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 -=- #32 -=- ANTHRO #32 Stories
-= ANTHRO =-
An earlier version of New Coyote was published by Five Star Books

 = chapter 25 =–

   Mr. Burrey came to us late that night, in wolf form. Strolled in through the dog door like he had every right. I awoke from the noise of the door swinging, but by then he was already standing over me, jaws positioned conveniently above my throat. Not threatening, just there. The trilobite fossil hung from his neck by a strip of leather, and there was something about that stone—something that caught my eye, and held it.
   “Hello, Coyote. So nice to see you again. You’re feeling healthful and strong, I trust?” He was speaking magically, like Fox and the Spirit Pups did, and like I could not. Lazytail and Smokey had awakened with me, of course, and had hackles up at maximum, fear-scent starting to fill the room. Me, too. Mouse stayed unmoving under the covers, but I knew she was awake as well. None of us made any noise. That never occurred to us.
   “So, Coyote. You don’t smell very sleepy. How about if we go for a walk together. Or a run. I think I could use the exercise, and there’s a farmer I’d like to visit. I have some unfinished business I’d like to complete with him. And with you.”
   I remained lying the way I was, eyes still fixed on the trilobite fossil. Mr. Burrey had said it had become a talisman. No question about that! I could feel the Power in it. But what did it do? Very carefully I answered, “You know I can’t give you much of a workout any more. Nothing can run like you.”
   “Nothing? Oh, I don’t think so. You have some new friends now. They could give me a very fine workout indeed, I expect. If they get the chance. Come now: Let us walk together.” It was an order, not a request.
   Mr. Burrey backed away from me and I got up very carefully, slinking down the hallway and out the dog door with the werewolf close behind. I was trembling violently and my legs were weak. When we were well away from the door, I heard it open twice more. Lazytail and Smokey were following us at a distance—Princess too, no doubt.
   “Go where you like—I have no preference for now.”
   I had no preference either, so we just strolled down our driveway and onward along the center of West Wynoochee Road. I waited for him to do the talking, and he took his time about it. When he finally spoke it was with an elaborately casual voice—pretending to banter, but knowing he failed. Taking pleasure in that failure. “I’ve learned a lot about my condition over the last few days. Or rather I should say, Mr. Burrey has learned a lot about our condition. I’m afraid I had to get rather firm with him about it.”
   My fear-scent had been fading with the walk, and the shivering had almost stopped, but both came back again, stronger than ever. How could I have missed it? This was not Mr. Burrey! Not speaking, anyway. The spirit had finally possessed him completely, and it was speaking to me directly.
   “Is Mr. Pffurrey still alive?” I hated to ask, hated to initiate anything at all, but it seemed the thing wanted some sort of conversation from me, and I really did care about that man.
   The wolf laughed. It should have been a pleasant sound, but it did not please me. Nothing should make a sound quite like that. Not humans, and certainly not wolves. “Of course he’s alive. He would be useless to me otherwise. He’s hardly even damaged. Just a little… diminished. Nothing he couldn’t recover from in time. However, I am growing rather tired of this ‘Mr. Burrey’. He has always been something of a disappointment, and I think I can do better. I spoke to you about it just a month ago.”
   “Uh, I’m sorry, pffut I don’t remempffer ever spffeaking with you pffefore. I…”
   “You remember! I was inside you then, and I wanted to abandon the human. You… wouldn’t let me.” I really didn’t like the way he said that last bit. For a moment I felt a touch of—something—that made the Ga`at seem homey by comparison.
   “I was only trying to save his life,” I ventured back oh-so-softly. Even that was too great a liberty.
   “His life was not yours to save! It is mine!” The words were spoken fiercely, possessively. I stopped walking and threw myself down into submission position. Not that it made much difference what position I was in. He could demolish me regardless, and I had a growing conviction that he was just playing with me, that I would be dead or worse before dawn.
   “I’m sorry, Sir. Should I call you ‘Sir’?” I was fawning for all I was worth, and it seemed to please him.
   “You could call me ‘Lykos’, but I’m growing tired of that name, too. I think I prefer the name… ‘Coyote’.”
   I would not have thought it possible to feel greater fear, but I did, for a moment. Then it was gone. My terror didn’t fade, it was taken from me, leaving me numb and confused. Nothing had changed, I was still in deadly danger, it just didn’t seem to matter any more.
   The wolf laughed again. “Most excellent! It’s been a month since I tasted emotions like those. You’re definitely worth the trouble. Now, I think—”
   He never finished that sentence because we were both distracted by the sound of paws and claws approaching at high speed. It’s a sound that cannot be ignored. Death may come that way. This time the sound brought Lazytail and Smokey, and Princess too. Lips curled back in silent snarls, eyes staring in terrified bravery—they thought they were coming to my defense, but what they were doing was useless. Worse than useless.
   I didn’t need to think. Body already knew what to do, and acted. I leapt up and threw myself in front of Lazytail to block her approach, and I tried to stop the others as well.
   My move was not the expected one, and it broke their rush—drove them all aside in confusion. I should have been helping them. They could smell how I felt. Why wouldn’t I fight?
   The werewolf was not idle. He stepped around me like I was a tree stump—moving almost languidly by his posture, but so fast he caught Lazytail while she was still off-balance.
   A push to the shoulder and he had her down—teeth pinning throat, just as I had been pinned when he first met me. He hadn’t even bitten her. Lazytail held still, just as I had that other time, and it worked for her as well. For the moment. I feared she had no ‘use’ for him except as food.
   My terror was still gone, leaving me with a ragged clarity of mind. I had Power too, and I needed to use it this moment. Now. Before I lost the chance.
   I summoned the Spirit Pups, or perhaps they summoned themselves. They were already with me, after all, sharing my thoughts and life. First hint of a call and they were all around me, solid and menacing as bears. Bear-sized, too. As one, they left me to attack—faster than I had ever seen them move before.
   There was no real fight then. Fast as they were, it was still not fast enough for surprise. A flurry of action too rapid to follow, some crashing in the roadside brush, and then near-silence… only a few twig snaps heading off south and west. Soon those sounds were gone too, and we were alone. Just me and Lazytail.
   Lazytail stood up shakily as I walked over to her. She was dazed and frightened, but apparently unhurt. Smokey and Princess crept back while we were comforting each other, and joined with us. After a time my fear came back to me, and I was actually glad to have it. The effect might have been permanent, for all I knew, and I didn’t want any part of me taken away, no matter how unpleasant or inconvenient it might be at times.
   We were still not far from home, and I headed us back that way, still on the main road. This didn’t seem like a good night for wandering.
   It wasn’t.
   I almost made it back to Sunbow—was already on our drive—when he struck. No warning at all; didn’t even hear him coming, just a massive shock to my leg and flip through the air in cruel, deliberate duplication of that first attack near Mr. Burrey’s smokehouse. Tooth for tooth, motion for motion he matched it. Arrogant bastard. As if I needed proof of what he could do.
   He held me a long time before speaking, long enough for me to feel the pain fully, and to fully grasp my position. I was helpless. This creature had defeated me; he could do anything he wished to me, and he did not wish me good things.
   “I think it’s time for us to review your lessons, little dog. Your progress so far has not pleased me. But before we start, a new lesson—a lesson about power: There is other magic in this World besides your Indian magic, your ‘Medicine Power’. Stronger magic. You will learn to know it well.”
   Even magically, he couldn’t talk well with my throat in his jaws, so before he spoke he had lifted his head up and away, causing the trilobite talisman to dangle before my eyes. It was mesmerizing—made me want to lift my head and touch it with my nose—but I didn’t dare move. The wolf-creature noticed my stare, though.
   “You like my new toy? You should. You helped make it. Delightful irony, isn’t it? Your own actions helped create the instrument of your defeat. Such a wonderful World we have been given! You and I will help make it even more wonderful. But enough talking. After tonight we won’t need to bother with it any more. Why don’t you just rest a bit, now? Your leg won’t hurt so much that way. Probably you hardly feel it at all any more. In fact, I expect you can hardly feel anything any more. Or move, either. Isn’t that right, little doggie?”
   He was right. I heard every word, but they sort of slid by me without sticking, like that time Dr. Benton gave me the ketamine shot. One big difference, though; that drug had made me lose interest in everything, but the magic stone made me lose interest in everything but itself. I stared fixedly—following its movements as the wolf slipped it off to lie on the wet gravel beside my head. Nothing else mattered.
   I felt a touch on my thigh. The wounded one, of course. It was being licked. Not tenderly, as with care and cleaning, but more as I would lick the wounds on a kill before ripping them wider to begin feeding.
   Thoughts came to me from inside myself. Not important, of course. Nothing was important.
   Listen carefully, Brother: I will not be able to repeat this. The demon thinks it has beaten us, but we have a trick or two left, maybe. Be ready! That talisman of his has confused our Children and the others, so that they can’t perceive where he is. That’s how he escaped from them, and that’s why no one is here now to help us. Watch carefully—soon will come a time when the talisman spell weakens. Destroy it then! Crush it with your teeth—do anything you can. Its magic will fail if the damage is great enough. I’ll see to it that you get your chance. Good luck!
   And… whatever happens next, know that I am proud of you. I have always been proud of you.

