when we finished, with summer days being so long and all.
I tried to nap while Mooney washed up and fixed dinner, but she kept banging things more than she needed to and I couldnt sleep properly, so I went outside until she called for me. We had our usual tofu and vegetables stir-fried with sesame oil and brown rice (with fish sauce for me), but this time we had a special treat: the first of our own sweet corn crop. Mooney had to slit open the kernels for me with a sharp knife, but then I could gum and lick out the insides easily enough. I love sweet corn, but Mooneys distress had caused my appetite to disappear, and I only ate to be polite. Dusk had arrived by the time we were done.
Mooney began to collect dishes and stack them on the counter, but then she stopped and became very still. Finally she straightened herself in that way which meant she was about to say something important. Were going to harvest the crop and take it to North River tonight, she announced quietly.
Okay. I tried to look alert and respectful, and waited for further information. We always harvested at night, but it took us several nights to finish, and we usually had a little help from our friends.
Well need to do it without lights, so youll have to find the plants for me, and youll also need to help me drag them back to the van. I want to start as soon as possible. Is anyone still in the area?
I keep track of the coming and going of cars without even thinking about it. I had heard two cars that morning, but both were gone now and no new ones had come in. All clear now, I said, and stepped over to the dog door.
Wait a minute, Mooney said. I need to tie up my hair and change my clothes again. I have some special, brand new clothes and shoes I want to wear.
I thought you said you were ready!
No. I said I wanted to start as soon as possible.
Weyerhaeuser makes very nice logging roads. We all use themdeer, elk, cougars, coyotes, and humans. If you have the right gate keys you can go almost anywhere in a Volkswagen van.
Moon had set early, and Mooney cant see very well by starlight alone, even bright starlight. She can walk along a road by herself, but rough ground is too much for her, so she had to grip the loose skin between my shoulders and follow along while I scented out new marijuana plants for her to cut and bundle. I would hesitate for a moment when we came to things she could trip over, so she knew when to lift her feet.
Theres a special look to the stars on a clear night when Moon is not out. Your eyes can really open up, and you see things that arent there any other time. Look between the stars and there are more stars without end, so that the whole sky is clotted, glowing milk. The Milky Way itself seems solid, like you could climb up onto it if there were something tall enough to get you started. Even now I still try, sometimes.
It was full summer, so this night was short and not really that dark. Not for me, at least. Sun had barely slipped below the horizon, and the Milky Way competed with a wash of evening glow in the northwest, which moved slowly to the north and then northeast as we worked. But, of course, by then it wasnt evening glow any more, it was morning glow, and we were almost out of time.
The van was full anywaytires nearly flat with the weight of it, and inside packed so tightly I thought the door latches might pop open. The whole roof was loaded with tightly strapped-down, canvas-covered plants. Mooneys gloves were falling apart and my fur was sticky with marijuana sap, and the thick smell of it clogged my nose, too, so that finding new plants had become difficult for me.
We had done what we could. I was lying on my side and Mooney was sitting with her back against a van wheel when I heard the crunch of a foot on loose gravel. The noise was downwind from us, so I couldnt scent what sort of animal had made it.
It might have been a deer. It might have been, but it wasnt. I knew that from the first. We had been making a steady, subdued noise with our harvest operations, and the noise had come from downwind. I couldnt believe a wild animal would visit us in that way. I didnt stop to think, just jumped up and said somethingI dont remember whatand Mooney grabbed hold of my shoulder skin again.
I pulled Mooney downslope and away from the van as fast as she would go. Half-carried her, in fact. The young fir trees were too small and scattered to provide good cover for us, but the blackberries between them still caught at Mooneys legs, several times tripping her so that her full weight slammed down onto my back. Im strong enough for that sort of thing, but it does slow me down, and we were still uncomfortably close to Mooneys van when the police made their move.
Brightness exploded behind and around us, sending fir tree shadows lancing ahead. As one, we stepped into the closest shadow and lay down. Mooney and I wiggled under the fir tree and looked back to where we had been, and the light was so strong it hurt me. There must have been at least four spotlights trained on that van.
An amplified voice roared to life, commanding immediate surrender with hands on head and no sudden moves, just like in the movies. When no such thing happened the voice continued talking, but two of the light beams left the van to dart aggressively through the tree farm, sweeping along and then reversing or stopping suddenly in no way that I could predict. Police radios began to chatter in that intimidating way they have, and a police car edged up to our van like a farm dog inspecting ones throat. Mooney and I crouched down lower, waiting to see what would happen next, and that was a mistake. We should have been quietly getting out of there.
One of the lights happened to catch me directly in the eyes. It stopped there. My head was filled with its brilliance and I couldnt see anything else. I know it sounds stupid, but I just lay there for a moment staring straight back at that thing.
I heard voices talking: eyes out there, probably a raccoon or coyote or something and then I panicked. I whipped around and lunged away from the lights, then found that my eyes had been dazzled and I couldnt see any more. I pushed and tripped and crashed ahead anyway. I heard a gunshot, and then angry voices, so I aimed myself in the opposite directionaway from the noises and away from the light.
The shot was not repeated, but that light clung to me relentlessly, blasting me with a brilliance so powerful I could see nothing else. I kept the light behind me, and repeatedly I threw myself sideways to shake it off, but the thing just would not be left behind. I kept trying, though, and finally stumbled onto a steep slope that felt like it might lead to safety. I turned that way, began to scramble and slide sharply downward, and then the light was gone. I was in a place where it could not reach. My eyes were still too dazzled to see anything, but this time I forced myself to stop running.
I lay down shaking and panting, head and neck pressed tightly into the dirt, ears flicking apprehensively to every small sound or imagined sound. The light hesitated on the brush above me for a time and moved on. It did not come back.
In a few minutes my night vision and some of my sanity returned to me. I had blackberry scratches on my nose and tongue, but no other physical injuries. Mentally I was a mess. I wanted to run back to the house and wait there for Mooney, but I was too terrified even to do that. I just lay there, trembling.
After quite a long time I heard surreptitious noises approaching me through the brush. The noises were caused by a human. A single human. I could tell that easily enough, even with the wind coming wrong. Nothing moves through brush quite so clumsily as a human. This one was trying very hard to be stealthy, however. It was moving slowly, and stopping frequently, and it was not coming from the direction of the van. I kept my ears turned toward the source of those sounds and prepared myself to move on. If the man came close I would run again, but this time I would not look toward any lights, and I would not stop for anything.
The approaching human was not coming directly toward me, and it stopped whenever the lights came near. Finally, during one of the pauses I heard a very soft whisper: Stinky, are you there?
That name sounded beautiful to me this timethe most glorious word ever uttered by a human. I glided silently to where the voice had come from and found Mooney creeping forward on hands and knees, hesitant and lost. I slipped up from behind and bumped her shoulder gently with my own, and she jerked and fell over and almost cried out, then grabbed and hugged me so hard I fell over too. She smelled as scared as I did, and her hands and knees smelled bloody.
They shot at you! Mooney whisper-raged. Are you hurt? I didnt say anything, but wiggled out of her hug and then pushed up under her arm to get her standing again. She clamped my head in the crook her arm for a second and shook me, then creakily rose to her feet, and we moved on downslope in our customary guide dog fashion. Only it was not quite so dark now. Soon the people behind us wouldnt be needing lights any more.
Normally we would have walked right up to the house without thinking about it. Mooney didnt use her yard lights because they hurt my eyes, and in my entire life we had never had a human intruder on our property. By this time we were both beginning to feel rather paranoid, though, so Mooney stopped us when we were quite a ways off, and I left her behind to make a slow spiral inward, checking for scents.
Two men were waiting there for us, both so well hidden I would never have found them except by scent. One was just inside the front door of the goat barn and the second was under the hydrangea bush by the back porch. That was a good hiding spot. One of my favorites.
