River Marked Chapter 3

WE SWAM IN THE RIVER--OR RATHER I SWAM AND ADAM waded in chest high because werewolves can't swim. Their muscle mass is too dense to be buoyant, so they sink to the bottom like anchors.

The campground was built around a fair-sized backwater that was fast enough not to be stagnant but slow enough to be really good swimming. Strategic growths of Russian Olive and a selection of shrub-sized plant life I couldn't name, as well as a ten- or fifteen-foot drop just before the river, gave the swimming area a feeling of privacy. The temperature had risen to somewhere around a hundred degrees Fahrenheit, so the water felt really good.

We splashed and dunked each other like a pair of kids, and I laughed until I had to go out and sit on the shore to catch my breath.

"Coward," Adam said from the river, his hands just below the surface where he could gather ammunition to splash me.

"Not a coward," I vowed, panting as the sun tried to bake the water out of my hair, skin, and swimming suit all at once.

"Then what are you doing up there?" he asked.

I opened my eyes wide and batted them at him. "Watching the wildlife." I lowered my gaze to his midsection, where all sorts of lovely muscles were displaying themselves. Werewolves are seldom out of shape, but Adam was a little more ripped even than the average werewolf. "Some nice scenery around here," I purred.

He made a soft sound, and when I raised my gaze, his eyes were hot. "I have to agree," he said, stalking out of the water with purpose.

I squealed and came to my feet, laughing--and something out in the water beyond him caught my eye. He spun around to see what I'd noticed, but it was gone. A log maybe, I thought, floating a little below the surface. Hard to judge the size at this distance, but it had been too big for a fish.

Before the dams went in, some of the sturgeon got pretty darn big, upward of twelve feet if I believed Zee. Whatever I'd seen had been bigger than that. But it was gone now, and I'd distracted Adam from his hunt.

He was looking behind him. I took advantage of his momentary distraction and bolted toward the trailer. Werewolves are quick. Not cheetah fast, maybe, but faster than timber wolves or dogs. I, too, am very fast. Faster than most werewolves I know-- so maybe I wasn't running as hard as I could. Or maybe sex inspires the male of any species to greater lengths. Either way, Adam caught me before I was halfway to the trailer. Without slowing down, he tossed me over his shoulder and ran all the way back while I laughed like a ninny and tried really hard to breathe. He pressed me against the side of the trailer and made sure I didn't mind my capture at all.

Somewhere along the way, we made it into the trailer and up on the soft queen bed that was made with clean, new sheets--in fact, the whole trailer smelled brand-new. Trailers like this were expensive. Who did he know who would loan him a brand-new trailer?

That thought left me, too, and when we were finished, I was as hot and sweaty as I'd been before I first jumped into the river, the trailer smelled like us, and Adam was asleep.

Mating is a lot more permanent than marriage. Partly, I think, it's that usually if you find your mate, he's not going to be someone you need to porce. Abuse is almost not possible when two people are connected by a mating bond, and it gives you insight into your mate that allows you to avoid the nastier fights that snowball into cold distance. And partly it is that magic is somewhat harder to deal with than legal paperwork, and the mating bond is pack magic.

Given that, I hadn't really expected for the actual wedding to matter so much to me.

"I like having you wear my ring," said Adam, his eyes yellow and gleaming out from under half- opened lids. Sometimes the mate bond gives more insight to one or the other of us. He seemed to be responding to the gist of what I'd been thinking, while I was being kept in the dark. "I like that people can just look at you and know that you are taken, that you are mine." He closed his eyes and laughed. "And yes, I know that sentiment is at the top of the Women's Liberation Movement's list of things not to say to a modern woman."

Something was bothering him, I thought. The last sentence or two had been just a little too tight.

"Uhm," I said, rolling over so I could lick a bead of sweat off his chest. He tasted like Adam. Who needed champagne? "You better not take off your ring without a really good reason," I told him, letting my inner coyote out where he could see her. Maybe he needed to know his possessiveness was returned, in spades. "And if your ex-wife or any moderately attractive woman from thirteen to seventy is in the area, you should be aware that there is no reason good enough for you to take off your ring."

