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 -=- #31 -=- ANTHRO #31 Stories
-= ANTHRO =-
An earlier version of New Coyote was published by Five Star Books
–= chapter 21 =–

   The phone rang while Mooney was driving Mouse to school, but I didn’t answer it. I never answered the phone myself, but I was quite content talking with John when he was on the line. The speaker phone setting was best, but not actually necessary, and with Mooney’s coaching I had learned how to dial a telephone by holding a pencil in my teeth. It was not so hard, and Mooney seemed to think it a useful skill.
   “The phone rang while you were gone.”
   “I’m not sure I want any calls right now. They’ll try again if they really need me, and I’m not expecting…”
   The phone rang again while Mooney was talking, and she answered reluctantly.
   “No, not any more. Coyote is staying with friends in Eastern Washington, near Pullman, and the other one has disappeared. I think she was hit by a car or something.
   “No, I don’t think she would just go feral like that. If she were alive, she’d be coming back here. She really liked it at Sunbow—ask Mr. Gunderson.
   “Yes, of course you can come over. I’ll be glad to help any way I can.
   “Okay. That would be fine. I’ll be here.” Mooney put the phone down carefully and turned to me with a tight, closed expression.
   “That was Sheriff Pickworth. He’s taking a personal interest in this stock-killing case, and he wants to check out the Sunbow area. That man scares me. When he was pushing me into the police car during the drug raid he almost pulled my arm out of its socket—said it was an accident. He says he’s already hired a couple of professional hunters, and one of them has dogs. Walker Hounds trained for cougar and bear, but he says they’ll run down anything he wants them to.
   “Well, I guess you’ll need to be going now. Sheriff will be here right away. Be careful! And remember—don’t come back until it’s dark! Sorry about lunch, but I’ll have a nice dinner waiting for all of you.” She gave me a good-by hug, then pushed me away, and I took my pack out of there.
   I was going to take us all on a grand tour of the lower valley, but we were hardly out of Mooney’s wood when we were spotted by a log truck—came on us unexpectedly, in a section where the trees had been cut so recently there was no brush to hide behind. The truck actually stopped while the driver watched us scuttle off into better cover, and I heard him talking on his radio. Log trucks don’t stop for anything, and it gave me a bad feeling.
   Right away I led us back into Mooney’s Wood. There are no roads there, and it’s supposed to be a no trespassing area. We didn’t need a long walk anyway—might as well hang out and take it easy for the day.
   We did that, and it was rather pleasant. There had been no rain that morning, but the huge trees were still dripping slowly from the night’s rain and the moss we lay on was saturated, along with who knows how many feet of rotten logs beneath it. Thousands of years’ worth, maybe. It was still too early in the year for mushrooms or flowers, but these woods are active all year in a cold, slow sort of way, and the moss was growing just fine. It didn’t seem to mind freezing from time to time, just got back to business as soon as it thawed again.
   A raven peered at us from close above, not trying to hide. I returned its gaze idly and upside down, showing a full expanse of muddy belly fur as I writhed luxuriously on the moss and hemlock needles. Lazytail lay half-asleep beside me, smelling like herself, her season, and the moss and ferns and dead leaves and beaver pond mud we had run through.
   Magnificent scents! I could never tire of them.
   “Hey, raven!” I called up jokingly, “Have you come to join our pffack? There’s always room for one more, pffut you must pffe strong and clever to keepff upff with us, and you must learn to sing pffropfferly, like this.” I began a mocking rendition of the Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night without using words—just howls. The others joined in with a standard howl chorus, and the raven flew away after landing a dropping almost inside my open mouth. Ravens are remarkably intelligent, with a Totem similar to me in many ways. I looked forward to meeting him someday.
   As our howls died away I heard a faint sound from the west—from the way we had come after being seen by the log truck driver. It was the baying of hounds.
   Lazytail and Smokey paid no attention but Princess and I jumped to our feet and listened intently. Cicéqi and the other Pups did too. That sound could mean great danger for us.
   Coyotes and wolves are superior to dogs. No question about that! We have to be. We’re smarter, tougher, and generally healthier when not dragged down by parasites, malnutrition, and badly-healed injuries. That said, I must admit that some dogs can outperform us in some ways. I’m a superb runner, but if I raced on a track with Greyhounds I would finish last. Lazytail’s jaws are strong, but there are dogs whose jaws are stronger. Hounds are bred to chase things until they become exhausted, and that’s what they do.
   Humans kill bears and cougars with hounds, and if those hounds were on our trail, and in good shape, one of us might die. The slowest one of us.
   The slowest one would be Princess. There was nothing wrong with her that a few weeks of good food wouldn’t cure, but she had only been eating well for three days. She kept up with us fine, but that didn’t count. We were only fooling around, and those hounds weren’t.
   Princess was the first one to move, and I was right behind her—heading downstream and straight toward Sunbow. That was fine by me. It was only four miles away, and we could use it as sanctuary if we got there ahead of the hounds. I knew Mooney would protect us somehow, even if the Sheriff was still there.

