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A Trickster's Tail - Part 13

Copyright (c) 1997 Phaedrus; All rights reserved

Night had fallen over the Olympic peninsula. Clouds blocked the waning moon; barely a glimmer of starlight fell on the forest. All was peaceful, with only the occasional bird call breaking the silence.

High in the branches, a hawk perched.

Kickaha preened his feathers. {{This is as good a spot as any, I guess. If someone wants to find us here, they're gonna have a bear of a time. And if they do, well, it's a helluva pretty place to die.}}

{Good, I guess. I don't know how long this is going to take. If something happens... improvise.}

{{I always do...}}

Keith didn't answer. He Sang.

The world rushed in to meet him once again. Keith felt his worldview expand, lost the sense of his body. He felt the life of the forest washing over him, as it had when he had first come here; so much richer, deeper than the park. He felt the belonging around him.

But he could not lose himself in it. He could not feel it in himself.

The forest seemed to withdraw a bit. He felt a questioning note.

Keith was lost for a moment. He wanted so badly to explain, but surely there was no way he could.

But he had to try.

Why is all this happening?

There was no response.

Helpless, angry, Keith felt the thoughts flowing out of him even before he knew what they were. Everything I've worked and planned for is gone. You gave me this gift. A child died over it. But I could do more before I had it. What is it for? What am I supposed to do now? Why... is all this happening?

Still nothing. Just the Song.

Keith floated for what seemed like minutes. He wanted to cry. This was hopeless. How had he ever expected this to work? This wasn't a person to discuss things with, to...

What do you want? The voice in his head was calm, strong, oddly familiar. There was no anger to it; just a strong sense of purpose.

I just want... people to leave me alone.

And then, everything changed.

The alarm clock rang.

Keith yawned, pulled himself out of bed, slapped the clock into silence. Thank God it's Thursday, he mused, as he headed for the shower. With any luck, if I find that damn sorting bug today, I can finish things up tomorrow... then maybe I can actually see what Chicago looks like before the flight home on Monday. I wonder if it's too late to find some Bulls tickets somewhere?

As he waited for the water to warm up, he went to the desk, found a pen and paper, and scribbled out a note to Housekeeping, asking them to bring someone in to fix that rattle in the air conditioner...

Is this right?

Keith suddenly found himself in the Song again. It had been a memory. He remembered that day; it was less than a year ago. He'd found the bug, gotten the tickets for Saturday's game--a yawner win for the Bulls, as usual. It seemed... distant, now.

Was that what he was being offered? Could he actually have his old life back?

Did he want it back?

He thought about it. Then a realization hit him. Oh, God, no, I couldn't. Kickaha...

Peace washed over him. Would be fine.

Keith didn't ask how that could be. Somehow, he knew it would be.

He could lose all the insanity of the last few days. He could have everything back. He could just be normal again.

He thought about it.


What do you want?

I want to learn magic.

I was thinking more in the long term.

Now Keith knew why the words he was hearing sounded familiar. They were his own.

He thought about Kickaha's answer to that question. It was tempting. It even felt close to right... far closer than his own answer seemed now. But he knew that the answer was still somewhere in between.

I want to stay with Kickaha. I think we can learn from each other. If I were just like him, I don't think I'd regret it. But I don't want to be a load on his back. And... I really want to help people. I want to change things. And not just with money. I'm tired of worrying about people taking things from me...

Then that's what we'll do.

Keith wanted to smile; that was his "handshake line", when he'd finally settled the details of a contract with a new client. He Sang his thanks, drifted back towards his body...

He looked out at the forest floor, staring at the acorn he was holding in his forepaws.

He was a squirrel.

Wait a minute. Wasn't he a hawk before?


No answer.

Keith dropped the nut, whirled around in panic, looking for a hawk. Shit! How had he wound up in the wrong body?


Keith closed his eyes, trying to bring his breathing back to normal. {Kickaha, if we weren't in the same body I would...} He stopped, trying to think of something suitably violent. Then he broke up laughing, a strange thing coming from a squirrel.

{{I know. That's the beauty of it,}} Kickaha countered, laughing too. {{That was a little quicker than last time. Did you get anything settled?}}

{I think so.}

{{Good. Now let's get the hell out of here before we wear out our welcome.}}

Keith nodded, handed off to Kickaha. The squirrel shifted to a raven, flew up through the treetops, heading south.

{I think I know what I'm doing now.}

{{Man, I'm glad I don't. That sounds like way too much--}}

They never felt the bullet smash through their head.

From a few hundred yards away, the hunter lowered his rifle. Despite the dark, he had no problem watching the aura of life leave the raven, watching the body fall to the forest floor.

That was that.

He knelt down, opened the case at his feet. Carefully, methodically, he disassembled the three pieces of his rifle, packing them away in their proper places. He walked a few paces, picked up the shell casing, put it in his pocket.

Then he closed the case, concentrated for a moment, and disappeared.

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