This is probably one of my oldest stories. In one form or another it's been floating around in my head for years, probably since I was a teen. I remember drawing cartoons about a variation on this theme when I was a senior in high school (back in the days of the dinosaur). Like others of my stories, this has been written in the furry genre, but started as a real world idea based somewhat in fact.
Yahzi (which in Navajo means "Little One") and Frank are copyright © The Silver Coyote, 2004 - 2008
In beauty may I walk.
All day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk.
With dew about my feet may I walk.
With beauty may I walk.
With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty above me, may I walk.
With beauty below me, may I walk.
With beauty all around me, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.
For eons Wind had caressed the brooding red sandstone mesas and buttes of Fifth World. She sang as she played in the branches of the piñon and juniper trees, sighing as she drifted gently through the arroyos and canyons towards the muddy river deep in the canyons to the west. Wind's cousin Sun warmed the earth and gave Wind the blazing blue sky in which she could play with the clouds, chasing them to the horizon. Other times Wind howled and screamed as she brought Rain and Snow to work their slow, methodic magic on the earth. She and her peers endeavored to change the image of the Fifth World slowly but surely over time, so that each time a distant place was visited it looked a little bit different.
Rain and Snow shared with Wind the task of carving the sandstone into fantastic shapes. Sheer cliffs and spires hundreds of feet high littered the high desert plateau, casting long shadows in the late afternoon sun. Elsewhere holes had been worn through huge blocks of sandstone, allowing Wind the opportunity to sneak from one side of a mesa to another, leaping from canyon to canyon undetected. The sand that was worn away from these mesas, buttes, and other monuments collected in protected areas, becoming an ever-changing pallette of color and texture at the whim of Wind's fancy.
The Diné had called this land, their Fifth World, home since pre-Columbian times.
Since First Male and First Female had originally come up from Fourth World the Diné, the Navajo, had walked in beauty and in harmony with the high desert country in what would eventually come to be called northeastern Arizona. Long before there were roads, long before any Anglo - European had ever settled in the area, the Navajo had lovingly maintained a careful stewardship of the land and all it's inhabitants. This harmonious balance with and care for their surroundings and community was termed Hozjo. More than a learned behavior, it was a lifestyle, a part of their religion, part of their very essence. They called it "walking in beauty."
When one stumbled from this path of Hozjo, intentionally or inadvertently, bad things were sure to follow. Sometimes these evil repercussions could be avoided with a Blessing Way, a ritual involving sand paintings, shamans, prayers, and sings that was designed to assuage the chindi, the ghosts of the dead. The Blessing Way lasted several days, and at the end of the ceremony harmony was restored and the afflicted fur walked again in beauty.
That was how it was supposed to work, anyway...
# # #
It started with the noise, a deep, steady rumble. The first of her senses that began to speak to her conscious was her hearing. For a while she simply listened, having no inclination, nor even any concept, of what else to do. Mixed with the rumble were other sounds. She heard a whine, not unlike the wind in the piñon boughs, but not quite like that, either. It was very steady and consistent. There was a rushing noise, too, that she couldn't identify. It sounded vaguely like water rushing through the canyons following a summer thunderstorm, but then again not quite. There was also a steady, soft, rhythmic sound that was like a drum beat, but with oddly drawn out percussion. Finally she identified a quiet melody, music of some sort, but made with instruments the likes of which she had never heard.
After a few moments her sense of touch, her awareness of her physical surroundings, began to come into focus in her mind. Still no questions materialized in her dark yet awakening brain, she rather became aware of the fact that she was laying on something soft and warm, like blankets or hides. Almost coincident with this realization her sense of motion spoke to her. The surface she lay on was moving, swaying side to side and up and down gently, in small arcs, like being in a canoe. Coupled with this motion was a slight but very rapid vibration, and mixed with these other motions were random jolts, not unlike what one might feel while riding horseback or, in the case of the stronger ones, like jumping to the ground from a large rock.
Then she became aware of the pain. Her head hurt with a dull ache, but that was overshadowed by the throbbing pain in her right leg.
With the realization of pain her inner voice asked Where am I? Her emotions began to awaken, and the first one that assailed her conscious was fear. The noise, the motion, the smell…
Smell. What were these odors? Some she thought she recognized, one vaguely like the smell of burning creosote brush, another like some sort of cooked meat. There were other, lesser smells that she was totally unfamiliar with. Behind these smells she sensed another, much more definable. Somefur was with her. Somefur not of her clan.
Where am I? With the fear came memory in little flashes. The lodge. Elder Hosteen. The medicine, the sand paintings. The sing. For who?
