by Michæl Bergey
Text ©2009 Michæl Bergey; illustration ©2009 Kenket
= chapter 17 =
Dog food breakfast, humans gone, Smokey chained up securely. Looked like a pretty blah day. Maybe the little coyotes would come by for a visit.
They did. Walked up like regular creatures this time, leaving tracks and everything.
Greetings, Father! Do you have anything to eat?
Theres dog food. I dont think I should take any more rats today.
Whats dog food? Is it made from dogs? Thats okay. Where is it? Does it taste good?
They were all talking so it was hard to sort out one from the other. That seemed to be the way they always acted. If they were really that loquacious, I had other things to talk about besides dog food.
Ill pffring out some dog food for you to taste, pffut first I have a question to ask.
Oh, were not supposed to answer questions! Fox would really get mad then! If we tell you too much about the old ways you wont be able to understand Science. Can you do any Science yet? It was the smallest one speaking again. She seemed to be their leader, in a way.
A little. Pffut first let me ask my question. You dont have to answer if you think you shouldnt. I want to know why you need to eat. Arent you all just spffirits? Also, what are your names?
All the Pups held very still for a moment, then the little one answered, Call me Cicéqi. Im much more than just a spirit. All of us are. We dont have to eat, but we like to, especially when were solid like this. Now please dont ask any more questions. We want the dog food you promised.
The Papillios got their dog and cat food for free, and it was good stuff. The company gave it away to vet students so they would get to like it and recommend it later for their patients. I had heard Ernie tell that to Mr. Burrey and it made some sort of sense, I guess. There certainly seemed to be no shortage. I found a small plastic bucket and filled it up to take outside, careful once again not to spill any.
Science Diet Canine Maintenance was a big hit; almost as good as frozen rats. It was faster to eat though, and soon they were asking for more.
How much does it take to get you full? I inquired uneasily. I was sure to be caught soon at this rate, and then Id be locked out of the house and not be able to get any at all.
Oh, it depends. How much would you like it to take?
I would like you to pffe full right now, and ready for a napff or run.
Okay. It was as simple as that. How convenient.
Can we go for a run now?
Sure, but youll have to run the regular way, like me. No Medicine tricks.
Yes, Father. We wont. Of course. No problem. Trust me. All very comforting.
Isnt Smokey coming too?
Im sorry, pffut I dont know how to free him. Can you helpff me?
Oh, no! Were especially not supposed to start doing things for you! Thats worse than answering questions and talking.
Well, then do it for yourselves! I dont know how. I was getting a little irritated at all these rules they would inform me about, then break at the slightest pretext.
Cicéqi spoke up slyly, Cant you use Science to get him free? Or if you wanted to, you could teach me how to do it with Science. Then it would just be a lesson. I wouldnt really be helping you.
Right. Just use Science. But then, at least this was a subject she was willing to talk about. Might as well give it a try.
This chain is made from a metal called iron. Its very strong, and impffossipffle to pffite through. Youre pffropffapffly not familiar with it.
Oh, we know about Iron. Iron used to be very rarejust fell from the sky sometimes in very hot lumps. Then the White People came, and now Iron is everywhere.
So you know all apffout iron. What do you need Science for? I supffose if you had that chain around your own neck youd have no troupffle at all getting loose. Isnt that true?
Yes, of course. That would be easy.
Im not supposed to Cicéqi wilted under my glare, then continued meekly, Oh, never mind. I would make myself smaller and walk out of it, or make myself stronger and bite through it, or just leave this World entirely and come back in a different place. Probably I could think of other ways if I worked at it, but still I dont know how to create Iron like the humans can, or even form the chain. Teach me.
Okay, Ill try. Mouse and I just finished learning apffout it in school. First of all, the iron you knew pffefore came from meteorites. Meteorites are chunks of stuff that fall from outer spfface down to Earth, and they get very hot when they hit the atmospffhere. Sometimes theyre made of iron.
Whats outer spfface? Is that the Sky Land? We go there sometimes, and there arent any chunks of Iron lying around. Someone there must have them hidden, and throw them down when were not looking.
No. If you go straight upff through the sky the air gets thinner and thinner until you cant pffreathe any more. Then youre in outer spfface. The thought of not being able to breathe made me suddenly ill, and I paused for a moment, thinking of Foxs teeth on my throat.
Cicéqi was looking skeptical. Lets forget about outer spfface for now. I know the humans have a better way to get Iron. Did they teach that in school too, or did they just tell you to go looking in outer spfface?
Yes, they did. You need iron ore, limestone, and coke, which is not Coke like you drink, pffut something they make out of coal. Then you pffut it all together in an opffen hearth furnace and heat it upff until it all melts, and then molten iron runs out from the pffottom and slag is left on topff.
Yes, I see. Can you make some for me now, to show me?
No way. I dont have any iron ore or limestone or coke, or even an opffen hearth furnace.
So you dont really know how to make Iron.
No, not really, pffut they did talk apffout it in school. Most of the humans cant make it either. They need to have a factory, and they need to go to a spffecial school to learn how. Ive only pffeen to school for four months, and I dont even have hands.
This Science is harder than I thought. Isnt there anything useful you learned about Iron?
Well, you can melt it if you have a hot enough fire, and you can change its shapffe pffy hitting it hard, espffecially when its hot. Thats called forging. Also, it will rust if you dont pffaint it or cover it with another metal called zinc. Thats called galvanizing. Seethis chain is already rusty. If it stays out here long enough it will rust away to nothing, like the old farm machines in the fields.
Why does it rust? Is that like wood rotting?
Cicéqi was nosing the chain near its steel anchor stake, where it trailed down to ground level and wasnt rubbed smooth by Smokeys movements. The rust was thickest there. I know the smell of this rust. Its like a special type of earth some of the People use for face paint.
Yes. Iron ore was used pffy the humans for pffigments pffefore they learned how to make iron from it. Its supffosed to pffe red, pffut not as red as pfflood. Sometimes I can see the color for myself. Look there where Sun is shining on it strongest, and you can see it too.
But you said that was rust, not Iron ore. She seemed to be thinking hard about something. An idea, maybe.
Yes it is. Rust and iron ore are the same thing. Iron is made pffy taking oxygen away from iron ore, and its always trying to recompffine with oxygen so it can go pffack to pffeing iron ore again.
That explains it! Iron doesnt really want to be Iron. He never did. He always wanted to be face-paint dirt. Iron ore. All we need to do is bring Oxygen here, and Iron will transform himself back into face-paint dirt, and the chain will be gone.
Oxygen is easy, I offered tentatively. Its in the air all around us. Pffut rusting takes a long time.
Oh, this is wonderful! The school is workingyoure thinking just like the new humans. Watch this!
Cicéqi pressed her nose to the chain segment she had been examining, inhaled deeply, and held her chest full. She did something magical then, I couldnt tell quite what, but I felt it with my whole body and I wanted to join her. In a moment I would join her. She began to breathe out softly and sing or hum andsomething else. I was just beginning to understand when one of the other Pups pushed himself between us, turned around to face me, and sat down. My view was blocked, and I no longer heard the singing, no longer felt it. Sorry, Father, he said. She forgets herself. Smokey was standing right beside me, but no one moved to block his view.
After a minute or two the Pup stepped away, and I went over to investigate the chain. Cicéqi was standing proudly over her work, and with good cause.
The chain beneath her was thickly crusted with fresh rust. Flakes peeled back and crumbled away even as I watched. I moved over to sniff closely and received another shock. The rust was spreading rapidly, and the snow beneath it had begun to melt.
The magic is still working!
Cicéqi favored me with a toothy, knowing smile. Your children can be very persuasive, she replied.
I never realized you were so powerful!
Yes, we are. Or rather, you are. All our strength comes from you. But this was a Teaching Song, not a Power Song. Only the Quickening came from me, and now Iron is using the Power of humansand your ownbelief in Oxygen to help free himself. In fact, this Song actually generates Power. Very dangerous magic! Too bad we didnt think of it back when they were building the railroads.
I was listening to Cicéqi, but with only part of my attention. Mostly I stared fixedly down at the chain section she had first sung to. On my face I could feel heat from it, and the snow had melted back to a distance of several inches.
Cicéqi, when will the spffell pffe finished?
