by Michæl Bergey
Text ©2009 Michæl Bergey; illustration ©2009 Kenket
= chapter 7 =
With school over, Mouse came by more often, sometimes staying for a week or more. She explained that John didnt really have custody of her, he was just borrowing her. That was puzzling. Did anyone have custody of me? The idea of trading pack members around had never occurred to me, and soon faded from mind. John liked her, so he brought her with him. Nothing more to it than that.
It was still raining most days, so we spent a lot of time in the hayloft. It had been my special place, but I was happy to share it, and it seemed to give Mouse a great deal of comfort to hide back in our den and pretend no one could ever find us. One day after we had been napping I woke to find Mouse facing me with a hard-to-read expression. She didnt smell upset, but she was very keyed up.
You were talking in your sleep, Coyote.
She sounded like she expected me to contradict her. I put on an inscrutable expression and began to clean myself. I wondered how far she would take this.
Mooney said you can talk, but I thought she was teasing me. She teases me a lot. If you can talk, why havent you said anything to me? You havent told them where I came from, have you? Please say you didnt!
Inscrutable wasnt workingand she couldnt see it, anyway. I reached over and licked her neck where the big vein is. I didnt tell anyone. Not even Mooney.
If she liked that answer, maybe she would give me a belly rub. I flopped myself over to find out.
Later we ran over to Mooney and proudly announced our new understanding, but I still didnt say anything about Mouses pretend amnesia.
I shouldnt have been surprised when John showed up one Friday with a Seeing Eye Dog harness. He had offered before, but Mouse and I had declined because the loose skin above my shoulders made a perfectly comfortable handle, and we enjoyed the contact. When we were going fast, it was as if she saw obstacles as soon as I did, and moved to avoid them even before I could signal by shift of balance.
This time John insisted that Mouse really did need to have some official training in Guide Dog procedures. I didnt realize it at the time, but what he really meant was that I could use the practice at being a Guide Dog. We could make a game of it, he said.
Dont walk under ladders.
Dont abandon your human to investigate interesting things.
Dont walk out in the street and get run over, even if youre ordered to.
All that was just common sense, but the traffic light business was new to me. I knew about traffic lights, certainly. We had one right over in Montesano, where Mooney did most of her shopping. Its the county seat, after all, and has lots of special things. This light was at the place where Main Street crossed the Old Highway, and I had seen it many times. Apparently it made a very big difference which of the three lights was shining. The top light is called red, the middle yellow, and the bottom green. Car drivers are supposed to stop or go based on which light is shining, and pedestrians are supposed to cross the street during the safe period.
Very clever, but not relevant to me. I would never be afoot in a city big enough to have traffic lights. When I was in the truck or van, I would wedge myself down on the floor when we entered congested areas and just lift my head to peer over the dashboard from time to time.
I didnt take Johns game very seriously, but I paid attention anyway and learned all the rules in a couple of hours. John and Mooney even staged a short graduation ceremony where Mouse and I received diplomas marked M.S.E.T. (Master of Seeing Eye Trivia).
We played with the harness often enough to become familiar with it, but mostly we left it behind. John didnt make us use it more often until one day in July when he invited Mouse and me for a drive, and threw the harness in back while we were fighting for position up front.
John drove us south to the freeway, turned west toward Aberdeen, then pulled off in Central Park, which really worried me since thats the way to the vet. Central Park is not a real park, by the way. Its just a place where people live. Not even a town, reallyjust some roads and houses. And a veterinary clinic.
We didnt go to the vet this time, but stopped instead at a public building I had never seen before. Marked Central Park School, it was really two buildings, with a covered concrete yard between them and a large, fenced, grassy area behind. The buildings were almost as large as Mr. Bells dairy barns.
The place had a parking lot with no cars in it, and playing fields with no one playing in them. Eerie. I stayed in the truck with my ears back until John grabbed me and tried to drag me out. Mouse could feel my mood, and held onto me from her position in the center of the truck cab.
After a few seconds John stopped pulling and started laughing. Okay. I give up for now, Stinky. You can rest a minute, but you do have to come out and investigate this place. Its called Central Park School, and its the closest grade school to Sunbow. Mouse will be coming here this fall if she continues to stay with us.
I know what its called, I told him. I can read. Why did you pffring me here?
I should have figured it out first, but Mouse was the one who spoke. You want Coyote to be a Seeing Eye Dog for me! Thats dumb. He could never do that! Mouse was angrier than I had ever seen her before. She wasnt faking, either. I could tell by her scent, and the way her arms quivered as they held me, and by that other way we have.
John tried to soothe her. We wont try to make him do anything hes not capable of. Couldnt if we tried. But Coyote has shown more courage with groups these last months than Ive hoped for in a long time. We need to see if we can take this all the wayteach him how to be comfortable with any group of strangers. You could use the help too.
We both knew what John was referring to. Twice now I had felt a confidence totally out of character as I faced Mooneys reunion and Mouses end-of-school field trip. It had never occurred to me that John would take that as potentiality to enter human society. Such a joke!
While I was thinking, John tugged gently at the scruff of my neck and I jumped down out of habit. Forgot to resist. Then my curiosity took over and I trotted out to check and mark the premises.
This place was no stranger to canines. Most of the scent marks were several weeks old but still I could discriminate at least six individuals of different ages and sexes, and that was just from the urine. All the droppings had been picked up. In fact, the facilities were distressingly clean and well maintained, although the southwest playing field was soggy and had a distinct septic tank smell. The grass was very lush there, and I had a nice roll and strut.
I felt much more at ease when I rejoined John and Mouse. They were on a tour of their own, with John leading Mouse around the buildings, pointing out doors (all locked) and dangers such as support posts or bike racks. I let John do the talking.
When John had finished with his orientation he brought over the harness and strapped it on me. All right, kids, its your turn now. Show me if you remember anything.
We went through our drills then, showing off and being silly, and that was the end of our lesson. That day John didnt say anything more about the craziness of Mouse and me trying to go to school together.
I didnt go on many picnic basket raids that summer. I didnt have the time, for one thing. Mouse was around almost every day, and she was good company. Also, Mooney had sold her goats. She said they didnt pay their way. She was clearing land to expand her raspberry fields and didnt have time for anything else.
Thats what Mooney said, but what she meant was that she was afraid for my safety. After the pot raid we had lost our feeling of privacykept encountering strange people in places they should not have been. Mooney and I had felt uncomfortable about resuming the herding business, and she didnt want to just leave the goats in their pens every day.
I had never liked the goats much, but the barn smelled strange without them. We had to change our whole daily routine, and Mooney really did devote all the extra time to her her new berry fields. All that time, and a considerable amount more. She seemed to have little time for me any more, and none at all for herself. I grew to hate the new fields, and wished the river would flood and take them away, they seemed such a burden to her.
= chapter 8 =
They were all staring at me. I felt it as a tingling in my neck. They were not hostile, but they couldnt keep themselves from staring. No one at Central Park School had worked with a blind student or Guide Dog beforecertainly not a Guide Dog like me! Montesano was the school where blind students went. It was bigger, and had more resources, and they knew what to do. John was the one who had wanted us to go to Central Park. He had told them a smaller school would better meet Mouses special needs, and had persuaded them to take us on through promises of teaching grant money from Seattle. By August he had already attended several orientation meetings, and now Mouse and I were required to make our appearance as well. Our resistance had been argued and cajoled into abeyance for the moment, but it was a close thing.
Mooney had come along to help give us courage and we formed a tight little group as we followed one of the school people down a long, newly carpeted hallway smelling of chalk dust, disinfectant, Xerox machines, and fresh paint. My nose told me no dog had ever been there before, and even the human scent was muted. I was wearing my harness and had an extra-large floral bandana around my neck, and I tried to project a feeling of confidence and friendliness for Mouses sake. Mouse was right there with me but her hand was on the harness, not on me, and I felt cut off from her.
Halfway down the hall we turned left into a very large room with very small furniture. In the center of the room was a long, wide table, so low I could look down onto it, and lots of sturdy, small chairs which fit beneath. Several official-looking adults were already seated there. It looked like a tight fit for all of them, and some couldnt get their thighs under the table at all.
As I had been taught, I led Mouse to one of the empty chairs, then sat down on my haunches behind her. My eyes were level with all the human ones. Nice furniture!
Preliminary greetings were quite sketchyjust quick verbal acknowledgements with nothing tactile at all. I was included in the presentations, but no one spoke to me directly. The head human introduced himself as Mr. Sawyer, the principal. He was as tall as John, but leaner, and he smiled a lot. He was clearly dominant, but not a brute. The others deferred to him without fear.
Im sorry I had to schedule our meeting in Mrs. Dellships first grade room, but with the painting this is the only one available. These seats are not so bad when you get used to them. Is everyone comfortable?
Quite a few humans talked, but I remember only three of them clearly. The first one was Mrs. Stanford, who would be Mouses sixth grade teacher. She was average to short for a human female, about Mooneys height but much heavier, and looked very uncomfortable in her silly little chair. She was one of the people whose thighs didnt fit under the table. Mrs. Stanford was welcoming to Mouse, a bit cold to Mooney, and wouldnt acknowledge me at all.
The second person was Mrs. Seeley, in charge of the Resource Room and Library. Mrs. Seeley was also in charge of Special Education and would be spending a lot of time with us. Mrs. Seeley was tall and light-haired, and her legs didnt fit under the table either, but that was not from being fat. She was just too big, like Mr. Sawyer. I recognized Mrs. Seeley. I had seen her before, and through my own carelessness she had seen me too. Her whole family had seen me. Mrs. Seeley and her family had provided me with my first taste of liverwurst, on one of my picnic raids. But that had been almost a year ago, and they had not actually seen me with the sandwiches, and they had thought I was a wild animal. Mrs. Seeley wouldnt recognize me in my role as a Guide Dog. I hoped.
A rather small, wiry man introduced himself as Mr. Burrey, the new school district psychologist. He would be monitoring Mouses amnesia and checking on her to see that she adapted well. He smelled delightfully of smoked salmon, and had a smooth, controlled way of moving not common in humans. He also had a tendency to watch me closely when the others were busy talking.
The meeting was hard on Mouse, with a lot of questions which she didnt answer very completely. I know for a time she was even thinking about running from the room. She wouldnt get far, of course, but at least it would be an end to the torment of the meeting. I licked Mouses ear to remind her I was with her, and she settled down.
There was a great deal of talk concerning schedules, lesson plans, special projects, and so forth, but I didnt listen very carefully. I just watched and sniffed and felt the tone. These people represented the Real World, or Civilization, or whatever you wish to call it. I hoped we were ready for each other.
After the meeting we had an impromptu greeting session in which I was polite but not affectionate. That could come later for those who deserved it. Mouse and I were called on to give a Guide Dog Demonstration, which we performed flawlessly. Our memory of the school grounds had not faded.
Mr. Burrey just happened to be near the van as we were getting ready to leave, and drew John into a full-scale conversation which then somehow turned to me. He said I looked just like a coyote, except I was way too big and confident, and he wondered what sort of dog I was. John replied that I had a rather mixed heritage, but it shouldnt affect my suitability for Guide Dog work. I was the product of a new training program, which was experimental but seemed to be producing excellent results so far.
Mr. Burrey persisted. Im somewhat familiar with the Guide Dog program, and this ones performance is far superior to any Ive seen. Theres some real intelligence at work here, not just good training. Is he neutered?
As is proper for my kind, and as Ive mentioned before, Im a bit seasonal when it comes to sex. Coyotes have no business birthing pups at the wrong time of year and in summer my interestand my testiclesshrink down to just a little bit more than nothing. I recognize the sense of that now, but at the time I was still coming to terms with the idea, and Mr. Burreys question annoyed me. Before John could answer him I flopped down onto the pavement and began licking myself to give them all a good view. John and Mooney laughed, and John said hed ask me what I thought about stud service next spring.