Panic gripped her as she felt her eyes open yet saw nothing. Am I without sight? And then she saw little flashes of light, horribly fuzzy and out of focus. She scrunched her eyes closed again as she jammed her paws into her eyelids, rubbing them vigorously. Opening them once again, she observed more random, brief flashes of light, but in better focus.
Her fear redoubled as her eyes focused and adjusted to the low light level. She was in a confined area, a very small confined area. While she was not cramped, she could sense as well as dimly see the walls just beyond her head and feet and on both sides of her, and the ceiling near overhead. Tentatively she explored with both paws to her right and left, almost immediately touching the walls she sensed.
Not like a cave or a hogan. They were not rough and cold like rock or dirt would be. These were firm yet soft, like blankets covering a horse's flank. Raising her left paw and stretching her arm out straight, she could not touch the ceiling, but she sensed it, just beyond her reach. She moved her paws horizontally along the outer edges of the surface she lay on, and suddenly the firmness beneath her right paw gave way. The blankets here were suspended in an opening!
Yahzi sat up slowly, moving both paws carefully to estimate the size of the opening behind the suspended blankets. Her fear subsided somewhat as she determined that the opening on the other side of the blankets was easily large enough for her to pass through.
At that moment the floor beneath her bucked sharply, as in an earthquake. She was momentarily suspended in mid air, and then her head slammed into the ceiling, causing her to yelp in pain. As her bottom bounced back to the floor she heard a growl from the other side of the blankets, followed by a muttering voice she did not comprehend.
# # #
Image courtesy the John Highley Collection, used with permission from Hank's Truck Pictures
The semi continued to bore westbound through the rain shower in the gathering darkness, it’s headlights drilling twin holes in the dusk. In the tractor, an older Freightliner, the driver muttered his solo commentary regarding the quality of the roadway under his breath.
“God bless them boys at ADOT. You can always tell where they’ve been workin’.”
Frank had been on the road since leaving the oilfields around Farmington, New Mexico this morning. He’d stopped three times since then. The first stop had been at the junction in Kayenta for some coffee and a chat with Veronica at the coffee shop of the Holiday Inn there. Next he had driven out to the coal mining operation on Black Mesa to pick up the day's load of hazmats at the strip mine there. Returning to the Klethla Valley and the highway from those few hours in the rugged mesa country, Frank had pulled into a rest area a few miles down US-160 to check glad hands and tires in the face of the upcoming bad weather. That's when his trouble had started.
He should have been to highway 89 by now. Had he not stopped at that rest area a few miles back, he'd probably be sitting on a stool in the dining room at the Cameron Trading Post, less than an hour north of Flagstaff. If it weren't for the good samaritan in his soul he could be sharing a meal with that pretty little coyote that worked there. Mary Ann would be wondering where he was, might be even now.
Frank had been driving this route for almost two months now. Contracted by British Petroleum, he hauled drilling and excavation equipment into Black Mesa and Farmington from the railroad in Flagstaff, and hauled out recyclables and containerized hazardous waste for transport via rail to dumps in southern California. It was an economical contract for him, his forty eight foot reefer van needed no diesel fuel as nothing he hauled on this contract needed to be refrigerated. The loads were fairly heavy but not enough to burden his tractor's Caterpillar diesel and Rockwell driveline. Loads were always ready on time and always handled by somebody else. All he did was drive.
The old dog had been driving for more years than he could remember. He had a box full of logbooks at his sister's house, documenting the thousands of days and millions of miles he'd driven in his lifetime. He'd never married, had never wanted to. All the home he needed was rolling along beneath him, his sister and her family provided a mailing address and what little family contact he desired. He'd spent the last forty years driving between the oceans all across North America, from the Alaska panhandle to the jungles of southern Mexico.
He was a good, safe driver. He rarely violated the time behind the wheel rules, hardly ever drove over the speed limit, and was a careful and conscientious operator. He was very safety conscious, especially since the one accident he'd been involved in all those years ago. He'd been absolved of culpability, but somehow that didn't help assuage the loss of a quarter million dollars worth of tractor-trailer and the death of another fur.
He had been driven into the arms of he Lord after that accident, and his life had changed dramatically because it. His vices had been put away, the rage had been diffused by love, and he had grown to be the calm, easy-going canine everyone who knew him now saw.
And so it was that he had found himself in that rest area earlier this evening, gloved paws double-checking glad hands and the fifth wheel, heavy boots and a large prybar checking eighteen tires. As he had rounded the far side of his reefer van he had seen her, a disheveled, rattily dressed young female apparently sleeping under tree. In the lightly falling rain.
