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Like a Ghost
I'm calling this an X-Files story because it does have one or two of the same people in it as from the television show, and because it did take place in the same universe.
This is a Christmas present for my brother.
Mama turns on the radio. She's already dusted her
hands with flour and some of it's on the black buttons.
Flour is on the countertop and in Mama's long hair like
the white lines to show flowing black woman's hair in
Mama is humming to the music, then she taps her foot and puts her finger in her mouth to clean off something from the cake batter she's making. She starts singing. She always turns up the songs about how bad men are to their women, now that things are over. She didn't expect it to end that way, that's why she turns up the volume on the rotten-man songs.
She was crying when I came home from school on the last day, for winter break, and I saw red streaks in the light brown on her skin. She said, when I came in the door and the screen came shut behind me, "Little Floyd. You may as well know I'm crying because... your Pop's gone. Not gone gone, just gone. I -- " and then she started to sob. So I took off my shoulder pack and it landed on the floor. I folded my arms and I tapped my foot and I waited, but someone had to do something so I said, "Mama, don't take it s--" but she shook her head.
She told me what was going on from behind her hands and I still couldn't see her eyes. Mama has black, easy to hide eyes and her hands were over them and her hair all down in her hands. "Mama, it'll be okay. I know..."
She looked hard at me then. So I shut my mouth. I turned into a statue and waited some more, and she knew better than to mess with me then. So she sighed. "Little Floyd... Look. We'll talk. All right? Then you'll see. It's not about... taking it harder than I should. I jus-- ju-- " and then, you know, well, she started again. So I climbed on her knee even though I'm seven years old, and I hugged her and remembered how her hair looked with flour from last year and that we were supposed to fry cakes for Christmas that afternoon. But we didn't, we waited until sunset and then we smoked some of Pop's left-behind pipes and I pretended to like it and everything and then I went to bed. And Mama wouldn't let me watch anything all winter break except _It's a Wonderful Life_, even though there were FBI and forensic detective shows on. She can't stand for me to watch that stuff. But she brought out the pipes so I would remember my Pop. Just trying to make me feel better. They probably made her sick, too.
Mama turns on the radio, and I ask her to lean down where I can get some flour out of her hair and she smiles at me. That's a nice thought. Since there's Christmas baking and frying mess all over the kitchen she'll say we can drive out for burgers. I keep the nice thoughts going as long as I can, but I feel the eggs from last night coming up again.
It's still the winter time. It's still break. The sky is cold and I'm in a barn on someone else's property and the state of Texas feels bigger than it's ever felt to me before. My back is all arched up and I feel sour and sick. I am sick. We went for hamburgers and I ate one or part of-- one and I-- never want to see a hamburger or a sesame seed bun again. My clothes are gone.
My hands are gone. Mama's not here. Barn owls made noise last night, they don't like me and I don't like them. I jumped at them a little bit and then tried to get warm. I guess I still am warm a bit, but now I'm sick. I hoped I wouldn't get sick again. Everything I ate since the hamburger I've sent back up again. Mama isn't anywhere I can find her, or... if she is... Something's wronger than I thought. Is wronger a word? Never mind. It's not school and she's not here so who cares and I'm starving. I don't know even how many nights it's been, but I know I've come through at least sixty miles. I'm good with knowing distances.
Mama... Please come... Someone come... But there were coyotes all over last night. I couldn't even get out of the barn. I couldn't even put one... foot outside it was so loud and frightening. I don't scare easily, no I don't! Don't think that. The cold air had all these yelps in it though, and not a single coyote out there is normal. I swear on... I guess Pop doesn't have a grave. He did treat her like shit you know. But it's not like she thought it was.
Gunshots. I am going to be sick. I get sick carefully in a place I won't go near again and then I curl up in the corner where I put some fur over my ears and try to stay safe. The quieter I am, maybe the wrong people won't notice me. Mama would find me, if she could. I hope they're shooting coyotes, there are so many mad ones around, but I didn't know until I got out here how mad they were and how bad it was, and I'm not sure... I'm not sure... that I'm not Little Floyd Coyote now. I cry. It sounds like coyotes. I bite my mouth's insides to stop. I tighten all up in a tight circle and sleep as hard as I can. This is at least the fifth or sixth time I've done this. I don't know if that means it's been that many nights so far. I can't tell. I just know it's been too long.
Mama leans down and I feel like I should kiss her, because her face is so close and she's smiling at me. So I do, because it makes her happy. I lick the sides of my mouth, and I don't like the rest of the thoughts I have. My face is different now. I don't know how to get back.
We got in our truck to go home without our hamburgers, because I dropped mine in the parking lot. My stomach hurt like hell and then some. Mama wasn't very worried, until I put my hand tight on my stomach and didn't say anything. Then her mouth frowned. "Little Floyd, how bad do you feel?"
I tried to say, bad, but it wasn't coming out. Not because of my mouth and throat, like now, but because I didn't know how to talk around that much sick and not throw up in the truck. It was that bad. Then Mama wasn't in the truck. Her window was open and she wasn't there, and the motor was still warming up. I heard people running, so I got out and ran, but I forgot to look for Mama and I ran for home. The sickness got better the more I ran, but then I fell. It was just like I had hit something. I hadn't, but it was like hitting a wall. All over my body. And my clothes and hands are gone, and I felt my mouth shoot out like a bullet, just as hot, and I thought my teeth would hit the trees in front of me and burrow in. My ears still hurt, now. My fingernails still hurt. My stomach feels sick when I eat, and the only things I've found to eat have been some chicken eggs when I got to a coop past a rooster some other coyote already-- I mean-- yeah some other -- other coyote.
