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A The Ones Who Call story
Start at the beginning of The Ones Who Call series
Jenny's life had almost returned to something approaching normal when Fox appeared at the S?sis' family home.
Jenny was out in the yard when he arrived, tilling the soil in her mother's garden. It was still too early to plant anything, as there was still a risk of late frost despite the warming temperatures, but Jenny's mother insisted that she break the soil by hand as part of her punishment for having left the reserve. Jenny argued that she didn't need to be punished, as the memory of the burning pain caused by her family's curse was quite enough to keep her from making that mistake again, but her mother said that the work would be good for her.
Jenny had agreed without complaint at first. She enjoyed gardening, and often helped her mother with planting and weeding over the course of the summer. However, she hadn't realized until this moment that the garden was quite so large, nor that the dirt was so hard packed from the winter snows. She was sweating liberally, and the bandana tied around her hair didn't stop tiny beads of sweat from trickling down her face and neck. A jolt of pain shot up her arms as her hoe struck one of the many stones buried under the soil, and she cursed loudly.
"Jeez. Do you kiss your momma with that mouth?"
The words made Jenny jump. With her mother away at work, she hadn't expected anyone to be watching her. The unseen stranger laughed at her surprise, and she quickly recognized her brother's voice. She turned to look for him, but saw only the empty field and small copse of trees beside their garage.
"Fox?" She called, setting down the hoe and walking towards the woods where his voice had come from. "Is that you?"
"Of course, little sister! Who else would it be?" His voice came from behind her now, but when she whirled to face him, the yard was still empty. She frowned, remembering how much he loved to torment her with practical jokes.
"Get out here and say hello, then." She said, crossing her arms as she watched the yard for any sign of movement. "It's bad enough I don't see you for months at a time when you're gone. At least let me see you now that you're back!"
A loud, raucous laugh came from behind the shed, but Jenny did not turn to look for him. If Fox was sneaking around trying to surprise her, then she wasn't going to be lured into any of his tricks.
"You sound just like Mom, you know?" He said, and Jennie yelped as she felt fingers dig into the ticklish spot on her sides. She squirmed, trying to escape his grasp, but her brother was relentless.
They tumbled to the ground, Fox still tickling her sides while Jenny tried to grab at his wrists and swat his hands away from her. Shrieking with laughter, she managed to elbow him hard in the side and turned the battle to her advantage while he was busy rubbing at his bruised ribs. She knew from their childhood wrestling matches that he was ticklish at the sensitive spot where neck met his shoulder, and drove her fingers against his neck. He squawked and clamped down with his head, pinning her hand in place, but she wiggled her fingers against his neck until he gave up and squirmed away from her.
She let him go and lay back on the grass to catch her breath. "We're getting too old for that." She said. "It's weird now that we're both grown up."
He snorted and reached over to tousle her hair. "You're hardly grown up, little sister. Give it a few more years and maybe then we'll talk."
She swatted hand away and rolled onto her stomach, propping her head on one arm while she studied his face. He looked even more like a stray dog than the last time she'd seen him, all lanky, rangy muscle and dirty travel-worn clothes. The scar on his chin stood out starkly against his tanned skin, a battle scar from bar-fights long past, and his eyes glittered as he grinned at her.
"What are you doing back here?" She asked, scowling in response to his smile.
"Jeez, do I need a reason to come and visit my family now?" He sounded offended. He placed a hand over his heart and let his tongue loll out of his mouth, feigning mortal insult at her suspicion. Jenny made an exasperated noise.
"No, but you could at least tell me why you didn't come home two months ago, when Kohkum called everyone together to tell me about our stupid family curse! I would have felt a whole lot better if you were there!" She flung a clod of dirt at him and fixed him with her best withering glare.
His ever-present smile faded into a look of genuine regret. He stared up at the sky, refusing to meet her eyes. "I didn't know. I thought it was a family reunion or something, and I figured I could just blow it off. If I'd known that they were gonna tell you about, you know, everything..." He waved a hand vaguely, encompassing all the strangeness in both of their lives, and then rolled onto his stomach so that he could look at her. "I'm sorry. I really am. I had to learn about everything on my own, too, so I know how freaky it is for the first few months."
