by Michæl Bergey
Text ©2009 Michæl Bergey; illustration ©2009 Kenket

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Home -=- #28 -=- ANTHRO #28 Stories
-= ANTHRO =-
An earlier version of New Coyote was published by Five Star Books

 = chapter 13 =–

   The cold snap lasted only a day and a half, and our normal weather came back with vicious force.
   First were the mare’s tail clouds, from the southwest this time, rushing in very fast. The sky turned from clear to overcast in an hour, and a southwest breeze started up, smelling of the sea. Gulls came with that breeze, and settled on the gravel bar in a tight, squabbling flock. By dusk the breeze had become a wind that rattled windows in their casings, and our electricity had failed again. Phones too, this time.
   I went to bed with Mouse to comfort her, but I didn’t want to go out anyway. The wind had been frightening at dusk, and it continued to rise during the night. Sometimes it made a hackles-up crooning sound like a cat before a fight, and our house would shake or even seem to crawl and tilt beneath me with the stronger gusts. In the distance I heard branches and whole trees crashing to the ground, and flying leaves kept tapping sharply against the bedroom window, startling us. Sometimes twigs struck too, and they slapped the glass so hard I thought it would break. A heavy rain came with the wind, and in the morning most of the snow was gone. Our snow house had collapsed into a jumble of sticks and slush, and Fry Creek was beginning to crawl up into Mooney’s new berry fields.
   Ceaseless, hard rain all day Saturday. It was what we call a ‘warm rain’ here. About fifty degrees, I guess—warm enough to melt snow on contact, even on the lower mountain slopes. By evening the wind had almost stopped, but that relentless rain was stronger than ever.
   On Sunday our driveway went under and Sunbow was nearly surrounded by swirling, debris-choked water. Mr. Bell’s place looked the same, except that it was detached from the nearby high ground and formed a true island. Rain was still pouring down, and I wondered if it would ever stop.
   All the berry fields were covered now, new and old. Mooney kept saying she had never seen the river come up so high before. She was acting very strangely—drunk or numb is the best way to describe it—always staring through one window or another at the dark water surging past, way too close. We all caught her mood, and skulked about trying to avoid notice. The radio played softly and ceaselessly on a local channel Mooney didn’t like, and she turned the volume up whenever a new flood report came in. Mooney had plenty of batteries on hand, so she didn’t need to worry about conserving them.
   We were in the evacuation zone, but the river had gone up so quickly we were cut off before anybody knew it. I don’t think either Mooney or Mr. Bell would have left, though. Our homes really were above flood level, even this flood. The chickens needed tending, and I know Mr. Bell would never have left his cows. They all had names, and some looked rather old to be giving much milk.
   Mr. Bell had a generator for backup power, so for him it was business as usual except that the pasture was gone, so his cows had to stay in the barns and eat hay.

   I was bored, and the humans were crabby, so on Sunday I took off during daylight to explore.
   Fry Creek was wide and deep near Sunbow, but that was mostly back-up from Wynoochee, and without much current. I swam across where the water became narrow at the start of the old growth area, which was all above flood level.
   The flood really was confined to the valley bottom, but that was so full it looked like a lake. Normally we could get two days of hard rain without even noticing it, but all that snow melting overnight had overloaded our river. It was still raining steadily, but in the highlands where I was the water ran off rapidly in the customary small rivulets and creeks. Nothing unusual about that. I decided to go south this time, and soon I was able to move on down and use the road quite a bit, since that section was built on higher ground. Wynoochee Wildwood was pretty much completely under water, though, and even had a current sweeping through parts of it. Everything was so quiet! Nothing human there at all.
   The Gundersons had stayed, of course. I think they would have drowned before abandoning their horses. The Gundersons’ farm didn’t have as much high ground as Sunbow so their house, horses, and movable possessions were all crowded together on one small island. Lazytail’s pen was under water, and it was the kind with a wire roof on it so you can’t climb out.
   Alarm shot through me when I saw that, but I tried to ignore the feeling. Lazytail’s humans would have taken care of her! Surely they would have. Desperately I longed to swim over and investigate more closely, but that would have been a bad idea because the Gundersons were very much in evidence. They bustled from here to there making temporary fences, and comforting their horses, and dragging expensive equipment further back from the still-rising waters.
   My viewpoint was too exposed, so I slipped into heavier cover and paced anxiously, just out of sight. Finally I risked a soft, tentative howl. Immediately Lazytail’s voice rose to join with mine and we sang together, but then she stopped early, before we were finished. I heard shouting, and a splash, and peeked through dripping fern fronds to see Lazytail swimming straight toward me, trailing a short length of rope.
   Lazytail surged out of the water and we rushed up chest to chest, had one joyful boxing match, then streaked off down the road together. We headed northwest, for higher ground and better privacy. That land was all Weyerhaeuser tree farms, and this was not a good day for logging.

   We had the country even more to ourselves than I had expected. Trees were down everywhere, some of them rather large. It would take days of heavy chainsaw work to get those roads open again. The downed trees didn’t bother us, of course; we just swarmed over or under them. I was getting sap on my fur from the broken branches, though, and that would rub off on the carpets later if I wasn’t careful. Mooney might have a thing or two to say about that.
   On impulse I led us to the ridge behind Mr. Burrey’s place so I could look down and check on it before going farther north. That property was set right on the riverbank, much lower than Sunbow or the dairy, and it might not have done so well, flood-wise.
   Mr. Burrey’s home had not done so well. It was half under water, and not slack water. More than a little current was at work on it. There was no sign of Mr. Burrey or his van.
   We slid and scuttled down the slope to get a better look. Or at least, I did, and Lazytail followed to keep me company. I found something for her that made it well worth her while, though: Mr. Burrey’s smokehouse still had meat in it!
   I swam back with the first piece in my mouth, presented it to her proudly, then went back to get another for myself. We glutted ourselves happily all through that afternoon, with me swimming back to fetch more as needed. Lazytail was a good swimmer too, but the muddy water and half-submerged buildings spooked her, and she wouldn’t go in. It was just as well. That current was tricky, and there were fences and things under the water that could hold you down and kill you if the current pressed you against them. It was all quite dangerous, actually, and foolish of me to go there, but the meat was delicious.
   It made me very happy to bring food to Lazytail, and I felt a thrill whenever she nuzzled my face, so that I couldn’t help sticking out the tip of my tongue like I do when my belly is rubbed. Soon we let the meat drunkenness have its way with us, and nestled together contentedly in the best rain shelter we could find—a trifle damp, perhaps, but still perfectly comfortable. Wolf and coyote fur works well enough under such conditions.

   We were startled awake by the crash of breaking glass and jumped up in panic. I located the source immediately, and relaxed. It was only a floating tree shattering Mr. Burrey’s living room window. A hemlock, I think.
   The tree had penetrated deeply and was still jammed in place, with the root end extending into faster water. Tree and trailerhouse were both shifting visibly as the current pulled at them.
   The trailer was anchored well enough for a windstorm, I suppose, but not for something like this. Wynoochee had hold of it now, and he was not going to let go. The trailer continued to move, sometimes silently, sometimes with a loud grinding and popping sound, but every moment faster as the water got a stronger and stronger grip on it. The dead electrical lines and their support cable held for a short time, causing the utility pole to snap and Mr. Burrey’s trailer to swing around and crush his smokehouse, but then everything came loose and spun into the main channel and around the bend. Mr. Burrey didn’t have a garage, so that left nothing standing above water besides the alder trees that had been present when he arrived. It was like he had never lived there.
   I was sad to see the smokehouse go. It was not empty yet. And Mr. Burrey would be unhappy about his trailer. Anyway, it looked like the party was over. No more meat to be found here, and I knew Mooney would make a fuss again if I didn’t head home soon. I retraced our trail to the Gundersons’ place to drop off Lazytail.
   Night had arrived while Lazytail and I slept, but it was not really that late yet. Sixteen-hour December nights give you a lot of time to work with. The Gundersons were still diligently busy, with a generator roaring away, and lights on everywhere. Their house was still an island, but now a small boat was tied up to it so they could get off when they wanted to. It looked like the water level might have dropped a little, but I couldn’t tell for sure.
   Lazytail and I stopped at the place where I had met her earlier that day, and I gave her one last body rub and lick on the face before turning back for Sunbow. She stood by the water for a few seconds, then whipped around and ran past me to lead the way.
   We argued for several minutes, but Lazytail couldn’t talk in words, and it probably wouldn’t have made any difference. I even started out across the water as if swimming to her house, but she wouldn’t follow me—just stood there and watched until I came back.

