Authors: Pat Kelleher
...into his body with a jolt.
“Wake up!” yelled Coyote.
“Whathefuck!” Richard yelped in alarm.
His voice was stern. “Dreams have power around gods.”
Nataero glanced back over his shoulder. “Oh, yes, you want to watch that.”
Coyote turned round in his seat. “Since Shu shifted your point of awareness, it is no longer rooted in the mortal perception of things. It drifted, like a radio dial, further than it should have, lost between stations. If I hadn’t woken you when I did, you might never have found your way back and you would have been lost.
“To help protect your newly freed awareness, you will need a new set of personal routines. The only way you can survive is to accumulate personal power. That will help fix your perception to the mortal plane. With enough personal power and practice you might even be able to shift your perception consciously.”
Richard’s breath came in short, sharp pants. “What the hell have you done to me?”
Coyote threw his hands in the air, declaiming responsibility. “Shu has seen fit to show you an amazing opportunity.” There was a long rasp followed by a rotting aroma. “And younger brother anus agrees.”
“Jeez!” said Richard, breathing though his mouth.
Afraid of falling asleep again, Richard made them stop for coffee. He also made Nataero drive with the window open, partly to stay awake, but mostly just in case Coyote broke wind again.
Nataero a while later.
A blue motorway junction sign flashed by.
“Hey, Bridstowe. That’s where I live,” said Richard, swivelling his neck as the sign went by.
Coyote turned and looked at him.
“This is where you live and Shu directed us to begin our search? And this is where my younger brother is hidden?”
He let out a long breath. Old Man Shu was a crafty one.
ATAERO DROVE THROUGH
the town centre. It was late afternoon and in the glow of the street lights, back-lit store signs reflected off wet greasy pavements pocked with the lichen-like blooms of chewing gum. Banks of shops were closed, their graffitied shutters padlocked. After the heat, then bright sunlight, the neon of Vegas, the place seemed dead.
“It was a thriving town a year ago,” said Richard.
They passed long avenues of houses, hunkered down against the prevailing wind of the moors; big Victorian houses gave way to smaller thirties homes and, on the outskirts, a few sixties housing estates, open to the elements. Beyond them, the hills rose and the road signs directed them towards the motorway.
Nataero turned off in the opposite direction. A brown heritage sign directed them to Hillstone Howe and the Devil’s Fingers.
They pulled into a small municipal car park: puddled potholes, cinder, crushed limestone hardcore and mud. It sat at the foot of a large barren windswept hill that looked out over the town. Apart from their silver Nissan it was empty. They got out.
“This way,” said Nataero, pointing to an algae-rimed fingerpost by a stile.
They crossed the stile and started up a path that spiralled round the hill toward the crest.
Coyote, his wrapped war bundle on his back, gazed up at the sodden hill and the gunmetal clouds above and smiled. It was such a contrast to his desert. Even the light here seemed older, more ancient.
“It’s up here,” said Nataero. He cut an incongruous figure in his windcheater and slacks. His patent leather shoes, not really ideal for the outdoors, were covered with mud, their leather soles sliding on the wet ground, splattering his trousers.
As they came around the far side of the path they were afforded a view over Bridstowe, for what it was worth.
“Always thought Hillstone Howe was a stupid name,” said Richard to no one in particular.
“It wasn’t ‘hill’, not originally,” said Nataero. “It was ‘hel’, an Anglo-Saxon word meaning a place of protection. Of sanctuary.”
Richard could make out the standing stones as they came up the final rounding of the path. There was a bench nearby, facing out over the town below. It was covered with graffiti, as were the standing stones, decades of crude thin bone-white names scratched into the rock, overlaid with aerosoled tags, defiling them. Empty cans and bottles littered the ground around it, like meagre offerings. If this place was a sanctuary for anything, it was bored youth.
Coyote tilted his head and sniffed, his nostrils flaring. He couldn’t detect the piquant scent of his penis. He didn’t feel a pulse or a throb in his groin, either, but his penis could have been confined or constrained, which is why it wouldn’t answer to his call.