Mr. Burrey didnt laugh. Instead he knelt down beside me and reached out to touch my shoulder with a tentative hand. I sat up so he could rub my back properly, and while he did that I sniffed him over. Beneath the smoked salmon scent on his clothes and skin, his own personal scent was rather unusual. There was a strong canine component to it. Humans who live with dogs have a canine tang to them, but thats a surface scent, strongest on clothing and hands. With Mr. Burrey the scent seemed to be coming out of the skin itself, just as my own did.
The canine scent was unfamiliar to me, but I didnt spend much thought on it just then because Mr. Burrey had a Presence about him similar to what I felt from Mouse, Mooney, and John. More like Mouse, actually, but different in its own way.
No one with that special sort of feel had ever tried to hurt me, so I was willing to accept Mr. Burrey as friend. And my humans seemed to like him. Ive often found human reactions to be a useful guide when judging character.
Mr. Burrey appeared quite touched when I accepted himas though I had given him a gift of some sort.
= chapter 9 =
Our first day of school was rough, but not as bad as it might have been. At Mr. Burreys suggestion we had been given permission to enter the classroom early. Mouse and I greeted Mrs. Stanford when she came in then waitedalone and grimly tenseas she left the room to form up her new class in the covered area between the buildings. I cringed at the muted roar of two hundred human children simultaneously laughing, yelling, and talking excitedly while a dozen adults strove to intimidate them into obedience. At the time I truly thought there was killing going onbut when I went out later I couldnt even smell blood.
The noise outside faded to a steady murmur with adult voices rising above it, and then the marching started, one group at a time. Eventually a surge of footsteps came to our door and didnt pass it by. Instead the footsteps stopped there and we heard Mrs. Stanford explaining our presence to her new class. The knob turned, and the door opened, and a couple of dozen small humans were herded in and made to take their seats.
Mouse and I had been helped to set up a small work alcove in the back of the room between the encyclopedia shelf and the fish tank, and we were spared close contact as the room filled up from the front. Each student stared at us shyly and excitedly as it searched for its assigned chair, but soon Mrs. Stanford required them to turn their eyes to the front, and we could relax.
Almost the entire morning was devoted to rules and other forms of talk. Unending talk. I had never thought that fear and boredom could be merged into one feeling, but that is what I was experiencing. Mouse whispered to me at one point that things seemed to be starting out pretty typically. I answered with one of my best sighs, and pressed myself down onto the floor.
Mouse and I tried to skip the morning break but were ordered firmly outside, where we instantly found ourselves surrounded by curious kids wanting to make friends and help us with things. They were all much smaller than Mouse, although Mouse was the shy one. She wouldnt talk at first, but finally admitted that she really did need to use the restroom. She took a hand for guidance but kept her other hand firmly on me, even when our escort began to cackle gleefully that Mouse couldnt take a boy dog into the girls room.
The teacher on yard duty came over then, and proclaimed that Guide Dogs were allowed to go anywhere, even inside the restrooms. Then she escorted Mouse to a stall and hurried back out to her station.
Mouse stayed in that stall until the bell rang and the room emptied, then unlocked her door and let me lead her back to class. No one told me what I was supposed to do when I needed to relieve myself, but I had a feeling the hallway walls and floor were off-limits, so I just held on.
Lunchtime showed definite potential. Mouses new circle of self-appointed helpers (all girls now) swept in immediately to guide her to the lunch line and tell her what to do, but they seemed even more interested in me. We were escorted gaily to the front of the line, where Mouse was served, and a sudden bubbling group inspiration produced a tray for me and a servant to carry it.
The Guide Dog video had made it quite clear that I was not to accept food while on dutybut was I on duty during lunch break? I chose the more flexible interpretation and enjoyed myself fully, eventually consuming three extra portions of spaghetti after my own tray was empty and before the supervisor made them stop bringing me more. These kids were looking better all the time.
It turned out that we werent supposed to go directly back to the classroom after lunch, but had a chunk of free time that consisted of talking, jumping rope, talking, hopscotch, and talking. I began to make my way toward the outer fields, and Mouse stuck tenaciously with me until she realized what I needed.
Oh! Im sorry, Coyote! I forgot theres no restroom here for you. Come right back when youre done. Please. Then she let go and I ran off to the soggy area. No one played any games there, so it was a good spot for me.
After lunch we were escorted to the resource room where Mrs. Seeley greeted us both warmly, seated Mouse, and presented me with a liverwurst sandwich.
Liverwurst! She knew. I took the gift delicately from her fingers, set it down on the carpet, and gazed up at her with my expressionless, neutral look that drives humans so crazy. They cant tell if Im about to lick them or bite them.
Mrs. Seeley wasnt fooled, though. I had been too polite when I took the sandwich. You have spaghetti sauce on your bandana, she said matter-of-factly, and stretched her hand right past my nose to untie it. I held myself absolutely still. She had called my bluff by reaching through the fear-biting zone. On purpose, I thought.
Mrs. Seeley took the bandana to a nearby sink and began to wash it, so I picked up my sandwich and moved over to lie down close beside Mouse. Carefully I set the sandwich down and cradled it between my front paws for safekeeping. I was full of spaghetti, and on duty, but I would definitely be wanting that sandwich later. Liverwurst is a glorious foodmostly pork liver but rich in fat as well, and with a sour-fermented, almost rotten tang to it. Mooney would never buy me liverwurst. Its not a vegetarian food.
Mrs. Seeley finished with the bandana and came over to kneel on the carpet beside me. Close, but not too close. Well just let that dry for a while, and then you can put it on again when you go home. You look much more handsome without it, you know. Then she cautiously reached out her hand and began to stroke the top of my head. I edged toward her and leaned into the hand, groaning softly. Mrs. Seeley had a way about her that inspired trust.
Mouse snaked an arm around my neck and pulled me back toward herself, just a gentle tug. Coyote doesnt like strangers very much.
Mrs. Seeley withdrew her hand but I nudged it with my nose and rolled my eyes up at her in a friendly sort of way. She hesitated, then reached out to cradle my head between both of her hands. But were not strangers! Weve met before. Isnt that true? You wouldnt believe how much time Ive spent trying to figure out how you got those sandwiches out of my car last year! The doors and windows were all closed. But now I know. Mrs. Seeley looked toward Mouse significantly, then turned back to me.
Dont try to deny it. I found the wrappers you left, and Id recognize you anywhere. I thought you were a wolf! But thats silly. The wolves are all gone now. Mrs. Seeley seemed sad when she said that.
Mrs. Seeley was wrong about Mouse helping me steal those sandwiches. I hadnt even known Mouse back then. She was wrong about the wolves, too. There are quite a few wolf crosses in the Wynoochee Valley, and even some pure-bloods. They all live with humans, though, and theyre usually fenced or chained to keep them out of trouble.
Mouse spoke accusingly, Were you stealing from Mrs. Seeley? You have to stop that! You could get hurt.
It seemed like a good time to change the subject so I wiggled free and flopped over with belly exposed and front paws crossed on top of my head. I made my eyes very big and peered up piteously at Mrs. Seeley. It was all a game, and she knew it.
Mrs. Seeley laughed. You are forgiven, Coyote, she proclaimed solemnly. But enough of such silliness. Its time for us to get to work. Today well begin memorizing the Braille alphabet.
I quickly lost interest in Mouses lessons, but the sandwich became steadily more attractive to me. I decided I was not quite full after all, and ate it. Good sandwich! Exactly like the ones I had stolen before. There was the liverwurst, of course, but also fresh home-baked bread and just the right amount of mayonnaise, hot mustard, and thin slivers of sweet onion. Mrs. Seeley was definitely someone worth knowing. Good cooks are always worth knowing.
Resource room was scheduled for the whole afternoon, and Mrs. Seeley didnt throw us out for break time, so we finally had a chance to settle down and actually feel comfortable. Mrs. Seeley had other duties besides taking care of us but she stopped by every few minutes to chat with Mouse and keep her working smoothly. Just before school let out Mr. Burrey came by, and this time he smelled of smoked ham. He had even brought some for me, which somehow I managed to find room for. Good ham.
I scented him thoroughly during our greeting, and the canine scent was still there, although much fainter than it had been beforetoo faint to determine exactly what type of dog I was smelling.
Guessing a dogs breed by scent is usually fairly easy. Hound dogs like Jake are sour and musty, Chows acrid and musty, Malamutes and wolves sort of light and dusty, with almost a sawdust smell to them when theyre healthy. Wolves are not dogs, they say, but to me a Malamute smells more like a wolf than it does like a hound, and thats the sort of smell Mr. Burrey had. An intriguing puzzle, and I suppose I spent more time with him than was polite. Finally he pushed my head away. If you havent figured it out yet, Coyote, youll have to try again later. Anyway, I came here for Mouse, not you. He was rubbing my ears and smiling even as he pushed me away.
The conversation moved on to Mouses feelings about how this new school was working out, and what sort of suggestions she had that might make it easier for her. Mouse couldnt bring herself to voice any suggestions, but Mrs. Seeley spoke on her behalf. Im not really sure she should even be in sixth grade, she said at one point. Shes bigger than all the other girls, and she seems to know a lot of this material already. Mouse objected vigorously to that, saying she was almost sure sixth grade was right, and anyway there was no way she could even think about going to junior high just yet. Mr. Burrey and Mrs. Seeley exchanged quick glances then, and changed the subject.
When the dismissal bell rang, Mr. Burrey concluded our meeting by suggesting that we continue the current schedule for now, including the early entry into Mrs. Stanfords classroom. As he was leaving, Mr. Burrey remarked casually, Ive just made an offer on some land in your area, Mouse. Its a beautiful spot right by the river, just up from the Wynoochee-Wishkah road. If the deal goes through well be neighbors.
Mooney was waiting for us in the parking lot, looking and smelling very worried. She had a million questions, and I think she was astonished that we hadnt run away or been kicked out first thing. Mouse still wasnt in the mood, so I did most of the talking.
I dont think I like Mrs. Stanford very much, pffut Mrs. Seeley and Mr. Pffurrey are okay. Mr. Pffurrey still smells like a dog.
Stinky! What a thing to say! Mr. Burrey doesnt even have a dog. How could he smell like one?
Oh, I dont know. He just does. I guess I should have mentioned it pffefore.
Well, he must have just sat on something and got it on his clothes.
Yes, of course, I said.
Later that day I woke up from my second afternoon nap with a limerick in my head that sounded kind of neat:
I think that I like Mr. Pffurrey.
His voice makes me come in a hurry.
He treats me real well.
Pffut I fear that his smell
Should pffe something to make us all worry.
I shared the limerick with Mouse, but she said it was dumb so I didnt tell it to anyone else.
School continued, and we became very popular despite our shyness. We didnt do well in Mrs. Stanfords class, though. Mrs. Stanford seemed to have trouble thinking like a blind person, and Mouse wouldnt ask for help, so she just looked stupid instead. One time I overheard Mrs. Stanford whispering to another teacher that she thought the brain injury might have affected Mouses intelligence as well as her vision and memory. I didnt tell Mouse about it because I knew it would hurt her feelings, but I did ask John later. He said Mouses injury was in the wrong part of the brain to affect her thinking ability, and her doctors were quite puzzled about how it could have caused amnesia. John looked at me intently when he said that, but I turned away and wouldnt meet his eyes.
= chapter 10 =
At home the cycle of the year continued to move along, with old routines crammed beside astonishing changes. The rains returned and my winter coat came in, but the goats were gone from Sunbow, and so was I for much of the day. Mouse and the school kept me busy during the daytime, and hunting season was hardly a burden at all.
My night life was less affected by all the changes. Mouse didnt like me to go out so much, and she worried that I might be in danger from cougars or whatever. Mooney tried to reassure her that it was my nature to do these things, and I couldnt help myself, and I would be careful, wouldnt I?
I really couldnt help myself. Mooney was right about that. I lived for the woods at night, with no friendly humans stumbling along to hold me back, and no unfriendly humans to get in my way. There was so much to keep track of, and not everything was an enemy.