Jenny continued to glare at him, calculating if his sincerity was enough to overcome the months, no, years of resentment she felt towards him.
When they had been young, they had been the best of friends. She'd looked up to her fearless older brother with a child's all-encompassing adoration. In her eyes, he could do anything, and whether he was crossing the creek by balancing on a log or climbing the grain silo in her uncle's field, his feats were things of legend.
However, when he turned sixteen, he had disappeared.
It came so suddenly that it shocked her. Jenny, only nine at the time, hadn't understood why her brother had grown so sullen and depressed. Her mother had tried to explain it away as 'teenage hormones', but Jenny was clever enough to realize that her brother's moodiness had started after a secret family meeting that she hadn't been allowed to attend. She'd tried to comfort him, but he'd pushed her away, claiming that nothing she couldn't understand what he was going though. Jenny had been terribly hurt by that.
I suppose he was right. She thought, watching his face. I really wouldn't have been able to understand until I went through it myself...
Then, one day, he ran away from home. Jenny could remember being a part of the frantic search as her family combed the woods and fields of the valley looking for him. They gave up after a week of searching, and her mother cried herself to sleep for months thereafter.
When Fox returned, walking out of the woods and sauntering into the kitchen like nothing had happened, he and her mother had fought loudly and viciously. Jenny ran to Auntie Val's house and hid there until her mother came to get her. When Jenny asked what happened to Fox, her mother explained that her brother "was living on his own now," and Jenny had been too scared to ask any more questions.
Fox had been a source of worry and frustration ever since that day. He would show up unannounced whenever he felt like it and leave again just as suddenly. It drove Noreen crazy not to know where her son was, and Jenny felt betrayed that her brother would cause their mother so much pain. Couldn't he see how much their mother loved him, and how much it hurt her whenever he showed up just to fight with her?
She searched her brother's eyes, looking for any sign of remorse. He lowered his gaze, looking so much like one of the nervous stray dogs that lurked around the reserve that she nearly laughed despite her anger.
"Look, Jenny." He started, but Jenny cut him off.
"No, you look." She said. "I get it, ok? I get that you hate how the family just sprung this whole 'water spirit' thing on you. It's not fair. There's so many stupid rules. 'Don't go here, don't do this, and don't let anyone know what we really are.'" She was on her feet now, pacing angrily before him.
"It sucks. I hate it too. But why the hell did you have to run away without saying anything? I...I was so scared. And why didn't you come back?"
She swallowed against the lump in her throat and turned away so that he couldn't see that she was on the verge of tears. For a long moment, all she could hear was the wind and the cheerful chirping of the sparrows in the hedge. Then she heard the soft sound of grass being ripped up as her brother tried to think of something to say.
"I said I'm sorry, Jenny, and I meant it." His voice was very quiet, and uncharacteristically solemn. "I ran off because I needed to figure things out on my own, but it wasn't fair of me to assume you'd need to do the same. I should have come back sooner."
"You think?" Jenny snapped, and then regretted it. Fox really had sounded sorry, and despite all of her anger, she still looked up to her older brother. The idea that he'd been thinking of her while he was away touched her.
"If it makes things better, the whole reason I came back was to help you." He said. He got to his feet and gingerly rested a hand on her shoulder. "I learned a lot while I was away, and I figured if I could teach you, then you wouldn't have to learn it the hard way."
Jenny turned her head and locked eyes with him, but this time there was no anger in her gaze. She sighed heavily. "Well, you're a little late for that." She said. "I've already been stupid enough to try leaving the valley, and I've got the whole flying underwater thing figured out. Alex showed me how."
"Alex? Alex doesn't know shit about the valley." Fox shook his head in disgust. "The guy doesn't even live in the valley. I bet you've never been to the Garden, or to the village underneath Echo Lake."
Jenny's skeptical expression spoke for her. Sighing, Fox grabbed her hand and began pulling her towards the pond in the middle of the yard. Jenny started to resist, but something about the light in her brother's eyes promised that this trip would be more interesting than swimming around the murky, muddy depths of Crooked Lake.
