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

Part 1 -=- Part 2 -=- Part 3 -=- Part 4 -=- Part 5 -=- Part 6 -=- Part 7

Home -=- #3209 -=- ANTHRO #29 Stories
-= ANTHRO =-
An earlier version of New Coyote was published by Five Star Books

 = chapter 15 =–

   Pullman is a strange little town, not like the others. You drive all day through rangeland and then get into empty wheat fields near the end—really nice, open land with very few humans. Suddenly the road slices down from the edge of the Palouse and you’re in a spider-shaped human settlement with a huge university in the center. Actually the town is little more than a layer of houses and businesses clinging to the university and feeding off of it like fleas or ticks. I disliked the place from the first, but then I don’t really like any towns or cities.
   We stayed the first night at a ‘pets okay’ motel in Pullman, having arrived well after dark and both exhausted from driving. The departure had been late, hectic, and unpleasant—no one satisfied with the arrangement, but no one able to agree on an alternative.
   I had never been on such a long trip before and was not the best of company, but Mr. Burrey didn’t make it any easier. There was a lot of ice on the road so he wouldn’t go very fast, but he didn’t stop often either. Our only major break had been just beyond a single gas station called the town of Washtucna. It was a day before our first possible transformation but Moon was almost ready to rise then, so Peter pulled his van over to wait for her. No sense taking unnecessary chances.
   Patches of crusted snow covered most of the ground with stiff, dry grass blades poking through and quivering to a sharp breeze from the northeast. The sky was wide open and cloudless, with no trees or mountains or clouds to challenge it, and the land began to blaze with light the moment Moon appeared. I longed to go running, even tired as I was, but Mr. Burrey said he was cold, and wouldn’t let me. We did howl together, though, and he taught me to sing Greensleeves:
   Alas, my love, you do me wrong
   To cast me off so discourteously…
   I like that song. It has a sort of canine feel to it, and the words flow smoothly from the throat. Mr. Burrey told me the author is unknown. Perhaps he’s unhuman, too.

   Mr. Burrey didn’t even pretend to work next day, just drove us out sightseeing and looking for a good camping place. Before we left Pullman he stopped at a supermarket and stocked up on chuck steak and soup bones, along with sausages, eggs, and bread. Starving was not part of our agenda.
   Kamiak Butte is rocky, solitary, and steep—thrusting high above the endless Palouse hills north of Pullman. It has trees on it. The place is a park and wildlife sanctuary with no overnight camping, which suited us just fine once we had the van hidden. No need to worry about running into humans after dark. Not that any sane human would be out camping in such weather, Mr. Burrey told me.
   As it turned out the Butte was a nice spot, but far too small to hold our attention for long. The snow there was deeper than at Washtucna, and colder—so cold it made an unpleasant squeaking sound when stepped on, and the loose surface flakes puffed forward like Styrofoam crumbs when scuffed. There was no stickiness to them at all. The snow extended outward as far as I could see to form an unbroken cover on the plowed and seeded hills, with a thin crust that could only just bear our weight. We spent most of the night running those hills, and ended up meeting humans after all.
   The Palouse is totally devoted to farming. It’s not flat, but they plow it all anyway because the soil is rich with volcanic ash and very fertile. Everywhere you go there are old, abandoned houses or foundation stones, but there are fewer farmers now. They drove out the Nez Perce and Palus in the late 1800s, put it all to wheat, and called it the ‘Inland Empire’. Forty years later the Great Depression came and most of the small farmers went bankrupt. They took their kin to the cities but they left their houses behind, and the big agribusiness farmers plow around them still. Or so Mr. Burrey had told me earlier while he was still in human form. Now he wasn’t talking much.
   We were checking out one of those old houses. Not looking for anything in particular, just looking. Wheat fields really did come right up to the door. The night was mostly gone, and so were my five chuck steaks. I couldn’t believe I was hungry again already, but there it was. I was growing irritable, too. No wonder werewolves have such a bad reputation.
   “Come on out, Furry Feet. There’s no game in there. If you want something to eat we’ll have to go pffack to the van, or maypffe raid a farm.” The air was bitingly cold and dry, so that my breath exploded into huge clouds of steam which dissipated instantly after I stopped talking.
   There was a real farm not far from where we stood. Three houses, and huge machines everywhere. Many of them lay rusty and untended in the snow, and appeared to be non-functional. Some even had bushes or small trees growing up through them. The newer, larger machines were parked neatly in a series of open-sided metal stalls, each one of which would have held our goat barn with room to spare.
   We had skirted the farm widely when first passing, since it was brightly lit and smelled of more than one dog. That prudent attitude had faded as my hunger increased, and now the thought of a visit there had begun to intrigue me. I suggested a side trip. Mr. Burrey was not so keen on the idea.
   “Fffet-terr g-go ffvan. Go ffvan.”
   He was concentrating so much on his pronunciation that his words came out more like a suggestion than an order. I chose to interpret them that way.
   “Furry Feet! You’re not scared of a coupffle of farm dogs, are you? We can eat them!” The curse must have been working on us pretty strongly just then, because I was more than half serious, and Mr. Burrey didn’t stop me.
   I wasn’t looking for farm dogs or trouble, though. It was freezer meat I wanted, and that is often found on farmhouse back porches or in workshops. I chose the largest house first, and immediately found what I was looking for—a chest freezer almost as big as Mr. Bell’s. Nothing was locked, of course. Whatever for? Our only problem was how to carry off the quantity we wanted.
   I finally struck on the idea of loading all the meat onto a big hooded jacket which I took down from the wall nearby, then gripping the cloth with my teeth while Mr. Burrey pulled at the other end to make a sort of hammock or sling. It would have worked, too, except that one of the pieces fell out onto the porch boards with a resounding thud, and woke the dogs.
   There were two of them; a brainless Springer Spaniel and a more sensible Labrador. All they really had to do was stand off at a distance and bark. We were already leaving. That’s what the Lab did but the Springer came up much closer, lunging viciously and then turning away while working himself up to do more. His barking had started off rapid, frantic, and high-pitched, but became deeper and more forceful as his confidence grew. Not that his voice could ever get that deep. He was only half my size.
   Mr. Burrey and I kept our haunches down and tails curled tightly between our legs—concentrating on dragging off our booty as efficiently as possible while still being ready to defend ourselves. It was easy in the farmyard, where the snow was packed down, but the undisturbed snow was more of a problem. We kept breaking through the crust while the Springer danced along on the surface, coming closer with each little rush. He picked on me for some reason.
   I was becoming really irritated. More angry than I really had a right to be. Just the curse working again, I suppose. When the Springer finally mustered the courage to actually touch me, I lost my temper and bit his head off.
   Seriously: I bit his head off.
When I felt that dog’s teeth in me I dropped my burden and whipped around so fast he didn’t even have time to face me squarely. He seemed to be moving in slow motion. Almost his whole neck fit into my mouth so I snapped down as hard as I could, shook him with all my strength, and he just fell apart. The body landed yards away to kick and spray blood on the snow for a time. The head snapped its jaws twice and went still as I held it. The Labrador stopped barking and disappeared.
   I dropped the head. “We should go now,” I suggested softly, dazed. The killing had filled me with a pleasure greater than any belly rub. Only once before had I felt this way: When I killed the buck.
   Mr. Burrey didn’t answer me—didn’t need to. It was definitely time to go. He did walk over to sniff tentatively at the Springer’s body, and I knew what he was thinking. That dog was much more appetizing than the frozen chunks of cow meat we were trying to carry off.
   Mr. Burrey restrained himself, though, and he was just turning away when I heard the porch door open and saw a man lifting a rifle into firing position. I didn’t waste any time staring or thinking, just barked once and fled lightly across the fragile snow crust, unburdened and impossibly swift. Mr. Burrey followed close behind.
   I longed desperately for trees, then. That lovely open country didn’t seem quite so wonderful any more, since we stood out by Moon’s light like the bullseye on a target, and nothing to be done about it besides reaching the rise ahead as quickly as we possibly could.
   The first shots missed, and we were close to our goal when Mr. Burrey was struck. I felt rather than saw him go down, felt it through my feet on the snow.
   I wanted to keep on running, to circle back and kill the farmer, to do anything besides what I actually did, which was to rush back to Furry Feet and try to help him.
   His left thighbone was shattered, I think. The leg flopped uselessly and wouldn’t bear weight, and now his blood lay steaming and eating its way into the snow just like the Springer’s had. Way too much of it. I nudged him up and we staggered forward together, breaking the crust with each step rather than skimming on top. Too clumsy. Two more bullets sliced down close beside us, and each time I thought it would be me, but then they stopped for a while. Time to reload, I guess.
   The shots started again as we topped the rise, and then we were over. Safe, for the moment. Okay to rest. Only that one shot had touched us, but it was more than enough. Mr. Burrey was still bleeding heavily and his Presence felt wrong—sort of loose, and unstable.
   John had taught me all about blood loss and shock, but that knowledge was of no benefit to us just then. It was miles back to Kamiak Butte, and I didn’t know where to turn for help. Staying where we were was not an option, though, and I nudged Mr. Burrey onto his feet again, aiming him generally away from the farm and toward the butte.
   I was really rattled, or I would have remembered about the Moon change. Mr. Burrey had been doing this longer, though, and remembered for me. He tried to take control of the direction we were going, and when I wouldn’t let him he spoke laboriously, “Nneeed… housse.” Nicely formed words, for him, but those two are easier than most.
   He was trying to remind me that his injury made it impossible to reach the van before Moon set, even if he had the strength. He would be left stranded and naked on the snow, and would surely die from the cold, if nothing else.
   It soon became clear that Mr. Burrey was trying to get back to the abandoned farmhouse we had visited just before the meat raid. It was not far off, and a good thing, too. He collapsed, finally, and I had to drag him over the snow for the last part of the trip. Made better time that way anyhow.
   All the house’s windows and doors were missing, but in one of the upstairs bedrooms was a kid’s nest with mattress, blanket scraps, and an impressive collection of trash/treasures. Mr. Burrey revived himself enough to climb the stairs and lie down on the mattress, but that was it for him. He was in a bad way—staggering and shivering so that he fell down twice on the stairs, and on the mattress he just collapsed and trembled. Considering how much blood he had lost, I was surprised he was alive at all. That leg was truly a mess.
   I gathered up the blanket scraps, along with some burlap bags and old newspapers—layering them carefully on top and to one side of him, and putting myself on the other side. It was all I could do.
   The shivering stopped after a time, but the breathing slowed down too. I wasn’t sure that was good. Furry Feet would no longer respond when I spoke to him, and his Presence felt even more diffuse and poorly centered, like it was falling apart.
   The Presence continued to disperse and weaken, like fog on a summer morning. It was hardly anchored to Mr. Burrey at all any more. I felt drawn to it, more aware than I had ever been before, but when I reached out somehow to touch a part, that part disappeared, and I felt a trace of the killing pleasure again. The thought came to me that I could take it all that way—should take it—it was my right, Mr. Burrey had proven himself unworthy…
   Now, where had that thought come from? It was not mine, certainly! I admired Mr. Burrey. If being shot makes one ‘unworthy’, then I’m unworthy too.
   I may lie, cheat, and have a subnormal moral sense by human standards, but that’s not necessarily the same as being weak-willed. Mr. Burrey was my friend, and I began to fight this new danger as soon as I recognized it.
   First, the draining. I tried to keep myself from doing it, tried to reverse the process. I knew I had energy to spare; I could feel it inside of me. All I had to do was figure out how to share it.
   What is the opposite of pleasure? Pain, nausea, tiredness, depression—those were the feelings I sought—the guides I followed to help me do the right thing. The process was quite disagreeable, and now I could clearly feel something fighting my efforts. The thing was alien, not a part of me. Don’t ask how I knew, but there was no doubt. I shoved it roughly aside—enough to accomplish what I needed to, anyway—and felt my own life energy begin to flood out from me like blood from a deep wound. My breath caught in shock, and I suppressed a panicked reflex to stop what I was doing. The reflex was my own, not something forced on me by that other thing. This was a dangerous magic I was attempting! I could die from it.
   The energy slammed roughly outward, uncontrolled and disruptive, doing as much harm as good. Some was absorbed but the rest was tearing at the last connection with Mr. Burrey’s body—pushing him away from it.
   Inward again. Hold it… here! I found I had some sort of control over the energy-stuff, my own at least, and managed to pull it together into a crude sphere around us. Mine on the outside, Mr. Burrey’s on the inside, and our two physical bodies in the very center. I held it that way by my will alone—battling my ignorance, my pain and nausea, and even that other thing that crept around trying to stop me whenever I tired. It seemed to speak to me sometimes, whispering urgently that I was risking myself on a hopeless cause, I must quit before I damaged myself any further.
   I don’t know what the Old Ones would be able to do with their Medicine Powers, but Mr. Burrey’s body was still bleeding and dying, and I could only hold things together for a limited time. I was learning control, but I could also feel myself weakening. My own substance was fraying and dissipating while keeping Mr. Burrey’s together. Still, I persisted. I had a clear, compelling reason to do so which I no longer fully understand. I suspect the knowledge has been taken from me.
   Mr. Burrey’s breaths had become shallow and tremulous, and the pauses between had grown so long that each new breath came as a dull surprise. I had given up hope for him, but from pure stubbornness I held on anyway. When Mr. Burrey was truly dead I would let him go, but not before then.
   Without warning the change-magic tickled my spine, then surged swiftly through me. When it passed I found myself curled protectively around a naked human, who was curled himself into the tightest knot he could make. He was not wounded, and neither was I. The bite wound left by that Springer had disappeared, and even my fur was free of blood. Mr. Burrey was clean too, but all the rest of the blood was still there—in the blankets, on the floor, and a great puddle still unfrozen in the mattress beneath us.
   Mr. Burrey lifted his head from under my chin and peered around blearily. He didn’t look very well. Kind of like I felt. “Could you move over a bit, please? You’re lying on the only spot… not soaked with blood.”
   Mr. Burrey shifted over to the warm, dry spot I vacated for him, then brushed at his thigh and groin area distastefully. “Bullet fragments. Every speck is pushed out… during the change. Wish I could passen… patent it somehow. I’d be…” A violent spasm of shivering locked Mr. Burrey’s jaws together and took his voice away. He curled himself back into a tight ball, and I began to cover him, and after a few minutes he was able to speak again. “More, please,” he said through clenched teeth. “There must be something downstairs you can use.”
   I did find more stuff, mostly newspaper, along with some torn garbage bags and a pillowcase which had contained walnuts before the rats got to them. Mr. Burrey was embedded in the center of a rather large, fluffy rubbish pile before he was satisfied.
   “Thanks, kid. You’ve saved my life. Now it’s time for you to get out of here. You saw the trail we left. No one could resist following something like that, and they’ll be here at first light. Wait for me at the van. I’ll get back there somehow. And don’t you dare eat all the steaks!” Mr. Burrey’s voice came muffled from inside his cocoon—still strange from weakness and spasmodic trembling, but much better than it had been. He would be safe, I thought. Still I hesitated.
   “Go on! What are you waiting for?”
   “Are you sure you’ll pffe okay?”
   “Yes, I’m sure! The only one in danger now is you! Get out of here.”
   “Yes, Sir, Mr. Furry Feet, Sir. I’m leaving right now. And I’ll save a steak for you. Maypffe.”

