The Night Visitor
The bellows effect of a wind gust caught the small fire, flaring it briefly, sending a shower of sparks up in the air. The illumination it caused offered a brief silhouette view of a sharply featured face. Shadows that lived beneath his brow, in the lee of his nose, and in the hollows scooped out beneath his cheekbones were thrown into even sharper relief, until his face was a patchwork of light and dark.
There had been drought again this year and it was second nature to check and see if a spark had ignited any of the brown grass. Fires seeded as easily as weeds, taking root at the slightest provocation they quickly spread to the horizon. Fields of fire didn't sink deep roots, but reaped a deadly harvest all the same.
One moment you could be riding through what remained of the prairie grass, seeing what scant signs of life there were to see, and the next you were ankle deep in ash. Like before and after pictures of a smoker's lungs burnt and un burnt lay side by side. It had to be pure chance why one piece was spared while the adjacent burnt to a cinder. He had given up looking for clues in the surrounding geography, as there were never any clues on offer.
In spite of all attempts to kill her, the land would always hold on to her secrets,. Strip mining caused soil erosion; sulphuric acid used to clean pumice for people's stoned washed, acid jeans had taken care of the water table; at least what had been left of it after they had damned the river for their artificial lakes, fountains and hydro electric.
All that power and beauty diverted because humans were afraid of the dark and its accompanying quiet. What other reason could they have for spending so much money on destroying the beauty of night to make huge pockets of light and noise in the middle of the desert?
On nights like this one, when the moon hung full and ripe in the sky, why anyone would need any more light was beyond him. Even on the nights when she stayed under wraps, or hid herself in the earth's shadow, you didn't need extra light to sleep by. Those who needed to be out and about at night had the ability to either see in the dark or were guided by arcane means known only to themselves.
Even now the darkness began to grow deeper as the night lengthened and the moon eased through her apex. There were nights when he wouldn't leave the fire to climb into his bedroll; when he would feel compelled to bear witness to the darkness and give it the recognition he felt it deserved. Other nights just saw him sitting up keeping his thoughts company so they wouldn't complain the next day that he was ignoring them.
Neglected, they could easily turn vindictive and resentful and make stupid demands on his time during the course of the day. It was better to lose a little sleep now then to have to put up with the abuse that was the certain result of denying their existence. Tonight, though, he was pretty sure he wasn't going to be alone tonight if he sat up.
Sure enough, only a short while later, the flames picked out a pair of amber eyes glowing at him out of the dark. They had first shown up a few years back when the drought had started, and had been showing up on a regular basis ever since. The first time they appeared at his fire he wasn't sure what to make of it. He did know that being scared wasn't going to help, so he stayed as calm as possible and left it to his guest to decide about the proper etiquette for the visit. It wasn't everyday that a God showed up at his campfire after all and he figured that it was only polite to let him set the tone.
It hadn't been too difficult to figure out that his guest wasn't your ordinary coyote. There were a couple of reasons, not the least being that he talked. While bold creatures, the normal wild coyote wasn't just going to up and plunk itself down at a human's campfire. The closest they would usually come is to skirt around the edges of a camp site, seeing if there was any food let out for an easy steall.
Aside from that, the last coyote in the district had been killed off long ago. In fact, it wouldn't surprise him if he found out the last coyote had been killed off in the wild period. Man had never had much use for them for some reason, even though like the wolf their primary prey were the pests like mice and rats that when left unchecked could and did destroy crops. All farmers saw was the potential coyotes represented to their precious sheep and chickens.
Even though payment of an occasional chicken or sheep should have been a fair exchange for preserving grain supplies, farmers refused to see it that way and began a systematic campaign that ended with the eradication of both wolf and coyote and a huge upsurge in the varmint population. With mice and rats out of control, ranchers and farmers both had to resort to poison to take on the rodent populations. A funny thing happened though, the poison they used to try and get rid of the rats, and mice poisoned the feed for the livestock, any livestock that ate it, and the seed for next years crop. Sort of makes the occasional sheep and chicken look inexpensive after all.
Of course they didn't find our about the crop until the following year when they planted and nothing came up. Even going out and buying all brand new seed didn't help much. It turned out that planting the poisoned seed, burying the carcasses of the poisoned rodents, chickens, sheep, and cattle, on top of burying the spoiled grain, was the last straw for the land in this part of the world. Dropping a nuclear bomb wouldn't have done a better job of rendering it fallow for generations to come.
So on that first night when Coyote turned up, there was no one else it could have been. He didn't say anything, those first few times, just sat and stared into the fire. For a trickster god he was pretty morose, but all things considered you couldn't really be expecting him to be jumping for joy. If you believed, like some people do, that he had created the world, it's not surprising he'd be feeling a little down considering the shape things are in.
It was about the fourth time he'd dropped by that he said something. He'd been sitting with his head resting on his front paws staring into the fire like always, when all of a sudden he let out a deep sigh. It sounded like it started at the base of his tail and worked its way on up to the tip of his ears before finally slipping out of his mouth.
"I just don't get it", he said "Things were just fine for the longest time. Everybody understood what they needed to do for things to work smothly. If you were going to try and grow stuff, or raise critters, you made damn sure that you set some aside or sacrificed one in order to keep who ever needed to be, kept happy. All over the world, you human beings used to be quite content with that arrangement. Showing yourselves to be grateful for what you've been given, by giving some of it back. Is that so difficult a concept to get your head around?
When did you folk become so greedy? It's not just the farmers or the ranchers refusing to give away – it's everywhere. You take all the water and you don't even drink it. What do you do with it instead? You use it to power places of self-indulgence that stop you from being aware of how badly you've treated the world
What other species do you know that is so rude that they build an artificial boat safari through a delicate ecosystem like the Florida Everglades? Who else would damn one of the most beautiful rivers in the world in order to make an artificial city in the middle of a desert that uses more hydroelectric power then some countries do? How about creating a plant seed that is specially designed so that it can be safely poisoned without considering what the effects of the poison are going to be long term for themselves or other life forms?"
He stopped then and began scratching behind his ear with his hind leg and then continued his toilet by washing himself in a manner that left no doubt about his opinion of the human race. He raised his head again and looked across the fire, he went to say something more, then shook his head and left. He'd been back to the fire a number of times since, but hadn't had much more to say. When you think about what else is there to say?
So now, most of the time Coyote comes and sits by the fire and looks into it to see if he can find his memories of a better time. Once in a while he'll ask for a cup of tea, just for old times sake, but it sure don't look like his heart is really into it. Sometimes they'll sit there and let the fire burn out until the two of them are left in the dark with their thoughts and the stars shining down on them. They can almost pretend when the dark is at it's purest and most deep that maybe its the beginning and they're waiting for everything to be born.
But that thought doesn't stand up to the harsh light of day any more than any other illusion. Usually just before dawn has fully broken Coyote will pick up his tail and leave, although not before saying goodbye to his one true love as she sinks behind the horizon; another impossible dream that he won't give up on.