There were the coyotes, of course. I spent a lot of time with them, but I had also become quite friendly with a young bitch at the Gunderson ranch. She was considered to be three-quarters wolf, but I thought they must have been mistaken because she looked and smelled pure to me. She had long, elegant wolf legs, and a gorgeously lazy wolf tail, and wolf eyes: shining-pale, knowing eyes that saw to my heart, and liked it. The humans had named her Balta, but I didnt approve of that name so I called her Lazytail. At night I would release her from her pen so we could run game together.
In November we actually brought down a deer, but I suppose that one doesnt really count, since she was gut shot and rather slow. I expect we were doing her a favor by killing her. We both gorged ourselves and waddled back to Lazys place so I could lock her up, then I went on to Sunbow and carefully washed off every bit of blood before going inside. The next morning Mooney thought I was sick because I wouldnt eat my breakfast, and she made Mouse and me both stay home from school.
That was nice. Kind of like a surprise Saturday. I spent most of the day napping, and was thoroughly cured by evening. I loped over to Lazytails pen first thing so we could visit the deer carcass together, but she was not there. Her humans must have taken her inside for the night. It was cold outside, and Lazytail would have skipped breakfast too. No doubt they thought they were being kind to her.
Oh, well. Maybe next time. Resignedly I trotted on to the site of our kill, and was disappointed again. The carcass was gone, and the place stank of cougar.
One thing is certain: Coyotes dont argue with cougars about anything whatsoever. We may hang around and pester them at a safe distance, but thats about it. I could think of many safer and more worthwhile things to do with my evening, so I trotted off in the opposite direction from the way the cougar had gone, which just happened to aim me toward Mr. Burreys new home and smokehouse.
The weather was one of those glorious, frosty lulls between rainstorms, and the ground had sprouted a thick covering of grass-like ice needles which lifted small pebbles, dead leaves, and other debris an inch or more into the air. Steam gushed from my mouth with each breath, the stars were thick and close, and Moon was so bright I had to squint when looking at her. She happened to be perfectly full, too, which reminded me to be especially alert.
Moon is funny. Shes quite pretty and yes, I do sing to her sometimes, but mostly shes an inconvenience. Humans can see me far too well by Moonlight, and the light also seems to stimulate them into all sorts of crazy behaviors, such as walking out in the woods without flashlights to help me keep track of them. In the summertime, when its warm and dry, Ive even seen humans mating by Moonlightgenerally on blankets at the gravel bar just downstream from Sunbow. Of course, Im much more likely to see groups of males drinking beer there and pretending to fish.
On this night I didnt encounter any humans, and it was still quite early when I reached Mr. Burreys house. It was a mobile home, actually. Mr. Burrey had seemed a little embarrassed about that, as if a mobile home were not as good as a regular house, but I couldnt quite fathom the distinction. A house is a house. Theyre warm inside and they keep the rain out. I could smell that his smokehouse was in operation, and that was something I could relate to. Venison, this time. I moved closer to test the door.
The smokehouse door was unlocked, but I couldnt make myself go inside at first. My eyes were burning and nose clogged just from poking my head in, so I pulled the door wide open and moved back to wait for things to air out. New smoke kept coming up from a tray of glowing coals and wood chips on the floor, but with the door open the smoke would not stay inside, and soon most of it was gone.
Treasure revealed itself to me with the dissipation of that smoke. Above those coals the smokehouse was filled to capacity with dangling joints and strips of venison. True wealth, just waiting to be harvested, and to reach the lowest rack I wouldnt even have to jump. Holding my breath and stepping gingerly inside, I selected the largest piece within easy reach, and took it. A sharp bite and pull, and it was mine. My eyes were burning again, so I squeezed them shut and scuttled on out of there. I ran off a few yards and set the meat down so I could cough and snort and paw at my eyes, but soon I felt better, and was ready to properly investigate my prize: A short haunch, crusted with salt and herbs, and the smoking process had only just started to work on it. I suppose it smelled wonderful, but my nose wasnt working very well just then, so I couldnt tell. No matter. It was sweet and salty and juicy and stolen, and that was good enough for me. I lay down right there and began to eat. The lights in Mr. Burreys place were out, his property was nicely secluded, and I knew he didnt keep dogs. Nothing to worry about. I devoted full attention to my work.
I heard a low growl directly in front of me, and I was startled.
Startled! What a pitiful, weak word that is. Startlement doesnt even come close to describing my feelings. My chest froze so that I couldnt breathe, and I swear my heart stopped too, for a moment. Carefully I lifted my gaze to the source of that growl, and beheld a wolf. Not just any wolf, mind you: No, this was the largest and most formidable canine creature I had ever encountered, and it was not pleased with me. It crouched in leap-ready position, and its lips were curled back nastily, and Moon-fire burned cold in its eyes. I am not small, but this thing made me feel small, and I never even considered fighting it. Slowly and carefully I began to back away, leaving my meat lying where it was. Maybe it could be distracted by food.
No such luck. The wolf followed my retreat inexorably, stepping over the venison haunch as if it were a rock. This encounter was looking distinctly territorial, but I didnt dare try a full submission posture. If you expose your throat to someone whos really irritated, it may get ripped out anyway.
Flight definitely seemed the best choice, but even that posed a bit of a problem for me. I never doubted I could outrun the wolf given a proper start, but it was too close. My flank would be exposed as I turned around.
I had been in situations like this with farm dogs, and some time previously I had stumbled onto a unique strategy to break the deadlock.
Hey! Get outta here, you sonafish!
I shouted as loudly as I could, trying to keep my voice human-sounding. My natural voice is higher-pitched than I like, but I have no shortage of volume, and those words rang out on the night air.
The wolf could see that I was the source of the noise, but couldnt resist looking away for an instant to make sure there was no human behind it. That was all the chance I needed, and I took off down Mr. Burreys driveway and onto the main road in a burst of pure, panic-driven speed.
After a few hundred yards I risked a look back to see how much I had gained, and found the thing close behind me.
Close is too mild a word: It was there. Could have bitten the end off my tail any time it liked. Oh, and I was exaggerating when I said my first burst of speed was panic-driven: I had never known true panic before that moment. I flew down the center of the road, faster than I had ever run before, and the wolf caught up and ran beside me on the left, smiling now around its tongue. It didnt even seem to be working hard.
I couldnt keep up that speed for long, of course. My lungs were burning already, and soon my legs began to drag despite the force of will I hurled at them. The wolf stayed with me, then without warning it darted sideways to bump its shoulder hard against mine. Somehow I kept my balance the first time that happened, but the second bump was too much for me. I rolled and skidded for quite a distance before I managed to regain my balance, but then I popped up and slashed instantly sideways as the coyotes had taught me to do. The move was little more than a reflex, really, but by pure chance I did manage to make contact. I felt one fang tear through fur and skin, but it was not enough. Just a little nip. I was answered by the shock of teeth striking to the bone in my left thigh, and my body was dragged backwards and flipped over with overwhelming force. I was too busy to notice any pain.
I didnt have to expose my throat. It was already done, and the jaws were already there, clamping down so I could hardly breathe. Total surrender was my only option, if I could be said to have any options at all. I had no strength left, and not even breath enough to scream.
I forced myself to lie stillto breathe, nothing more. The wolf could have killed me already, but it had not. If we both held still for just a few seconds longer the encounter would change from deadly battle to discipline session, and its bad form to kill a passive subordinate during a discipline session. Thats the rule, and we both knew it.
The seconds passed, and the wolf let its option pass with them. I would live.
Under tense conditions like these it is common for the victor to hold on for a long time in case the subordinate decides to change its mind. I prepared myself for a long wait, forcing myself to remain still. I caught up with my breathing, and my nose recovered from some of its smoke-dullness so that my captors scent began to pull at my attention. Nothing enhances ones scent like a fight, and even with a less-than-perfect nose I eventually came to recognize this one: It was the same canine scent I had detected in Mr. Burreys skin.
I suppose John and Mooney didnt do very well in their attempts to give me a normal upbringing, because I was immediately convinced that this wolf and Mr. Burrey were the same. I was just a youngster, after all. What did I know? Werewolf movies were as real to me as anything else.
When the teeth were eventually withdrawn, I stayed down and performed the best greeting ritual I could manage from that position. The wolf accepted it, and I finally felt safe enough to turn my attention away from him and investigate my wounds.
Such a mess! My leg was bruised and bleeding, and it seemed every tooth had penetrated deeply. The numbness of fresh injury was beginning to wear off, and my hip hurt too. Felt like the leg had almost come out of its socket.
The wolf took an interest in my leg then, sniffing and licking at it gently. After a short time his ears and tail went down and he nuzzled my face in what I would have to describe as embarrassment.
Cautiously I pulled myself up onto three legs, and tested the fourth. It failed, and I would have fallen over if the wolf hadnt supported me with his shoulder for a moment. I regained my balance, pointed myself toward home, and tottered carefully forward. The wolf kept himself close beside me the whole way to Sunbow, and even onto the back porch. He showed no fear of human things.
My bad leg caught the edge of the dog door as I went in, and the pain was so great I yelped despite myself. It was the first noise I had made since telling the wolf he was a son of a bitch.
I turned around and saw his head poking through the dog door behind me. He examined the kitchen, paused, and began pushing forward as if to come inside, but Mooney called out to me then, and he froze into stillness. The wolf gave one last look at me, then carefully withdrew his head from the door and was gone.
= chapter 11 =
Dr. Benton was not on emergency duty that night, but Mooney knew where he lived. She strode right up to his front door and made noises until the lights came on and the door was opened a crack. A short, low-voiced conversation followed, but I didnt pay much attention to the words. Mooneys body language was much more interesting. She really is quite good at these things when she lets herself go completely, and of course the doctor couldnt resist her. Within minutes we were all at his clinic, and I was being examined.
Ms. Sklarsenthis is Sin-Ka-Lip, isnt it?
Yes, of course he is. Why?
You did notice he has teeth now, didnt you? Most people would have picked up on a thing like that and mentioned it to their veterinarian.
Oh! The teeth. Yes. They look nice, dont they? Last spring they all just sort of started coming in all at once, like for a regular puppy. I was going to stop by and ask you about them, but with one thing and another I never got around to it. Money has been a little short lately.
Yes. I see. You do have enough to pay for tonights work, dont you?
Uh, well uh, not really. Not exactly with me right now, but weve known each other for a long time, and
Never mind. I know youre good for it. And anyway, one doesnt come across a patient like Sin-Ka-Lip just any day. Are you sure you wont let me present his case? Hes fascinating! And these new teeth just make it better! If oh, very well. Yes. Perhaps we can talk about it again some other time. Ill get to work now. Im sure you didnt come here to talk.
In typical contrary, veterinary fashion the man began his exam by looking at my teeth and ears. Any idiot could have seen that my ears were just fine. The blood was dripping from the other end of me. But I suppose we all have our little rituals. Dr. Benton murmured soothingly to me and Mooney and Mouse as he massaged my head and neck, working carefully backwards through skin and fur. He complimented Mooney effusively on its excellent condition and total absence of fleas, which seemed very important to him. I had never suffered from fleas at Sunbow, but I saw what they did to the farm dogs, so I understood his obsession.
The front half of the exam really took only a few seconds, and then it was time to start messing with the wounds. I flinched away at the first touch of his fingers, despite my promise to hold still. That leg hurt! Dr. Benton backed off then, and wrote some notes in his folder.
If you need a muzzle, Sin-Ka-Lip will let you put one on, Mooney volunteered. Or I can do it. He wont be offended.
Curiously, I really wasnt offended by the idea of a muzzle. It was a compliment, in a way. No one had bothered to suggest a muzzle back when Mr. Bell shot me. I had been toothless then.
Dr. Benton paused in his writing to thank Mooney for her offer, but declined it for the moment. He was planning to drug me before even commencing work.
Hes in good shape but I need to probe the wounds, stitch some of them, and infuse them all with antibiotics. I cant do that with him awake. Well give him an intramuscular injection of ketamine and xylazine, which should last long enough to get the job done. Ill use gas if I need extra time. Im pretty sure the leg isnt broken or dislocated, but Ill need x-rays to make sure. You are available to help, arent you? Hes too big for me to lift by myself.
Mooney assured him that she would stay as long as necessary and do whatever she could to help. No one asked my opinion.