Pop and Mama used to have fights. She said we would be better off without him, because he wasn't a real man, not real Anasazi. I don't even know what Anasazi means anymore, like my teacher says. None of us knows what it means anymore. But Mama thought she knew what Anasazi was, and I think some other people think they know too, or somewhere they really do know it and the rest of us don't. I'm supposed to be Anasazi. I flatten my ears and my tail covers them. That's the fur I cover them with, my tail. It's like I have a very long back, like the snake, and it warms my head when I'm curled all around. I haven't looked at the ends of my legs. I don't want to. I want to see something I _know_, like my fingers and that one callous on the inside of my second finger on my writing hand. The barn owls are still angry at me. They spin their heads around like a sun and moon card and make sounds I didn't know they knew how to make. I guess I didn't know they screeched like this when they get angry. I look at them once but they hunch up their shoulders and make their eyes even narrower than usual at me, so I ignore them.
Pop and Mama used to get into fights. Now Mama plays the songs about leaving your man to teach him a lesson, and how someone will give him a lesson in leaving and crying. I don't remember the name of the singer who does that one particularly. I turn up a lot of the fast ones. But Mama turns them down again unless she's not listening. She usually has the radio on. She and I used to like the same songs, especially anything we could laugh to. Now I don't think she likes to let things like that make her smile. She'll still smile for me, though. She needs time. It hasn't been that long since she found him gone. And now I have to let her know it wasn't the way she thought it was. But I can't go back to the house.
I got back up and ran again, feeling like I was going to fall over on my nose and chest. But always I had plenty of room for my fingers and hands to catch the ground and pull me up and keep me running. I felt my mouth open, and my eyes squint, but I also felt my ears go back and I felt like I was leaving part of my backbone behind, trailing it. I gasped and felt my sides cutting my breath. I couldn't count rises to the house, but I knew the distance. The house wasn't dark on the outside. We had left the porch lamp on. There was a little bit of wind and before I could see the outbuildings I could hear a tiny sound of chimes from the Bison wind bells set my Auntie sent to my Mama from Washington State. I don't think she'd have bought it for herself, but whenever someone sends things or brings them to the house she wants to put them where it looks like she always wanted them to begin with. They stayed a nice silver color even in changing weather.
Inside the house was hollow and quiet. No radio on, and I felt dust on my toes even though I thought the house was clean when we left it. Then I remembered I had my shoes on then, and now they were gone, so I wouldn't be able to tell if the floor was dusty but now I felt it all the way up into my elbows. My feet touched everything on the way in to the kitchen, and I kept thinking spiders were brushing my face. I tried to reach up with a hand, but then I knew it was one of my feet. So I admit it, I cried. I am still at it, what else am I supposed to do? But I'm keeping as silent as I can.
My cheeks twitched and the edges of my ears moved. I guessed I had whiskers. They still feel strange. My face hurt a little, still, even though the hot burning went away after I ran to my house. There was no sign of Mama. I could remember her worrying about me and sitting next to me in the truck, but then nothing. I tried to trace back in my mind, and remembered the people running, and now that I thought about it I remembered maybe one or two men about Pop's size with voices like his, who sounded worried too. Something like, "little were-dog", they said. But I didn't know they were trying to catch me. If I had known, maybe I would have stayed. But I thought we were all running. I didn't know at the time, why should I, that I was a little were-dog. Only they were wrong. It's Coyote.
I came into the kitchen and felt something twitching on the very end of the part of my back that trailed behind me. I looked back and saw greyish fur moving. I turned my head, trying to see how much I could understand in the kitchen. Finally, when I thought about it just right, I could smell the cakes waiting for the cooking oil. Then I could smell the radio. Then I heard noises in the pipes under the steel sink. I felt air moving in the hairs between my arms, what I guess are my front legs now. I was about halfway up the cupboard doors, only I was standing normally, or at least it felt like I was. For awhile I could remember everything about being that size, about sitting on the floor and rubbing my hands around in flour and scrubbed pots and I think I remembered laughing. I heard a sound that was different from anything in my house, that wasn't just louder than usual, and then I smelled something that could have been Mama, so I moved forward. But then her smell went away. Something sour instead, and then a movement sound, going the opposite way from before. Then I knew it was some kind of animal in the pantry, pacing.
"Mama," I tried to say, but the whole word came up and stayed in the back of my throat so I sounded like a dog trying to say it. I knew it was my voice because it came up into my ears from inside my head. I was starving. I thought I might leave the wild animal alone in the pantry, since it smelled so upset, and get a cupboard open. But then I remembered there was nothing I could get without a can opener, unless I went into the pantry. I tried it again, saying Mama, but this time was a worse try because I was listening so hard.