Oh, when all the Iron in the chain has found his Oxygen. Dont worry. I sang softly so that only this chain could hear properly. I think.
How hot will it get?
I dont know. Ive never done this before. Does Oxygen get things hot when she joins with them?
Yes. When wood or other things pffurn, that is from oxygen joining with them.
No. Fire has nothing to do with Oxygen. He is never mind. Were supposed to be doing this by Science, so Ill listen to you. Are you trying to tell me Oxygen will make Iron burn? Ive seen Iron in Fire many times, but Ive never seen him burn! Why should he do so now, just because I showed him how to attract Oxygen more quickly?
I dont know. I get confused sometimes apffout all this. Still, that chain looks awfully hot! It wont hurt Smokey, will it?
The rust line had extended a great deal while we talked, and the original section was putting out heat of an intensity that forced me to back off a bit. It was in Suns full light, but I think in the dark it would have been glowing. Rust was flaking off at a furious pace, and the solid cores of the links were getting distinctly thinner beneath it all.
Smokey moved back with me, then retreated further, dragging at the chain so the hot section was pulled across a fresh patch of snow. There was a loud hiss and popping sound, and the snow flashed instantly into steam, startling all of us.
Smokey threw himself to the end of his chain, and kept on going. The thin, heat-softened links had parted with little resistance, but still made a lot of steam as they hit fresh snow, and Smokey decided he wanted to leave them behind.
We caught up with him in seconds, but then Smokey wasnt really scared. His chain was dragging along in a very ordinary way now, except for the dark line of rust and half-melted snow it left behind. All that fresh snow was keeping it cool, but the rust spell was working as hard as ever.
Cicéqi! What do we do when the pffart around his neck gets hot? Cant you stopff it now?
Youre the one who knows about Science! You tell me what to do. It would have been nice if youd mentioned about Oxygen getting things hot before you asked me to destroy the chain.
Thats not exactly the way I remembered it, but too late now. All I could think of was to throw Smokey into some water, or keep rolling him in a snow bank to keep his neck chain cool. It ought to work, if he cooperated.
No liquid water nearby, so it would have to be a snow bank. There were plenty in the shady areas, from previous snows. When we passed a nice big one I stopped and persuaded Smokey to sit down with the remnant of his chain resting safely on deep snow. It began to sink in immediately.
Cicéqi, Im going to keepff Smokey here until the chain has fallen away from his neck. Ill keepff rolling him in the snow so the chain stays cool, pffut he may pffanic and try to run away. Will you helpff me if that hapffens? You dont have to use any Medicine Pffower if you dont want to. We can all sit on him if you like! Think of it as a game. If Smokey gets away, he dies and you lose. If the chain falls off without hurting him, you win. I offer a pffowl of milk for each of you as pffrize!
How could they refuse an offer like that? I think the Pups would have held down a wounded rhinoceros for me. As it turned out, I didnt need their help at all. Smokey was puzzled at first, but soon he realized what I wanted and cooperated fully. I just had to nudge him now and then when he was distracted by the puppies hanging on all over him.
The bolt rusted through before the rest of Smokeys chain did, but we were all covered with thick, grainy rust mud by then. Smokey was neither frightened nor injured, and had no idea of the danger he had just escaped.
We proceeded then to a magnificent steeplechase of a run, and the Pups cheated at every opportunity. So did I, but they were better at it. No one was keeping score, though. They knew they had already won their bowls of milk.
Youre a lot more fun than you used to be! I hope you stay this way, Cicéqi exclaimed at one point. She was hopping about like a chickadeeeyes flashing and tiny teeth everywhere. I felt old, trying to keep up with her.
We returned home near dusk, tired and filthy. The rust mud didnt rub off of our fur as well as regular dirt did. Maybe thats why its so good for paint. My feet were clean, though, and I left no significant footprints in the house as I gathered up a plastic milk bottle and five bowls. I put the bowls out first, laying them in a neat row on the porch, well separated. Dividing the milk into five precisely equal portions was harder. I did my best, but the Spirit Pups could not be satisfied.
I gave up on it, finally. This is as even as youre going to get from me, I declared. You can decide among yourselves who gets first choice. That got them off my back, but precipitated a heated internal squabble which I left them to conclude on their own. Come on, Smokey. You and I dont get any at all, so dont even think apffout it.
Pffy the way, I suggest you consider yourselves full and sleepffy after you finish your milk. There wont pffe any other food for you today.
I stood guard at the base of the porch steps, keeping Smokey away while the Pups sorted things out, then took their rewards with single-minded intensity. Some of them were making a sound almost like purring as they drank. I didnt think it would be a good idea for Smokey to try pushing in and taking any just then.
When the Pups were done I let Smokey inspect the bowls and give a last lick or two, then picked them up to put back on their shelf. Milk bottle went in the outside trash can, and the rest was up to the Papillios. Maybe they would think of a plausible explanation for the disappearance of a half-gallon of milk and a twenty-foot steel chain. They might not even notice the milk.
It was dark again when I heard the Papillios truck engine, but the sky was absolutely clear with a strong afterglow in the west. Stars were everywherealready brighter and closer than I had ever seen at Sunbow. Still too early for Moon.
Smokey and I began to worm our way out from the pile of Spirit Pups, but they all got up with us and we moved as a seething, ragged pack over to the cattle gate. As before, the Pups waited until they were almost in the headlights, then burst away in all directions like a flock of frightened birds. This time, none of them were caught in the light. Smokey and I sat down by the gate latch like loyal dogs. I would have had the gate open already for John or Mooney. My pleasure. All I could do for these humans was wait and act hospitable.
Smokeyyoure loose again! Your head must be smaller and softer than I thought. Guess Ill have to tighten that chain another link. Cant believe it. You didnt hurt yourself, did you?
Ernie got out and started going over Smokeys head and neck while the truck was still idling at the gate, so I skipped over to Nanas side and scratched at her window. She rolled it down and I stuck my head inside to lick her face enthusiastically, front paws on the window edge to steady myself. It was a comfortable position I could hold forever. Not like balancing on my hind legs.
Coyote, dearweve got to stop meeting like this! My husband will find out. She was teasing me, not speaking softly at all, and Ernie could hear every word. He had finished with Smokey and was pulling the gate all the way open, so I had to jump down to let Nana drive forward, and ended up helping Ernie close while she continued ahead to park.
Smokey and I gave him a proper greetinglicking and nuzzling his face from both sides, then curling our two bodies around him like a pair of male grunion I saw once on television. Ernie would be the female, since he was upright.
Ernie struggled free and pushed on toward the house while Smokey and I nipped and pulled at his clothes. Nana had taken the opportunity to escape without hindrance, and was already inside. I continued up onto the porch to get in too, but Ernie stopped me at the door.
No way, Mister. Youre too filthy! I can see that now.
You know, Coyote, I think Nana and I have been had. Youre a juvenile delinquent whos already corrupted our poor Smokey, and we didnt even know. Dont try to deny it! I can read your face like a book. Guilty until proven innocent. Thats my motto for the likes of you! So I brought you a bone. Nana! Could you hand over those two soup bones? Im being attacked by wolves at our door, and I need them now or youll have to find another vet student to support!
If the humans plan was to get us out of their way while doing chores, it was a good one. I worked on my bone up to and then after dinner, although both of ours disappeared during the night while we were asleep. Probably ended up in one of the Spirit Worlds, or some such place.
Nana was the one who fed us that evening, and she gave only a cursory flashlight search for the chain before continuing on with the rest of her duties. Itll turn up in the morning, she told us. Dont run away, please.
Smokey and I didnt run away, but we did leave home. Our doghouse collapsed shortly after we entered it, while we were still circling and pushing against the walls to make ourselves comfortable. That was quite a surprise, since we had both treated it much more roughly just the night before when we burst out to investigate Foxs activities. The house had felt quite solid, then.
This time a few gentle stretches and bumps sent the walls toppling outward and the roof clunking down onto our shoulders. No harm done, except to the house. We just moved out and settled down together in the cold, cruel outside world a few feet away. Didnt really make that much difference to us.
Next morning no one said a word about missing milk, and explaining the collapsing doghouse was easy. All the nails had rusted away to nothing. Must have been substandard quality.