   Princess and I never even got close to Sunbow. Those hounds had a fresh, clear trail to follow, and they were already nearer than I had realized. And they were good.
   Smokey and Lazytail left us behind, but I stayed back with Princess, and the Spirit Pups did too. Yes, I know, a regular coyote wouldn’t have done that. Oh, well.
   Princess tried her best, but the baying grew steadily closer and more urgent, and finally there came a savage, triumphant ring to it that I had heard before: Humans call it ‘belling’. Those hounds knew they were almost on us.
   Princess put out extra speed, and we gained on them for a time, but she couldn’t keep it up. Even I was beginning to feel a trifle winded. Panicked, too—just a touch.
   “Do you want to end this game yet?” Cicéqi asked. “You don’t smell like you’re enjoying it much.” She didn’t sound tired at all.
   “If that’s—offer of helpff—pfflease do!”
   Like a school of minnows, Cicéqi and the others turned as a unit and streaked back the way we had come. Their movements were impossibly swift—like Mr. Burrey’s and mine had once been—and they were out of sight in an instant.
   I stopped, and Princess kept going, and I was alone. After some hesitation I followed the Spirit Pups.
   I never saw those hounds, but I heard a lot. First were the sounds made when they sighted the Pups. Proud, and frantically excited, and absolutely thoughtless of danger. Hounds will attack anything when they feel that way. In quick succession followed the sounds of a very, very short fight, a few seconds of panicked yelping, and silence. The yelps had been from the throats of hounds, and some of them had stopped suddenly, in mid-voice.
   I met Cicéqi first. She was trotting back toward me with a collar around her neck that almost touched the ground. It would have touched if she had not been holding her head so high. That collar was so big she could have wiggled her whole body through it. Cicéqi stopped in front of me and lowered her head to slip the collar onto the ground at my feet. It was a radio tracking collar, and it was half-soaked in dog blood.
   “That was good.”
   Her pale fur was groomed to perfection, without wound or stain except for a faint ring of blood on her neck which had rubbed off from the collar. She smelled like herself, except for her breath, which smelled of hound dog. All parts, not just the blood.
   A moment later I had six collars in front of me—each one with a radio transmitter, and each one more or less bloody. One Pup had come back wearing two of them. The hound threat clearly was over.
   Six radio collars! That must have been one valuable hound pack. So sad.
   “What did you do?” Relief and pride and apprehension churned through me.
   “We protected you.”
   “Yes, I see that, pffut what did you do with the dogs?”
   “We ate them.”
   “Ah, yes. I see. Do you mind if I go pffack to smell for myself? We can leave the collars here for now.”
   “Of course, but there’s nothing much left. We didn’t think you liked dog, so we didn’t save any.” Cicéqi had that teasing look about her again, and the others did too.
   Sure enough, there was nothing much left. Blood and other body fluids soaked into the moss, and the ground torn up by a violent scuffle. Nothing more.
   “So you’re saying you just… killed and ate them all?”
   “What else should we have done? You wouldn’t want us to waste all that good meat, would you?”
   “Pffut, there were six dogs here, and each one four times your size! How could you do that?”
   “Oh, Father, don’t act so dumb. You know the answer to that!”
   I shut up.
   The human would be coming soon, intending to shoot whatever the hounds had not already killed. We had to prepare for that. They made a fine game of it after I explained how the man could use ‘Science’ to locate each collar no matter where it was hidden.
   Cliff face, blackberry thicket, wedged into the back of a log truck, on top of one of Mooney’s taller trees—one was even slipped over the head of a sleeping farm dog. I heard them all described in detail that evening, and they were all good. I gave mine to Wynoochee on a floating log, which was not such a bad idea either.
   When I got home I smelled ‘Sheriff Pickworth’ all over the farm compound, and in the kitchen too. It was the same man who had spied on us just before the pot raid. I told that to Mooney, then described our dispute with the hounds.
   “Stinky, do you really expect me to believe those little pups killed and ate six full-grown Walker Hounds?”
   “I pffelieve it.”
   “Yeah, I know. I do too. Wished for magic in my life, and got my wish. Lucky me.
   “Well, I guess you’re better protected than we thought. Good thing. Sheriff Pickworth took plaster casts of the paw prints around Sunbow, and he says some of them match the ones by that calf kill. He wants to set up a stake-out here with the other hunter. The one who doesn’t use dogs. This hunter likes to sit up in trees and wait for things to come to him.”
   A tree hunter! They’re even worse than the ones who run hounds. If the wind is wrong you can walk right up to one without a clue. Humans call them ‘snipers’ when they’re hunting other humans.
   “Was the Sheriff mad when you told him no?”
   “I didn’t tell him no. I said the hunter would be welcome during the daytime, and I’d feed him lunch, too.”
   “Oh, Coyote, don’t you fuss. You can’t even be here in the daytime right now. It’s a lot better for us to know where this guy is, and I might learn something, talking with him. Don’t come close unless my bedroom light is on. You can see it from South Ridge.”
   “Yes, I know. Mooney, how long will this go on?”
   “As long as it has to. I don’t like strangers around here either, but I’m not going to let you get killed, despite what your friend Fox may say. Even ‘Crazy Mooney’ has her limits.”

   We slept all together again, except for Princess, of course, and we left before dawn with a good breakfast in our bellies. Princess was getting used to Mooney, and didn’t bother to hide while her share was being brought outside. We stayed in Mooney’s Wood the whole day.
   I saw the hound hunter. He had no dogs with him, and I would have followed him around except that I didn’t trust Smokey and Lazy to stay out of sight. I didn’t trust the Pups, either.
   “Can we kill him, Father? Please? Or if you like, we could just play some tricks on him.”
   I thought for a minute, and changed my mind, “Well, maypffe you could follow him and scare him a little. Noises, and stuff like that. Pffut don’t hurt him, and don’t let yourselves pffe seen!”
   That hunter was a brave man. The Pups say he located the cliff side and treetop collars, and actually recovered the bramble thicket one, but I don’t think he had a very nice time of it. He left long, long before dark, and I never smelled him again. Later I heard he quit his contract that same day.

   The other hunter had a much more pleasant time. Mooney told me he wandered around Sunbow for hours, checking our tracks and so forth. Finally he proclaimed that Sunbow was a favorite spot of ours (big surprise) but we probably didn’t come by much in the daytime. He set up a couple of platforms anyway, sat on one for a few hours, had coffee with Mooney, and left. He would come back next day with a goat to stake out. Mooney showed me where the platform trees were.
   “He really wanted to set up at night—thought it strange I wouldn’t let him. But everyone knows how crazy I am. I think he’ll be setting up on Weyerhaeuser land or Mr. Bell’s place, so I wouldn’t do much after-dark wandering. He has a night vision scope.”
   “Mooney, what am I supffosed to do? Just sit around in the woods all day and then come home to sleepff? I’m getting pffored!”
   “I’d go with you!” said Mouse. “I’d rather be bored from doing nothing than bored from knowing nothing.”
   Mouse had not been in our thoughts a lot the last couple of days, what with the hunt and all. She didn’t complain, or even talk as much as usual, but she was having her own problems. I kept hoping the friendly humans around her at school would help us out—talk to the School Board, or something—but nothing much was happening as far as I could tell. I thought maybe they weren’t as friendly as Mouse and I had believed.
   “Tomorrow is Friday. One more day till the weekend. Maypffe we can meet somewhere on Saturday. John will pffe here too.”
   “Yeah. That would be nice. If it’s not raining too much.” Mouse sounded so depressed.
   “I recognize the scent of the hunter you had here today,” I proclaimed, changing the subject. “He’s the Elk Skull man. He’s a terripffle shot.” That was a lie, I knew. Lazytail and I had never given him a proper chance.
   “Don’t test him!” Mooney ordered sharply. “Don’t try any damn fancy stuff until we get things straightened out. This type of a hunt can’t last long. Soon they’ll shoot a dog or two, declare victory, and quit. Make sure it’s not you.”
   It didn’t seem to me the hound dog hunter would feel like declaring victory, but I didn’t say anything. My humans were gloomy enough already. Maybe the hunters really would quit before long.