The animal in the pantry growled. I knew it was a coyote, then, and when I took a whiff I could tell it was a bitch coyote, but I couldn't get back any of the smell of Mama, so that must have come from the air brushing down off the countertops, or maybe somewhere in her slippers she left under a table. I mean, if it didn't, you tell me where she is. I put my head down and took a step closer to the pantry. Still no Mama. I don't know how I could tell so much about what was in the pantry, except that if I am a coyote now, I guess I can smell pretty well. But that means it couldn't be her, or I'd have been able to tell, right? Wouldn't I always, anywhere, be able to tell who is my Mama? But I pushed open the slat door with my shoulder which had a fur covering but no clothes on, and something jumped at me with wet white and red showing, and when it fell back I saw yellow eyes brighter than the light from outside.
It snarled and yelped and then scrabbled back hard into the pantry, and I froze like a statue for a short while, then I tried to lower myself down again and go in, but it jumped at me again, and this time snapped sharp at my nose. I felt its breath, and a drip of nervous drool came off its lip like a trapped animal's. I shook all down, a bit of the sick feeling came back, but I swear I'm not afraid of a little old bitch coyote. At least, I wasn't then. I don't know what to do now. I ran, with my spine curled up under my belly and I don't know how I ran like that, and after a good chunk of miles I slowed down and trotted like I used to pretend I was horseback riding, with my head down in front of my missing hands. It couldn't have been Mama. I don't know where she is, or how the coyote got into our pantry, and don't tell me you do know. I guess I just don't know anymore. I'm not afraid, I never used to be, but out there are hundreds of coyotes and they're all spread out, and making sounds like mad things. I used to hear them at night, far away, and they never sounded like this.
My face opens up, my ears come unflattened from my head and I let out a huge yawn, and some of the hay dust in my eyes starts to tear out a little. I ran sixty miles to get here, and I'm lucky I found at least some place to stay, some place not used right now by the rancher. He must have moved his house and outbuildings, this isn't even a storage barn anymore. The roof makes the sky outside seem smaller when I see it through a window. It's too huge otherwise. I used to like the sky. I feel sick in my belly again, but this time it's because it's empty and I'm starving. I can't eat or I get sick, but I can't not eat or I get sick. I begin to think, maybe if some of those coyotes came and got me, they'd make me mad too and then it wouldn't matter. The gunshots die down. They're going away along the road a couple miles from here. They're not shooting anything really, just driving them. I won't be driven. I stick tight.
I'm not a were-dog. I'm not a were-anything. I never had a shot except for boosters at the doctor's, and then it would have happened right away, right? Maybe it's like in the movies when someone gets bit. But I haven't been bit in ages. I wonder if a silver bullet would kill me. That's what Mama calls asking for nightmares, thinking about that kind of thing, but it can't hurt to wonder because I have to plan. I have to plan how to get out of here without coyotes who are bigger than me packing up at the door, even though I think the trucks and guns are driving them back the way I came. Someone else might be hiding like me. I'm not all that big. That's why they call me Little Floyd, not like my Pop's name was Floyd or anything. But I'll grow.
I ran into two coyotes and a badger on the way here, only the badger snarled and flattened and did his thing, which even though it made my neck prickle was all right with me. Good old badger. The coyotes were running scared. They went right around me and I just felt all my hair go up like a couple of spirits went by. They had huge eyes and I could see it all in the dark, like I always wished I could but I never wished to be a coyote. They never even looked at me. It was like they were running in their sleep. I slowed down then until I was walking, and my legs hurt from walking stiff like a suspicious cowdog. Night got colder and I found a bush to be under, but I'm safer in this barn. Too many slithery noises in the dark, and none of them sounded like Snake or anything else I know. I could pick out some smells but I'd come so far that I knew none of them were from home. They were all other people's property.
The next day it got winter-warm again and I took up sort of a jog to some tunes from the radio, as if it was playing in my head. Truck-driving songs and sitting and smoking songs and a few I can't remember all of but I kept thinking like I was humming the parts I know over and over until I thought of a new song. My hands and feet started getting sore, which I should've expected since they felt dust like I never felt it before, and out here's all pebbles and thorns and gritty sand. Grass lying across my way started to feel sharp. So after awhile I slowed down to walking again. I got real careful and started to try looking at the ground. Only I couldn't look at my feet, and it was as if my hands were touching the ground. And I felt mice and little snakes all around me in the sun but I couldn't do a damn thing about them. They knew it and I can still feel them watching me, not like the barn owls are doing but like the smaller kids watch the bully getting in trouble.
I try to ignore all the noises around me and the shots I swear I'm still hearing. I try to play the radio over them. I play a really nice song, carefully in my head so all the music and the right voice comes through and the itchy noises in the barn walls and dark, large night noises outdoors won't drown it out. If I were singing right now, though, it would be all wobbly. I try not to make my memory sound wobbly in my head. "... until they cover me up... I'm gonna... live... gonna laugh..." The barn owls stalk into their hole. I feel like crying. They were the only faces here. "gonna love" Mama... Gawd-_damn_ and don't tell anybody I said that. Mama, please come, only I guess you're a coyote now too and stuck in the pantry. If you're too scared to come out, what's gonna happen to me?
"Loose... footloose... aw to hell with it..." I don't want to be awake. But now since I thought of silver bullets I'll have nightmares. I wish I had a FBI show to watch. They always catch the guy that did it.
Wasn't a silver bullet that killed Pop.