   Teeth, then. Teeth inside me. The wolf-thing was settling its jaws precisely back into the wounds it had just made—easing in and then grinding down to the bone—clamping there like the pincers of an ant. It should have been agonizing, but it wasn’t. Everything was numb and unreal. Everything except the trilobite talisman.
   It was done, or nearly done, and I made no defense. I didn’t even care at first when the struggle began inside me.
   It was a thing of emotions. Emotions coming from within me, but not mine. Puzzlement first, then irritation, then anger. Anger of a power I had never felt before.
   I began to feel pain, again. It was not my own pain, but it might as well have been. It came from my belly, like a cramp—same place everything else was coming from. The pain was real. It mattered. I curled into myself and whimpered, forgetting the talisman.
   Now I felt my own pain. My very own. It had been with me all along. A wolf had hold of my leg, and it hurt.
   I could think again, sort of. There was something I needed to do about the talisman… bite it?
   That was stupid. The thing was made of rock. Hard rock. I would break my teeth.
   The pain was getting worse—that other pain from inside me. I felt panic, and despair. And triumph.
   Mooney says I tend to act first and think later. She is right. I unclenched myself, scrabbled for the talisman with eyes closed, found it in an instant with the help of my whiskers, and took it into my mouth. It felt good there. Soothing. Satisfying, like food. I pushed it back with my tongue, back between the bone-breaker teeth. The strong ones. I bit down.
   I bit down with all of my strength, knowing it would hurt, but trying not to think about it.
   It hurt. Doing something deliberate like that is much worse than having things done to you. Your body feels betrayed, and lets you know all about it. The pain that consumed my jaws was truly worse than anything I had known before. I felt the two teeth shatter, felt the fragments tear and twist out sideways through the gums. I gasped, and retched, and spat out tooth chips and stone chips and blood.
   Things happened very quickly then, and I missed a lot. All I could think about was my poor mouth. And my teeth. I loved those teeth.
   Lazy and the others were there first—attacking the wolf from three sides. It released me to defend itself, but it was slow. Dazed. It gave a token snap or two, then tried to run away, and Lazy’s teeth sliced deeply at least once before they all disappeared from view.
   The turmoil in my belly pulled away from me somehow, and the feelings from it became less personal, but they didn’t change much otherwise. The feeling of triumph was gone, but all the others were still there. A desperate struggle was going on right beside me, but it was a spirit struggle. I couldn’t see a thing, and I didn’t know how to help.
   “Back away, Coyote!” It was Fox, and he had the Spirit Pups with him. I could feel the Presence of other beings too, but I couldn’t see them. They formed a circle around me.
   “Move! Now!”
   I backed away—backed past Fox and the Pups, past the circle entirely. I was ignored.
   The others closed in on the place where I had been, terrible in their wrath. Earth and Air sang with their power, and then they were gone.
   They were all gone, everyone, and I was alone with my mangled mouth and leg. Had I done the right thing? Someone would come back to tell me soon, I hoped.
   Lazytail came back first, with Smokey and Princess close behind her. There was blood scent on their muzzles, but they were unhurt. The blood was Mr. Burrey’s.
   Lazy wanted to tend my wounds, and I let her. Soon I would get up and continue toward Sunbow. Soon.
   Fox came back. He looked tired and lost. “We won.” He spoke slowly and almost doubtfully, as if he didn’t quite believe his own words. “The demon is destroyed. It was a demon, you know. Not Lykos. I should take comfort in that.”
   “What is wrong, then?” I wanted to say, but I didn’t even try. The pain in my mouth was too great. Fox noticed right away.
   “I can help you, at least.” He joined Lazytail in licking the thigh wounds. She had never met Fox, but she moved over respectfully as if she had always known him. How do they do that? Maybe someday I’ll learn the trick too.
   I felt a lethargy come over me, and I didn’t fight it. If Fox was going to help me with his Medicine Power, he could do it any way he liked. I slept.
   I woke a bit later, just a little while I’m sure, and I was cured. I knew what to expect, but so lovely to feel that it was true! So lovely. No pain, no weakness, and I wasn’t even very tired. I ran my tongue over teeth as smooth and slick as ice cubes, and nuzzled a thigh as strong and handsome as it had ever been. “Thank you, Fox, Pffrother. Thank you very much.”
   “You’re welcome. This is what friends and allies are for. I just wish I could do the same for your other self.”
   “OldCoyoteSpffirit? Pffut he’s just a spffirit, isn’t he? He’s dead already! What could he do to get himself hurt more than that? What hapffened to him?”
   “Don’t you know? He’s the one who saved you just now. OldCoyote is the hero who sacrificed himself to give us this victory.”
   This wasn’t the OldCoyoteSpirit I thought I knew.
   “A hero?”
   “Don’t be so judgmental! OldCoyote was a lot more than you realized. Such a loss. Such a great loss.”
   “Pffut what did he do? Was that OldCoyote I felt inside? I remember now. He talked to me. He said he was pffroud of me.”
   “Yes. The demon used that amulet to mislead the rest of us, but OldCoyote was already with you. He slipped in with the Spirit Pups that first day you mated with Lazytail, but you were unaware of him, and so the demon was too. OldCoyote had no Power to use in your defense, but he still had his guile. When the demon began to leave its old body, OldCoyote placed himself in its path, and shaped himself to seem like a part of you. The demon was fooled, and entered him instead. Good for you, but not good for OldCoyote. Or for Lykos. Your Children are holding them together for now, but the damage is too great. We can’t even separate them.”
   “What do you mean? Was his spffirit destroyed, or wasn’t it? I thought you said a spffirit can heal itself.”
   “It can in a living body, sometimes. Even there it may still go mad or die. In the Spirit World it is much harder. Our spirits are created from life, and only when living can they change or grow. Or heal. OldCoyoteSpirit and LykosSpirit have no self-awareness left at all. If placed with a living host like you or me, they would be overwhelmed and absorbed. Best to do that anyway, though. At least we can save some of the habits and memories. You were closest to OldCoyote, so you should be the host. You’ll receive the residue from LykosSpirit too, of course. Honor them both!”
   “Fox—how can you stand it? Do you do things like this a lot?”
   “No, Coyote, we don’t. OldCoyote and I have dealt with more new ideas during this little life of yours than in the previous thousand years. Enjoy yourself: You’re at the center of it all now, and we’re all watching you. You’ve always craved that sort of attention. May it bring you happiness.”
   “I already had hapffiness. What I crave now is to pffe left alone.”
   “Ah, Little Brother—you know you don’t really mean that. Come. Let us do what we can for my oldest and best friend. I can’t bear to lose him completely, even if it’s just a certain twist of the ears or joke from you now and then. This way—it’s easier if you stand in the exact spot where they entered into the Spirit World.”
   I hadn’t realized Fox was so sentimental. I owed him so much—promised rashly what I thought he wanted. “I’ll pffe Coyote for you! Tell me what he was like, and I’ll pffe that way. I can’t have changed that much.”
   Fox licked my cheek affectionately. “What you just said is ‘OldCoyote’ all over. You don’t have to try to be like him. Just be yourself! But come. We must act now, or lose even more of what once was.”
   I positioned myself exactly where I had been when I destroyed the talisman, except that Fox didn’t make me lie down again. He said standing was fine. Bloody fragments of stone and teeth still lay on the gravel just beneath my nose. I ran tongue again over the new, perfect ones Fox had made for me, and worried. The World is such an unstable place! Possible and impossible are not such easy concepts at all.
   “Fox, why can’t you just pffut OldCoyote into a new body without any spffirit in it? Then he could maypffe heal and grow pffack the way he was.”
   “I can’t do that, Coyote.”
   “You don’t know what you’re saying. What’s left of him isn’t really a whole, complete spirit at all—just tatters. Not strong enough. Even if I could find a body without a spirit already in it, the body would die.”
   “Because a body cannot live if the spirit cannot help it. The heart would stop, and so would the breathing. Other parts would fail too.”
   “I don’t know, they just do. Bodies always need to have a spirit with them, even before they’re born. That’s just the way it is.”
   “Where do the spffirits come from? Are they reincarnated?”
   “Sometimes. In a way, that’s what we did with you. Mostly they just seem to form out of nothing—new spirits that have never existed before. Or maybe the spirit-seeds come from somewhere else. It’s one of the mysteries we lower-plane creatures don’t understand very well.”
   “So what apffout the really little ones? There has to pffe a time pffefore they get their spffirits. What keepffs them alive then?”
   “Oh, I don’t know, Coyote. Why do you keep…
   “No, wait a minute. That’s it! Yes! The very youngest ones are not so dependent. We’ll put them both into a new puppy—one so new it has no spirit yet. We’ll make a puppy, just for them! Put OldCoyote and Lykos together in a living body with no distractions, and let them sort it out themselves.” Fox’s weariness had left him. He danced over to me, and nudged me with his shoulder.
   “Step aside, Brother. You can relax for a bit while we make our preparations. I should speak with Wolf, first. That part will be tricky, and we can’t do it without his help. Her help. She’ll need to be female for this.” Fox closed his eyes and took on that thoughtful look he had when he was speaking without words, and then his Presence was… gone. Fox still breathed—I could see the rise and fall of his chest—but I felt no life from him at all. Weird feeling!
   Fox remained that way for several minutes, then abruptly roused himself. He turned to me and beamed triumphantly. No shortage of Presence now!
   “Excellent, excellent! She has agreed, and she’ll be here shortly. I was worried she might refuse to participate wholeheartedly in a project that benefits OldCoyote, but she says she’ll do it for Lykos’ sake, and she doesn’t mind changing right now. She says it was about time anyway. That just leaves the Spirit Pups and Lazytail. Shouldn’t be any problem there! But we’ll let Wolf talk to Lazytail about her part in things.”
   Lazytail and the others had been standing by somewhat awkwardly through all this. They could tell that things were finally going well, but the details were beyond them. Of course, that pretty much summed it up for me as well. I wandered over and started a play fight to keep us occupied.
   Lazytail had me pinned down by the throat when Wolf appeared. I think she was pleased to see that. Wolf spoke to Fox first.
   “Well, Fox, you’ve certainly been busy tonight. You’ve led us to one of our greatest spirit-victories in memory. Certainly our costliest! But that was not enough for you. Now you aspire to reverse even those losses! I’m to help you save Lykos and Coyote through some new style of sex-magic that has never been tried before. That’s a glorious plan—if you succeed. Don’t you ever get tired?”
   Formidable creature! Wolf was the size of a small horse. She glowed faintly, you could see through her just a little, and she was beautiful. I scrambled up to stand facing her, ears and tail down respectfully.
   “So you are the new, improved Coyote. That shouldn’t be hard. I see you’ve started your career in true character by stealing one of my people and getting her pregnant. It appears you haven’t betrayed her yet, though. She still seems to like you.”
   Wolf paused, staring down at me impassively. “Well? What do you have to say for yourself?”
   “Uh, greetings. Wel-welcome to my home. Thank you for coming to helpff us, Sir… ah… Wolf. What should I call you?”
   “‘Wolf’ will be fine.” She seemed to relax a little. I had said the right things, so far, but the less said, the better. I waited.
   Fox spoke. “Enough visiting. We don’t have time for it. If OldCoyote and Lykos can be saved, we need to do it now. You know what is needed, Wolf. I thought it more fitting that you explain to Lazytail.”
   “Yes, I agree.” She turned to Lazytail. “You are already pregnant, as I mentioned a moment ago. Most thoroughly pregnant! You have only four, but they’ve been quite well attended to. The pups are nothing, yet, but already they have spirits of their own. They should not be harmed, and we will not harm them, but Fox wishes to help you make one more. It will nurture his friend OldCoyote, and my friend Lykos. If Luck favors us, the pup may even be born alive.
   “Fox feels he can do this, but it will require great Power. Fox and his… friends… the ones who serve Coyote… will make the Medicine using Male Power from Coyote and Female Power from you and me. You are not strong enough to do this by yourself, but I will be with you.
   “This is a great honor we offer you. Step forward, if you wish to accept.”
   Lazytail stepped forward. I think she understood every word. Magic, again. She touched noses with the phantom wolf, and then it was gone. I still can’t quite remember if it blinked out like a light bulb, or was drawn into her somehow like smoke into a vacuum cleaner, or something else. There was no doubt about what had happened, though. My Lazytail was now sharing her body with Wolf. Daunting thought!
   I walked over to touch noses for reassurance. She smelled the same. I continued with the greeting ritual, even though we had been playing together just minutes before.
   “Yes, Coyote. I’m still me. And I’m not planning to bite you.” She spoke by Medicine Power, just like all the others. I didn’t know whether to be happy or outraged. I had never been able to share words with her before.
   I took my nose back to her front end. “Is it really you? Just you?”
   “Yes, Coyote. Mostly. Wolf is lending me her Power, but she’s trying not to overwhelm me with it. I won’t be able to talk like this after she leaves. But I really am me! I’m ready when you are.” She pushed her body close beside mine, and nuzzled my ear tenderly.
   “Ready for what?”
   “Why, ready to make one last puppy! Weren’t you listening? Come on now, Fox says time is important.”
   “You mean Fox wants us to mate again, right here?”
   “Yes. And you need to put some real feeling into it. Fox says that makes all the difference. Now, come on over this way. You know where we’re supposed to stand. Let’s show Wolf what we can do!”
   We put some real feeling into it, but a lot more happened than that. Fox and the Pups manipulated us outrageously. I know that now, but at the time I was hardly in a condition to think. It was early dawn when we were finished, and given a choice at that moment I would have died willingly, if that were the price to do it again. I felt dazed, and exalted, and exhausted.
   I was not alone. My Spirit Pups were back with me, and Fox, and Lazytail. Ah, Lazytail!
   Fox was breathing heavily, and his eyes were shining, and he burned with triumph and elation. I could actually feel it on my face, like the warmth from a fire. “We did it! The pup is alive and stable. It will be long before we know if what we did was the right thing, but I have a good feeling about it. At one point I could distinctly feel higher-plane intervention. I was counting on that. Without help we’re not really capable of completing a task like the one we started here last night, but I know about Coyote’s special status, and I was hoping we would not be allowed to fail.”
   Fox turned to me, suddenly serious. “Never count on that help, Coyote. They don’t like it when you become dependent or complacent. And with two Coyotes alive in the World now, they may decide that one of you is no longer needed. A charmed life is not all you might wish it to be.
   “But enough gloom! We’ve won two great victories, and it’s time to celebrate! Coyote can be host! Wolf—can you stay long enough to celebrate with us? All of us? I have it on very reliable authority that there are at least five chickens left in Coyote’s freezer. At least five.”
   Lazytail answered, “Yes, of course Wolf will stay! She wants… she wants to inspect Coyote’s home and mother. She says I always need to keep a careful eye on Coyote and on his… family. She’ll be leaving some of herself behind to make sure I’m properly taken care of.”

