|Part 15||A Trickster's Tail Index||Part 17|
Copyright (c) 1997 Phaedrus; All rights reserved
As always, this is available on the Web at <URL:http://www.lycanon.org/trickster/>.
Sees-Too-Much sat and looked out across his fire, at the night beyond
His parents had given him a proper name, a white man's name. But he always knew that it was not his. When he had reached twenty-one, he had gone to the courthouse, asked to have it changed to Sees-Too-Much. The judge had refused, called it frivolous. They had compromised.
Back in his better days, he had even gotten a credit card, with his name printed on it... FREDDY SEES-TOO-MUCH. They had cancelled the card long ago, of course, but he still kept it. It reminded him of things. It reminded him of what it felt like to be young, to wake up full of life, to know that the day had so many possibilities.
These days, he just told stories. Sometimes he told them to the youth of the tribe; sometimes he sat on the sidewalk near the casino, and told them to the tourists coming to gamble. Nobody paid much attention, but at least the tourists gave him money sometimes. At night, there was the shelter, of course; but the company there was miserable. So unless the weather was too bad, he just slept under the stars.
He looked into the night, stroked the eagle feather he held in his right hand, and waited. It couldn't be too long now.
A fox padded through the darkness.
Keith had planned on heading for Portland; he had always liked the place, and it seemed far enough away to be safe. But he needed to think about things. Staying in the Olympics was out of the question, but this place--an Indian reservation, from the look of it--had appealed to him somehow; it was still close to the freeway, but just far enough away that the drone of the cars was peaceful rather than distracting. He still wasn't at all sure how the magic worked, but he knew somehow that no one would bother him, and he had been right. And for once, Kickaha hadn't said a word. Maybe he was enjoying himself; maybe he needed to think about things too. Or maybe he was just afraid that Keith would start talking to him about life again...
Keith had spent the day here, Singing for a while, wandering aimlessly. At the end of the day, his thinking hadn't really gotten him anywhere. But at least no one had tried to kill him; and as far as he was concerned, that made it a damn fine day indeed.
As he pondered whether to spend the night here or take off for Portland, he noticed the firelight in the distance. Intrigued, he slowly circled closer, staying low to the ground. He could see the silhouette of the figure behind the fire; as he got closer, he saw the old man's face, looking right back at him. He froze. This shouldn't be happening.
"Come on, then!", the old man called, waving him closer.
Keith stared at him, his fear giving way to curiosity. He started forward again, straight towards the fire, almost without thought. Before he knew what was happening, he was standing by the warmth of the fire, almost within the old man's reach.
The old man smiled. "You're late."
"Late for what?", the fox replied nervously, tail between its legs. Its voice was high-pitched, and with more than a bit of a yip to it, but still understandable. It blinked and took a step back, as if surprised by itself.
"Late for what?", he countered, in a pale imitation of its voice. "I've been waiting to die for the last five years, that's what! And now you finally get around to picking me up? I knew you must be busy these days, but with shitty service like that, no wonder the world's gone to hell..."
"I'm sorry, but I think you have me mistaken for somebody else..."
"Somebody else? Looked yourself in the mirror lately, Fox? Who the hell would I mistake you for? And if you're a skinwalker, then I'm Skunk."
"Ummm, no... I mean, I'm a fox, I guess, but not that Fox... not the Fox... it's sort of complicated..."
"It would have to be," he said, rolling the shaft of the feather back and forth in his hands. "Well, fox-but-not-that-Fox, who are you?"
"Well, I'm Keith Dorner, and I'm..."
"Bullshit. You're no more a Keith Dorner than I am a Frederick Peterson."
The fox's eyes widened; it looked almost pained. "Well, yes I am... like I said, it's a little complicated... have you seen the news lately?"
"I stopped paying attention to news ten years ago. Always different words, always the same old song."
"Well, you see, um..." The fox stopped, seemed to stare past him into space for a moment. "Look, I'd like you to talk to, well, a friend of mine, okay? I think he's a little more like what you have in mind; maybe he can explain things better."
The fox nodded. Then it slowly grew, and changed...
"Oh, Coyote," he nodded. "With the kind of life I've had, I figured you'd show up. But let me guess, you say you're not that Coyote either, right?"