The humans never did come up with a satisfactory explanation for the missing chain. I think the collapsed doghouse and lack of daylight rather hampered them in that regard. They had left for work in darkness and hastewaving flashlights here and there but never closely investigating the missing snow or the rust-stained, trampled dirt which marked the place where Smokeys chain and steel anchor post had been. They never saw the straight, deep, rust-caked groove his chain had melted into the snow-covered rangeland as far off as one could see, or the big and little paw prints swarming over it. Thats what I saw the next morning when I tried to look at it as a human would, but Nana and Ernie had missed most of that. In the winter they only saw their home by Suns light on weekends, and this was a Thursday morning.
All right, you guys, Ernie had told me as he stepped into the truck with Nana. The chain is gone, and we dont have another one. You have two choicesyou can behave yourselves, or you can get yourselves shot by the neighbors. Let me know what you decide. Then Nana started the engine and they drove away.
We didnt get in trouble. No, not us. I was tired of getting caught, so I didnt, and the steaks we stole were delicious, and poor Smokey was corrupted even further. Not the Pups, though. Theyre beyond corruption.
High clouds oozed in all during that day, and snow was falling by nightfall. That was very convenient, as there were a good many tracks on the ground I didnt mind seeing the last of. Especially the ones from our steak raid to the Papillios northeast neighbors. The chain trail and associated oddities were covered up too.
Ernie came home with a bag of galvanized nails, and set to work on our doghouse first thing. The job appeared to be an easy one for him, except that something was the matter with his tools. Huh! Whats with this hammer? And the pliers, too! Never had a rust problem like this beforenot out here, at least. Its worse than at the beach! Guess Ill have to keep em in a box with some Dri-rite, or something. What do you think, Coyote? Dyou suppose that old chain just rusted away? Nah.
Poor human. They do have trouble understanding things, sometimes. I began to howl softly and politely, inviting him to join in with me. Howling always makes me feel better, and I thought Ernie might be one of those humans who could benefit as well, like my family at Sunbow.
Thats right, Coyote, sing it out! Ive-got-them-rus-ty-ham-mer-bluuues
Then he laughed, and howled properly. Smokey joined in too, of course, until we were all interrupted by Nana.
Hey! You animals cut that out and get back to work! Weve still got a million chores to do. We havent even started the feeding yet.
We all stopped howling, and Ernie resumed hammering on the doghouse. It didnt take him long to finish, and when he was done the thing looked as strong as it had ever been.
My visit with the Papillios settled into more of a routine after that. They didnt bother to buy a new chain for Smokey, and I kept him out of trouble to make sure they didnt regret it. The Pups manifested frequently, and I could feel they were close, even when I couldnt see or smell them. We didnt try any more Science lessons.
The Papillios really did have a nice place, and I relished the open skydidnt miss the trees much at all. I missed Lazytail, though. Passionately. I might be doing anything, and then suddenly I would think of her and go all melty inside, and just stand there dreaming with my eyes open.
The Spirit Pups read my thoughts without scruple, and Cicéqi often teased me about my infatuation. Whats all this fuss about mating, anyway? Your turn will come! One time she changed her body to be mature, in full heat, and just my size. She even got the scent right, and as she pressed up against me I thought my heart would burst from beating so fast and hard.
I was on her in a second, grasping with front legs and getting myself frantically and clumsily into position while she braced her legs and held as steady as It couldnt be true! I had never done this before, but I was so ready Kept trying and missing, trying and missing, until at last I felt the tip slip into her. Instantly I began to thrust forward, and she disappeared.
Cicéqi didnt really disappear, but rather shrank so rapidly it was near the same thing. I pitched helplessly onto my nose and onto her, felt her wiggle out from under me, caught my balance, and stood up. Cicéqi and the others were sitting in a circle around me, laughing with their tongues. Cicéqi was a puppy again.
Youre not supposed to do that with your children, Father! Or so some say. And do you really want me pregnant right now? Our offspring can be rather interesting. One day Ill tell you story of you and me and Fox and the first jackalopes.
I couldnt think at firststared straight ahead for a minute like Id been cow-kicked, then finally understood.
A fine joke indeed. At my expense, of course. I was not amused, and showed it.
Oh, Coyote, youll get your wish soon enough. We like these feelings too, and well share yours when the time comes, but the time is not now. Lets go for a run!
= chapter 18 =
I was at the Papillios almost two weeks altogether, but it seemed much longer. Snow came now and then, but mostly the weather was clear and cold. Never as cold as on the first days, though, and sometimes it would thaw for a few hours during the middle of the day.
The sky was clear when Mooney came for me, with a strong breeze from the northeast. It hadnt snowed for a few days, and the roads were open, but it was still dark when she arrived. The arrangement had been for her to meet with Nana and Ernie at the university so she could follow them home without getting lost.
Moon was in the sky againevening sky nowher whisker-thin, growing crescent chasing Sun closely as he set. Eleven more days and Mr. Burrey would be running on four feet again, if Fox didnt catch him first.
I thought about being aloof and cold to Mooney when she emerged from her van, but when she touched me I couldnt help myself. In a moment I was tasting tears on her face, along with my favorite jojoba and almond oil lotion.
Its good to see you again, Stinky. Sorry John couldnt be here too, but he and his boss had a long, unpleasant talk about chronic absenteeism, and he needs to be good for now.
So. They tell me no one caught you getting into trouble. How skillful of you! Well make a politician out of you yet.
No need to answer that one, even if this were a talking time. I just continued to rub and nuzzle her in the traditional manner, which was all I wanted to do anyway. Smokey watched from a safe distance, but he didnt seem upset. A good start.
Mooney and the Papillios were already through with their own greetings, and they soon finished with me and got to work on chores. When they were done I pushed into the house along with Mooney, and no one stopped me. In passing I noted that the porch boards were even looser than usual, and the steel door hinges were in a terrible state. Suspiciously rusty.
Youve already had your dinner, Stinky, but you can share a little bite with us too, if you like. I gave three exaggerated nods like a circus dog, and the other humans laughed.
How many tricks does he know? Ernie asked.
Oh, quite a few, Mooney evaded. He comes up with new ones all the time. Has he really been well behaved?
Yes. Its almost uncannylike he knows what youre saying. Its been kind of a weird time in general, though.
Im afraid to ask, Ernie, but I guess I should. Whats been weird?
Oh, like theres been people on the property, but no footprints in the snow; animals acting strange; things missing or breaking down for no reasonthat sort of stuff. Sounds kind of like the start of a ghost story, doesnt it? But I dont want to scare you. Its lonely out here, but we like it. Nothing happens that you need to be concerned about. Thats just for the movies.
Mooney looked sympathetic. Dont worry about me. Its you I feel guilty about. Youve done me a big favor by taking care of Sin-Ka-Lip, but you should know that if anything strange has been going on, its probably his fault and itll go back to normal as soon as he leaves. Ill spare you the details. Its kind of a hippie, alternate consciousness sort of thing. You know how we are.
Dont put yourself down, Mooney, interjected Nana. Vet students and lab techs can be just as flaky as anyone else. Youd be surprised what we might believe!
Mooney laughed, So dont tempt me! Get me started, and who knows what Id end up saying. Never could keep a secret. Anyway, if theres been strange stuff going on, its not dangerous and should stop as soon as we leave. Dont worry about it.
The humans kept telling each other not to worry. Interesting. Should I? Nah, that would be too cruel. Still
Mooney, what is Coyote doing? Ive never seen him act that way before!
I was staring at the front door with ears aggressively forward and tail straight back. Slowly I curled my lips and started a low growl, like there was something quite nasty on the other side. I lifted my hackles, but couldnt quite fake a good fear-scent. No matter. The humans couldnt tell the difference.
Ernie was the male, and the biggest human, so there was no question about who would have to check the door. He stood taller, pulled his shoulders back to look as large and strong as possible, put his hand on the knob. I hung back like I was scared to go with him, and lowered my tail a bit.
Ernie opened the door boldly enough, and stepped out onto the porch. Nothing there, not even Smokey. Suited my game perfectly.
Hello? Is anyone there?
Ernie stood on the porch for a time, called out again, then came back inside. I stayed where I was and continued to stare at the door after it was closed, growling softly with each exhalationa wheezing growl, with a strident edge to it that almost scared me. Im pretty good at that sort of thing.