   Mr. Burrey arrived at the van around mid-day, driven over by the same man who had nearly killed him. Mr. Burrey told me that later. Personally, I have trouble telling humans apart by sight when they’re wearing a lot of clothes, and I hadn’t been close enough to the farmer to smell him properly the night before.
   Mr. Burrey was warmly dressed, and he wasn’t wearing handcuffs. Good, so far. What a talker! Here he is: Found naked on a blood-soaked mattress in an abandoned house, with wolf prints leading up to it but no human footprints at all. They dress him up, drive him where he wants to go, and don’t even call the police! I wonder what the farmer thought about all the paw prints around Mr. Burrey’s van.
   I did notice him surreptitiously copying down our license number. Kamiak Butte has brush and trees to hide behind, and the farmer would have been quite alarmed, I think, if he had realized that one of last night’s visitors stood at leap-distance from him at that very moment. I allowed Mr. Burrey to see me, but of course he didn’t say anything about it—just took the van key from its hiding place under a rock and used it to open up the side door. The farmer peered inside, then watched impassively as Mr. Burrey located his parka and boots and exchanged them for the ones he was borrowing. Mr. Burrey tried to give the farmer some money, too, but he wouldn’t take it. He wouldn’t even take back the clothes Mr. Burrey was wearing. He just stood silently beside the van until it was successfully started, then got back into his own truck and drove on ahead.
   Mr. Burrey called to me as soon as the farmer had moved far enough along, and I leapt in through the side door he opened for me. Mr. Burrey slammed the door closed and jumped back into the driver’s seat, then jerked the van into motion and followed the farmer out to the main road. We turned north toward Spokane, and I watched through one of Mr. Burrey’s spy holes as the farmer waited for us to start away, then turned back south toward his own home. I never saw him again.
   I climbed up to join Mr. Burrey in front. “How did it go?”
   “Don’t ask. I don’t think I’ve ever been so embarrassed.”
   I didn’t really want to pry, but professional curiosity was getting the best of me and I persisted. “Did you use any tricks I should know apffout?”
   “Unlike you, the people out here have a highly developed sense of privacy and good manners. I admitted that I had been caught making love to a married woman, and the husband had abducted me and left me to die of exposure. They didn’t see the bloody mattress because I covered it over with trash before they came upstairs. They asked me if any large animals had come into the house during the night, and I said yes, but they ran off when I yelled. No one asked how I got there without leaving any human tracks. I wonder if they thought of it and were afraid to mention anything.
   “They were definitely a scared bunch, poor folks. The farmer didn’t even believe himself when he described how fast we ran, and that dog you killed was quite a sight. The Labrador is jammed way back under the house, and she won’t come out for anybody.”
   “Why aren’t they more curious? That’s a terripffle story! It wouldn’t last for two seconds against Mooney! And what apffout us opffening the freezer and dragging the meat away on a jacket? Wolves don’t do that.”
   “It’s the best story they’re going to get, Coyote. Regular people are funny that way: No one can lie to them better than they lie to themselves. Now if it’s alright with you, I’d rather drop the subject.”
   What a concept—people actually helping you lie to them! Too bad all my friends were so smart.