The coyote's whole demeanor had clearly changed as well; while the fox had been ready to bolt, the coyote clearly felt in charge of the situation. It paced back and forth through the firelight as it talked. "Not unless you're a worshipper prepared to do anything to serve him, in which case it's always nice to meet a fan."
He threw his head back and laughed. "I may be old, but I'm not crazy. Not quite that crazy, anyway. So, do you have a name?"
"Kickaha. And I don't believe I caught yours."
"Sees-Too-Much. So, if you're not that Coyote, and you're not here to haul my ass to the other side, then what are you?"
"That, as they say, is an interesting story."
"Those are my specialty. Do tell."
"Well, it's like this. As near as I can tell, up until a few days ago, Keith... he's the fox... he did stuff with computers, and I was a fictional character. I guess he made a coyote costume for a party, and I was his charming little background story. Well, something weird happened, and everyone turned into their costumes. So he turned into me, only we were both in the same head. So we got out of there, and sort of did our own thing, and I taught him some magic, and people kept trying to kill us. And last night somebody managed it, so we went to the other side, as you put it, and Keith managed to run into boring people even there, believe it or not. And some other things happened that he made me promise not to tell him about yet, and eventually they turned him into a fox--and it's quite an improvement, I've got to tell you--and sent us both back here, and apparently we're just gonna keep on coming back every time we die from now on, so I guess we'll see how long it takes to drive each other--What? If you don't like what I'm gonna say, then don't--oh. Sorry. Talking two ways at once takes some getting used to. So anyway, how was your week?"
He stared at the coyote for a few seconds. "No shit." The smile slowly crept back across his lips. Then he laughed. "That's a fine story indeed, but I'll never make a dime from it. You know, in the old times, you at least had to wait for Fox to show up to bring you back to life. Everyone's trying to save time these days, I guess."
The coyote yawned. "Whatever."
"So, what do you think of the world so far?"
"Not bad. Kinda dull, but not hopeless. Oh, speaking of which, Keith wants to talk again."
"You shouldn't say such things. This is how things are for you; you know nothing different. His whole life has turned upside-down."
"Yeah, can you believe it? Some people have all the luck..."
With that, the coyote shrank back into a fox.
"I don't know whether to envy you or pity you," he told it.
"I'm not so sure myself," it said. "But I had a choice... not all that great a choice, but a choice. And it's been fun... well, apart from getting killed, anyway. I always wanted to be different."
"You certainly are that," he nodded. "So, what did you want to tell me?"
"Well... you seem like you know something about this kind of thing."
"My grandfather told me some things," he nodded. "He said the magic had left him long ago, but he told so many stories. My father never believed a word of it; he always wanted to be modern... I always believed; I saw the look in his eyes, and I knew that he was seeing it all again in his heart... he knew it was true, and so did I. But I never thought I would see it... at least, not in this world." He stopped, looked again at the fox from head to tail. "Be careful what you wish for, eh?"
The fox just nodded. "But if this happened to you, if you had the magic, if you could live forever... what would you do?"
"What would I do?" He thought for a few seconds. Then he got up, and looked into the night sky. "What would I do?" he said again, softly. Then he looked back down to the fox. "That reminds me of a story Grandfather told me," he said, as he sat back down. "I think your friend will like it. Have you heard how Coyote put the stars in the sky?"
"I think I've read this one," the fox replied, looking down. "That's where Coyote put up the constellations, and then got bored and just threw the rest of the stars around, isn't it?"
"That's how some tell it," he nodded. "But Grandfather heard it a bit differently. Let me tell you about it. And sit down; just looking at you makes me tired."
The fox nodded, curled up near the fire, head on the ground, looking at him.
"Well, back when the world was young and things weren't settled yet, Coyote was travelling. And one night, he saw a pack of wolves, five of them. They were all looking up into the sky, like I did just now. And Coyote asked the oldest wolf, 'What do you see up there, brother?'
"'Nothing; nothing at all,' the wolf replied. So Coyote went on his way.