The drug injection was somewhat like a vaccination but it went deep into the muscles on my back, and the syringe was a lot bigger, and it hurt more. At least he didnt try to jab the needle into my sore leg. I might have objected to that.
Dr. Benton had explained to Mooney that I would soon begin to feel very strange, and she should kneel down to hold me and comfort me as I fell asleep. She did that, but nothing happened at first and I wondered what all the fuss was about. And thenthe world began to change. I had expected to fall over in a wave of overwhelming drowsiness but instead everything just sort of faded away, sideways, very slowly. Mooney was stroking and talking to me but her words and touch were no longer important. Nothing was important.
I became aware of vague shapes around mesome quite close, some embedded in the walls and furnishings, still others somehow present beyond the walls. At first I tried to swing my head around to see them better but each shape would disappear when viewed directly, and I didnt really care about them anyway. As I lost interest in turning my head, my eyes rested without volition on one of the closer ones, and it gradually became clear.
It was a wolf.
The wolf was standing just a few of feet away, staring straight back at me. Suddenly its jaws parted in a pleased smile, and it spoke.
Hes aware of me now. This would be a fitting time to move in.
An irritated, higher-pitched voice answered from another nearby figure and I forced my head to turn that way. This time I could see it. It was a coyote, and its eyes were on me too. Its lips were curled back like it had just stuck its nose in something very disagreeable.
Just kill it. Its spirit is weak and useless. Ill take it back and try again some other time, maybe.
The wolf spoke again, and once again I managed to swing my head around and look at it. Couldnt seem to focus on both at once.
Thank you for your concern, Little Brother, but I think Ill wait. Useless or not, all your power is tied up in him while he lives, and now hes mine. This is going to be very interesting!
The coyote began to speak again but the wolf ignored its words and moved toward me, then around and behind to where I couldnt see it any more.
Pain burst suddenly from my injured leg as if teeth were stabbing back into itgrinding down tooth-for-tooth into the wounds already there. I tried to scream and whip around but my body would not obey memerely twitched and jerked ineffectively. I may have made some sounds, though. I think I felt Mooneys hands trying to hold me still, heard her voice crooning over and over, Hush, child, everything is fine.
The pain went deeperate into my belly like a lamprey in a salmonbut the drug also had increased its hold and the pain was no longer important to me. Nothing was important to me. I dont remember anything more.
I awoke before dawn feeling dizzy and sick, and there was some sort of smooth plastic thing around my neck and head that made it hard to move or see properly. I stood up and pawed at it vaguely, then stopped for a moment to vomit up nothing. I held still when I was done, and tried to focus myself.
I was in a veterinary hospital and the thing around my head was an Elizabethan collar. A memory of the wolf and coyote came back to me, and I shuddered. It must have been a dreammy first ever. Dreams were not as much fun as I had been led to believe. Maybe the drugs had been to blame. Resignedly I forced myself to lie down and try for more sleep, and after a time I succeeded.
My stomach and the rest of me felt a lot better when I awoke the second time. It was lighter outside, almost dawn, and dogs were barking all around me. There certainly were a lot of them! The scents mingled and crawled over each other so it was impossible to sort them out completely. There was some odor of sickness, but mostly just a lot of bodiestoo many to be in the same building. There was plenty of fresh fecal and urine odor, so it was clear quite a few had not bothered to wait until the humans came to let them out. I could sympathize with that. I needed to go out too.
The kennel latch was crude, and I had it open in a few seconds. I hobbled down the hallway and found a side door, which also opened without difficulty except for the rim of my collar getting in the way. I exited the building, took care of necessary duties, then went back to my kennel and locked myself in again. The leg gave me some trouble, but it was endurable as long as I didnt bump it. I fidgeted on the blankets until I was as comfortable as I was going to get, then dozed off again until the humans came.
Mooney was the first human to greet me. I think she must have been waiting in the parking lot to be let in. She made much of me and my wounds, and I returned the compliment as best I could. When we were alone I asked her if we could go home yet, but she said we had to get Dr. Bentons permission first. I said something rather rude which I wont repeat here, and Mooney told me to hush. When Dr. Benton finally did arrive he came right over to us. I think he wanted to get Mooney out of his way as quickly as possible.
As youll remember, Sin-Ka-Lip didnt react well to the anesthetic last nightbut hes looking great today! I dont think Ive ever seen such a nasty wound look so well the next morning. If he shows a good appetite we might even be able to send him home.
Mooney looked at me and winked. Did you hear what he said about showing a good appetite? How about a bit of breakfast? Dr. Benton nodded to an assistant, who hurried off and then came back with a large bowl of canned dog food. I could smell there was medicine in it.
The better brands of dog food are actually pretty tasty, and this was one of those brands. I was still a little queasy but I pretended to be delighted by the food, eating it rapidly and licking the bowl, too. Thats not easy when wearing an Elizabethan collar.
Dr. Benton was pleased, and Mooney soon had us out of there with a bottle of pills and a promise to come back in two days for a recheck. As soon as we were clear, she took the collar off and I had my first chance to look at myself. I was shocked. The leg was puffy and discolored, and completely shaved. Somehow that nakedness was more appalling than anything else. That fur was supposed to last all winter! The larger holes had been stitched shut but they were all oozing a thin, bloody fluid, and the wound area stank of iodine.
And this was the work Dr. Benton was so proud of? I was not impressed, and said so.
The wounds healed rapidly. Dr. Benton remarked on it during our first and only recheck visit.
Ive never seen a deep wound close up like that! Sin-Ka-Lip here has quite a constitution! But then, there are a lot of things about him that arent quite typical, as weve discussed before. I was planning to see him every four or five days until the drainage stopped and the wounds are well granulated, but I guess were already there. These stitches will need to come out in a few days, but I know you like to do that yourself. Shouldnt be a problem this time. Just finish up the antibiotics and keep Sin-Ka-Lip away from whatever it was that bit him, and he should be fine.
Oh, I almost forgot. Hes looking so good today I think we can update his vaccinations. What do you think?
= chapter 12 =
Fur is funny stuff. Sometimes it comes back in days, sometimes not for months. It was past the fur-growing season, but somehow I got lucky. The wounds had hardly closed before they were hidden by a layer of dense, vigorous new growth, and the pain and stiffness faded almost as rapidly. I apologized to Mooney for my criticism of Dr. Bentons veterinary skills.
Mouse and I went back to school as soon as I could walk properly, and after a week or so I started going out at night again. The coyotes were suspicious when I returned to visit themsniffed me diligently and persistently from one end to the other. They seemed puzzled and uneasy about something, but eventually they got over it. Lazytail was just glad to see me any old way.
Mouse had refused to go to school without me, but since I was back on my feet so fast, she only lost a few days. We were smothered with attention from our fan club, and several boys began hanging around too, despite themselves. Mouse and I were getting so used to attention that we even enjoyed it a little. That feeling did not include enjoyment of meetings however, and we were both very glum when we brought the news home with us.
A progress meeting was due, to see if Mouses mainstreaming plan was working properly, and also to address some concerns voiced by parents about me and Mooney. It was scheduled for the second Monday in December, which was a conference day so there were no classes. No classes on Tuesday either. I could definitely do without the meeting, but the two free days would be nice.
One good thing about the meeting was that it brought John back to visit. He and Mooney had been having a series of rather nasty arguments about money, and Johns work load in Seattle had suddenly become much heavier, so he couldnt come over as frequently. Even my injury had only prompted an overnight stay, and he hadnt been back since. John must have been feeling guilty about that, because he negotiated a couple of extra weekdays off this time, so he could stay longer.
Mr. Sawyer started the meeting with a compliment on how well Mouse was doing with Mrs. Seeley, and how nicely she seemed to be adapting socially. Then he invited Mrs. Seeley and Mrs. Stanford to give more detailed reports.
Mrs. Seeley was enthusiastic about Mouse and me, Mrs. Stanford rather less so. After they were done, Mr. Burrey presented his impressions of Mouses progress, which were quite favorable. Finally Mr. Sawyer spoke again.
I want to congratulate Mouse once more on her excellent progress this term! Her stay here has been a pleasure and an education for all of us. However, as the administrator in charge of this school I have to deal with many things outside of the classroom, and Im afraid I have to address an issue now that may be a bit sensitive. It has to do with Mouses Guide Dog Coyote.
Coyote and Mouse are inseparable, and his behavior here at the school has been flawless. He is obviously a highly trained and extremely valuable animal, and we all enjoy his company. The problem has to do with Coyotes genetic background. Dr. Cultee, would you tell me again just what breed of dog Coyote is, and where he came from? You did say he was a stray of some sort, didnt you?
John replied smoothly, Well, hes not exactly a stray. I found him in front of a Safeway store in Tacoma. I was attending a conference, and stopped by to get some coffee, and there he was in a big cardboard box with about a dozen brothers and sisters. A little girl was just giving them all away. I stopped to say hello, and she handed Coyote up to me and said he was her favorite, but her mother told her they all had to go. She didnt seem very happy about it.
I held Coyote for a minute, and he took to me like I was his best friend in the world. I just couldnt put him down.
I had heard different versions of this story before, but John was really hamming it up this time. I liked the part about the little girl, and we had never made it to a dozen littermates before. John doesnt lie all that much, but hes not bad when he sets his mind to it.
Did the girl tell you anything about the parents? Are you aware of any coyote or wolf blood in his ancestry?
John tried to look puzzled and innocent, but I could smell he was getting tense. Oh, nothing like that. The mother was a purebred white German Shepherd, very large. The father they were not so sure about, but I doubt there are many wolves wandering around Tacoma looking for a good time. Except near the Navy base, of course.
No one looked amused.
I was surprised at John. He had never talked like that in public before. Even I could tell it was the wrong thing to say if he was trying to soothe feelings.
Mr. Sawyer continued without comment, State law does not specifically prohibit the keeping of wolves, coyotes, and their crosses if they are securely contained on private land, but I have a mandate to protect the students in my care from dangerous situations of any kind. Several parents have claimed that Coyote is clearly a cross of some sort, and therefore inherently dangerous. I cant say that I completely disagree with them. Can you think of any way for me to resolve this situation, short of prohibiting Coyote from coming to school?
John was trembling slightly and his body was very stiff. He answered in a quiet, controlled voice, but there was a power to it that made the fur stand up on my neck.
Coyote is a dog because I say he is a dog. If any private citizens feel differently, I suggest they contact me directly. In addition, I would like to suggest that the school district keep well out of any such dispute. I guarantee that you will regret it if you dont.
Now, I hope this concludes any discussion about my dogs genetic background. Are there any other matters that need to be discussed?
The room was very quiet now, and no one would meet Johns eyes. Finally, Mr. Sawyer spoke.
Im sorry, Dr. Cultee. I never meant to make this meeting into a confrontation. My job is settling disagreements, not starting them. Ill tell the concerned parents that I am satisfied with things as they are, and further complaints will have to be directed elsewhere. Is that satisfactory?
That will do nicely. Ive been expecting trouble about Coyotes physical appearance, and Im prepared to take legal action as needed. All I ask is that you make your evaluations based on what you actually see, not what people tell you.
The meeting broke up rapidly after that. We all seemed in a hurry to get away. I kind of wondered why Mouse and Mooney and I had even been there.
Mr. Burrey did manage to encounter us in the parking lot again. We were in a break between showers, so the humans stopped to chat for a minute instead of scuttling along to their vehicles.
Mr. Burrey congratulated John, and promised his full influence in keeping the bureaucracy at bay. Getting nasty was a good strategy. Public employees always favor the side that seems most likely to raise a fuss, but I guess you know that already.
Mr. Burrey moved over to greet me and I took a submissive position, which I had not done before. Mr. Burreys canine underscent was clearly present now, and it was clearly identical to that of the wolf who had attacked me. Dont worry, you old son of a fish. I wont bite you, he whispered to me, then stood up and returned his attention to my humans.
On the way home I had trouble sitting still, and kept jumping up on the seats and then jumping down until Mooney told me to cut it out and sit still. Mooney and Mouse and John were already sitting still. They didnt talk much, either, so when we reached Sunbow I opened the door myself and left them all behind. A good, long run was what I needed.