“Where’s my penis, Nataero?” said Coyote, his voice low and dangerous.
“It’s here. I know it. I can sense it. Perhaps you need to summon it.”
Coyote’s glower flicked over to a beaming grin. Maybe he had a point.
He took a pouch from around his neck, opened it and took from it a pinch of Bonafide Penis Return powder. He cast it into the damp air and began chanting in a deep sonorous language that Richard felt resonate through his very core.
Coyote threw his arms into the air and began to dance.
At Richard’s feet, crushed lager cans and discarded cider bottles began to vibrate and skitter across the threadbare turf as the ground began to shake.
Coyote and the Devil’s Fingers
HE AIR RESOUNDED
with a deep rumble as the earth heaved and bucked. Several stones of the circle slewed and tilted.
“What’s happening?” Richard yelped, trying to maintain his balance.
Coyote fancied he felt a stirring in his loins. “It’s younger brother,” he said, a grin stretched wide across his face. He caught Nataero’s hand and gave it a manly shake.
Nataero returned a weak, unctuous smile. “Then my job here is done. What is lost is found.”
“Thanks to you,” said Coyote, taking a deep breath and readying himself to receive his errant member. “I shan’t forget this service.”
Then Nataero disappeared.
“Here we go,” cried Coyote. “Come, younger brother, I’m waiting for you. I’m here!”
“And your penis is doing all this? Are you sure?” Richard shouted.
Coyote winked at him. “I have often been told that I can make the earth move. And Lo!”
“It just seems a lot of upheaval for a little todger, that’s all.”
“Not so little, Richard Green,” said Coyote with a lecherous wink. “It can be so large I’ve had to carry it slung over my shoulder before now. If it has been bound and confined then it will fight to get free. It sounds like a mighty battle!” he said, nodding with approval at his member’s efforts. “Do you hear? It comes at my call. Come, my brother. Come.”
“I wouldn’t put it quite like that if I were you.”
The central stone seemed taller now, like a tooth in receding gums, its newly exposed surface wet with moisture and clean of graffiti.
Coyote shucked his war bundle and took a large empty sack from the deerskin wrapping, pulled the drawstrings open and held the neck wide open in expectation. “I’ve caught and bound great spirits with this sack before now, and contained in it things of great power, but now my younger brother is coming home and he will have need of the sack’s chastisement.”
“Then I get my life back, right?”
“Yes, Richard, once I am whole again.”
There was a creak of soft, damp wood. The park bench came loose as the ground rose about it, toppling the splintered bench and its cracked concrete bed down the hill.
“And does it usually cause such destruction?”
Something priapic headed their way, ploughing through the earth, a red and glistening eyeless head thrusting its way through the soil.
“Jesus, you weren’t kidding. When you said big, I just thought you meant, you know King Dong, Dirk Diggler big. This is huge!”
In one fluid movement, the enormous glistening glans burst out of the ground and rose up before him—and kept on rising, rearing over him.
“That’s one hell of an erection!”
Coyote’s face crumpled.
“That’s not my—”
A maw opened in the thing’s head as it plunged down on Coyote, swallowing him whole as it dived back into the earth.
“Coyote!” cried Richard in horror.
“That was a close thing,” said a quiet voice.
Coyote stood beside him.
Richard stared. “How did you—”
Coyote winked and shoved him on the shoulder.
“Run, Richard Green. This is a trap meant for me. This is no recalcitrant rod, no penitent penis. This is a wyrm. You’re mortal. If you stay, it will mean your death.”
Richard hesitated. “But what about you?”
“I’m Coyote!” he yelled ecstatically.
The ground shook and the wyrm broke the surface once more, showering Richard with dirt.
“Run, Richard Green, run!”
Richard turned and made for the path. Within seconds of starting along it he had lost sight of the hilltop, but saw the head of the wyrm rear up over the crest and plunge down again, showering him with a spume of earth.
He carried on down the path. Whatever was going on was nothing to do with him, was nothing he knew how to cope with. In a battle between gods and monsters, there was little he could do.
