“I can die happy. I’ve annoyed many over the years but this is the first time in memory that I’ve pissed off a spirit.” As the neck untwists, blood is smeared in a streaked band around Cameahwait’s head. Coyote stands as it wobbles on the still twig-sized neck, the once smooth face a storm of angry creases and wrinkles. Cameahwait glowers at Coyote, its eyes burning white hot beneath its hat-like brow. Its breath becomes heavier and each one comes at longer intervals, and it begins to puff up again. Coyote backflips away from it, eyes from behind the mask pointing at its mouth. But no more viscous blood comes forth from its maw. Instead, Cameahwait grows in size, increasing outwards from its core, where a heart would be, and its lower half sinks into the ground, until only its chest and arms are visible. As it grows, it absorbs the doppelgängers that have been milling about while it fought Coyote. It towers over him, face in shadow, sword and staff extending up into the black sky, two eyes shining like distant suns. He holds the now immense sword out, the flat of the blade facing down. As it falls towards Coyote’s head he dashes away from the giant spirit, making a line towards where he threw his axe. The area around him gets darker as Cameahwait moves towards him and he does not look back as he runs. He reaches his axe and picks it up, spinning around to face the titan.
“You’re not the only one who can change sizes!” As he says this, the axe begins to grow, and continues to do so until the haft is as big as a tree trunk and the blade more like a piece off a cliff face rather than a shaped piece of stone. His fingers can no longer curl around it but splay out, clutching it on either side of the ridged wood. It rises up until it is level with Cameahwait’s chest, forty feet in the air. He lifts it back over his shoulder, muscles and tendons in his arms and hands standing out. Cameahwait’s eyes raise from looking down at him and follow its movement, which is faster than would be expected for something being lifted by a person a twentieth the size of the weapon. It raises its sword to block the swing while also bringing the staff around to the front and pointing it down at Coyote. But as it begins to glow just as the axe shatters the spectral blade. Its shards drag sheets of red through the air as they fall and fade away. The blood streams down but evaporates before it hits the ground.
The axe blade continues its inexorable course, plunging into Cameahwait’s chest and stomach, where its progress comes to a halt with a soft whumph. An oozing line of blood traces the outline of the intruding wedge of obsidian. The staff shoots lightning but Coyote has already kicked off from its handle and lands, one hand on the ground as he skids backwards. Cameahwait looks down at the axe stuck in its body and holds its arms stretched out to either side. It lets go of its weapons, and the broken blade and staff float in the air where they were released. Its hands reach inward, fingers grasping for the wooden handle.
“Oh no you don’t!” Coyote yells from across the clearing. He begins to run, and jumps into the air, leg extended in front of him. The bare foot slams into the top of the axe haft and pushes it the rest of the way through Cameahwait. It falls and hews through the rest of the ghost, splitting it at the groin. The axe slams into the ground, which shakes at the impact and then shrinks back down to its original size and falls on its side. Cameahwait wobbles on the two halves of its body for a few seconds, mouth opening and closing, and then topples over, its extended legs flapping beneath it. The pale corpse dissolves into the air, red worms crawling upward and disappearing with the sound of boiling oil, crackling and popping. A howling wind blows through the wreckage, putting out the fires and plunging the once organized village into darkness. Only the owl mask holds a faint shimmer in the night.
Coyote stands up straight and slips the mask off his face, holding it at his side, and breathes out a loud sigh. There are a few feathers sticking to his sweaty face, but he shakes his head and they fall off.
“Always so strange having feathers.”
“Straaaange?” A croak comes from behind. Coyote jumps forward, picking up his axe and spinning around. Ántimán is perched upon the still standing support beams of a now skeletal tent, mouth open in its unchanging grin. “Not strange… you, you are strange. Coyote who thinks he is a bear, an owl, why call yourself Coyote?”
“Guess I’m just a friendly guy.” He lowers his axe to his side. Ántimán follows the movement with its eyes, wings folded tight so that only its taloned feet are visible, clutching and digging into the posts.