He laughed, and I rolled again, until I was all the way on top of him.

I hadn't gotten it right yet, hadn't worked out what was bothering him. Our bond might be talking to him, but it wasn't letting me know anything that was going on behind his eyes-- which had gone dark again. That's the problem with magic. You start counting on it, and it disappears out from under your feet and leaves you floundering worse than if you'd never had it in the first place. So all I could go on was what most other women had to use to interpret their mates' moods.

I had known Adam for more than ten years--I'd known his ex-wife, Christy, too. Maybe his problem was rooted in his first marriage. She'd been big on personal freedom--as long as it was her freedom. She'd been jealous of the pack; jealous, also, I thought, of Jesse, their daughter. She didn't love him, but she had wanted to be the center of his world and would tolerate nothing else.

Maybe he felt that he was trying to do that to me. Maybe we both needed to lighten up the atmosphere a bit, give ourselves time to deal with all the changes.

I nipped his ear lightly. "If it were socially acceptable to tattoo my name across your forehead, I'd do it."

"I only see my forehead when I look in a mirror," he said. "I see my hand a lot more often."

"It wouldn't be for you," I told him. "You know who you belong to. It's for all the other women. Only fair to warn them when the wrong word might get them hurt. This coyote has fangs."

His chest vibrated under me, the laugh not making it all the way out yet. He relaxed subtly.

"I thought that if you're feeling primitive about this, it is only fair to let you know that I'm feeling pretty primitive, too," I informed him lightly.

Then I rolled off him and over the edge of the bed to drop down on the floor. I kicked my swimming suit, now cold and clammy, aside. "However, you ought to know that I can't work at the shop with my rings on unless I want to be known as Nine-Fingered Mercy. And"--I put my fingers on the pawprint just beneath my navel --"having gotten all the tattoos I ever intend to, I won't tattoo your name on my forehead or anything like that."

He jumped out of bed and strode to his suitcase. He unzipped the outer pocket and pulled out a flat box, which he handed to me.

I opened it to find a thick gold chain with a battered military dog tag on it. Hauptman, it read, Adam Alexander. The last time I'd seen it, it had been one of a pair on the same steel chain lying on Adam's chest of drawers.

"That's to put your rings on when you're at work," he said, taking the chain from me and putting it around my neck. As he fastened the chain, he kissed the back of my neck. He stayed there for a moment, his fingers tight on the necklace.

He'd given me one of his dog tags. I was never a soldier, but I'm a historian. I know why they started using a pair of dog tags. When a man died, and his buddies couldn't get the body out, they'd leave one tag with the body so anyone who found it could identify him. The other would be used to report his death.

That dog tag meant more to him than the ring did--and so it meant more to me, too. I noticed that the chain looked to be tough enough that I could wear it when running as a coyote, too.

"I need to go for a run," he told me, taking a full step back and slapping me lightly on my naked rump. His fingers lingered a little, testing the faint buckshot scars left from when I'd gotten a bit too close to a gun-happy rancher. "You want to come with?"

"Long run or short run?" I asked warily. Wolves love to run, but even most of them don't love to run the way Adam does.

He pulled on underwear and running shorts, socks and shoes as he considered my question. "Long run," he said, sounding a little surprised. "I'm a little wound up about something ..." He let his voice trail off and gave me a small, almost shy, grin. "Wolf instincts are good, but sometimes it's hard to figure out what's touching them off. Running helps connect the frontal lobe with the hindbrain."

"That helps?" I asked with sudden eagerness. It really irked me when I knew something and had no idea where it came from.

He laughed. "Sometimes. Sometimes I just get tired enough not to care. You staying here?"

"I am feeling extremely mellow," I told him. He'd run things off better if I wasn't with him. "I'll stay here. But you better put a shirt on, or your gorgeous self will cause an accident if you go running by the road, and someone sees you." He smiled at that; I think he thought I was joking. "I'll take a shower and read until you get back. By then we might think about food, making some or hunting some down."

He hesitated.