   Nothing bad happened on Friday. Quite the contrary! Friday, February 2, 1990 became a very special day in my life. That’s the day Lazytail and I lost our virginity together.
   We were in the higher, westernmost part of Mooney’s Wood, near the last of the beaver ponds. The open water allowed for a view, and Sunlight too, if Sun happened to be shining, which he was. A sharp breeze from the north sent small dark-bellied clouds scudding along fast and low, almost at treetop level, and the sky above them was clear. Delightful day.
   I was resting next to Lazytail—sometimes dozing, sometimes awake. Cicéqi lay by my other side, also seeming asleep or half-asleep. The others were scattered about haphazardly, but none far away.
   Cicéqi spoke—softly and dreamily. “She’s ready, you know.”
   The Spirit Pup must have slipped a few thoughts into my head with those words, because I understood instantly what she was talking about. Lazytail was not out of season at all. She was just entering the second half of her ‘split-heat’ or ‘wolf-heat’. Funny I hadn’t thought of it before, and a great joke on Mooney. Lazytail never had been ready, not even while I was gone. Now she was.
   I didn’t move, but my heart began to hammer. Cicéqi spoke again, this time with words alone.
   “I have some advice for you. Will you take advice, or shall I save my breath?”
   My mouth was dry. I licked lips and chin and nose, then answered meekly, “I would pffe very hapffy to have some advice. What can you tell me?”
   “Lazytail is as horny as you are. She has been for quite a while, but her body needs to loosen up and stretch enough to hold you, and that’s just not possible until the proper time. That time can be today, if you both are careful and gentle. Don’t just push and bump your way in, like you’ve been doing so far. That is the traditional way of it, but she’s still not ready for that kind of treatment. You would only drive her away like you have before.”
   “Pffut if I don’t pffush, how am I supffosed to get inside?”
   “Ah, that’s the secret. You don’t have to. All you need to do is climb on top and get things lined up correctly. Lazytail will do the rest. And remember, don’t push! At least, not at first. Let her choose the pace, and she’ll allow you in a little at a time as she realizes it doesn’t hurt any more.”
   “That’s it? That’s your advice?”
   “That’s all you get right now, and all you need. Lazytail is looking forward to this as much as you are.
   “Now, about our payment…”
   “We’ve helped you out. Now it’s time for you to do the same. A little thing, no trouble at all. We want to share this with you. We can feel you from where we are, but that’s not as good. We want to be inside.”
   I knew what she was referring to. OldCoyote supposedly kept these creatures inside him almost all the time. We were made for each other. Supposedly.
   There was only one proper answer, and my nervousness had nothing to do with it.
   “Yes. Of course.”
   “Good. We will start now. First, you must open yourself to us. Let me show you how…”
   I can’t describe well what Cicéqi taught me to do. It was mental, and spiritual, and physical too. A sort of unfolding and dropping of barriers, but only for that which was already a part of me. I don’t think I ever could have learned it on my own, but I will never forget it either.
   As I held myself in that certain way, I could feel the Presence of the Pups more clearly than ever before. The others were approaching slowly from all directions, and Cicéqi was already rubbing her head and shoulder against my side. Suddenly that whole part of me felt warm and wet, like I had been splashed with dishwater or blood. The feeling lasted only an instant, and when I whipped my head around to look, the fur was dry and Cicéqi was gone.
   “Father, pay attention! We need our turns too!”
I complied.
   The four remaining Pups came in, and something else as well, although I didn’t really notice it at the time. I was rather overwhelmed, after all.
   I looked around bemusedly. Just the four of us left—Lazytail, Smokey, Princess, and me. Flesh and blood, one and all. Sort of.
   They were all staring at me—intently but without fear. All standing, now. I got up and sidled over to Lazytail, then slipped my muzzle under her belly to stroke it gently from beneath. She always likes that, even when she’s not in heat. This time she arched her back and shuddered, then stretched herself long. I know exactly how she felt.
   We traded rubs and nuzzles and licks as we had so many times before, and she held steady as I climbed on top, also as before. I think she enjoyed the feeling of my weight resting on her, front legs embracing her waist like the arms of a human. I certainly enjoyed it. This stage never lasted long though, because I would always be working away with my other end, and she would sit down and twist away when I began to make progress. I hadn’t realized I was hurting her—thought she was just changing her mind. Again.
   I took Cicéqi’s advice, moved slowly and oh so carefully, slipped into the right spot with little fumbling. I was getting good at that part. I felt Lazytail shift as if to sit down and I froze, holding myself in position with the tip only barely inside her.
   Lazytail was surprised, I think. It had never gone like this before. The game was still fun. She stood still at first, just like me. That was a pleasure in itself, standing together like that, except that it was so hard for me to keep still, especially when she began to relax and move against me ever so slightly. Just a little bit forward, my body seemed to say; she won’t object. I began to tremble with the effort of holding myself back, but I did succeed, and we stayed that way for a time. Suddenly, without any warning I could detect, Lazytail began to push against me in a kind of tentative, backward stretching motion, and I felt myself sliding into her. I lost track of everything besides the sensation of that small, slow movement. Nothing else could ever be so important. When she stopped, I was farther inside than I had ever been before, and she showed no signs of wanting to move away.
   Sometimes parts of you seem to work without instruction from your head. I still managed to keep myself from pushing, but I had no control over the series of rhythmic, pleasurable contractions which began then. They weren’t even in muscles I knew I possessed. I couldn’t stop myself from twitching strongly with each contraction, but that didn’t seem to cause a problem. Lazytail squeezed back in response.
   Another stretch, and another—less time between each one—and then Lazytail’s fourth push came up against increasing resistance. Resistance from me, not her. A canine penis is funny that way—there’s a bump near the base when one is excited. A very, very large bump which gets even larger if the shaft behind it is squeezed. A female who’s capable and willing may let you inside, but after that her muscles tend to clamp down involuntarily, locking you in place. They’re very strong muscles. Check an anatomy book.
   On that last push I lost some of my self control, and I pushed back. Pretty hard, I’m afraid, but Lazytail still didn’t move away. Instead she braced herself and joined her efforts with mine. She seemed to have forgotten any fear of discomfort. What we were doing was too important to worry about discomfort any more. Suddenly the resistance disappeared, and I lurched forward a little. Lazytail yelped and tried to sit down, but it was too late. She couldn’t sit down unless I did. We were ‘stuck’, as the humans say.
   Lazytail yelped only that one time—surprise rather than pain, I think. She was already squeezing me in a grip neither of us could possibly break. That grip was not painful. Far from it! I licked my nose in bemusement, and Lazytail did the same. So this was what mating was like. Not bad. Not bad at all! I got down from her back and swung around so we stood tail to tail, still attached to each other. I don’t know why. We all do that. Instinct, I guess.
   We stayed that way for a long time. I don’t know how long. Time didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except each other. Probably looked pretty boring to Smokey and Princess, or maybe not.
   We stayed together for a long time, and it was good.
   Different from my fantasies. Better.
   Those contractions kept on coming by themselves, mostly in synchrony with the ones I could feel from Lazytail. Kind of hypnotic, actually. I hear it’s a dangerous time—enemies can sneak up on you, and even if you see them it’s hard to run or fight with eight legs. I also hear that extreme fear can cause a quick loss of erection and immediate release. Makes sense.
   No such problem for us. Nothing but friends around us, and nothing worth thinking about besides each other. We did it all over again a couple of hours later, but after that it was time to start back toward Sunbow.
   Lazytail was in wonderful spirits—even more frolicsome than usual on the way home. So was I. She kept sneaking close to jump on top of me—sometimes to try and knock me over, sometimes to hold on and pretend I was the female and she was the male. I would hold steady for her, then sit down suddenly to make her lose balance. Several times she almost persuaded me to join her in a third mating, and finally we did, on South Ridge. Glorious view of Sunbow and Wynoochee in the northeast, Sun setting in the west. Not that I paid much attention to those things.