I went back to report to Mooney and receive her instructions. I could help with the seeing and smelling and hearing, but I had no clue about what to do next. This mess was far too complicated for me to figure out.
Mooney explained, If Im caught walking around on a night when my van is found loaded to the scuppers with pot, itll be hard to account for things no matter what I say, but if I can just get into the house or out of this area, I can claim the van was stolen and I didnt know about it. Since we never dry or store any pot here, the police may not be able to put a case together.
This seemed a bit far-fetched to me. Mooney stank of marijuana resin, and she had left her own scent all over the area we had harvested. Still, she was the boss. I kept my mouth shut and waited for more specific advice.
If you create a diversion, I may be able to get inside without being noticed. Youre sure theres no one else hidden?
I cant tell sthat for sure, I replied carefully. Scents dont pffass easily sthrough windows, even when stheyre opffen, so sthere could pffe someone inside sthe house. I can make a noise at the osther side of sthe pffarn. Do you sthink sthe man will shoot at me? One bullet had already missed me that night, and I was not eager to put myself at risk again. Bullets dont always miss. I knew that by personal experience, because Mr. Bell had shot me the year before when he saw me investigating a dead calf of his. There had been no pain at first, only a sharp slap to the throat and a whistling sound in the earsthat sweet singing whistle which means a bullet has come looking for you, and maybe even found you. A second later had come the crack of a rifle shot from the direction of Mr. Bells house. Luckily that bullet had passed through a fold of skin and done little damage, but how many more times could I be lucky?
Mooney tried to reassure me that policemen are really not supposed to discharge their weapons at noises in the dark, and the earlier shot had been a mistake. Her words lacked conviction, but I didnt argue with her. What else was there to do? Its not dangerous for me, I lied, I do sthis sort of sthing all sthe time! Even if sthe man does shoot, I wont pffe where hes aiming. I pffromise.
Yeah, sure, Mooney muttered. We began to prepare for our diversion.
I brought Mooney as close to the back door as we dared. There she took off her clothes and gloves and shoes, tied them into a tight bundle, and handed them over to me. Bury these in a place where theyll never be found, she said. If Im taken away, stay nearby and keep out of sight. Ill send a friend to take care of the animals. Nowgo on with you, and dont do anything stupid. And good luck!
My mouth was full with Mooneys bundle so I didnt answer her in wordsjust bumped my shoulder lightly against her hip, growled once, softly, and trotted off. Ive always been good at skulking, and I enjoy it. Its only the bullets that scare me.
Silently I left Mooney behind and circled around to the back door of the goat barn. I set down the bundle and stood there for a time, listening to the man. He was surprisingly quiet. All I heard were breathing sounds, and one time the faint creak of leather on leather.
Time to move. Mooney will do something stupid if you dont. I scuffed my feet on hard-packed dirt and scratched the door once, lightly. Then I grabbed the latch with my mouth and slid it back quietly, but not too quietly. Even a human would be able to hear the faint grinding sound of rusty metal on metal, followed by a clunk as the bar hit its stop. I paused for a moment, then slowly pulled the door outward, keeping my body hidden behind it in case another one of those super-powered flashlights came on. With the door half open, I let go of the latch and pressed my chin to the ground, then snaked my head and neck around the edge for a quick peek.
The man was crouched stiffly with head and body turned my way but not oriented on me. He had a gun in one hand and an unlit flashlight in the other, and both hands were shaking. I dont think he could actually see more than a vague outline of brightness where the open door was. Baby and the other goats were awake and nervous, but I dont think even they could see me. Human and goat fear-scent filled the barn.
While remaining safely outside, I shouldered the door slowly closed again, and refastened the latch. I hoped it would seem as if someone had quietly entered the goat barn and closed the door behind himself.
My plan worked. The barn exploded with brightness the instant that latch clicked shut. Light stabbed outward through every crack and knothole, and a very loud, nervous voice called out, Freeze! The mans voice cracked a bit at the end, making his command come out a little squeaky, but it really was quite impressive. If I had been in the barn with him I most assuredly would have frozen, but I wasnt, so I didnt. Instead I snatched up my bundle and ran very fast away from there. I was pleased and grateful to find that Mooney was right about the gunshots. There werent any, although there was quite a bit of shouting.
When I was well clear, and had buried the clothes, I hurried over to the Bell place because it was the best spot to let me see what was going on at Sunbow. My tail was up and I bubbled with merriment and pride at my cleverness. Nice diversion! Mooney would have had plenty of opportunity to stroll on into the house.
I angled over to Mr. Bells back porch so I could pee inside his boots again if they had been left out. After I healed from my bullet wound I had taken up the hobby of tormenting Mr. Bell in any way I could think of, and the boot trick was just one of my ideas. It was a good one except that Mr. Bell blamed his hound dog Jake instead of me. Of course, that wasnt really a problem because Jake and I hated each other too, and if he got in trouble that was fine by me. I hopped up onto the porch, and stopped. Mr. Bells boots were there, sure enough, but they were no longer of interest to me. A stranger had been sitting on the porch swing. A stranger, but one I had smelled before. It was the same man who had spied on our pot patch.
Hastily I left the porch and moved on to a bramble-covered trash pile I knew of, and settled myself under a bent panel of corrugated metal. In that position I was hidden from every angle except for a clear view of home. I watched anxiously, no longer so sure of myself. I had never thought that Mr. Bell might be involved in all of this. Betrayal is impossible without trust, but still I felt betrayed. Silly of me.
At Sunbow, both humans were still searching the premiseswaving flashlights, talking on their radios, and generally making a fuss. That meant the back porch man had left his post as Mooney had assured me he would. It had become so bright out, I wondered why they even bothered with the lights.
An upstairs bedroom window flashed into brightness and Mooneys voice came to me: Hey! You! Get off my land this instant! Ive already called the Sheriff, and Ive got a dog and a shotgun in here too! You hear me? Move along! Now!
As planned, Mooney was pretending that she had been in the house all night and was only now becoming aware that people were on her property. Her voice sounded sleepy, and scared, and angryconvincing even to me, and I had quite a bit of experience with such communications. The men should leave now, quietly and without fuss. I always did.
We are the police, and you are under arrest! I heard those words clearly enough, but after that the voices quieted down so I couldnt make them out any more. I began to worry. What if Mooney had made a mistake? Our house could be a trap for her!
Cars raced up our driveway and skidded to a halt in our yard, and men jumped out to crouch behind them with guns drawn. The voices became loud again, and I heard Mooney say something about a warrant. One of the new people replied that if Mooney continued to resist arrest they would be forced to use their weapons.
Mooney came out of the house with her hands on top of her head, and almost every man had a gun pointed at her. She was grabbed and handcuffed, and pushed into one of the cars. She didnt struggle.
It was not supposed to happen like this! Not like this. I found myself whining softly with each breath. I kept licking my nose in distractioncouldnt make myself stop. My neck hurt, and I shook all over, and I just didnt know what to do. Men ran into our house with guns still drawn, and more cars arrived, and Mooney was taken away. The men were there for hours, and no one even let the goats and chickens out. Finally all but one of them went away.
Jake could smell that I was nearby, and kept sniffing around and wuffling, but the numb-nose never did find me. I stayed where I was all through that day, confused and shockedlay there in the dry dirt, watching the farm and panting from the heat of the roofing tin close above my head. I hardly even snapped at the deer fliesmostly just let them bite. There were no tears, of course. Tears are for humans.
At dusk another vehicle came. One I recognized. It was John Cultees old white International pickup, this time with the camper shell on it.
John was my favorite of Mooneys friends. He had never actually lived at Sunbow, but he came to visit almost every weekend, and he had been around as long as I could remember.
