Darkness shrouded the house tucked away in an obscure part of suburbia, and hundreds of crickets guarded the yard, chirping their warning to any potential intruder on this humid spring night. An afternoon shower had cleansed the air of pollen, giving allergy sufferers a respite for the first time in several weeks.
Closed blinds shut off the house from the rest of the world, and a layer of thick curtains ensured the hardiest of snoopers would face difficulty trying to see inside. As a guest here, Keith did not know what the neighbors thought of all this secrecy, but he knew if someone like this lived next to him, his suspicions would always be raised. What hid behind the curtain?
Seated in an antique rocking chair near the window, across from a wardrobe with a door cracked open, Keith took a sip of coffee, wondering what his hosts had wanted to talk to him about. Their secret? No, he knew it already. He had for three years now. Most days it did not matter to him anymore, and he dared not mention it in front of others lest he face their wrath.
Their secret? They were not human.
Which was not to say they were forever in hiding. No, James and his mate Mary, as well as their children, possessed the ability to appear human, although Keith did not understand how and his hosts refused to tell him. Because of this ability, they could go shopping, send the pups to school, and even attend church as a family. This was how Keith encountered them the first time. As one of the deacons, it was his job to meet newcomers.
But he had not expected this. But, once he got past their grayish brown fur, pointed ears, fangs, claws, and their ability (and pumps propensity) to walk on four legs when it suited them, they weren’t so bad.
And they were the only Coyotes in the area, as far as he knew.
“Thank you for taking the time to come over,” Mary said, her almond eyes gazing unblinking at him. “My apologies for sounding so vague on the phone.”
Keith waved her off with a dismissive hand. “I know you have to be careful. Someone on my end of the line could hear too much.” There was always the risk of someone at the department store overhearing, although considering the clientele, probably all would dismiss him as another crazy. He laughed at the extreme level of caution, but stopped immediately when neither Coyote joined in. Not even a glint in the eye or wag of the tail. “There’s a legitimate problem?” Keith brushed the arm of the chair, picking up a few stray hairs in the process. His palms must have been sweaty, because the hairs stuck to him. “What kind of problem?”
James shrugged and leaned forward. “How many Coyotes do you know aside from us?”
“Um…” Keith also leaned toward the Coyotes, tucking in his arms and putting his hands in his lap. “You are the only ones that I know of. Why, does the Committee think I should know another?” To date, he had received exactly three letters and one phone call from someone claiming to represent this secret organization. The letters always came in unmarked envelopes with no return address, and Keith would have assumed them fraudulent had James not stressed otherwise. James said the Committee always kept close tabs on humans authorized to know about the existence of their species.
“We were hoping you could tell us. So you don’t know anyone else?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
Mary sighed. “There is another Coyote’s scent on you. There is another family here, but the scent does not match. I do not recognize it.”
“Keith almost knocked over the mug he had placed on the floor beside him. “Another? I promise I don’t know of any others.” He took a deep breath. “Why would I have their scent?”
James coughed. “You are probably being tracked.” He raised his paws when Keith furrowed his brow. “Now, I doubt you are in danger. I probably should not be telling you this, but the Committee is getting paranoid as of late. I think they are concerned that more and more Coyotes are becoming too integrated with human culture and abandoning the old ways.” He nodded to the wardrobe with the door cracked open. Keith had seen its contents a few times before. Inside was a gold bird with sapphire eyes, perched on a branch made of silver. James and Mary explained it as the Coyote deity, the Raven. It was a strange icon for a churchgoing family, but it was always shut up and never acknowledged. They said keeping the icon kept Coyote representatives away. “Not that leaving the old ways is a bad thing.”
A door in the hallway creaked open, and the sound of padded feet on the hardwood floor could be heard. David, the youngest of the family, ambled to the room on all fours. Keith had to stifle a laugh at what looked like a feral animal in pajamas, but out of respect for his hosts he stayed silent. At six years of age, he was the same size as a human child, but walking on his hands and legs made him much smaller. “I can’t sleep.” David yawned and rubbed his eyes with a foreleg. As with all Coyotes, his front paws were suitable for walking on, but the digits were long and allowed for more dexterity. “Can I sit with you for a few minutes?”