In the gathering dusk he couldn't tell much about her at first. That she was female was readily obvious, the velvet top she wore revealed enough to leave no doubt about that. Upon approaching her sleeping form he discerned that she was a rabbit of some sort, and a fairly young one at that. He nudged her foot with a booted toe.
"C'mon, honey. This is no place to sleep it off..." He assumed she was drunk, and was prepared to offer her a lift to the next town and to buy her a meal and some coffee.
She didn't move. He nudged a little bit more firmly, and still she didn't respond.
Crouching down next to her, Frank sniffed carefully. He smelled none of the telltale scents of drug use or alcohol. He pulled off his leather gloves and pressed two fingers of his right paw gently against her throat, almost immediately finding a strong, steady pulse. His right paw then found her shoulder and shook her almost roughly as he spoke in a loud, commanding tone of voice.
"OK youngster. Get up or I'll toss you in the truck, and let the Navajo Police take care of you."
Again, she ignored him.
Frank studied her for a moment and then stood up, jamming his gloves in his hip pocket. Striding the short distance from the doe's tree to his idling tractor, he opened the sleeper compartment door and tossed his tire iron into a storage bin. Returning to the doe, he bent and easily scooped her up in his arms. She was of moderate height, perhaps five foot two or so, but couldn't have weighed more than a hundred pounds. She's young! Carefully Frank carried her to the tractor and slid her feet first into the sleeper bunk. He noticed some recent wound on her right leg as he did this, and pondered it as his paw lingered briefly on the compartment door.
I'll drop her off at the substation in Tonalea if there's anyfur there, he thought. Otherwise it's the Tribal Headquarters in Tuba City for her. He gazed at the sleeping doe for a moment before carefully and quietly shutting the door to the sleeper compartment. She must be a stoner or something, he thought sadly. She's really out of it.
Of course, he reflected as he climbed back into the cab, this will rob me of my time with Mary Ann. Her shift would end in a couple hours, and it was beginning to look like he wouldn't make it to Cameron by then.
The dog rolled to his left a bit and tugged his gloves out of his back pocket. Pulling them onto his paws, he grabbed the gear shift and jammed it in low, and the Freightliner rumbled up out of the damp roadside dust back onto US 160, accelerating westbound.
# # #
Yahzi carefully parted the blankets covering the opening to her confined space prison with a claw and peeked through the slit between them. So many things immediately assaulted her vision that she was momentarily awestruck to the point of forgetting her fear.
First was the motion. Through the large holes in the front of whatever it was she was in she could see the dark, outside world, and it was moving by rapidly. Or she was moving through it, but then whatever it was she was in (cave? hogan? wagon?) would have to be moving very quickly! How could that be? Faster than any horse could run. How could that be? What was faster than horses? Her brain began to puzzle over this as she noted the lights.
Some of them were inside with her, glowing softly. They were not of fire, most of them had no color and did not flicker like flame. Many were round, but some appeared square or rectangular. Tiny things moved within some of the illuminated areas, which glowed a muted red color. Elsewhere inside she saw yellow light, and even a green one.
Outside she could see lights moving back and forth gently against the backdrop of the openings. She also saw much brighter lights, bright white, drawing towards and then shooting past her, somewhat like the shooting stars she sometimes saw in the clear night sky, but much larger and slower. The stars she was seeing now usually moved in pairs or groups of pairs. She was so captivated by this sight that she didn't duck or flinch, even while waiting for the stars to pass through the openings before her and kill her.
The doe squinted her eyes. It was raining outside! She could see the rain hitting the surface of whatever conveyed her, beyond the openings. Rain was falling out of the dark sky, glittering like sunlight reflected from a small stream in the brilliance of the shooting stars. Yet inside her cave it was dry and warm. How could this be?
She studied a pair of sticks that waved rhythmically back and forth in front of the openings. Somehow these were deflecting the rain! How could this be, moving as they were? She shivered suddenly. This was evil. This had to be loss of beauty, a loss of Hozjo. She would need a Blessing Way to rid herself of the spirits. Fear tugged at the edge of her mind, nibbling away like a tiny rodent. Memory fragments of a Blessing Way flickered in her mind.
What propelled them? She saw no horses ahead...
Something to her immediate left moved. Yahzi froze as her fear suddenly returned full force. A paw and arm, wrapped in some odd material she had never seen before, moved before her. She recoiled at the sight as her curiosity simultaneously drew her to lean forward and look. She needed to get close to her part in the blankets to see who owned the arm. Her paw drew the opening farther apart cautiously.
