“No one cares about the stories any more. No one listens to the old words, and there aren’t many who can remember what it was like before the iron came. There’s no one left to tell the stories, and the ones like you and I who get left behind have no one to hear us. It’s a different world, a changed world, and I want it to go back to the way it was before, when we were still respected and people knew our names.”Read Sarina Bouvier's Changes
This story grew on its own in my head, all I did was write it out. I had the idea of some dialogue between Raven and Coyote, about their place in a more modern world. I've always liked reading about trickster archetypes, and Raven is my favourite. Coyote was also fascinating as a character. I was curious about how the two of them would cope with all the changes that have happened in the last couple hundred years. This short story was partially inspired by Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics and his novel, American Gods. Overall, it turned out much better than I expected it to. Sen’klip is the Okanagan word for Coyote, and Xuuya is Haida for Raven. Thanks to Leslie Fabriz for help with language and editing.
The coyote slinks through the darkened city, listening intently to the distant roar of traffic. The air stinks of oil and rust and despair. A speckled cat, startled by the coyote’s unfamiliar presence, yowls at the hidden moon.
The coyote continues on, searching for something or someone. Eventually, he comes upon a small patch of wilted greenery. A park. It’s small, and hemmed in by sad stunted trees, but there is life there, and so the coyote settles down next to a scarred park bench to wait. It doesn’t have to wait long; with a flutter of wings, a large black bird settles on the bench, keen eyes looking mischievously at the coyote. The coyote makes a sound like the wind blowing through grass, a world-weary sigh.
“Hello, old friend,” says the large bird, peering down from the bench. At this angle, the coyote could easily be mistaken for a skinny, somewhat bedraggled dog.
The coyote stares at the bird, head cocked slightly.
“It’s been a while, hasn’t it, Sen’klip?” The bird has the appearance of a raven or crow, only larger. Its iridescent wings reflect light like oil on pavement. “You’re a lot less chatty than I remember,” observed the raven, with a humanlike expression of puzzlement upon his feathered face.
“Not much to talk about, is there, Xuuya?” The coyote’s voice is raspy and quiet, and the raven has to concentrate to make sense of the soft words.
“I don’t know what you mean.” A resentful silence greeted the raven’s huffy exclamation. “It’s not as if the world’s stopped turning.”
“That’s the problem,” the coyote mumbles. “Lots of changes, lots of big new things, and lots of ‘insignificant’ old things get lost along the way to ‘progress’.” The coyote’s voice becomes louder and angrier. “No one cares about the stories any more. No one listens to the old words, and there aren’t many who can remember what it was like before the iron came. There’s no one left to tell the stories, and the ones like you and I who get left behind have no one to hear us. It’s a different world, a changed world, and I want it to go back to the way it was before, when we were still respected and people knew our names.”
The raven listens impatiently to the coyote’s speech, which has turned into a rant by this point.
“Respect? What do you need respect for? You can’t eat respect, can’t watch it do amusing things, can’t hold it or make beautiful things from it. Respect is an empty word, an idea, and there’s nothing that needs it.”
“But it’s all we’ve got left now.”
“No, that’s not true at all. There are all kinds of interesting things in this world, and different things aren’t any less valuable than familiar things. ‘Respect’ doesn’t mean anything if there’s nothing there to make it something. I think I just confused myself with my own words, how remarkable is that?”
The coyote doesn’t answer, only looks at the raven angrily, wanting an answer. The raven tries again:
“I mean, respect is just a concept. There are plenty of other things in the world to make important for yourself. Lots of stuff. Like… fish. And shiny things. And the sweet pieces of bread that fall from a child’s hand at a festival. And tales told around a campfire where the leaping flames are the only things keeping the unknown darkness at bay. And songs that seem to scream at the sky, asking why, why, why. Why don’t you concentrate on the things that you can see and hear and taste, and the things that make you happy instead of hollow words that never really meant anything to begin with?”
“It meant something to me.”
“Well, there’s your problem then. You’re stuck in the past, friend. You’ve got to live in the moment. Okay, the world’s a different place from what it was a couple hundred years ago; so what? There are still people on the earth, and they still can make beautiful, real, heart-achingly-lovely things. They might wear different things and speak different words, but in the end, it’s all the same story, told and retold a billion times a billion different ways.”
“What is the story?” The coyote’s voice is a challenging, surly growl.
Xuuya scoffs, a harsh sound that ricochets off the scraggly trees guarding the park. “Friend, if I have to tell you that, you’re less of an individual than I thought you were.”
“None of us are what we once were,” mutters Sen’klip petulantly.
“No more of that talk! I’m sick of it! Yes, you’re right; we’ve all suffered plenty these last few years. Lots of knowledge has been lost, and we may never replace it. But the prairie grass blowing in the wind and the ocean surf crashing have stayed the same. People still sing and draw and laugh and cry and tell stories, and while the stories they tell might be different from what you’re used to, all stories are made up of the same ideas in the end. While we still have those things, there’s hope. There’s always been hope. We may be all that’s left of the old beliefs, but that doesn’t mean we can’t watch the new things happen. We have a place in this world, regardless of what you and your silly defeatist attitude think. How dare you give up on everything! How dare you!”
The coyote stares at the ground, silently contemplating its response.
“…You might have a point.”
The raven preens, looking smug. “Of course I have a point. I’m me. I’m the one who stole the stars and gave them to the world. I’m the one parents warn their children about, and I am the one they told stories about. As are you.”
“I was. I don’t know where I fit in anymore,” the coyote says remorsefully.
“Pffft. Stop that self-pitying, it’s shameful. And don’t worry, there are still plenty of nooks and crannies for a clever trickster to take advantage of. We fit into the in-between places and the forgotten places; goodness knows that there are more than enough of those nowadays. We’ll be okay. You just have to be clever.”
Sen’klip gives a toothy, if somewhat forced, grin. “I’ve got that angle covered. Well, thank you for the advice, friend. You’ve given my existence a bit more meaning, which is more than I had before I found you. I’ll be on my way now.”
Xuuya nods, already bored with the conversation. “See you around. I have fish I need to catch.”
“Wait, I have a question. We don’t need to eat, so why do you fish?”
The raven winks. “Why not? After all, we are only dust and shadows, so we may as well enjoy the time we have in this world.” With a swirl of smoke, Xuuya was gone.
The coyote lays there for a while, thinking. It thinks about the world and its people. He rages to himself. He mourns for a while. For the first time in a long time, he considers the future. Then the sun rises, and coyote hears the sound of tall grass blowing in the wind.