—= chapter 22 =–

   Mooney was cross with me for being late home, but she didn’t stay mad for long. She had news to tell. Or rather, she and Mouse both had news.
   “Mouse, why don’t you start? Tell him what happened at school today. All I know is what you said to me. I still can’t believe they really got suspended! I thought that sort of thing didn’t happen any more.”
   “Mooney! Do you want me to tell it or not?”
   “Sorry. I’ll shut up.”
   “Thank you. Well, Coyote, you know how we’ve been thinking our friends didn’t care about us? Well, that’s not true. When you were gone to Pullman, that was okay, but when I told them you wouldn’t be allowed in school at all any more, they just couldn’t believe it. None of the teachers had said anything. If I hadn’t told them, they still wouldn’t know why you weren’t coming any more.
   “They talked about it and talked about it, and finally, during afternoon break, David and Leroy said we needed to stage a protest.”
   Mouse paused for a moment, smiling. “It was a real protest, like Mooney talks about! They said I shouldn’t go with them—it wouldn’t be right. So I went to Mrs. Seeley’s room like I was supposed to, but I listened carefully, and I heard a lot. Mr. Sawyer’s office is just down the hall.
   “I think there were only eight or nine of them who actually had the nerve to cut class and go. They had a ‘sit-in’ on the hall floor in front of the office, but it didn’t last long. I don’t think they even had a chance to talk. All I heard was Mr. Sawyer telling them it was totally unacceptable behavior, and every one of them was suspended for the day. He said their parents were being called to pick them up. I thought I liked Mr. Sawyer, but he didn’t sound very nice just then. And he wasn’t fooling, either. The kids stayed in the hallway, and I heard their parents come in one by one to pick them up. Some of them were really mad. Nothing like this has ever happened before.”
   Mooney spoke up suddenly, “That’s the way it starts, you know. No one thinks it’s important—or working, either—but it gets people to thinking. If Mr. Sawyer weren’t such a nice man we could really get something going. But Mr. Sawyer isn’t the problem—it’s the School Board. And Mr. Hubert. He was against us even before he lost that calf.”
   “You know, Leroy is the pffoy I supffosedly tried to pffite. It’s kind of a joke for him to get in troupffle trying to helpff me. I guess.”
   There was the usual conversational pause, and Mouse started to say something, but Mooney told her to hush for a minute. She was thinking.
   “I’ve got it! We’ll call in the newspaper. They love stories like this. ‘Student suspended for trying to protect vicious seeing-eye dog!’ No, that’s no good. Better try again. We’ll think of something. Couldn’t hurt, anyway.”
   “What couldn’t hurt?”
   “Publicity. School Board members love it and hate it. They need to be seen doing good, kind, productive things so they can get re-elected, but they hate being criticized. We’ll explain how Mouse was brought all the way from Seattle for the special learning environment at Sunbow, but it’s all being spoiled because she’s not allowed to take her Guide Dog to school. You don’t mind, do you, Mouse? It’s the first good idea I’ve had on this.”
   “No, Mooney, its all right. I know what you’re trying to do. Just don’t ask me to talk in front of a bunch of people, okay?”
   “Okay. Good. I’ll get right to work on it.
   “But, totally off the subject, where are your pups, Stinky? I thought they’d be rolling on in by now, but I don’t see them yet. Aren’t they hungry tonight?”
   “I don’t know if they’re hungry or not, pffut they’re here already. The Pffupffs are inside me.” I nosed my belly and stole a peek at Lazytail’s. Maybe I had some puppies hidden in there, too.
   “Inside you? Like in the old legends?”
   I nodded. “Sort of.”
   “I don’t think I want to know.”
   “Mooney, I didn’t transform them into turds, or anything like that. We agreed we’re not going to do it that way. They just—went inside. They’re pffart of me now.”
   “Okay. If you say so. Don’t mind me if I’m slow to catch on. I’m only human, after all.
   “How do you take five pups inside you, anyway? They’re small, but put all together, they outweigh you.”
   “I don’t know. They didn’t tell me. Cicéqi says I’m not supposed to think that way.”
   “Well, that is our plan,” Mooney concurred. “Hope it works. I guess this means I can put away the other food bowls, doesn’t it? That’s a relief, at least. Those pups are real gluttons. Worse than you.” She tousled my head and ears for a minute, but wouldn’t go for the belly rub. That was okay. My belly had already had a good workout.
   “What do you think, Mouse? Should we believe this guy’s story? You know how reliable his word is.”
   “Yes, Mooney, we can always believe him when he’s being unbelievable. He’s not smart enough to lie then.”
   “Pffut if you don’t pffelieve anything I say, then I’m unpffelievapffle all the time, so you always have to pffelieve me. I think.”
   “See, Coyote? You’re just not smart enough to handle it. Take a rest.” That was from Mouse. She wasn’t as submissive as she used to be.
   “Now here’s my news,” Mooney interjected. “It’s not so important as Mouse’s, but I thought you’d like to hear it. The hunter was here again. You call him the ‘Elk Skull Man’, but his name is Kelly Perkins. He said the other hunter quit. ‘That guy’s not from around here,’ he said. ‘What can you expect? Someone stole his damn dogs and he blames it on spirits. Let me tell you, there’s no way no spirit’s gonna take a radio collar and put it up top a two-hundred-foot hemlock. Not that I’m saying there ain’t no such things as spirits, mind you. I seen a few things as makes you wonder, now and then. Just this winter I seen some things around my place as makes you wonder.’ He stopped talking then. I think he was waiting for a little encouragement, but I wouldn’t give him any. He probably wanted to talk about you.”
   “Aw, Mooney! I would have liked to hear what I looked like. Maypffe you can ask him tomorrow.”
   “Maybe, but I doubt it. I don’t think I like him much. He chews tobacco and spits it all over the place.”
   “Yes, I know.” He had left a fair bit around Sunbow, but none by his tree platforms. Not a dummy.