She stared in slack-jawed amazement. A canine! She had never seen one like this up close before. Her people, the Diné, were all desert cottontails. The only canines she had ever seen were at the trading posts on the winding river in the east, and those only at a great distance.
This one was a white-eye, she could tell. To the south of their range lived the Coyotero, the Western Apache, the only native canines she had ever seen. But this one was not Inde, not a Coyotero. He was much larger, all black from what little she could see of him, and his ears laid flat against his head. His clothing looked nothing like anything she had ever seen before. It appeared light weight and was dark in color, causing the fur to be difficult to distinguish in the darkened cave. Except for brief moments when the shooting stars illuminated him, he was difficult to see.
The paw reached for something in the wall below the openings. She heard a click followed by muffled sounds. The paw moved slightly, and suddenly a voice and horrible sounds assaulted her, seeming to come from within her own skull. The strange paw receded from view as her own paws came to her ears, covering them tightly. It didn't help much, the evil voice and sounds still assaulted her head, and the panic began to rise within her. These must be the voices of the chindi , she thought. I have somehow lost my harmony and am about to die.
# # #
Frank had just leaned back into the high back air-ride seat to enjoy some of the finest music ever made. As the first chords and vocals of CW McCall's Black Bear Road began to pour from his tractor's eight channel audio system, Frank caught brief motion to his right in his peripheral vision. Before he could take his eyes from the highway he heard a high, thin wail coming from the sleeper bunk. Correctly guessing it's source, he turned expecting to see the young doe make her appearance. The wail puzzled him. Maybe she thought she was singing?
As his gaze turned towards the opening into the sleeper bunk the doe's form suddenly leapt from within the bunk straight towards the windshield in front of the shotgun seat. There was a bang loud enough to be heard above the growling Caterpillar diesel, and Frank felt the impact her head made with the thick glass as the shockwave traveled across the cab, up the steering column, through the wheel, and into his paws. A secondary plop indicated the doe's collision with the floor pan in front of the shotgun seat. Frank quickly reached with his right paw above and behind his head to turn on a cabin light. In the soft red flood illumination he could see the form of the doe crumpled on the floor, unmoving.
"Son of a bitch," he muttered aloud. She's gone and broken her neck! Frank grabbed the gearshift and downshifted, reaching forward and selecting the Jake Brake as he released the shifter. The Freightliner began to decelerate rapidly as Frank looked into the darkness at the shoulder of the highway. The paw next selected the four-way emergency flashers. Gearing down some more, Frank felt the wheels of his semi crunch into the dirt of the highway's shoulder.
This doe's gonna be trouble! his inner self accused as he applied braking effort. You should have left well enough alone! The semi ground to a stop in a cloud of dust.
"Nuts," the Labrador said aloud, setting the air brakes. Leaving the diesel idling, he opened his door and climbed down to the dirt of the shoulder. Even in the rain the ground was so dry that his footfalls raised tiny clouds of dust as he trotted around to the passenger side door of the cab. He opened it, preparing to lift the lifeless form from the floor pan...
The top of the doe's head hit him squarely in the chest as she jumped from the cab, knocking Frank onto his tail in the dirt. He had the briefest glimpse of her eyes and face, the stark terror she felt registering in a corner of his mind as an involuntary reaction, borne of years on the road, dealt with the situation before he was completely aware of what had happened. His right paw balled into a fist, and his arm drove that fist solidly into her jaw. Once again the doe crumpled to the deck.
Frank picked himself up out of the dirt and shook himself briefly. "Dammit!" he said aloud, flexing his paw. He looked down at the doe with pity, truly regretting what he had done.
Once again Frank opened the sleeper bunk door, and once again the doe went in feet first after Frank did the most cursory of inspections to convince himself that she was, in fact, simply unconscious and not dead. The doe's feet twitched as he picked her up.
Climbing back into the cab, Frank wondered if he shoud restrain the doe in some way. Upon reflection he considered that a bad idea. If she was scared already, that would only make it worse. Better to leave her be and take his chances. He unconsciously flexed his paw again just before grabbing the shifter with it and selecting low. Releasing the air brakes, Frank set the semi into motion once again. Suddenly he couldn't wait to get to Tonalea to get rid of this young lady.
# # #
Officer Willie Cly was alone in the Navajo Tribal Police substation in Tonalea. This was not an unusual event. His boss, Sergeant Teddy Atcitty, almost always stayed out on the highway patrolling. The jack cottontail grinned to himself. Either that, or he's at Mary Tso's for a meal and a long chat. Mary Tso was the local matriarch of the Tódích'íi'nii, the Bitter Water clan of the Diné, and always had the lowdown on who was doing what to who. Half of their local cases were usually solved after Teddy's regular visits to Mary's home.