"Mom doesn't want me to leave this lake." She said, but they both knew that it was only a token protest.
Fox rolled his eyes as he waded out into the pond and felt around for the trapdoor at its bottom. "Mom doesn't have to know." He said, grinning wickedly. "Come on."
He disappeared into the tunnel beneath the waters, and Jenny glanced around the yard to confirm that no one was watching before joining him. Together, they sped through tunnel and out into the lake, drifting through the water in the ghostly manner of their kind. While Jenny could feel the water embracing her, it offered no resistance as they slid through it. The siblings were able to 'fly' though the water effortlessly with only the slightest motion of their arms.
This strange way of swimming had taken some getting used to, but Jenny thought that she'd gotten pretty good at it in only a few short weeks. However, watching her brother shoot through the water with negligent ease, she felt a stab of jealousy. Clearly, she would need more practice before she could even hope to keep up with him. Noticing her lagging behind, Fox circled her twice in the time it took her to frown at him, and then flipped lazily onto his back to watch her progress.
Jenny grit her teeth and sped up, eager not to let him show her up. Impressed by her determination, he mouthed the words 'try to keep up', and then shot off into the dark. Jenny felt a renewed stab of ire. As much as she loved him, she'd forgotten just how much of an ass her brother could be sometimes.
She forged on despite a growing fear of running into something in the gloom. They raced at breakneck speed past the now familiar heap of driftwood and cow bones in the center of the lake, the only interesting sight in an otherwise muddy and dull stretch of water, and then set a course for the far end of the lake. Jenny paused as they reached the shallow river that connected this lake with the Fishing Lakes, remembering her mother's warnings that there were dangers lurking in those waters, but Fox continued on without slowing.
They continued on, moving so quickly that Jenny didn't have time to appreciate her new surroundings. She caught brief glances of structures in the depths, and got an impression of depths far deeper and stranger than those of the lake she was used to. She wished that she could call to her brother and ask him to stop, but she hadn't yet learned the knack of speaking underwater and he seemed so intent on some unknown goal that she doubted he would have stopped even if she'd asked.
Jenny began to feel a peculiar sort of strain that centered on no specific muscle, but seemed to drain her entire being. As if sensing that she was beginning to tire, Fox darted back to her side and motioned towards a small bay. She gratefully collapsed onto the sandy shore, gasping for breath.
Laughing, Fox broke the surface and waded towards her. "Not bad, little fish. But you're going to have to practice more if you want to try and outrace me. I once beat Coyote himself in a swimming competition, you know."
"Oh, as if." Jenny said, still stung by showing weakness in front of her brother but too exhausted to come up with any better retorts.
"No, really." Fox grabbed a handful of stones from the beach and began skipping them across the water, heedless of the water dripping from his hair and clothes. "He was going around, saying that he could out swim Otter, Fish, and even Whale, but nobody really paid any attention to him because everyone knows Coyote hates getting wet. So, when he showed up at the bar one night, I bet him I could swim three times around the valley faster than he could."
Jenny rolled her eyes. Her brother's tall tales about Coyote and the other tricksters had been cute when she was eight, but now they just sounded stupid.
"Come on. I'm not a baby, so quit trying to pull my leg." Jenny said.
Fox stopped mid-toss and turned to face her, an odd expression on his face. Not quite a smirk, it was the expression that had first made her mother stop calling him by his given name and begin calling him by the name her grandfather had bestowed him with. Just like Fox, the sly prankster from the old stories, her brother's eyes would light up whenever he thought of something clever.
"Would you like to meet him?" Fox asked slowly.
Jenny stared back at him, wrinkling her nose in distaste. "Shut up, Fox. I told you to stop with the stories. Now you're just deliberately trying to tick me off."
"No, seriously." He said, tossing a pebble from hand to hand. "He wants a rematch. If I call, he'll come."
Jenny snorted and tossed her head, ignoring him. She began wringing the water from her hair, then froze as she noticed a pair of eyes watching her from the bushes. The eyes were very, very yellow and full of a feral craftiness. Fox noticed her stiffen and turned as well, spotting the rangy coyote crouching only a short distance away.