   “She followed me home. Can we keepff her?”
   “She’s lovely! Don’t you know where she lives? I thought you had every dog in the valley memorized.” Lazytail and Mooney were making friends enthusiastically while she said this. I noted that Mooney was letting her put mud all over her clothes, which she would have yelled at me for doing. I didn’t say anything about it, though. At least Lazytail had distracted Mooney from her depression.
   “I’ve never seen her pffefore,” I lied. “Maypffe she got lost from the flooding.”
   Mooney looked at me suspiciously for a moment, but I guess she decided it wasn’t worth making an issue over. She was just glad to see me back safely. “You must both be starving. Stinky—why don’t you go push her in the creek and get some of that mud washed off. I’ll start something heating. Mouse! Get some towels and meet me at the back porch please! We have a visitor.”
   Fry Creek was muddy, but not as muddy as we were. Washing Lazytail consisted of pushing her over in the water or jumping on top of her and rubbing her with my body. She was just my size and strength, so it was a lot of work, especially when she decided she liked this new game, and jumped on top of me instead, then grabbed me with her front legs and used the mating position and movements, which are also for playing. After a time I switched places with her, and took my turn at that until I pushed things a little too far, which made her yip and sit down suddenly.
   Lazytail and I both had bellies full of venison, so we weren’t very hungry for dinner. Lazytail ate a bite or two of her food, but she seemed uncomfortable in the kitchen and wanted to go out again right away. She wouldn’t explore the rest of the house at all, even with the humans encouraging her. Maybe the flickering candlelight put her off. In the end I took Lazytail out to the hayloft for our nap, which seemed to bother Mouse for some reason. Jealousy, I suppose. I knew she’d get over it, so I didn’t let it worry me. Mouse was always taking things too seriously.
   When I awoke from my nap the house lights were out, rain was rumbling on the shingles above my head, and Lazytail was cuddled up against me, still asleep. Mouse would be wanting me in bed with her, but it was so nice right where I was. I rested my head on Lazytail’s flank and drifted back to sleep again, immersed in her fragrance.
   We slept until daylight, which is a lot of sleeping. I guess we were both kind of worn out. Through the loft window I saw a patch of clear sky and a ground fog or mist over the river and banks. The rain had stopped.
   Smoke was already coming from our chimney, and I could smell oatmeal cooking, so Lazytail and I went in as soon as we were finished with our morning duties. We ran the perimeter together, and Lazytail helped me mark as if we both owned the place. Later, if I felt like it, I might spend some thought on just who had abducted whom, but right now food was calling, even if it was only oatmeal.

   Wynoochee is a short river, prone to rapid changes. The flood waters began to back off that same day, and by evening the road was open. Mouse and I could get to school again, but now it was vacation time, and we didn’t have to. John could have left, but he didn’t want to go just yet. He did make a trip out to pick up supplies, though.
   Mooney’s berry fields were starting to show above water. The older fields were on higher ground, and just had a thick layer of mud all over them. Mooney made herself smile, and said the mud would increase soil fertility and make them bear even better next year. As she spoke, her eyes kept scanning her new fields, trying to see through the turbid water and assess the damage.
   Mooney’s suspicions were confirmed the next morning. There were no new berry fields, just a new gravel bar. The waters had stripped away every cane, and even the soil beneath them. A year of Mooney’s work was gone.
   We all tried to comfort her, and I know we did help, but how much can you do? Mooney said she didn’t want to talk about it.
   A thing happened then which was so remarkable it made Mooney forget all about her fields. For a while, anyway. We were still looking down at the site of the disaster, not doing anything in particular, when Mr. Bell went out to his tractor and started it up. He was right in view, of course. His house and barns were just a quarter mile from our house. He could see us clearly too.
   When Mr. Bell got his tractor started, he didn’t go pushing manure around like usual, but instead drove into the milking barn for a few minutes, then emerged and set forth along his driveway, which was still under water, along with most of his land.
   A car would have stalled, but not that old tractor. I saw it out of sight but heard it continue down to the road, then realized with a shock it was coming back up our own drive.
   “Mooney! Mr. Pffell is coming here!” My voice squeaked when I tried to say ‘Pffell’, so it sounded more like a high-pitched bark. Mooney and John looked at each other in bewilderment. There was no way the man could blame this flood on us!
   Lazytail and I made ourselves disappear for the confrontation, but not too far off. I had never attacked a human, but there’s always a first time. Mooney and John walked with Mouse to the main yard and waited.
   Mooney was ready for a fight, but that’s not what she got. Mr. Bell had not brought trouble, but rather a gift. His tractor’s manure scoop held a generator, boxes of electrical parts, and two cans of gasoline. “I know we haven’t got along so well these last few years, but I couldn’t stand to see you folk sitting here with no power when I got this extra generator just lying around taking up space in the barn.
   “Y’know, it ain’t right for neighbors to be feuding,” he added in a much quieter voice. “I never had the stomach for it, and I might need your help someday.”
   Mooney answered in the only sensible way. “Why, uh, thank you, Mr. Bell! That’s very neighborly of you.” Then she got stuck and couldn’t think of anything else to say. Mr. Bell smiled and took over for her.
   “The old thing is a trifle tweaky, so I better show you how to treat her right. And you’ll have to oil her now and then. She’s from the time before they put sealed ball bearings every damn place they could think of. I’d throw her out, but it’s nice to keep something around in case the new one craps out on me. You don’t want to have forty cows to milk, and no power!
   “Now, we’ll need a spot with a roof over it, not too far from the meter box. I’ll just put in a permanent tap outlet at the box, and wire up a heavy cable you can keep out of the way when you don’t need it. I’m afraid she ain’t powerful enough to run your water heater, but at least you can get the well and lights working. Candles and lanterns get kind of old after a couple days, eh?”
   John had been unable to buy more candles, and my humans were drinking nothing but rainwater. They were still using the toilet, though. Buckets of river water flushed it just fine, but they were a lot of work to carry. The humans hadn’t bathed since Monday.
   Mr. Bell didn’t stay long after he got the generator working, and he didn’t talk about anything much. The last thing he said was a wish that the milk truck would get through soon. The tank was getting awful full, and even with refrigeration it would soon be too old to sell. As he left, Mooney thanked him again, and gave him one of the loaves of bread she had just baked for us. She did that later, too—continued to bake things for him and take them over every couple of days or so. I know he appreciated it, and it eased a lot of the tension between our farms.
   As soon as Mr. Bell was gone, Mooney loaded the stove top with pots of water, and lit all the burners. Our new generator could operate the washing machine, but the dryer took too much power, so before long the humans had damp clothes hung everywhere. It was way too hot and steamy in the house, and I mostly stayed outside with Lazytail. She would only go inside to eat.
   The humans seemed totally absorbed in their cleaning frenzy, the house was possessed by drying laundry, and our new generator filled the air with a hammering racket. Seemed like a good time for another outing, even if it was full daylight.
   Lazytail was amenable, and I raced her up the slope into Weyerhaeuser land, beating her easily. She had never been able to get enough exercise before, but we could fix that.
   I was curious about Mr. Burrey’s place, so we retraced our previous day’s trail to check it out. When we arrived, we found Mr. Burrey poking about in a dazed, desultory way, like he didn’t know where to begin. The water was mostly gone, but his driveway and trailer foundation were so covered with mud and broken trees that it was hard to see what had once been there. The clouds had come back, and it was raining again, gently.
   I don’t bark much, but I did this time—rushed joyfully down the slope to greet him. I had been worried about that man.
   “Hey! Stay away from those cables! You can never tell for sure if they’re live or not.” The power cables trailed slackly from their pole, and disappeared under a tangle of muddy debris. It was hard to imagine that any electricity could be lurking within them, but I was not about to argue. I circled them widely, and Lazytail followed with me as usual.
   “It’s good to see you, Coyote. I worried you might have been trapped by the water. Barely got clear, myself. I had no idea your little river could do all this!”
   He gestured vaguely at the devastation surrounding us, looked for a place to sit down, then thought better of it. I pressed up against him enthusiastically until he lost balance and sat down anyway, then I licked his face until he pushed me away. Lazytail kept her distance.
   “Mooney was surpffrised apffout the flood too. She said it has never hapffend like this pffefore. We’re all okay, pffut she lost her pfferry fields, and she’s not sure what she’ll use for money.”
   “I’m not sure what I’ll use for money either. I’m not exactly wealthy, you know. At least I saved all my books and other personal things.” He glanced over to his van then. It was as close to his lot as he could get it, and its tires were squashed-looking from the weight inside. “That van is so packed I haven’t been able to get at anything. There’s no room to unload at the shelter.”
   “I didn’t know there’s a shelter. Where is it? Are there lots of pffeopffle in it?” Mr. Burrey would want to talk about his new temporary quarters. Humans are very particular about keeping a roof over themselves, and will go to extraordinary efforts to do so.
   “They’ve opened up the National Guard Armory over on Clemons Road. There are people everywhere—Red Cross, Guard, police, and just folks like me. The flood was so bad it even covered the freeway! There’s been a lot of damage, but I don’t think anyone’s been killed.”
   “You mean no humans have pffeen killed.”
   Mr. Burrey caught my point instantly. “No humans have been killed. I don’t know for sure about any other animals, but I don’t think it’s been too bad. There are patches of high ground all through the valley, and most of the people with animals ignored the evacuation order so they could take care of them.
   “I can’t help noticing your new friend,” he added after a pause. “Is she from the flood?”
   “Sort of,” I evaded, then changed the subject back to Mr. Burrey. “Where will you stay now?”
   “She’s really good-looking. Nice and wolfy, and I think she likes you.” He winked at me and called to her, but she only came halfway.
   I knew Lazytail wasn’t really that shy. She was only pretending. “Her name is Lazytail. She’ll come to you if you have some food. So will I.”
   “Well, I did throw a few pieces of that smoked venison in the van before I left, and I think I might even be able to get at it without moving the rest of the stuff. But you must be tired of venison by now. I have some granola, though, and a little cold coffee. Oh, and I have some peppermints in there too.”
   “I think we’ll take the venison, if that’s alright with you,” I replied expressionlessly. “I don’t think Lazytail would like pffepffermints.”
   Mr. Burrey used several small pieces of meat to buy his friendship with Lazytail, and he was good company. The loss of his trailer hadn’t seemed to damage his sense of humor. I couldn’t help contrasting that with Mooney’s depression. She always took everything so hard—I wished I could help her some way.
   “Well, it’s getting dark and there’s nothing I can do here. Nothing to salvage, and I don’t think I’ll be putting another trailer or house on this spot. I guess I’ll just go back to the shelter for tonight, and start looking for an apartment in town tomorrow.”
   Mr. Burrey turned away from the place where his home had been, and something about the way he did that made my throat catch. Oh, yes; Mr. Burrey felt his loss, all right. He had just been hiding it with his jokes. Without thinking, I blurted out an offer of Sunbow as a place to stay. He thanked me for the sentiment, but reminded me it would be unfair to my humans to invite a werewolf onto their premises. Of course that got me to arguing against him, and I repeated my offer more emphatically. Finally Mr. Burrey did agree to use our property to store the things on his van.
   “That’s a thought, alright. A lot of my things were crammed in there wet, and they’ll be ruined if I can’t get them dry soon. Some of them are probably already ruined. If Mooney agrees, I’ll take you up on your storage space offer. But that’s daylight work. For now I’ll head back to the shelter and check out the newspaper ads. You two enjoy your night out!”

