Authors: Pat Kelleher
T WAS ALL
very interesting, but one thought burned more brightly in Coyote’s mind than all others. Nataero claimed to know where his younger brother, penis, was and led him here to be killed, or at least spend a decade or two in the belly of Old Man Wyrm. Why? The Roman knew more than he was telling, but he couldn’t sense him. He couldn’t smell him. The wily old god had concealed himself with sigils, no doubt. No matter. Nataero wouldn’t be able to hide from him for long.
Coyote retrieved his war bundle from where it had fallen when the wyrm attacked.
“You’re on the warpath,” he said to Weyland. “You seek vengeance for your kin, then?”
“I seek to know who killed them and for what purpose. Then vengeance might follow, yes.”
Coyote shouldered his bundle. “My hunt takes me in a different direction. I must find this Roman.”
“Very well. There are only so many blades that can kill a god, only so many smiths that can make them, and fewer who would dare. I will turn my attention there. Good luck with your hunt, Coyote. I hope you find what you are looking for.”
As Weyland turned to go, he put his hand into the chest pocket of his overalls and pulled out a business card. It was embossed with a rune. “Contact me if you need me. Farewell trickster, and you too, Richard Green.”
When Coyote looked up from the card, Weyland had gone.
Coyote pulled out his phone and texted Shu.
I’ve found the thread.
Within moments, his phone beeped.
DON’T LOSE IT.
O, YOU’RE SAYING
the god slaying might have been a sacrifice?” said Richard, as they made their way down to the car park.
“Possibly,” said Coyote, he looked up at the Devil’s Fingers. “The place of power, the ritual nature of the death, the drawing of ichor. It all points to it.”
“Yes,” said Richard uneasily. “All of which begs the question, who would want to sacrifice a god and, more unnervingly, to what?”
Coyote and the Lost God
ICHARD SAT ON
the edge of the driver’s seat, feet on the ground, and head in his hands. The feeling of nausea had passed but the overwhelming sense of existential dread still etched away at the pit of his stomach.
Those that had brought him to the brink were gods, or worse than gods, and didn’t give a flying fig for him. As flies to wanton boys...
The gods and the monsters were here among them. Only, in his case,
was amongst the gods and monsters.
He looked out across the town and thought of Becky. She was somewhere down there among the red brick labyrinth, doing normal things: getting up, going to work, drinking, shagging probably. Oblivious. He envied her. He envied the life he once had.
He looked up at Coyote, facing into the wind, his head tilted back and sniffing the air.
Richard sighed with resignation. “So where do we find a god of lost property?”
Coyote shrugged. “He’s vanished. I can’t sense him anywhere. He is lost to me.”
“So that’s it? No matter how hard we look we can’t find him?”
“We could search the entire country and not find him. We must wait for him to show himself again.”
“Huh,” said Richard. “Back when, you know, I
a life,” he said with bitter emphasis, “I was forever losing stuff: tenners, keys, TV remotes, mobiles, stuff like that. Really pissed Becky off.”
“And did you find them, these things?” asked Coyote.
“Yep. Always in the last place I looked.”
Richard got into the car and levered the satnav from the windscreen. There was a soft
as its suction cup peeled away. He powered the thing on.
“What do you intend to do?” asked Coyote, his curiosity piqued.
Richard worked his way through the menu. “You like things complicated, don’t you? You come right out of left field. Well, this is the most bonkers thing I can think of. I don’t even know why it should work, but being around you, heck, I don’t know, perhaps you’re rubbing off on me.” He looked up from the device. “We could spend months,
, searching the country from top to bottom, east to west, and not find him, right?”
“Because he’d be in the last place we’d look?”
“Exactly. So why not skip right to the end?”
He toggled through options until he got to ‘Set Destination.’
He passed it to Coyote.
“I want you to tap in two letters, a number, another number followed by two letters. Any you like.”
Coyote tapped his finger on the touch screen, grinned and showed Richard the result.
“And where is this place?”
Richard okayed the code, zoomed out on the map, and turned to look at Coyote in surprise.