After a time I shifted my focus to the left, as if the object of my attention were circling the house and releasing emanations of horror only I could detect. Rover had picked up the spirit and was helping me by standing on the sofa back with fur fluffed, ears back, all the usual. She had even begun to roll out some of those soft, insane little cat moans that make you want to back away very slowly and carefully.
All conversation had stopped. The humans were staring at me, fascinated. I could feel their Presences contracted closely around their physical bodies, quivering with tension. I tried to expand my own Presencemade myself a room-sized coyote, pressing them against the wallsthen bigger still. I threw myself outward beyond the walls as far as I could go. It was something I had never thought to try before.
Nana shuddered. Its awfully close in here. Maybe we should open a window for a minute. But no one did.
I shifted attention again, locking my gaze onto the back door. I stiff-walked over to it and reached my nose slowly, so slowly, for the knob, then jerked away and skittered back to the center of the room, hackles up even more, tail curled tight between legs. I changed growl into whine, still softly with each breath.
Ernie opened a closet and pulled out a shotgun, which I saw by rolling my eyes without turning my head away from the back door. The gun looked dusty and old, like it hadnt been fired in years. I decided the game had been played far enough, and prepared to relax.
I felt a Presence outside the house.
It was not human, it was not one of the Puppies, and it was not friendly. Thats all Ill say about it for now. I would really rather not encounter one again.
I produced the real fear-scent then. No trouble at all. Stopped whining and stared outward in utter silence. It was beyond the kitchen window now, still circling the same way I had pretended to start it. Soon it would be back at the front door.
Ernie was searching deep in the back of the closetfinally came out with a box of shells, and loaded the shotgun. None of us went near the door.
I had stopped trying to puff up my Presence or otherwise toy with such things, but a different kind of strange thing happened then. Suddenly I felt cut off, the way my hearing goes when I get water in my ears. I could hardly feel the humans around me, and lost touch entirely with the thing outside. I think my physical hearing was affected as well.
I wasnt sure if this new development was good or bad, but that didnt matter. No way was I going near that door, and my humans obviously felt the same. We waited.
The numbness lifted as abruptly as it had come over me, so that I started, and the humans did too. The strange Presence was gone, but it took some time for Ernie and me to work up sufficient courage to leave the house and investigate. For the first time in my life I was glad to smell a gun close by. It was quiet outside, and bright enough for a human to see. Moon was almost set, but the cloudless sky and the snow gave her all the help she needed. Smokey was not in evidence anywhere, and Ernie called for him. No response.
Something was wrong with the doghouse. Normally it would be the first thing one saw when opening the front door, but now it was gone, or broken down. I glided forward to investigate.
Theres a type of cheese called String Cheese which Mouse is fond of. Sometimes shell tear it apart into bundles of fibers, then pull those fibers apart too. Thats what had been done to the wooden boards that made up our doghouse. No claw or tooth marks, no marks from human tools, just a birds nest of twisted splinter-strips the size of wheat straws. A kicked-open birds nest. Even the hard-frozen earth beneath and around the house had been dug through and thrown outward, but not by claws or tools. The dirt looked more like a loaf of bread that had been plucked at idly by the fingers of a human child.
Ernie was staring at the doghouse remains. He already had a fine fear-scent going, but it grew even stronger as he stood there. My feelings exactly.
There were no new tracks, and no new scents besides those of broken cedar and disturbed soil. I felt no magical effluvium at all, but I was still just learning about that sort of thing. This lesson was not a pleasant one.
We left the doghouse behind and walked past the human house toward the paddocks. They were empty, and broken down on the far side. No sign of horses anywhere. I wondered at the time why I hadnt heard them crashing through the fencedidnt come up with the hearing block idea until later.
The owl and beaver were still there, sort of. They had not been overlooked by our visitor, and they were quite thoroughly dead. Even I felt pity for those two.
We went inside to report to Nana and Mooney, but I soon slipped out again. Upset is far too mild a word for the way they were feeling, and fear-scent choked the house. They had already started one of those endless, go-nowhere human discussions, and I needed to find Smokey.
His track was not hard to followpaw prints deep and well spaced. He had been in a hurry, as was proper. I settled into a fast lope, ready to go as far and as long as I needed to. No way could that pup leave me behind! Soon I noticed Cicéqi and the others running beside me. Hadnt seen them arrive. As usual.
I stopped to ask Cicéqi if she knew anything about our visitor, but she beat me to it.
I cant believe even you would be stupid enough to summon a Ga`at! Her voice and posture carried such a conflicting set of signals I gave up trying to sort them out, except to note that they were mostly negative. I was not pleased with the situation myself.
Whats a Ga`at?
Never mind what a Ga`at is! What were you doing summoning one?
Acting out of ignorance, as you all seem to want me to do. Are there any other stupffid, deadly things youd like to warn me apffout now, or would you rather wait until later? Just what did I do to pffring it over, anyway? I was only trying to pfflay a joke on the humans pffy pffretending there was something dangerous outside. How could that summon anything?
You were mocking themsaying, Behold! Here stands Coyote in the World again, frightening his friends to feed on their fear like a blood-sucking gutworm of a Ga`at!
I said all that?
You didnt have to. The Ga`at know how you feel about them. Exposing yourself as you did could only mean an insult and challenge, and one of them came for you. We didnt want that, so we shielded you and your friends. We used the fur you had shed in the doghouse as the base for an illusion, so the Ga`at thought thats where you were, for a while. Ga`at are not very bright, and not good at perceiving this World. In the end it decided you were not really here at alljust the illusion. Another Coyote trick. Sorry about the owl and beaver. They were outside our circle of protection, and not free to run away.
Thats all you need to know about Ga`at. Please dont tease them any more. The Ga`at may be slow and stupid, but they really are quite dangerous. Youve ruined this house for the humans. Ga`at are not good at crossing over into this World, so once theyve been shown how to get to a particular place, they tend to keep coming back to that place.
I see. Thanks so much for the tipff. I had no idea soul-eaters were so common.
The Ga`at are not soul-eaters. They just kill you slowly, feeding on pain and fear and despair. When theyre done your soul is free to go where it will.
Thats nice of them, pffut Im not sure I can learn to accepfft that.
You never did.
You mean theres something good apffout the old me? Thats wonderful!
We think so. But dont let it go to your head. Youre still basically a jerk.
What a put-down. I lowered ears and tail, struggling to absorb the unexpected insult and put it behind me, but then I noticed something funny about Cicéqis posture. She was teasing me!
Enough of that!
I leapt sideways to bump my shoulder hard against Cicéqis, then grabbed her throat as she went down, and held her pinned to the ground in proper coyote style. She lay limp and rolled her eyes up to look at me, also in proper style, so I let her go after a short time. She jumped up to lick my face with frantic puppy kisses while pushing her head and shoulders up under my neck.
That was fun! Lets do it again!
Suddenly the others were pressing around me eagerly, and we joined together in another greeting session. Spirit Creatures are weird.
Eventually we caught up with Smokey, comforted him, and turned him around, but we never got him all the way back to the house. He balked about a mile out, and wouldnt approach any closer. As I said earlier, hes quite a sensible fellow.
I persuaded the Pups that staying with Smokey to keep him company was not forbidden as long as it was their own idea, and they laughed. Thats what we were planning to do all along! they told me, as if those words had a special meaning for them, and were another fine joke on me. I didnt mind, just thanked them and loped rapidly back to report to Mooney.
Mooney was upset that I had run off into danger, but couldnt say anything in front of the Papillios. When I got her alone I rushed to start talking first, to distract her.
The danger is pffast for now. I can feel it. I found Smokey, pffut he wont come pffack all the way. Can you get in the van and come helpff me? Maypffe hell go inside.
The van trick hadnt worked for Lazytail, but that didnt mean the idea was worthless. Mooney agreed, eventually, after repeated assurances that it really was safe to go outside. We left with the Papillios phoning all their neighbors to track down the horses. It was almost midnight, which I thought was rather late for humans to be doing that sort of thing, but I guess they couldnt help themselves.
One of the gate hinges broke while Mooney was opening it to take the van through, but she managed to prop the thing up behind her so it didnt fall over. This gate is shot! Rusted clear through. Theyll just have to buy another one, I guess. Come on Stinkyyoull have to point out the way for me. You want to run, or ride?
I think Ill ride this time. Ive done enough running for tonight.