Six or seven nights ago maybe it was, when I could see this unlit barn from the top of a swell, and I figured, in the evening it'd be lit or someone'd be coming to it or something, and the house needed too much work to be lived in if it went with the barn and all, so I came on down towards it to hide. There are chickens back up over the rise and I've eaten some eggs, but the hens scratch too hard even if there's no rooster, so no actual real meat. I don't intend to pay anybody back for the scratches I've got on my nose. Besides it wasn't me that lamed the rooster anyway.
There was a road to cross. I could feel it before I got to it, because the roads give off heat at night I used to only be able to feel during the day. And so what, too. I never asked to be this coyote. Now I don't know _what_ I am and I guess I have to be stuck this way... the rest of my life. For however long that is. A long time, they always say. Everyone dies but not for a long time. And I came onto a coyote trail, with heavy footprints that didn't seem natural, didn't seem right. I knew by then that it's all wrong out there. I didn't take the same steps, but I sniffed at them a little and looked at them. They came down to the road, and then I could smell a lump of dead air on the other side.
I walked much more slowly. It wasn't too cold yet but I shivered. I felt a horror prickle again like they always say happens in books but you never really feel. I felt my neck stretched out with the rest of my back, all in one line as if I was passing low over the ground without any legs or anything. There was no coyote, all of a sudden. No more track, just road, and then thick black streaks from some eighteen-wheeler swerving off to the opposite lane. The trucker swerved too much and caught the coyote as he hauled ass off the other side. Must've hit him hard, only there was still no coyote. There was just my Pop, lying there in a dug-up thin patch of dust and scratched lines where he tried to lay tracks. His paws couldn't catch and he stayed on one side with an arm reaching out and his eyes half open. It was all the same, just like every time a dog or coyote is hit out here, only right where his back paws landed were his raw brown feet, and where there should be a long muzzle laid out in front came just a dent in the dirt and then a man's mouth with my Pop's eyes half-closed and dusty.
My head bent over to one side and then the other, but even though I could feel that and I could see well, I couldn't see a damn thing. Mama was right, he was no good. He fought all the time and sometimes he was rough on me. And especially to Mama he swore and said she kept him home with no money all the time, that he could be out with other ladies. But she fought with him too, and he could have left any time. So she knew he'd leave, but she always knew she'd find a note on the door, or in their medicine cabinet, and he'd call later on to say he was in New Mexico or somewhere and not coming back but could he send me, Little Floyd, a present for Christmas. I knew all that too. But he just up and disappeared, just gone like she told me, and no note and nothing taken away. He wouldn't have taken her truck, but no money was gone and Pop would've taken money. So she knew he had to be rottener than she ever thought he was, never even to leave a note to say he was mad and fed up and taking off. Never even a note. We just didn't know he was out here.
I hear a motor outside the barn, and it's not a truck. Some tiny car, brand new. I lift up my head, and pretty soon I can see all the timbers of the barn, and no owls still, all hidden away, but the car is out of my sight. I can hear its CD player going. It's playing the song "Hell" by the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Squirrel Nut Zippers, I love that name. But there are man's shoes coming my way on the almost buried dirty gravel in front of this barn. I crawl fast into a side board used for storing grain, and get some dust up my nose, but he'll _know_ I'm in the barn. How in hell to get out without him seeing me? I start panting, and I sound horribly loud, like a movie monster. I gotta get out of here. I make a jump for the edge of the side board and jump to a rafter, then sit on that and look down. The night comes a little ways into the barn door when it opens, then closes again in a cloud of those things that look like stars when lines of moon or sun get in. It's a big night, better light than last and tomorrow will be even brighter. It'd be great for driving around and laughing if I could get my Mama back again.
Whoever the man is is wearing a dark blue suit and a brown work tie. At least, I think that's what he's wearing. Some things have looked a little different since I hit the ground back after that hamburger I didn't finish. He's looking around, like Pop or some other man playing hide and seek with a kid who's real bad at it, like he's pretending not to find me. What did you do, hear me? I feel myself shake.
"No," says the nervous man. He smells nervous, like Mama-coyote in the pantry but like he's been that way much much longer. Not like he's afraid of me. I feel very small. The man glances kind of up at me, but then looks away at the wall timbers again like I might be in the sideboard. I try to cover up all of myself that I can cover up with my furry chest and tail, but I keep my ears out and I have to keep watching the man. After just a little more look around he keeps talking, in a quiet voice like he wants me to believe him. He's not all right, something's wrong with him, but it's not me. And he smells clean except for the nerves, and he's not a farmer or teacher, no animals or kids. But he scrubbed off the smell of coyote.
Are you one of them?
"I'll get to that," he says, and looks right up at me. I feel like something just happened out of _Strange Tales_. "I'm not a coyote, but you're smelling what you're smelling." His voice is very soft and careful. I can tell he talks that way all the time, not just around kids or puppies. I can't see his face real well yet, but he does have red hair and probably a moustache and beard. He's a small guy, not like Pop or any of the guys in my neighborhood. But this isn't my neighborhood. "I'll explain the smell. Right now I'm looking for you, and there you are. Coming down?" He holds up his arm, showing a white hand with some raw pink from the wind. He hasn't been in his car all day.