"Adam," I said, "we are out in the middle of nowhere. No one who hates me knows where we are unless you borrowed this rig from Marsilia. Go run. I'll be here for you when you get back--that's a promise."

He gave me one of his assessing looks, then left, closing the trailer door gently behind him. THE SHOWER IN THE TRAILER WASN'T HORRIBLE. I'D expected something only pygmies would be able to use, but it wasn't bad. I had no intention of using it, though, not with the camp showers available.

Camp showers should be primitive. I've used camp showers that only had cold water, that had no shower curtains, and some that I came out of feeling dirtier than I had when I went in. The camp showers here were an entirely different thing.

The whole building was air-conditioned down to a civilized and chilly contrast to the outdoor temperature. The floors were slate tile. The mirrors in the lavatories had hand-carved wooden frames. The countertop was a slab of dark green marble that contrasted beautifully with the bronze faucets. There were four shower rooms, in which the slate tile and bronze fixture theme was continued.

I'd never seen such a place in a campground-- or even in a hotel. The water pouring out of the giant-sized, ceiling-mounted showerheads was hot and sluiced the sweat out of my hair and worry for Adam off my shoulders. I stayed in the stall a long time, and the water never changed temperature.

When I was wrinkled and relaxed, I dressed in cutoffs and a T-shirt that had a picture of a ratty little house on it. The caption said, "Thieves welcome. Please don't feed the werewolves." Jesse had it made for me.

On the way back to the trailer, the sun baked the water out of my wet hair. I ducked in the trailer, pulled my book out of my suitcase, and went back outside to lie in the grass and read until Adam got back.

He'd been running for a long time.

I read for about fifteen minutes, then the sound of something scuffing the ground jerked me out of the story. I looked up, but there was nothing but birds and insects within my sight.

I looked back down at the page I'd stopped on, and I heard it again. It sounded as if someone was rubbing the bottom of soft-soled shoes on pavement about ten feet in front of me, but there was no one on the road. I took a deep breath, testing for scent--my hearing is good, but my nose is better.

I expected to scent a mole or ground squirrel, something that could be making noise out of sight. Instead, the air carried old-fashioned tanned leather, campfire smoke, a whiff of tobacco, and the unmistakable smell of an unfamiliar man. I set the book down and stood up.

As I turned in a full circle, seeing nothing, the hair on the back of my neck began to shiver in a familiar way.

I am a walker. That means, basically, that I can shift into a coyote whenever I want to. It gives me sharper ears and nose than the rest of the human population. It gives me an edge of speed--and I can sense ghosts that other people can't.

There was a ghost here. I couldn't see it, but I could feel it--and smell it.

The scuffing sound started up again and, with the sun high in the sky, I walked over to the asphalt road, where the sound seemed to originate.

A hawk cried out, though the sky was clear of any predatory birds. I wasn't the only one who heard it, because all the birdsong that had been keeping me company while I read ceased. Maybe it was a real hawk, but my instincts were convinced it wasn't, though most of the ghosts I've seen have all been human.

The scuffs were rhythmic now, almost like a very slow polka. Scuff-scuff, pause, scuff-scuff, pause. The scent grew stronger--and I could pick out one more. Coyote.

I must have stood there for three or four minutes as the sound of dancing grew more solid before I saw him. I saw his leathers first; the rest of him was shadowy and dreamlike. But the fringe and the quill patterns on his sleeves and the outsides of his leggings were clean and distinct.

The leathers weren't the kind you see at powwows. Those are well-tended, best-dress kinds of costumes, mostly. Beautiful, brilliantly colored, handcrafted clothing brought out for special occasions.

These leathers looked as though he'd worn them long enough that they fit him like a second skin. Thin patches were rubbed on the insides of his legs, as if he'd ridden on horseback a lot. The hide was darker under his arms and in the small of his back, where sweat from his dance would have gathered. He wore a porcupine quill-worked belt from which a coyote tail swung freely at his hip. The colors on the quillwork were faded, and the coyote tail was a little ragged.