"On the next night, he came back to the same spot, and again he saw the wolves looking at the sky. So he asked the next-oldest wolf, 'Brother, what is up there that interests you so?' 'Oh, nothing,' the second wolf answered, so Coyote left again.
"This went on for two more nights. Finally, on the fifth night, Coyote asked the youngest wolf. And the wolf said, 'I won't tell you. You would meddle.'
"'I would never do such a thing,' said Coyote.
"So, finally, the youngest wolf told him. 'We see two animals up there, up in the sky where we cannot reach them.'
"'Well, then, let's go up and see them.'
"'How can we do that?'
"'I can do that,' said Coyote. 'I can show you how to get up there.'
"So Coyote did his magic, and he wished up a bow, and a big quiver of arrows. He shot the first arrow, and it stuck to the sky. Then he shot another one, and it stuck to the first. He kept shooting his arrows, until finally there was a big chain of them all the way back to the earth.
"'See?', said Coyote, and he started climbing the arrows. The wolves followed, and the oldest wolf took his dog with him. So they climbed and climbed, until they were all the way up in the sky. Then Coyote could see the animals the wolves had seen from down below. There were two grizzly bears up there.
"The youngest wolf started towards the bears. 'Don't do that,' called Coyote; 'they will tear you apart.' But the wolf went there anyway, and another wolf followed, and then two more. The oldest wolf and his dog stayed back. But when the wolves got close, they just sat down and looked at the bears, and the bears looked back at the wolves. Finally, the oldest wolf and his dog came over too. Only Coyote didn't go over there, because he didn't trust the bears.
"Coyote looked at them all, sitting there like that. 'That makes a nice picture,' he thought. 'If I leave them like that, then whenever people come along and look at that picture in the sky, they'll say "There's a story about that," and they'll tell a story about me.'
"So Coyote climbed back down, and he pulled the arrows out of the sky as he went, so that nobody else could get back down. Those wolves and those grizzlies are still up there today; we call them the Big Dipper now. Three of the wolves make the handle, and the one in the middle, the oldest wolf, still has his dog with him. The other two wolves make the part of the bowl that's next to the handle, and those bears; they're the other part of the bowl, the part that points to the North Star.
"Coyote liked that. 'If I put up lots more stars, they'll tell lots more stories,' he told himself. So he got a big bucket full of stars, and he made pictures with them all over the sky. But before he could finish, he dropped the bucket, and those stars spilled across the sky, and they made the Milky Way.
"And that's how Coyote put the stars in the sky."
The fox looked quietly at him for a while. "I think I see what you're saying," it said finally. "If I let somebody else tell me what I should be doing, I'm likely to wind up stuck somewhere I shouldn't be."
"I just tell the stories," he replied, smiling. "If you think they mean something, that's your own business."
"Thank you," the fox said, quietly. "Is there something I...we could do for you?"
"Yes. Yes, there is. Something tells me that you'll have some wonderful stories to tell before too long. I want you to come back here, when you're ready, and tell them to me. I'm an old man, and it's been ages since I've heard something really new. And maybe I'll have some stories for you too."
"I'll do that," the fox said. "But I thought you were just waiting to die."
"I thought I was too." He smiled. "But maybe I'm not quite ready to leave after all."
The fox seemed to smile. "I'm glad to hear that." It stood up, looked around. "Well, I guess we should get going. Somebody might still be after us, and I wouldn't want to bring them here. Thank you... very much."
"Wait a minute. Before you go... I need your friend back for a moment."
"All right." The fox closed its eyes, became a coyote again.
"That was a good story," it said. "Other than the part about dropping the bucket. That wasn't necessary."
"If I told you and your friend a good story," he replied, "then you should pay me for that."
"I suppose so," the coyote said. "But I don't know what I could pay you with. I could magic up some money, I guess, but Keith probably wouldn't like that. Besides, it would go away in a little while anyway. My magic does that."
"That's all right. I know how you can pay me." He reached into his pocket, and came up with eight quarters... all he had left from the day, after he had got something to eat for dinner. He held it out to the coyote. "Just take this money and hold it for a moment."
The coyote looked at him strangely. "All right," it said finally. It held out its right forepaw, and the paw shifted, grew fingers. It took the coins, and held them in its paw for a few seconds.