“Share a meal with me, wolf-man. You look… quite tired.”
“You would be too! Did you not see that damn thing? Even the spirits of giants aren’t that big.” Step by step he moves closer to Ántimán.
“Ahhh, the giants… I was playing with them just a few days ago. I stole their diamonds and they… threw rocks at me.”
“A little thievery never hurt anyone, though the giants do like their gems… have we met before, bird? There are not many who make fun of me by calling me wolf man. I’m no wolf, I’m a dirty coyote. What is your name?”
Ántimán blinks at him.
“I… I do not know my name.” He rotates his head to the right. “I… am called Ántimán.”
“Hmm, a condor? You seem a little confused as to what animal you are as well. You look like a hawk, smell like a vulture, and sound like a raven. My question for you is why do you stink of death? YAH!” Coyote leaps forward, swinging his axe at Ántimán, who takes flight, flapping his wings. The displaced air rushes overtop Coyote, and as it opens its wings, from them falls the heads of Ahtunowhiho, the girl Coyote slept with, her father, and several others from the village, along with some bloodied bones and tattered entrails. Their eyes have been torn out.
Coyote’s eyes are wide and his face twists with rage. He snarls as they fall past him and he swings his axe. It makes a tearing sound as it passes through empty air and knocks over the posts.
“All for naught, thanks to you… looks like I need to send another fiend to Wakan Tanka for judgment.”
“Haaaaah!” Ántimán lets out a screeching laugh. “Wakan Tanka is asleep! He is tired of your tribes. He sent me to cleanse the lands of their filth. There will be but one tribe from now on, that of death!”
“Liars die and truth is immortal. Your time grows short, deceiver.” Coyote jumps into the air, hand reaching for Ántimán’s neck. The bird man flies higher, and Coyote hurls his axe in midair. It spins towards Ántimán. He attempts to dodge it but the handle slams into the tip of his left wing, throwing him off balance. He falls several feet before regaining flight. He looks around, but Coyote is already jumping from a tree limb behind him and lands on his back, grabbing both wings and squeezing them shut. They fall further together. The cords in Coyote’s neck stand out and his arms shake as they fall. Right before they hit the ground, Ántimán breaks free, and Coyote falls off him onto his back.
“Miqqiaq, you’re a strong one!” He flexes his fingers and searches for his axe, but Ántimán turns around and encloses him within its bloodstained wings, leaning its face in, mouth wide. Coyote can see lines of thorn-like teeth within its throat, and bares his own teeth as it grows nearer.
“Iquq no!” He brings his legs up and smashes his feet into Ántimán’s chest, sending him staggering back a couple steps. “Like kicking a boulder.” He mutters as he rolls over and scrambles away on all fours away from the stunned avian. He spots his axe a few feet away and pushes off with his feet, propelling himself towards it. Ántimán flies into the air and dives, talons out. They sink into Coyote’s side, pushing him across the dirt. He grits his teeth but does not make a noise, instead grabbing Ántimán by the ankles and pulling him off himself, blood trailing the talons. Struggling to his feet, he swings Ántimán, spinning him around and slamming him down onto splintered wood from a demolished tent. Ántimán shrieks and kicks its legs, breaking free from Coyote’s grasp and rolling away, flapping his wings to dislodge the shards.
“Ahhhhhhh.” It is a cross between an exhale and growl. Ántimán is standing again, his wings angled in front of him and towards the ground. Both him and Coyote are breathing hard, mouths open and chests heaving. Coyote puts a hand on his leaking side, the four gashes are clean cuts, the edges shiny with blood. He does not take his eyes off Ántimán, and holds his axe across his front. Ántimán shudders, and the undersides of each wing bulge. With a muted ripping noise, like a soggy skin being torn in two, arms come down from the wings, feathered close to the skin and with human hands with long sharp nails. The arms are a deep red on the areas that were attached to the wings, and banded tan, brown, and orange just as the undersides of Ántimán’s wings. The hands open and close, the fingers making soft pops.