"Oh, hey. Looks like he's got his eyes on me already." Fox said, nonplussed, and addressed the coyote directly. "Hey. If you see him around, you tell Coyote that I'm still the fastest swimmer around. If he wants a rematch, I'm up for it, and he better be ready to slink away from here with his tail between his legs."
The coyote lunged to its feet and bared yellowed fangs at the man. Jenny flinched away, wondering if the creature was rabid, and only relaxed when the creature turned and fled back into the bushes.
"You shouldn't have done that." She said, heart still pounding from the scare.
"I'll be fine." Fox said, waving a hand.
Jenny frowned, not sure how to tell him that she'd been concerned that he might get bitten, not that she believed he'd actually summoned a creature out of myth. Before she could say anything, however, a sound like thunder crackled through the cloudless skies, and a hot wind blew through the trees.
The gale whirled about them both, carrying with it a dense, musky scent and fine grains of sand that stung at their flesh. As she squinted against the whirlwind, Jenny could make out the outline of something massive and bestial swarming across the plain and down the hillside towards them. The creature's outline was indistinct and ever-changing, but she got the impression of sharp claws, tall, pointed ears, and of a keen, timeless intelligence that took in everything around it as it trotted effortlessly, inexorably towards the ones who had called it.
She flinched away from the sight and clung to her brother's arm for safety. He was standing firm, staring through slitted eyes at the heart of the storm that surged towards them. He was so utterly unafraid of the monstrous thing charging at them that Jenny thought for an instant that he'd lost his mind. No sane person could stand before such a force without recoiling in terror, and yet there he was, staring it down with that damned smirk on his face.
The howl of the wind grew to a fever pitch, and the wind brushing against her exposed cheek felt like the hot, fetid breath of a carrion beast. Jenny cried out, sure that something vast and horrible was about to sink its fangs into her back, and then, without warning, the din ceased. Her ears rang in the sudden silence.
"You!" A voice howled, but it was not the voice of some inhuman monster. In fact, the voice sounded very much like one of the boys she went to school with, and the incongruity of this was as shocking as the initial sight of the creature in the whirlwind had been.
Confused, Jenny raised her head and looked towards the speaker. He was a young man, about Fox's age, dressed in jeans, a black t-shirt and ratty sneakers. He was terribly handsome, with richly tanned skin and long black hair bound into two braids. Jenny felt her heart flutter and her cheeks redden at the sight of him, but thankfully he was paying her no attention at the moment. All of his focus was on Fox, and he pointed an accusatory finger at her brother.
"I've been looking for you." The man said, and the annoyance in his voice was entirely human. "Where the hell have you been?"
Fox shrugged. "Here and there. You know how it is."
The stranger licked his lips and flexed his hands, staring avidly at Fox. "Well. You were stupid enough to challenge me a second time. You ready for this?"
Fox's answering grin was wicked. "I beat you the first time, didn't I?"
The two men glared at each other for a moment, and then the stranger's face suddenly lit up with malicious glee. He threw back his head and cackled, and his laughter sounded like the yipping that often echoed from the hills on moonless nights. Jenny shivered despite herself.
"Ha ha! You're a cocky bastard, Brother Fox. I like that." Coyote said, slapping Fox heartily on the back. "But you've got yourself into a challenge you can't win."
"Why? Have you been taking swimming lessons or something?" Fox replied, undaunted.
"No." Coyote's voice was sly and self-satisfied. "But you called the challenge, so I get to set the terms."
He smiled, and in that instant, Jenny saw the shadow-creature overlaid on the young man's features. His smile stretched impossibly wide, and she could feel hot breath on her neck as he bared his fangs, ready for the kill. She made a strangled noise as she backed away, and the sound brought the man's full attention on her.
"And who is this?" Coyote asked, licking his lips and fixing Jenny with a look of such hunger that she felt her cheeks redden again. "I haven't had anyone bring me a maiden in a long, long time."
"Hey." Fox said, interposing himself between the man and Jenny. "Leave her out of this. She's not part of our challenge."