   John showed up later that evening. I gave him a hero’s welcome, and Lazytail joined me. Smokey was too shy, and refused to approach.
   “Don’t worry apffout Smokey,” I said. “Mr. Pffuffey is the only human he’s ever trusted right away. He’ll pffe okay if you give him a little time.”
   Mr. Burrey was not popular at Sunbow any more.
   “Well, I like Mr. Pffurrey! It’s not his fault he’s pffossessed pffy an evil spffirit!” Mooney would be able to understand that. She was always making excuses for people who had problems. She even said communists were just human beings like everyone else. That’s not what Mouse and I heard at school! I thought anyone who could speak kindly about communists should be able to handle a soul-devouring werewolf. I said so.
   “It’s not the same thing,” Mooney and John replied together. Should have known.
   “Okay. Forget it. Anyway, we’ll pffropffapffly never hear from Mr. Pffurrey again.”
   The phone rang. It was Mr. Burrey. I hate coincidences.
   Mooney gave him a piece of her mind, and almost hung up on him, but she didn’t do that. Hanging up is not Mooney’s style. She gets mad, all right, but she always lets you say your piece. Then she demolishes you. I don’t talk back much.
   Mooney listened, then began to look worried, even sympathetic. She excused herself to Mr. Burrey, covered the mouthpiece, and turned to the rest of us. “Now that I know about the werewolf curse, he wants to talk about it. He says it’s giving him a lot more trouble this month, more than it ever has before. He says he should hardly feel it at all this early, but it’s already on his mind a lot, and he’s afraid he may be dangerous when the full moon comes. ‘May be dangerous.’ Ha!
   “Pardon me, Mr. Burrey? Yes. I thought you probably heard that. Well, I guess so. Yes you can talk to Stinky, but it’ll be on the speaker phone setting, so John and Mouse and I will be listening too. Okay.
   “All right kid—it’s for you.”
   “Hello, Coyote? Can you hear me?”
   “Yes, Mr. Pffurrey. How are you doing? We’re all fine here.” I don’t mind talking on the phone, but I wish I could see and smell the person I’m talking to. It never seems quite real to me.
   “I’m fine too, I guess. For now. Listen Coyote, how much have you told them about me?”
   “I told them everything I can remempffer, pffut I’m sure I missed a few things. You’re not mad, are you? I thought they needed to know. Also, it was getting too confusing, and Mooney knew I was hiding too much. Don’t worry. They won’t hurt you or get you in troupffle.”
   “No, Coyote, I’m not mad. Your people really do have a right to know. If you feel you broke any promises of secrecy, please consider them forgiven. It makes things easier for me now, anyway.
   “What I need to know is, what were your impressions when we did that Neulebskar ceremony on the Solstice? Did you feel we were doing White or Black magic?”
   “I don’t know, Mr. Pffurrey. I know you’re talking apffout good or evil, pffut I’ve run into quite a pffit of magic lately, and it didn’t seem to care either way. Excepfft the Ga`at. That one seemed pffretty evil, I guess—pffut you wouldn’t know apffout that. You were already gone pffy then. You know I’m not too clear apffout good and evil for just regular living! How can I tell apffout magic?”
   I paused, then added, “So what’s with the Nolef—with that rat sacrifice thing? It didn’t seem to do much, as far as I could feel. Maypffe a little quiver of something. I don’t know.”
   “Well, the reason is—you remember that trilobite fossil? Well, it seems to have picked up some sort of an aura. My hand tingles when I touch it, and it’s hard to put down. I think it has become a talisman, but I don’t know if it will help me or hurt me. What do you think?”
   “Well, I… Mr. Pffurrey, I just don’t know. What do you think, John? You know apffout Medicine Pffower.”
   “Peter, I can’t help you much either. I was never trained for anything like what Coyote described to me. My people don’t do sacrifices, only symbolic offerings, and that’s not the same thing at all. My gut feeling is to leave the thing alone, or better yet, destroy it. But maybe I’m just prejudiced. Of course, I’m not too thrilled with Fox’s plans for you either. You need help, all right, but I don’t think we can give it to you. I guess you’ll have to track down some of those other contacts you were telling Coyote about. Good luck!”
   “Yes. Well, thanks for your help and understanding. I really do appreciate it. I’ll keep you informed. And don’t worry—I plan to be far away from Sunbow when the full moon comes. Thanks again. Bye.”

–= chapter 23 =–

   That night I heard a goat kid bleating out by Mr. Bell’s place. It sounded hungry and scared. And angry. That went on for hours, and then I heard a single rifle shot. Big rifle. I knew it had to be the Elk Skull Man. Some serious yelping followed that shot, and I recognized the voice. It was Jake, and he sounded hurt, but not dying. That is, his voice didn’t get weak and fade away like he was dying, but clearly he thought he was.
   Everyone woke with the gunshot, and Mooney called out to me from her bedroom. “Stinky, don’t you dare go outside! I don’t care who that is—you’re not going anywhere!”
   “Don’t worry, Mooney. I’m not going anywhere. Pffut I know who that is. It’s Jake.”
   “Jake? Kelly Perkins shot Jake? Oh, boy, Mr. Bell is going to be pissed! He loves that worthless old dog. I can still hear him yelping. Wonder how bad he’s hurt?”
   I have excellent ears, but Mr. Bell’s place is too far away to hear a regular human conversation, only yelling. Yelling is what I heard before long, and there was a lot of it. Afterward a truck started up and drove away, and the bleating went with it. Jake had already shut up. The night remained quiet after that, but we all had trouble getting back to sleep.