   As it happened, we didn’t spend the night out. I was feeling rather sorry for Mooney and I didn’t want to add to her stress, so I led us back to Sunbow in time for dinner. Anyway, Mr. Burrey hadn’t given us enough venison, and I was still hungry.
   It was good we went back. John was trying to cheer up Mooney by making a semi-traditional dinner using the new supplies. He was tending an open alder fire on the concrete floor just inside the main doors of the machinery barn. Two big salmon were spread open on sticks propped up with concrete blocks to lean just the right way over the coals, and an oil pot for fry bread occupied the other half of the same fire. Thin ribbons of fragrant, choking smoke crawled deep inside the barn and then circled back out into the rain, but the floor level was pretty clear.
   John greeted us enthusiastically. “Good timing! You’re gone so much these days I decided to start everything without you, but it’s all about ready to eat now, and suddenly here you are. Most remarkable!”
   I rushed up for a hug while Lazytail hesitated for a moment, then joined in when John called to her softly. We got mud all over his jacket, but he took it well. It was his chore coat anyway.
   “You don’t happen to know if your friend has eaten salmon before, do you? I’m cooking it clear through, which should kill everything, but it’s always good to know.”
   John was referring to the disease dogs and coyotes and wolves can get from eating raw salmon. It’s not too dangerous if you have tetracycline on hand to treat it with, and you can only get it once, so I was immune, but John was concerned about Lazytail.
   “I don’t know if Lazytail has had salmon pffefore. I never saw them feed her anything excepfft… uh, I don’t know,” I finished lamely. I had just blown my story of Lazytail being a poor, lost flood victim, so I tried to change the subject quickly.
   “Mr. Pffurrey is coming here tomorrow to unload some things and dry them out. He lost his trailer, and doesn’t have any pfflace to pffut them now.”
   “Mr. Burrey? He’s welcome, of course, but who invited him? Mooney hasn’t left Sunbow all week, and the phones are still out.”
   “I invited him. His trailer is compffletely gone, and I felt sorry for him.”
   “You talked to Mr. Burrey? I thought you didn’t talk to anyone except Mooney and Mouse and me.”
   “It was an accident. He heard and saw me spffeak when I didn’t know he was there. Later he asked me very nicely to talk again, so I did. Mooney is always telling pffeopffle I can talk.”
   “Those are Sunbow people, and I’ve finally persuaded her to stop mentioning it even to them. Mr. Burrey is a complete stranger.”
   “Mr. Pffurrey won’t tell anyone,” I stated with conviction. “He just wants to pffe left alone like we do.”
   “Well, it’s too late to change any of that now. What were you saying about Lazytail? I thought you didn’t know where she lived! Tell me the truth or I’ll eat your dinner myself, and have Mooney fix you some more rice and tofu.”
   John could never be so cruel, and his stomach wasn’t big enough anyway, but I wasn’t going to test him. Besides, the Gundersons would probably be posting notices soon.
   “She’s from the horse ranch, but she doesn’t want to live there any more. Lazytail likes it pffetter here.”
   “Well, unless they’re abusing her, there’s not much we can do about that. She’ll have to go home tomorrow. So will I, for that matter. If I’m not back at work soon there’ll be some tough explaining to do. Try to keep up Mooney’s spirits, will you? I worry about her.”
   “I worry apffout her too. I’ll do what I can, but I don’t understand this ‘money’ pffusiness very well. Isn’t there some other way of getting money pffesides growing pffot or raspfferries? Maypffe you can give her some.”
   “I’m already helping Mooney every way she’ll let me, but those taxes are over eighty thousand a year. We keep working on it, but the only thing we can think of to generate that kind of money is logging, and Mooney refuses to cut a single tree. It’s her land, and that’s her decision to make, but the county will eventually seize it all for back taxes if she doesn’t do anything at all. I’ve been hanging back to let her come to terms with the idea, but she’s not moving very fast.”
   “I’ve pffeen keepffing quiet apffout it too, pffut maypffe it’s time for me to talk to her. Mooney’s no fun the way she is now.”
   “Good luck! But let’s drop that subject for tonight. Learning about Mr. Burrey will be more than enough for her, on top of everything else that’s happened.
   “You say he just started talking to you—didn’t come unglued or anything? That man is weirder than I thought!”
   “He did have some troupffle at first, pffut he got used to it. Mr. Pffurrey understands what it’s like, I think.”
   “Interesting! I’ll enjoy talking with him tomorrow. Maybe he’ll have some ideas about how to get you to stop lying so much. But then, I suspect getting Coyote to stop lying would require a change in the very structure of reality. Maybe that’s a bit beyond us.
   “But enough of that. I need to get moving now or all this food will be ruined. You keep Lazytail away from the fish while I get Mooney over to help carry things inside.”
   While John was gone I looked over the fire appraisingly. Fire frightened me a little, but I was drawn to it as well. Such a very human thing! Raw power—but so common they don’t even think about it. Gingerly I grasped a small log with my teeth and tossed it in, then skittered away from the sparks that burst back toward me.
   The fish aroma distracted me then. They were just perfect—dripping juice and oil slowly onto the edge of the coals. I tried to see how I could steal a bite without leaving a mark, but couldn’t do it so I licked off some of the juice instead. Lazytail wanted to help, but I wouldn’t let her. Wolves are not trustworthy when food is involved.
   It was a fine dinner—a memorable dinner—delicious, and sufficient for all. Lazytail had trouble with the fish bones, though, and I had to show her how to deal with them. She still wouldn’t sleep inside the house, but Mooney set up a foam pad and blankets for Mouse in the hayloft, and we all curled up together for some serious resting. No night jaunts this time.