"Nuh uh uh?" Coyote waggled a finger at Fox, and he froze in place as if struck. "If you didn't want her involved, you shouldn't have brought her."
Coyote stepped around Fox and looked Jenny up and down. She felt terror surge through her, but she held her ground, indignant anger giving her the courage to look him in the eye. "Don't come any closer or I'll?I'll throw you in the lake."
Coyote smirked at the weak threat. "I bet you would, little river daughter. But I've drowned before, and I always come back."
Jenny's mind flashed back to the stories her family had told her. There were indeed stories where Coyote drowned, was stuck through with arrows, or had been eaten by the other animal people, but death never slowed him down for long. He was always back in the next tale, just as foolish, proud, and selfish as ever.
Hold on? Jenny thought. If Rabbit and Squirrel can trick him, why can't I?
She took a deep breath to steady her nerves and then fixed Coyote with her best smile. "Oh, great Coyote. I just meant that you make me nervous when you come so close. After all, everyone says that you are so dangerous that even Wolf and Bear shake when you come near."
Coyote's chest seemed to inflate as he squared his shoulders. "That's true, but I won't hurt you, pretty one." He said, batting his eyes at her.
"Is that a promise?" Jenny asked, and Coyote nodded. She relaxed slightly, knowing that while he was conniving, he was also true to his word. She was glad for the protection, because the next part of her plan was more dangerous.
"My brother didn't mean to challenge you, oh great Coyote." Jenny said. "He was just trying to show off for me. Please, please let him go and we won't bother you anymore."
Coyote's smile darkened and he turned back to Fox. "I can't do that." He said. "He challenged me, fair and square. I wouldn't be known as such an honorable guy if I let people go around and back out of fair challenges, now would I?"
Jenny's heart sank, even if she'd been expecting that response. She turned away, feigning tears, and was pleased to hear Coyote sigh. He waved his hand and Fox stumbled forward, released from the magic that had been holding him in place.
"See? He's fine." Coyote said, catching Fox and steadying him on his feet. "I wasn't going to leave him like that for our challenge. It wouldn't be fair. But he's in one piece, and all ready to go. Aren't you?"
Coyote's last words held a subtle snarl, and Fox brushed off the man's grasp. He turned and glared at the man. "I'm ready as long as you promise to leave my sister out of this."
"Fine, fine." Coyote said breezily, and glanced over his shoulder at Jenny. "But if she's so impressed by my victory that she throws herself at my feet, I'm not going to say no."
Jenny spluttered and saw Fox's face go hard with fury. "Name your challenge, you mangy mutt." Fox growled, balling his hands into fists.
Coyote laughed and twirled around, throwing his hands up towards the sky. The wind roared through the trees, making branches rattle and boughs creak. The waves lapping against the shore provided a soft counterpoint to the rhythm of frogs croaking in the shallows, and high up above a flock of birds dove lower and added their voices to the din. Coyote struck a pose that Jenny was sure she'd seen on one of the Eminem posters at her friend Dani's house.
"So you think you can dance?" Coyote said, grinning at his own joke. "Well, you ain't seen nothin' yet, boy."
Coyote jumped onto a stump and mimed holding a microphone with one hand while the other waved at unseen crowds. "This is going to be a straight-up dance off, just like I've seen on T.V. You dance, then I dance, and the sun and the grasses and the sky will be our judges."
Fox frowned, suspecting a trick. "Ok, but you're not allowed to use any of your magic. No changing the world to make it cheer for you."
"Deal." Said Coyote, and turned to wink at Jenny. "And the winner gets a kiss from this beautiful young lady."
Fox looked like he was about to hit the other man. "That wasn't part of the deal!" He said, but Coyote shook his head.
"You already made up one rule, you're not allowed to make up any more." His lip lifted in a warning snarl before he caught himself and bowed graciously to Fox. "Now, shut up and start dancing."
Fox glanced at Jenny, his face full of remorseful self-doubt, but Jenny gave him an encouraging smile. Annoyed though she was that she'd been dragged into the middle of this potentially dangerous situation, they were in far too deep to back out now, and her main concern was getting them both out safely. Coyote might occasionally help people in the old stories, but he was also a notoriously sore loser, and an even worse victor.