John was tall, even for a human, and towered over me. He was heavy, too, and he had straight black hair he kept in a ponytail. He had a tremendous force of personality. When I was very young I would show my belly when we greeted, and even piddle a bit despite myself. That was something I never did for anyone else besides Mooney.
There was something about John and Mooney that distinguished them from other humans. It was not simply that they were family. They both had a Presence to them that sometimes made other humans uncomfortable. The other humans didnt seem to be fully aware of it, but I was. I could sense either of them from several yards away regardless of sight, sound, or scent. I was not uncomfortable, though. They were mine, and I was theirs, and that was all I needed to know. I think there may have been something about me that affected them in much the same way.
Hearing Johns truck was the first good thing that had happened to me since dawn. I straightened up and whined quietly, but stayed where I was. I needed to remain hidden until he made the Sheriff, or deputy, or policeman, or whatever, go away. Besides, I was very close to Mr. Bells house, and I didnt want to play the target practice game any more. Better to wait until dark.
Johns truck bounced to a stop at the police barricade, and he stepped out to talk to the man for a moment. Then he got back into his truck and drove away.
He drove away! John didnt wave his arms or shout, so I didnt have a clue about what was said. He just left.
Depression paralyzed me again. Listlessly I forced myself to review exit routes one more time as if it really mattered, but then a new thing caught my attentionbrought my head up and ears stiffly forward. It was not a sound, but rather the lack of a sound. I couldnt hear the International any longer.
Johns truck has a distinctive sound suggestive of a much larger vehicle, and it always seems in need of a new muffler. On a quiet day I can hear it for a couple of miles, sometimes farther. I had been subliminally aware of the sound fading away in the usual manner, but then it had stopped abruptly. John had shut down the engine and he was still nearby. He wanted me to find him!
I forgot my clever escape routes and popped straight out into the open, tearing across Mr. Bells south pasture in flagrantly full view. Jake saw me and gave chase, but he didnt have a chance of catching me. In a couple of minutes Jake and the dairy and Sunbow had all been left behind.
Im a very good runner. John has clocked me at forty-six miles per hour, and on dirt roads with chuckholes I can beat a carsometimes for just a couple of minutes, sometimes forever. It depends on how many chuckholes there are. I knew where John had to be, and I was halfway there before I began to slow down. I left the road then and continued overland and in concealment the rest of the way. I had a decidedly mixed reputation at Wynoochee Wildwood, and never showed myself there by daylight.
Wynoochee Wildwood is a private campground which is always partly empty, even when the weather is warm. When I found John he was setting up camp in one of the more secluded spaces. He had already started a fire, and was pitching a tent even though he usually slept in the camper or on the ground. The tent and his truck had been cleverly positioned to provide a very effective privacy screen. He really was expecting me!
As John tightened the last tent line I slunk in from behind and rubbed up against the backs of his legs. It didnt seem to surprise him. He turned around and knelt down to greet me, but I just stood there and looked at him with head, ears, and tail down.
John shuffled forward on his knees, then settled himself cross-legged and reached over to stroke my neck and chin. I put my head in his lap and collapsed.
Sin-Ka-Lip, Sin-Ka-Lip. You will be okay. Mooney will be okay. Be patient.
John began to sing quietly, one of his shaman songs. I dont remember his words now, but at the time they seemed utterly interesting, and they went on for a long while. When the singing ended I remained motionless with my eyes closed, finally at peace. Perhaps I slept.
Are you thirsty? I have water in the truck.
Those words snapped me to alertness again, and I scrambled hastily to my feet.
Sorry, Coyote. I didnt mean to startle you like that.
Thirsty. How could I have forgotten something like that? John fetched water and a bowl, and it was good. Very, very good. I drank as he pouredtook in a quart before stopping to breathe properly.
I settled myself upright with the pan between my front legs, and watched John while he finished making camp. When he brought the grocery bag into view, I lost interest in the water and pushed my head inside as soon as he set the bag down. My nose had already told me what was inside.
Fresh bread and raw steaksplenty of both. I took mine straight from the wrappers. John cooked his meat.
While waiting for John to finish his meal, I began to lick myself cleanfirst time that day I had felt the urge to take care of myself. Had to quit, though. Too much marijuana sap. Better to start with a swim in the river. As usual, John seemed to know ahead of time what I wanted and, when the darkness had grown deep enough, we moved off to one of the more secluded sections of riverbank, well away from any lighted campsites.
My summer coat is not as nice-looking as I like, but at least its easy to clean. John helped me with my head and neck, washed himself, and then challenged me to a game of water tag. I won, of course. After that I led him back to his tent, groomed myself properly, and curled up for sleep. Slept in the tent this time.
I awoke well before dawn, rested and strongready to think again. John was asleep so I edged over and nuzzled his neck, just behind the right ear. He pushed my head away and burrowed deeper into his sleeping bag, but I found the zipper and pulled it slowly back all the way to its end, then gave a quick tug to lay the bag open like a razor clam shell, with him the meat inside.
John cursed me competently but without anger and then sat himself upright, rubbing his eyes. He smelled like clean, warm human. No soap, no deodorant, no smoke, and no bug repellent. Too bad theyre not like that all the time. I pushed forward to lick his face enthusiastically, then presented myself for an ear scratch. John complied.
So what are you going to do now, Stinky? I gave goat and chicken care instructions to the deputy when he wouldnt let me in, and I told him an Animal Control officer and reporter would be coming by later to check on him. I dont think he believed me, but it should motivate him to do at least some sort of care. Mooney is going to be pissed. John lifted my chin until our eyes met, and paused as if waiting for an answer from me.
I didnt answer, but I did look him in the eyes for a time. Then I sagged down and presented my belly for rubbing. I had never talked to anyone besides Mooney, no matter what the temptation. I dont know why. Its one of the things that made Mooney so crazy. Mooney shared our conversations with John and a few others, but I think only John actually believed her. He had always treated me as a thinking creature, and I appreciated it. If I ever got around to talking to other humans I would start with him.
Mooney wasnt able to talk to me in private, John continued. All she would say was that she had been feeling bad the day before, got a little drunk, and went to bed early. Then at the crack of dawn a small army of police and federal agents assaulted her home and arrested her at gunpoint without a warrant. The ACLU attorney is lapping it all up.
So what really happenedhmmm? John was rubbing my belly way down low. One of my favorite spots.
What the hell: Now seemed as good a time as any to break tradition. I rolled to my feet and nudged open the tent screen zipper. I need to go pffee, I told it softly.
I didnt talk again until John had taken me far away from Wynoochee Wildwood. We were walking Sklarsen Company land, well north, near the Matlock turnoff. Some fine trees there, maybe seventy years since the last cutting. John and I pretended not to notice the brand new survey stakes we passed. Those trees would be gone soon, but there was nothing we could do about it.
When Im walking with humans I like to splash through and lap at all the puddles we pass. Its something to do while waiting for them to catch up. This time all the chuckhole puddles were dry, but there were a few scum-covered seeps and springs along the roadside. Mooney hates to see me drink dirty watersays Ill catch all sorts of horrible diseases. John is much more reasonable, and he walks faster too.
John walked, and I ran ahead and sideways and back again until I felt tired enough to be comfortable with his pace. I was panting a bit, and had mud and foam on my chin, so I slipped up behind and nuzzled him to rub it off on his shirt.
Someone found our pffot pffatch, I said finally, walking beside John and looking straight ahead to avoid his eyes. We were on a straight, level stretch of road with fir and hemlock branches from both sides meeting far overhead. The road smelled of dust, and dry moss, and old coyote shit. No one I knew.
Mooney said we needed to harvest right away. We worked all night and filled sthe van, pffut sthen we were almost caught. I sthink it was a trapff.
I moved my ears forward for p and backward for b in the usual manner, hoping Mooney might have explained about the ear positions as pronunciation aids. I was hoping even more that John would forbear from asking those stupid questions movie-humans come up with when an animal first talks to them.