   The cold front was back by morning. Frost on the ground, clear sky, and no wind. My favorite kind of winter weather. Mouse woke me. “Do you think Lazytail can learn to talk like you do?” she whispered.
   My eyes snapped open, then half-closed again as I indulged myself in a leisurely yawn and stretch. “I don’t know,” I told her in a fake sleepy voice. “Give me a pffelly rupff and I’ll ask her.”
   “Forget the belly rub. I’ll ask her myself.” Mouse turned her back to me and reached for Lazytail, who was yawning and stretching on her other side.
   “Has this jerk taught you any words yet?”
   Lazytail rolled over to expose her own belly. Mouse felt the movement and reached over to stroke her instead of me. Lazytail’s touchable area was much larger than mine, with the long double row of nipples just visible through pale, soft belly fur. The nipples were all standing up firmly, and seemed bigger than I remembered. Humans could stroke those all they liked, but my favorite parts were off-limits. I was jealous again and nuzzled Mouse’s neck. Finally she rolled on her back so she could stroke both our heads at once, and no one got a belly rub at all.

   I don’t know why, but it’s always the male humans who work with gasoline engines. Or perhaps it’s petroleum products in general. Lawn mowers, chain saws, outboard motors, even barbecue starter fluid—the females do a perfectly good job with all of them, but become suddenly helpless if there’s a male around. That’s why John and I were given generator duty.
   Mooney hated the generator noise as much as I did, so it wasn’t started until after breakfast. I didn’t hate the generator, by the way, just the noise from it. Even the fumes were a mixed sort of thing. They smelled horrible, and made me want to vomit if I got too strong a whiff of them, but engine exhaust was often associated with an outing in the truck or van, and so was shot through with pleasurable associations for me.
   I had never seen a generator like the one Mr. Bell brought us. Lots of places had generators, but they were all store-bought units with all the parts connected directly together and cunningly enfolded in a compact welded-steel frame. Mr. Bell’s rig was a massive wooden plank with a grease-encrusted and really old-looking engine bolted securely to one end and connected to the generator shaft with a short piece of stiff rubber hose. The generator itself was the size and shape of a large watermelon and had its own four separate cast-iron feet. The words ‘Sears-Roebuck’ were molded into the cast-iron housing and showed clearly through the grime. John and Mr. Bell together had not been able to lift the thing. Only Mr. Bell’s tractor was strong enough to do that.
   The thing was obviously homemade, but it worked just fine—wasn’t really ‘tweaky’ at all. With John’s coaching, I actually started it myself. Setting the choke and pulling the starter rope were easy. With the rope in my teeth I was able to pull with my whole back, and I have a lot of strength that way. I broke the rope on my first try and John had to replace it, but after that I was more gentle, and the engine fired right up. The hard part was forcing myself close enough to disengage the choke after that mind-numbing exhaust noise had begun. Lazytail stayed far away through it all, and looked at me like I was crazy. Probably right. My ears rang for several minutes afterward.

   With generator started, the humans went into an abbreviated version of our previous day’s cleaning frenzy. Lazytail and I were about ready to wander off when we heard Mr. Burrey’s van approaching. We ran out to greet him in the driveway and see if he had any smoked venison left, and we pounced on him the second he opened the door.
   “Glad to see you too!” he managed to choke out from under us. He hardly tasted very canine at all any more. His scent followed Moon’s phases, I suppose.
   “Do you have any venison left?” I asked hopefully, looking down at his throat from my position astride his chest. I could still smell smoked venison in his van, but that might just be old wrappings.
   “And what will you do if I don’t have any? Eat me?”
   “Maypffe,” I replied, and nibbled his ear, then let him roll me over and conquer me again. Lazytail kept dancing just in and out of his reach, which distracted him from me, so I jumped up and began nipping at his ankles and the hem of his jacket.
   We arrived at the house in a tangle, and Mr. Burrey had to steady himself with one hand on the porch rail before he could climb the stairs. I burst in through the dog door to announce his arrival.
   “John—Mooney—Mouse! We have a visitor!”
   Mooney was already there, washing dishes. John had told her Mr. Burrey might be coming, and we had made a lot of noise, so she was not surprised. I’m not sure she knew quite what to say, though.
   “Good morning, Mr. Burrey. Come on inside! Would you like some coffee?”

   Much later, after John and Mouse had come over, Mooney took up the subject of me.
   “I hear you’ve been, uh, speaking with Coyote.” Mooney hesitated for a moment, then added, “It’s rather unusual for him to talk to people outside Sunbow. He’s still rather shy, you know, despite his progress at school this fall. You didn’t have any, uh, trouble, did you? Some people might have a hard time accepting him.”
   Mooney was talking like I wasn’t there. I hate that.
   “I have a lot of experience with things that are hard to accept,” Mr. Burrey replied with a tone of considerable understanding. “I must admit I did act rather badly on the occasion when I first heard him talk, but he has forgiven me, I think. Is that true, Coyote? Are you still mad at me?”
   At least Mr. Burrey had the courtesy to include me in the conversation. I went over and sat down beside his chair, then thought better of it and took a position behind him, near the door, where he had to twist his head around to see me.
   “No, I’m not mad at you, Mr. Pffurrey. We all get a pffit excited sometimes. Next time you get excited that way, I think I’ll run away a pffit faster… Or maypffe not,” I added boldly, after a moment’s pause.
   “I’ll try to see that the problem doesn’t come up again,” Mr. Burrey assured me. “And by the way, I’d like you all to call me Peter, or Pete, if you will. Mr. Burrey sounds too formal.”
   “Pffeter.” I tested the name. A hard one, but interesting.
   “Pffeter Pffurrey… Pffeter Pffurrey. Pffurrey Pffete! Furry Feet!” I yelped delightedly. Mooney glared at me.
   “Furry Feet is far too fleet. ’Spffecially when he’s seeking meat.” I was being rude, but the rhyme had burst into my head suddenly, and I couldn’t let it go to waste. Mr. Burrey looked angry and pained, Mooney just angry.
   “That will be quite enough, Sin-Ka-Lip! Show a little courtesy and respect, will you please?”
   I edged closer to the dog door and bowed my head and tail. “Sorry Mr. Pffurrey… Feet!”
   I hurled myself through and skidded to a halt in the yard.
   “Furry Feet, Furry Feet, Furry Feet is fond of meat!” I sang back toward the house, then charged into Lazytail and bowled her over. I nipped her here, there, all over, and fled into the frozen woods. She put her whole spirit into catching me. Gave me a good chase, too.

   Mr. Burrey’s van was by the machinery barn when we got back, and thin, hot smoke was pouring from the barn’s chimney. It was almost dark, so lights were on in the house and barn, but the generator was not running. Power was back on.
   Lazytail and I went over to the barn first, which was closed up now to keep in the heat. John’s cook fire had been cleaned away completely, and heat was now pushing out from the wood stove in the center of the building. Every surface was carefully layered with books, clothing, and small personal items such as humans are fond of. They smelled damp and slightly moldy, but that would soon be fixed. The building was already uncomfortably warm. There was no sign of Mr. Burrey or his venison.
   Some of Mr. Burrey’s things smelled rather interesting—especially a set of very old books and one wooden chest set up on shelves well out of my reach. I was just pushing a chair over to let me climb closer when Mr. Burrey came in with a load of wood.
   I jumped and whipped around as the door banged open, then tried to relax and not look guilty. Lazytail was startled too, and backed into a workbench layered with damp textbooks, which sent some of them sliding down onto her. Lazytail bolted out the door, and Mr. Burrey dropped his wood to rush over and rescue his books. He didn’t appear to notice what I had been doing.
   I went over and sniffed politely as he was bending over to put all aright. He was newly showered, and smelling of Mooney’s favorite bath soap, and wearing John’s clothes. The clothes were far too big for him, and he had the sleeves and pant legs rolled up.
   “Welcome back, Coyote. I guess I can always count on you and your friend to get into trouble if the opportunity presents itself. No harm done, though.
   “Thanks again for offering your place to help me sort things out. There was more water damage than I realized. Good thing I didn’t leave it any longer!”
   Mr. Burrey knelt down and reached over to tousle my ears, so I pushed up against him and then slumped down into the belly rub position. I did get a belly rub then. A good one. Mr. Burrey was not so particular about what areas he touched.
   “Alright, you letch. That’s enough.” He rose from his knees and gathered up the wood he had dropped, set it down neatly beside the stove, then threw in a couple of pieces and poked them around. As he headed for the door I was still lying on my back hopefully, following him with my eyes.
   “Cut that out,” he chided. “Some wild animal you are! I’ve been getting quite an earful about your habits and general character, and I think an evening at home is definitely indicated. If I were you I’d turn on all the charm and courtesy I could muster. You have no idea how lucky you are to have the family you do!” Mr. Burrey’s tone of voice was very serious when he said those last words.
   Actually, I already did know how lucky I was. Neighbors throughout the valley would have been shocked to discover how much I knew about them. I was not particularly impressed.
   “Yes, Mr. Pffurrey,” was all I said. Then I got up and followed him dutifully to the house. Lazytail joined us in the yard, and went inside readily enough. She had progressed to the point where she wasn’t actually uncomfortable in the house any more. Or at least, she was not uncomfortable while I was with her.
   John would be driving back to Seattle soon, so an early dinner was almost ready. Macaroni and cheese, with spinach frozen from last year’s garden. I hate spinach. I told Mooney once that I shouldn’t have to eat any because I’m a carnivore, but she told me, “Forget it. If you want to be a carnivore, you can pretend you’re eating stomach contents from your prey.”
   Spinach is not so bad with lots of fish sauce on it. I ate mine like a man, but Lazytail wouldn’t touch hers. She liked the macaroni, though. Afterward John put her in the truck cab and drove off. He would be leaving her with the Gundersons on his way out.
   With John and Lazytail gone there were just me, Mouse, Mooney, and Mr. Burrey. He would be spending the night with us in one of the extra bedrooms. It was strange to have a new person in the house, even one I knew already.
   Phone and cable were back on too, so we sat down to watch television after the dishes were done. Mr. Burrey had done most of the work, almost forcing Mooney out of the room. I could tell he really didn’t want to do the dishes, and Mooney didn’t really want him to do them, but they both felt obligated somehow. One of those ‘human things’, I suppose.
   I didn’t usually have a preference about what show to watch. I would wait for someone else to turn on the television, then either stay or leave the room, depending on my mood. This time I left the room. I could hear something much more interesting going on outside.
   Lazytail was standing in the driveway, howling softly for me. I answered her from the porch, then rushed over for greetings. She smelled like herself, and John, and the truck, and the woods, but she didn’t have any of that heavy kennel smell on her fur at all. She must have wiggled free before she was locked inside.
   I glanced through the window as we headed out together. The humans were watching a documentary on wolves. “Is it true what they say apffout wolves mating for life?” I asked Lazytail playfully in the talk of men. She didn’t pay attention to my words, but in her own way she asked me if I cared. I told her yes.