   We wanted to get far away from Kamiak Butte, but not all the way north to Spokane. Tekoa Mountain was just right. It was about the same elevation and had a similar snow type, but it was much larger than Kamiak. We had a big dinner and then set down to nap until Moon was ready to rise—left the fire burning to maybe thaw out our steaks and bones for later. We were both deeply exhausted.
   That night was uneventful in the sense that we didn’t kill anything or get in trouble. We ate our meat, ran off into the woods as far from humans as possible, even napped a bit near the end. We passed plenty of tracks—deer, fox, even coyote—but we forced ourselves not to follow any. Mr. Burrey made nice progress with his language lessons, and he showed me how to crack rocks with my teeth. What a body! Too bad it’s so hard to control.
   Our eggs were all frozen, so we boiled them for breakfast instead of frying, but they tasted just fine that way, and there was plenty of bread and sausage. We liked the spot so well that we came right back, after going into town for more meat.
   The third night passed much like the second. We still were subdued from our first night’s experience and didn’t want to try anything new. I realize now that we both had spirit injuries which would take some time to heal, and resting was the best thing for us. Fortunately, that’s just what we felt like doing.
   We had a visitor in the morning. He walked like a man and looked like a man, but he wasn’t human, not even a little. His Presence was of a power beyond anything I had ever felt, and he smelled of male fox. Just fox. Nothing else. Not even clothing and laundry detergent and deodorant. Mr. Burrey recognized his strangeness and importance too, and invited him to breakfast with extreme deference. The visitor said he could not eat with us. He must speak.
   He looked sick, and angry, and sad. So sad. Like Mooney when Wynoochee took her berry fields. “You have become a soul-eater,” he accused me. “How could you do this thing?”
   The visitor was addressing me directly. Mr. Burrey tried to answer for me, but was waved into silence.
   I abased myself and attempted to formulate an answer—didn’t even try to pretend I couldn’t talk. I knew exactly who this person was, and what he was talking about.
   “I… I didn’t want to. I couldn’t helpff it. Sir.” I felt he should be given a title of respect, but wasn’t sure which one to use.
   “I see you really are weak and useless. I was hoping we had done better.” He let silence grow the way John did when he was angry, and I waited quietly and extremely submissively, just as I did when John was angry. Saying more could only invite more criticism. Mr. Burrey remained silent too, for once.
   “So what are you going to do now?”
   “I don’t know, Sir. I think I need some helpff.”
   The visitor was evidently expecting this response, because he paused only long enough to pretend to think. “I expect the only thing I can do is to destroy the both of you. No one who has chosen to follow your path ever gives it up. In a way it’s our fault, for trusting you. All that power, and no discipline to control it.” He went to one knee and sniffed me from nose to tail, which was tucked tightly between my legs. For Mr. Burrey’s benefit he ran his hands along the fur and pretended to examine it closely. I kept myself absolutely still and stiff, although I couldn’t prevent myself from trembling. After a short time he withdrew and looked me in the eyes again. The anger was still there, but no longer directed at me, and a look of relief, or maybe hope, was mixed with the sadness.
   “I see now: You’re not a soul-eater, after all. It appears you have a little ‘guest’. Nasty. You had a taste of what it took, but it will take you as well, in the end.”
   He stood up and looked to Mr. Burrey, then back to me again. “You’re right. This really isn’t your fault, which is good news. I’ll still have to kill you both, but it may not be necessary to destroy you utterly.”
   We were both staring at the visitor, unable to think of anything to say. Finally Mr. Burrey ventured to speak.
   “Ahm… it looks like you and Coyote already know each other, but I’m a little lost. My name is Peter Burrey. And you?” He reached forward very cautiously, offering to shake hands. Our visitor was unarmed, and that probably gave Mr. Burrey a little confidence. Misplaced.
   The visitor shook hands without hesitation. “Call me Fox. I am ancient and wise. More ancient and less wise than you may think. Too much wisdom makes one tired, so I let myself forget things. And what are you, Peter Burrey? Do you make things, grow things, kill things? My Brother Coyote seems very fond of you. It will be a shame to kill you.”
   “I’m not really sure I want to be killed just now,” Mr. Burrey proposed carefully. “Could you perhaps explain for me? Slowly, please.”
   Fox looked slightly impatient, but also amused. “Very tactfully put, Peter Burrey. Most humans of your race would have taken offense by now. I’ll try to return the courtesy.
   “So, to begin. I’ve been observing you and Coyote for three nights now. Each night you’ve become wolves when Moon rises, then changed back into your customary forms when she leaves the sky. You have become not just wolves, but something else as well, something much more powerful than normal wolves. You did this not through Medicine Power, but through the magic more typical of your own people, Peter Burrey. The difference can be clearly felt by one like me.
   “On your first night, one of you destroyed, or I should say consumed, the spirit of a farm dog.
   “Now, you should realize that I have nothing against killing dogs when they’re in the way. Dogs can be a great nuisance, or worse. The problem is this eating of souls. At first I thought you were doing it deliberately, but now I see you’re a victim as much as any other. You and Coyote have both been possessed by a very powerful spirit—powerful from the many souls it has eaten in the past, and eager to grow stronger through your actions. In the end it will consume you, too, but not while you’re still useful to it.
   “Very few spirits are capable of possessing two bodies simultaneously, but that is what this one has done. I can feel the linkage between you, even though I can’t determine the precise nature of the spirit. It’s a soul-eater, though, and an old one. I can tell that well enough.”
   Mr. Burrey replied carefully, “Yes. I’ve been aware of this for a long time, and I’ve been fighting it as hard as I can. Isn’t there some less drastic way of getting rid of it? Can you drive it out some way?”
   Fox smiled, just a touch of maliciously. “Exorcisms are a specialty of your own people. Perhaps you should try a Catholic priest.”
   “I have, several times. There is a bit of professional rivalry in that field, and I gave them all their chance. No luck. I’ve even sought help from Islamic and Buddhist and Hindu leaders. The best of them can sense my problem, but no one has been able to cure it.”
   “Just as I told you: The most we can do is save your soul, Peter Burrey, and even that won’t be easy or sure. It may well perish during our efforts to destroy what is locked into it. You are a son of the invaders, but for the sake of your friendship with Coyote we’ll do the best we can. Anyway, your people are not quite so bad these days, and they did bring chickens with them. We foxes thank you for that, at least.”
   Mr. Burrey was listening with rigid attention. I couldn’t tell how much he believed, but I accepted every word.
   Matchless in cleverness, and one of the most powerful of us lower-plane folks. One of my fathers, too, in a sense. I had never thought of him as a flesh-and-blood person before. And a shape-changer! Just like in the old stories. No one who smelled like he did could spend much time walking on two legs. I sat with mouth half-open, gazing at him in awe. I was glad he wasn’t mad at me any more, but this killing business had me worried. Mr. Burrey was not keen on the idea either.
   “You mentioned ‘we’ several times just now, Mr. Fox. Who is working with you? Maybe I can talk with some of them. No one is more motivated than I am when it comes to curing my condition. I’ll take any kind of help I can get.”
   “Not ‘Mr. Fox’, if you please. Just Fox. Or in this place you may call me Wyaloo. You needn’t concern yourself with who is helping me. There will be enough of us to do the job, you can be sure of that! I’m afraid that’s all I should really tell you about our plans. There’s nothing you can do about them, and knowing the details will just make it harder for you.”
   “Excuse me, but if I were willing to commit suicide I could have done that years ago. I think Coyote and I will have to decline your help if you can’t think of anything less drastic. We’ll work this out on our own somehow.”
   Fox smiled sadly, and made to leave. “Do what you like. Neither your permission nor your cooperation is required, but it would be a good idea to have your affairs in order before Moon is full again.”
   “Excuse me, Fox, Sir?” I interrupted diffidently. I didn’t like his death threats any more than Mr. Burrey did, but I was more used to such things and tried not to let them get under my skin. Fox could answer a lot of important questions for me if he felt so inclined, and it was a shame to just let him go.
   “Yes, Brother?”
   “What does OldCoyoteSpffirit say? Does he really think I’m no good?”
   “Well, yes. I wouldn’t take it personally, though. He’s criticizing himself as much as you when he says that. Besides, he’s only been talking that way for the last couple of months. Before that he was very proud of you. And himself, too, of course.”
   “Really? What did I do to change his mind? Do you think I could make upff to him some way? I don’t think he’s given me enough time to pffrove anything at all. I’m only ten years old, you know.”
   “Of course I know that. I was there. But yes, I do agree with you that OldCoyoteSpirit is being more than usually unreasonable. Hopefully you can be a mellowing force for him when the two of you join back together.”
   “Fox-Uncle, why is WolfSpffirit doing this to me? I like wolves. At least the ones I’ve met so far.”
   “WolfSpirit? What are you talking about? Wolf is not a spirit right now. He’s one of the people who will be helping me kill you and get rid of your curse.”
   I told about my dream then, but Fox still seemed puzzled.
   “That sounds like a True Dream, but OldCoyoteSpirit never mentioned it to me. You’re not supposed to be remembering any dreams at all, but I suppose one could slip through from time to time. Why would you be seeing a wolf?”
   “I don’t know. I was hopffing you could tell me.”
   “No, I can’t answer that right now, but I’ll check into it. I expect the spirit-eater entered you during that dream, but why it was in wolf form, and why it causes these transformations, I don’t know. I’ll see you soon.”
   He walked away before I could ask more questions—walked off into the woods, not toward the road. Mr. Burrey and I sat together silently for a few minutes, then I slipped off to follow the trail. The deep, punched-through human tracks were soon replaced by faint, almost invisible fox paw scuffs on the snow crust. I was not surprised, and I didn’t follow them any farther.
   “Well, Coyote: What do you think of that old geezer?” Mr. Burrey prompted me when I got back. “He gave me quite a turn there. I think we should probably move camp again today. It’s time I got to work anyway.”
   He didn’t really want an answer to that one, so I didn’t say anything except to suggest that a second course of breakfast might be indicated. I ate it all. Mr. Burrey had lost his appetite.