The rain was heavy at times and my outer fur was quickly soaked, but I felt completely comfortable. The new growth on my leg was already thick enough to do its job. The leg itself seemed completely healed, and didnt slow me down at all. Pretty darn good for just shy of a month! After dark the sky cleared again, and when the glow told me Moon was about to rise, I sat in an open space and watched her come upwatched more closely than I ever had before. Ive always admired Moon, but that night she was especially beautiful. Full, and perfect. I felt strange and dizzy when she first showed herself, but only for a second.
I still wasnt a bit tired, so I raced Moon northward up the valley, drunk with the speed of my passage. I could have run like that forever, but the clouds came back so I stopped my race and called it a tie. I was already well beyond Mr. Burreys placean astonishing distance for so early in the night! The valley was narrower here, and there werent so many riverside pastures and fields. A little farther and I would pass the last house, a small one with antlered elk skulls nailed up all over it.
With Moon hidden by clouds the night was dark enough for me to approach the house closely. I would never have done that in good light! Anyone who had killed that many elk and then put their bones up for display had to be a good shot, and not shy about the trigger.
Lights ondinnertimebeefsteak and potatoes. Hunger struck me thensudden and surprisingly powerful. The irresistible scent drew me closer and I put my paws up on the kitchen windowsill so I could peer inside.
A man was in there. An older man, partly bald, sitting at table with his back to me. He was wearing blue jeans with suspenders, a checkered flannel shirt, and shoes. He was wearing his shoes inside the house! Mooney never let anyone do that. The human was alone, and I thought he didnt have many visitors because every level surface was loaded with those small household items humans accumulate so readily. Even the dinner table was covered over, except for the part he was using.
I remained at the window, jaws parted slightly, watching the man eat. My mouth felt strange. Not sore, just strange. Heavy, perhaps. I felt a tickle on one paw and looked down to see that a thread of saliva had spun down onto it. That was unusual. I dont let myself drool much, but I had been thinking about other thingsthinking about ways to enter the house without being detected. I directed my gaze back to the human and he turned quickly to face me. Some humans are sensitive that way. We locked eyes for an instant and I felt his shock and fear.
I dropped down from the window in confusion, and moved off to a spot where I could continue to watch the house without being seen. Shortly the man emerged carrying a heavy-looking rifle with a flashlight attached to it. Time to leave for real! I was hardly clear before a side-thumper of an explosion shook the woods, followed rapidly by another one. Even the ground beneath my feet vibrated with those shots! That was one big gun the man was using, and he was firing at shadows. I must truly have frightened him.
I was pleased with myself, and danced along with my rocking horse gait for a time, flipping my tail up in the air with each stride. Then I crossed fresh deer scent and my hunger came backonce again with surprising force.
I found the deer, caught it, killed it. A mature blacktail buck over twice my size, and he wasnt even sick. I shouldnt have been able to do that.
And another thing
Im a coyote. Its in my nature to kill things and to enjoy the killing. Thats the truth, and no sense trying to deny it. Human hunters enjoy killing too, or they wouldnt go to so much trouble. Still, the death of that buck brought to me a level of pleasure beyond anything I had ever experienced before. Very strange.
A visitor came to join me as I was eating. It was the wolf who had bitten me the month before. Hastily I backed away from my kill and took a submissive posture. The wolf came over like an old friend, acknowledged my respects, then moved on to sniff delicately at the carcass and begin work on one of the haunches. That left the belly for me, which is where all the best parts are. Very considerate of him.
We gorged ourselves, but had to leave most of the carcass behind. Too bad there was no way to let Broke Ear and Fluff Tail and Princess know about it. I was not surprised when the wolf left me in the vicinity of Mr. Burreys place. He pushed me over and grabbed my throat in a friendly sort of way, so I popped up and nipped his hocks when he turned away, and we had a pretend battle until I was vanquished again. Being beaten by a recognized superior is kind of fun for both parties.
I took the scenic route home and arrived there shortly before Moonset, which was easy to see because a cold wind had come through and blown away all the clouds. Our kitchen light was on, and Mooney was sitting at the table, but she was asleep with her head pillowed in her arms. I made it past without waking her, which is harder than it sounds. The dog door squeaks, the floorboards squeak, and my claws have a tendency to click on the linoleum. Still, I did manage to get by and into Mouses bed without waking anyone. I was damp from my mandatory dip in the creek, but I had been diligent with my washing, and felt sure there was no blood left on me.
It was time to go to bed, so I went to bed, but I didnt feel tired. I was burning with energy, and felt I could have started the night all over again. As I curled up behind Mouse I had an urge to nip her on the back of the neck. Not enough to hurt her much, but enough to taste the blood. I restrained myself and the feeling passed.
Mooneys voice woke me just after dawn. She was angry, of course, and beginning to work herself up into a proper state. Then she stopped cold.
What happened to your leg?
I lifted my head and dared to look into her eyes. There was no anger in them. Only puzzlement, and a touch of fear.
Your leg. Whats happened to it? Mooney stepped over and began to run her hands through the fur of my thigh, parting it to examine the skin minutely. Mouse woke up blearily, and leaned back against the headboard to get out of her way.
Its all gone! No scars, no clip marksnothing there at all! Mooney left me to find John, and I jumped out of bed hastily. Felt too vulnerable up there. If they were going to start a big investigation, we might as well do it in the kitchen.
Mooney presented me to John with some trepidation, as if she had already half-convinced herself the whole thing was her imagination. Mooney was leaving herself wide open for teasing, but John didnt do anything of the sort. He simply examined the leg carefully, then pronounced that this was clearly the result of a magical process of some sort. No other explanation would serve. Mooney and I were hoping it wouldnt happen this way, he added.
Mouse came into the kitchen and stood with her hand on the door jamb, looking confused and worried. Whats the matter with Coyote? Is he hurt again?
Im fine, Mouse. Something strange has hapffened to my leg, pffut I dont think its pffad.
I turned back to John, Ive asked you apffout magic pffefore, pffut you never tell me anything. Can you tell me now? I tried to make myself sound meek, and reasonable, and disconsolate. That always helps.
Its definitely time for more lessons, but first I need some time to sort things out and make a plan. This has taken me completely by surprise. For now, just promise me you wont do it again unless I tell you to.
Wont do what again?
Whatever it was you did to change your leg like that. Think over what you did last night, and then dont do anything remotely like it. If youll excuse me for a minute, Mooney and I need to make a phone call. Dont go away.
I had never seen John so rattled! Not even when Mooney was arrested. I sat down beside Mouse so she could comfort herself by playing with my ears, but instead she reached down and ran careful fingers over my leg. Coyotewhats going on? Your leg is okay, isnt it? It feels fine to me.
Theyre upffset pffecause the scars are gone and the fur is pffack like new. It just hapffend overnight, and they think it must pffe magic.
Well, theyre probably right, but I dont see why they need to have a cow about it. You can talk, too, and theyre used to that. Adults can be so dumb sometimes.
Thanks, Mouser. Its nice to hear someone talking sense. Pffelly Rupff? I said, and sagged down beside her.
Rub your own belly, you old goat. Just use your magic. I need to use the bathroom. Then she kissed me on the nose and left. Mouse wasnt as shy as she used to be.
I lay down by the stove and settled myself for a nap. No particular place to go until John and Mooney finished their call, and it had been a long night.
Sin-Ka-Lip? That was Mooney, speaking. I scrambled to my feet, and pretended to look alert.
Sin-Ka-Lipweve decided its time for you to know a little bit more about yourself. Maybe itll help us all figure out whats going on. Mooney was speaking in a diffident, almost embarrassed manner; unlike her usual bossiness.
Ahem. Well, its like this: Some years ago, in the mid-seventies, I guess, I really got into Native American world views. I was very respectful, and I tried not to annoy anyone, but I really did want to know. Eventually I was invited by a friend in Colville to be guided on a purification fast and spirit quest. The quest was surprisingly successful. After just a few days of fasting, sweat lodge sessions, and meditations, I reached a state where I was dreaming while still awake. I dreamed of Coyote, or Sin-Ka-Lip as hes sometimes called in that area.
Coyote was waiting for me in the Spirit World. He didnt make himself hard to find at alljust walked right up to me and told me he was willing to be my Totem. He said he liked me; I was his kind of human. He also told me my land was a place of strong Power, and might prove useful to him in an endeavor he was contemplating. Coyote visited my dreams several times during that quest and afterward, and I learned that he was getting ready to undertake a quest of his own. This is what he told me:
I am a powerful Totem, he said. I serve my own kind most of all, as it is with all of us, but I have a duty to you humans as well. Or at least, to the humans who were here before your kind came. They call themselves the People, and they call your kind the White People. It makes little difference to me, except that your kind of human is harder to get along with than the others. You tried to kill us all, but we coyotes were too clever for you and now were stronger than ever. Still, youve brought a new magic with you that is difficult to deal with. Some of you are comfortable to be around, but othersarrgh! Their aura is harsh, and alien. We call it ixhicoláha, or improper belief, and my Medicine is weakened when too much of it surrounds me, Many times Ive unexpectedly lost my ability to change form or maintain illusions when walking among you. Its difficult to describe how embarrassing that can be!
The greatest indignity came in nineteen-oh-three, when I was shot and killed by a German naturalist who then preserved my body and sent it back to his own land. My skeleton is still there on display, and pieces of my flesh are also still there, in neatly-labeled glass jarsno, make that neatly mislabeled. Apparently extinct subspecies, indeed! I am my species. My body encompasses all coyote-kind!
But never mind about that. That is not the point. The important fact is this: My spirit cannot fade while my people live, and while humans dream of me, but in your World Im helpless now. I have little power when Im dead.
Thats what Coyote told me, or close to it. But he told me more than that. Coyote is not entirely without friends, and several recovery attempts had been made over the years, all unsuccessful. It was hard for any of the People who knew the old ways to accomplish anything in Hitlers Germany, or later in East Germany, so recovery was taking longer than expected.
Coyote told me that a new effort was being made to bring his body back from East Berlin. A part of it, anyway. Only a little piece would be needed. In fact, this plan required only a single cell to be revived by magic. That cell would be used to grow a new body, and that body would be Coyotes. In addition, Coyote would allow only part of his spirit to enter the new body and return to our World. Without memories, he would be born and raised in the society of the White People, so he could finally master our way of thinking and learn the secret of our power. Coyote had offered to be my Spirit Guide, but what he really wanted was for me to guide him.
Coyote may be lazy, untrustworthy, and sometimes malicious, but old Imitator is actually the most creative of the Animal People, and quite brave in his way. He told me that in all the histories of the Worlds, this has never been tried. I couldnt turn him down, and Ive devoted my life to his experiment. Devoted it to you, Sin-Ka-Lip.
Hold onare you trying to tell me Im Coyote? The real, magical Coyote, like in the legends? John told me I was the result of a DNA expfferiment!
John answered that one. Both statements are true, Coyote. The DNA experiment was done exactly as I told you, but it would never have worked without Medicine Power.
I am Shaman, although not greatly advanced. My training in that direction was slowed by my decision to go to college and medical school. You know all that, but I dont think Ive ever told you who my Totem is.
Fox is the one who speaks to me in my visions. In fact, hes the one who directed my steps to the universities. He had a plan that could only be accomplished in that way, if it could work at all. He told me of this plan on his very first visit. Coyote is dead, he said. His spirit speaks to me and asks for help. I will call to the Powers to recreate his body as Ive done before, but this time he wants more than that. Coyote would learn the White Peoples Medicine. He wants that power which let them conquer this land so quickly were still dazed from it. Coyote is crazy to try this, but he has always been crazy, and he has almost always talked me into helping him with his schemes. I have tendencies in that direction myself.
Fox smiled then, and he smiled in a way that did look rather demented. But maybe he was just teasing me. I was quite young then, and even in my dream state I was speechless at the honor of being so addressed by a Spirit of Power. I was terrified that it should be sharing these personal thoughts with me, and I had no idea why it chose to do so.