   Clouds were putting out the stars one patch at a time. The weather would be breaking soon, but for now it was still cold and dry. Good weather for holding scents.
   Wynoochee was completely in his banks now, although still running furiously, and still heavily laden with mud and logs. The humans were all back in their homes, cleaning up the wreckage, or congratulating themselves on not having any damage to deal with.
   Lazytail took the lead first, and we raced each other north, up the main road. We were almost up to the elk skull cabin when we finally stopped to rest.
   The cabin lights were on, and a new mercury floodlight had been installed in the yard, but I was feeling feisty from the race, so I crept over anyway to put my paws up on the kitchen windowsill and peer through as I had before. Lazytail got up beside me.
   The kitchen was still messy, but things had been moved around so the empty chair was now facing directly toward our window. The flashlight-rifle was lying right there on the table top ready for use, but there was no man in view.
   I like to think of myself as a proper coyote coward, but sometimes I suspect living with humans has corrupted me. I keep finding myself doing really stupid things, just to see what might happen. I was already doing one of those things by even being there, so of course I had to make it worse by scratching at the window sill to attract attention.
   It worked. That old man was not deaf, certainly. He was not slow, either! Within seconds he was there in the kitchen, staring at us and reaching for his rifle. He might have got one of us if he had been willing to fire through the glass, but I suppose he didn’t think about that until later. Instead he snatched up his gun and threw himself at the back door in one smooth movement, and we had just enough time to get out of view before the bullets came.
   I heard several strike trees and frozen mud close by, and then we were safely away—exhilarated by our stupidity and daunted by the shots and echoes still coming up from behind. Those noises kept on for some time, like a thunderstorm.
   By mutual consent we quit for the night then. There was no way we could top that encounter. Lazytail’s scent was a fascinating, hard-to-sort-out combination of terror and excitement, and I expect she got the same from me. The long lope home gave us plenty of time to relax, though, and we slipped into Mouse’s room without incident, settling down together on the floor beside her bed. Best to be getting a bit of sleep, if possible. Tomorrow was a special day.