   We broke camp under the same cold, clear sky we had enjoyed all along. Mr. Burrey had been wearing layer on layer of clothes, and would often huddle over the fire or a propane burner he kept in the van. When we got the engine warmed up he put the heater on its highest setting, so that I had to move into the back to keep from passing out from it.
   We headed south to Pullman, went straight through it, and continued on to a really little town named Colton, then kept on going until we reached the bluffs above the river called Snake. Mr. Burrey had some friends there he wanted me to meet.
   The male was a student at the veterinary college in Pullman, older than most of his classmates. He differed from them in other ways, too. He kept broken animals.
   It was Saturday, so Ernest and Naomi Papillio were both home when we reached their place. Mr. Burrey told me if they had not been there he would have gone into the house anyway, to wait for them. They were that kind of people. Nothing was ever locked.
   Their house was on rangeland, and we had to open and close two welded-steel cattle gates to get to it—one to keep the landlord’s animals in, one to keep them out. The driveway ran down near the bottom of a gulch for some distance before rising back up onto tablelands where the house was located. It was the only way to get there. I had never been to this place before, but it felt so familiar… and I knew all about it from John’s stories. The whole area was a lacy, ragged edge of the Snake River Gorge, where the southern half of the Palouse had been ripped away. It consisted of relatively flat, fertile bits of Palouse land cut by steep, wooded gullies that could be difficult to cross, especially for humans. Exciting country that I longed to be out running through, and beautiful. John sometimes said the river made it through millions of years of erosion. Other times he told me I had created it myself during a great battle in my other life, in the time of legends. The Snake River Gorge, that is. The land was always here, even before legends.
   The first broken animal I saw was a wolf. Young male, pulling in terror at his chain because Mr. Burrey’s van was strange to him. Ernie had told Mr. Burrey to drive past the wolf and park without looking at him directly. We could try greeting him later after his fear had faded, but visitors were hard on him and it was best to go slowly. The wolf’s name was Smokey, and he had a healthy body but no place to live properly. Too fearful to be a pet any more, too naive for the wild, and the good zoos were all full.
   Mr. Burrey and I went straight up to the door after we had parked. The snow was patchy and much thinner here, and it was warmer, but nowhere even close to melting. Smoke poured fast, thin, and hot from the chimney of the house, which was rambling and ragged-looking, with little sheds and wings built out from each side. There were paddocks behind it with three horses in them. Nice-looking ones, pressed up against the rails in curiosity.
   Ernie and Nana each had a strong Presence. I should have guessed. Ernie’s jaw opened in pleased surprise when he saw me, and he dropped to his knees to try for a respectful greeting. I obliged him, and Nana too, a moment later.
   “Where did you find this monster?” Ernie marveled. “He looks like a coyote on steroids. They don’t get nearly this big, but no way could he be anything else.”
   “Don’t ask me,” Mr. Burrey replied. “He belongs to some friends of mine out Gray’s Harbor way, and I brought him here to keep him out of trouble. His girlfriend’s in heat.”
   Ernie looked at me sympathetically. “What a bitch… so to speak. How’s he taking it?”
   “Well, he hasn’t lost his appetite, if that’s what you mean. I’ve been out camping with him a couple of days, and that helped take his mind off it, but it’s too damn cold out there on Tekoa Mountain, and besides, I’m really here to do research, not babysit a love-sick mutt. I was sort of wondering if we could stay with you for a while.”
   “Pete! You know you don’t have to ask. We just assumed that’s what you’re here for. Stay as long as you like. I can’t believe you were out camping in this weather! Radio says it was eight below in Pullman last night, and Tekoa Mountain’s got to be colder than that! I always knew you were crazy, but this proves it. How long are you staying?”
   “Two weeks, maybe. I’m not quite sure yet. Until Coyote’s friend is out of heat, at least. His owner is adamant that they don’t get together. I’m not quite sure why.”
   The three humans began to drift into ‘old times’ chatter from when Mr. Burrey used to help them with their wildlife rehabilitation center up north of Seattle, and I tried to disengage politely from Ernie’s grip. He seemed reluctant to let go.
   “Excuse me, Pete, but how is this guy with small animals? I’ve got critters in the house he could scarf down in two seconds, starting with Rover, there.”
   ‘Rover’ was a three-legged tabby cat who was eying me suspiciously from beneath the coffee table. She was baking herself by the wood stove and didn’t want to leave.
   Mr. Burrey turned to me and spoke solemnly, “Coyote, do you hereby promise not to eat anything on these premises that is not specifically presented to you as food? Raise your right front paw and bark once if you agree.”
   Dominant. Best to obey. Don’t have to like it. I raised my right front foot sloppily and barked once, but I folded my ears back while doing so and resolved to honor my promise only if convenient.
   What a remarkable collection of animals the Papillios had! Samuel the one-winged magpie appeared to be their favorite, but I could smell songbirds, rodents, reptiles, even skunk. I ignored them all to stay with Nana by the stove. It’s important to keep one’s priorities straight, and the kitchen is where the food comes from. Lasagna, it smelled like to me.
   Nana served me first, and I was done before the others even sat down. Afterward I wanted to go outside, so I stepped over to the front door and stood there waiting. I wouldn’t open it myself unless Mr. Burrey said I could.
   “Oh, go on, Coyote. You don’t need me to open that door for you! And close it tightly behind you!”
   I worked the door with an eye rolled back to check what reaction I was getting. Very satisfying. Mr. Burrey really did trust these friends of his! Not enough to tell them everything, but I couldn’t blame him for that.

   I circled the house before approaching the wolf’s area. Wanted to see the outside critters. There were only three of them besides the wolf and horses—a vixen who looked and smelled fine to me, a beaver with one tooth coming up through the top of his head, and a huge owl that just sat on her perch with eyes closed. I learned later that the vixen had a similar story to Smokey’s, the owl had broken her wing and not healed properly, and the beaver had been hit by a car and fractured his jaw so one tooth was twisted around and growing the wrong way. All fatal problems in the wild. The only one who had a chance was the vixen, and I couldn’t quite figure out the point of keeping the other two alive. Humans certainly are tough to figure out.
   Not my problem; I was going to meet the wolf.
   Making friends with the wolf was not hard at all. I placed myself just within reach of his chain, waited there holding a polite, non-threatening sort of posture, and we were nose-touching in a few minutes. I think he was very lonely.
   He was more submissive than he needed to be, but I treated him gently and he came to trust me right away. We were playing together by the time the humans came out.
   Smokey ran off to the far end of his chain when he saw Mr. Burrey, but I was able to nudge him over for greetings before too long. I could tell he was intrigued by Mr. Burrey’s unique scent.
   “I can’t believe it!” Ernie whispered excitedly to Nana. “He just strolls right up and says hello. No one has ever been able to do that before! Sometimes he reminds me of a wolf himself.”
   Smokey was very different from Lazytail—much less confident. He didn’t want me out of his sight, so I spent the night outside with him to stop his howling—special request from Mr. Burrey. I had some serious resting to do, so I didn’t mind, but it did distance me a bit from the new humans.
   When I was presented with dog food for breakfast I knew things had gotten out of hand, and I prevailed upon Mr. Burrey to explain my requirements. He tried to defend our hosts, maintaining that dog food is more nourishing, more digestible, and much cheaper than human food, and I wouldn’t notice the difference anyway because I ate so damn fast.
   Gently and patiently I explained to Mr. Burrey the fallacy of his views, and I was making fairly good progress until I threatened to eat the magpie if I didn’t get my way.
   I didn’t really mean it. Samuel was fat, but John had told me magpies don’t taste very good. We don’t have any near Sunbow, but if they taste like crows I’ll pass. I hate eating crow.
   It’s not smart to threaten dominant pack members, even if they do owe you their lives. One slip of the tongue and I found myself officially quartered outside with Smokey. Promises of extra rations, treats, and supervised house privileges weren’t enough to take away the sting. Smokey was happy, at least. He had become utterly smitten with me, and fell to pieces whenever I left his chain area. I probably would have spent most of my time with him anyway, but I didn’t like being forced.