Fox sighed, rolled his shoulders to loosen them and began to dance.
He wasn't a bad dancer. In fact, Jenny was a little jealous of her brother's easy grace. She knew that he loved to frequent bars throughout the valley, and his experience on those dance floors was serving him well now. He swayed and shimmied, humming a tune under his breath as he moved in order to keep the beat. He switched styles frequently, blending seamlessly from dub-steb to skank to Men's traditional pow wow. But even as he moved, Jenny could tell by Coyote's widening smile that he would be no match for the trickster.
Finally, Coyote waved a hand and gave Fox a slow round of applause. "I think we've seen enough." He said, grinning toothily.
Fox stumbled to a halt, exhausted from nearly twenty minutes of hard dancing. Coyote rose gracefully from his seat on the stump and stretched, making a production of flexing his muscles in front Jenny. She caught herself blushing again and looked away, trying not to think of his flat, hard stomach or broad, tanned arms.
Coyote shot her one last, promising look and then closed his eyes and began to move. To call what Coyote did by the word 'dance' was an insult to the man's prowess. Even the best, most highly trained of professional dancers could not move as he did. A subtle gesture of his arm managed to capture the essence of a cattail reed tossing in a storm, and a quick flurry of his feet over the ground called to mind the movements of a herd of migrating deer. Jenny found herself entranced, her mind clearing itself of any thought of fear or self-preservation as she watched the man weave his magic upon the earth.
She felt flushed all over, and when he paused at the height of a leap to wink at her, she barely processed the impossibility of him having completely side-stepped gravity. She wanted to get to her feet and beg him to dance with her, to touch her face, to kiss her. She couldn't remember having ever wanted anything so much.
Before she realized what she was doing, she was on her feet and moving towards him. He danced closer, whirling around her and brushing so close to her body that she could feel the heat of his passing against her bare skin. She shivered, closing her eyes in delight.
With a sudden jolt, she remembered the man's teeth bared in his terrible smile. Her eyes flew open, and the return of the blissful desire hit her like a fist. She flinched away from him and he danced in to stroke her arm and covered her eyes tightly with her hands.
So that's what he was up to!
Jenny had been alert for any signs of trickery, but nothing thus far had seemed out of the ordinary. Coyote had not changed the weather or the terrain to make it more difficult for Fox to dance, nor had he enlisted help from any of the other animal people while he was dancing. Both were tricks straight out of the old stories, and Jenny had been ready to call foul if he tried them. Instead, he'd used a magic far more insidious, and one that Fox's rule had not outlawed.
Jenny shuddered, still caught up in the remnants of his spell. Part of her had actually enjoyed the idea of giving herself over to the wickedly handsome trickster, and her hormones warred with her now, whispering that it would be so nice to feel his touch. She'd only kissed a boy once before, and it had been an awkward, sloppy affair. Something in Coyote's eyes promised that this would be far more satisfying.
But she could not forget the fearful revulsion that she'd first felt upon seeing the shadowy mass of fangs and fur and claws. He might look pretty, but that disguise masked something old and dangerous.
Blindly, she stumbled away from him and tried to find her brother. "Fox!" She called, nearly tripping on an exposed root.
"Over here. I can't move!" Fox's voice quavered with fear.
Jenny shuffled towards him, feeling the way with her feet. With every step, she expected to feel Coyote's hands upon her, and she wasn't entirely sure what she would do if that were to happen. After a few more meters, her searching hands contacted warm flesh, and she was relieved to feel the soft flannel of her brother's shirt.
"Help." Fox sounded very young and very scared, and Jenny clung to him.
"Do you forfeit?" Called Coyote, and his voice promised that the loser of this battle would come to regret it.
Desperate, Jenny tried to recall the specific rules of Coyote's challenge. The sun and the grasses were supposed to judge who won, but how on earth could she read their decision, let alone affect it? The sun still felt as warm as it had when her brother had been dancing, and the grasses continued to sway and thrash in the hot wind that rose up to surround them.