I curl my lips. He seems very calm. I try to keep my heart beating good, keep up a good pulse, but he's calming me down and if he does that, he might catch me. I think of gunshots.
"I'm not carrying one. The smell might scare you. Yes, I'm a consultant with the FBI."
Well, that's part of it anyway. I mean, part of why he's okay to be here. But what if everything is different? What if I changed into this and the FBI changed into the bad guys?
He sits down in the leftover straw and folds his arms and looks up at me. I can see his face has glittering eyes, but I can't see the color. He shows his badge, but I know people can fake badges.
"My name is John Byers," he introduces himself. "I guess you don't really get a chance to introduce yourself because I already know who you are and where you live."
Am I in trouble?
He nods, and has a sad smile, but I'm not sure what he's sad about. "A little. Not for anything you did. It's just a bit of trouble you're in. When you come on down, and go back to the others, we can work to help all of--"
I make him stop and he does and answers my question. "No one was shot. It's just what you figured, driving you back towards a spot where we could catch some to offer help. But you stuck tight so I came to get you. Smart idea, you never know. But some people are too upset to know any better right now. Your Mama..."
What happened to my Mama?!
"Nothing. Er... Nothing that didn't happen to you, and you're okay, see? Yes? Those scratches will clear up, I honestly believe. You want to talk to her. I understand that. But she's not able to talk right now, she's a little too distracted by all of what's happened... I don't understand it either, honestly. I have ideas, but I see you have a few of your own. You have things to tell your Mama. Coming down?"
I shake my head "no".
John Byers is very quiet for some time. "You're suspicious of me and holding back, now, Little Floyd. It's harder for me to talk to you if I can't hear what you're thinking."
Can you hear what everyone is thinking?
I stick my tongue out a little bit over my sharp bottom teeth. He nods. "Sucks," he says to me. "I c-- can't really... listen all that well. So in answer to your next question, that's why I don't always know before someone does something illegal, because I'm not listening. And sometimes other voices are louder and I can't hear too well. But sometimes it's all my fault. Sometimes I can hear it all, but I shut it out. I turn it off."
Like turning off the radio.
"Like turning off _all_... well, like turning off all but a very few of the radios. All over the country, maybe the world. Maybe other places, too."
"Yes. Other places."
Where's my Mama? I try not to think about Pop, but Mr. Byers frowns and looks like he wants to pat me on the head.
"She's well. Back with the people who are helping me. There are some other FBI people here, Agent Stonecipher found your school bags and I listened for you and followed your mind on out here. We got called out when the locals couldn't catch and help all the coyotes. Your Mama's well, she'll just take some time to actually feel better."
I feel rotten.
"I know, and you're hungry. Food? Anything you want, Floyd. C--" But he doesn't finish what he's saying because he knows I'm not moving. And he knows I could climb higher and then maybe fall and get hurt. It wouldn't look the same as a truck hitting me, but it'd be scary and my eyes would be half open...
"Please. Little Floyd, it's honestly okay. Honestly. Please."
It is not okay. You know.
He just waits, in the dust in his business suit.
"You're a werecoyote, Little Floyd. And no it won't happen that you will stay this way for the rest of your life. You will be all right. You'll be fine, you will change back sometime. Your Mama won't be silent forever, either. And you know I'm telling the truth because you know your Mama wouldn't leave you.
"Well... True... I know, but, she was just scared then. You didn't really truly believe that was her and she just didn't really know that was you, either. But she's remembering. Do you trust me?"
I guess I do, a little.
He fidgets with his suit coat. He looks like a little boy from where I'm crouching, littler than I am sometimes. Do you have a Mama? I know everyone has one.
Well, someone then.
"To spend Christmas with? I'm Christian, too. I guess I'll spend it with some of the people from work, and a few guys who belong to the other organization I spend a lot of time in." He looks at the wall, not up at me at all.
Why, what's wrong with your Mama and Pop? Are they... I just think of what I saw on the dirt the other day, but he shakes his head.
"They're... Not like that. It's a long time ago. I do have a sister, she has children but I'm working over the holidays as you can see. Although I do visit them at Thanksgiving and again in July or August. But the other people I'm working with want to celebrate so I guess I'll spend time with them."
Then why are you upset? If you're afraid of me, why did you come out to chase coyotes? And if it's not me, you know, what's the matter? Is your sister mad you won't be there this Christmas?
John Byers looks up at me again. I think his eyes are blue. "Someone must believe you are Anasazi."
I turn my head over to one side. I guess he decided to stop answering what's in my head. I kind of shrug. Yeah, I guess so. Aren't we? You don't know what it means any more than I do, right? I look at his white skin.
"I know... a little. Not more than you do, Floyd. Or your Mama or anyone else, but someone thinks they know. Someone decided to change you, we think because you are Anasazi. Or at least, they believe very deeply that you are Anasazi and that you must be special, must survive. Do you know what it means to have a virus, Little Floyd?"
Sure, like the flu.
"Well, not exactly. More like... Well, a lot worse than the flu. You may have heard of Smallpox. Not many people are vaccinated for it anymore."
Should we be?
"Yes. But it won't... do any good-- but don't worry!" he holds up a hand to stop me from worrying. "You can't get it now, mutated or not. That's why someone did this to you. To make you not _entirely_ human. And if you're not _entirely_ human, you can't catch the Smallpox. And that's part of what has happened to me. Sort of."