   It was Sunday, still a day for humans to stay home. The three of them were planning to spend their whole day talking, as far as I could tell, and I prepared to spend my own day lying around and resting. I was already well rested, though, and beginning to feel seriously bored when they finally showed a little action.
   Walk time!
   I can go by myself, but a walk or run is best when shared. Smokey knew what to expect and became frantic with pleasure at the prospect. I could tell he lived for this. Poor fellow still had to wear a leash, but I suppose the humans thought it was for his own good. I stayed with him at first, out of courtesy, but I just couldn’t keep myself back. I heard and ignored a piteous whining from Smokey as I left him behind, and then an animated discussion from the humans. They were up to something. Better to keep well ahead. I trotted faster and refused to look back.
   “That’s right, Smokey. Go get him!” It was Nana’s voice.
   I turned and saw Smokey flying toward me over the snow patches, moving at quite a respectable speed. Nana had unclipped his leash, and the humans were all just standing and watching him.
   All right! I was dying to run this land properly, and now I could run with a companion. Of course, I had already determined to release Smokey during the night, but we could do that too.
   We were near the rim of the gorge and I could smell the river air rising up from it, warm and fishy and thick. Wynoochee never smelled like that except in stagnant areas after a flood. There were willows below me, and cattails, and cottonwoods, and unfrozen mud. I drank it all in while tearing full speed toward the brink.

   No, I was not going to just run off the edge of a cliff. I’m not that dumb, despite what Mooney may say. I stopped in plenty of time, but I had dipped out of sight of the humans while still sprinting recklessly forward. I did that on purpose, to tease them.
   I would have enjoyed my little joke, but the view made me forget all about it. Peter had told me there were big cliffs here, with the river far below, and I had thought I understood. Now I understood: This was not a cliff, it was a mountain cut in half. It was the edge of the world.
   The cliff face was not perfectly vertical, but it might as well have been. That slope was a killer, and Snake just a glistening thread, so far below me—almost two thousand feet, I learned later. That’s a long way.
   Smokey caught up and danced around me, nipping and barking madly. He didn’t care about the view at all, and soon had me up on the flats again, racing him to nowhere in particular.
   The humans were calling to us—thin voices wavering on the still air. Smokey ignored them blithely, but I thought a pretense of obedience might not be a bad idea so I looped us around widely so we could come bursting up out of the gully behind them. We were both panting like crazy and Smokey had a sore foot he refused to pay attention to.
   Nana noticed blood on the snow, and wrestled Smokey down to look at his paws. The left front had a little cut between the toes. Broken glass, no doubt.
   “Smokey! Look at what you’ve done to yourself! Now we’ll have to head back and get this cleaned up.” Nana clipped the leash back onto Smokey’s collar and turned toward the house. I think she was about ready to go home anyway.
   I was disappointed. Our walk had been cut short, and I might not be able to manage a night run either, if they bandaged Smokey’s foot.
   Smokey’s foot had mostly stopped bleeding when we got back to the house, and I licked it clean for him. It was just a little thing, not really needing any attention. The humans wouldn’t even have known about it if they hadn’t seen it when it was fresh. Still Nana came out and washed it, slathered it with antibiotic ointment, and wrapped the whole foreleg in gauze and tape. Both of us were invited into the house for socialization and Sunday dinner, so that wasn’t so bad. I even napped near Rover’s spot by the stove for a time. I didn’t really need the warmth, but sometimes it’s pleasant to just bake yourself by the fire until your brain melts.
   We were kicked out when the humans went to bed. I didn’t try any night jaunts. All that resting had made me tired.