   Next morning was crisp and cold—colder than it had been for a while. All the mud was frozen again, so it was good walking weather for the humans. I’m not sure quite how the decision was made, but somehow we slipped from breakfast preparation into preparation for a major expedition into Mooney’s Wood. Mouse was coming too, and Mooney had dragged out the machete.
   My feelings were distinctly mixed. I loved to share my favorite spots with the humans, but Lazytail and I had other plans in mind for the day. Keeping myself off of her during the night had been a considerable trial for me, and she was not restraining herself at all. Mooney had scolded Lazytail twice for being a tease, and I couldn’t believe she hadn’t caught on yet. Lazytail and I smelled like each other, but the humans missed all that.
   Mooney packed a lunch, and we hiked a long way in before stopping to eat it. Afterward the humans stayed to chat and admire the forest, and Lazytail and I arranged to get ‘lost’ for a time. Of course, Smokey and Princess managed to be there too. I was never alone much any more.
   I heard Mooney calling while we were together, but that didn’t seem nearly as important as what we were doing just then. Mooney was rather irritated when we finally got back. “I’ve been calling for half an hour! Where have you been?”
   “Out in the forest. Sometimes we need to pffe pffy ourselves, without humans. I wouldn’t leave you here.” Mooney and John wouldn’t admit it, but I knew they were both hopelessly lost. Without me they would have had to follow one of Fry Creek’s branches back to Sunbow, but it would have been a long, wet, nasty walk for them and twice as bad for Mouse. We had come in through a maze of game paths, and I had chosen all the best, so that the machete had hardly been used at all.
   “Oh, I know. I just wish you’d come when you’re called. Even human children do.”
   I went into submissive posture. “Sorry, Mooney.” I wasn’t sorry, but it seemed the expedient thing to do. I don’t think Mooney was fooled.
   Mooney said it was time to head back for Sunbow then, but to me it felt too early for that, and I said so. “Maypffe you can tell us a story first,” I suggested.
   “Stinky, you know I’m not any good with stories. You tell one.”
   “Oh, I don’t know. How apffout…”
   “I’ll tell a story.” That was Mouse, speaking. Mooney and John and I were stunned.
   “Yes, pfflease,” I suggested. “I’ve never heard a story from you pffefore.”
   “Okay, I’ll try. You probably won’t like it though. I don’t.
   “Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived with her mother in a big apartment building in Pasadena, California. The little girl had never met her father, and she didn’t know who he was. Her mother would never tell her. She didn’t care that much, because her mother loved her dearly, and that was enough.
   “The little girl and her mother had a nice apartment and all the things they needed because the mother sold drugs for a living. She told her daughter it’s a dangerous job, but the pay is good. The little girl didn’t like the strange people who would come to her apartment sometimes, but there was nothing she could do about it, and it had been even worse before, when her mother was a hooker. Most of the time she didn’t see the people, because she had to stay in her bedroom while they were there.
   “One day the little girl heard her mother arguing with two men who had come over. That happened sometimes, and it always frightened her. This time the voices got very mean, and there were gunshots. Three fast ones, and then two slow ones. The shots were not very loud, but they were real. Guns with silencers sound like that. One of the men told the other one to cut it out, she was dead already. Then they told each other they might as well check for stuff and money.
   “The little girl had a fire escape outside her bedroom window, and she knew she should go out that way, but she was afraid. She was afraid to stay, and afraid to go, so she just opened the window and waited there.
   “When the two men came into the room they didn’t notice her at first, but then one of them did, and he said shit, a witness. The other man was the one who had the gun. He started to point it at the little girl, but she got out through the window before he could use it.
   “While the little girl was running down the fire escape, the man with the gun called down that she should run away, run away, run far, run fast; it didn’t matter because he would find her no matter where she went. He would be waiting for her when she least expected it, and he would kill her. He would find her and kill her. Then he laughed and laughed, the way people sometimes do when they’re on drugs.
   “The little girl went to her best friend’s house and borrowed some money for a bus ticket, but she didn’t tell anyone where she was going, not even her friend. She went to Seattle.
   “In Seattle she was lost and scared and cold, and a policeman tried to stop her and talk to her. The little girl’s mother hadn’t trusted policemen, and the little girl didn’t either. She tried to run away, but she slipped on some ice and hit her head and died. The end.”
   Now, that was a story. I could understand what Mouse was saying, but how do you respond to something like that? I didn’t even try. Mooney did, though.
   “Is that a true story?”
   “No. I just made it up. I have amnesia, so I wouldn’t be able to remember something like that. Now, let’s talk about something else. Please.”
   We talked about other things, but I don’t remember what they were. That story kept worming its way through my thoughts, and it made me feel sick and angry. Not at Mouse, of course.
   Mouse felt different on the walk back. Not happy, but relieved, like she had accomplished a difficult task that was very important to her. I tried to send back a feeling of pride and approval, and I think I succeeded.

   Sun began to fade behind a thin, opalescent overcast during our walk home. Almost looked like snow again. I voiced my thoughts about that, and John seemed surprised. “Don’t you guys ever watch the weather reports? They’ve been talking about it for a couple of days now.”
   Mooney replied for me, “Our schedule’s been all messed up. To be quite honest, I’ve been good and disgusted with the outside world lately, and sometimes the news is more than I can bear. Is it a big storm like last time?”
   “No. We may not get any at all out here, but I think I’ll move the truck down to the road tonight, just in case. It would be a very bad idea for me to miss work Monday morning.”
   We got back to Sunbow before dark, but that was okay. Mooney said the hunt was off for the weekend, and there are several ways to approach the house without being seen from Mr. Bell’s place. She walked ahead anyway, just in case.
   We had failed to encounter any Tofus on our expedition, and so were forced to feed on steaks and mashed potatoes with butter and sour cream, which John bought and cooked himself. Mooney didn’t complain about the meat at all, except to criticize John for his extravagance. She ate a full meal, herself. Maybe the episode of the chickens had affected her more than we realized.
   After dinner, Mooney worked up the courage to call Mr. Bell and ask him about the shot during the night. He told her Jake had been bothering the stake-out goat, and got his tail shot off. Shot clean off, on purpose. Hadn’t even had to go to the vet—just slapped on a dollop of Bag Balm and wrapped it up, no problem, it would heal just fine. Most hounds had their tails docked anyhow. Still, it irritated him no end, and he sent that feller down the road. He could go shoot someone else’s dog.
   “So this is your ‘terripffle shot’, is it? You stay away from him, Stinky. Do you hear me? If that man points his rifle at you, it won’t be your tail he’s aiming at!”
   “Yes, Mooney.
   “Mooney, there’s no one else out hunting us tonight, is there?”
   “No. There’s only Mr. Perkins, and he’s not going anywhere. He said so himself.”
   “Then it’s safe for us to go out for a run, isn’t it? We really do need the exercise. You don’t mind, do you Mouse? I pffromise not to let any of us get hurt!”
   Mouse nodded her head. She didn’t want me to go, but I know she didn’t want to seem over-dependent. Mooney and John reluctantly agreed as well.
   Free! Hardly out of sight before Lazytail and I were at it again. Both of us fast and sure this time—we didn’t have to be careful at all any more. The pleasure was just as intense, though. Maybe better. Afterward we raced each other north, along the river road. Lazytail and I left the others behind right away.
   It’s a long run to the elk skull cabin, but we were there before I realized it. You can see it from the road.
   All the inside lights were off, which is pretty typical for a human house at one in the morning. Yard was lit up like a parking lot, though, and the glaring mercury lamp hurt my eyes. How I hate those things! The urge to play a trick was so strong, I think the Spirit Pups may have been messing with my head. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m the one who influences them. Whatever.
   Smokey and Princess joined us as I stood there, thinking. It had to be something fast and safe. Safe for all of us. And special. A good trick has to be special.
   Television gave me my idea. Horror movies often show beasties tearing through walls to get at their victims, and this place would be easy. Cedar siding is neither strong nor hard, and one can do a lot of damage with teeth and claws.
   Good, wide old-growth boards, cracked and twisted from exposure to the elements—I chose a place where one corner had popped away and braced myself, ready to sink savage teeth into the soft, defenseless wood. Kelly Perkins’ bedroom would be on the other side of this wall. Had to be.
Go! I bit down hard, twisted viciously, and a paw-wide strip split free from the main board. I walked away, and the strip came with me, but it didn’t come quietly. Splinter-crack, nail-shriek, gurgling, bloodthirsty growl—the board and I were not being quiet at all.
   Rush back, grab again, pull away. Again. Third strip torn free, one board almost gone, time for the claws. My mouth was full of paint chips and splinters anyway. Those claws couldn’t remove wood as well as my teeth, but they contributed quite adequately in their own way—sent out sinister, frantic, scrabbling sounds as they skittered over the shattered remnants of siding board, ripped through the tar paper beneath, and raked across the wood strips and plaster nubbins of the room’s inner wall. It was easier than I had thought it would be. Plaster chunks popped loose with each stroke, and I think with a few minutes’ work I could have dug my way clear through. I didn’t have minutes, though. This man was dangerous, and I needed to be out of there before he had a chance to respond.
   I heard crashes from inside, and curses, and a thud that made the wall quiver beneath my claws. Finally the bedroom light came on.
   Time to bid farewell. Long, low howl, hammed up Hollywood style, then words, with deliberate enhancement of my voice’s natural unhuman quality, “We have come for yoo-ooh, Kel-ly Pffer-kins! In the da-arr-ki-ness we will… wa-it.” Howl repeated, quavering and demented, then out of there, full speed. I knew the others would follow me.