That first vision encounter with Fox lasted for a long time. Fox asked me many questions about the White People and what they believed most strongly. Finally we concluded that this thing called Science was their greatest strength. It is a fanatical belief that the World operates in only one way, with rules that cannot be changed under any circumstances. This belief is false, of course, but when held firmly enough, by enough people, it has often vanquished us. The guns and the well-fed soldiers beyond count didnt help either.
Fox knows many things, and he has great power, but museums and laboratories and universities are saturated with thoughts and beliefs that are alien to his kind. Fox has trouble with that sort of place, just like Coyote does. He required help to get a part of your body back from Germany, and guidance on how to apply his Medicine Power in the right way. It took me almost twenty years, but in the end I gave him what he needed.
John laid a hand on my shoulder gently, perhaps even reverently. He looked straight into my eyes with an expression that made me turn away in embarrassment.
The result is you, he continued softly. My old colleagues at the research lab are still working on their super dog, and they may even succeed some day. Fox and I just used a little magic to beat them to it. The talking was not my idea, by the way. You figured that out on your own.
You are one of the more magical beings alive in this World today, Coyote. Like the others of your kind, you have an innate magical ability that can never be taken from you. But you are not here to play with magic. You are here to put magic aside for now, and learn to do things the other way. It was your own idea, even though you cant remember it now. John stopped talking and looked at me expectantly.
I was speechless, for oncejust stared back dumbly with my mouth open and my tail down.
Well, dont you have any questions?
I dont know what to say! Why didnt you tell me all this pffefore?
It wasnt time for you to know.
What else is it not time for me to know? I need to think apffout all this, I said, and slipped away through the dog door before anyone could stop me.
Ive been told that long, steady running causes the body to release morphine-like chemicals called endorphins, resulting in a natural high. If thats true, then Im an addict. The fear of cougars, hunters, and farm dogs just seems to make it better.
I headed north, up the valley. Thats the way I go when I want to get away from humans. The cold front had made the world cloudless and windless, with a sweet, tangy smell made up of snow, spruce, hemlock, and a hundred other scents I dont know the names for. I didnt skirt the Burrey place this time. Its right on the most direct path north, and I figured the wolf wasnt so dangerous for me any more. And it was daylight, so he wouldnt be out anyway.
Mr. Burrey was out, though. He was butchering a deermy deer. I recognized it by the scent, and by the missing portions. I recognized Mr. Burreys canine scent too. His wolf scent. Mr. Burrey smelled more wolf than human this morning.
Some of the hunters Ive seen cant even strip out the guts without splattering their shirts, but this man seemed to know exactly what he was doing. His movements were smooth and unhurried, he never cut twice in the same place, and only his hands were bloody. After a time he sat down for a rest, and glanced around idly. His eyes passed over the bushes I was hiding in, then snapped back and locked onto me. Coyote! So glad you could come to visit. Have you had breakfast yet? Mr. Burrey returned to the carcass and gathered up a double handful of the nicer scraps, then set them out neatly on a patch of undisturbed grass halfway between us. Help yourself. Its your kill anyway. Then he turned his back to me and resumed work.
I slunk over cautiously and bolted the meat, then continued to watch from my closer vantage. Mr. Burrey began talking to me as he cut, still keeping his back and side to me, and his eyes politely averted. Finally I crept over and nuzzled his legs, and accepted the morsels he handed back from time to time.
I had never watched a human-style carcass partitioning from so close before. Mooney didnt approve of meat, and I didnt feel welcome enough at the other places. Mr. Burreys knives and saw were much more efficient than teeth, but perhaps not as much fun. I wasnt complaining, though.
Mr. Burrey finished the cutting and began to wash his tools and hands. When that was done he fetched another bucket, filled it with clean water, and presented it to me.
Thirsty? Help yourself! Ill let all this set a bit, mix up some salt and herbs, and get it straight into the smokehouse. Are you sure you dont want any more? Mr. Burrey looked over his work and selected another choice morsel to tempt me with, but I was too full. All I could do was sniff and take it from his fingers, and set it down on the grass. Maybe later.
Mr. Burrey knelt in front of me and reached cautiously forward to scratch between the ears. I kept those ears forward in a friendly sort of way, so he knew he was welcome to do that. Sowhat did you think of last night? A bit of a surprise for both of us, eh? I never thought you could be affected that way, or I would have tried harder to warn you.
I attended to Mr. Burrey politelyas politely as I could managebut his words rolled over me and my eyelids kept closing themselves despite my best efforts to keep them open. What I really wanted was a napmaybe even right where I was. Mr. Burrey noticed my condition and gave in to it.
All right, my friend, I get your drift. The partys over, and now Im talking too much. We can speak again later. He rose to his feet and left me.
Old nature books will often have the wily wolf captured or killed while resting after a big meal. They called the condition being Meat Drunk, and it is not a superstition. Just then a fine, long nap seemed the most luxurious of all possible pleasures, and I sauntered off until I found a Sun-warmed rock to lie down on, then flopped belly-up and gave full attention to digesting my meal. It was still frosty in the shade, but the day was absolutely wind-free, and Suns diligent work had made my spot almost too hot for me.
I slept heavily until my nose was assaulted by wood smoke, and I woke to find myself immersed in billows of the stuff. I jumped to my feet and tried to decide which way to run, then relaxed when the source became apparent. Mr. Burrey had started the fire in his smokehouse, and the alder smoke was oozing onto the ground like fog instead of rising up in the air as its supposed to. Smoke does that sometimes on a still day. I sneezed and shook myself, then trotted down to a smoke-free part of Mr. Burreys yard, where I could supervise.
I had slept through the salting and loading process, and the fire adjustment was almost done already. I felt too lazy to go out running, but I wasnt quite ready to nap again, and the thought of food was not appealing. Truth to say I was sort of bored, so I just stayed put. Mr. Burrey finished his work and came over for greetings, and I remembered one thing that is always worth doing if the human is trustworthy. Rolling ostentatiously onto my back, I exposed my belly for attention.
Mr. Burrey leaned over and gave it a perfunctory pat, then squatted beside me and poked the thigh carefully where the wound had been. Finally he grabbed my paw and tugged at it until I kicked out irritably to make him let go.
Your leg looks good, like it was never injured. He was gazing at me earnestly, the way humans do when they want to talk about something and cant quite figure out how to bring up the subject.
I was pretty sure I knew what he wanted, and I was feeling mellow enough to make it easy for him, so I rose to my haunches and returned his gaze politely. Not threat-style, just attentive. Humans seem to like it when you look at them while theyre talking. If he had something to say, this would be a good time.
Mr. Burrey seated himself cross-legged and straight-backed, then began speaking carefully and respectfully, as one human would to another of equal rank. He was dominant, so he couldnt really mean it, but I appreciated the gesture.
One night about a month ago I saw you here, eating some of my smoked venison. The smokehouse door was open, and you were lying down right about where were sitting now. You were enjoying yourself so much you didnt even notice what was going on around you, so you were surprised by a rather alarming visitor. What you did then was quite remarkable. You told your visitor to get lost in very loud, reasonably clear English. I was looking straight at you in bright moonlight, so I know what Im talking about.
Now, some people call you a dog, and some call you a coyote. The smarter ones dont know what to call you at all. Whatever it is you are, it is not generally considered to be a talking kind of creature. We humans tend to think we have a monopoly on that sort of thing.
I can see how you may be reluctant to discuss this capability with most humans, and if you choose not to talk to me now, Ill try not to be too disappointed. But still I have to ask: Will you talk to me? I think we have a lot to discuss.
I looked back at Mr. Burrey with ears forward. I might talk to him, might not. There was no hurry. He waited for a minute, then smiled wryly. Oh, well. I guess Ill have to do all the talking myself for now. I know you can understand me perfectly well, and there are a few things you need to realize.
First, Im sure youve figured out by now that I have a bit of a magic problem. A curse, if you will. These things are not well accepted by the more educated humans, but the term lycanthropy is often used to describe my condition. Its not painful or dangerous in itself, but it can put me in situations which are quite deadly for me and those around me. Ive learned to deal with it by living as far out in the country as possible, and by keeping a close eye on the calendar. Still, when this condition is active I can have quite a temper, along with other behavioral problems that I find hard to control. Ive studied psychology to try and deal with the situation, and the training does help, but otherwise Ive made no progress.
This condition is transmissible under certain circumstances, and Im afraid it has affected you too. We need to talk so that I can give you advice about how to keep it from getting the best of you.
Mr. Burrey paused for a moment, then continued when I didnt say anything.
The change always occurs on the night of the full moon, and often on the night before or the night after, but never more than those three nights. It doesnt wait for midnight, but gets to work at moonrise, regardless of where the sun is, so during the summer months it starts and ends in daylight. The process is so gentle I can hardly feel it. I just get kind of dreamy for a bit, and its over. It doesnt even matter if Im moving or standing still, except that when Im moving I always lose balance and fall over from the sudden shift in body proportions.
The real problem comes just after the change to wolf form has occurred. Im immediately overcome by a hunger so powerful I cant even describe it properly. Ill have a desire to kill and eat literally anything I see, even humans. The feeling passes after I have a good meal, so I try to keep something nearby when my time approaches.
Theres a lot more to tell, but Im not sure I want to continue with you just staring at me like that. Ive told you my secret, and I think it really is your turn to speak now.
Mr. Burrey did have a point. His secret was just as delicate as mine, if not more so.
Okay. Ill talk. What do you want me to say?
Mr. Burreys mouth sagged open for a second, then snapped shut. You really can talk!
You convinced me, I responded mockingly. Was I too gullipffle?
Was that last word supposed to be gullible? I couldnt quite catch it.
I have troupffle with the pffes and pffes, I answered irritably. Those sounds dont fit into a pffropffer mouth. They were invented pffy creatures with tight, round little lipffs, like I have under my tail.
Maybe you could give some sort of visual signal to help discriminate them, Mr. Burrey suggested helpfully. Your ears would be good. You could just move them forward or backward to show what you meant.
Ill think apffout it, I replied a little coldly, but then I remembered he was dominant, and had to be treated with better respect than that. Thank you for the idea, I added dutifully.
Mr. Burrey had lost his customary poise. He was trembling slightly, and had leaned toward me so that I felt uncomfortable. I shuffled back a few inches.
Who taught you to talk? Did Dr. Cultee do some surgery or something?
No one taught me. I did it all myself. I think anyone could talk if they wanted to, pffut they get annoyed with me when I try and teach them.
Excepfft for Pffrincess. I just got her to say unlock, and Im making pffrogress with the word more. Excepfft she thinks its easier to just whine and nuzzle my chin.
Pffrincess is a coyote pffupff from the spffring pffefore last. She lives near Sunpffow. Pffrincess wont grow upff, and looks just like the new pffupffs from this year, pffut shes really smart. I hopffe shes not sick.
Could you teach me?
I guess he didnt care much about Princess, which was too bad. I did. She and Lazytail were my best non-human friends. I put those thoughts aside to try and answer Mr. Burreys latest question.
You already know how to talk. What could I teach you?
But I cant talk when Im a wolf.
Have you tried? I answered meekly.
Of course not. Wolves cant talk!
Yes, of course, Mr. Pffurrey. I think I need to go home now. I began to edge away. This man was beginning to annoy me.
Mr. Burrey saw what I was doing, and tried to change the subject. Wait! Forget about the talking. There are things you need to know about tonight!
I ignored him and danced off. Mr. Burrey called after me: Yesterday the moon was not completely full. That is tonight, so well both be changing again. Get away from your house as quickly as you can, and meet me here. Ill have meat ready for you.
Mr. Pffurrey thinks Im a werewolf, I told John when I got back to the house. He says hes a werewolf too.
You cant be a werewolf, Stinky. Only a human could be a werewolf, if there even are such things. Or, did Mr. Burrey say you would change into a human when the moon is full? The proper term for that would be coywere I suppose. Why does he think that?
Suddenly I didnt want to tell John about my nights activities. There was a nagging feeling that some of them might have been inappropriate.