I turn my head back the other way. I hear the owls rustling around.
"You coming down now?"
I shake my head. Tell me about yourself.
He chuckles, and I didn't expect that. FBI men are a little nervouser than I thought they were.
"I'm not _all_ FBI men. And I've only ever been in one TV show."
So what makes you so upset? Not your sister, or are you not telling me the truth?
"No, no, my sister's fine. Has kids and all that. I told you that. Anasazi... Anasazi. Someone wants you to survive, Floyd. I know you feel you and your Mama could survive just fine. But this is about Smallpox, about someone else who doesn't want anyone to be special or to survive, about the way some people see the End of the World. Do you know anything about what that means?"
It means no more pies and cakes, and I'm hungry.
"I'm sorry. This is over your head."
I chuckle, too. It comes out a little gurgly in my throat. I didn't ask to be no coyote. My mood gets sour.
"I know... I know you didn't, Little Floyd. It'll be all right, you'll see. How can you trust me? I can tell you what I hear, and some of the things I see, and one of the things I see is you Floyd, older and human. You'll change back. So will most every coyote who got infected, somehow, with this lycanthropy that's got you stuck in the barn rafters right now. I know you don't believe me, not all of what I say. But some of this is hard for me to talk about."
Harder than catching me if I don't believe you and run away? And how do I know Mama's not somewhere like Pop right now?
"You know she's not. You know you want to tell her what happened to your father. I can sing a little something for you, the one thing I got from her head, I mean her mind, but I'm no singer."
Go for it.
He rolls his eyes back a little and tries to find the words and tune. It's like he's hearing it far away and repeating it. He's all slow and confused, but boy do I know that song.
"You're more... than a lover... um... could never be another, make me feel the way..."
I feel like crying. I try not to let him know it. I know he does anyway, which isn't fair.
I feel sorry too, curled up in my long tail and not coming down to him at all. But he's frightening me. Something's bothering him and if the FBI guy is all upset, what's gonna happen when _I_ come down and we _both_ go back home? What then? Maybe home's gone or something, but I can't believe that. Everything would be wrong then. But it is, everything is wrong.
"Sometimes it feels that way."
John, or Mr. Byers, or whatever, who are you? What happened to you? Do you change into some kind of other animal?
"No." He looks at me, looking sad.
How do you know all this stuff then? Why did you come here and find my thoughts and follow me? How come the FBI gave you this job?
"Because. Because of the virus, the Smallpox. It's deadly stuff Little Floyd, heavy stuff, a bad bad disease. Worse than what you're thinking of. But that's okay, you don't have to understand that much. They-- er. Not they as in the FBI, but They as in some other men in government, men worried about this disease like a lot of other people, men who fear something coming at the end of this year... They decided to see if they could... Change my brain. They saw it could happen randomly, in connection with certain items that come from... Other places. Some people can be changed to hear everything around them, whether it's a sound or a thought, and they can see into the future, and this group of men wanted the power to _make_ people do that. So they took a very few of us, and they messed with our minds."
That wasn't very nice.
He shrugs. He's not sure he wants to say too much bad about the government to me. But don't worry John, you should hear the people at my _school_.
"I've had it happen to a friend of mine, and it wasn't pretty. But I'm almost used... almost used to it."
But why? What did they want to see?
"Everything. But they also knew they could change what we saw, if they went about it right. Or if they did what they thought was right at the time. I got changed that much, so I could hear thoughts and see things and know too much, and then I didn't get changed any more, so I would still be human. And they've tried a vaccination on me. That's the rest of the test, a vaccine for _humans_ against the plague the-- Smallpox. I'm sorry I don't mean to use words tha--"
Plague. I know. Keep talking.
"They don't want to have to change. They want to stay the same. They change others to see if they can stay exactly the same and watch the world go on and down around them." John has one fist tight into the other. I'm not sure if he's angry or not. He looks kind of like he is. I think I'm angry, too. All this changing and not one word asking what we think about it.
"They changed the Smallpox, too," he says quietly. He is angry, his voice is soft and dropping off like he's a man about to fight. "So it will get through the vaccine they invented a long time ago. So I have to try the new one. But I'm a dangerous man. I figured I might as well do my best to keep other people informed of what's going on with me. So I went to the FBI. They try to understand me. Agent Stonecipher puts up with me, at least. And a man who might be able to help you. You won't be a coyote forever, Little Floyd. You keep fearing that and it won't happen, don't worry. You can turn back, and with enough practice you can turn back every day and whenever you like. You won't be a coyote. You'll be a man who sometimes turns into a coyote."
On the full moon, like what's coming?
"No. Whenever you want to."
That almost sounds cool.
"So, someone decided to mess with you. They thought they were doing an important thing, same as the men who changed my brain. They believe, or at least we think they believe, that the Anasazi people must survive the coming plague. They came up with this way to do it. It's religion... but I guess you know that."
How do you know anything about them? Have you caught them? Is it a man or what?
He shakes his head. He looks like he wishes he didn't have to say this. "No. I'm getting traces of a male, probably physically large, and I'm deducing that he had some sort of access to World War Two records from the Navaho. But that last is deduction and may not be true. We'll have to find him, but no... I don't hear him. I'm sorry, I know you expected better of me."