I was not disappointed. John didnt say a word about the years of frustration I had caused Mooney by my shyness. He just kept on walking, also looking straight ahead. He seemed calm except for his scent, which gave it all away. After a time he said, Why do you feel it was a trap?
I didnt hear any cars coming. Sthe men were just sthere. Sthey must have pffen hiding somewhere. Maypffe sthey were at Mr. Pffells house. One of sthem was on his pfforch. I could smell it.
Mr. Bell doesnt love us. Thats for sure. I guess this means Mooney will have to give up her pot business.
No more marijuana for Mooney to fret over! My tail lifted at the thought, but then it sagged back down to touch the ground. Mooney is in jail! Who cares apffout sthe damn pffot?
Oh, dont worry about Mooney. Shell most likely be out today or tomorrow. From what I could tell, they found a few good clues but blew it all when they arrested her without a warrant. The Sheriff had gone to her house earlier in the evening, but assumed it was vacant when no one answered the door. He put two deputies in charge of guarding it, and they reported that one person attempted to approach the house just before dawn, but got away. Mooney came to the window when they started making noise with their search, so she must have been there all night after all. Good thing, too! They have men and dogs searching the whole lower valley. He paused a moment, then asked, Youre sure there were no helpers?
Sthere were no helpffers, just me and Mooney. We heard sthe men coming, and ran away. Mooney said if she could get pffack inside sthe house wisthout pffeing seen, she would pffe safe. Pffut sthey took her aaanywaay! I was starting to whine a little, so I stopped talking then. John doesnt like whining.
But Mooneys plan did work! Theyve weakened their case by arresting her improperly, and there are two police witnesses who will have to testify that she was in her house the whole time when the pot harvesting was going on. How did you do it?
Bewildered, but beginning to feel more hopeful, I explained about our diversion tactic and my removal of clothes and shoes and gloves to a safe place.
You said Mooney used all new clothes and shoes for the harvesting? Thats perfect! Mooney is no dummy. She knew footprint and fiber analysis would lead to dead ends that way. DNA analysis and fingerprints will show Mooney used things in the van, but not when she did so.
John continued to discuss our situation in considerable detail, but I was soon lost. I wasnt completely sure what DNA was, but it didnt seem very useful to me. Mooney had left a strong body scent all over everything, and now John said they would have trouble proving she was even there! This was all a bit beyond me, so I didnt say any more about it. John was here, and he seemed pleased enough. If he was satisfied, so was I.
Mooney would be coming back! John had said so. All I had to do was wait and be patient. I walked on in silence but with a bounce to my steps, and with tail held high. High for a coyote, anyway. We tend to be somewhat modest that way. John walked silently beside me, and after a time he asked if I had any more questions.
Can we eat lunch yet? And can you tell me a story?
John stopped walking and stared down at me. I didnt know you liked my stories.
You know I always listen when you tell stories for Mooney. I never make noise or leave sthe room until youre done, and I watch you sthe whole time. Sometimes I tell Mooney what stories to ask for. Shes told you sthat herself!
I thought it was a game she was playing with me, John replied sheepishly. I should have known better. What story would you like?
I need to hear a story apffout Coyote. Sthe first one. Mooney says sthat Im sthe original, real Coyote. If shes right, I need to know what Im like.
You dont need a story for that. You are what you are. Besides, youve heard them all before. John was smiling now, like he had made a joke of some sort.
I might have forgotten somesthing, or want to ask a question. And anyway, you never tell sthem sthe same way twice. Maypffe sthis time youll get one right. I was smiling now too, and I bumped my shoulder playfully against his thigh. John bumped back, so I whipped around and nipped at his ankles until he couldnt walk properly any more.
John stopped walking, but otherwise ignored my teasing. He selected a particular spot in the center of the road, brushed it smooth, shrugged off his pack, and sat down cross-legged. It was shady there, and had an acceptable breeze. Seemed as good a spot as any. I sat down on my haunches with tail curled around my feet and tried to look attentive and respectful.
John held silence to himself for a time, then began formally:
This World was not empty when humans came to live here. It was occupied by the Animal People. We call them Animal People because they often took the shape of animals, but they could take on other forms as well. Often they looked much like humans do today. Often they acted like humans, toofoolish and quarrelsome.
Sin-Ka-Lip was the worst of them. Even his name was a term of contempt. It means The Imitator. Sin-Ka-Lip didnt choose that name for himself, of course. Others called him that.
Sin-Ka-Lip was lazy, vain, selfish, gluttonous, and far too horny for his own goodprobably the most human-like of all the Animal People, although his preferred form was the coyote. He probably looked just like you, except that his eyes were not slanted then, and his mouth was filled with lovely, smooth, strong teeth.
John leaned toward me and flaunted a wide, toothy smile. Then he settled back and continued with his story.
Spirit Chief was keeper of the creatures of our own World, including the Animal People. He was often presented with problems to judge, but he was wise and patient, and was usually able to show the Animal People how to solve these problems for themselves. Over time, most of the Animal People learned that one of the best ways to stay out of trouble was to stay away from Sin-Ka-Lip.
Sin-Ka-Lip was not well liked, and for good reason. When troubles were brought to Spirit Chief for solution, Sin-Ka-Lip was often involved. He often played cruel jokes, which would sometimes even result in the death of the victim. Sin-Ka-Lip thought those were especially funny. It should be added, of course, that people in those days didnt take death as seriously as we do now. Sin-Ka-Lip himself died many times, and was always brought back to life again by his brother, Fox.
But Im getting ahead of myself. This story is not about Sin-Ka-Lip getting killed. Its about the end of the World as it was when only the Animal People lived here. Spirit Chief called a council meeting to announce the news.
A new kind of people will be coming soon, he proclaimed. They will look much like you do now. You are all in your soft, weak forms out of respect for this meeting. For now you have no claws, or beaks, or sharp teeth. The New People will be like this all the time. They will be very easy to kill, but you must not do that.
Hear me! You are commanded to help and protect these New People when they come. Some of you have names now, and some do not, but tomorrow all will be required to choose. You will hold forever the names and animal forms that suit you best, and your children will fill the Earth.
Tomorrow at dawn you will begin choosing names and natures. I will give each of you Medicine Power and show you the work you must do. Choose well, for you and your children will live with this choice forever.
The Animal People were astonished by this news, and talked of it endlessly. Most were excited and curious, and eager to take their assigned places in the new World, but some were jealous and angry, and vowed they would destroy the New People when they came.
Sin-Ka-Lip had no wish to destroy the New People, but he certainly had no desire to be called Sin-Ka-Lip forever. He hated that name, and the way everyone avoided him and said bad things about him. He vowed he would be first to meet with Spirit Chief, and would choose a different name.
I will become Eagle, he proclaimed loudly. I will soar above the mountains and none will be able to follow. I will be ruler of the birds. Maybe I will choose to become Grizzly Bear, who will rule the four-footed people, or Salmon, who will be chief of all fishes.
Fox made fun of Sin-Ka-Lips grand words. My dear Brother, I know you too well. Youll probably sleep late and get last choice of all the names. But dont worry. People despise your name, and no one will take it. Your proper name will be waiting for you, no matter when you show up. You had better go to bed now if you want to have any hope of getting up early.
Sin-Ka-Lip became angry then, and stalked off home. He decided he would not sleep at all that night. That way there would be no chance of being late. He was determined to be the very first one to see Spirit Chief in the morning.
Halfway through the night Sin-Ka-Lip became very sleepy. He would stand up and walk around, but his eyelids drooped downward again the moment he stopped moving. I will not let myself sleep! he muttered fiercely. He whipped his head around and bit his tongue and paws to keep himself awake, but his eyes still kept closing whenever he stopped for a moment. Finally, in frustration, he picked up two small sticks and jammed them between his eyelids to keep them braced apart. The sticks hurt terribly, but Sin-Ka-Lip forced himself to endure the pain. Soon his eyeballs began to itch and burn from drying out, so he put some grease on them.