“I suppose.” Mary slid over to make room for the pup, and David jumped onto the sofa and curled up with his head in Mary’s lap. “But only for a few minutes.”
“I think the pastor would agree with you, James. Sunday school teachers need to abide by certain theological statements, anyway.” He picked up his coffee and took another sip. In a few minutes it would be too cold for him to drink. Now, it was lukewarm. “So what do I need to do?”
“There’s not a whole lot you can do. Since you’re human, you fall outside their jurisdiction, so there is not a lot they can do to you, either. Just don’t give them a reason to panic and you should be okay. I can ask them to leave you alone if you want. I’d thought about doing that, anyway.”
“Yeah, that would be much appreciated.” Appreciated, but it would do little to ease his nerves after hearing the news. It would have been better if James had not even brought it up, Keith thought. That way I’d be able to sleep tonight, or go home without thinking everyone’s out to get me. “Thanks for telling me that, but is there anything I can do for you, at all?”
Diane shook her head. “Nothing I can think of.” She rubbed David’s head behind the ears, eliciting a pleasurable moan from the pup, and turned to her mate. “I’ll have to put this one to bed in a few minutes,” she announced. To David, she asked, “Do you think you’ll be able to sleep now?”
“I guess.” David yawned and tucked his head closer against his mother’s stomach. “Can I get a bedtime story?”
James laughed and patted his son on the back. “Not this late, I’m afraid. Your father’s about to go to bed, himself.” He stood up from the couch and stretched his arms far above his head. “He has to be up bright and early in the morning.”
On cue, Keith also stood, scooping up his mug to take it to the kitchen. “Oh, don’t worry about that,” Diane said. “I’ll get it when you go.”
“No, it’s the least I can do.” He cupped the mug in his hands and walked to the kitchen with James. The Coyote’s ears were flat against his head, and the tip of his tail just barely touched the floor, about the equivalent of a furrowed brow and downturned lips for a human. “What’s going on?” Keith kept his voice low, although he guessed Diane would be able to hear their conversation. At the very least, he could keep David from comprehending.
“Ah, just something I was thinking about today. And yesterday. And the day before.” James gave a slight wag of his tail, as if to show a bit of mirth, but Keith didn’t buy it. He sighed and leaned against the kitchen wallpaper, right beside the telephone. “I’m thinking about getting rid of that infernal idol in the wardrobe,” he said after a few moments. “Today I saw David peeking in it, and he recognized the Raven right away. That is not how I want my children to be. If they know about him, that I don’t have a problem with. We know who Jupiter supposedly is, after all. It’s part of our education.”
“But you don’t want to have an idol in your house if it means your children automatically know what it is,” Keith finished for him. This was a more comfortable subject. “Do you think the Committee will harass you if you get rid of it, or something?”
“No, don’t be silly.” James stared at Keith, his pupils wide in the dim light. “They’d go after you first. That’s what I want to avoid.”
“James, I can handle it. Yeah, I’m a bit shaken after hearing what you told me, but I haven’t done anything that is wrong, and we both know it. I’m not afraid for that.” Keith put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Get rid of that idol. Throw it in the trash, even burn it, and let the kids watch. That’ll be the best witness you can offer them for a while.”
“I guess so. Thanks.” They embraced, James’ whiskers tickling Keith’s cheek. “Let me get that for you.” James reached around and took the mug from Keith and set it on the counter beside them. “Call me if you have any trouble with the Coyotes,” he said.
“I might. Let me know if you need any help with the pups.”
“Will do.” James’ ears perked up, and his tail wagged in genuine delight. “Have a good night.”
“You too.” After saying farewell to Diana and David, Keith stepped into the muggy night. Once he cleared the carport, he looked to the heavens and the hundreds of stars above. “Wow.”
This is another of the coyote stories I'd worked on some time ago. It also happens to be incomplete, I feel. The idea is for the reader to get a different perspective on coyote life, now that you've seen the aftereffects of their exposure from the viewpoint of a cowardly coyote and his wife, and that of a distraught church-goer.
This one takes place sometime before the events in those two stories, but I don't know how long. There are concepts mentioned here that are better explained in the novel I am currently re-writing, and in fact that's my goal - to release the novel at some future date.
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