We got Smokey into the van eventually, but it was not easy. Mooney had to turn off the lights and walk quite a distance away before he would go near it, and even then he wouldnt go inside. I could bully him all I liked, but thats not the same as making him go where I wanted him to. I think if it had been just me and Mooney we would have failed in the end.
I lost patience finally, and spoke with words, All right, Smokey, this is it! If you wont get in the van, Im sending Mooney pffack and well spffend the rest of the night right here where we are. I hopffe you realize this means no pffreakfast for us.
Smokey couldnt understand me much, but the Pups could. My comment about breakfast had been for their benefit, since I always shared my food with them when the humans werent looking. They didnt need to eat a lot, if I reminded them about it.
Smokey gave a sudden, surprised yelp and looked to his flank. His hindquarters were at an odd angleas if something invisible was pushing him while he braced himself against it. He began to take reluctant, mincing little side steps toward the van, then darted suddenly forward, or tried to. He only got a foot or so before running into something else invisible, and then he was being pressed from all sides, herded gently into the van. Thats the way it looked to me. I dont know how Mooney perceived it. Moon had set, and I dont think a human could have seen much.
I slid the side door closed myself, and called Mooney back. Ive got him! Then we both went in through the drivers door, opening it just enough to squeeze through one at a time.
I went to join Smokey in back. He was pressed into a corner, but didnt really smell that upset. He wasnt frightened of the van, just hadnt felt like entering it.
When we got back to the house, Smokey wouldnt leave the van. He did become upsetstayed pressed into his adopted corner and whined frantically when I tried to leave. I think Ill spffend the night here, Mooney. Why dont you go inside and try to get some sleepff?
Okay. Ill go in now, but I doubt any of us will sleep tonight. Im still planning on leaving at first light, though. Thats in just a few hours. You sure its safe out here?
Yes. The thing is gone, and I pffromise to make a lot of noise if it comes pffack. Also, its slow. Smokey and I can run away if we need to.
Stinky, what do you know about all this? Youve been playing with magic, havent you?
Not on pffurpffose, honest. Ill tell you all apffout it, pffut it would take hours. I met Fox! He tried to kill me, pffut were friends now, and he sent some spffirits to pffrotect me. I think were safe for now, pffut Im worried apffout these humans. I think they should move away from here right away. You will talk to them, wont you? Tell them you think that thing may come pffack.
The next day was a Saturday, so the Papillios could devote themselves to putting their home back in order. The horses hadnt been found during the night, but first light brought a phone report that they were in custody, with minimal injuries. They had run almost twenty miles.
Mr. Blevens says he can keep them for a few days until we get things back together here. Theyre too spooked to touch yet, but there are no flies this time of year, and the cuts will heal fine on their own. Tilly threw a shoe.
Well, she needed to be done anyway, Nana replied resignedly. Im just glad it wasnt anything serious.
Nana was out in the yard when Ernie gave his report, so I could hear them easily from my station in the van. I had only left to shit and pee, and Smokey hadnt even done that. He wouldnt eat his breakfast, either. Smokey whined quietly at the sound of Ernies voice, so the man came over to us again.
Come on Smokey, buck up! You cant go on like this. Ernie squeezed past me to sit on the steel van floor beside Smokey, massaging his shoulders tenderly. Smokey leaned into his hands and groaned, but he wouldnt get up when Ernie grabbed his scruff and gently tugged. We had already been through this several times.
Ernie left to help Nana with the paddock fence, and Mooney came out to visit. It was way past first light, and she was ready to go, but she didnt want to pressure Ernie about the wolf.
Did they pffelieve you when you told them apffout their danger?
Oh, they believed me, but we humans dont just move out like that. Its even worse for them. Where would the put all the animals?
If we take Smokey theyll pffe down pffy four. Thats all the outside ones excepfft the horses. Quite an attrition rate, and all my fault, in a sense.
Ill talk to them one more time, and I will offer to take Smokey, but the rest is up to them. Were leaving this morning regardless.
Yes, Mooney. I cant argue apffout that, pffut pfflease make sure they really understand. They can leave their stuff here for now, pffut they and the other animals need to go today, and the house should pffe destroyed.
Thats a lot to ask of a human. Are you sure about this?
Oh, Im sure, and you are too. What if you had pffeen out with the owl and pffeaver last night?
Mooney went on to join the Papillios at the paddock fence. They had already fixed the broken section, but were investigating the other rails closely. I saw Ernie kick one, not very hard, and it fell off.
They stopped working and began an intense discussion with Mooney. This time I paid attention and heard most of it. It was just as Mooney had tried to explain to me. They believed her, they were frightened, they wanted to move, but they couldnt afford to. Money again. These humans were just as broke as Mooney, and paying even the simplest bills was a feat they were not certain of repeating each month.
When the three humans came over, I knew what Mooneys report would be. Alright, Stinky, its time to go. Well be taking Smokey with us, and he can stay permanently if he gets along. You should like that. Nana and Ernie will find a new place as soon as they can.
Not a good enough answer, but no surprise. I had already decided what I would do next.
Yes, Mooney, I answered distinctly. Sun was shining full on my face, and they all could see my mouth and tongue move as I spoke.
I turned to Ernie. Thank you for your hospffitality. You cook excellent steaks, and I liked the pffack rupffs too.
To Nana: I will always remempffer our meeting together in the truck, pffut I must leave you now. I think your huspffand suspffects something. This was a serious occasion, but I couldnt resist trying to making a joke out of it. If I werent a coyote Id be ashamed of myself.
Stunned silence. Of course. I was almost learning to like it. Mooney spoke first.
Coyote! What are you doing?
She called me Coyote!
These pffeopffle need to have things expfflained to them, and I thought you could use some helpff. The other two humans still hadnt moved or spoken. The expressions were hard to read, but I certainly had their attention!
Well, Ernie, dont you have any questions? I dont supffose youve met a talking coyote pffefore.
Is that all you can say? You watch Star Trek. What would Capfftain Pfficard do? Ernie still seemed stuck in silence, and I was going to prompt him again, but then words broke loose.
Well, what do you expect? Of course Ive never met a talking coyote! Have you been doing this all your life? Why didnt you mention it before? And what do you know about all this stuff thats been going on?
Ernie shut up as suddenly as he had started, like he was surprised by his own words. Nice response, though.
I am Coyote. The Pffeopffle are always making fun of me in their stories. Im their favorite characterthe clown who is sometimes downright nasty, sometimes a hero. You met my friend Fox last week. Hes like me, pffut more respffectapffle. A little.
I had heard these things said about me but I had never repeated them aloud. As the words left my mouth I knew they were true.
I am here on a quest that has nothing to do with you, pffut I made a mistake last night and now this spffot is too dangerous for anyone to live here any more. The creature that visited us last night may come pffack from time to time over the years, pffut I will not pffe here, and so my Medicine Pffowers will not pffrotect you as they did last night. That is why you must leave now, and pffurn the house so no one else can live here.
Did you say burn it down? Thats crazy! Ill just explain to the police that a talking coyote told me the house was haunted and had to be destroyed. Im sure my landlord will understand and not press charges. Maybe Im crazy already. Nana! Am I crazy?
No, Ernie. No more than usual. Your delusions are just speaking out loud this time.
Nana was still looking at me. She hadnt turned her eyes away, even to answer Ernie. I just cant believe this. You cant know what this means to me! To see real, living magic right here in front of me. In broad daylight
Her voice faded to nothing and she continued to stare at me like she wanted to eat me. I did understand how she felt, though. I think I must have stared at Fox that way when I first met him.
Enough of this stuff. The humans would require time to adjust no matter what, but Smokey was suffering and we needed to be going.
Ive only spoken to four humans pffefore you two. I may talk to others some time, pffut mostly not. Its too confusing for everyone.
Pfflease listen. Last night I tried to scare you all as a joke. Just a joke. Good one, too! I pffretended something horripffle was outside, pffut then there really was something. Something even worse than what I was imagining. Its called a Ga`at. If you meet one again youll pffropffapffly die unless you can run fast and far. Ive pffeen told they like to come back to a pfflace theyve pffeen to pffefore. Thats all I know apffout Ga`at, pffut its enough for me. And enough for Smokey, too! I never saw the Ga`at pffut I pffet he did, and he wont even come out of the van. I dont think your horses will like it here any more either.