There is no way I can fall asleep now, he said to himself, and settled down to be as comfortable as possible. The sticks didnt hurt as much when he kept his eyes very still. After a short time Sin-Ka-Lips breathing became soft and quiet. He had fallen asleep with his eyes open.
When Sin-Ka-Lip awoke it was bright outside, but too foggy to see where the sun was. He flicked the sticks out from between his eyelids, wiped away the grease, and looked around in sudden panic. What time was it? Frantically Sin-Ka-Lip ran to Spirit Chiefs house. He arrived panting and wild, with foam on his muzzle. His eyes felt sore and very strange. The outer corners were still tucked upward where the sticks had forced them during the hours he had slept.
Sin-Ka-Lip found Spirit Chief sitting all alone at the entrance to his house, and he spoke to him right away, without waiting for permission. Sin-Ka-Lip had never been very good at manners. I have come to choose a name for myself, he proclaimed. I wish to be Eagle!
That name has been taken already.
Sin-Ka-Lip was stunned. He had thought he was the first to arrive. Where were all the others?
In that case, I choose the name Grizzly Bear. Sin-Ka-Lip spoke more respectfully now, with his head and tail lowered a little.
That name also has been chosen.
A terrible suspicion was creeping into Sin-Ka-Lips heart. Salmon? he whispered apprehensively. His tail was on the ground, and he had lowered his ears completely.
Spirit Chief replied gently, That name is taken as well. All the names except one have been claimed, and I think you know which one that is. You must keep your name, Sin-Ka-Lip. It is the right one for you. I made you sleep because I wanted you to be the last one here. You and the New People deserve each other. You have been chosen to be their Chief and Guide, for they know nothing of this World.
Protecting the New People will be a difficult job. Already they have enemies. I have called very strong Medicine for you, different from that which I have given to the others. This Medicine will aid you in ways none may expect.
With these words Spirit Chief extended his hand toward Sin-Ka-Lip to touch his heart and give him his Medicine Powers, but Sin-Ka-Lip was startled by the gesture. He thought for a moment Spirit Chief was getting ready to strike him, and so he threw himself onto his back, exposing his belly in submission, and the Medicine Powers sank into his bowels and genitals instead of his heart.
Spirit Chief laughed. So that is where you wish to keep your Medicine Powers! So be it; that place is as good as any other. Go now with my blessing, and try to grow up a bit.
Sin-Ka-Lip slunk off, utterly speechless for once. It took him several minutes to realize that he had achieved his wish after all. He would be a Chief! A Very Important Person! And he would be chief over a naive and highly favored people who didnt know a thing about his reputation. Things were looking up.
From that day on, Sin-Ka-Lips eyes remained slanted up at the corners. He was upset by that at first, but soon he decided that on him, slanted eyes looked quite attractive.
So what do you think? John interrupted himself. Do you like your eyes the way they are now, or would you prefer them round and bulging, like a Cocker Spaniels?
Johns voice had become hoarse, but I could tell he was faking it so he could use it as an excuse to end the story early. Johns voice never gave out unless he wanted it to.
I shuffled forward and lay down with my head in his lap, looking straight upward with my attractively slanted eyes.
You know what I like, I said softly. It didnt work this time. Story was over.
John stroked my head for a minute or so, then reached an arm back to drag his pack into view. I have a phone call to make, he explained. I promised Mooneys attorney Id call at two for an update, and we still have to eat lunch, walk back to the truck, and find a phone.
I can helpff wisth sthe lunch, I offered. I hoped John and Mooney really did have things under control.
We ate our lunch and walked back without further conversation, but when we reached the truck I braced myself to ask a question I had wondered about for a long time.
Am I really magical? I asked. I mean, I can talk, and only humans can do sthat, so does it mean I have some sort of spffirit inside me sthat makes me sthe way I am?
John leaned his back and neck against the truck and gazed up at the treetops for a time. Do you believe in magic? he asked carefully.
Yes, of course. Doesnt everypffody?
Have you ever done or seen magic?
I dont sthink so. What is it like?
What do you dream about? Try to describe any conversations or encounters that you think might help me answer your question.
I dont have any dreams. Everyone else talks apffout stheir dreams, pffut Im not even sure what a dream is.
You have dreams, Sin-Ka-Lip. You just dont remember them, and that is as it should be.
I will tell you something about yourself. Before you were born, when you were still just a single cell, some extra DNA was inserted into you. This new material was intended to override certain segments of your original DNA, resulting in delayed maturation and aging, along with extra time for brain development, in a pattern similar to that found in human children. In fact, it was human DNA that was adapted for the purpose. The intent was to give your brain more time and opportunity to grow, possibly resulting in greater intelligence. An incidental effect would be a greatly increased life span.
The concept of DNA detection at crime sites was confusing to me, but I had watched enough cartoons to know all about super heroes with altered DNA structures. If that wasnt magic, it was just as good. The exact meaning of Johns words had escaped me, but the reference to greater intelligence seemed relevant enough: I already knew I was the smartest thing on four legs. I thought John was saying I didnt have Medicine Powers, but did have Cartoon Super Hero Powers. Would I begin to develop other special capabilities? Invisible would be nice, for starters.
I continued to fantasize until a new question came to me. What apffout sthe osthers? Sthere must pffe osthers like me! Was sthe expfferiment hard to do?
There are no others, John replied in that same careful voice. Many scientists worked on this project for many years, but without success. It is especially ironic that you, the only surviving product of the program, were not actually authorized. The intended test animals were beagles, not coyotes.
Sthen where did I come from? I asked in puzzlement. This was getting more confusing instead of less.
I performed the DNA insertion and implantation into a beagle host mother myself. That part is relatively simple once the insertion virus has been developed. I made sure I was on duty and alone when you were born, and I took you away, replacing you with a stillborn beagle pup from a different mother. Lucy was very sad to lose you, but faking your death was the only way to get you away without suspicion. You wouldnt believe the security they had in that place! Fortunately for both of us, I was in a position of trust, and I was very careful. They still dont know.
My mother is a pffeagle? I asked in horror. This was not so good. Youre not teasing me, are you John?
Im trying to answer a complicated question as simply as I can. All you need to understand right now is that Mooney and I are trying to do our very best for you, and that it would be bad luck indeed if youre ever found by the people I took you away from. I developed much of their research plan, but I quit my position as research director once I had you, and I havent been back since. Havent wanted to.
I felt overwhelmed. Lets not talk any more for now, I said plaintively, and we didnt.
= chapter 3 =
John was allowed back on Sunbow the next day, but it was almost a week before Mooney came home, and I never saw her van again. John bought another for her.
Mooney hates to accept valuable gifts, but she had nothing else to drive, and John told her the van was not worth much anyway. It wasnt, really. The thing was even older and more broken down than her previous one, and it smoked.
John and Mooney were constantly talking about money now, and the talks were not happy ones. All they could agree on was that Mooney was out of the pot-growing business for good. As if we had a choice! Mooney had been released from custody, but she had not been forgotten.
Our money problems were no closer to solution when summer ended and the autumn rains returned. As always they started out warm and rare, but gradually became cold and constant, so that dryness ceased to exist outside of heated human dwellings.
Cold and damp were not a problem for me, of course. My winter coat had come back, and I hardly noticed such things. My winter pelt is thick and glossy. It hides my boniness, and makes me look bigger than I am, and humans tell me it has red-gold highlights that are quite gorgeous. I cant quite see the color in the highlightsbut I can see colors a little, and I know what red-gold is. Its the color of campfire coals and Sunsets. I like that.