Tonalea is a very small town, a village really, just north of US Highway 160 at Red Lake, in the middle of the Navajo Indian Nation. It's location about thirty miles east of US Highway 89 gave the NTP a centralized point from which to dispatch into the local area. A tribal highway runs north, crossing the Black Mesa and Lake Powell Railroad, past Crooked Ridge and Red Clay Ridge, to Kaibito. Willie's family was from there. The Ashiihi, or Salt Clan, his mother's people, had been living around Shonto Springs for generations.
Willie was seated behind his desk, which faced the large window at the front of the tiny substation. The thirty one year old rabbit had been watching the storm approach from the west all afternoon, and now that the light was almost completely gone from the sky the rain had finally begun to fall. Illuminated by the arc lamps on the front of the substation, little mushroom clouds of dust erupted from the impact of each fat drop upon the dusty earth outside his window. Before too much longer the ground would cease being a dust bowl and become a field of mud. Such were the two conditions the local terrain was capable of achieving, dust or mud.
He was bored. The radio was quiet, he hadn't heard a thing for almost an hour, not since the all points bulletin from Window Rock about the stolen car. He had completed the last of his paperwork quite some time ago, and was half way through his second pot of coffee, with about two hours left before shift change. At nine Joshua Tuvi would come on duty, and Willie could go up to the small diner and get his favorite dinner, a Navajo Taco and a Coke.
A bright light flashed in his face, and he looked up in time to see a huge tractor-trailer rig turning into the large dirt parking lot outside. The truck described two wide, opposing half-circles and came to rest cross-ways in the lot, with the passenger side of the rig facing the substation. As Willie watched a tall canine dressed in dark denim clothing crossed in front of the conventional tractor and walked purposefully towards the door of his station. He was a white-eye, Willie noted.
"How may I help you?" Willie asked in his best english as the large canine entered the station.
The canine looked unsure of himself for a moment, and then stuck out his paw in the common anglo form of greeting. As Willie shook paws with him he began to speak.
"My name's Frank. Frank Turner." The black-furred canine motioned over his shoulder with a paw, thumb pointing towards the truck outside in the rain. "I've got something you need to see."
"Officer Willie Cly," the rabbit said by way of introduction. "What is it you'd like me to look at?"
"Not what, who. A local girl I picked up east of here." The canine's eyes narrowed a bit as the officer's facial expression reacted to this statement.
"Not 'picked up' that way," he growled. "I found her sleeping on the side of the road in the rain, on 160 a few miles east of here. I couldn't wake her up. I put her in the sleeper bunk of my truck, and about halfway here she tried to jump through my windshield."
Willie's eyebrows arched and his ears stood erect. "Through the windshield of your truck?"
The black dog nodded. "I thought she broke her neck, she hit the glass so hard."
"She's dead then?" Willie asked as he began to move around the counter towards the door.
Willie stopped, looking at the canine. "No?"
"No. I pulled over to look at her, and she jumped out of the truck at me, knocking me down." The dog looked a bit embarassed, flexing a paw. "I socked her one out of reflex. I think I knocked her out." He glanced up at the officer. "I'm sorry! It was a reflex action. I was just bringing her here so you guys could ID her and get her taken care of. You know, find out who she is and get her home, that kind of thing."
The rabbit nodded. "She is in the truck now?"
The dog nodded back. "In the sleeper bunk. You want me to fetch her?"
Willie nodded. "I will help you."
As the pair headed for the door of the substation Frank recalled something else. "She's been hurt recently. She has some sort of laceration on her right leg, below the knee. It was there when I found her."
Officer Cly nodded again and put on his hat as they stepped into the rain.
# # #
Yahzi had tried to find a way out of her prison.
Her head ached. She had a very sore jaw, and another, dull pain on the very top of her head. Both her ears were sore, like something had hit them. She could remember trying to jump out of the cave and striking something invisible. She remembered jumping out of the cave through another opening, but didn't remember much after that.
In spite of the fact that she could now see through the openings in the front of her self-propelled cave, careful inspection had proven that there was some magical force that prevented her from passing through the opening. No matter how hard she tried to put her paw through the opening, it always felt as if she were hitting a smooth wall, like invisible rock.
The cave growled quietly, constantly. It wasn't an animal, yet she detected rhythmic motion in her prison with the sound, and knew that her conveyance was indeed some magical being. It did not respond to her touch or voice, it apperaed to be completely indifferent to her presence.