   We found Mooney in the yard by her van. She was dressed for heavy-brush hiking, and she had her shotgun under one arm.
   “Mooney! What’s wrong?” Lazytail and I ran toward her anxiously, leaving the others behind. Mooney jumped and almost lost her balance. She set the gun down carefully, and knelt down to hug me. “Coyote! Oh, Coyote… you’re alive! And Lazytail! I was going over to Mr. Bell’s to ask if he and Jake could help me look for you.” She had to stop then, because her throat wouldn’t work any more. She hadn’t even noticed the others yet.
   Lazytail and I flanked her, pushing and rubbing in greeting joy, but she stopped me. “Please, Coyote. Go to Mouse now. She needs you more than I do. I’ll stay here with Lazytail.”
   “Okay, pffut look pffehind you. There’s someone else you might like to meet. He’s a friend of John’s. His name is Fox.”

   Mouse was on the bed, covers over her head. I’m not sure she had moved from it since we left her there. She smelled of despair. Animals in traps smell like that.
   “Mouse?” I nuzzled her hand, but she jerked it away. “Mouse, I’m sorry. I had to go last night. I had to! If I tried to fight here in the house, we would all have pffeen killed. All of us, even you and Mooney. Don’t you understand?”
   Mouse pushed the covers back and spoke in a raw voice, “Oh, I understand, Coyote. I understand that I failed you, just like I failed my mother. All I could think of was saving myself, but I don’t deserve to live. I should have died myself. Go away. I can’t stand feeling you here with me.”
   I backed away a little, but I didn’t leave. “Mouse, I was very pffroud of you last night. You did exactly the right thing. You held so still he thought you were still asleepff, so he didn’t pffother you. You did the right thing for your mother, too. Your mother didn’t want to die, pffut if you had died with her it would have pffeen much worse. I know she would say that if she were here with us. I think she’d also tell you it’s time to stopff pffretending you forgot her. If I were dead, I wouldn’t like that.”
   Mouse was quiet for a long time. “You think she wouldn’t like that? I never thought of it that way before. I don’t want to disappoint her any more than I have already. Do you really think I should tell them?”
   “Yes, Mouse.”
   “Okay, I will. But not now.
   “Do you really think there’s nothing I could have done to help you? I couldn’t think of anything, even if I was brave enough to try. I should have at least screamed. Oh, Coyote! How did you get away? I knew he was going to kill you. I could feel it. But we’ll be ready for him tonight! Mooney has the shotgun, and we can board up all the doors and windows, and wait for him right here. Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it. I’m not going to be a coward any more. I…”
   “Mouse, it’s okay. He’s dead. Some of my magical friends came to helpff me, and they destroyed him, or at least the spffirit that was making him act wrong. I think Mr. Pffurrey may be dead, too.” I had forgotten to ask Lazytail! So strange, that I could do that now.
   “Come on. Out of pffed, you. You can feel guilty and worthless some other time.”
   “Okay. But I need to go pee. And wash up. You can go back outside until I’m ready.”
   “Why, thank-you-so-much,” I said, and slipped my head between the sheets to press a cold, wet nose against her side. She screamed, and I left, tail up again. My friend might be dead, but that didn’t mean I had to drag myself around. It’s possible to grieve and joke at the same time, and his soul had been saved, at the very least. I walked straight over to ask about him.
   “Lazytail, did you kill Mr. Pffurrey last night?”
   “No. We tried to, but he didn’t stay slow like he was at first. He got away finally, but we did hurt him.” Mooney was looking very funny. Absolutely flabbergasted. We both ignored her for the moment, while Fox and the Pups sat innocently silent. Smokey looked lost and confused, as usual, and Princess was no longer in evidence.
   “I should pffropffapffly track him down, now. He’ll pffe awfully cold if he turns pffack in a pfflace where he doesn’t have clothes ready. And humans can hardly even walk without shoes.”
   “Whatever. He tried to kill you. I no longer have any concern for his welfare.” Lazytail had rather liked Mr. Burrey as a human, but I could understand her feelings. I didn’t like being attacked, either. After a moment Lazytail amended, “Wolf says I shouldn’t blame Mr. Burrey for what he did last night. She says the demon might have defeated even her, if she had faced it alone. Come on. Let’s look for him together. We can have our victory celebration when we get back.”
   I turned to Mooney finally. “We have two very famous guests today. The cute, short, soft-furred one really is Fox. The real one. Our other guest is Wolf. She is visiting Lazytail in spffirit. That’s why she can talk today. If you have any spffecial questions you’ve pffeen wanting to ask Lazytail, this is a good day to ask them. Also, they’ve invited themselves over for a victory dinner, for saving me. They would like chicken and dumpfflings. All of the chickens. Okay?”
   “Uh, yeah. Sure. Whatever you say, dear. You’re certain you didn’t invite anyone else? No humans, I suppose?”
   “No. Pffut don’t forget the Pffupffs and me. We’re famous too! And Smokey and Pffrincess. They’re not famous, pffut they like chicken as much as I do. Have I forgotten anyone?”
   “I doubt it, but I’m sure I’ll hear about it if you have. Chicken and dumplings, eh? With this many mouths, it may turn out to be dumplings and chicken. Whatever.”
   Mooney turned toward the house. “Here, let me get that backpack I made for you. I have sweatpants and a sweatshirt and a jacket that should fit, and rags and a roll of duct tape for his feet. That should get a naked human home well enough. I sure wouldn’t mind if you could spare the time to tell me what’s happening, but if Mr. Burrey is out there freezing his buns off, I can understand why you may be in a hurry. Good luck! Oh, and a jar of peanut butter. Good trail food. I’ll loosen the lid for you, so try to keep it right side up. I don’t want oil dripping out on the clothes.”