Mooney says its time to go, so well leave now. I like you pffoth, and I dont want you to die, so pfflease find a new pfflace. Im very sorry apffout your house, pffut if youre not too mad at me I would like to see you again sometime.
It was Nana who made the decision official. Well do as you say, and no, we dont hate you for what you did. The situation is way beyond that. She paused again, Real magic, right here in front of me. She moved up shyly to touch me, and I let her. Treated me like I was made of glass or cobwebs.
Yes, Nana, Im real, and my left ear really itches, way down inside where I cant reach it. Why dont you use one of those wonderful long, soft fingers to scratch it for me?
Ernie spoke up suddenly. We can take the animals to school! Well use the horse trailer to move them. Theres plenty of room in the exotic animal ward, and I have a key. Dr. Hendricks will be mad, but shell forgive me if I have a good enough story, and shell keep the Dean off my back. Naomi and I have plenty of friends we can stay with for a little while. We can do this if we have to. Weve just never been evicted by a demon before. Only regular landlords.
Im not quite certain, pffut I think demons are a lot worse than Ga`at. I hopffe none of us ever meets one.
Youre serious, arent you? How much of this magic stuff is real, anyway? Should we believe every single thing weve ever heard, no matter how dumb it sounds?
I dont know. Im just learning, myself. As far as Im concerned Im just eleven years old, almost. Its a long story, and I think Smokey needs to pffee more than anything. I know how he feels. I really am sorry apffout spffoiling your house. I had no idea this would hapffen.
Ernie smiled and shook his head, then opened his mouth to speak, but Mooney interrupted.
Okay guys, I know its weird and rude for Stinky and me to just drive off after totally messing up your world like this, but thats what were doing. Its going to take you a while to learn to deal with it, if you ever do, but my friend here has invited you into one very exclusive club. Come see us at Sunbow if you decide you want to join.
Then she slid the door shut, closing me and Smokey into the back of her van, and a moment later she was starting up the engine. Just like that. I love Mooney. At times shes almost as practical as a coyote.
The second gate hinge broke when the Papillios opened up for us, and the middle part was collapsing too. Through the rear window I could see them each holding up the broken gate panel with one hand and waving goodbye with the other. Lost and scared, but I think joyful too, in a strange sort of way. I hoped they would choose to visit us some time.
We stopped in empty, snow-covered wheat fields a few miles out to let Smokey do his business. Mooney had me put a rope on him but it wasnt needed. He had left his fear behind at the Papillios place, and finally wanted breakfast. I had brunch.
Mooney took the freeway home. She said it was longer, but Highway 12 had more ice and too tough a grade for the old van. I certainly wont argue that one! Cars zipped past us the whole way, and Mooney had to add oil to the engine each time she stopped for gas. We reached Seattle at dusk. Or rather, we reached the south part of it. We could have continued south and skirted the worst of it but Mooney went the opposite way on purposedrove us clear through the center before turning back and resuming our journey. She said it was something I ought to see for myselfher words could never describe it properly.
Mooney was right. I keep trying to describe it but the words wont work properly for me, either. Theyre all just faint, distorted echoes of the real thing:
Urgently, pleasurelessly busy.
I simply cannot understand how even humans would choose to live there, yet John tells me there are more humans in Seattle than there are coyotes in the whole world. Then he tells me Seattle is only a medium-sized city. Humans certainly breed well for animals with such small litters.
Seattle and the other cities had us for over three hours. Mooney smelled terrified, and the other cars surged past on both sides like river water around a rock. Seattle was the worst, of course, but just when I thought we were free of it Tacoma grew up around us, and Olympia after that.
Finally even Olympia had passed behind, and we were free. Dark woods lay beside us now, and the road was mostly empty. Mooney broke long silence.
Sin-Ka-Lip, theres something I need to tell you now, before we get back to Sunbow. Youre not going to like it.
I felt a shock like jumping into cold water. Is Lazytail dead?
What is it? I said in a tiny voice. I dont even know if Mooney heard me over the engine noise. She continued regardless.
You wont be going back to school with Mouse. The School Board has determined that youre a dangerous animal, and cannot be allowed on the premises.
I was braced for tragedy, and I got an insult instead. Had to think it through before answering.
This is racism, isnt it?
Excuse me, Stinky. I didnt quite catch that.
This is racism. You and John talk apffout it all the time for humans. The School Pffoard is pffeing racist against me pffecause Im not a dog.
Well, I hadnt really thought of it that way. There was a report that you snapped at one of the kids, and a group of parents put together a petition to get you out. The School Board did what bureaucracies always do, and thats the end of the story.
Mooney, you know thats not true. That pffoy stepffed on my foot. Hard! I couldnt helpff myself, pffut we pffoth apffologised to each other and were still friends. I know hes not afraid of me. I can smell it. Very few of them are afraid of me.
That may be true for the kids, but theres a group of parents that doesnt feel that way at all. Theyre really upset. And theres been some stock killing going on. Some of those parents are saying you, or Lazytail, are probably responsible.
I wasnt even there! Youve had me away for two weeks!
Details like that are not important. No one in town believes me much anyway, especially after that attempted drug bust. Im just that crazy Sklarsen hippie bitch who owns a hundred million dollars worth of trees, and gets the land taken away for taxes because she wont log it. If they only knew I talk to spirits and animals too!
Is it really worth a hundred million dollars? I was just beginning to learn the mysteries of mathematics, but the basics were coming in clearly enough. It seemed to me that one hundred million dollars was an awful lot of money.
Maybe more. Those big peeler logs are hard to get now. It drives the mill owners crazy to know theres a huge stand of them just fifteen miles out of town, doing no good besides providing shelter for a bunch of worthless animals. Theres the Park, they say. Who needs more than that? Sometimes I think the whole drug raid thing was a plot to pressure me into selling out. Paranoid, aint I?
I dont know. It makes a lot of sense to me, pffut I supffose Im pffaranoid too. Im a coyote. Pffaranoid coyotes live longer.
We stopped talking for a while. Both of us had some things to think about. I spoke first.
Did Lazytail miss me?
Did she! She and Mouse have both been pining away for you, you jerk. Me, too. We three ladies just sit around and sigh for a raunchy old dog were better off without. Maybe Smokey will help take you off our minds. Hes much younger. And cute, too, dont you think?
Hes pffeautiful, pffut not like me. I am New Coyote! Im the god of the coyotes, and no one can match me. If she liked to think of me as vain, let her gnaw on that one! I had my reputation to grow into, after all.
The Black Hills passed by like fog at night, and then we were in the Chehalis Valley, and then the Wynoochee. Mooney wouldnt let me open the window much, but my nose was jammed into the crack at the top, smelling home. It was raining, of course. We had left snow and ice behind us in the Cascades.
Lazytail and Mouse both heard the van coming and met us out on the driveway. Lazytail was spinning in tight circles, whining frantically, and giving piercing little half-barks. I jumped out and fell on top of her before the van even came to a stop.
We tussled and sniffed and nipped and peedall the usual things. I wanted them to go on forever, to lead Lazy on a run through the woods that we would never forget, but Mooney brought me up short.
Sin-Ka-Lip, arent you forgetting someone?
Mouse! I rushed over to nuzzle her hands and lick her face, and she grabbed me in a hug that squeezed the air out of me.
Hffuhhfff! Thats the closest I came to words, just then. Sometimes theyre more trouble than theyre worth.
We dragged Smokey inside to keep track of him, and I kept the humans up late telling them my story. The whole story this time, skipping nothing. Mooney interrupted me many times. She was clearly displeased with some of the choices I had made, and even more displeased with Mr. Burreys part in things. I think she felt he had done it all deliberately.
Stinky, I just didnt have a clue! I would never have let any of those things happen to you, even if I had to lock you up in a bomb shelter! Oh, I dont know But how could I stop them? Coyote dear, I dont think I can protect you against stuff like this. I want to, but I just cant! She had that crying sound in her voice, and I moved over close to let her hug me if she wanted to.
Yes, Mother. I know. Well just have to try and pffrotect each other the pffest we can. I think there will pffe more like this.
I didnt worry about myself. Death had never really frightened me that much. Not like it did the humans.
Mouse, are you afraid? Ive learned that I attract magical things, and some of them are dangerous. Maypffe it would pffe pffetter if you didnt live with us any more.