"Now, breathe on it."
The coyote looked at him again. "Whatever makes you happy," it said finally. It held the coins close to its muzzle, and breathed across them. Then it held them back out to him.
"Thank you," he said, as he took the coins, put them back in his pocket. "Good luck on your journeys."
The coyote just nodded. Then it turned into a raven, and vanished into the sky.
Sees-Too-Much nodded. Then he carefully put out his fire, and walked away. He walked to the road, the road that led to the casino, the place that had promised so much and given so little. It would still be open, he knew. When they had opened the place, they had promised that it would close at dark. But now they kept it open later and later. Nighttime was when the money came, they said.
So he walked into the casino, walked straight up to one of the roulette tables. One man in a suit was playing. The dealer spun the wheel, sent the ball on its way. The man in the suit put a ten-dollar chip on the black.
Sees-Too-Much held out his eight quarters, stacked them neatly on the red 21.
"Money plays," the dealer muttered. "No more bets."
The ball went round and round, finally clattering to a halt above the "21".
"A winner," the dealer called. He took the other man's chip, pushed a small pile of seven ten-dollar chips to Sees-Too-Far.
"Let it ride," he said calmly, pushing them back onto red 21.
As the man in the suit reached to put another chip on the black, he looked Sees-Too-Far in the eyes for a moment. He faltered, nearly dropping the chip. Then he put it on the red instead, and added three more.
"No more bets," the dealer called, a little more loudly than before, and spun the wheel. The floor boss walked by, stopped to watch. The ball circled the wheel, almost settled on the double zero; then it seemed to lift itself back out, bounced three times along the edge of the wheel, then fell firmly into red 21.
"A big winner here," the boss shouted. People at other tables turned to watch. The dealer gave four more chips to the man in the suit. Then he nervously counted out two more tens, five hundreds, and two of the gold thousand-dollar chips. "Congratulations," he said with forced cheer, putting them in front of Sees-Too-Far.
He looked the dealer in the eyes. He smiled, a snake's smile. His words were quiet, but they seemed to cut through the noise of the place.
"Let it ride."
The dealer looked to the floor boss, sweat starting to roll down his cheek. The floor boss studied Sees-Too-Far. "I'm sorry, sir," he said finally. "That's above the limit for this table. If you'd step over to the main table, we could take that bet there."
He nodded, gathered up his pile, and followed the floor boss to the other table. The dealer there stepped aside, and the floor boss stood behind the wheel, watched the old man pile his chips on the red 21, the quarters still on top. "No more bets," he called quickly, but not before three others had slapped their bets down on the red.
The floor boss spun the golden wheel, threw down the ball; they seemed to spin for hours. Dozens of people watched the ball spiral towards the wheel's edge. Sees-Too-Far never looked; his eyes were fixed on the floor boss, and his smile never wavered. The floor boss refused to return the old man's gaze; he looked only at the wheel, at the ball.
And so he saw it lose speed, dive to the edge of the wheel, land in red 21 without so much as a rattle.
The crowd erupted with cheers, pounded the old man's back.
The floor boss just stared at the wheel, feeling the old man's smile. "The roulette tables are closed," he said finally, as he turned and walked towards the cashier's cage.
Sees-Too-Far thought about trying his luck at blackjack or the dice, for he knew that he could not lose tonight. He could own this place, he thought. But he decided against it. It was not good to overuse the power of the gods. So he followed the floor boss to the cashier's cage, took a hundred dollars in cash, and a check for $93,210. And he slipped the quarters quietly back into his pocket. He would never use them again, but he would keep them. They would make a great story.
He would sleep in the hotel tonight. Tomorrow he would go to the bank, then to the
courthouse. He didn't feel like compromising anymore.
"Coyote Places the Stars" is a classic Coyote story, told by a number of tribes, with variations. The version I've given here is a mixture of some of them I've heard. If you liked it, I encourage you to read Giving Birth To Thunder, Sleeping With His Daughter: Coyote Builds North America, by Barry Lopez; it contains dozens of great Coyote stories, including a slightly different "Coyote Places the Stars", as well as a good bibliography.
|Part 15||A Trickster's Tail Index||Part 17|