Oh, nothing in pffarticular, I replied evasively. He looked at the pfflace where the wound was, and didnt know what to think apffout it. I had never told anyone about how I was injured, except to say it was from a fight. They all thought it was a dog, even though I had never said that specifically.
I wish you hadnt let him look at you like that, John replied in a worried tone. I dont want anyone paying special attention to that sort of thing. Maybe we should clip some of the fur down the way it was before, so its not so noticeable.
No! If anyone tries to mess upff my fur again Ill pffite them! Then I remembered Johns status, and shrank down into submissive posture.
John grabbed my throat fur and rolled me over gently to acknowledge there were no hard feelings, then began to scratch behind the ears. What are we going to do with you, Coyote? None of us has a clue, you know. Even Fox and OldCoyoteSpirit are just guessing. I can tell by the way they ask about you. OldCoyoteSpirit seems especially strange this last month. Its almost like hes losing interest in the whole plan.
Who is OldCoyoteSpffirit?
Didnt I mention that? OldCoyoteSpirit is the part of your soul that was left behind in the Spirit World when you were born. Hes been keeping an eye on you all your life.
Really? I had a dream last month, and I think OldCoyoteSpffirit was in it. He didnt seem to like me. He said my spffirit was useless, and he wanted to take it pffack.
You saw Old Coyote in a dream? Youre not supposed to be able to remember your dreams!
Maypffe it was the drugs. Dr. Pffenton gave me a shot to make me sleepff while he fixed my wounds, and when I was almost asleepff I saw a coyote and a wolf standing in front of me. They were arguing, and the coyote said my spffirit was weak and useless. He asked the wolf to kill me so he could take it pffack.
John looked at me thoughtfully. Wolf and OldCoyoteSpirit together? Thats rather hard to believe. I didnt think they got along all that well these days. Of course, it could all be just a regular dream you made upnot a vision dream.
You know, Stinky, theres a lot more to you than OldCoyote thinks. But in any case, his experiment has hardly started. You have quite a few years of work ahead of you, and you need to keep to the business at hand, which brings us clear around to our conversation from this morning. Have you figured out what you did last night to grow your fur back and make the scars go away? That sort of thing is typical of Foxs Powers, but he says he had nothing to do with it.
John deserved at least some sort of a story, so I obliged him. I ran north upff the valley after I left Sunpffow. I kepfft on running after dark, racing with Moon. I pffothered the man with the elk skulls on his house, and then I caught a deer and ate some of it. Then I went home. I dont remempffer any magic at all.
You killed a deer by yourself? Thats quite an accomplishment! I know Mooney doesnt like that sort of thing, but it is part of your nature, and you should be proud if you do it well. What you kill should not be wasted, though. We need to find it and bring it home. Its probably half-frozen and in good condition Oh, I forgot. It was sick, wasnt it?
Yes, I lied modestly. I dont think you would want any, pffut I think I should go pffack tonight and have some more.
Dont make yourself ill.
Mooney came out to us then, and offered me lunch and breakfast. I ate at Mr. Pffurreys house. Im full right now, I replied politely.
What did he give you? Youre never full! she teased. Well, you can come on in and watch us eat. Maybe your appetite will come back.
You know, it did. I sometimes wonder why I dont get fat.
By unvoiced consensus we didnt talk any more about magic and special destinies. We just gathered around the kitchen table and chatted about nothing in particular. The wood stove was roaring busily and the house was too hot, but humans need it that way and I had long ago learned not to complain. I just panted discretely from time to time. Through the kitchen window I could see wispy, almost transparent mares tail clouds coming in from the east, and I knew the weather would change again before nightfall. And besides, Mooney had heard on the radio that snow was likely. That would be nice, although it hardly ever stuck so early in the season. Sometimes we would have a whole winter with no snow at all.
Mouse was excited, and remarked that she had never played in snow before. John and Mooney glanced at each other for an instant, but they didnt say anything. They had already figured out that Mouse didnt really have amnesia. Now they knew she was from a place where it didnt snow.
I knew exactly where Mouses old home was. That was our secret. Why she left she had not told even me, but she still cried about it from time to time, and she was terrified by the thought of being sent back there.
After lunch I wandered off to the hayloft for a nap, and awoke at dusk with the scent of new snow and old hay around me. I felt excited, bubbling with energy. Definitely needed to run.
There were no snowflakes yet, but the clouds were still thickening. It would be a comfortably dark night, even with Moon behind them. I wandered idly through vacant goat pens, and peered into the living room for a time before starting. My humans were arrayed on chairs in front of the television, faces intent in the flickering light. Mooney would be turning on the living room lamps soon.
I didnt feel like getting wet just then, so I crossed Fry Creek by taking our driveway down to the main road with its culvert, then following Mr. Bells drive back up. His cows were inside already, but I passed several elk who were borrowing the south pasture. We ignored each other as we usually did.
It was pretty much dark by human standards as I strolled into Mr. Bells front yard. He was watching television toosame program. Jake was asleep with his head under the footrest of the recliner, ready to be pinched there when Mr. Bell put it down. Jake appeared to be spending a lot more time indoors these days, which was rather tolerant of his master since Jake always stank of manure and general hound-dogginess. I had never known him to have a bath, although Mr. Bells cow dip kept him free of fleas.
I stood on the front porch a bit longer, front feet on the railing and head cocked around so I could view human, dog, and television clearly. After a while I lost interest and wandered out into the yard again. Time to leave all this behind and begin my run in earnest. Maybe Mr. Burrey would have some food waiting for me as he had promised.
The overcast sky to the west still had a bit of light to it, but now there was light to the east as well. Moon was just rising, trying her best to penetrate the snow clouds. My eyes were drawn and held by that faint wash of light and I stood bemused for a time, thinking of nothing in particular.
A cow snorted in the loafing barn and I jumped and looked around guiltily. Really should keep more alert in hostile territory! I turned toward the barn and began to slink cautiously closer.
Halfway there I stopped in puzzlement. Mr. Bell had forty-seven full-grown Holsteins in that barn, and I had been about to enter with the intention of killing and eating one of them! That went so far beyond stupidity I couldnt think of a word for it. I was very hungry, though. Painfully hungry. I turned away from the barn and ran off in the direction of Mr. Burreys place. He had promised to have meat for me, and if he had forgotten that promise I could always break into his smokehouse and take some for myself.
The wolf was waiting for me on Mr. Burreys driveway, chewing on a deer femur. He was crushing the bone casually, effortlessly, then carefully licking out the rich marrow. My own leg bone is a quarter that size. He must have really been holding back when he bit me the month before.
A good part of the deer skeleton was laid out neatly on the driveway, cut into convenient pieces with quite a bit of meat left on. Mr. Burrey must have been planning for this meal the whole time he was butchering. The wolf greeted me courteously though rather briefly, and we both went single-mindedly to work.
I had a late start but I ate faster, so we each got about half of what was there. I thought maybe the buck had been sick after all, since my bones also cracked open with little effort. They tasted and smelled just fine, though. Mr. Burreys driveway was littered with bone fragments when we were done, and we both sprawled contentedly among them, licking our muzzles and pads.
I really do like to keep myself clean, so I began licking my front paw and drawing it from the back of my head forward and over the muzzle to wipe away any last flecks of food. That brought my ear forward as usual, but something was not quite right. The ear tip barely touched my eye. It should be much longer than thatshould cover the eye completely and extend clear out to the bridge of my nose.
I checked the other ear and it was exactly the same, more than two inches shorter than it should have been. Not up to coyote specifications at all! The ears felt perfectly normal; they lifted and turned just the way they were supposed to lift and turn, and there was certainly nothing the matter with my hearing. Nothing was wrong with those ears except for their size. Strange. More strange than you can know, if it has never happened to you.
The wolf had been watching my facial explorations intently, and now he was smirking. The expression is hard to describe, so youll just have to take my word for it. Smirking he was, and not trying to hide it.
Whats so funny? I muttered irritably, in English. Ill do that sometimes when I cant figure out how to express myself in proper canine body language. And anyway, that wolf was dominant, so I had to be careful about snarling or showing teeth.
The wolf stood up and approached me, still smirking, so I lay down and exposed my belly to be sure there were no hard feelings. He ignored all thatjust looked down at me for a moment, and then began to contort his face and move his chest strangely. I thought he was going to vomit, so I rolled sideways to get myself clear.
What came out of his mouth were sounds, not the slightly used venison I was expecting. First whines and squeaks, then something very much like the human vowel sounds ay, ee, eye, oh, yew. The wolf appeared immensely pleased with this accomplishment, and began to struggle with new groupings.
K-k-k-oyy-ota, he finally produced, after considerable effort and experimentation.
You mean Coyote? Youre trying to say my name?
He smiled back at me and told me yes by his posture. He even appeared to wag his tail, but Ive been told that wolves dont wag their tails, so I guess he was just moving it back and forth.
The wolf repeated his new word several times, polishing the edges until it sounded pretty good. Then he started on another one, which went faster.
Youre saying wolf! More agreement.
K-oyy-ota woolff, he proclaimed proudly, and nudged my ear with his muzzle.
My mythological namesake is famous for his pigheadedness, and I suppose Im well endowed with the trait myself but there is a limit.
Youre saying that my ears are shorter pffecause Ive turned into a wolf, I stated flatly.
You really are Mr. Pffurrey, arent you?
You told me wolves cant talk.
Wrrronn-ga. He was learning fast.
We worked out more words together, but Mr. Burrey really didnt require my help. He already knew the words, just needed practice teaching his throat how to form them properly. I gathered that different muscles were involved when he was in human form, and he had to start from basic sounds. It had never even occurred to him that such a thing was possible. After a while Mr. Burrey became tired from contorting his mouth and throat to produce human words, and he was biting his tongue too often. I was accustomed to speaking English, but I was having my own troubles. My voice sounded funnylow-pitched and strangeand I had almost bitten my tongue too. We decided we had had enough of talking.
We should have been sleepy after such a big meal, but it just seemed to give us more energy. With no trouble at all I lured Mr. Burrey into a race westward along the Wynoochee-Wishkah road, and we were streaking up the stretch of switchbacks called Thirteen Corners just as the first snowflakes began to fall.
The road straightened after we climbed out of the valley, and there we could go full speed without skidding on the gravel. Im not sure how fast we ran, but the snowflakes stung when they struck my nose and tongue, and my eyes were pinched almost shut against them, and the roar of wind in my ears drowned out all other sounds. Mr. Burrey had been toying with me on our previous race.
Im pleased to report that I beat him decisively this time. The thought occurred to me that another fight might have a different outcome as well but we canines dont necessarily go picking fights just because we think we might win. Dominance is based on more than physical strength. Its a matter of respect and tradition, too. And anyway, he still was bigger than I was.
I dont think Mr. Burrey had played much with dogs or wolves before; certainly not with coyotes. Several of the games seemed new to him. We had a good time and covered a lot of ground.
The snow was coming down so thickly I couldnt see far or scent much, and the frozen ground from our cold snap was letting it accumulate after all. There were several inches on the road by the time we got back to Mr. Burreys place, and it showed no signs of slowing. Moon wouldnt be setting quite yet, but Mr. Burrey seemed to have a fear of being late home. Understandable, considering his condition.
We settled ourselves on the snow in Mr. Burreys yard, dozing and waking while fresh snow covered us like a blanket. We still werent tired, but neither of us wanted to go inside the house, and we were done with running. Finally Moons glow began to sink and fade into the western half of the valley, although dawn was not quite ready yet in the east. I kept myself awake, with an eye on my companion. I wanted to see the transformation.
I missed it. Probably always would. I was distracted by my own transformation just when I should have been paying attention.
A transient wash of dizziness and there I was, virtually unchanged except for my ears, jaws, and fur markings, but with a naked, snow-covered human curled up close beside. Immediately he staggered to his feet, brushed the snow from his shoulders, and turned to face me.
Gloat on, you son of a dog. Mr. Burrey had already begun to shiver violently, and his voice was thick with cold, and with amused envy. I shook myself and followed silently as he picked his way painfully over to the back door. He hissed sharply with each step, and kept blindly bumping into things. I think his dark-vision had disappeared with his wolf form. He opened the door and reached inside to grab a towel that happened to be hanging there, dried himself, and put on a heavy robe and slippers that also just happened to be there, then turned to me and offered breakfast.