   The trail was blood, with very little rain during the night, so it was an easy one to follow. Mr. Burrey’s blood led us all the way back to where he had parked his van. The van was still there, and so was Mr. Burrey. He was lying under it, and he was still a wolf.
   Still a wolf, and in full daylight! Moon had set long ago. He looked a mess. Wet, bloody, tired, scared. And confused—I’ll bet he was! By unspoken agreement my companions hung back to let me approach first.
   “Mr. Pffurrey? Mr. Pffurrey—we’re not here to attack you. Can I come closer?”
   Peter Burrey did something I had never seen him do before. He dragged himself out from under the van, then rolled over and exposed his belly in submission. He had done that many times in play, but that doesn’t count. This was the real thing.
   I walked over and took his neck between my jaws, squeezed it gently a couple of times, then began to investigate the wounds. There were a lot of them, and they needed stitches. A few deep ones too, maybe. “Can you walk? Would you like some pffeanut pffutter?”
   He took the peanut butter. All of it. Then he stood, achingly, and looked for a puddle to drink from. He hadn’t said a word. After he was done drinking I asked again, “Can you walk a long way, or should I get Mooney to come here for you?”
   Mr. Burrey didn’t try to speak with words. He just lifted his head to look me in the eyes, nodded, and started slowly back the way we had come.

   The trip home was long, and rather boring. Mr. Burrey and I did it all at a walk, while the others ranged widely, sweeping in to check on us from time to time. It was early afternoon when we arrived back at Sunbow.
   I wanted to present us all favorably to Mooney, so I stopped us at Fry Creek before we reached the house. “Alright, everyone in excepfft Mr. Pffurrey! That means you, too, Mr. Fox-god, you. No victory dinner if you’re muddy! I guarantee you won’t pffe apffle to dodge that rule!”
   Mr. Burrey watched us from the bank, but when we were mostly done he edged over and began to enter, slowly. His skin twitched strongly as the glass-clear water slipped into one wound after another, and curls of mud and blood twisted away from him down current. He dipped his head and shoulders under the water, shook himself, and repeated the process until his fur and wounds were as clean as they would get.
   The aroma of stewed chicken and vegetables was everywhere, even by the streamside. Maddening. The source of it all was one of Mooney’s commune pots—almost big enough to hold me, and with its own separate propane burner. Mooney was not taking chances about running out of food. We all hurried over that way as soon as we were finished washing.
   Mouse was waiting there with Mooney—hadn’t gone to school at all, obviously. If this didn’t count as an excuse to stay home, I don’t know what would.
   “Well, you folks certainly took your time! Aren’t you hungry? It’s a good thing I didn’t put in the dumplings yet. I’ll do that now. Is Mr. Burrey okay?” Mooney had not yet noticed the new wolf in our midst.
   “Mr. Pffurrey is hurt, pffut he can walk. He’ll need to see a doctor today.”
   “That’s not surprising. But no—that spell is supposed to heal his wounds, isn’t it? Whatever. I assume you got him to his van and he was able to drive it safely.”
   “No. He was already pffy his van, pffut he couldn’t drive it. We pffrought him here.”
   “Here? That had to have been a long walk! You should have got me to go pick him up! Where is—oh, dear! Is that you, Peter?” Mooney had never seen Mr. Burrey as a wolf before. She had only heard my stories. She believed them, certainly, but that’s not the same thing.
   “Why are you still a wolf? It’s not full moon any more! Not until tonight. I thought this thing didn’t happen in the daytime. Stinky! What’s going on? Please? I am totally, totally lost this time.”
   “I’ll tell you if you keepff working on the dumpfflings. None of us has eaten since yesterday. Excepfft Mr. Pffurrey. He ate the pffeanut pffutter.”
   I told of the night’s events, taking my time and doing it properly, as John would have. I had Fox and Wolf in my audience, after all. And the Spirit Pups.
   Mooney seemed rather upset that Mr. Burrey had not turned back into a human at dawn. Considering all that had happened, I thought just getting us all out of it alive was accomplishment enough. I said so.
   “Yes, Stinky, I understand all that. But don’t you realize, this change could be permanent! The demon is destroyed, Lykos almost destroyed. Who’s going to change him back? Maybe it will fade in a day or so, when the moon is less full.”
   “Yes, Mooney.”
   “You don’t really care, do you?”
   “Well, no. Not really. I don’t think Mr. Burrey does either. He once told me the only thing that pffothered him apffout the werewolf curse was losing control and killing things he shouldn’t. I think that was from the demon. Now it’s gone.”
   “But Mr. Burrey is human!”
   “Yes, Mooney.”
   “Oh, forget it. Whatever else is going on, he needs medical help. At least the vet is cheaper. We’ll go there as soon as dinner is finished. Oh! I forgot. Peter can’t have dinner! His stomach needs to be empty for the anesthesia. You understand about that, don’t you Peter? You might throw up and inhale it into your lungs.”
   Mr. Burrey nodded his head sadly.
   “You won’t be offended if I take you to the vet, will you? I’m sure your regular doctor would have a hard time with this.” She smiled for a moment, then realized what she was doing and made herself stop.
   Mr. Burrey shook his head, then tried to speak.
   “Ffve-ta oo-kkay.
   “Fvet oo-kkay.”
   “Yes, Peter, I understand you fine. Coyote used to talk like that when he was first learning. You’re saying the vet is okay as far as you’re concerned. But I’ll have to ignore you now for a little while. This dinner serving is going to take my full attention. I’ll be back with you as soon as I can.”
   The victory dinner was not formal. Most of us were talking animals, but we didn’t talk much. There were no speeches, yet it still felt as if the meal had great symbolic importance. On a hunch, I nosed a small dab of meat and gravy from my bowl into a clean one and presented it to Mr. Burrey. He looked me in the eyes for a moment, then lowered his head to lick the bowl empty. Fox and the others seemed pleased, and Mooney pretended not to notice.