I started to hear the music he danced to, no mystical drummers or flute players. He was the musician, accompanying himself with his own song, a nasal, wordless tune that resonated in my bones. About the same time, I could see his hands. They were a workingman's hands, rancher's hands, callused and scarred. A man's hands, but not an old man. One finger had been broken and reset crooked.

His hair hung in two thick braids that were finished with a red leather tie and stopped just below his shoulder blades. I recognized some of the dancing moves from the two or three powwows I'd attended in college, when I was still trying to hunt down my heritage. As he danced, he became more and more real to my eyes and to the rest of my senses. Until, at last, if it had not been that I'd seen him slowly materialize, I would have sworn he was a living person though he kept his head turned from me so I just got glimpses of his features.

The rhythm of his dance changed from furious to achingly slow and back. At all times, his weight was evenly distributed on the balls of his feet-- this was a warrior's dance, full of power and magic and the promise of violence. The warrior was who he was, though, and the dancer's nature didn't stop it from being a joyous celebration.

The ghost stopped dancing with his back to me, his whole body working to regain the oxygen he'd spent in his dance. I wondered how long ago he had performed his dance in the flesh and why he'd done it here.

"Hey," I said softly.

There are ghosts that just repeat important moments of their lives. I was pretty sure that this was one of those because self-aware ghosts who can act independently are rarer--and they tend to interact right off. This had all the hallmarks of a repeater; that dance, full of passion and emotion, had looked as though it had been done at a pivotal moment in someone's life.

But my voice made his shoulders stiffen. Then he turned slowly toward me until I stared into the face of a man I'd never met, whose face was as familiar as the one I looked at in my own mirror, even though I only had one black-and-white photograph of it from a newspaper report of his death.

My father.

I couldn't speak, couldn't breathe. It felt just like someone had belted me in the diaphragm, so my lungs couldn't work.

He stared at me, unsmiling. Slowly, almost ceremonially, he bowed his head to me. Then he slid into a coyote shape as easily, as quickly, as I can. The coyote appeared, oddly, more solid than the man had been. He looked at me with the same bold stare he'd had when he appeared human. Then, without warning, he bolted across the grounds and into the bushes a dozen yards away.

In the photograph, my father had been wearing the uniform of a rodeo cowboy--jeans, long- sleeved Western-cut shirt, and a cowboy hat. My mother, a teenager fighting free of strict parents, had met him in a rodeo where she was winning prize money barrel racing her best friend's horse when she was younger than Jesse. She hadn't had a chance to tell him she was pregnant before he'd been killed in a car accident. The name he'd given her was Joe Old Coyote.

I'd never seen my father's ghost before. He hadn't come to me when I slunk out of Montana, fleeing the only home I had ever known. He hadn't come when I graduated from high school or college. Hadn't come when I'd fought for my life against fae and demons and all sorts of nasty creatures. He hadn't come to my wedding.

I looked for footprints. I might feel pretty confident of my knowledge of werewolves, marginally comfortable with what I knew of vampires. The fae are another matter--and I knew that there were other things I knew nothing about, some of them unique, some of them just well hidden.

I'd been certain what I'd seen was a ghost until I had a moment to wonder how my father, who'd died hundreds of miles away in eastern Montana, would have gotten here. He'd turned into a coyote, just like I could, and run off into the bushes. Most ghosts don't need to run away; they just dissipate. But there were no tracks--and I know how to track. Not even in the soft dirt right in front of the bushes he'd run into.

I had gooseflesh on my arms though it was still hot out. "SO YOU DON'T THINK IT WAS A GHOST?" ADAM ASKED, then took a big bite of his hot dog.

The trailer had a stove and an oven, but there were both a fire pit and a grill next to our spot, and we'd decided to roast hot dogs for dinner in the pit. He'd run until dusk, stopped by and given me a sweaty kiss, then grabbed clean clothes and a towel before heading to the showers.

But the time he came back, I had a fire going in the pit and the food ready to cook.