Loose stones skittered away under his feet, his arms flailing as he ran. His heart slammed against his chest, as if it were trying to burst free.
As Richard ran round into the lee of the hill, he heard a raucous caw. A lone raven with burning red eyes swooped down out of the leaden grey clouds that kettled the bleak landscape.
Other caws now answered the first, as shreds of shadow detached themselves from the clouds, taking on form and solidity as they whirled and swooped. A flock of ravens. No, not a flock, an unkindness.
Their harsh calls rent the air as the birds harried him. As he fled down the slope, Richard stumbled away from the path, tripping over tussocks and sods on the steep descent, arms windmilling.
A blood-eyed raven plummeted towards him. Talons sliced. He felt the back of his head open up and put his hand to his scalp. It came away slick and red. He had to keep going. The bottom of the hill wasn’t far now. He rounded the corner and saw the silver Nissan in the car park.
Please let it not be locked.
He heard the screeching caws above and chanced a look. Another flight of ravens was sweeping down on him.
He might still make the car.
He turned back to see ravens settling on the Nissan’s roof and patrolling the ground. The bastards had herded him down here. They were waiting for him. Cunning little shits.
Richard had run himself ragged, there was nowhere else to run to, and no energy left with which to run there. He spun round in panic and looked up at the hill. From deep within, muffled by rock and earth, came reverberating thuds and impacts, like a pile driver. No help would come from Coyote.
Richard was alone—insignificant and scared. He turned to face the maleficent flock. Fuck English teachers, unkindness was understating it. This was a murder of ravens if he ever saw one. They congregated on the car park walls, watching him with their burning eyes. It was unnerving the way they strengthened and dimmed in time with his breathing, like lit cigarettes. Would they fade to an ashen grey with his death?
He charged towards the car.
They took to the air in a blizzard of wings, wheeling and swooping tighter and tighter until they swirled down around him in a tornado of feathers, claws and beaks, picking and pecking a hundred cuts and scratches. He covered his face with his arms; he squealed as a beak found an exposed rim of ear and bit down. It was like running through a hail of razor blades. He lost sight of the car as the world disappeared in a press of darkness, lit only by cruel constellations of baleful stares.
Richard began to suffocate under the feathers. He reached and felt the car door under his hand, even as the ravens pecked and tore at it. He groped for the handle.
He roared in a primal scream of fury and frustration.
First, his entire world had been stripped away and now to have his very flesh stripped from his bones, a feast for carrion?
HE WYRM REARED
up into the air and bore down into the hill, right where the man had been standing. It swallowed earth and stone and turf, but the man known as Coyote had gone. Stood before the wild wyrm was Coyote the animal, ears flat against its head, tail down, teeth bared.
bored down into the hill with the ease of a leaping salmon, moving through the earth as easily as Coyote did through the desert.
Old Man Wyrm laughed at him now, mocking him for his lack of manhood. No one laughed at Coyote. And if they did, they wouldn’t get away with it.
“Old Man Wyrm, Old Man Wyrm,” he cried. “If you want to eat me I am over here!”
Coyote leapt aside as Old Man Wyrm thrust his head up through the spray of loam into the air.
“I may not be able to see you, older brother, but I can smell you and soon I will taste you,” he bellowed, plunging down where Coyote stood.
“Oh, I have no doubt of that,” said Coyote, pouncing aside. “But I am much better cooked than raw.”
Coyote leapt down one of Old Man Wyrm’s holes and raced along the dank dark tunnels.
“I can hear the patter of your paws,” said Old Man Wyrm burrowing down the tunnel after him.
Coyote came to a large chamber at the heart of the hill, studded with boulders and with tunnels running off it at various angles. “Well this is all very cosy, but I see no cooking pot. How am I going to taste my best if there is no cooking pot?”
Old Man Wyrm’s voice echoed down the labyrinthine tunnels. “You can’t fool me, trickster. I’m going to eat you raw, swallow you whole. I can’t wait, I am hungry now!”
Old Man Wyrm’s blind, toothless head protruded into the chamber, glistening and red.
“These are my tunnels and there is nowhere you can hide that I cannot find you.”