“Well, bugger me,” he said. “Swindon. A thirties housing estate, judging by the street layout. It’s the last place I’d look for a god, anyway. Seems legit.”
A grin broke over Coyote’s face. “Maybe Old Man Shu was right about you.”
“Gee, thanks,” said Richard. He gave the satnav suction cup a lick and thumped the thing back against the corner of the windscreen. It stayed. He grunted with satisfaction and went to start the car. Shit, no keys. Nataero had them.
“Looking for this?” said Coyote producing the key fob. “I lifted them from him walking up the hill.”
“You didn’t trust him!” said Richard in mock shock.
“I don’t trust anyone.”
“What, not even Shu?”
“Especially not Shu,” grinned Coyote.
OLLOWING THE PASSIVE
aggressive directions of the satnav, they drove out of the car park and headed for the motorway.
“Okay,” said Richard as they drove south. “I give up. How do you do it, change into a coyote? That was you, wasn’t it? How does that even work? What about the extra body mass? It’s impossible. It’s physics.”
Coyote waved a hand airily. “Oh, you don’t want to listen to physics. That stuff’ll kill you. Even your science says the laws of physics break down the nearer you get to your big bang. Same here. I’m a being of the creation myths. Your laws of physics break down the closer they get to us.”
Richard grimaced. “That doesn’t even make sense.”
T WAS DAWN
as they drove slowly down into Swindon and found a street of identical thirties semis with their bay windows and walled front gardens.
You have reached your destination,
the satnav told them.
“But this is just a post code. It could be any one of these,” said Richard.
“It’s that one,” said Coyote, pointing.
Richard leaned forward, and peered over the steering wheel at the unassuming property. “Well it’s not the Olympus.”
He had at least been expecting something suburban and comfortable. Double-glazing and stone cladding perhaps. The kind of house his grandparents had. Instead, it looked run down. It wore an air of neglect.
Slates were askew on the roof. The window frames were old, with peeling paint and swollen rotten wood. Dirty muslin curtains, yellowed with age and cigarette smoke, hung in the downstairs leaded bay. In the bedroom above, heavy curtains were drawn and looked as if nobody ever opened them. The pointing on the walls was crumbling; a broken downspout bled a damp patch out across the brickwork. Wooden gates barred the path to the door.
The houses either side seemed warm and welcoming by comparison. But this one just seemed to bring down the tone of the neighbourhood. On the other hand, it did have all its original features. Just.
What kind of god lived in a house like this?
Well, he guessed he knew the answer to that one. Nataero probably found the deeds lost down the back of a sofa or something.
They got out of the car and Coyote reached into the back seat to retrieve his deerskin war bundle and slung it over his shoulder.
Richard started to cross the road. Coyote put a hand on his chest, stopping him. His tone was firm and measured, “Let me be clear about this. Be very careful. We’re hunting a god. One needs personal power to confront a god. You have precious little. We must proceed strategically.”
Richard looked around at the unremarkable suburban street. He still couldn’t quite imagine ancient powers slumbering here. Nevertheless, his mouth was dry with fear. Not trusting himself to speak, he nodded in agreement.
Coyote gave him a broad smile.
The next thing he knew Coyote had shoved him hard between the shoulder blades, propelling him into the road.
“That’s to anchor your awareness with a little of my personal power, until you acquire your own. You don’t want your awareness drifting in Nataero’s psychic wash, and believe me he’ll try.”
Richard opened his mouth to speak but Coyote put a finger to his lips, and jerked his chin towards the rundown house.
He couldn’t help feeling a little foolish as they crossed the road. It didn’t seem real. Nevertheless, he felt a knot of fear and a flush of adrenalin as if he were a kid again, playing knock chase on Mrs Battley’s front door.
The wooden gate was swollen shut and Richard had to haul it up off the ground to open it. Beyond, the concrete path was cracked, and dead weeds sprouted through it. The terracotta tiles on the doorstep to the porch were cracked and loose. Through the semicircular glass of the door, Richard could see a heavy curtain.
He was about to knock when Coyote grabbed his wrist and shook his head. Perhaps he’d spotted some mystical trap that would have turned him inside out had he triggered it.