Eyes squeezed shut, she thought frantically, going over every word that had passed between them. Suddenly, she knew how to get her brother out of this. It was a bit of a technicality, but she would have to count on Coyote being a man of his word.
Going up on tiptoes, Jenny kissed her brother on the cheek.
The whirlwind stopped. The silence that followed was filled with a deadly menace, but Jenny forced herself to turn around and open her eyes. She faced Coyote.
"You lose." She said.
Coyote stared at her, shock and fury in his mad yellow eyes. "No." He said. "No, I danced the best! I was the first dancer, and I shall be the last dancer when this earth grows old and dies! No mortal man can dance better than I can!"
"Yes, but today, you lose." Jenny said, squeezing her brother's hand for support. "You said it yourself, 'The winner will get a kiss from the pretty lady.' That's me. I kissed Fox, so he wins."
The shocked expression on Coyote's face briefly turned into a mask of rage. Jenny felt Fox stiffen at her side, ready to get between them if Coyote attacked, but just as quickly, the trickster's rage drained away and was replaced by a twisted, sour sort of smile. He began to chuckle, and then to laugh a high, piercing barking sort of laugh that was nonetheless a relief to hear. He laughed so hard that he doubled over and had to slap a hand against his thigh to try and keep himself from falling over completely.
"Pretty good, river daughter." He said when he could speak again. He wiped at his eyes and held his stomach, still gasping breath in between chuckles. "Not everyone can get one over on Old Coyote, but you Memegwaysiwuk were always pretty good at being sneaky." He used the Cree word for their kind, and Jenny nodded her head in acknowledgement of the high praise.
Fox tried to edge behind Jenny, but Coyote caught his eye and pointed at him. "That's two for you, but don't you dare tell anyone about this, or I'll hunt you down and bite off your tail, Fox, and bury it so deep that not even Mole will be able to find it."
Fox nodded hurriedly, painfully aware of how lucky they were to have caught Coyote in a forgiving mood.
Coyote gave them a last look over, his gaze lingering on Jenny's face, and then the hot wind blew up again. Jenny closed her eyes as the beach sand blasted across her face, and when she opened them again, she and her brother were alone.
She sagged with relief. Fox, worn out from his dancing, slumped down onto the sand and clutched at his head.
"How'd you know to do that?" He breathed, his hands shaking.
Jenny shrugged and joined him on the sand, though she sat far more gracefully than he had. "I dunno. It just seemed right, you know?" She elbowed him gently in the side. "I guess all those stories you and Kohkum told me kinda paid off, huh?"
He goggled at her for a moment, and then laughed and leaned against her side. "I guess I owe you one."
"No, you owe me two." She said. "One, for today, and another for leaving without saying goodbye."
Fox laughed and wrapped an arm around her. "Well, I dunno how I'm going to make it up to you. I was going to show you how to deal with the weird stuff in the valley, so that Mom'll let you out of the kiddie pool, but I think you're already way ahead of me."
Jenny smiled shyly and ducked her head, touched to hear praise from her older brother. She was silent for a long moment, enjoying the feel of his arm around her as they stared out at the lake.
"Hey." Jenny said after a moment. "He called you brother. You're not actually Fox, are you?" She glanced suspiciously at him. She wasn't sure if she wanted to hear the answer.
Fox shook his head and pulled her closer. "No. I'm really just your brother. But Coyote's kinda crazy like that. If you call yourself Fox, then he treats you just he would the actual Fox."
"Have you met him?" Jenny asked.
"Nah." Said Fox. "But I get the impression that the real Fox is out there, laughing every time I do something stupid."
Jenny chuckled and snuggled in against his side. The sun was beginning to dry her clothes, but she was still chilled from their brush with disaster. As they once again lapsed into a relieved silence, Jenny realized that the gulf between them was no longer as insurmountable as it had been. She'd already forgiven her brother, even if she was still angry at him, and knowing that he'd cared enough about her to come back from his wanderings almost made up for him having left in the first place.
She smiled at the water, remembering a pair of beautiful, terrible yellow eyes, and wondered if that wasn't what Coyote had intended all along.
Story by Alina Pete, Copyright 2011
Image by Tara Willett, Copyright 2011