The autumn rains were nothing to me, but autumn also brought hunting season, and that was a real painthe worst time of the year. The log road gates were unlocked during hunting season and the hills became infested with men carrying high-powered telescopic rifles. The men were noisy and clumsy and easy enough to avoid, but their bullets carried so far that another man clear over on the next ridge could be aiming at you too. Weyerhaeuser opened its land for deer hunting only, but when a human has a rifle in his hands you can never be sure what hell do with it. Mooney was well aware of this danger and wouldnt let me leave her land except at night.
Mooneys Wood had no roads and was posted against trespassing, so it functioned as a sanctuary. At night the deer ventured out to browse on young trees, and the predators ventured out to eat deer guts and wounded deer. I ate tofu and rice, with sometimes a few deer guts on the side.
The dry days of summer were just a memory, and my fur was always muddy when I came home to Sunbow. Mooney required me to jump in the creek and rinse off before entering the house, but she always gave me a good towel rub afterwards. I liked that. Sometimes I would contrive reasons to go back outside so we could do it all over again. When I came home after Mooney was asleep I had to jump in the creek anyway, and then stay off the carpets and bed. Mooney had a special wet fur mat I was supposed to sleep on then. When I was clean and dry, and when John was not visiting, I slept on the bed with Mooney.
Hunting season passed without incident, but something quite unexpected happened in late December. A good thing, for oncesomething very special for me.
John was visiting again, and I had talked him into taking me for an outing. Mooney was going to come along too and I couldnt quite keep myself from panting as I stood by the truck waiting for them to get organized. It was going to be crowded in the cab with the three of us, and I was afraid I would be told to ride in back, so I decided to get in early.
The door latches on Johns truck were rusty and very stiff, but I grabbed one anyway and wrenched it roughly open, bruising my gums a little in the process. Then I jumped inside and wedged myself securely into the center of the seat. The humans arrived shortly, and we had a good time, but that evening my mouth was still sore, and it didnt get better during the next few days.
Finally I asked Mooney to take a look and tell me if something was wrong. She pulled my jaws wide open and prodded the sore spot with her finger. Whats this? Stinky, I think Mooney ran her finger all along the gum line, poking and pinching excitedly, then she pushed my head to arms length so she could look me in the eyes. Mooneys own eyes were shining with new tears. Sin-Ka-Lip, my dear youre teething!
I held absolutely still for a moment, then began to tremble. Silently I backed away from Mooney and slunk into the bathroom, where I put my front feet up on the sink and stared at the mirror. The upper gums were slightly puffy and discolored in front, and Mooneys probing had produced a smear of blood, but I couldnt see anything more than that.
Mooney came up beside me and reached over to press on both sides of the spot where the blood was coming from. It hurt and felt good at the same time. Look now, Sin-Ka-Lip, she said.
Between her fingertips, gleaming like a tiny hailstone, shone the tip of a tooth.
The top incisor teeth came in all at once, and rather quickly, too. By the end of January they were completely exposed, and the lower incisors had begun to appear. One of my speech impediments vanished, and I could say th sounds at will. After that it seemed a new tooth was showing almost every day. I had a full set up or started by my birthday in the middle of March, and other parts of me were beginning to develop as well. Not just teeth. The fangs were nice to look at, but the shearing teeth in back were the ones that gave me the greatest pleasure. I used them to demolish quite a number of sticks, bones, and deer hooves, although in the house I had to content myself with Nylabones. I also had to slow my speech to keep from biting my tongue too often. Im still astonished and jealous when I watch a fast-talking human rattle away. A few seconds of that would put me on soft food for a week.
I was so proud of my new teeth that sometimes I would stand up in front of the bathroom mirror and curl back my lips to expose them all, turning my head from side to side for the best view. One day Mooney saw me doing that and laughed so much she had to sit down. Then she went to the phone and began calling our old commune members. Before I knew what was happening, she had organized a full-scale Sunbow reunion in my honor.
I was intrigued and terrified by the prospect, but mostly terrifiedespecially after Mooney admitted that the group would include some new people. Strangers! I told Mooney I was going to run off and boycott the whole production.
Mooney gave me to know that such behavior was unacceptable. Just because our friends are bringing a few spouses and children doesnt mean you have to go all to pieces! Yes, I know youre shy and your instincts are hard to control, but we humans can control our instincts enough to get by, and you can too. Nowyou have almost two weeks until spring break. I want you to pull yourself together and grow up. Remember, you wont have to see them all at once. Take your time, and meet them out in the woods if you have to. Its not so hardyou can do this!
Prepare to face a crowd of humans? What a thing to ask! There was no way I could prepare for that. I would just have to do my best when the time came. I knew Mooney would forgive me if I really did have to run away, but some of those people were important friends of mine, and in a bizarre sort of way I was looking forward to the event. I certainly wouldnt be bored! And it might take my mind off another thing that had been bothering me.
The problem had started just after Christmas, but the real trouble had not begun until a couple of months later, when Broke Ear entered her season.
Broke Ear and her mate Fluff Tail were the coyotes living closest to Sunbow, and we got along just fine together. They let me run with them and I helped take care of their pups. Pup, singular, this year. It had been a hard year for pups, and only one was still alive. I called her Princess.
Its kind of strange, when you think about it. Broke and Fluff would drive away their own pups as soon as they were old enough to care for themselves, but they never did that to me. I was always welcome to come back. Almost always. This time I wore out my welcome, just a bit.
I had always admired Broke Ear in a respectful sort of way, but with springtime my feelings had suddenly become very much warmer. I cuddled up to her whenever she would let me, and I was constantly trying to think of ways to please her. Of course the surest way to please any coyote is to bring food, and I did that. They all took the freezer meat I stole for them but Broke Ear still had eyes only for Fluff Tail, and eventually he had to drive me away. I lost my appetite at home, and kept wandering off to follow the coyotes trail at a distance, checking scent marks and sighing. It was a strange feeling, and completely new to me.
John and Mooney only laughed awhen I told them about it. They said it was the spring rut, and all male coyotes go through it every year, and I should pity the poor male dogs. Theyre horny all year long if the humans let them keep their testicles.
= chapter 4 =
The reunion was not what I had feared it would be. Mostly I stayed out in the woods, the yard, and the goat barn, and my old friends came to greet me a few at a time. The new people had all been carefully coached, and they didnt come rushing up or make any fast moves. In fact, several of them smelled rather scared, which surprised me at first. My new teeth had helped to give me confidence, but I hadnt showed them at all. Not once. We all got over our fears, though, and before they left I could count them all as friends. Except the very young ones, of course. I suppose they dont remember me.
During this time I met one human who became very important to me. John brought her, which surprised us all. He had never come with a companion before.
She was shy. I heard John talking with her gently for a long time before he led her out through the rain and into the goat barn. I felt more confident because of her shyness and Johns Presence, so I padfooted right up to them after rolling in hay to make my fur sort of dry. The girls head was already turned my way but her eyes didnt follow me as I approached, so I stopped in puzzlement a few feet in front and to the side. She was about my size, rather bony-looking, and with straight, very short hair which I thought was probably brown. Medium-colored, anyway. She smelled of fear or anger but her basic scent was quite nice. Rich and complex, and with components I couldnt recall ever encountering before.
Youll have to come a little closer, John said. Mouse has had an accident, and she cant see you.
I was shocked. I had never seen a blind person except on television. As John spoke to me the girls eyes turned in my general direction, but they didnt focus. I sidled up to Johns far side while inspecting the girl apprehensively, and her eyes still failed to track my movements.
You two dont need to be scared of each other. I know you both, and I think youll get along. Nowwho wants to come forward first?
The new human and I were both silent. John smiled, then pulled the girls hand forward to press it down into my shoulder fur.
We both held ourselves absolutely still, and I became aware of a powerful Presence about hernot quite like any I had ever felt before. Startled again, I shook myself free and skittered away.