   Mooney wanted me to go along and help her with Mr. Burrey, but she also wanted me to stay behind to keep the others in line. Lazytail solved the problem for her.
   “I’ll keep them out of trouble.” Still so strange to hear words like that coming out of her! “Wolf needs to rest, as we all do, but she can do that best in her own body. She says she was pleased by her visit here, and she won’t treat Coyote and his… won’t treat Coyote like an enemy until he deserves it again. She says Coyote was a most excellent magic partner! Wolf also says I should let my season pass without mating any more, no matter what Coyote or I want. It might disturb the work that was done last night. She is leaving me now. Farewell.”
   She rushed over to reassure me she was alright, but she didn’t use any more words. Just my Lazytail again. Who needs words, anyway?
   We left with Fox joking that he shouldn’t be any trouble at all, with Mouse and Lazytail to keep him in line. He was planning to nap anyway—might even stay for a visit. The Spirit Pups had disappeared right after they finished eating.
   We met Dr. Benton during business hours this time. He seemed much happier to see us that way.
   “More wounds, eh? And another ‘shepherd cross’ dog. I should have known. What a monster he is! Friendly, though. Yes, Furry Feet—I know you’re not really a monster. I just meant you’re very big and impressive… there, that’s better. These wounds are remarkably clean! Did you wash them?” Dr. Benton was talking to Mr. Burrey as he said that, but Mooney answered him.
   “No, but Furry Feet did. All my dogs have to jump in the creek and rinse themselves off before they get fed. I don’t like muddy dogs in the house.”
   “Really! I wish my other patients were so cooperative. I’m rather surprised he went in with wounds like these. It must have hurt! I’ll get right to work on this new ‘dog’ of yours as soon as I finish my last appointment—another half-hour or so. Even with antibiotics there may be quite a bit of drainage, and possible delayed healing. Nothing serious, though.”
   “I can’t tell how glad I am to hear that, Doctor. I feel partly responsible for Furry Feet getting bit up like this. Not that he didn’t have it coming to him.”
   “Excuse me?”
   “Hmm? Oh, sorry about that, Dr. Benton. I didn’t really mean what I just said. No dog deserves this.” Mooney didn’t apologize to Furry Feet, though.
   “By the way, Dr. Benton—Furry Feet can be a little hard to handle sometimes, but he’ll be fine if Sin-Ka-Lip stays with him. Is that permitted?”
   “Of course! We’re always glad to see Sin-Ka-Lip!” Dr. Benton turned away from Mr. Burrey and gave me the attention I deserved. I wasn’t supposed to get an exam, but I could tell Dr. Benton was doing that as we greeted each other. Most humans don’t peel your eyelids and lips back, sniff your ears, and handle your genitals while saying hello.
   “Speaking of wounds, I can’t help but remark on Sin-Ka-Lip, here. He’s in superb shape, as usual. Not only has the fur grown back flawlessly, but I can’t even find any scars. That fight injury he had last fall was not trivial! There should be major, permanent scars from it, but I can’t see or feel a thing. Like it never happened.”
   “Oh, it’s nothing, Doctor. Just more of that hippie metaphysical stuff. ‘Magic’, if you will. Nothing you could believe in, and it doesn’t always work. Today we want Science. Do it your way—use all the drugs and machines you like. I’m tired of magic.”
   “Uh, yes. If that’s the way you want it. But I really would be happy to listen to some of your ‘hippie metaphysical stuff’ some time. Normally I change the subject when I hear that line, but it’s different with you. I’ll try not to pry, but please let me know if you change your mind.”
   “Okay. I just might, sometime, but not today. I need to sort out a lot of things for myself, first. But I want you to know that I really appreciate your patience in all this, and I do trust you. It’s just that the situation is very complicated, and it’s hard to understand any of it without knowing all of it. I don’t suppose that helps much, does it?”
   “No, not really, but thanks anyway. Now—I need to get myself moving again or I won’t have time to work on Furry Feet before my staff goes home. I won’t need your help today like I did last time, but you’ll be able to visit first thing tomorrow morning, and I’ll call right away if there are any problems. Bye.”
   I tried to nap during Mr. Burrey’s surgery, but I couldn’t do it with so many powerful noises and smells around me. I gave up after a time, and leaned against the chain link kennel door, waiting. We had adjoining kennels, and I had a good view as two small women staggered in with Mr. Burrey on a stretcher, set him down heavily, gently rolled him off onto a pad of folded blankets, and propped him into a comfortable position with chest down and neck extended. Mr. Burrey was a patchwork of square shaved areas—one for each wound. Half his fur was missing, and he looked horrible. Still, the wounds were cleaned and stitched, and to me they looked like they would heal well. And the spring shedding time was not far off. Soon we would all be looking horrible.
   As they attended to him the humans joked about Furry Feet in a crude but friendly way, remarking that with all those bite wounds in the hindquarters it was a wonder he hadn’t lost his nuts in the fight. The doctor should have castrated him when he had the chance—keep him out of trouble like this in the future. I wondered if they had said the same things about me when I was asleep, but then remembered it had been late at night. Just Mooney and the vet.