“I’ve got this,” he said with a wink. Richard watched Coyote’s chest rise as he took a deep breath, as if preparing himself for some physical feat.
Coyote began pounding frantically on the door with both fists, his face contorted with panic.
What the fuck? Richard jumped at the sound. He could almost feel the yell in his chest and he felt briefly nauseous. “What the hell?” said Richard.
Coyote carried on pounding as if his life depended on it. Richard looked around nervously at the neighbours. Net curtains twitched.
“I’m coming!” said an irritable voice from inside. “Hold your horses!”
The door opened.
That was all Coyote needed. He shoved Richard, who stumbled forward in through the door, his boots scuffing over chalk sigil marks on the bare floorboards beyond.
Coyote smiled and followed, slamming the front door behind them.
“You!” Nataero backed away from the door, his eyes wide with alarm. He was no longer snappily dressed. His white hair was unkempt. “You shouldn’t be here. You can’t be here!”
“We should be dead, you mean?” asked Richard, peering past the man. No, not man. God. He didn’t look like a god, with his silver stubble and unkempt hair and the baked bean juice on his dressing gown. But he knew how appearances could be deceptive.
“You, I care not about, but the trickster here? No, not dead. Just out of action.”
“In the belly of a wyrm?”
Coyote wheeled round, grabbed Nataero by the lapels of his grubby dressing gown, and hauled him onto his toes until they were nose to nose.
“Yes. Why aren’t you there? How... how did you find me?” Nataero said.
Coyote shrugged. He jerked his chin toward Richard. “He wouldn’t stop and ask for directions, we got lost—and here we are.”
Coyote took in the bare hallway with an appreciative nod.
“Nice place you’ve got here. Very homely.”
The wallpaper was old and peeling. The hallway floorboards were bare, as were the stairs. A single unshaded light bulb hung from the ceiling.
The rest of the house was a museum, a hoarder’s paradise. Mounds of papers and books teetered over their heads, their geologies shifting with each creak and movement of the floorboards, their summits swaying precariously. They formed narrow dusty canyons which wound through the rooms, their exposed faces stratified with seams of ancient leather tomes. Elsewhere, there were piles of pens and pen drives, a jumbled heap of government laptops, there were bin liners of stuff, and some things that looked like the mummified bodies of children.
How had he come to have all this here? Richard wouldn’t have been surprised to come across the Holy Grail or Excalibur. This man wasn’t a god. He was a kleptomaniac.
Coyote sized up the Roman. “Nataero. God of lost things. People pray to you to find belongings and get them back.”
Nataero watched them suspiciously. “Sometimes. They used to.”
Coyote was dismayed. “Only because you took them in the first place, right? A small god who needed to be noticed, wanted to be noticed, who felt they deserved better.”
“They said if I helped them it would be different,” said Nataero, his voice weak, but becoming strong and arrogant. “They said that a new future was dawning, and I would be there to see it. And I deserve it. I’m fed up of people treating me as small change. I’m not. I’ve earned my place.”
Coyote shook his head in despair. “So what did you have to do? Steal my younger brother? Find long forgotten gods?”
“Barbarian genius loci. Nobody would miss them.”
“And the godsblood? They sacrificed the gods.
. For what? What would require the sacrifice of gods? Did you try to sacrifice me, too?”
Nataero snorted. “No, they don’t want you dead, no. Just out of the way. They need you alive. They’re afraid that if you die, your... manhood will die with you.”
“What do they want it for?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “They don’t tell me everything. They just engaged me to steal it from you. I don’t know why they want it.”
Coyote leaned in close. “I’ll bet you overheard something. I know how you think. You don’t trust them. How do you know they’ll keep their word? You know what we’re like—fickle, vindictive, and capricious. You’ve been on the raw end too often not to have something on them, am I right? What did you hear? What is it?”
Nataero pressed his lips together and shook his head. He wasn’t telling.
Coyote’s eyes narrowed. “Well, I’m still here and free, so they’re not going to be too happy, are they? They’ll blame you. Do you really think they’ll let you take your place after this?”