The girl spoke for the first time. I dont think he likes me, Dr. Cultee. Maybe we should go back inside. Her words hurt John. I could feel that too.
Im not always a coward. Before things could get worse I circled around behind John to the girls other side, and gently nuzzled the hand she held there clenching her shirt. The girl snatched her hand away and rubbed her fingers on the shirt front, but then she brought the hand back and began to stroke the top of my head, and later the rest of me. Her touch was delicate and trembling, and it still had that special feel to it. Quite pleasant, actually. More than pleasant. When she was done I returned the complimentsniffing and tasting her carefully until I had her memorized. She held herself rigidly motionless while I did that, but after a time her trembling stopped, and slowly her stress scent began to fade as well.
Hes really big! she said, finally.
It was true. I probably outweighed her by a pound or two, and I would have been taller if we had both been standing on our hind legs. I turned toward John and opened my mouth to make a joke about that, then froze.
I had been about to talk in front of a stranger! I snapped my mouth shut and turned my head awaystared off intently at nothing in particular. The barn doors were open, and on the far side of Fry Creek I could just make out Mr. Bell walking his fences, with Jake stumping contentedly along behind him. They both looked old and not very dangerous from where I stood.
Later that day the rain stopped, but when I went up to the house to see who wanted to go for a walk, they were all laughing and talking so loudly no one noticed. The party was in my honor but they seemed to be doing quite well without me. If I had made some noise I could have had all the attention I wanted, but I preferred to turn away so that I could feel abandoned and melancholic. I went back to the goat barn and began climbing the stairs to the hayloft. It was one of the driest places outside of the house, and I spent a lot of time there.
It was Mouses voice, somehow sounding annoyed, guilty, and slightly scared at the same time. She was in the loft. I backed down slowly and began to walk away.
Coyote, is that you?
I paused. I liked that name better than the Sin-Ka-Lip, Stinkylips, or Stinky Mooney persisted in calling me. Mouses question deserved an answer, so I whined softly in response.
Coyote! Here, boy!
Annoying words, but I wasnt really offended. Mouse didnt mean them that way. Still, I didnt go up to her. If you start coming when called, people expect it of you. Eventually Mouse appeared at the loft edge, felt carefully for the treads, and worked her way down to me. I was waiting at the bottom and got a rather nice hug for my troubles. Then she sat down beside me, put an arm over my shoulder, and began to talk.
There were too many people there, and they kept asking me about my accident, and could they get anything for me, and what did I think about El Salvador, and have I tried a Homeopath. Youre much better company because you cant talk. Everybody loves you. I wish I was a coyote like you. I wouldnt have to talk or answer questions or explain anything. I wouldnt have to explain anything at all. Mouse put her other arm around me, buried her face in my neck fur, and began to sob quietly.
One of Babys kids bleated for attention and Mouse started, and pushed herself away. Sorry about that, Coyote. You probably think Im just a helpless little kid who doesnt know how to do anything except cry and complain. Come onIm done blubbering. You can show me the goats. Was that Thing One or Thing Two?
Mouse stood up, still with one hand on my shoulder, and pulled politely at my fur until I got up too. I think she just wanted me for support, but I led her along directly to the stall. If she was going to waste her time playing with goats I might as well help her get it over with.
Thing One and Thing Two werent really kids any more, and they had been assigned a stall to themselves. They were still affectionate, but now prone to belligerence that was only partly play. Mooney would have to get rid of them soon. Mouse visited with the Things, and with their mother, and with the two old ladies, but she didnt try to get into the stalls. That was good, because she would have been knocked over into the manure, most likely, and me to blame for it.
The last stall in line was layered with diatomaceous earth for me to roll in when I had fleas, so it couldnt be used for anything else. Mouse stopped there for a few seconds and listened, then moved on to the open back door while I stayed close beside her. We stopped at the exact spot where I had fooled the Sheriffs deputy. How long had that beenonly eight months? Time is a strange thing.
Mouse hesitated with one hand on the doorjamb and one on my back. This is the goat yard, isnt it? She was speaking half to herself and half to me. I moved forward slowly, so she would have to follow me or let go, and she came along while I skirted the puddles and most of the manure on my way to the paddock gate.
Our walk was short and slow, but fun. Mouse sped up when she found how good I was at guiding her around the rough spots, and she gave many satisfying and accurate compliments. We got back to the house without anyone even noticing we had been gone.
I led Mouse up onto the back porch, then stuck my head through the dog door to see if anyone was in the kitchen. The room was empty, for once, so I pulled my head back outside and grabbed the doorknob with my mouth. I didnt want to leave my guest behind, and that dog door was getting rather small for me. I could barely squeeze my chest through it any more.
There was bread cooling on the counter. I wanted some, but thought maybe I could get Mouse to steal it for me instead of just taking it myself. I could tell she wanted some too. She was sniffing and turning her head, but the whole kitchen was filled with the aroma and she couldnt focus on the exact location. I helped her.
Begging is a pleasurable, natural function. Some might call it an art form. Im a master, of course, and we had one of the loaves almost finished when a knot of my less well known friends came in.
The humans began talking at me right awayfriendly, but too loud. It doesnt matter what they saidwords all sound about the same when youre not listening to them. I had to get out of that place. I began to edge away, then became aware that Mouse was standing behind me, holding on as if for protection.
She was standing behind me!
No one had ever done that before.
We turned toward each other in gentle, mutual panic, and then a magical thing happened. True magic.
I shifted position to stand tall, and when Mouse felt what I was doing she joined me, giving a surreptitious one-armed hug and thump on the chest. I smiled at Mouse and at the visitors, and carefully took the last of the bread from her fingers. This was my house, and it was my bread. Mooney had baked it for me as much as for anyone, and I was only pretending to steal it.
The visitors came forward for greetings, still too fast and too loud, but I met them with head, ears, and tail up. Mouse did well too.
More people came, better behaved this time. The attention was split between me and Mouse, and that made it easier for us both. I knew each one of those humans individually, and it helped if I thought of them that way instead of as members of a group. Finally John and Mooney came in. They looked very pleased with me, and perhaps a bit drunk as well. Not stoned, just a little alcohol. We had converted our home to permanently drug-free status. Mooney raised her glass and proposed a toast: To Coyote: Our mascot, and the soul of Sunbow!
A ragged but respectful response filled the kitchen and hall, and someone called out, Speech!
There were some chuckles, and then most of the room was watching me anxiously. I suppose they were waiting for me to skitter out through the dog door and disappear. Thats what I normally would have done, but not this time. Instead I felt the same energy and confidence I knew when playing in private with John or Mooney.
The eyes were still on me. Probably would be forever until I did something.
Slowly I raised my head, tilted it a little to the side, and half-closed my eyes. Then I filled my lungs and began a sweet, pure howlwolf style with no yipping. Mooney and John joined me almost immediately, and then the rest so that my whole body thrummed with the sound of it, and I couldnt tell my own voice from the human voices around me. We continued until it seemed like the right time to stop, which we all knew together. There was long silence, and then they all broke into the gabbling individual conversations humans are so fond of. The tone of the room was happy, and excited, and a little embarrassed.
I reached up to lick the tears from Mouses face, then turned to the dog door and jammed myself through slowly and with dignity, for old times sake. I needed a good, long run.
= chapter 5 =
When we were alone together again, Mooney told me about Mouses accident. She had hit her head and almost died when running away from a police officer in Seattle earlier that winter. Bleeding inside of her brain had damaged part of it so that she couldnt see, and she claimed she couldnt remember anything either. No one was sure if the blindness and memory loss would be permanent, so she was a ward of the City of Seattle until a relative showed up to claim her, or her memory came back enough to allow her home to be found. The police officer who had made the report thought she was a runaway, since he had found her wandering the Pike Street Market area aimlessly and without adequate clothing. No one there had seen her before, and no identification had been found on her.