   Next day was warmer and slightly overcast. Snow, maybe. The humans went away in the morning. I was given strict instructions to stay out of trouble, and bribed with the promise of another evening in the house if I was successful. Worth considering. We would see.
   First thing I did was to tour and mark the house perimeter again, and say hello to the fox. I had never observed any of Fox’s kind closely before. She was like a little dog, but with cat whiskers and slit pupils. And a fox scent. Foxes smell much stronger than coyotes or wolves or dogs (except Jake), and they have a distinctive, musky odor. It’s not unpleasant, but there’s no way you can mistake when a fox is around.
   I pressed my nose up against the mesh, holding still so she could take her time and come up to me if she chose, but she was not in the mood for that—just stared back at me fearfully from the far corner of her cage. Suddenly her eyes shifted their focus to something behind me, and at that same moment I scented another fox.
   It was not just another fox I scented. It was Fox himself, and he was standing right there when I turned. I hadn’t heard him coming at all.
   “Getting to know one of my people, I see. Commendable.” Fox trotted up close beside me and pressed his nose to the mesh where mine had been. The vixen ignored me and stared at Fox worshipfully. Fox spoke to her, but he was speaking for me too, I think.
   “I can’t help everybody, but you I can help. When I’m done with my business here, I’ll come back to free you and teach you the ways. Be patient.”
   Fox turned to me with an expression I could not read. “My people and I are one,” he said. “They give me strength and reason for being, and I strive to channel that strength in the ways that will serve us best. But I draw my Power from the humans as well as from fox-kind. Whenever humans dream about me or tell stories about me, they become my people too, for a time. I have been shaped by human dreams as well as by fox dreams, and I have an obligation to them both.
   “The same is true for you. Your destruction or corruption would harm much more than yourself alone, and so you must guard yourself vigilantly.”
   Fox was speaking eloquently, clearly; faster than I could. He was using Medicine Power, of course. Fox was talking the way a frog or fly or bird would talk in the old stories. A nice trick, and one I couldn’t do. I talked the hard way, with no magic at all.
   Fox paused for a moment to let me speak if I wished, but I didn’t have a clue about what to say. I just stared at him with my ears half-down and my mouth half-open. Oh! But he was beautiful.
   Fox stiffened himself and put up his tail and ears in a determined manner. I could read his expression now. He had something quite unpleasant or dangerous to do, and he would be doing it right away.
   “Coyote, I did not come here for this vixen. I came for you. It is time. Now.”
   “Pffut—you said we had until next month!”
   “Peter Burrey has until next Moon time, maybe,” Fox corrected. “Your time is now. Our first attack has the best chance of success, and I want that for you. In a moment we’ll be too busy to talk, so I’ll tell you now what you must do. Pay attention! This is a hard, dangerous time for you, and your only chance is to do exactly as I say.
   “Soon, you will be dead. I know this frightens you, but it’s not so bad. Dying doesn’t hurt as much as you may think. The dangerous part for you is afterward, in the first Spirit World. You’ll be confused, joining again with your other self. Don’t fight it! You’re in enough trouble as it is, and the two of you must cooperate in order to survive. Is this clear?”
   “No,” I answered plaintively. Not a smart alec at all, just lost.
   “It will become clear to you shortly—hopefully in enough time to do you some good. OldCoyoteSpirit and the others are waiting, so we must begin. I think it is best if you run now.”
   I still just stared at Fox—still couldn’t believe he would hurt me.
   Fox raised his hackles and curled his lips, and I stepped back a pace. He looked larger, somehow.
   He was larger. I could see him changing right there in front of me, and I edged back farther, abasing myself for all I was worth. I opened my mouth to argue or beg or—whatever worked.
   “That won’t do you any good, Coyote. I’m not mad at you, and there’s nothing you can say to change my mind.”
   Fox lunged at me then, and I skittered out of range. He was almost my size already, and still growing. Hopelessly I turned tail and began to lope away. If Fox was going to use his magic against me, I had no chance at all.
   I turned my head and saw that Fox followed me closely, and he was still increasing in size. I began to run in earnest.
   Fear-running is a funny thing. It sort of takes control of you, and thinking becomes difficult. I knew Fox was toying with me, but still it surprised me the first time he surged past to block my path and force me in the direction he wanted to go. We left the flats then, and began crashing down one of those dry gullies that cut through toward the river. The gully walls would soon be too steep to climb, and I made an attempt to burst out sideways before it was too late. Fox blocked my attempt with little apparent effort, and after that it didn’t matter any more, since there was only one way to go.
   Fox was close behind me at every turn—rushing forward to nip at my flanks and goad me faster whenever I slowed. I tried not to panic but I couldn’t help myself—lurched forward frantically each time he did that, and slammed clumsily into obstacles I should have been able to avoid.
   Water flows downhill, so all of the gulches have to reach the bottom of the gorge one way or another. Some don’t reach it very gently, though. I hoped this was one of the gentle ones, but I couldn’t be sure. Maybe Fox wanted me to die by falling.
   I did get safely to the bottom of the gorge, although my path was a flowing creek by then. I was bruised and bleeding from bumping off ice blocks, boulders, and snags. And exhausted. Beyond exhausted. If that run had continued much longer I might have died from the running alone.
   Snake filled his banks and I plunged into his dark, swift-flowing waters without breaking stride. It was the only thing to do. I went under for a few seconds, and when my head came to the surface Fox was waiting for me. I felt massive teeth close on my neck scruff, and my body was lifted half out of the water—dangling from Fox’s jaws like a puppy being carried by its mother.
   I could make only a token defense, and I had given up completely by the time he chose a landing spot on the far bank. I still had enough sense to wonder bitterly what the point of all this was. If Fox just wanted to kill me he could have done it at the house and saved us both a lot of trouble. Did he enjoy my torment?
   As soon as he had me on the bank Fox shifted his grip to squeeze my throat so I couldn’t breathe. I put out everything I could in those last few seconds—writhed and jerked in uncoordinated panic, like prey well caught. Fox just stood over me and held his grip. By then he was the size of a large bull, I think, maybe larger, but as I lost consciousness he seemed to fill the world.
   Fox was still with me when I became aware of things again. He was back to his normal size, and he was licking the cuts and scrapes I had all over my chest and legs. His tongue and muzzle felt quite real and solid, and he certainly smelled like a fox. Wet fox. We appeared to be on the same spot where Fox had strangled me, and it didn’t look like my idea of the Spirit World at all.
   “Is this the Spffirit World?” My words were quiet, hoarse, apprehensive.
   Fox stopped licking to look me in the eyes. He was smiling now.
   “No. This is Garfield County. Whitman County is on the other side of the river and the Spirit World is much farther away than that, or much closer, depending on who you are. Your visit there has been canceled.”
   “I don’t understand.”
   “Not surprising. I’ll start with the simple, important things: You are cured. You don’t have to die. You can go home now.”
   “I’m sorry, pffut I still don’t understand. Could you try again, pfflease?”
   “Certainly! You have just received the benefit of an exorcism, Fox style. The best there is! You don’t think that spirit would just go away if I told it to, do you? It had to be absolutely convinced that its tenure with you was ended, situation hopeless. Which it was. I really would have killed you, and I really did have allies waiting, as the spirit could doubtless perceive for itself. It knew your death would not be permanent, but still it had to leave for its own protection.
   “The spirit is a wolf, by the way. He’s called Lykos in his proper land—that land you call ‘Europe’. He should not be here.”
   “So… you’re saying you could have—would have—pffrought me pffack to life again? Afterward, that is?”
   “Of course! Trust me.”
   “Of course. Yes. That’s very comforting. I’m glad you were so careful with me, and if I need any more exorcisms I’ll certainly let you know. So. I guess it’s time for me to pffe going home. You will keepff in touch, won’t you?”
   I stood up cautiously, submissively, edging toward the river. I still was in love with him but he scared the piss out of me. Couldn’t stop me from being a smart-mouth, though. Fox didn’t seem to mind. I think he expects me to act that way. Or worse.
   Fox literally had scared the piss out of me. Shit and anal sac juice too. Dying is a messy business. I should have been cleaning myself just then but an echo of Mooney’s training made me want to at least rinse off in the river first. Humans are such prudes about body functions. I continued to edge away until Fox stopped me.
   “Wait. We’re not quite finished yet. You’re still not capable of defending yourself, so if Lykos comes back he’ll take you again, and we’ll have to play our little game again. And he will come back. You can count on it.”
   “Yes, Sir.” I was still in my most submissive standing posture, which is even more silly-looking and uncomfortable when used with someone so much smaller.
   “Oh, stop that, Coyote! If I need that kind of treatment I’ll let you know.”
   I forced myself to straighten up, but then I began to fidget. I turned to my new injuries for something to do.
   The wounds were all gone. Completely gone—just like with the werewolf magic.
   I was dumbfounded and must have let it show, because Fox noticed and took offense this time.
   “You still doubt my Power?” There was an edge to his voice I didn’t like, and his hackles were up just a little.
   “No, Sir,” I replied hastily, back in submissive posture again. “What should I do now, Sir?”
   Fox relaxed as quickly as he had bridled.
   “I had been depending on inactivity to keep you safe. You used no Medicine Power, so you would draw no attention to yourself. You even dream in a place no one else ever goes. Coyote’s plan was a close secret, and concealment was your defense. Now we must use a different way. It is time to reintroduce you to your Powers.”
   Fox paused. I remained silent and ostentatiously submissive. “Oh, straighten up, Little Brother! I’m not going to hurt you. John says you’ve asked him many times about this. You can’t tell me you’re not interested!”
   I unkinked my neck and straightened the shoulders a little, but kept ears down and tail tightly between my legs. I noticed for the first time that Fox was bloody too—chest and legs cut up like mine had been, only not so bad. I wanted to ask about them but all I said was, “Yes, Sir. I’m interested a lot, pffut John says I shouldn’t mess around with magic.”
   “John is not Chief here. I am.” It was clear from Fox’s tone that there had better not be any argument on the subject, especially from John.
   I certainly had done enough arguing for the day. “Yes, Sir,” I volunteered. That response always seemed to work.
   “Good. Now don’t forget it! I am Chief in this venture, and if you can’t accept that I’ll withdraw my support and let you blow it as you usually do. Is that clear?”
   “Yes, Sir. Whatever you say, Sir.”
   “You don’t have the slightest idea what I’m talking about, do you?” Fox turned to his wounds and began to lick them clean. I think he was embarrassed.
   I was going to offer another ‘No, Sir,’ but thought better of it and began to clean myself instead. It had to be done, river wash or no river wash.
   We both busied ourselves for a time, putting things to rights and calming ourselves. I didn’t bother to go back into submissive posture when I was done, but I did wait for Fox to break the silence.
   “It’s not possible to give you back just part of your Medicine Powers,” Fox offered finally. “They’re not really subject to control—more a matter of persuasion. Coyote told them they would not be needed for a while, and I just remind them of that. Constantly. They get so bored they’ve even offered their services to me!
   “What I plan to do is invoke them, but without specific instructions. They’ll just be wandering loose, close enough to keep an eye on you and protect you any way they can. They’re likely to abuse our trust and cause trouble that way, but we’ll deal with it. It’s the only way I can think of to give you the help you need without drawing you back fully into the old ways. We will commence now.”
   Fox certainly is abrupt at times! The meaning of his words had barely begun to sink in when I felt a shifting or wavering somewhat akin to the werewolf transformation. Things were different somehow, but I was too distracted to think about it because of the five half-grown coyote pups that had suddenly appeared around me.
   I didn’t know there were five, at first. It seemed like a lot more. Each one was nipping and jumping on me in an agony of greeting pleasure which I couldn’t help but return. I knew these pups. They were my own. A part of me, but also separate creatures, and not really pups, either. It was just a little game we played that made us all more comfortable. What they really were was… I don’t know. Half the thought had come to me, and then nothing. Nothing more at all. Very disturbing.
   The smallest pup spoke. “Fox told us to shut up,” she said regretfully. “We could tell you everything you’ve forgotten, but we’re not supposed to right now. This is a good plan, and we’ll try to cooperate. Oh—Fox says we’re not supposed to talk to you with words, either, or even show ourselves much. Bye!” She skittered off into the rocks, and the others left too, but in different directions. Then it was just Fox and me, alone again.
   “Your children seem glad to see you. They should do their job well, for now.”
   “Children? I don’t have any children! I’ve never even mated. Mooney won’t let me.”
   “That’s what you used to call them—your children. And they’ve been in this World almost as long as you and I have, which is a very long time indeed. Treat them well! They’re a far more precious gift than you deserve.
   “Now—it’s time for you to go home, and I’m tired too.”
   Fox got up creakily, and I could tell his legs hurt. Finally I felt bold enough to ask about them.
   “Excuse me, Sir, pffut aren’t you going to heal your own wounds, like you healed mine?”
   “I can’t use that trick on myself, Little Brother. Your friends in high places have given me the gift of healing, but that gift only works for you. Such a waste!” Fox’s voice was mocking, and I couldn’t smell what his true feelings were, but I came to believe he did like me a lot, in his way. I mustered the courage to nuzzle his cheek in a friendship touch, and he responded in kind.
   “Yes, Pffrother, let’s go home. I need dinner and a napff. Do you like dog food?”