“Upping the ante, I see. I’m glad I’m such a challenge for you.” He blinks, and Ántimán is now much closer to him, though there was no noise from his movement. The arms hang at his sides. “I’ll have to do the same. Three masks in one day, the spirits are going to be angry with me later.” He drops his axe and his left hand reaches behind him and draws forth a tan mask, flat and with circular eyes that are smaller than the owl’s and rounder than the bear’s. Instead of protruding from the mask like the bear’s muzzle, the nose is thin and goes down the front, tapering to a rounded tip. There are two holes at opposite diagonals above the eyes, and Coyote’s forehead can be seen through them when he puts it on. Ántimán stops moving and his mouth closes as deer horns sprout from the holes, four points upon each horn, three on the top and one sticking out from the main branch. They are covered in a fine grey fur.
“Now, death breath, I have some velvet to scour with you.”
He leans forward and charges at Ántimán, hopping on the balls of his feet, each step carrying him forward in quick bursts. The bird takes flight again, but– “Tired tricks!” Coyote jumps into the air and tosses his head back, and the horns stick into Ántimán’s ribs. He twists to the side, hurling Ántimán back to the ground and landing on him, throws three punches that slam into the feathered chest before his arms are caught. The clawed hands pull Coyote closer to him, staring into the holes where his eyes are and breathing a slow rasp of fetid air out.
“I… do not feel tired.” Ántimán rumbles. Coyote rears his head back and slams it into Ántimán’s face, once, twice, but the third time is interrupted when Ántimán’s beak closes upon his exposed neck. Coyote pushes against the feathered chest, and the skin on the front of his neck is torn off. The feathers are soft and smooth against his palm. Ántimán swallows the skin just as Coyote throws a right hook at his cheek, snapping his head to the side. Some partially chewed skin flies out of his mouth at the impact. Wings and claws are raised but this time Coyote retreats, his speed much greater since donning the deer mask. But his side and chest are now covered in blood, tendons exposed and moving as he turns his head to keep track of the vicious bird man.
“One after the other… is too much. A Coyote knows when to retreat, so I shall make like a deer and show you my white tail for now, Ántimán!” He turns and hops away, bounding through the trees, brown and green blurs on either side in the dusk. Ántimán lets out a screech and hurtles up over the trees and after him, increasing in speed with each pump of its wings.
“Iquq, losing him is,” Coyote coughs and gags, “… going to be difficult.” He runs at a breakneck pace in the opposite direction of where the rest of the village ran, hopping over bush and bramble away from the bird of prey. “And both of us scavengers. Though I’m definitely prey right now,” he laughs as he runs. Ántimán screeches again from the air and dives, taloned feet extended. Coyote dodges to the side and Ántimán rises up into the air again.
“If you hadn’t yelled at me you would have got me with that, digiis!” Coyote continues forward and then breaks to the right. Ántimán makes a wide turn, enabling Coyote to gain some ground. He speeds up, one leg touching the ground every four seconds now, and then dives into a field of tall reeds. He tears off the deer mask, horns coming off with it and falling in between the grass, and draws forth the bear once again. “Time to go in for the winter,” he snuffles from behind the wood. He tears up a patch of reeds by the roots, dirt raining from the unified clump. Diving beneath it, he flattens himself out, scrambling with his fingers to part the dirt and letting the uprooted plants cover him like a blanket.
If someone were to watch the ground where he lies, they would see it smooth out back to how it was before. You’d have to get on your hands and knees to tell the difference between it and the rest of the field. Ántimán passes overhead and lets out another wavering screech, and continues to circle the area for miles around until the sun comes up. As it rises, someone with sharp eyes could see the arms raise up once again and blend in with the wings, and he tucks his legs up under himself and raises his head so that from below only the bottom of his beak is visible. For all appearances, an ordinary hawk is soaring high in the sky. A few more hours pass. It is a sunny day, and the diurnal animals carry on with their day to day business. There is a faint trace of smoke visible in the sky. The muffled sound of snoring can be heard, and a patch of reeds ripples even though there is no wind.
( ©2015 Sean Dorsey )