Yes, thank you, I replied politely as I had been taught. I was planning to have a good breakfast at Sunbow, but there was no sense wasting such a convenient opportunity.
Just like John, Mr. Burrey knew how to put on a proper breakfast. Scrambled eggs, sausage, buttered toast, and lots of it. Mooney says a man could get a heart attack just looking at a breakfast like that, but she read somewhere that dogs are immune. I guess that counts for me as well. Mr. Burrey would have to take his own chances. Maybe he felt his monthly transformations would help clear out the gunk from his arteries.
Would Monsieur like his meal served on the tableor on the floor?
On the floor, pfflease. Mouse thinks I should eat from the tapffle pffecause Im a mempffer of the family and its disrespffectful to treat me differently, pffut the floor is a lot more comfortapffle.
Yes, I know.
Mr. Burrey ate much more slowly as a human, and he had to clean things up too, so after I finished my own breakfast I lay upright, sphinx style, and watched him. His back was turned to me as he washed the dishes, so that was a good time to discuss sensitive subjects if we needed to. Easier for me, at least.
It was Mr. Burrey who spoke first. Ive been really worried you might hurt somebody. Was there any trouble? He was hunching his shoulders like he was afraid of the answer I might give.
No troupffle. For a minute I wanted to kill one of Mr. Pffells cows, pffut that was stupffid, so I didnt. It was strange, though. I never wanted to do anything like that pffefore.
Thats the way it works. You get these killing urges that seem so reasonable; then later you wonder what got into you. Mr. Burrey paused, then continued earnestly, Well, something really did get into you. The curse is not a passive thing. It varies in intensity, and I believe theres some sort of demon or spirit that controls it. The spirit will control you, too, if you let it. Sometimes it talks to you during your dreams. Have you heard it yet?
I dont have dreams.
Thats funny; I thought everyone dreamed, even animals. But excuse me. I guess it would be more polite for me to say non-human beings.
Call me what you like; I dont care apffout that sort of thing. Pffut pfflease tell me more apffout this spffirit. Can it really make me do things I dont want to?
I dont really know for sure, but I think so. So far I havent injured any humans, but a couple of times Ive come awfully close. I try to stay as far out in the country as possible during the full moon time. There are fewer people around, and somehow its easier to control myself. Out here I feel more like a real wolf and less like a monster.
Mr. Burrey didnt say anything more for a bit, but his words had got me to thinking about the elk skull man. I had been watching him with intense concentration, then felt something was wrong. Now I remembered: It was the man I had been drooling for fully as much as the food on his plate. The feeling had been so natural that only a vague disquiet had persisted to warn me.
This was not cool. It was not right for something to get inside my head like that! I was silent until Mr. Burrey asked what was bothering me.
The night pffefore last, I looked at a man in the wrong way, like he was food. I didnt even notice what I was thinking!
Yeah. Scary, isnt it? I could handle any part of this except the business of losing control of myself like that. Just rememberfood is the key! Keep yourself fed, and you wont get in trouble. Also, dont bite anything you dont plan on killing.
Does that mean youre sorry you pffit me, or sorry you didnt kill me? I teased. We were both taking ourselves too seriously.
Enough talking. Breakfast was done, and the snow was falling faster than everalmost a foot on the ground already. Looked like time to go home.
Humans seem to find great beauty in the sight of a coyote bounding through deep snow, but I say its a lot of work. I was quite warm and tired when I got back to Sunbow, and it was later than I wanted it to be. The humans were sitting down to breakfast, but their eyes kept turning anxiously outward through the kitchen window. I got a good view of that because I came up from a direction they werent expecting.
I was in through the dog door before anyone saw me (Mooney had enlarged the opening again, so I fit nicely).
Hi. Im pffack, I offered cautiously, keeping prudently close to the door. Whats for pffreakfast?
Mooney compressed her lips and lowered her eyebrows, but didnt say anything at first. That gave Mouse a chance to scramble out of her chair and come over to hug me. She had the house memorized, so she could move pretty fast when she felt like it.
Dont you ever stay home at night any more? she asked plaintively. We all worry about you.
Im a wild animal. I need to go out at night.
Youre not wild, Coyote! Youve been with people all your life, and youd never hurt anyone.
I am so wild, I insisted. The coyotes let me run with them, and I dont have any morals. Mooney said so herself. You cant trust me. I might do anything. Anything at all. And you cant make me stay when I need to go out. So there!
You sound more like your father every day, John observed. Then he and Mooney chuckled, and everything was okay. I had a suspicion they were making fun of me, though.
Breakfast was oatmeal with raisins, and a melon slice on the side. I liked Mr. Burreys version better.
Snow came heavily all through that day, and I never heard the snow plow. John couldnt leave for Seattle at the time he was planning to, and of course there was another school-free day for Mouse and me. Just before dusk the electricity stopped, and Mooney brought out candles to have ready. I went out for a run so I could be alone at Moonrise in case the wolf curse hit again.
I didnt feel anything special, but still I pushed an ear forward to cover each eye in turn before I was convinced. Moonglow in the sky, ears still long. Seemed safe enough. I was through for the month, and could go back inside to be with my family.
I was hungry enough for dinner, but didnt feel any homicidal urges whatsoever. Even so I felt unsure of myself, and kept aloof. Mooney thought I was mad at her for some little thing, and came by later to find out what she had done wrongeven volunteered a belly rub! We all went to bed early, and I actually slept through most of the night.
In the morning the snow was much deeper, although it was not coming down so fast any more. The flakes were like powder, some so small I could barely see them. The plow still hadnt come, but it didnt really matter because our driveway was a quarter mile long, and Johns truck was parked by the house. It looked like we might not go to school all week, and by then wed be into Christmas vacation.
The phone was still working and John managed to get a call through to work. He came back smiling. Seattles a mess. They told me to just stay away until this is all finished. Most of the businesses are closed, and the hospital is on emergency services only. What a bunch of wimps! In Spokane we could get a snow like this and hardly notice it.
And how would you get your truck out? Mooney countered. Her voice sounded a little irritated.
Oh, Id never take my truck this far from the road if I thought thered be a heavy fall. Id park it by the curb and hope the plow didnt hit it. Everybody has old junkers so they dont have to worry about being hit. Nice cars are kept in the garage for nice weather.
Since you have this snow business worked out so well, youve doubtless noticed that were almost out of split firewood. You can keep yourself productive while I make breakfast. Stinky will most likely be wanting to help you. She looked at me pointedly, and I got up promptly to go with John.
Wood chopping was not such a bad idea, actually. It was much cooler and more comfortable outside, and my part of the work was quite simple. It consisted of pawing log rounds down from the stack, then rolling them over to the splitting block with my nose. I made a game out of it, and used them like bowling balls to try and knock John over, but he was too quick for me. He even complimented me on how close to the block I was delivering my loads. When John was done chopping, I let him carry the split pieces to the door while I lay down in the snow and admired the day.
The clouds had grown much brighter, and John commented that they were so thin the blue sky was showing through from behind them. I couldnt see such a faint shade of color, but I could tell the snowstorm was almost over. The flakes were so small and rare I couldnt see them at all, just felt their touch on my nose and eyelids. And the air was becoming rapidly colder.
We were called to breakfast then, and the clouds were gone before we finished eating. Mouse was outside as soon as she could get readywaddling and pushing herself along with too much clothing. She started out by making a snowman.
Humans are always making snowmen, but no one can tell me why. When Mouse was done with hers she called me over to admire it. We were alone in the yard together. Here, Coyote, lets back up a little and check it out. She grabbed my scruff and hauled me off a few paces, then turned me around, still holding my shoulder skin.
What do you think?
It looks great, I lied.
No it doesnt. Theres too much dirt and leaves mixed in with the snow.
What I wanted to say was, What difference does it make? You cant see it and I dont care, but fortunately I stopped myself in time. Instead I told her the snow was perfectly clean, and everything looked fine.
Dont lie to me, you. I can tell. Well just make another one.
How could you tell I was lying? If I was giving myself away, I needed to find out what I was doing wrong so I wouldnt repeat the mistake. Lying is an art that requires constant practice.
Dont worry, you old fur ball, you havent lost your touch. I just knew the snow was dirty, is all.
You could smell it, right? I knew she was capable of that. Humans can use their noses a lot more than they think they can, if theyll just put their heads to the ground and try. Mouse was a good pupil, and I had taught her a lot.
Yes, I could do that I guess, but I forgot. I only noticed when we stepped back and looked at it together.
You mean you noticed my tone of voice when I said it looked great.
No, I just knew when you looked at it. Mouse sounded embarrassed, as if she thought she might have done something bad.
I dont think I understand.
Mouse was silent at first, then took a big breath and began talking all in a rush. When were touching, I can sometimes see what you see. Not really seeing it but just sort of like remembering it, like I just know whats there. Its been going on for a long time, ever since just after we started going on walks together. Thats how I can keep up so well. Its not like Im reading your mind or anything. I cant tell anything else Except, maybe some of your feelings, sometimes, she added after a short pause.
That explained a lot. As I thought about it, I realized the communication was not just one-way. There were times when I had shifted my body to help Mouse keep from falling even before I could have felt the change in her pull on me. And I could sense her feelings too, sometimes. I stood silently where I was, staring straight ahead and considering what Mouse had said.
Coyote, youre not mad at me, are you?
Mad at you? Why should I pffe mad?
You dont think Ive invaded your privacy, or anything like that? My mother said I shouldnt ever do that any more because its No. Never mind about that. But I was afraid to tell you! I thought you might not let me touch you any more.
No, Mouse. I dont care apffout that kind of pffrivacy. You should have told me long ago. Maypffe if we pffractice, we can get pffetter. Now apffout that snowman. Yes, theres some dirt in the snow, pffut he looks just fine. Lets do something else.
The something else looked for a while like me pulling Mouse on a sled, but I discouraged the idea, and finally refused flatly. On packed snow that might be kind of fun, but no way on fresh, deep powder. I did agree to her plan of constructing an igloo.
We started by trying to cut the snow into blocks, but it was too light and fluffy, and the blocks fell apart. Even Mouses snowman had been hard to stick together. We were going to give up, but John had been watching us, and came out to give advice.
You need to keep the snow in place with boards or something, then pour water on it. The water will freeze and hold everything together.
The well pump was not working due to lack of electricity, so I got my exercise carrying buckets of water from the creek while John and Mouse scooped up snow and pushed it between the board forms. Each bucket of water made the snow slump down drastically, but the humans kept stuffing in more snow, and I kept fetching more water until the walls rose despite themselves. Mouse objected to the use of branches to hold the roof up, but John said when youre making a snow shelter you use what is around you. We had no hard-packed snow like the Eskimos did, but we had plenty of wood, which Eskimos are happy enough to use when they can get it. Its just that wood is not available in the places where igloos are made.
Our snow house was square instead of round, and it had a flat roof, but it was ours. From inside you could see the walls glowing from Suns light shining through them, and it was very quiet and peaceful.
It was past lunchtime when we finished, and all of us were good and hungry. Mooney met us at the kitchen door. Youre taking all that stuff off right where you are! Ill not have you tracking snow and dirt from one end of the house to the other. Stinky is bad enough.
She looked at me critically, but for a change I was clean. Carrying water over fresh-fallen snow doesnt mess you up much, and I had shaken myself vigorously just before coming up onto the porch.
You can come in the way you are, she told me.
By the way, the electricity came on over an hour ago. You can both have your showers after lunch.
Lunch consisted of chili and fresh baked bread. Our stove was propane, so the lack of electricity had not affected it.
I slipped back out to our snow house for my after-lunch nap. I wanted to appreciate it by myself, without a lot of talking around me. Not a bad job. Not bad at all. I curled myself into a ball and fell asleep fantasizing about what it would be like to dig a den of my own, and have someone to share it with.
Youve just read the second 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 anybody who only follows the serial from issue to issue!