The girl had picked up her Mouse nickname at the University Hospital where she was treated. She seemed constantly fearful, and tended to run off when things became confusing or hectic. John had met Mouse and learned about her case during medical rounds, and later offered to help out by taking her to Sunbow for a change of environment. Her counselor was surprised by Johns interest, but quick to take advantage of it. Special trips were one of the best possible treats for the foster children, and not to be spurned.
The Sunbow visit was considered a great success, and John began to bring Mouse with him almost every time he came. I was pleased because she was good company, and someone I could be dominant over.
I had never been dominant over a human; just the goats and coyote pups. And the chickens, of course, but they were too dumb to be worth the trouble. John explained to me once that part of the contract between humans and dogs is that all humans are dominant over all dogs, with a few minor exceptions such as guard dogs on duty. I was not a part of that contract. In Mouse I found someone even shyer than I was, and I naturally drifted into a leadership role. I took her on progressively longer walks, and we got to moving pretty fast on the smooth sections. It was the only way she could run. The exercise helped Mouse a lot. I could feel her growing stronger. She became very fond of me and would often cry when it was time to go back to Seattle. I missed her too.
Mouse talked a lot on our walks, and I soon learned that she was faking her amnesia. The blindness was real enough, though. It bothered her a lot more than she let on to the other humans. Several times I almost spoke to her, but each time I held myself back. I needed to know if she was going to stay with us.
We touched frequently, enjoying our resonance, and when I was with Mouse I didnt think about Broke Ear so much. In early May my rut faded, and I didnt think about Broke Ear at all.
In June, Mouse told me her school would be coming to an end soon. I was astonished. Had it been two months already? Mouse also told me there was talk about a field trip to let her classmates see the wonderful place she had been going to every weekend. Mouse and I tried to communicate our disapproval of this plan, but somehow it happened anyway.
= chapter 6 =
I was familiar enough with school buses, but I had never thought to see one in my own yard before! The thing looked out of place there, and much larger than I had expected. Far too large for my liking, and the noise coming from inside was spine-chilling. Mouse and I watched through a crack between the hayloft loading doors. Or rather, I watched and Mouse listened.
Thats Bruce, she explained after an especially loud and nasty laugh drifted up to us. Hes gross.
Mouse shuddered, and I could tell she was imagining what it would have been like to sit beside Bruce for the whole three-hour drive from Seattle. Fortunately, Mouse had convinced the authorities so thoroughly of her instability that no one had considered sending her over that way. John had brought her the previous day, and she was well rested and almost ready to do her duty.
Now remember. You promised you wouldnt run away! If you do, Ill run away too. Or something. You will stay with me, wont you? Mouse was starting to blubber a little, so I pushed up against her and licked her face to comfort her.
I was terrified, too, but tried to hold onto the memory of that strange confidence I had felt at Mooneys reunion party. Maybe we could do it again.
I can hear them getting out now. Come on, Coyote. Its better to meet them in the open.
My feelings exactly.
Silence took them all when Mouse and I moved into view. By then I was the size of a young Great Dane, but I dont think I looked much like a dog. I tried, thougheven managed to fake a pleasantly mindless doggy expression, and some approximation of a tail wag.
Mouse was clutching my shoulder skin harder than she needed to. Hi everybody, she began bravely, Id like you to meet my friend Coyote. Hes very smart! Show them what you can do, Coyote. Shake! This part was not my idea, but Mouse had really pushed for it, and John and Mooney had backed her up.
I sat down carefully on my haunches and raised my right front foot, but my ears were back, and perhaps my expression was not quite so pleasant as it had been. No one tried to shake hands with me, anyway. So far, so good. I had been afraid the whole busload would come up and want to touch me.
From a spot safely in the center of the knot of kids, Bruce called out, Does he do any other tricks?
I put my foot down and glared in his direction, trying to look unpleasant without actually showing my teeth. I think I must have succeeded because one of the teachers interrupted and said that maybe Mouses dog wasnt in the mood for tricks right now. It might be shy from all the people.
Mouse looked annoyed, but moved on to Stage Two: Bathroom break and tour of the premises. Fortunately the adults had some experience with these things and had pulled the bus into a freeway rest stop not long before. Still it took quite a while, and some of the more active had begun to give themselves a tour of the yard before the official one started.
As the group separated into individuals, I noticed that many of them were not very healthy. Some had twisted or missing limbs, or appeared only partly aware of their surroundings, and had adults attending them closely. There certainly were a lot of adults! In my nervousness I hadnt realized quite how many.
But they were happy! Young and old seemed delighted to be there. The young ones were impressed by the (cool) goats or (gross) goat shit. Adults discussed the wonderful scenery and quiet, or the large and pungent manure pile beside which the bus was parked. Sunbow didnt seem very quiet to me just then, but I suppose it was an improvement after three hours in that bus.
The tour began shortly, and ended only a little while later. To my intense relief I learned that our job was no more than a token presentation of the yard, pens, barns, chicken coop, and creek bank. Mouse and I were done after that, and the adults took over with Supervised Activities. In the transition there was a short time in which no one seemed to be noticing us. I nudged Mouse with my shoulder so she could grab hold, then drew her into the goat barn and over to the hayloft stairs. We swarmed up rapidly as soon as the last child was called away, then pushed the hay around to make a warm, invisible nest in the back.
I peered through a crack in the boards as the more ambulatory children were formed into lines, issued an assortment of raincoats and umbrellas, and then marched off into the drizzle on a Nature Excursion. The others disappeared into the house, and Mouse and I took a nap.
A barbecue had been planned for the afternoon, to take place outside if it was not raining or in the machinery barn if it was. It was raining, of course, so we were left alone while the hot dogs were cooking. We woke when our names were mentioned, but no serious search was started until the food was about ready, and suddenly there we were.
It was easier to make myself appear friendly when approaching kids with food, so I got a good taste before Mouse did. She became annoyed then, and said she needed me to help her stand in line. John was cooking, and asked with a mock serious expression how many hot dogs I wanted. I yipped five times and looked to the grill to show I wanted them cooked. The kids were all staring at me again, but it didnt matter. Nothing was going to get between me and the food.
John called someone over to help us carry our plates, and Mouse and I settled into a corner where she helped me get at the bottom half of my cup of Coke, while I helped her finish the food she didnt want. Afterward I skirted the less crowded areas, looking for leftovers and more handouts. Handouts were plentiful, and I was able to greet some of the kids properly. They were really quite nice, mostly.
I probably would have taken a dislike to Bruce even without Mouses hints. He was the tallest one with relatively normal intelligence, and he was fat. Not that I care about fat, mind you. It was the way he acted that annoyed me. Others avoided him, but he pushed himself into their personal spaces as if unaware of this. He was aware of me, however, and watched intently as I made my rounds. Finally he held out his half-finished hot dog and called to me. As I approached cautiously he spat on it, then held it out again. I have nothing against saliva, but I didnt like his attitude so I moved off. I was full, anyway.
Later, when a ragged line was being herded together to get back onto the bus, I let myself into the Things stall and rolled in the dirty corner, soaking up as much goat piss as my fur would hold. I got some manure mixed in with it too, but that was okay. When I was well saturated, I left the barn and circled around to the end of the bus line. Smiling and waving my tail gaily I slipped up behind Bruce and gave him a long, affectionate body rub before trotting off to the creek for a dip. Male goat urine can be a great protector of personal space. I kind of wondered where he would end up sitting.
Youve just read the opening installment of Anthros seven-part serial presentation of New Coyote, Michæl Bergeys imaginative novel of ancient myths and the modern mindset. Want to see what happens next? Get the Anthro Press edition of New Coyote, and youll knowmonths ahead of all those people who only follow the serial from issue to issue!