There were camp chairs tied to the back of the trailer, but we sat on the ground next to each other anyway. If I didn't notice that we were cooking right next to the Behemoth Trailer and sitting on a manicured lawn, I could pretend we were really camping. This was like "the good parts version" of camping. I could get used to it.

"Umm," I answered, then swallowed so I could talk. "I didn't say that exactly--my father is dead, after all. If it was my father, it was a ghost. But maybe it was something else. There are stories about the Indian supernatural population, but a lot of the old knowledge was lost when the government tried to assimilate the tribes into the Amer-European culture. A good portion of what is known was made up on the spot--no one tells a tall tale like an Indian--and no one knows for certain anymore which are the really old stories and which were faked."

Charles, Bran's half-Indian son born sometime in the early eighteen hundreds, could have shed some light on the subject--but, to my intense frustration, he seldom talked about his Native American roots. Maybe I could have pushed him into it, but Charles was one of the very few people who really intimidated me. So even back when I was looking into that half of my family history, I'd never prodded him too hard, much as I'd have liked to.

"You think it might have been some local spirit imitating your father?" Adam asked.

He'd finished his hot dog and was in the middle of cooking another. He liked them burnt on the outside--I liked mine just shy of hot.

I watched my hot dog warm and tried to pretend I could believe that. "Maybe. Maybe there is something like a weird doppelganger who appears to other people or a backward foreganger--a death's-head who appears after a man dies instead of three days before."

Adam tilted his head at me, then shook it. "If you really thought it was some native critter, you'd be calling Charles."

Adam was right. If Charles thought I was really in trouble, he'd help however he could. He might be scary, but he was family. Sort of.

Adam gave me a shrewd look. "You just don't like the idea that your father visited you, and you don't know why."

And why Joe Old Coyote hadn't shown up sooner.

Damn it, I chided myself. I knew better than that. A ghost wasn't a person; it was just the leftovers. That ghost might be the ghost of my father, but he wasn't my father.

He'd died before I was born. But I hadn't suffered. I'd been raised by Bryan and Evelyn, my foster parents, and they had loved me. When they died, Bran and the rest of his pack had stepped in --and then my mother. I'd never been unloved, never mistreated. I was an adult--so why did the sight of a ghost who looked like my father make me feel so raw?

"Okay," I said. "Yep. You're right. If he could visit anytime, why didn't he? Why now when I don't need him?" I'd rather have believed it wasn't my father.

He put his arm around me. "Maybe it was some sort of vision quest without the fasting part."

I shook my head. "Nope, I already did my vision quest."

He pulled back, so he could see my face. "Really?" "Uhm," I answered. "The summer Charles taught me to fix cars. One day he just took me out into the forest. We fasted for three days, then he told me not to shift into a coyote and sent me off into the mountains."

"What did you see?" Adam asked. "Or is that supposed to be a secret?"

I snorted. "Sacred, not secret, I think." Though the only person I'd ever told what I saw had been Charles. "But mine was pretty weird. I asked Charles if I did it wrong, and he just gave me that look--" I tried to freeze my face into an emotionless but somehow terrifying mask--and Adam grinned.

"What did he say when you showed him that expression?" he asked.

Only an idiot would make fun of Charles to his face. Adam knew me so well.

"He asked me if I'd eaten something that made me sick," I said. "Though he turned his head, so I couldn't see his expression. I think he might have smiled."

Adam laughed. "So back to your vision."

"Right," I said. "So my vision was a little ... Charles told me that there was no right or wrong way to have a vision. It just was. Then he told me about some guy who had a vision and found out he could talk to spirits. Elk Spirit came to him and told him he had to serve Elk Spirit and to do that he had to dress only in yellow. Or maybe that was blue. So this guy, he did that for a few years until Bear Spirit came and told him he'd been talking to Elk Spirit and decided that it should be Bear Spirit he listens to. So Bear Spirit told him to paint his face red and walk backward. When Charles's grandfather, the medicine man, met this man, he had been walking backward for years and years. Charles's grandfather heard the man's story, and told him, `Just because you listen to spirits does not mean you must obey them.'" I'd almost forgotten that Charles had shared that story with me. It was a sign, I suspect, of how upset I'd been that I hadn't had the kind of vision quest I had expected--one with eagles and deer who guide me to enlightenment.