   Morning was Sunday, and the humans slept in, so I did too. That was fine by me. I rather prefer staying up all night and sleeping during the day. John woke me.
   “Hey, Coyote! Would you and your friends like dog food for breakfast, or eggs and sausages?”
   Tough decision. “Eggs and sausages, pfflease.”
   Mooney objected, “John, would you stop it? Sausages and eggs are too rich. They’ll give them diarrhea, and they’re too expensive. You’re not made of money just because you have a good job.”
   “No, but I have enough to buy treats for my friends.”
   My kind of man!
   The snow had finally arrived—five or six inches on the ground, and still falling heavily. Hypnotizing stuff, in the morning light. Mouse watched it through me for a time, then left to put on her heavy clothes. We furry ones ran outside straightaway.
   Lazytail and I found a nice spot behind the machinery barn where we could be alone together, but Mooney must have been getting suspicious because she discovered us there shortly afterward, butt to butt.
   “Coyote! What are you doing?”
   Dreamily I answered, “What does it look like were doing?”
   “I can see what you’re doing! Stop it!”
   “We can’t. We’re stuck.” Mooney’s discovery didn’t seem to count as deadly danger. So far. At the moment it was more of a distraction.
   Mooney was silent for a minute, then began to chuckle quietly. “My little boy is ‘stuck’. Are you enjoying yourself?”
   “Yes, Mooney, pffut I’d enjoy myself even more if I didn’t have to keepff talking.”
   “Well, excuse me! I guess we’ll just have to ‘talk’ later.
   “I suppose you’ll tell me you’re just an animal, and you don’t know any better.”
   “Yes, Mooney.”
   “If you’re really feeling bold you’ll tell me I had my chance when I sent you away to Pullman. You might even say that Lazytail doesn’t care who the father is, as long as her pups are loved and cared for. There’s all sorts of things you might say if you were brave enough.”
   “Yes, Mooney.”
   “Well, consider them said. Who am I to stand in the way of love? Come on back to the house when you’re done.” Mooney left us, then.
   This was a feeling time, not a thinking time, and I felt very, very good. No more hiding from Mooney! When we were done, Lazytail and I rushed back to her for a hug and greeting session, and everything was okay.
   Mouse and I made another snow shelter, bigger and better than the last one. This snowfall was easier to pack, even though there was less of it, and Mouse was working more efficiently.
   I wasn’t very efficient at all, but my water bucket runs were not all that critical to the project. I think Mouse was sending me off to get me and my pack out of her way more than anything else. She could have simply used the hose. She never complained about how long it took me to dance back with my sloshing, half-empty bucket. Finally I ran off into the woods and didn’t come back at all. Until lunch.
   The shelter was finished then. Mouse pulled me away and around so we could admire it together from all angles.
   “That’s a good one, alright. You could last out a real blizzard in that.”
   “Yes,” I agreed. “Or if the roof were lower you could use it to have pffupffies in. Excepfft that it would melt too soon.”
   Mouse looked at me strangely. “I thought you were supposed to dig a tunnel in a dirt bank for that, or use a hollow log or something.”
   “Yes, that would pffe pffetter, I guess.”

–= chapter 24 =–

   It was cold again by Sunday night, and the snow plow still hadn’t come, but John was able to get out by following the ruts from other vehicles. He had brought chains with him. After he was gone, the phone rang. Mooney answered it.
   It was Leroy’s mother, and she was calling to offer help. To offer help! I couldn’t believe it.
   “She says her son is really upset about you being kicked out of school, and she agrees with him. She thought the whole sit-in thing was silly, but the kids, at least, are supposed to act childish. Leroy is not a troublemaker, and it really irritated her to have him treated like one.”
   “Yes, I know,” Mouse interrupted. “That’s what I was trying to tell you. Everybody’s talking about it now. Even the teachers. Mostly they’re on our side. Mrs. Seeley’s room is next to the staff room and I can hear them through the walls sometimes. You know, I think even Mr. Sawyer is actually on our side, even though he’s acting like a dork. I heard him say he was doing fine until the School Board butted in and started ordering him around. He said if they try that trick again he’s going to apply for transfer to another district.
   “He also said it would be nice if Mr. Burrey would come back to work. He’s on emergency personal leave. Something serious, they say, but no one knows what. It was his help that got the program started, and people listen to him.”
   “Mouse! Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
   “I don’t know. Sometimes I forget things. This was all stuff I heard Friday afternoon, after the sit-in.”
   “What else did you hear?”
   “Oh, I don’t know. Nothing, I guess.”
   “You’re sure, now?”
   “Yes, Mooney. I guess. I’ll tell you if I think of anything else.”
   We slept that night, and Mouse went to school next morning with tips from Mooney on how to foment further student unrest. When Mooney got back she prepared to do the same with parents, and my pack and I went out to make ourselves invisible. As we were leaving, Mooney took out the garden hose and tried to melt away as many paw prints as possible. Especially those leading into the house.
   “I’m not sure how well this is going to work, and it’s going to make one hell of an ice slick, but there’s not much choice about it. Hope no one comes over today.”
   “Me, too. Pffut we’ll pffe okay out in the woods.”
   “Yeah, I just bet you will. Don’t wear yourselves out, and try to think noble thoughts. We don’t want those pups turning out like their father!”