”= chapter 16 =–

   The trip back was hard. Some of the places I had slid down were not so easy to scramble back up again. I asked Fox about it but he said the other ways were even worse. I thought he could have helped us magically but he didn’t offer, and I didn’t have the nerve to ask. Some sort of rules were involved, no doubt.
   When we reached the Papillios’ house it was past dark and snowing lightly—tiny flakes like dust, so small you could only see them by their sparkle from the house lights. This was the powder snow that skiers love so much.
   Fox had accepted my offer of dog food for dinner, and he was just around the corner when I scratched at the Papillios’ door. I think he wanted to formalize our reconciliation by sharing a meal with me.
   Mr. Burrey opened the door. He looked awful. Smelled really stressed-out. I knew that look and smell from Mooney, and before he even spoke I was shrinking down into abject submission.
   “Where have you been!” he hissed at me. He didn’t care where I’d really been, just had to let me know how he felt about it. No answer was required of me, just endurance. There would be considerably more of the same in the next few minutes.
   I prepared myself stoically, but then Mr. Burrey stopped. “Forget all that. Consider it said. I’m just glad to see you alive! I had this unbelievably vivid dream in the library this morning, and I’m not even sure I was asleep. I was running and slipping and…”
   “Excuse me, Pete—I don’t mean to be a bad host, but you are going to close that door, aren’t you? It’s getting cold in here!”
   “Huh? Oh! Sorry, Ernie. I’ll just step outside for a minute.” Mr. Burrey’s coat was hanging beside the door, and he snatched it up and shrugged into it as he came out. I could smell he had been using it recently, and for a long time. Probably looking for me.
   Mr. Burrey pressed forward. “I can feel there is great danger here, Coyote. I believe that Fox is going to make his move much sooner than we thought. I think he’s going to go for you first, and he’s going to kill you. In my dream he was killing you, or me. He wasn’t a man, he was a fox the size of a house and he had his teeth on my throat and he was just squeezing down so I couldn’t breathe… I’ve never had a dream like that before! I don’t know…”
   “Pffeter, Pffeter, it’s okay. I already know. I was there. It’s already over, and he didn’t have to kill me!”
   I almost never interrupt when humans are talking, but it seemed necessary this time. Mr. Burrey was really upset. I went on to give him a complete account of my day’s experiences, ending with my invitation of Fox for dinner.
   Mr. Burrey was not as comforted as I had hoped. “You mean—after all that you just invited him to dinner like you were old friends? I can’t believe it! He’s not still here, is he?”
   “Well, yes. He’s right pffehind you.” Fox had come in close when I began my story, and he was still there in his regular shape. No fancy stuff for Mr. Burrey this time.
   Fox was resting on his haunches with tail wrapped elegantly around his feet and a light dusting of snow over all. Even sitting upright like that he was knee-high to the human, and he wasn’t showing a single threat sign. No matter. Mr. Burrey started violently when he saw him, and began to back carefully toward the door of the house. “Come on inside, Coyote. I don’t know how much protection the house can give us, but it’s better than nothing. Ernie has a shotgun, and they have knives and things. Maybe cold iron will help.”
   Fox spoke, “Don’t run away, Peter Burrey. I won’t be doing anything tonight. I’m too tired.”
   Mr. Burrey stopped moving toward the door, but he didn’t say anything in reply to that. After a time Fox added, “I’m not your enemy, you know.”
   “You have a funny way of showing it. Are you planning on hunting me down too, like you hunted Coyote? That doesn’t seem very friendly to me! And why should I believe anything you say? You’ve already broken your promise once. You said we had until next month!”
   Fox seemed rather pained by the outburst, especially the part about breaking his promise. “I have been known to stretch the truth on occasion. We all do, some more than others. Still, I’m not your enemy, and I don’t plan to harm you in any way tonight. You may believe it or not, as you choose. Coyote has invited me to eat with him tonight. Do you wish to join us?”
   Mr. Burrey really was a brave man, and he didn’t disappoint me—hesitated for only a short time. “Very well, I accept your truce for tonight, and I will join you for dinner. Would you like to come inside, or do you need to stay out?”
   “Inside,” I specified quickly before Fox could answer. “And pfflease don’t eat any of the animals.”
   “Of course,” Fox replied with aplomb, then turned to Mr. Burrey. “Unlike our friend Coyote, I have an excellent reputation as both guest and host. I’m afraid I shall not be speaking while the other humans can hear, however. Silence tends to save me a great deal of trouble at times—as I’m sure you’ll understand.”
   “Yes, of course,” replied Mr. Burrey somewhat dazedly.
   “Shall we go inside now?”
   I thought I heard a faint scuffle of feet behind me when we approached the door, but saw nothing when I turned quickly to check. No scent, either.
   Dinner was quite nice. Ernie cooked this time, and we had steaks, mashed potatoes, and string beans with butter. I’ll eat almost anything if it has butter on it. I don’t think our hosts had canine guests in mind when they bought food for dinner, but the three steaks were divided five ways, and there were plenty of potatoes. Plenty of butter on them, too. I like the Papillios—remarkably adaptable, as humans go.
   Ernie and Nana were entranced by the tame fox I had brought home with me, and inclined to use him as an excuse for my tardiness. Fox ended up with his injuries carefully doctored, except that he wouldn’t allow any bandages to be placed on his body. He was obviously enjoying the attention, and flirted with Nana outrageously even as she tended to him, which is not typical wild animal behavior. It drove the humans crazy, since they had plenty of experience with how a regular fox would act.
   “Where do you get these guys?” marveled Ernie. “In my whole life I’ve never seen an animal like Coyote, and then he goes for a walk through the wheat fields and comes back with a fox you could use for television commercials! They seem to know each other, too. If you hadn’t been in such a flaming snit this afternoon, I’d think you were setting us all up for a joke! You have gotten over it, haven’t you?”
   “I’m over it for tonight, but I may have to change my plans for tomorrow. I may be leaving Pullman early.” Mr. Burrey wouldn’t look at any of us when he said that, and I think he hadn’t decided even for himself what he would do.
   Fox didn’t stay long after dinner was finished, just moved over to the door and waited expectantly. I opened it and went outside with him, closing the door carefully behind me. Let the Papillios think about that awhile!
   “Fox, Pffrother, I wish to thank you again for your helpff today, even if it was sort of rough. I think I understand pffetter now.”
   “You are welcome, Little Brother. I’m glad I was able to learn about your danger and get to you in time, no thanks to OldCoyoteSpirit. I hope you live many years and grow a strong, highly opinionated spirit before you join back with him! He knew about all this from the first, and was too embarrassed to mention it to me! That one can be very trying.
   “Now I think I’ll be going. Please get back into school as soon as you can, and study hard. I’m eager to hear from you when you begin to learn the humans’ secrets! If the plan works for you I may even try it myself some day.”

   That night I slept deeply—slept until morning-noises from the house woke me. Still dark, but dawn not far off. Breakfast under construction. Normally I would have been the first one up, but a bit of laziness was understandable, considering.
   I untangled myself from Smokey and wiggled my way out of the doghouse, prompting him to do the same. A tight squeeze for both of us, but doghouses are better that way when it’s cold outside. Rather more warmth than we wanted just then, as it was no longer so bitterly cold. Dust-like snow was still falling, with a scant paw-thickness on the ground. I could still see the faint outlines of last night’s tracks.
   A soft scratch and whimper at the back door got me inside, where I fawned on Ernie until an indoor breakfast was offered. I hardened my heart against the quiet, hopeless whining coming from Smokey’s direction. He would have to fend for himself.
   My efforts got me breakfast indoors, but Smokey was actually fed first. All the other animals ate before the Papillios did, and it was a big production. Fruit, nuts, grain, alfalfa pellets, dog food, cat food, dead rats—there was a lot of food to be distributed, and it took quite a long time. Mr. Burrey and I helped too. Not a word was said about the impossible fox who had visited with them. It was as if the humans had discussed the subject and agreed to set it aside.
   Mr. Burrey was glum at breakfast, and reaffirmed his intention of leaving right away. Soon he was on the phone with Mooney, asking what she wanted done with me. I was not consulted, of course.
   More conversation, this time with Ernie and Nana. From the phone I heard Mooney’s voice extolling my virtues—my friendliness, lack of aggression, and general all-around niceness. “No trouble at all.” Not much said about obedience.
   Soon it was all arranged. Mr. Burrey would be leaving but I would not. The Papillios would ‘take care of me’ until Mooney wanted me back. She would come herself to get me.
   I just couldn’t believe it. They were all treating me like a piece of property—like Mooney owned me. And these were the good humans! For a short time I considered running off to teach them all a lesson, but I’m not quite that stupid. Humans can’t help being what they are, and one must make allowances.
   Mr. Burrey left shortly after breakfast, but he did find the privacy to talk with me one more time.
   “I’ll be back, Coyote. I’ll pick up my things from Sunbow and leave as soon as I get there, but I’ll get this thing licked somehow. I know there has to be some other way besides Fox’s, and I’ll keep working until I find it. Wish me luck!”
   “I wish you luck, and success, and hapffiness, Mr. Furry Feet, and I wish us together again soon, without the curse!”
   I pushed up against his waist for a quiet moment together, and maybe an ear rub, but then I distinctly felt something rubbing against my other side in much the same way. I whipped around and nosed my flank, but found nothing.
   “What’s up, pup? Fleas in the wintertime too?”
   I don’t have any fleas, summer or winter, and Mr. Burrey knew it. “Its just the wind in my fur,” I told him.