   December twenty-first: Winter Solstice and shortest day of the year. In the days when Sunbow was still a full-scale commune, Mooney and the others had tried to transfer most of our Christmas celebrations to the Solstice, but it had never really caught on. Instead the Solstice had become a more solemn time for us—a time to share memories of the year past, and hopes for the year to come. I was disappointed that John had been unable to stay the extra day, but he had explained that he’d be coming back in three days for Christmas, and he might get in trouble with his boss if he never showed up for work at all.
   I had trouble visualizing John as submissive to anyone, and said so. He replied with a chuckle that his boss was actually not very dominant, but she was still his boss, and had to be obeyed. Another one of those ‘human things’, I guess.
   After breakfast Mooney took Lazytail back to the Gundersons’ place, and Mr. Burrey went out to the machinery barn to sort through his belongings. Mouse and I went with him to help.
   Books, papers, lots of kitchen utensils and herbs, other items I couldn’t identify so easily—Mr. Burrey went over them all, item by item, but ended up tossing quite a few of those items into the trash. At one point I asked why he was discarding those particular possessions after going to so much trouble to save them. Surely there were other things he would rather have preserved? Mr. Burrey became irritated, and told me he had been in a hurry. I already knew that.
   “You sure have a lot of stuff!” Mouse observed much later. She was holding a small stone that Mr. Burrey had told her was a trilobite fossil. It looked rather like a squashed, petrified, mouse-sized sow bug. Small mouse, no tail.
   Mouse’s comment sounded strange to me, and not very tactful. Not typical of her. Mr. Burrey had a lot more personal things than I did, but for a human he had very little. Even his trailer had been uncluttered before he lost it, and now he was down to a great deal less. Just one van full, counting the trash.
   Of course, Mouse had even less than that—only the things she had made or been given since her accident the previous winter. Maybe Mr. Burrey’s treasures seemed like a lot to her.
   “I’ve had that since I was a kid,” Mr. Burrey replied gently. “It’s an agate fossil. All the original structure has been replaced by silica crystals. Very hard. Pretty, too.” He didn’t sound irritated any longer. “I stole it, you know.”
   I had been lying beside a stack of berry flats by the north wall, half-listening, but not looking in Mr. Burrey’s direction. I was tracking the sounds and scent of a rat, actually. A little closer and I might even have gone for him. Big male. Fat. Worth the trouble. Mooney didn’t mind so much when I killed rats, although she preferred to believe I didn’t eat them.
   I turned my full attention to Mr. Burrey, staring at him in surprise. He returned my gaze, but not quite straight on.
   “Don’t look so shocked. I did it, and I’m sorry, but not so sorry I can’t deal with it. My friend hardly noticed it was gone, but I’ve cherished it all these years, even though I could buy others just like it for not very much money. It’s kind of hard to explain, I guess.”
   I guess so. He stole a rock thirty years ago, and he was still thinking about it?
   Mouse answered for me, “I know what it’s like to really want something bad, even when you shouldn’t.” She held out the trilobite, which Mr. Burrey took back and placed carefully on the workbench.
   “What do you want really bad?” His voice sounded so casual, but he was staring at Mouse intently.
   “I want my old stuff. Some of the things I left behind.”
   “What’s so bad about that?”
   Mouse started guiltily. “I mean, I wish I could remember what it was like before I came here. I probably had some toys and books and stuff. Maybe even some friends who would want to know what happened to me.”
   “You have friends here,” I interjected quietly. If Mouse really wanted to keep her secret, it would be best to change the subject immediately. Maybe she needed some help. “If there’s a spffecial toy you want, try asking John. He pffrings me things all the time. Maypffe he has something for you already. It’s almost Christmas, you know.”
   That got Mr. Burrey and Mouse talking about Christmas, toys, and other things I didn’t find all that interesting. Mr. Burrey let the subject change without objection, but if he had any belief left about Mouse’s amnesia, it was probably all gone by then.
   The rat had stopped moving when I spoke to Mouse, but now he was becoming bold again. Sometimes steady talk would leave them unfazed, so they just went about their business as if no one were there. This one was putting far too much faith in the protection of a few flimsy old berry flats.
   “So what do you think, Coyote?”
   “Huh?” The rat was startled by my voice, and skittered off a little. I looked to Mr. Burrey in confusion and annoyance, but tried not to let the annoyance show.
   “Do you believe the Solstice is a time when magic is more powerful? I was telling Mouse how the Church kept having trouble with people celebrating pagan mid-winter rituals, and established many of our current Christmas customs to distract them from the old ways.”
   “Yes, I know apffout that. Mooney tried to pffring pffack some of the old rituals, pffut it was too much troupffle, so she quit.”
   “Really, now! Has she ever heard of the Neulebskar ceremony? I’m told that if it’s done properly and the spirits are pleased, they can sometimes be persuaded to provide protection from enemies for the next year, or even grant wishes. I’ve done a lot of research into that one, but I’ve never tried it because it requires a blood sacrifice, which has to be performed by a virgin. I’ve never been that comfortable with people who are willing to do blood sacrifices.”
   “I’ve never heard of that one, and I don’t think Mooney has either. She’s mostly interested in Earth Mother things, which she learns apffout from her friends. She doesn’t want anything for herself, just healing for the Earth.”
   “Don’t we all.”
   “Would you really kill something just to see if you could get magic from it?” Mouse looked fascinated and disgusted by the thought.
   “I might, under certain circumstances. The sacrificed animal is generally eaten after the ceremony, and we eat meat all the time when we could be just as healthy with a vegetarian diet. Just ask Mooney.”
   Neither of us needed to ask Mooney. She had made her opinions on the subject quite clear. Mouse and I agreed with her in principle, but not very well when it came to specifics. I preferred to think that the vegetarian ideals were not really meant for coyotes. I had been provided with sharp teeth, so I must be meant to use them sometimes.
   The sacrifice thing was rather intriguing, in a way. I asked Mr. Burrey to tell me more about it.
   Mr. Burrey found a stool and set it under the high shelf that held the old books and chest I had been interested in earlier. He took down one of the books and moved to set it on the workbench, then tucked it under one arm while he got a clean shirt to lay down first. When he spread the covers, the book fell open to the page he wanted.
   “This book is printed in German, but the passage here is Old Danish. I had a language scholar teach me the proper meanings and pronunciations, so I can read it to you, if you like.”
   Mr. Burrey sounded like he really did want to read it to us, so I told him he could if it wasn’t too long.
   “Your tact could use some brushing up, Coyote. Still, here goes. Don’t worry, it really isn’t that long.”
   Mr. Burrey began to read in a stately, measured cadence somewhat similar to the way John spoke when he was telling one of his stories. The words sounded much different, however. I couldn’t understand any of them, of course, and there were a lot of ‘g’, ‘b’, ‘d’, and ‘s’ sounds. It seemed to me that Mr. Burrey’s Presence became much stronger while he spoke them, but now I think it may have been a different Presence I felt.
   After a short while I was distracted by the rat again. He was scratching about between the flats right beside me. I tuned out Mr. Burrey’s words once again, so that when the rat came out I was ready for him—crushed his spine without fuss, and almost silently.
   Almost silently.
   Mr. Burrey had finished reading at that moment, and both humans heard my sudden shift of position and the snap of my teeth. They turned toward me in startlement.
   “What are you doing?” Mouse asked.
   My mouth was full of rat, but he was only kicking and twitching helplessly. Couldn’t get away. I set him down gently and answered, “It’s just a rat. He came out from between the flats, and I caught him.”
   “Coyote! Shame on you! Put it down this instant!”
   “He is down.”
   “Good. You didn’t hurt it, did you?”
   Mouse was being silly. She knew I killed rats. Maybe the talk about blood sacrifices had got her to feeling squeamish. “I think I pffroke his pffack. He’s just lying there and kicking right now. Should I finish him off?”
   “Don’t you dare! Honestly, Coyote, don’t you have any kindness in you at all?”
   Mouse rushed over to me and started feeling for the rat so she could pick him up. Mr. Burrey told her to be careful, it might bite her, but she ignored him and continued her search. The rat was mine, and he was lying right there under my nose, but I let her take him away without protest.
   Mr. Burrey stepped over and tried to take the rat from her. She wouldn’t let go, so he led her over to the bench and they wrapped the rat in the shirt that was lying there. The whole scene was silly, since the rat was kicking more slowly all the time, and blood was trickling out of his nose and mouth. Soon he wouldn’t be able to bite anybody.
   “Careful of the trilobite!” Mr. Burrey protested as she bumped it while gathering up the shirt. Mouse reached out automatically and grabbed the fossil in one hand, then held the rat, shirt, and stone bug together to her chest. She began to sob quietly.
   “I think it’s dead,” she finally admitted.
   Mr. Burrey took the bundle away from her and spread it out on the workbench. “Yes, it’s dead,” he confirmed. Mouse excused herself and went back to the house.
   Mr. Burrey fetched a bucket of water and began to rinse the blood from his shirt. “I need to get this out in cold water before the stain sets, or the shirt will be ruined.” He gave the shirt his attention for a short time, then began to wash the trilobite instead, lingering over it bemusedly. The movements of his fingers looked to me more like stroking than cleaning, and he appeared to have forgotten I was there. I reclined by the berry flats, watching him work and also eying the rat. Finally I brought myself to speak about it. “You don’t need this any more, do you?” I inquired diffidently.
   “Hmm..? uh… Oh! No. Of course not. Go right ahead, Coyote. Mouse is gone now, and I certainly don’t care. Never fancied rat much myself, even when the moon is full.” Mr. Burrey turned his attention back to the trilobite fossil.
   The rat was a nice one. Juicy, and so big I almost had to swallow him in two pieces. My temporary distress finally caught Mr. Burrey’s attention.
   “Are you going to choke on that, or what? I’m sure the rat’s spirit is watching you right now and hoping.”
   I couldn’t speak just then to answer, but he didn’t deserve one anyway. Instead I finished swallowing, licked my chops, and sidled over to Mr. Burrey so I could nuzzle him and finish cleaning up.
   “No, you don’t! These may be work pants, but they’re not that dirty yet.”
   I opened my mouth widely. “See? I’m clean. I just wanted to share scents with you.”
   “We’ll save that for later, if it’s alright with you.
   “You know, Coyote, this little episode has been rather strange. If interpreted in a certain way, one might say that we just performed the Neulebskar ritual without realizing it. Immediately after I finished reading the invocation, there was Mouse, holding the rat as its blood fell onto this ancient stone that has great significance to me. I assume Mouse is a virgin, so that completes the picture. Mind-boggling coincidence, isn’t it?” Mr. Burrey was still holding the trilobite—seemed reluctant to put it down.
   “You know, Mr. Pffurrey, I’m not so sure apffout coincidences any more. I don’t think they work very well when I’m around.”

   Just after lunch, Lazytail came to visit us again. I didn’t hear her howling this time. She was just out there in the yard, waiting, and when we noticed her she shuffled toward us in the most ingratiating, submissive way she knew. When I rushed over to greet her, I smelled blood and found several little cuts on her gums and face which I licked clean for her. I could smell and taste fresh metal with the blood, so I knew the cuts were from tearing her way through one of the chain-link sides of her kennel. That’s a dumb, painful way to get out of someplace. You can break a tooth or lose an eye that way. Or get tangled in the wires and choke yourself to death.
   Mooney’s feelings were hard to interpret. She was irritated, but I think flattered as well. Lazytail had obviously gone to a lot of trouble to get back to us. Nevertheless, Lazytail had to go home. No other options were acceptable.
   “Lazytail! What are you doing here? What sort of lies has Stinky been telling you?” Mooney stepped over to the van and opened the side door. “Come on, Lazy! Back inside! It’s time to go home again.”
   Lazytail moved closer and took up the submissive position again, but she wouldn’t get into the van, even when Mooney went to the house and came back with fresh bread to bribe her with. Finally Mooney got some rope to use as a leash, but Lazytail moved off even farther when she saw it. Mouse and I just stood back and waited. I certainly didn’t want to be involved when Mooney was being thwarted.
   Mooney turned to me. “She likes you best. You get her into the van.”
   “I can’t do any pffetter than you can,” I protested. “She never does what I tell her, and I don’t want her to go anyway.”
   “Don’t talk to her, just run around with her a bit, then jump inside. Maybe she’ll follow you. If that doesn’t work, I’ll call the Gundersons and let them figure it out.”
   “Why don’t you call them first?”
   “Stinky, just do it. Now.”
   “Alright, I’ll try,” I responded dubiously, “pffut I think she’s too smart for that trick to work.”
   “So do I, but I need to be able to say we did our best. Go on. Give her a workout!”
   I needed to stretch my legs anyway—didn’t waste any time, just streaked past Lazytail and dared her to catch me. Who could resist?
   I led Lazytail in a loose spiral around the main yard area to get warmed up, then cut straight through between the goat barn and the machinery barn, where the manure pile used to be. The mud was deep and pungent there, and she almost caught me as I sank in, but then she hit the soft area and slowed down too. I broke through and got up to speed again, streaking right past the humans and splattering them nicely. By accident, of course. Lazytail did the same. Mooney shouted something uncomplimentary and untrue about my ancestry, and told me to “get on with it.”
   Okay. I was still in the main yard area, so I doubled back to the van and hurled myself through the open door. Mooney was already moving to slam it shut as soon as Lazytail followed me inside.
   She needn’t have bothered. Lazytail wasn’t going in that van for any reason. She skidded to a stop and stood there panting up at me and smiling, while I returned the compliment and then shook myself vigorously.
   “Sin-Ka-Lip! Stop that! You know better than to shake inside the van. Get out of there and wash yourself off before I turn the hose on you!”
   Lazytail wouldn’t go into the creek with me, so she was still covered with manure mud when Mr. Gunderson arrived. When he eventually left, they were both muddy but she was still loose at Sunbow. She could damn well stay there forever, as far as he was concerned. He didn’t want anything bad to happen to her, but if Mooney felt like adopting the ungrateful bitch, that was fine by him.
   I looked at Mooney pleadingly, but I think she had already made up her mind. “We like her, and I’ll be happy to take care of her,” Mooney said. “I just want to be sure you understand that we didn’t steal her away or anything. She just got this idea in her head that she’s going to stay here, and we can’t make her go away.”
   “That is abundantly clear,” Mr. Gunderson replied. “I really do like Balta, but if this is what she wants, I won’t stop her. She’s all up on her shots and worming—shouldn’t need anything until spring. I’ll get the records to you when I can find them.”
   Mr. Gunderson had calmed down quite a bit, and moved closer to Lazytail so he could pet her one more time before leaving, but she shied away suspiciously and wouldn’t let herself be touched.
   “You do know about wolf crosses.”
   Mr. Gunderson made that into a half-question, half-affirmation, looking at me as he said it. I had forced myself to remain in full view beside Mooney during the show, so there had been plenty of opportunity for him to see me. Probably his first good look ever.
   Mooney glanced down and patted me on the head. “Yes, I’ve learned a thing or two. Flaky, aren’t they?”
   I put my ears back, and Mr. Gunderson chuckled. “Good luck! I think you’ll need it. Balta chewed right through the side of her kennel today, you know.”
   Mr. Gunderson graciously declined an offer of coffee and coffee cake, got into his truck, and started the engine, but just before driving off he opened the window and added, “By the way, you should know that since she’s a high-wolf cross, she goes into heat only once a year. January or February most likely, and she’ll probably show a split heat. Be sure to keep a close eye on her. Also, don’t let her near any stock, especially young ones like lambs or calves. The temptation might be more than she can handle.”
   He put the truck in gear and started it moving, but just then Mooney asked him some sort of a question, and he put it in neutral to answer. After that they got into a regular human-style ‘chat’ which lasted over half an hour, with the truck idling the whole time. Mouse got cold and went back into the house, while Lazytail and I slipped off into the brush to watch from concealment. I still can’t understand humans. If Mr. Gunderson wanted to stay and talk, why wouldn’t he go into the kitchen for coffee and food? And why did Mooney just stand there in the rain, talking to him? She had forgotten to put on her heavy coat, and I knew she was freezing.