   We didn’t wear ourselves out. Only a little. And I did try to think noble thoughts, except I’m still not quite sure what that means. We napped a lot between our nobility practice sessions, and made a fine day of it.
   I had us at South Ridge well before dusk, and we headed down as soon as Mooney’s bedroom light went on. I was curious about how the campaign had gone.
   “Nothing much on the school protest front, but I heard an interesting tale from Mr. Perkins today. That man was seriously frightened, night before last. Says he was attacked by evil spirits.” Mooney looked at me pointedly.
   “Spffirits? I don’t know anything apffout spffirits attacking Mr. Pfferkins.” I held tail and ears high in a parody of innocence, so that Mooney knew I was teasing her. My voice gave a clue or two as well.
   “So, you don’t know anything about evil spirits, eh? Well, what do you know?”
   “First, tell me Mr. Pfferkins’ story. I want to hear apffout these ‘evil spffirits’. Maypffe we need to pffut out some garlic or something, to pffrotect ourselves. Or spffinach. Evil spffirits hate spffinach. I’m sure of it.”
   Mooney almost laughed, but she stopped herself.
   “If you’re the ‘evil spirit’, you’re as stupid as you are disobedient. That man is not someone you should be messing with! Yesterday he put out traps and a trip-wire shotgun around his house. He even replaced the lead pellets with chopped-up silver coins. Old coins, made of real silver. No joke is worth that.”
   I was taken aback. Hadn’t considered booby traps. I would definitely leave that place alone in the future.
   “Sorry, Mooney. I never thought he would do something like that!”
   “That’s your problem, Stinky. You’re smart enough, but you never bother to think, most of the time. You just act.
   “But enough of that—we’ve been through it all before. You’ll be pleased to know your little performance was quite successful. Mr. Perkins said the Devil himself came for him that night, or something similar. In a malevolent, unearthly voice it demanded his soul, and with razor teeth and claws it began to tear through the wall of his house like it was so much rotten stump wood. Mr. Perkins said it would have gone right through that wall, but something stopped it in the end. He thinks it was the horseshoe he has nailed up above his bed.
   “Mr. Perkins spent all day yesterday in church, and he even persuaded Reverend Moke to go to his house and bless it. He set up the traps afterward, ‘just in case’. And he said he’s probably going to quit the hunting contract he’s working on with Sheriff Pickworth. He’ll decide for sure later today.”
   “Hey! That’s great! I didn’t realize evil spffirits could be so pffersuasive. I’ll have to remempffer that.”
   “Yes, Mooney?”
   “Oh, never mind. Come on in—dinner is ready.”

   Rain came that night, cold rain with a little sleet. Turned the snow into slush. We all stayed home.
   Tuesday we went out again all day, just to be prudent, but Mooney thought the hunt might be over. The only casualties so far had been Jake’s tail, and that pack of Walker Hounds.
   Mr. Bell came to visit while we were out. He told Mooney she shouldn’t put herself to so much trouble trying to hide her animals from him. He said he might be a little slow, but he wasn’t stupid, and no way could she keep him in the dark about something like that. Mooney says he smiled then, and told her not to worry. If her animals were calf killers he would most likely have noticed it by now. As long as his herd was safe, she could count on him to back her up. He even agreed to conceal his knowledge of our presence at Sunbow—said he had already been doing that. He also mentioned that Jake’s tail had got infected, and had to be trimmed off properly at the vet. He was thinking about asking Mr. Perkins to pay for it.
   I guess Mr. Bell is not such a bad neighbor, really. And Jake, too. We certainly could have done worse.
   Nothing much happened Tuesday night or Wednesday, except with Lazytail and me. We were pretty wrapped up in each other, so that all these intrigues felt somewhat unreal. I paid attention while Mooney or Mouse talked about them, but when the humans were gone, all I thought about was Lazytail. I lost count of how many times we mated, but it was a lot, and we never tired of it. It was better than food.
   Wednesday night was the first night of the full Moon. Only one month since Mr. Burrey and I had run together on the Palouse, but somehow that time felt far in the past, as if it were from a different life.
   The night was rainy. Too cloudy to see Moon, but I knew she was up there, full and perfect. At first I kept running a paw over the top of my head and muzzle, folding the ear forward to reassure myself that it was still long enough. No problem. I was me, okay to relax, Fox’s cure really had worked. I spent the night indoors, with Smokey and Lazytail and Mouse.
   Next evening I learned there had been another stock killing: A mature Angus bull with his throat ripped out. That was more than a little unbelievable. Even a cougar would have trouble doing that, assuming it had the nerve to try. People do exaggerate, though. The farmer said he had killed the bugger; shot it while it was feeding, just before dawn. It had been a huge dog or wolf cross or something like that—too big for any full-blooded wolf that might have got loose. Dead, anyway. Gut shot real bad, blood everywhere, heavy blood trail into the woods. Never did find the body.
   “That sounds like something Mr. Pffurrey might do, excepfft he tries to pffe a lot more careful, and he never kills stock. Also, he pffromised he would pffe far away right now.” Mooney had just given me her report, and it had been pretty favorable except for that little bombshell. Kelly Perkins had definitely quit the hunt, the campaign to reinstate me at school was developing nicely, and Mooney had just found a land survey company that was willing to get the logging permit process started without any money up front.
   “Well, I hope it wasn’t Mr. Burrey, and I hope the critter was really killed. Otherwise they’ll hire another bunch of hunters and start all over again.”
   “Would you like me to go over that way tonight? I can smell things out and tell you for sure what’s going on. Don’t worry, I’ll be careful.”
   “No. You might leave paw prints, or a scent trail that can be traced back this way. Much better for you to stay home again tonight. I know, you’ve napped a lot today and you’re not tired, but I don’t want to be taking any chances we don’t have to. You can go play with Lazytail out behind the barn, if you like. I won’t bother you there.”
   Mooney actually winked at me then. Fickle creatures, these humans. Lazytail, too. She seemed to be losing interest in the mating game, and I knew what that meant—another night or two of fun, and then a year of celibacy. Oh, well. It had been wonderful while it lasted.
   No sense wasting an opportunity, though. We had already eaten dinner. “Uh, thanks, Mooney. I think we may go pfflay right now.”
   Moon rose while Lazytail and I were together. I could see her this time through a break in the clouds, and spared a few thoughts to wonder what would happen if the werewolf transformation occurred right then. I could still be susceptible, after all. Mr. Burrey had said the first night didn’t have to trigger a change, but if the curse was active there would always be a transformation on the second night.
   Nothing magical happened, though. Only the sharing-magic we had found in each other.

You’ve just read the penultimate 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 how it ends? Get the Anthro Press edition of New Coyote, and you’ll know without needing to wait for the next issue!

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

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