She saw her captor approaching with another fur. She studied the other fur closely. He wore odd clothing, like the white-eye, but was almost certainly Diné. A traitor? An accomplice? She hid in the enclosed, dark part of the cave, waiting for them to approach.
# # #
Frank led the Navajo Tribal Police officer out to his tractor. The rain was still sporadic, random drops, but the ground was wet now, and would be slippery before long. He wasn't looking forward to carrying the doe across the slippery parking area, but didn't want to trust her to the jack rabbit, either.
He stopped in mid stride. Why is that? Why do I care?
The officer almost bumped into him from behind. "Is something wrong?"
"Nah," Frank growled, briefly wondering about his sanity. He resumed his trek towards the sleeper bunk of his Freightliner.
As he operated the latch on the door of the sleeper he was turning to express a warning to the officer, based on his prior experience with opening doors that this particular female was behind. But he never got the words to his lips. The door of the sleeper hammered towards him, the edge striking him in the head, knocking him off balance.
As Frank staggered back against the cab of his tractor a figure whooshed out of the sleeper like a shell from a cannon, straight into the chest of the NTP officer, knocking him down. To his credit, Officer Cly did not strike the young female, but instead wrapped his arms around her, trying to hold on to her as they rolled around in the wet dust. A comical scuffle followed as Frank watched, and within thirty seconds it became difficult to tell who was who. Both rabbits turned mud brown and each screamed at the other in some incomprehensible language.
Frank was considering finding his tire iron and ending this comedy routine, and in fact had turned for the passenger door of the tractor's cab to do just that when suddenly the commotion stopped. He turned around again to find the officer and the female standing, warily eyeing each other. The female looked angry, the officer astounded.
Frank couldn't help grinning. "What'd she say?"
The NTP officer looked at the canine briefly before turning his attention back to the doe rabbit. Officer Cly studied her for a long moment, and then spoke quietly to her. Frank assumed it to be their native language, it sounded like an endless stream of consonants, all strung together. Still grinning, Frank jammed his paws into his jacket pockets and tried to ignore the rainfall. His Freightliner idled noisily behind him, reassuring in it's presence.
The dialog between the two rabbits lasted almost five minutes. Finally a very confused Officer Cly turned to the black dog, his face a mix of emotions.
"I do not understand this."
"That makes two of us," Frank chuckled.
The officer was momentarily confused by Frank's humorous response, then nodded in understanding. "That's true for me, too." He nodded towards the female without taking his eyes from Frank's face. "She uses an ancient dialect. My grandmother spoke like she does, and she's been dead fifteen years."
"So she's an old fashioned girl, so what?"
"You don't understand," Officer Cly replied, scratching an ear. "Nobody on the rez speaks like this any more. The Navajo haven't spoken like this since..." The officer searched his memory. "Since the Civil War."
So what? Frank stared at him. "What are you trying to tell me?"
"We need help," the officer replied. Once again he turned to the doe, and motioned towards the substation while speaking again in that incomprehensible tongue. The doe nodded. The officer turned to Frank.
"We're calling for backup."
Frank hesitated. "What do you mean, 'we'?"
Officer Cly was suddenly all business. "You are a witness to a possible kidnapping. You will remain here until my captain arrives and we get this situation straightened out."
"Hey wait a minute," Frank exclaimed, thinking of the coyote waitress in Cameron. "I've got a van full of hazmat to deliver to Flag by six AM. I can't hang around here all night."
Officer Cly's eyes narrowed. "You may assist us willingly, sir, or you may consider yourself under arrest." The jack rabbit's right paw blurred near his belt line, and suddenly a pair of handcuffs appeared in his paw.
Frank held up both paws at chest level, pads out, towards the officer. "Hold on, now. No reason to get excited. I'll stick around until your captain shows up, no problem."
Officer Cly smiled a small, tight smile. "The Navajo Nation appreciates your cooperation, Mister Turner. Please join us in my office." The jack gestured towards the substation.
What the Hell have I gotten myself involved with? Frank wondered.
Officer Cly spoke quietly to the doe once more, and the two rabbits and the large canine walked through the rain and mud towards the Navajo Tribal Police substation.
"Marvelous," Frank muttered under his breath.
# # #
Frank stared at his watch in consternation and sighed. The fat raindrops continued to spatter to the ground from out of the dark night sky outside. Time was getting away from him and time, in his business, was money. He looked up and across the room to see three figures, all rabbits, engrossed in conversation. The young female was seated, the two uniformed jacks stood before her. Ten minutes ago the most recent addition, a big jack wearing a Navajo Tribal Police sergeant’s uniform, had wandered into the station after rearranging the mud in the parking lot with his NTP-issue Chevy Blazer. Frank guessed the old patrol truck had cleared the front bumper of his tractor by less than half a foot while still doing thirty miles an hour.