"I'm glad to feel you say so. I want to say we have him already, that we understand it all. You think you're not a lycanthrope, that lycanthropes change back. But you _can_ change back. The strange thing, Floyd, is that you exist at all. I don't mean you as a little boy, but in the shape you're in up on that beam. And there are many more coyotes back where you came from, all infected some way we haven't found out yet. Coyotes shouldn't _be_ lycanthropes. This person, this man who infected you, for one thing managed to get you all infected with the right gender of lycanthropy, and also with coyote information to turn you into something that's never existed before. Were-dogs exist throughout the world right now, in limited numbers, but no one has ever seen, to my knowledge, a were-coyote. And he certainly didn't get _those_ codes from World War Two."
Well, then it had to be magic. There's no such thing as werecoyotes so it has to be magic.
"I... I don't know. I doubt it. We do have records in my division of one man who was able to change the breed of dog he became at will, but he tried to become another species and never managed it. But maybe someone found out how. Religion... Well, whoever did this has a lot at stake. A lot. The world. We all do. We're all just... Well, some of us take it to extremes."
I understand 'extremes'. I scratch at an itch, but I do it with my foot instead of my hand, which is very weird. On a coyote it's the back foot, which is still a foot, and it's very very weird. I try it on the other side of my head with the other back foot. I look at the front feet, which are hands but look like paws, and they don't even move while I scratch.
"You won't come down. I'll tell you everything, and you won't even be very scared. But you look and feel so young."
I know. Little Floyd and all. Little. I have an itch, so I'll just keep scratching.
"You do that. Floyd, I have a woman. Not my Mama, and not a wife, not a lover like in 'Best Friend' that I sang for you-- I know, I know, as best I could sing, give me a little bit of a break-- not like that, but mine all the same. In my head. Not unreal, not a dream. She lives in places I see all the time, and I know where she is at every minute. You wish you could do that with your Mama, know where she is at every minute, but for me it's... I just... Look, Floyd, I'm here to help you, not complain about little things like my brain. But I know a woman, and I'm in love with her."
Then go to her, right?
"No. I will go to her, but the day that I meet her she will die, and she will die because I have met her. And that has to be changed. But I _don't know how to change it_. And I've tried..." John Byers puts his head in his hands. Everything is very still. I don't like it.
Hey, John, Mr. John, I can't read _your_ mind.
His eyes are red when he looks up, I think, even though I'm not sure of everything I see.
"I'll tell you what I'm thinking, then. First, I'm thinking I don't always see too clearly, either. And I hope I'm mistaking it, sometimes. Sometimes I even hope I've made her up, but then I remember the records I've found on her and I know she's going on doing things with her life and I would give anything to meet her and I'll kill her. I won't... I mean I won't do it myself. But I'm a dangerous man."
"So dangerous I can't help it. People follow me, and I follow bad things. Some things I go to fix, and I don't fix them. And some people don't get out all right. But _you_ will, Floyd. You'll get out _all right_."
What's going to happen next?
"Some of the coyotes who escaped from the edges of the beating trucks will come back this way. They're scattered and afraid. You'll be afraid too. The sounds will pick up again and the moon will only get brighter. It won't feel much like Christmas or even real life to you, but you will come down and let me take you home."
What if I don't?
"Please, Little Floyd, don't picture those things you're picturing. They won't happen and they hurt, to think you're feeling them the way you are. You don't have to feel them. You don't have to plan beyond getting down out of those rafters and coming here. Come on, you will eventually anyway."
So I will, when I do.
He nods. Knew I'd say that and everything.
Why did you say you're Christian, too? You're not Christian like us, are you? Like my religion?
"Maybe not. Tell me about your religion."
I tell him, loud in my thoughts, like I was taught to explain it at school in case of kids who don't know about it. So they'll understand.
We don't believe in Jesus like on the Cross. We don't think God died on the Cross. But we know God's Son came and is Man and walked and died here, maybe on this land. He maybe didn't live where Jesus lived, but He had a birthday and we celebrate it at Christmas. He'll return, because He has to come back from the dead and He'll bring all the Dead with Him-- and I think of Pop. Then I wonder if Pop will be angry when Christ wakes him up. And I shake. And I think maybe other people... died... just tonight... When will God come? What will He do if they get angry with Him? What then? Some people... Lots of people... Whole lots... say the world will End this Christmas and New Year's. Someone did this to me and Mama and Pop and he died... and other Anasazi and maybe even some other people are all changed so the world will End around us all... What if it's this Christmas? What if Pop doesn't like it at all?
"Shh..." John wants to make me shush and be gentle and calm but I'm way up here. "Shhh... " He thinks for a long time about what to say to me. The owls feel and hear my body shaking and get all upset in their hole. They didn't like me here to begin with. Can't help it owls, someone did this to me and it's real and I didn't do it. What was it you think John, the hamburgers? I think to him about the hamburger.
"It's... a good thought, but then how did the women turn into females and the men into male coyotes? It takes two different kinds of code, you see."
I don't get it.
"DNA. It has to be DNA, like I know they've mentioned to you in your school. DNA has to make a certain gender in the lycanthropy, the same as in your body."
