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Coyote’s Tune

fantasy by Shawna Reppert

“Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”  Paulie giggled in anticipation of his own humor.

Kyle kept his eyes on the road.  Nothing short of homicide stopped Paulie yet.  But if Paulie told the story about the mermaid, the leprechaun, and the priest one more time, he was going to strangle the man with his own harp strings.

Paulie trailed off before the priest walked into the bar.  Maybe he had some psychic sense of self-preservation.  Instead, he launched into Ninety-nine Bottles of Mead on the Wall, which had only been fun at the very beginning of the tour, heading out in the overloaded ’75 Volvo.  By the time they left the coffee house in Minnesota, it had gone beyond annoying.

Now, crossing the desert and hoping they made it to the house concert in Phoenix before the Volvo overheated again, the song was surely grounds for mercy killing— of the person singing.

How had Paulie talked him into this, anyway?   Kyle suspected a copious amount of Romulan Ale, Paulie’s own concoction of Everclear and Blue Curacao.  Startlingly aquamarine, it had a high enough alcohol content to be banned in any Federation planet.

Why had he wanted to be a musician, anyway?  Uncertainty, low pay, bad company.  And lately, the magic just hadn’t been happening.  His tunes felt tired, lifeless.

Paulie launched into The Wild Rover.  Kyle joined the chorus with heartfelt conviction.

“No, nay never, no more, will I play the wild rover, no, nev— Shit!”

The coyote came out of nowhere.  Kyle jerked the wheel to avoid running it down.  The Volvo leaped off the road.  The world went upsidedown-rightsideup-upsidedown and tearing, crunching metal shrieked in his ear.  His head met the collapsing roof, a moment of breath-stealing pain, and then—

Nothing.

Not the dark of a sealed room with the lights off. Not even shadow-on-shadow.  No smell of desert dust, not even the sweat of fear.  No creak of stressed metal, no ticking down of a cooling engine, assuming the engine had shut off at some point.

No sound meant no music.  If he were dead, then this was hell.

He tried his own voice.  “And so I sing, bonnie boys, bonnie me boys.  Bedlam boys are bonnie.”

He had song, at least.  That was something.

A patch of gray slowly faded in, brightened to a blinding light.  There was a shape in the light.  As his vision adjusted, the shape resolved into a coyote, sitting on its haunches, plumed tail curled around its feet.  The light dimmed.

“You!”

“Me.” The coyote’s tongue hung from a wide-gaped grin.

Kyle heard the word clearly in his head, though the coyote’s mouth didn’t move.  Given the weirdness of the situation, he let the detail slide.

“Thanks for swerving, by the way,” the coyote continued.  “Not many folks would, these days.”

“I’m guessing I didn’t live to regret it.”

The coyote rubbed a paw over its nose.  “Yeah.  About that.”

Kyle perked up.  He wasn’t resigned to being dead yet.  Once he got over the shock, he was probably going to be pretty pissed.

“Thing is.  I figure I kinda owe you on that count.  Seeing as it’s sort of my fault.  So, well, if you want, I can grant a boon.  Send you back.”

“So I’ll be OK?  What’s the catch?”

“No catch.  Um, except you’ll be waking up next to a dead body, and it’ll take a couple hours for anyone to find you.”

In all the old ballads, there was always a price to pay.  “A dead. . .wait a minute, I’m trading Paulie’s death for mine.?  No deal.  I mean, Paulie may be an ass, but he’s a good side man, and he’s a nice guy.  Annoying as hell, but that’s not a capital crime.”

“Nope.  No trade.  One of you dead, or both.  That second roll-over? Pretty much crushed him.  Haven’t you heard of side-impact airbags?”

“Haven’t you heard of starving musicians?  Why can’t you save both of us?”

The coyote drooped his head, looking forlorn.  “There are rules, even for Elders.  A life for a life.”  His ears perked up a bit.  “Unless you’ve something else to trade?”

“Like what?”

“What do you have?  A raven’s feather?  A blue stone?  A tune?”

He knew lots of tunes.

“Have to be a new one. You have to make it up right now.  Otherwise it won’t count.”

Great.  How long had it been since he’d found the time for composition?  Too long.  He didn’t even have his—

Okay, he wouldn’t question how his favorite flute got to be in his hands.

He closed his eyes, and thought of his wonder the first time he heard an Irish flute masterfully played.  His joy the first time he produced a recognizable tune on a whistle.  His pride the first time fans queued up to talk to him after a gig.

He brought the flute to his lips, and began.  Paulie should be in there, too.  The first time he heard the man play, like Merlin himself in a dive Irish pub.  The magic of making music together those nights they were both at the top of their form.  He wove in the coyote, too, that eerie yip-whine he’d heard at a distance last night from the open window of a nameless motel.

#

Paulie never believed him, but that was all right.  Kyle didn’t even care about the rumors of some guy from a label in the audience.  All that mattered was the music, as strong and as sweet as life.  He suspected Coyote had this in mind when he darted out in front of the car.  With Tricksters, you never knew, but Tricksters were generally fond of joy and music.

Kyle let the final notes of Coyote’s Tune fade into the silence of the audience.  There was a long moment and a collective, hushed breath, and then the room burst into enthusiastic applause.  This, truly, was what he lived for.

Copyright October 2010 by Shawna Reppert

Shawna Reppert is a Pennsylvania native, but she has lived in the Pacific Northwest for over a decade, first in Portland and now in the wine country of Yamhill County. She admits that each has colored her writing in different ways.

[Return to the October 2010 stories]

4 Responses

  1. […] Coyote’s Tune […]

  2. “I’m guessing I didn’t live to regret it.” I like the humor in this piece, and the banter is priceless.

  3. Heartwarming 🙂 Love the characters.

  4. I agree. Bravo!

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