"What happened?" Adam asked.

"Your hot dog is on fire," I told him.

He pulled the black thing out of the fire, tapped it on the ground, and it broke into pieces. He got another hot dog and stuck it on the campfire fork, while I ate mine.

"Mercy, what happened to the guy who was walking around backward?"

"He washed his face and started walking forward. After about five steps, he tripped and broke his leg."

"You are making that up," said Adam, pulling his hot dog in for inspection. It wasn't black, so he stuck it back in the fire.

I lifted my hand. "Scout's honor, that's the story Charles told me. You ask him if you can't tell if I'm lying or not." That was sort of a put-down among werewolves. Only a very new werewolf wouldn't be able to sense truth from falsehood. "Charles said that the man never did go back to walking backward, though."

"You have to be a boy to say, `Scout's honor,'" Adam told me.

"Nah-uh. Girl Scout leader, here." I pointed my thumb at my breastbone. "Sort of. When my mom couldn't do it. Anyway, you wanted to hear about my vision."


I opened my mouth to tell him a funny version, but what came out was different from what I'd intended.

"One moment I was sitting alone in the middle of a forest; the next I was walking in a different place. Everything was gray, almost like a black- and-white film except there was no white or black, just odd shades of gray. There was no grass or trees, just endless mounds of sand. It felt ... empty. Like those postapocalyptic horror films, you know? Empty but scary, too."

I could feel it now as I had then: the tightness in my chest that made it difficult to breathe, the way the hair on the back of my neck had stood up because I knew that there was evil lurking, watching.

Adam pulled his hot dog out of the fire, but instead of eating it, he forced the blunt end of the fork into the ground, so it stuck up like a bizarre garden ornament. Then he pulled me against him, and my tension eased so I could breathe normally again.

"Sorry," I said. "I didn't expect it to bother me so much."

"You don't have to tell me."

"No," I said. "But I want to." It felt right. Charles had told me I'd know when it was time to share what had happened to me. Some people were required to tell their experience to every person they met, but most of us only shared with a few people.

"So I was wandering through this desolate place. The only thing I could see besides sand were remnants of buildings. In the beginning, some of the buildings were modern--tall structures made of glass and steel. On those, the glass was cracked or broken and the steel rusted nearly through. As I continued on, the ruins started to be older buildings, houses. I clearly recall seeing what was left of an old Victorian, tipped awkwardly on its side as if it had been a giant dollhouse some child had kicked over. Then it was like something you'd see on a Western film set, but decades later. Blackened poles from adobe buildings half-buried in the sand, hitching posts and broken boardwalks, with dead weeds poking out.

"I'm the only living thing in the place.

"Eventually, there are only tent poles, and I am walking by them, crying, sobbing, with snot dripping from my nose--the whole wretched business though I don't know what I am grieving for."

"How old were you?" Adam asked.

"That was after Bryan died," I answered. "Just after, I think." Just talking about what I'd seen rattled me, my jaw vibrating as if I were cold, though Adam was warm and solid against me. He was real, but somehow that long-ago vision was real, too. "So fourteen or thereabouts."

Telling Adam was almost like living through it again. The emotions had been real and powerful, maybe the most real thing about the whole vision.

"Finally, I came up to this car--an old Model T Ford buried up to its axles. It was so sad, I could feel its sorrow weighing down my heart, distracting me from whatever had caused me to cry in the first place. I put my hands on it, but there was no way to dig it out or fix it. I explained that to the car, as if it could understand what I was saying because I felt as though it could. I told it I was sorry I couldn't do more. "Then, under my fingers it began to vibrate, shaking until I couldn't hold it anymore. I had to close my eyes against the sand it stirred up, and when I opened them, I was alone in a forest."

I remembered how frightened I had been in the forest. My pulse picked up, and goose bumps covered my forearms. The forest should have been a relief from the dead grayness I'd been in. The forest had been my second home--but the forest of my vision had hidden watchers, dangerous watchers who didn't approve of me.