   We didn’t say much after that, and soon all the humans were gone. After they left I stood with Smokey and we howled together. He has a nice voice.
   The powder snow was still falling and I couldn’t just lie around watching it. I was going to unclip Smokey’s chain and take him along, but thought better of it. I had a long, hard run in mind, and his foot wasn’t quite ready. Smokey didn’t agree. He began chewing urgently at his chain as soon as I headed out, but there was nothing to be done about it. As I moved off further he switched to howling and barking, but I didn’t answer. After a short time the noises stopped.
   I was puzzled that he should resign himself so quickly, but soon found the reason for his sudden silence. He had gotten loose somehow and was streaking gleefully toward me over the new-fallen snow. Foot didn’t look sore to me, but I thought he was simply ignoring it. It really was just a little cut. His problem, anyway.
   We finally had our run together without disturbance. No magic, no danger, no foxes, and no humans. Just the land, the snow, and a good companion. We used up most of our daylight that way, and I felt much better afterward. Smokey was exhausted, just as Lazytail had been at first, but his feet seemed fine as we trotted on home. I had expected his cut foot to give him trouble long since.
   When we reached Smokey’s chain, I found the collar chewed rather than slipped off. I could have done that for him, but Smokey couldn’t reach it himself. That’s the whole point of a collar with a metal chain: You’re not supposed to be able to get it off.
   I thought maybe Fox had stopped by, but I couldn’t smell a trace of him. The snow was too trampled to show separate tracks very well, but all I could find were Smokey’s and mine, and the humans’. Very puzzling.
   I knocked Smokey over with my shoulder so I could check out the bottoms of his feet, and I encountered another puzzle. The cut was still there all right, but I was expecting to find it puffy and oozing from all the abuse it had taken, and it was not. It looked more like something you would find under a clean bandage. His pads were tender from all the running, but nothing worse. Magic again.
   “Fox!” No answer.
   “Fox! I know you’re around here somewhere. Don’t hide from me!” Still no answer, just another mystery. Plenty where that came from.

   The short winter day was ending but it wasn’t nearly time for the Papillios to come home, and I was hungry. Seemed like a good time for some judicious exploration of the house.
   I found dog food, of course, but the only meat I could reach was a freezer full of lab rats. I ate some dog food out of the bag, careful not to leave crumbs on the floor, and prepared to take some of the rats to share with Smokey. I thought about the she-fox, and for her I selected a smaller rat which looked like it could be jammed through the mesh of her cage. I went out to give that one to her first, before presenting anything to Smokey.
   Smokey wasn’t chained up any more, so he was waiting for me on the front porch, and shouldered up to make a game out of trying to snatch the vixen’s rat from my mouth. I was too quick for him. Still, we tussled up to her cage rather boisterously, and found her crouched in a back corner, hackles up and mouth gaping in menace. No point trying to make friends just then, so I pushed the rat inside and left it there.
   I had three rats dangling by the tails when I came out next. Too hard to protect effectively, and Smokey got one right away, prancing off in triumph to eat it in his chain area. I didn’t really like that place, so I moved off farther from the house to a flat, undisturbed area with a good view. Smokey would no doubt join me shortly.
   Frozen rat is quite agreeable. The bones and wood-hard meat combine to give you something to really crunch down on, and it’s not gone so quickly. This one had a touch of freezer burn, but was pretty good otherwise. Nice and fat.
   “That tastes pretty good, doesn’t it?”
   The words were spoken softly, right by my ear, and I jumped up in panic. Dropped the rat, too. I hate to be surprised like that.
   It was my Spirit Children, or at least one of them, the smallest of the litter. She was standing close beside me—looking up in the ‘I am just a hungry puppy and you are my hero and provider’ posture. Not much of a threat there.
   We held our positions during the minute or so it took me to calm down. The pup could have leaned forward and taken one of the rats. I certainly wouldn’t have stopped her! Instead she just waited silently and almost patiently, tail twitching a little.
   I broke the silence. “Fox said you’re not supffosed to talk to me.”
   “Fox is not here!”
   “Uh, yes.”
   “That sure looks interesting. Is it good? I haven’t eaten food in a very, very long time.”
   “I see. Pfflease, won’t you have some? I have pfflenty more inside the house.”
   Daintily she leaned forward and took away the half-eaten one. She began to gnaw at the end I had started, and soon became utterly absorbed in her work—growling softly to herself and forgetting about me completely.
   I gazed down at her numbly. She looked and smelled completely real to me, but I had not heard her coming. On a hunch I swung around in a full circle to look for tracks, and there were none except for the ones she had made while beside me.
   A touch on my neck, and I jumped again. Another pup. “May I have one too?”
   “Uh, yes. Of course.”
   The next touch didn’t surprise me so much, and a moment later they were all with me.
   The three ratless ones followed me gleefully to the house, and they were leaving plenty of footprints this time.
   “Stay outside!” I told them at the door.
   “Yes, Father!”
   I took four more rats from the freezer, and searched carefully to see if I had left any signs of my visit. Some melted snow just inside the door, and the missing rats. There were a lot more still in the freezer, so there was a reasonable chance they would not be missed. Good enough.
   I distributed my booty on the front porch. Smokey was back already for another. He was right in among the pups, treating them as if they were all just part of the family and had every right to be there. I didn’t give him a rat.
   “One each is all you get. This one is mine,” I declared firmly, and moved on to my open space again. No argument. They all seemed willing enough to treat me as boss. Good thing, as I was not in the mood to fight anyone or anything just then, especially these little Pups that were not pups.
   We were all napping, shortly—the seven of us tangled together on the snow like a real pack. We were still lying that way when the humans came home.
   The truck engine roused me while it was still quite a way off, as they always do. I had only been dozing lightly anyway. The Pups-not-pups were still there, for a wonder. I had thought they would be gone.
   They stayed with me until the last possible moment, and a little longer, so that one was caught in the headlight glare for an instant as the Papillios’ truck swung up to the gate. I think it was on purpose—teasing them.
   Smokey and I waited at the gate, ‘helped’ Ernie open and close it, then harried the truck to its parking place and waited there while Nana got out. The humans deserved a warm greeting, even if I was being kept against my will. It was not their fault.
   Ernie caught up with us and slipped an arm around Smokey’s neck. “Heh—Psychopup! What are you doing loose? I’ll have to tighten that collar of yours a notch. Leather must have stretched. How ya doing, Coyote? Got any more fancy tricks to show us?”
   Tricks? So they want tricks, do they? I rose up onto my hind legs and balanced that way, which made me taller than Nana. I was out of practice and had to dance back and forth a bit to keep from falling, but I pretended it was on purpose.
   “That’s a trick, all right! Who taught it to you? Not that little coyote we just saw, I bet. Is he another one of your friends?”
   My balance was coming back to me and I stopped shifting and swaying so much, only stood there gazing at Ernie impassively, front paws folded up against my chest. Ernie was still bent over to keep his arm around Smokey, so my head was well above his, and the only strong light was from the truck cab behind him. Light from that direction would make my eyes glow nicely. Cold and green and deep with sinister wisdom, I hoped.
   “How long can you keep that up?”
   I had my balance back completely, and just stared down at Ernie without moving. Not quite a threat stare, but it had the desired unnerving effect.
   “All right guy, that’s enough. Uh, down boy!
   I got down then, and rolled over in mock submission. Didn’t want to actually scare the poor man… much.
   The Papillios blamed me for the destruction of Smokey’s collar, and replaced it by looping the chain directly around his neck and fastening it with a little bolt, snugged down tightly with a wrench. No one was mad at me, though. They considered it a typical thing one would expect from a half-tame monster coyote. That’s what Nana said, at least, as she scolded me and kissed me on the nose. Her hands smelled of chemicals but the rest of her was quite nice. I burrowed my head inside her jacket and she let me keep it there while she rubbed my shoulders and chest.
   “Come on, you old sot. We have work to do!” She pushed me away and continued on, so I followed closely beside, reaching forward to nuzzle her hand or elbow from time to time. Mooney would have told me to stop being a pain, but Nana seemed to like it. Still, I was not invited to an inside dinner that night. It was regular dog food in the yard for Smokey and me.

   Late that night I was startled awake by the sound of breaking wood. Smokey and I scrabbled and tore our way out of the doghouse, falling over each other in our haste, but we didn’t give voice. I like to know what’s going on before I bark, and I guess Smokey felt the same. Sensible fellow.
   Smokey was stopped by his chain but I hurried on to where the sound had come from and found the vixen’s cage door hanging open. The still air was heavy with Fox’s scent and I could see and smell their trail, but I certainly wasn’t going to follow it! This was Fox’s business, not mine. I went back to bed.
   Ernie was the fox feeder next morning, so he was the one to discover her escape. I stood innocently beside him as he examined the cage latch, which had been ripped loose from the wood.
   “Shit! How’d that happen? Nana! Suzie’s got loose! Cage door’s all busted open.”
   Nana came running over, and considerable discussion ensued. They even looked suspiciously at me. The wood was sound and the bolts had been well anchored. No way could one little fox have exerted that much force! No cougar or bear tracks, nor human for that matter, and the snow right in front of the cage was too trampled to make anything out. They did recognize the double set of fox tracks leading away.
   “She’s found a friend, it seems,” concluded Nana. “That’s all we wanted for her anyway. Hope she’s all right. Hey, Coyote! Do you suppose it was that handsome fellow you brought by to visit us?” I nodded my head solemnly at Nana and she looked back at me uncertainly. Neither of the humans came up with a satisfactory explanation for the cage door.

You’ve just read the middlemost 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 anybody who’s only following the serial from issue to issue!

Part 1 -=- Part 2 -=- Part 3 -=- Part 4 -=- Part 5 -=- Part 6 -=- Part 7

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