–= chapter 14 =–

   Back in school again—so strange to be there—like walking through a dream from long ago. Everyone was pouring out stories of flood experiences, and the noise level was even higher than usual. Mouse and I were especially popular because we had actually been living in the flood area. Most of the others lived outside the valley, and school had remained open except for the snow days and vacation.
   Even Mrs. Stanford seemed glad to see us, or at least Mouse. She had never warmed to me—always smelled a little scared whenever she came close. It hadn’t helped that when she was near me I would sometimes growl, ever so softly, deep down in my chest—so softly she couldn’t be sure I was really doing it. I hoped. It was a bad habit, and Mouse kicked me whenever she caught me at it, but I pretended I couldn’t help myself.
   We were both rather confused about what was being taught, but I could tell the feeling was shared by others in the class. I’ve since learned that disorientation is the normal feeling when school resumes after even the shortest of vacations. This time, however, I sat close beside Mouse and paid strict attention, bringing every word on the blackboard into the sharpest possible focus. I think the humans could see it better, but I did well enough, even from the back of the room. Our snowman conversation had got me to thinking that if I really looked at the visual aids, perhaps Mouse would understand them too, and it might help her to keep up with the other kids. Mouse had her hand on my neck all through first session, and I could feel how hard she was concentrating. In fact, it seemed at times I could sense an echo of Mrs. Stanford’s words through Mouse’s ears. Whatever it was, we did very well on question and answer, so that Mrs. Stanford seemed pleased, and rather surprised.
   Second morning session went well too, although I was quite tired by the end of it. A nap would have been nice, but there was never any nap time scheduled at school. A pity.
   “You know,” Mouse said toward the end of second session, “this is the first time we’ve been alone together since before the flood. You’re so busy with that wolf friend of yours you don’t have any time for me any more.”
   We didn’t seem very alone to me. The room was filled with humans. That meant I didn’t have to answer her.
   Mouse brought up the subject again during a private moment in Mrs. Seeley’s room that afternoon. She was supposed to be practicing fractions in Braille, and it was slow-going for her. I wasn’t much help, since all I really wanted to do was lie under the table and sleep.
   “Don’t you sleep at night any more?” she complained, slouching down so she could reach me with her toes and jab them into whatever part of my anatomy she could reach. This time it was my left shoulder. Plenty of fur and muscle there for padding, so I didn’t bother to move away. She had kicked off her shoes and the soft human toes felt almost pleasant.
   This sounded awfully familiar. “I’ve always gone out at night,” I protested. “I’m just a wild animal, so I can do whatever I like. And pffesides, I’m in season now, and Lazytail is too, almost. She needs extra attention right now.”
   “That’s still not the right answer. You’re Coyote, and you’re on a magical quest. I heard all about it from John and Mooney. You’re supposed to be going to school to learn about Science, remember?”
   “I don’t feel magical, and I don’t see the pffoint in most of these pffropfflems we’re working on, and I still need a napff. You’re the one who has to pffass all the tests. I just go along to keepff you out of troupffle.” I got up halfway and dragged myself to the far end of the table where she couldn’t reach me, then settled myself again.
   “Well, you just go lick your rear end and go to sleep then! I don’t need your help anyway. And you can just go do whatever you like with Lazytail, too. I don’t care about that either!” She was really mad and hurt, but I knew she’d get over it, so I turned my back to her and prepared myself for sleep.
   I couldn’t do it.
   Napping is generally an easy thing for me, especially in a quiet, carpeted, overheated classroom. This time all I could think about was how silent Mouse had become. Just sitting there and fuming, most likely. After a while I got up and padded over to her. The nap wasn’t worth it. Cost too much.
   “What should I do, Mouse? I really like Lazytail, and you could never keepff upff with us out in the woods. It’s more fun running at night, and safer too.”
   “I know, Coyote, but you’ve been gone so much! You must be gone all night, you sleep so much. You hardly even stayed awake for Christmas presents! I don’t see why Mooney puts up with it.”
   Mooney wasn’t exactly ‘putting up with it’, in my opinion; but if Mouse hadn’t noticed, I wasn’t going to say anything about it.
   “I’m with you now,” I offered.
   “Yeah. Just barely.” She was mollified, but not to the point where I could nap again. I hardly napped at all that day.

   When Mouse went to bed, Lazytail and I went with her, but Lazytail was gone when I woke later that night, and her sleeping cushion was cold. I began to worry immediately, and went outside to find her.
   The trail led straight toward Mr. Bell’s place, and I began to trot faster. I wasn’t sure Lazytail really understood the difference between game and stock, but I had always been with her, keeping her in line. If she decided to attack one of Mr. Bell’s calves, we would all be in big trouble.
   I swam the creek anxiously, listening for sounds of a disturbance, but heard nothing unusual. That, at least, was a good sign. And Mr. Bell shouldn’t be leaving the cows outside at night much this time of year. The air was moving the wrong way for me to check the pasture by scent, but I began to relax. Lazy had probably just passed through on her way north.
   I heard Jake growling, not far off—a strange sort of growl I had never heard from him before.
   Jake is not among the better watch dogs, and certainly was not in the habit of patrolling the outer pasture fence late on a winter night. I broke into a run and found them both together, but they were not fighting.
   They were playing.
   I skidded to a stop and froze in place, staring incredulously. How could she do this to me? Jake and I had been enemies together all our lives!
   The sluggish air took my scent to them, and Lazytail rushed over for greetings. I was cool to her, eyes only on Jake. He was standing there doing nothing. Trying to take it all in, I guess. Finally he decided that belligerence was the appropriate response, and shared it with both of us. Lazytail seemed surprised, but I was not. Jake had been after me for years, and any friend of mine had to be an enemy of his. I backed off prudently, and after a brief hesitation Lazytail followed me away, with Jake barking along ferociously, also at a prudent distance. Jake and I had never actually fought with each other, which was just as well. When I was younger he could have killed me or hurt me badly. Now the opposite was true. I outweighed him by about thirty pounds and was in much better shape.
   Jake followed us to the edge of his domain, then stood and barked us away as only a hound dog can, sounding appropriately fierce and competent, but maybe just a bit lonely too. He didn’t wander like I did, and Mr. Bell had even fewer visitors than Mooney. I had never thought of it before, but Jake knew me better than any other canine in the world. Too bad we hated each other so much.
   My heart was not for roaming that night, and I was able to persuade Lazytail to come home before too long. It was only when we swam the creek that the last traces of Jake’s sour mustiness disappeared from her fur.