Teddy Atcitty had been puzzled by Officer Cly's radio call. He knew Willie, knew he didn’t drink, so was curious to find out what was really going on at the substation. Young females speaking like old matriarchs, indeed, he had mused to himself while driving south from the Red Lake Valley country. He had been having dinner with Mary Tso at her hogan up by the Black Mesa & Lake Powell railroad track, and had been getting the low-down on the recent theft of a pickup truck. He hadn't gotten around to actually getting the name of the perpetrator from the old doe, so had not wanted to leave just when his paw-held radio squawked at him. Still, he had heard the excitement in Willie’s voice, and he knew that Willie wasn’t prone to excite easily, so he had returned to the substation at Tonalea with all haste and at high speed, lights flashing but no siren.
Frank shook his head in exasperation. Since that big jack had entered the office there had been non-stop conversation between the trio of rabbits, and he had not understood a single word of it. Not that it really matters, he thought. I’ve got no party to this, it’s not my problem. He recognized the Navajo language, but it made no sense to him. In his ears it sounded like a language devoid of vowels, like a fur choking on an endless string of consonants. He had pretended polite interest for a couple of minutes, but it was now well past nine and his patience was wearing thin. As it was he’d be pressed to get into Flag, get his required eight hours rest, and be at the rail yard by 6 AM with his trailer to unload. Then he’d have to wait while the yard crew loaded the day’s material and supplies for the return trip to Black Mesa and Farmington. He didn’t relish the idea of driving back across the Painted Desert on little sleep.
Frank’s tail wagged in spite of his anxious state of mind. I wonder when Mary Ann goes on shift? Perhaps he could spend a little “quality time” with her before she started her day’s activities in Cameron. A sweet image of the little coyote lodged in the Labrador’s mind, and he began to rummage in the pockets of his denim jacket for his cellular telephone, wondering if it was even now too late to call her and make plans.
Meanwhile Sergeant Atcitty had begun to piece together a rather wild story. Between what the doe was saying in her fractured Navajo and what Willie was babbling about, it was sounding quite the unbelievable adventure for the young lady and her truck driver friend. Being of a naturally suspicious and cynical turn of mind, Teddy wasn't having any of it, and had assumed that there was a more reasonable if earthly explanation: sex or drugs.
“Mr. Turner?” The sergeant’s voice intruded on Frank’s suddenly brighter day, shattering the mental images of the middle aged female coyote that had been his mind's momentary distraction.
The Labrador, easily half a foot taller than the broad-shouldered jack, eyed him warily.
# # #
Yahzi eyed the other Diné uneasily. If they could be believed, she was in her own land, but in bizarre circumstances. So much information about so many new and different things had assaulted her mind that she was mentally numb. Even so, she paid careful attention to what was being said and done around her.
She had become acquainted with "Wil-lee", the first jack she had met outside in the rain. In spite of the odd manner of their introduction to each other, she liked him. He was polite and courteous, not much older than she, and somewhat handsome. His coloring and markings, what little of them she could see, was typical; he had no redeeming features except for a quick, friendly smile and very white, straight teeth. His mud-spattered clothing was odd, a bit like that of the dark canid fur in the sense that it was made of strange materials and fit oddly. The material didn't flow, it was coarse and angular, stiff looking. It didn't so much lay on his body as much as encase it. In spite of this his clothing did seem to accentuate his broad shoulders and narrow waist. Wil-lee wore a belt that resembled the ones she had seen the white-eye horse soldiers wearing, with many compartments for mysterious items. He carried no weapons that she could see, and his manner was relaxed and properly paced, perfectly Diné.
In an odd variation of her tongue he had explained to her where she was and a little bit about what was around her. She was familiar with the name "Tonalea", she recognized the village name as being the place where some distant cousins lived. She didn't recall anything like this, though. The dwelling she occupied was like nothing she had ever seen before. They called it a "bil-ding". It was a sort of hogan, but not made of mud and brush and timber. Unlike the hogan's rounded, window-less, dome-shaped structure made from an adobe-like mixture of sand and clays, the bil-ding's interior walls were light colored, smooth, and straight; the ceiling flat and high overhead. There was no smoke hole. In fact, there was no fire pit! It was designed for furs to inhabit, Wil-lee said, but could also be used for other things like storage, work, or food preparation. Bil-ding had to be magic, she mused with trepidation. In the complete absence of fire within the room it was as light as day, comfortably warm and dry, This in spite of the fact that she could see rain falling out of the nighttime sky on the other side of the large opening in the wall.