   The clinic was beginning to close down, and night had already fallen when Sheriff Pickworth arrived. The dogs were quiet at that moment, so I heard every word. He was coming for us.
   My belly clenched in panic, and the hackles went up. I felt betrayed. How had he known we were there? Mooney had trusted Dr. Benton! I unfastened the kennel latch and prepared to… I couldn’t think of what to do. It would be hard enough to get myself out, and Mr. Burrey was only just beginning to stir. I waited.
   Sheriff Pickworth was arguing at the reception desk, really acting like a jerk. That seemed strange. Police didn’t argue much in the movies. Not with regular people, at least. Regular people just did as they were told. Maybe the clinic humans had not called him after all.
   Dr. Benton came back to where we were. He seemed upset. “I hate lying like that,” he muttered to himself. “Hate it.” He was going to say more, but I spoke instead. “Dr. Pffenson, we can’t go with Sheriff Pffickworth. He’ll kill us! Can’t you helpff us? Pfflease? Mooney said you’re our friend!”
   Dr. Benton’s expression changed from anger and indecision to surprise, but his scent didn’t change—wasn’t time for it, even if it was going to. Scents are not always that specific, anyway.
   Dr. Benton looked at me then. Really saw me.
   “So you talk, too. I should have known. I suppose you’re expecting me to go through the whole ‘reality shock’ routine now? Sorry, but we don’t have the time. I was planning to get you out of here anyway.”
   Now it was my turn to be surprised. I had never thought he would react like that!
   “Nancy is stalling the Sheriff right now. When we get you two out of the building, she’ll let him do a search. I don’t suppose your friend can walk yet, but let’s try anyway. He’s a real pain on the stretcher, and I don’t want to involve the others any more than necessary. Does he talk too?”
   “Yes. A little. Pffut he understands just fine. Mr. Pfur… Furry Feet! Wake upff! We have to go now.”
   Mr. Burrey opened his eyes, but he didn’t move. He had a confused, frightened look—hardly awake at all. Like he was in a nightmare with his eyes open.
   “Here, let me help. I hate to disturb them when they’re coming out like this, but…” Dr. Benton stopped talking as he opened the kennel door and began to massage Mr. Burrey’s head, neck, and back. Then he rolled him from side to side, letting him fall over gently each time. Two or three rolls and he was trying to stand up, which the doctor let him do. He took a leash down from the wall, slipped it on, pulled gently. Mr. Burrey sat down.
   “Excuse me, Dr. Pffenson. He doesn’t know apffout leashes. Let me try.”
   The back door was quite close to us, and the staff parking area just beyond that. Together we half-carried, half-pushed Mr. Burrey out of the building and into Dr. Benton’s car. It was a station wagon with the back seat folded down, and the two of us fit there quite comfortably. All the windows were at my level, so I even had a view.
   At first the roads were unfamiliar to me, but then we came to country I knew. Up ahead we would cross Wynoochee on the Geissler Road bridge—already an easy lope home.
   Dr. Benton spoke after we crossed the bridge. “I know I’m not very experienced with this sort of thing, but I think we’re being followed. There are headlights behind us that don’t come closer even when I slow down, and now they’ve crossed the bridge, too. Most of the traffic goes the other way. I’ve never been there before, but I know Ms. Sklarsen’s place is not much farther up this road. Maybe it would be better if you walked the rest of the way. If that’s Sheriff Pickworth behind us, I can keep driving and lure him away from you. I don’t suppose you know how he found out you were at my clinic?”
   “No, I don’t. That sounds like a good pfflan, though! Stopff where you like and we’ll get out as quickly as we can. We know the way from here. When things quiet down I’ll ask Mooney to invite you for a visit. Thank you very much for your helpff!”
   Dr. Benton found a nice gravel shoulder with good cover nearby, crunched quickly to a stop, then flung his door open to run back and help me with mine. I pushed Mr. Burrey from the inside and we had him spilled out onto the ground in a few seconds, with Dr. Benton and his car gone a moment after that. He had to keep moving so our follower wouldn’t become suspicious. My job was to get Mr. Burrey and myself out of sight before he caught up with us.
   We succeeded with half of that. Our follower did turn out to be Sheriff Pickworth, and we were out of view when he reached the turnout, but he was suspicious after all, and pulled to a stop no more than thirty feet from where Mr. Burrey and I lay hidden.
   I could have disappeared quietly enough, but not with Mr. Burrey. He was still barely able to stand. All we could do was stay where we were, hoping the human would lose interest and drive on.
   He didn’t. I guess police are taught to carefully search places where suspicious vehicles pull over for no apparent reason. Sheriff Pickworth knew this game better than we did. He rolled slowly forward along the entire length of the turnout, and finally came to a stop next to a big wooden power and phone line pole. He flicked his car searchlight through the bushes a few times, then got out and began to search the ground and the roadside brush more carefully—going over it all inch by inch with the help of a hand flashlight. He didn’t look in a hurry to leave, and if he kept up like that he would certainly find us. We weren’t all that well hidden.
   Why is it the folks I really don’t want to deal with are the ones who most wish to find me? It seemed a little outside help would be exceedingly useful right then. If I could get it. Desperately I attempted to summon the Spirit Pups, calling to them without words.
   “Children! My children! Come to me! I need protection!”
They came to me. How they do it I still don’t know, but there they were.
   “Shall we kill him?” “We won’t eat him if you don’t want us to!” “Okay, okay—we won’t kill him.” “We can do a trick!” “Not a gentle one, please.” “We don’t like him either.”
I wanted to tell them to hush, but they were using the mind-speech so I guess it didn’t matter. Sheriff Pickworth certainly didn’t seem to notice.
   “I was thinking of a trick. Not a gentle one. How about the Iron Song? It would be good practice.”
   “Oh, yes!” “The Iron Song!” “Do you just want to destroy his gun, or the car, too?” “It will be hard to save the car, but we can try.” “Should we try?”
   “No, don’t bother. He can walk home. And anyway, I want to see what happens.”
   They began to sing softly—all of them—and they forgot to block me out. Or maybe they didn’t forget. I heard it all clearly and it was a simple thing, really. So simple. I joined in.
   Sheriff heard us, or at least that part which could be heard with the ears. He drew his gun and turned his flashlight outward. We finished our song and waited, all of us pressed low into the leaves and earth.
   “Who’s there? Come on out where I can see you!” He was trying to sound confident and authoritative, and not succeeding very well. Suddenly he realized how exposed he was, and moved back toward his car. If one of us had been a human with a gun, he would have been a very easy target.
   He called out again from behind the car, then opened his door to get at something inside. The door hinges squealed loudly when he did that.
   Just then the engine stopped. He had left it idling, headlights on, as police officers are fond of doing, and it stopped by itself—ran raggedly for a short time and then shuddered into silence. The headlights were still on.
   The Sheriff turned the key to restart his engine, but the starter made a horrible squealing sound that hurt my ears, and then no sound at all. The headlights went off shortly afterward. It was a very nice car, with one of those computers that control everything, and I guess it didn’t like our Song. Computers have little bits of iron here and there, I am told. Transformer cores and circuit breaker actuators were a couple that John mentioned. Little bits of iron rust faster than big bits.
   The car was already dead, but Sheriff Pickworth didn’t realize it yet. He was having trouble with his gun. It was getting hot—too hot to hold—and finally he was forced to set it down. He did that almost silently. Just a few muttered swear words. Muttered with great feeling.
   He had stepped away from the car and was fiddling with his belt radio when the flashlight failed. Must have been a steel spring or switch part in there somewhere. Sheriff Pickworth was in the dark, and the radio didn’t seem to be working either. I left our hiding spot to stalk him, or rather stroll up to him in the darkness. With the clouds blocking starlight, he couldn’t see a thing. When I was very close, I spoke to him.
   “Well, hello, mortal! Are your toys giving you troupffle? That’s very sad. You humans do depffend on them these days!”
   “Who’s there? Show yourself!” He reached into his pocket and pulled out what looked like a knife, but he couldn’t get it open.
   “I am Coyote, and I’m standing right in front of you. I can see you just fine. Too pffad you can’t see me. Don’t worry. Moon will rise soon, and you’ll pffe apffle to see again. Pffut you’ll have light much sooner than that! Can you feel it yet? I can.”
   The human had been staring toward me as I spoke—unable to see me but knowing where I stood from the sound of my voice. Now he began to shift uneasily from foot to foot, then suddenly sat down on the gravel and began to untie his shoes, fingers jerking in his haste. I smelled scorched leather and rubber.
   Some shoes have steel inserts in front to protect the toes when things are dropped on them. Sheriff Pickworth was wearing a pair like that, or rather, just taking one off. I wondered if he was wearing anything else with steel in it, but I was distracted by the car. It wasn’t actually glowing yet, but the heat was intense, even from where I stood, and it stank of melting plastic. More than just melting. There was smoke coming out too.
   Television cars always explode violently at the slightest pretext. John and Mooney hate that, and say it rarely happens in real life, but it looked to me like this car might be an exception. I wasn’t sure whether the gas tank or the cartridges in Sheriff Pickworth’s gun would go first, but I was far too close in any case. I began to back away.
   “You know, Sheriff Pffickworth, that car of yours is getting very hot. It might even expfflode. I wouldn’t pffe standing so close to it if I were you.”
   I could tell he was frightened and confused, but this new danger was one any human could comprehend, and it took precedence over all others. The man took my advice and stood up hastily, then began to step gingerly down the road, away from my voice and toward civilization. His gait was painful and uncertain, but quite rapid for a stocking-footed human in the dark. He kept his shoulders hunched as if expecting me to run him down and slay him at any moment. Stupid human! Only cats play with their food in that way.
   Okay, so coyotes do that too, sometimes. Never mind.
   Sheriff Pickworth still carried his smoldering shoes in one hand as he stumbled away. They might even do him some good, once all the iron was rusted away. The toe parts would be burned off, but for a long walk home they were far better than nothing. I stood looking after him, gloating, and then remembered my own danger. Or rather—Mr. Burrey’s danger. I could run away easily enough, but Mr. Burrey could not. I ran back to our hiding place and tried to nudge him to his feet.
   “Come on, Children! You can helpff me with this too, can’t you?”
   “No! It’s forbidden!”
they all laughed, and rushed to my aid. We had him safely clear in plenty of time—took him down the road toward Sunbow and away from Sheriff Pickworth.
   When I thought we had gone far enough, I stopped to watch the car. Smoke was already bursting out from every opening, and soon flames became visible too.
   The car exploded. Really, truly exploded, just like a bomb. I guess that’s what happens when gasoline ignites after boiling until the steel gas tank ruptures from the pressure. I had heard about shock waves, but never felt one before. It hit me in the chest like a surf breaker, and almost knocked me over. And my poor ears! Eyes were shot too. That car had been parked next to a wooden power line pole, and the fireball was considerably taller than the pole.
   I stood there, stunned. Even the Spirit Pups were impressed. “Your ‘Science’ really is rather powerful Medicine!” Cicéqi remarked. “We’ll have to be careful with it.” If she had been using words I would not have heard her, my ears were ringing so.
   The fire had not gone out with the explosion. Bits of burning car were everywhere, and the power pole was burning too. That pole carried high voltage and phone lines for the whole valley, and it looked like we might be losing them again. Oh, well. That’s what repair crews are for.
   I stood there in the center of the road, admiring the destruction I had wrought, and when my vision had cleared a bit I saw Sheriff Pickworth staring back at us. He was well beyond the car, and had not been hurt by the explosion, but he was still close enough to see us clearly with all the new firelight around.
   Mr. Burrey was not ready for it, but I hustled him into the heavy brush anyway. No way was I going to leave him near that road! Fortunately the movement helped his drugs to wear off a little more, and he was able to keep on walking until we made it home. John’s truck was in the yard when we got there, but the house was mostly dark—just some candlelight coming from the kitchen. Power really had failed, but the weekend had begun. It was Friday night.
   I told them all about Sheriff Pickworth and his car. Everything. They were suitably impressed, especially the humans. “Don’t you ever try stuff like that near Sunbow!” Mooney said. “I’d like to tell you not to try stuff like that at all, but it is the purpose of your quest, after all. But maybe you could wait a bit. Until you’re older.”
   “And wiser, too. Presumably,” laughed John. “Don’t hold your breath, Mooney.”