   The second day of school went more smoothly. Kids had settled in, and I was better rested for daytime work. The weather remained clear, cold, and still, which is normal for much of January. The rains would start again soon enough.
   Mouse and I breezed through Mrs. Stanford’s class, there was spaghetti for lunch, and Mrs. Seeley’s class went well too, as it generally did. Mouse and I were in good spirits when we got to Sunbow.
   That all ended when I greeted Lazytail. She had been visiting Jake again. I could smell it.
   English is very good for some purposes. With it I could have told Lazytail exactly what I thought of her behavior, and how I wanted her to behave. As it was, I could only do the first half.
   Our language conveys feelings like no other can. Feelings are what it’s for. A lift of tail or ear, a trembling muscle, change of eye position, or even subtle alterations in scent can mean everything. Lazytail knew how upset I was, and I knew she was concerned and supportive, but I simply couldn’t convey to her what was bothering me. In the end I rushed absently through our evening routine with the humans, then took us out for a relentless, fast lope that ate up dozens of miles and much of the night. We came home lame and exhausted, but I was proud of Lazytail. She had kept up well.
   School didn’t go so well the next day. I was tired and irritable, and my feet hurt. I even showed my teeth to one of our admirers when he inadvertently stepped on my toes. He looked shocked and fearful when I did that, and I hastened to make up for it. Mooney was always drumming into me how careful I had to be. She said lifting my lips was like one human pulling a knife on another one. I tried not to make that mistake, but it was so hard, sometimes.
   Mouse was disgusted with me by the time we got home, and she tattled to Mooney. I told Mooney all about Lazytail and Jake, and she smiled sadly. “Now you know what it’s like.”
   “Know what what is like?”
   “Now you know how I feel when you go out and do who knows what, and there’s not a thing I can do about it besides locking you in a cage, which wouldn’t work even if I had the nerve to try it.”
   Mooney generally didn’t use such long sentences, even when she was mad. She was sounding sort of like Mouse.
   “So what should we do?” I prompted after Mooney had wound down sufficiently.
   “Do? Why, we don’t do anything! Just let them play. Maybe we can be friends with Mr. Bell again. I think, if I work at it, maybe I could forgive him now for that time he tried to kill you.”
   “Pffut Lazytail will pffe going into heat soon,” I blurted incautiously. I had developed a wealth of plans and fantasies about that, none of which involved Jake.
   “She will now, will she? So we could end up with a dozen of Jake’s puppies tumbling around Sunbow this spring. Wouldn’t that be fun? We could call them Wynoochee Wolfhounds.”
   She looked at me challengingly. “Or did you have other ideas?”
   I lowered my ears and head and tail, and rolled my eyes upward to gaze entreatingly at Mooney. “I’m in season already, just like you said would hapffen. And I’m ten years old now. I’ll pffe eleven when the pffupffs are pfforn. Most coyotes are dead pffy that age. Isn’t that old enough for me?”
   “Oh, you…” Mooney left her sentence unfinished and reached over to rub my ears. I sat down on my haunches and leaned into her hand, groaning with pleasure and dreaming about Lazytail.
   Mooney laughed suddenly, and pushed me off. She was looking down at my belly, where the sitting position and my romantic thoughts were making me show quite a bit.
   “Put that thing away, you dirty old man. Can’t you think about anything else?”
   “No, not really,” I admitted. “I know it’s too early, pffut I think I can almost smell her already, and her nipffles are getting pffigger.”
   “It looks like you’ve done your homework alright, Stinky. But honestly, I’m really not ready for this. Maybe we’ll just have to get Lazytail spayed.”
   “No! I’ll leave her alone. I pffromise!”
   “Sin-Ka-Lip, my sweets, you couldn’t keep that promise even if you meant it. Don’t worry though. I was just teasing you about spaying Lazytail. Mr. Burrey has suggested a better idea. He’ll be going on a trip to Pullman soon to do some research, and he’s offered to take you along. Lazytail will be out of season when you get back, and we’ll have another year to figure out what to do about you two.”
   “Pffut what apffout Jake?” It had never occurred to me that I might be sent away. This ruined everything!
   “Just you let me and Mr. Bell worry about Jake,” Mooney told me firmly.
   “And remember this. Whatever else happens, John and I are not going to let you become a father at your age. Ten years may be over the hill for a regular coyote, but not for you. And you have a job to do that’s going to put some pretty rough demands on you. You don’t need one more burden.”
   Mooney didn’t understand at all. Lazytail wasn’t a burden! I tried to explain this to her but she just didn’t seem to get it. She kept saying yes, she understood, and I would too some day. “It’s only puppy-love,” she told me at one point, and smiled like she had made a joke. I was not amused. This was not a joking matter.
   It was not a negotiable matter either, and when the time came for Mr. Burrey to leave for Pullman, I was with him.

   January ninth. Moon two days shy of full and Lazytail just shy of full heat. A scent to die for, and so affectionate, but still not quite ready. Not quite ready, and now miles behind us.
   Miserable and sullen, I perched on the front passenger seat of Mr. Burrey’s van, waiting for him to talk at me. It was a bucket seat on a pedestal. Not very comfortable for me, but I always sit in front when I can. It’s a canine thing, I suppose.
   The back of the van was all empty space except for the small pile of camping things we had brought with us, so the heater fan blew our scents around and back to us mingled with goose down and water repellent and ripstop nylon. Mr. Burrey’s wolf scent was strongly present now—stronger than his human scent.
   “Don’t take it so hard, Coyote. It’s probably better this way,” he finally remarked.
   “If one more human tells me, ‘It’s pffetter this way’, I’ll pffite a chunk out of him and eat it!”
   I muttered those words quietly, head turned away. It’s hard to threaten someone who’s dominant over you, but I was feeling desperate, and besides I knew old Furry Feet wouldn’t take offense. He was quite mellow when human.
   “Excuse me, I didn’t quite catch that?”
   “Oh, nothing,” I replied resignedly. Humans don’t always hear very well. Good thing, too.
   “Well, as I was saying, it’s probably better that we’re spending our full moon time far away from Sunbow. The curse affects me in more ways than I care to admit, and I’m afraid with your new friend so close to going into heat… well, you know what I mean. It just wouldn’t be smart for me to be at Sunbow right now.”
   “Not you, too! Won’t anyone leave her alone?”
   “I was just speaking hypothetically. Dogs generally run away or try to kill me.” He turned toward me with a slightly scary smile and added, “That second choice is not a wise one.”
   “Well you just leave Lazytail alone, then! I don’t care what she does to you, don’t you dare hurt her!”
   “Oh, Coyote. Don’t worry about Lazytail! I would never hurt her, and I can always run away if she gets mad at me. It’s just that I find her very… attractive. Most humans wouldn’t understand, but I think you do.”
   “Yes. You’re right. Maypffe it is pffest if we stay away for now.”
   We were both silent as Mr. Burrey wove us through the congested area around Olympia. Much later he turned toward me briefly and cleared his throat, then put his eyes firmly back on the road. “Tell me now, Coyote. Speaking man to man. What is it like?”
   “I’m not a man, and I don’t know what you’re talking apffout,” I evaded.
   “Come on. You can talk to me, at least. I’ll understand better than anyone else would.”
   This was embarrassing for me. I didn’t mind talking about sex, just hated to admit my lack of experience. I even thought about making something up, but finally decided on telling the truth. It’s less work.
   “I don’t know. I’ve never done it,” I replied finally.
   “What? You’ve been wandering the valley for years now. You can open doors and gates. Surely there have been plenty of opportunities for you!”
   “Yes, pffut most dogs don’t like me, either, and I wasn’t really interested until this last year. At least, not for myself. I watched a lot. Humans too. I think dogs do it pffetter. Humans finish too quickly, like horses. The dogs take their time and apffreciate it more.”
   Long pause.
   “That’s an interesting way of looking at things. You do realize most humans would take exception to that statement, don’t you?”
   “Yes, I know. You humans think you’re the pffest at everything. You even think the World was created for humans.”
   “And who was it created for?”
   “Coyotes, of course. We just don’t have it working pffropfferly yet.”

You’ve just read the third installment of Anthro’s seven-part serial presentation of New Coyote, Michæl Bergey’s imaginative novel of ancient myths and the modern mindset. Want to see what happens next? Get the Anthro Press edition of New Coyote, and you’ll know—months before those people who only follow the serial from issue to issue!

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