No! Dont ever think that! Id rather die with you than go back where I was!
Mouse had just blown her amnesia story big time, but Mooney didnt say anything. She pretended she hadnt heard. Interesting.
I had wanted to share some time alone with Lazytail after talking with my humans, but Lazy and Smokey were long since asleep on the kitchen floor, and I was tired too. Smokey had tolerated the new humans quite well as long as they pretended not to notice him.
Excuse me, pffut I think weve talked enough now. I need to sleepff.
Mouse had been staying in Mooneys room while I was gone, and she wanted the three of us to join them there. Mooney agreed for some reason, and I managed to get Smokey in with only token obstruction from him. I did make the humans put on extra blankets so they could open the bedroom window completely. Without that it would have been just too hot and stuffy after sleeping for two weeks out in the snow. Longer for Smokey.
I waited until everyone was settled, then cuddled up close to Lazytail. Her heat fragrance was still with her, as strong as when I had left. It made me feel excited, and sentimental, and incredibly horny. Next morning we would experiment together to see if she was truly, completely past her season, but this was a time for sleeping. Too bad I wouldnt be remembering my dreams.
I felt the Pups join us just before I fell asleep. Dont know how they arrived, couldnt hear or smell or see them, but I knew they were close.
Welcome to Sunpffow, I murmured softly.
Thank you, Father. Were glad to be here.
Hot oatmeal in the morninglots of oatmeal. Lazytail appeared to have come to terms with it, and ate with relish, but Smokey wasnt so sure about this new flavor of breakfast. We mixed some dog food in with his gruel and he liked it fine that way. I wouldnt admit it to anyone, but I kind of enjoyed mine too. I grew up on the stuff.
It was Sunday morning, so Mouse would be home all day. Looked like the rain would continue all day too. No matter. The humans needed exercise so I got them started right after breakfast. That means we were walking out the door an hour later. I dont know how they ever get anything done with all that bathing, dressing, and combing. Uses up the whole day if you include cooking, cleaning, dish washing, and chores.
I walked with Mouse, of course. No one could guide her like I could. Through the hand resting on my shoulders I could feel her Presence, as strong as it had ever been. I could sense the Spirit Pups too. They were close by, watching. After a time I tried calling to them.
Cicéqi! Are there any rules against showing yourselves to my humans? They would really like to see you, and they have all sorts of food in the house youve never tasted pffefore. Were having fried tofu and rice with fish sauce for lunch. I pffet youve never tried that!
I heard a rustle in the bracken behind me and whipped around just in time to see Cicéqi emerge. I heard similar rustlings all around, and in seconds the five Pups were among us. All were dry except for moisture just starting to bead on the tips of their guard hairs.
Whats a Tofu? Is it hard to catch? Ive never seen one before. Cicéqi gave only the briefest of greetings, like we had hardly been separated. She didnt greet the new humans at all, but I knew she was watching them.
Tofu is not an animal. Its a food the humans make. Its like cheese, excepfft its made from soypffeans, not milk. I wondered why she needed to ask me these things if she could read my mind. Maybe she didnt bother all the time.
Oh, we remember now! Tofu is a traditional Asian protein staple rich in vitamins and minerals, with natural macrobiotic enzyme activity that facilitates micronutrient absorption.
You took the words right out of my mouth. Tofu is kind of pffland, too, pffut the fish sauce helpffs. Fish sauce is made in Thailand from little fish they pffut in a pffarrel to rot. Youll like it.
Interesting. Theres nothing like a human for inventing new ways to eat. Are you going to introduce us now?
Of course. Would you like to do it human style or coyote style?
Human style. They have on too much clothing to do it the other way. These humans shake hands, dont they? We will shake hands now.
Cicéqi walked over to Mooney, sat down, and moved to lift her left front foot, then switched quickly and extended her right instead. Mooney extended her right hand and shook the paw gently and without hesitation. I am pleased and honored to meet you, Cicéqi. Ive heard your name mentioned in the stories. My name is Mooney. Sin-Ka-Lip has chosen me to be his Human Guide during his quest to learn the power of the White People. Im not sure Im worthy of this, but I try.
We think youre doing an excellent job! So earnestjust like your grandfatherand Father speaks most highly of you. He has never had such fine manners! Weve already had one Science lesson together, and it worked well. We created a new Teaching Song that has never been in this World before. It has very interesting effects on things made from Iron. Did Coyote tell you about it?
Yes, he did. Im not sure you realize how powerful a magic that is!
Oh, we realize. Perhaps better than you do. But wait! You must meet my Brothers and Sisters too, and we must not forget our Mouse!
All the Pups shook hands in turn with the two humans, and each said a few words of greeting. Then they moved off in a group and paid their respects to Lazytail and Smokey in the more traditional manner. Finally I intervened to get us all moving again. I had offered them lunch, but there was no need to quit our walk early for it.
We encountered no cougar marks, but Broke Ear and Fluff Tail had wandered through more than once. There was no sign that Princess or her siblings had been with them. Worrisome.
= chapter 19 =
Mooney and Mouse were busy cleaning up lunch when I finally got my chance to be alone with Lazytail. There were only Smokey and the five Spirit Pups to watch.
I tried mounting as soon as we were out of view from the kitchen window, and things went well at first. Lazytail was affectionate and cooperativeseemed to like the game just fine until I had everything in place. Then she sat down.
Let me tell you that nothing, but nothing, gets accomplished in this business until the female is good and ready. You can whine all you like.
Well, it looked like the mating business was pretty much over. Maybe next year. Time for a run. Lazytail and I had a lot of fine country to show our guests. Might even catch something to eat.
We didnt encounter any game, but we did find Princess. She was thin and weak, and almost out of her parents territory. On the margin, actually. Where two territories come together theres always a strip that neither party is quite sure about. Thats where you go to rest when you dont have land of your own. You dont get beaten up so often, but theres not much to eat, either.
Princess was skittish, but she knew me well enough to let me approach when I left the others behind, and soon we had renewed our friendship. I still had food in my belly, so I gave it to her and she ate gratefully. It was the least I could do for an old friend down on her luck. Every coyote has to leave home some day, and its a sad, risky time.
When we moved on again I was not surprised to see Princess following us. It was a sensible choice on her part, since we were a very well-fed pack, with one friend in it already. She would tag along for a bit to see how we treated her.
I had never worried much about whose territory I was crossing; I went where I liked, and no one ever bothered me. Princess was not so fortunate. She had not abandoned her old range by choice, and she hesitated and almost left us when the time came to go back that way. I gave her a few yips of encouragement, and thats all it took. Princess was following us again. Closely now, and furtively; constantly alert for the approach of trouble. I lagged behind the others to give her courage.
Sunbow is my own personal territory. Just a few dozen acres, but all mine. Princess knew all about it, and as she crossed the boundary her footsteps became light and her tail and ears sprang upward in gay relief. Not that we coyotes ever hold our tails up that high. Its quite indecent the way some of the dogs carry themespecially Huskies and Chows and such. You can see everything in full view with the tail curled up like that. No sense of propriety at all.
Mooney! Pffrincess followed me home. Shes really hungry, and I think she has worms. Can I take her some food? If Mooney said no I would do it anyway, but I thought it would be nice to give her a chance to agree, and perhaps berate me a little if she liked. She just sighed.
Whats one more mouth to feed? Its all nothing compared with what I owe the tax assessor. Let her be our guest! You know where the worm pills are kept. Probably you should dose everyone, including yourself. Do you suppose Spirit Pups need to be wormed?
I dont know apffout that. Lets not.
Suits me. As usual, Im over my head with this stuff. You too, eh?
Princess knew about dog food. Unfinished bowls of dog food are one of the things we coyotes look for when we check out a house. She bolted it all down, including the worm medicine I had pushed into a lump of cheese on top. Afterward she wandered off into the brush, but I knew she would not go far.
Cicéqi and company disappeared after dinner, but Princess came back later for extra food, and she used a word!
One of the two I had taught her. I always knew that pup was special.
= chapter 20 =
Next day was a Monday, and Mouse went to school without me. She had been slipping rapidly behind while I was gone, and I didnt think that would change much, at least in Mrs. Stanfords class. I felt angry thinking about Mouse all alone there, and I felt guilty, too. And lost. Mooney had become accustomed to doing her chores without me, and I was needed more by my new canine family, which was finding new and creative ways of getting into trouble.