”= chapter 26 =–

   The power came on later that night, but failed again before morning. I could tell by the sounds the refrigerator made and then failed to make. No matter. We were getting used to power failures, and there was the generator if we really wanted electricity. I was planning to do as little as possible on Saturday, and that’s what I did. It’s what we all did.
   The newspaper had a front-page story about a County Sheriff who had collided at high speed with a power pole on West Wynoochee Road, totally destroying his car but emerging miraculously unhurt. The incident was under investigation, but the reporter’s usually reliable sources suggested that extreme negligence and possible intoxication were involved. There had not even been any skid marks. The name of the officer was being withheld pending an official report. The article also mentioned that power restoration might be delayed slightly, due to the surprisingly poor condition of the neighboring poles. The steel insulator supports and cross-member bolts were rusted so badly they had come apart. It was almost as if the wires had fallen down from their own weight, rather than being knocked down. The damaged pole was badly charred, but still standing.
   We had a call from the Sheriff’s Department that afternoon. It was not Sheriff Pickworth, but someone higher up—some sort of commissioner. Mooney said the man was very polite and apologetic, and wanted to know what sort of dealings she had had with Pickworth. I was standing beside Mooney as she heard all this, and she was clearly at a loss about how to answer best. Finally she settled on aggressiveness.
   “I’m afraid Sheriff Pickworth and I have never gotten along very well. I think he was responsible for getting me falsely arrested when those marijuana plants were found out this way a year or so ago. Since then he watches a lot, like he’s waiting for me to do something illegal. I’ve been so worried, I sent my dog to friends in Pullman when those stock killings started a month or so ago. I was afraid he might get blamed for it, and nothing I could do to prove he’s not a killer.
   “A pack? No, that’s silly. I don’t have any dogs here at all right now, much less a pack. Just ask my neighbor, Robert Bell. If I had a pack of vicious dogs he’d be the first to know about it. He runs a dairy, and there are calves around there all the time.
   “You already have? Good. See what I mean?
   “Yes, I know. Don’t mention it. Is there anything else I can help you with? I really do want to get this resolved so I can bring my own dog back. I don’t have a man here most of the time and—well, you know how it is. I just don’t feel safe out here by myself without any protection.
   “Oh, come now! Did he really say that? I hate to sound disrespectful, but that’s not the sort of thing I’d expect to hear from a County Sheriff! We may be rural out here, but we’re at least moderately civilized. Magic is for children, not police officers.
   “Yes, that’s what I think too. In a way I’m sorry for him—but he’s caused me so much distress—all I really want is for him to go away, or at least leave me alone.
   “Press charges? Of course not! Like a lot of people out here, I’m a bit of a hermit. I try not to bother my neighbors, and hope they won’t bother me. It sounds like you have the situation well under control. I’ll testify if I have to, but please don’t call me in unless you really need me.
   “Good! I’m so glad to hear that! I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is. I think I’ll probably bring Sin-Ka-Lip back this weekend.
   “Okay. And please let me know if I can be of any further help. Bye.”
   Mooney put the phone down, and turned to us exultantly. “Sheriff Pickworth has been suspended! I’m not the only one he’s been treating like dirt, and it looks like his bosses are trying to get rid of him. That car accident last night was just what they needed, but he’s making it even easier. He’s claiming the car was destroyed by magic, and I’m responsible. He says I’m a witch, and I have several familiars who help me, and other humans as well. You’re one of them, John, and also Dr. Benton. He thinks Mouse has been badly corrupted, but might be saved if she’s removed from my influence right away. What do you think, Mouse? Is it too late for you?”
   “You bet!” she laughed. “I like your familiars too!” She was holding Fox in her lap at that moment, stroking him like a cat. He seemed to be enjoying it. The Spirit Pups were not with us.
   “Okay, but never say you weren’t warned! I’m such a bad influence—just like old times. Eh, John?”
   John put on his pompous tone for her. “I wasn’t with you in the ‘old times’, but I can believe you were as bad an influence then as you are presently. Coyote chose well when he called you to him. So guide him now. What will be the next step on his path?”
   “Oh, stop it, John! You know I don’t have a clue. That man told me the hunt is definitely over, anyway. It’s been a great embarrassment to the department—all that fuss and expense, and the culprit was finally shot by a farmer! Oh, by the way, I keep forgetting to ask. Was that you, Peter?”
   Mr. Burrey nodded his head, “K-yess. Waas mee. Ssorrr-ee.” A simple nod would have done the trick, but I guess he wanted to practice his talking. His skill was developing rapidly now that he was a wolf full-time.
   Mr. Burrey opened his mouth to speak again. “Kk-y-ot ssk-ool nnoww. Goo-da ti-i-ma. Mm-onday.”
   “Monday? The day after tomorrow? I don’t think we’re ready for that yet. I wanted to write some threatening letters to the Board, then get together a rally with newspaper reporters and everything. Then we can really nail ’em!”
   “Nn-o. Nno fi-i-ght. Ffet-terr ee-see wway firrs-ta. Go ssk-ool Mm-onday. Nno ffuss.”
   “Do you really think so? That would put quite a burden on Stinky and Mouse. They’d have to defy the authorities but without goading them too much, and without much support from the rest of us.”
   “Goo-da trry. Lless thrr-eta. Lless aann-gerr. Go aa-lone.”
   “Okay. You’re the one with the psychology degree. If Mouse and Sin-Ka-Lip are willing, we’ll do it your way. What do you think, kids?”
   Wonderful. Just my favorite thing to do. March up to a pack of hostile humans and pretend to be nice. Even harder for Mouse! Still… that was nothing compared with fighting demons…
   “Yes, Mooney. I won’t pffite or growl no matter what. Mouse has the hard pffart, anyway. Can you do it, Soft-Heart?”
   Since the Neulebskar incident I had been using that nickname for her sometimes. She didn’t seem to mind.
   “I can do anything!” she answered fiercely. “There’s nothing can scare me more than I’ve been scared already. I won’t let it!”
   Her answer pleased and surprised us all, although I couldn’t help but feel it was a little grandiose. There are some things that will always be able to ‘scare’ me. Or worse. And Mouse too, I doubt not.
   I didn’t express those opinions, of course. That would have been a put-down of the worst sort. We had both come so far in the last year—maybe we could do this, too.
   “Okay, then it’s settled,” Mooney proclaimed decisively. “I’ll take you both to school just like we used to, and we’ll see what happens. We can brush out Stinky’s fur and put on a new bandana so he looks as silly and innocent as possible, and he can work on his tail wagging and panting. You can do it, Snookums! Just pretend you’re a Labrador!”
   Yeah, right. “Fox, are you sure this was really all my idea? Pffefore I made myself forget apffout it? I must have pffeen crazy!”
   “Yes, Coyote. You’ve always been crazy. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. The extra benefits are nice, though.” He slithered around in Mouse’s lap so her hand would be stroking his milk-pale belly fur. It’s very convenient to be soft and small and cute. I was jealous.

–= chapter 27 =–

   Sunday was dedicated to more resting and socialization, and then it was Monday. John was gone, and we were on the road to school. Time to assert ourselves. It was a rather new feeling for me, actually. Most everything before had been reaction—danger came to me and I tried to get out any way I could. Usually with help. This was something we didn’t have to do. If I told Mooney and Mouse I had lost my nerve, we would just turn around and drive home. I could hang out with Lazytail and Smokey and the Pups, and Mr. Burrey and Princess too. I’d be so busy keeping them out of trouble, I wouldn’t care about school any more. Fox was keeping an eye on them now.
   “Mooney, what are we going to do with all of ourselves? Smokey doesn’t have any sense at all apffout what is really dangerous and what is just scary, and Lazytail wasn’t any pffetter, pffefore Wolf joined with her. And the Pffupffs are always looking for troupffle, and Pffrincess only knows how to pffe wild. How do we keepff track of them all?”
   “Don’t ask me! You’re the one who brought them all home. Mostly against my wishes. And you’re the one who got Lazytail pregnant, completely against my wishes! She’ll double your problems in another couple of months. Much more than double, if OldCoyote is born alive! You should be damned grateful if they let you back in school again. That leaves all your problems for me to handle, if I can. I think I’ll save all the bad ones for you. ‘Just wait till your father gets home’, I’ll tell them. You need to savor your new role, after all.”
   Comforting words! Maybe it was time to change the subject. “I was kind of pffusy on Friday. Did you hear anything new from the timpffer survey compffany? John told me you were really worried apffout how to get things started, since you don’t have two pffennies to rupff together.”
   “John said that, did he? How tactful of him! Well, you’ll both be pleased to know that I did get a call from them on Friday. They said they had some very interesting news to tell me and wanted me to come over right away, but I said that was impossible, it would have to wait until Monday. I’ll be going there this morning if our plan for you and Mouse is successful.”

   Our plan was successful. Ridiculously easy, in fact. My absence had given every student and teacher plenty of time to come to a decision, and Mouse’s distress and poor performance without me had made that decision easy for anyone with a heart and a brain. In the end there was no contest at all. Only Mrs. Stanford resisted. And Mr. Hubert.
   We were standing in line when Mrs. Stanford arrived to lead away her class. Admirers surrounded us, petting me and welcoming us both, but Mouse and I stood at attention, faultlessly disciplined except that Mouse had her hand on my neck instead of the harness grip. Mooney was far away, watching from the parking lot and trying to look inconspicuous.
   “Children! Get away from that creature! It’s not supposed to be here! Mouse—what in the world are you doing? This is a dangerous animal, and it has been specifically forbidden to come onto the school grounds! Remove it immediately!”
   Mouse and I cowered for a moment, then forced ourselves to stand up straight. Mouse swallowed several times, then spoke in a hesitant, cracking voice, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Stanford, but I can’t send him away. I need him here. I can’t do it all without him. I just can’t!” Her voice changed from cracking to crying at the end of that, but she stood firm. She stank of fear, but she held firm.
   I could tell even Mrs. Stanford was moved, but she hardened herself. “I’m sorry, Mouse—rules are rules, and I can’t allow you into my classroom this way. You have to understand.”
   Mouse braced herself to argue further, but she didn’t have to. Mrs. Seeley just happened to be standing close by, and spoke on our behalf. “I’ll take them. Mouse and Coyote can help me with Kindergarten story time, and then we can try out a new math tutorial package I just received. They’ll be no trouble at all.”
   “I’ll thank you to mind your own business, Mrs. Seeley. Mouse is my responsibility in the mornings!”
   “Not if you won’t let her in your classroom! Come on this way, you two. I need to get you settled in before the others arrive.” Mrs. Seeley turned on her heel and began to walk briskly toward the main building and her own room. She didn’t look back, so she didn’t see Mrs. Stanford standing there with her mouth open like a fish mouth. I saw, and so did every single kid standing there. I had never heard them so silent! Mouse still had her hand on my back, so I got us into motion right away. We left Mrs. Stanford behind without a word.
   We had a visit from the principal during story time, as Mrs. Seeley no doubt knew we would. She had stationed me within a cluster of exceedingly small humans, and two of them were actually sitting on me. They all petted and poked and tickled, and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about such liberties, but I knew my assigned role: Tail moving, tongue moving, ears up—kiss those babies ’til they giggle! That’s what Mr. Sawyer found when he entered the room.
   Mr. Sawyer didn’t speak when he came in—merely leaned against the back wall and observed until the period was over and the kids were sent back to their regular room. He didn’t say a word to spoil the story. It was a legend about how Coyote killed a monster that had swallowed everyone (Animal People) in the world, and how he cut the belly open to free the Animal People, then cut the carcass into pieces and used those pieces to create the People (Human Beings). It was a version I had not heard before and I listened carefully, wondering which parts were true.
   Mr. Sawyer hadn’t come to learn about the Coyote of legend, though. He was there to talk about me. “Mrs. Stanford is very upset with you,” he told Mrs. Seeley. “She says you flouted the Schedule Plan, and undermined her authority in front of the entire student body. She also says you undermined my authority by letting this animal come onto the school grounds after I said it could not be allowed here. This is not the sort of behavior I would expect from either of you. Is it true?”
   What a silly thing to say. Of course it was true! He was looking straight at me as he said it. Still, he didn’t really smell that hostile. I took a chance and approached him obsequiously, licking his hands and trying to be friends. He responded favorably, getting down on his knees and rubbing my ears with both hands.
   “Oh, don’t bother to explain yourself, Jeanette. I know what’s going on, and I support you on it. The School Board had no right to make me get rid of Coyote against my judgment like that, and I’ve had plenty of time to see the results of that action. I will not make the same mistake again. Coyote stays, even if they fire me for it. The School Board can hire and fire me, but while I’m here I’m in charge, and I will not compromise myself further.
   “Excuse me, Mouse. Normally I don’t discuss subjects like this in front of students, but this seems like a special case. I know Ms. Sklarsen has been working to get a rally together, and I don’t want to be on opposite sides from her. Perhaps you can be our mediator?”
   “Yes, Mr. Sawyer. I’ll tell her everything you said. I know there won’t be any problem. All we want is for me to be able to use my Guide Dog like anyone else who needs one.”
   “Yes, I know. I can’t believe I went along with them as far as I did. We’ll have an emergency staff meeting about it today during lunch period.”