"It was a dark forest. Although all the trees were conifers, they'd formed a thick canopy over the top of me--like in a rain forest. I could feel that I was watched, but no matter how hard I looked, I never saw them. My watchers followed me as I walked. Eventually, I started running, and I panicked like a rabbit. It seemed as though I ran for hours. Every time I slowed down, I could feel them closing in on me. So I didn't slow down." Remembered fear had me sweating, and the muscles on the back of my neck were tight. "I never saw anything while I ran. Never knew what was chasing me. I just knew I was the prey in this race. I knew absolutely that if they caught me, I was dead.

"I looked over my shoulder as I ran full tilt through the forest, and my foot caught a downed tree. I tumbled down a hill and landed at the foot of a La-Z-Boy."

"A what?" Adam asked.

"I told you it was weird. A La-Z-Boy, one of those big recliners. This one had a big tag on it that said `La-Z-Boy.' It should have felt out of place in the forest, but instead it was I who didn't belong." The recliner had been orange and blue plaid. Ugly.

"At first all I saw was the chair, then I could tell it was occupied by a tall, handsome Indian man who looked not at all impressed by me."

Funny. I could remember the color of the chair as if I'd just been staring at it, but I couldn't really remember the Indian man's face or what he was wearing. I don't think I noticed anything except his eyes.

"I got to my feet. My jeans were torn, my shirt was ripped, and there was a long, painful scratch on my side. There were sticks in my hair. I felt as if I were someplace I didn't belong, somewhere no one wanted me. I raised my chin and met his gaze, eye to eye, though I knew in my heart it was a stupid thing to do." The panic had been gone, replaced by a hollow emptiness that felt like nothing could ever fill it.

Adam's hand tightened on my shoulder.

"As soon as I began the stare-down, a fox, a lynx, and a bear came out of the woods. A huge bird that looked like a giant eagle dropped out of the sky, and they all stared at me, but I kept my eyes on the man in the chair."

It had been unexplainably horrible, knowing that I did not belong in that forest with the Indian man and the animals. I was an outsider, alone.

"Steady," murmured Adam.

"The man finally said, `Who are you who walks in my forest, half-breed?' I could tell he didn't mean that he wanted to know my name. He wanted to know what I was." I couldn't explain it right. "The essence of the person I was."

"What did you tell him?" Adam asked.

"I told him that I was coyote." I cleared my throat. "He stood up. And up. He was a lot taller than I was, as tall as the trees around us and somehow more real than they were. I know that's an odd visual picture, but it was just the way it was. Without dropping my gaze, he said, `I am Coyote.' He sounded pretty offended."

I sucked in a breath. "I probably should have given him my name. It wasn't the right answer-- but it wouldn't have been the wrong one, either. So I said, `Okay. You can be Coyote. But I am a coyote.' He considered my answer, then he bent down to whisper in my ear." I felt stupid about this last.

"What did he say?"

"He said, `Okay. You can be a coyote, too. But you're a silly little thing, and I am a silly old thing.' And then I woke up."

"Do you know what it meant?" Adam asked.

I laughed and shook my head.

"That's a lie," he whispered, pulling me closer.

"It meant that I'm not Indian enough," I told him. "I don't belong anywhere."

He burned another hot dog while we sat together and watched the flames.

"I think you're wrong," he told me, finally. "It didn't sound like Coyote was rejecting you."

"He was talking about my coyote half," I said.

Adam smiled and rocked me a couple of times. "How confusing it must be to have a coyote half, a human half, an Indian half, and a white half."

I snickered and felt better. It was seldom a good idea to take myself too seriously. "All four halves are pretty happy about being married to you right now. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it meant that we should get matching La-Z-Boys." Though I would pick better colors. "If you don't pull that hot dog out pretty soon, you're going to go to bed hungry."

"Mmm," he rumbled into my ear. "I thought that being married meant that I never go to bed hungry." WE CAME BACK OUT AFTER A WHILE, STOKED UP THE fire, and cooked the rest of the package of hot dogs.

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