Just before lunchtime Princess killed one of Mooneys hens right there in front of me, then proudly brought it over to lay at my feet. The hens ran loose in the daytime because predators are supposed to be too shy to attempt daylight attacks. Princess obviously felt that my invitation to join us included hunting privileges.
Lazytail and Smokey eyed all this in pleased speculation, while I glared helplessly at Princess. How could I teach a wild coyote not to kill chickens? I could only drive her away, and I didnt want to do that.
Princess jumped at my voice, then snatched up the chicken and trotted off into the woods with her prize held high. Lazytail and Smokey followed after her.
What is it now, Stinky?
I explained about the chicken with some trepidation, but I was not going to conceal anything. That chicken would be missed, and someone had to take the blame for it. Mooney was irritated, but not as much as I thought she would be. Lazytail already killed two while you were gone, she admitted. I was kind of expecting this.
We had chicken and dumplings and canned green beans for dinner that night, and Mooney ate some chicken too. Shes only mostly vegetarian. The rest of her hens went into the freezer.
Damned if Im going to let you just kill them all one by one. These are my chickens.
Pffut, I didnt kill any!
Same difference. You would if you thought you could get away with it. Im only removing further temptation.
Mouse was distraught that evening, and the special meal did little to cheer her up. The school day had been rough, and when she asked to sleep alone with me neither Mooney nor I could refuse, despite our misgivings about leaving the pack unsupervised. We should have paid more attention to those misgivings.
In the morning I smelled blood on Lazytails fur. Smokeys, too. Calf blood. This time I didnt say anything to Mooney.
After Mouse left for school I went out by myself to follow their trail, and the slugs didnt even follow mejust draped themselves around the farmyard in a contented meat-stupor. They hadnt even bothered with breakfast. Shit. I never thought I would be the one to get hot about rule-breaking, but killing stock could get us all dead.
At least they had left Mr. Bells place alone. The trail led south past the Gundersons ranch to a little farm which was hardly a farm at all. Mooney calls those people Gentlemen Farmers with a kind of disgusted tone to her voice. There are a lot of them in the valley, and their places are often well worth investigating during night rounds.
I had been hoping to find the carcass and drag it away before anyone could examine it, but I was much too late for that. Several humans were there, and one of them was a Deputy Sheriff. Thats what his car said, at least. A couple of dogs were nosing around too, so I left in a hurry.
I decided to tell Mooney after all, but when I got back she was holding a letter in her hand, and had that angry-helpless scent to her. I cant believe this! Theyve sent me a writ already! It should be another year before they get to this stage.
I wasnt quite sure what a writ was, but I could tell it was something bad, and so I moved up cautiously to comfort her. Maypffe John can fix it, I suggested hopefully.
This is not Johns problem! Im a grown woman. I can take care of these things myself.
Yes, Mother. I know. What are you going to do?
Well, I can donate it all to the Nature Conservancy, or I can log it. I dont like either choice much.
Cant you log it just a little? Compffared with what you have, it wouldnt pffe much, would it?
Of course I can do that, and I will, too, but its against my principles, and Ill have to take back a lot of things Ive said over the years, including some promises. Damn! But I dont want to just give it up! This is my land. I gave up everything else to keep it the way it is.
There were no words good enough to answer that one, so I didntjust tried to be companionable and supportive. I was glad she had come to a decision at last. After a time I gathered courage enough to tell her about the calf killing. We would all be needing Mooneys help soon, and she had to be ready.
Mooney, theres another pffropfflem I need to tell you apffout. I think Lazytail and Smokey killed a calf last night.
No! Oh, Coyote! What am I going to do with you? Its not one of Mr. Bells, is it? I could never face him.
No, its not Mr. Pffells. It was at one of the little farms just pffast the Gundersons. The one with the pffoat in the driveway.
Ugh. Mr. Hubert! Hes hated me for years nowever since that time I almost got him voted off the School Board. Hell have the Sheriff here first thing.
I think maybe its time for you to go on another walk, kid. A long walk with your friends. See you at dinnertime. And Stinky, please keep them out of trouble!
Mooney had a good meal waiting for usa big pot of beans with one of the chickens boiled up for flavor. No Sheriff or anyone else had come by Sunbow while we were gone. Cicéqi and company showed up just as dinner was being served.
Where have you pffen? I was looking for you out in the woods.
We stayed here. Mooney was so worried about the Sheriff, we thought she might need some help. Besides, we havent seen a Sheriff since OldCoyote was killed. He doesnt like Sheriffs, and sometimes he would let us play tricks on them. There was one I switched ears with for a week or so. That was the best. I crept up to him while he was asleep, took his off, and put mine in their place. I thought Old Coyote would die laughing when he saw me trotting back with a pair of human ears on my head, and it was worth it even though they werent much good for anything. They didnt hear very well, and they wouldnt even turn properly. And uhgg-ly!
I didnt know you could do that. These Pups seemed to think of me as dominant, but I didnt feel very dominant just then.
Cicéqi nipped me playfully on the cheek. Youre so much fun to tease! So serious! Of course you dont know what we can and cant do. Were not supposed to corrupt your sweet, empty little mind. Too bad your Children are so unreliable, isnt it? And to think we used to be the stable ones! You were much worse. Its a strange life, being the Rule-Breaker. Hard to tell if youre not doing your job well enough, or maybe doing it too well. And it hurts! The Laws dont like being tested.
What hapffened to the Sheriff?
Oh, he went off to live by himself, away from the other humans. He didnt want them to see him, for some reason. A pity. I thought he looked much better with a nice set of ears on him. He was more polite, too. I made him apologize for some things he had said, and he hardly fussed about it at all. Coyote could do anything he wanted after that, as far as our Sheriff was concerned. When he was in human form, of course. They all tended to shoot us on sight the rest of the time. Except the Sheriff. He didnt do that any more.
So you can pffe a human too? I saw Fox that way once.
Father, dont you listen to anything? None of us could ever be human, even if we wanted to. But we can put on a nice show! You could, too, if you had your memories back.
You mean Fox was just using an illusion to look human? The thought made me angry for some reason.
Not at all! Let me show you. In a minute.
All the others had finished eating and were eying our bowls covetously, so Cicéqi and I got to business. Afterward I followed her behind the goat barn and she turned one of her paws into a hand. A small, perfect childs hand that even smelled human.
Fox never smelled like that.
Fox didnt want to. He likes his scent fine the way it is.
Cicéqi reached forward with her little hand and pulled one of my whiskers until it hurt. This hand is as real as you are. Dont you doubt it. Then the hand was gone, and once again I didnt quite catch the change.
I can take the shape of man or woman, child or adultand other animals as well. I can live with them, mate with them, sometimes even be content with them for a time. And if I do mate, one or the other of us will get pregnant. Without exceptionalmost without exceptionand certainly regardless of my wishes in the matter. That is the oldest and most powerful Magic of all, and cannot be denied. And its true for you as well, even as you are nowno need to change form. Its a part of your nature that can never be taken away.
I could live with the humans, and fool the humans, but still I would not be human, and my children would be only half-human. We do that from time to time, and they usually turn out quite well. Lots of coyote blood in the People! Keeps them strong, and clever. And by the way, such children always take the form of their mother at the time of conception, and the Old Magic will not allow shape-shifting while pregnant. Its for our own protection.
Why are you telling me all this?
We know you better than Fox does. He doesnt realize how far youve already drifted from the old ways of thought.
I see, I guess.
Come. Lets go inside your house. We want to sleep with you and your human friends tonight.
Mooney and I tried to teach the Pups to play checkers, and it was hopeless. They understood the rules because I did, but they couldnt keep themselves from cheating. Its hard to put up much of a game when your opponent can read your thoughts, so Mooney and I played while the others watched.
Later, Mooney and Mouse dragged a mattress into the living room and we all slept there together. All ten of us. With our bean dinner, it was a good thing the window was open.
Youve just read the fifth installment of Anthros seven-part serial presentation of New Coyote, Michæl Bergeys imaginative novel of ancient myths and the modern mindset. Want to see what happens next? Get the Anthro Press edition of New Coyote, and youll knowlong before anyone whos only followed the serial from issue to issue!