   Mouse and I heard the whole meeting. It took place in the break room right next door. Mouse had brought a lunch for us, and Mrs. Seeley let us stay in her room to eat it. With my official status still in question, that solved a lot of problems.
   The details are not important. They bored me even then, except for the part where Mr. Hubert spoke. Mr. Hubert was the only School Board member attending. It was an emergency meeting, after all. Rather surprising that even he was able to make it, but his opinions were not surprising. He was pissed.
   Mr. Hubert berated the principal right there in front of his teachers, which is not a smart thing to do to someone who is well liked. Voices rose in Mr. Sawyer’s defense, and it became hard for me to sort out who was saying what. I did hear Mr. Hubert mention something about immediate termination, and then I distinctly heard Mrs. Seeley say the teachers would be compelled to strike, in that event. Others took up the word, and it had a remarkable effect. Basically it ended the argument. Mouse was placed under Mrs. Seeley’s supervision for both morning and afternoon sessions, and it was determined that I was not really a vicious… dog. I was a Guide Dog again. Breed undetermined. How very kind of them.
   Mooney had some interesting news for us when she picked us up from school. We had news too, of course, and we told ours first.
   “That’s delightful!” she chortled, “I knew things were going well when Mrs. Seeley took you in, but I never expected such a warm welcome. They actually threatened to go on strike for you! Of course, it was not so much concern for you and Mouse as it was rebellion against being bossed around so flagrantly. Still, I guess the system really works, sometimes. I’d mind my behavior, though.
   “Now for my news. It’s from the survey company, of course. Something I never would have considered. It appears that Weyerhæuser has been illegally logging part of our land for the last seventy years or so. A major survey irregularity occurred back then, and it’s only just been uncovered. You might have noticed it yourself, Stinky, if you thought more like a human. Or a lawyer.”
   “Go on, Mooney—we’re waiting. Don’t draw it out.”
   “Aw, you’re no fun! Won’t you take a guess?”
   “No. And Mouse won’t either. Isn’t that right, Mouse? If you and the other humans took seventy years to figure it out, I certainly won’t pffe apffle to in a few minutes! So—what is this survey error, and what does it mean?”
   “It’s simple, really. The wording of the original land grant defined our property as the entire drainage of Fry Creek. That’s easy to write, and they did it that way a lot in the old days. The problem comes when you want to be more specific. Surveyors come in to establish the boundaries exactly, and they place permanent markers along the way. The survey crew which marked our western boundary was either lazy or in a hurry, and they made a lot of curved lines into straight lines, because straight lines are so much easier.
   “The end result was that a sizable chunk of our land was cut by the old Twin Harbors Logging Company, which was later bought out by Weyerhæuser. That land is on about its third growth now, and neither Grandpa nor I have ever received a penny. Now that we know about it, we don’t have to log anything ourselves. All we have to do is sue Weyerhæuser! Won’t even have to sue them, most likely. With a case like this they should settle out of court. That would save everybody a lot of fuss, and prevent any bad publicity for them. If they cooperate, we could be through with it all in a few weeks!”
   Humans! I don’t know why I hang out with them.

–= epilogue =–

   Weyerhæuser paid off all of Mooney’s back taxes and penalties, and promised us an adequate yearly lease payment for continued use of the disputed land—just enough to pay future taxes on the main parcel. The Weyerhæuser attorney explained to Mooney that her case was not all that strong, really, but he had been directed not to give her a hard time if she let Weyerhæuser take part of the credit for her conservation accomplishments. Mooney complied without protest. Weyerhæuser is not such a bad neighbor, and they do care a lot for their trees, in a corporate sort of way.
   The Papillios have found themselves a new place to live. They’re caretakers at a horse ranch, and get free rent and horse boarding in exchange for light duties. Most of their animals have been adopted by the vet school, and they say things are a lot easier for them now. They lost their security deposit, though. Their old house is in a shocking state—collapsing from its own weight and completely uninhabitable. It’s not valuable enough to be worth repairing, so no one will ever live there again. Just another abandoned Palouse farmhouse. Haunted, too.
   Lazytail is getting very big around the middle, and she’ll be whelping soon. We both know she’ll be delivering her pups in the house, but we’ve been digging a den anyway. It’s a lot of fun, and Princess helps too. She’s the one who showed us how to choose a site where groundwater doesn’t seep in.
   Lazytail decided she liked being able to talk, and she’s been practicing simple words, just like Princess does. I think Smokey may take it up too, one of these days. He certainly listens carefully. And no, I don’t know why they can learn to talk while others can’t. I suppose it’s some sort of influence I have on them. Or maybe that DNA virus John used on me is contagious. I don’t know much about these things, and John doesn’t know as much as he pretends. “That virus never acted quite right after Fox messed with it,” he tells me. Fox says don’t blame him—before their project together, he never even knew what a virus was, or DNA, either. His kind has quite different ideas about how physical bodies are made.
   John and Dr. Benton have done quite a few tests on us and found nothing unusual. No virus, no unusual DNA patterns—even Mr. Burrey has just the normal seventy-eight chromosomes one would expect in a wolf, coyote, or dog. He’s wolf through and through, not just some human monster with fur and teeth.
   Mr. Burrey’s wounds are all healed, and he’s fine except for his bad haircut, which is already half shed out. The rest of us are starting to shed too. Quite a mess, and itchy, but soon over with. Mr. Burrey talks all the time, and helps Mooney with the chores, and keeps track of the others when I’m at school. I don’t know what we’d do without him. Mooney uses his van now, too. It’s not a Volkswagen, but it’s newer and it runs much better. Mr. Burrey says she’s welcome to it, and all his money as well, if she wants it. He says he wishes he could give her more, but he lost most everything when Wynoochee took his house, and there was no flood insurance. He got a nice income tax refund, though. He helped Mooney forge his signature on the check, and it was just enough to pay off his credit cards. The van was already paid for. He had Mooney notify the school district he needed more personal leave, and might not be able to go back to work at all. They said he should apply for disability, and so sorry, but they would have to hire a new person for his position. No hard feelings.
   Fox became bored after a few days with us. He’s gone now, and he never said a word about the Pups and me breaking so many of his rules. Expected it, I suppose. The Spirit Pups are gone too—or rather they’ve gone back inside me for a rest. That’s what they said, but I think they were bored too. No problem with that! Boring is just fine, as far as I’m concerned. I think I like boring. It’s safe.
   Mouse let herself recover from her amnesia, which triggered quite a bureaucratic fuss. A very nice FBI man came and took fingerprints, photographs, and notes, in that order. Mouse had to go to court several times, but she says they didn’t treat her badly. Eventually she received several boxes of personal items and another box full of court documents. She has a name and a Social Security number now, but we all still call her Mouse, and she still lives with us. She has no relatives who care about her.
   Some of her toys and other things are damaged, because there was a terrible fight in her apartment after she left it. The man who yelled at her on the fire escape had frightened the neighbors, and one of them called the police. The men were too stupid or drugged to surrender, and both died there. Mouse’s fear had been for nothing. She had run away from nothing.
   When the boxes first arrived Mouse took out all her things, and her mother’s things. She laid them out and stroked or held each one of them, then put them carefully away. She hasn’t touched them since. Not even her old toys. She says she doesn’t need them any more—she has me. In the daytime, anyway. At night I belong to Lazytail. The hard part is finding time enough to sleep.
   I can’t say things have returned to normal. I’m not quite sure what normal is. Still, my belly is full—our bellies are full—and around me I see no danger or active enemies. What more could a coyote wish for?
   We will see.

You’ve just read the seventh (and last) installment of Anthro’s serial presentation of New Coyote, Michæl Bergey’s imaginative novel of ancient myths and the modern mindset. If you enjoyed it, why not get the Anthro Press edition of New Coyote? That way, you can enjoy it any time you like— even when the Internet is being recalcitrant—with absolutely no risk of software infection!

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