I nod. I feel sort of wise, talking like this to a FBI man, but only sort of. I'm still quivering.
"Shh... Floyd. You talked about what you believe different, what you don't believe. You talked about what God isn't. What is God? Can you tell me how you see God?"
I get a little shy. I'm not sure God is supposed to look like the way I picture Him. I turn my eyes to the wall, all dust and no one to tell me what's wrong in my head, and I try to let the picture into my head. After awhile I see Him walking in my mind. God is... brown. With black eyes and black hair. He has a little smile, and He has his hands up and forward, showing He comes in peace like a alien or someone with no gun. Only He carries guns. He has empty hands though, red palms and He's kind of slow, like He's shy only I don't know many men who look like that. So maybe He's not shy. But He looks like He is. He has a gun holster and it's on His body and all the light behind Him turns orange only it's white around His head. He looks like there's no ground until you get all down around His ankles, and then there's solid dirt, and maybe brush. That's how He's walking. I turn my ear, and I kind of crouch and I turn my head. God slows down in my head and I show Him to John and then I shake a little more, because I didn't for awhile. Mr. Byers is smiling. "That's nice," he says, only he looks proud, not like you say with "nice". I wish he knew my Pop. He could look proud of me that way around my Pop.
"You trust Him?"
He's nice. In my mind. God's nice.
"Good. Come on down."
I don't want to.
"All right. But it's okay, you know. No matter when anything happens, it's okay. You know He's armed to take care of it."
I sort of nod.
John holds an arm up, but after a minute he takes it back and puts it down and his face changes. "I... I should really listen to myself. I'm sorry. I know you know I don't believe there's nothing to be afraid of. I've told you and you already smelled how I feel. I'm sorry. I should believe it will be all right for me, for her, too, as well as for you."
Thanks for coming to tell me my Mama's okay. Even if she isn't, you know.
"She will be."
Thanks John... I feel like crying _again_. I'm seven. It's not fair. I wanted to be like a man.
John smiles a tiny bit. "You're a good man, Floyd. Little or no. I cry a lot, too. More than you do. It's okay to practice it even when you're seven."
I turn my ears around and back and forth. I hear paws. They're running. Sets of coyote paws, hard on the dirt outside. Some are tiring.
John looks towards a window. "We'll have to start out again and hope they're tired enough to catch in the morning. Some are already calming down. Your Mama's back at the help station in a blanket right now, Little Floyd. You know she's not one out on the prairie right now."
I touch my front paws or hands together and think about the noises and about John and how far the car is from the barn door. I don't know what to do or think.
Paws go past us. Some stop. Some get confused and go the other way. Some get into a fight less than a mile out to the East of us. Then things get real quiet. Then they get lonely. The coyotes are afraid and they get lonely, and I start to smell them stronger than baking or frying, stronger than furnace smells or hot asphalt, stronger than anything that ever came up from below me into my nose. They're all afraid, steaming afraid, and they don't know what to do so they cry. I jump. I grab the beam with my toes and fingers and get stiff and cold.
Stop them, John. I can't hear them cry like that.
But John is very still and quiet. I can see a little light from the non-moon side, the window, and his red hair and a little frown on his face but it's just a quiet frown and nothing else. He holds his finger up to his face, but he doesn't shush me aloud. Just touches his mouth. He's listening hard but I can't stand how they cry like that.
After too long a time he says, staring out the window, "Come down here where you can listen."
I can't move.
"Shh... I'm with the FBI, Little Floyd, and you'd better get out of those rafters right--"
I jump down. John grabs me before I get going too fast and get out the door. I want to hide under his car and get away from those awful noises. What if they're smelling me right now? What if they hear me breathe?
"I can hear you, Floyd. They can only hear themselves. We'll work on them tomorrow. Come here." And he holds me up in his arms and I remember being this small. I closely look at his eyes and they do seem blue. His hair is a little dusty and his suit coat has a little dust on it, too. He smells less like coyote and more like himself, now. I can smell his badge. It's real, right?
"Yes. Good thing you came down. Now here, listen from where I stand. Coyote music."
They're crying. I flatten down my head and ears together and push fur up from my neck until I feel muffled and small.
"Some of them. Listen, Floyd. Hear the singing? Some of them are crying, but most of them are singing."
I lift my head up just a little bit. I feel John's arm move and his feet and shoes crunch on straw. It's colder outside than I remember. The moon is too white. Mama couldn't come here with me because this place isn't real. But it is, because the car in front of me smells oily and the tires made tracks back the way they came. It's a new car. It's all shining and John's coat is dustier than his own car. We can't get to it without looking at the coyotes. They're on every hill, everywhere. They're down in the dark flat places and the ones in my sight all have white light on them from the moon. Their faces are open and noise comes in from all sides.
I stick close into John. I feel his chin in my fur. We come to the car and our reflection is in the brown window, and I really am a coyote.
"See, it's not so bad. Sit in here. You can tell your Mama it's not what she thought. You'll be all right, I can tell you that. I have a radio. What would you like to hear?"
Maybe "Santa Claus is Coming to Town". Can you find something playing that?
John smiles. "I'm sure we can."
I look out the window at the other coyotes. Some of them are looking at me with their orange eyes when the engine starts up. Some of them are quiet while we drive away.