Her observation about this to Wil-lee prompted an explanation of a concept called "glas", something solid that one could see through! The concept caused her head to spin slightly. This was completely outside of her understanding, she thought, and must be of the chindi. According to Wil-lee, glas could be very dangerous when damaged, with edges as sharp as any spear point or arrowhead. He explained that it was normally like very smooth, transparent rock. Her fears were allayed somewhat when she learned from him that while it was not indestructible, some forms of it were quite resistant to damage. Apparently she had encountered this magical material earlier with the canid in his mobile cave. She rubbed her head in contemplation even while grimacing slightly as her paw passed over the bump on her skull. She was even now looking at… no, through this stuff, looking outside of the odd hogan she and the other furs occupied, towards the mobile cave outside in the rain.
Mobile caves. Wil-lee called it "truk". It was not living, although it moved itself and growled constantly, nor was it of the earth in the sense that it was something of nature. It was not a cave at all. Wil-lee explained that these were a sort of huge wagon that required no horses pulling to make it move. No horses? More magic! She had wrapped her arms about herself and shivered in fear when he first described truk, thinking about the unspeakable black power that must be required to make something that large and heavy move by itself. Wil-lee assured her that there was no bad medicine, no evil involved in how they moved. Truk was an invention of furs, like a wagon only much larger, stronger, and faster. Truk came in various sizes for various purposes, he said, and this had been confirmed when "Teh-dee" had arrived. Teh-dee's truk appeared much smaller than the one she had awakened in. Watching Teh-dee arrive had explained another thing, also. The shooting stars she thought she had seen were actually lights on the front of the truks. She had seen oil lanterns in the past, at the trading post on the big river in the east, at the place called "Mexican Hat". The lights on the truks were much brighter, though, painful to look at for long periods of time in the dark of night.
The other jack rabbit, Teh-dee, had entered the building at that point, and some brief introductory dialog was exchanged between the newcomer, Wil-lee, and she. Yahzi had listened quietly as Wil-lee began to explain, in that odd dialect that sounded like her mother tongue but not quite, how she had come to be in the hogan with them. The canid was called "Frank", he said, and it was his big truk that had brought her here. Frank claimed to have found her out on the highway near the middle of Klethla Valley…
"Hi-wai?" she asked, puzzled.
In Navajo Wil-lee replied <The wide, smooth tracks or trails that truks use to move along from place to place. The one called 'one sixty' is outside.> The younger jack rabbit motioned with a paw towards the glas.
<He found me in the Klethla Valley? I live in Dowozniebito Canyon, near Tsegi,> she said with a note of wonder.
<What do you remember?> Teh-dee interrupted. <Did Frank hurt you?>
She shook her head rapidly in the negative. <No. I was bitten by a snake and fell on some rocks, that's how my leg was hurt.>
Yahzi decided rather quickly that she did not like Teh-dee. He was older than Wil-lee, larger in every dimension. He had that peculiar look about his face that her mother had explained was a result of consumption of the beverage the white-eyes traded to them for blankets. The Coyotero Apache called it firewater. It made one's face bloated and their eyes bloody, and usually caused them to have sour expressions and dispositions to match. Teh-dee certainly seemed to measure up to these descriptors. And he didn't behave like Diné. His manner was brusque and hurried, his speech clipped and short, his entire persona rude and repellant. No, Yahzi decided, I do not like Teh-dee at all.
The two jacks had backed up a step when she mentioned the snake, and they were now staring at her. Depending on what kind of snake bit the doe, this could be bad news, she knew. Wil-lee looked concerned for her safety and remained silent, waiting for her to explain further. She got no chance as Teh-dee was trying but failing to cover up his fear with false bravado. <Where did this happen?> the older jack asked. <Was it a bad snake? Did you have a sing?> The questions came think and fast.
Yahzi rubbed her jaw in thought, barely aware of the fact that her jaw was still sore. <I had been visiting at my sister Shideezhi's hogan on Skeleton Mesa and was returning home. The trail was steep in the canyon, and the snake jumped out from the rocks. I was frightened and slipped, falling sideways down into the canyon a bit.> She looked at the two uniformed jacks, and then at the canid leaning against the counter. Her people were very interested, Frank looked like he wasn't paying attention. Yet her gaze lingered on him. Something about him, the way he carried himself for a fur of his age, caught and held her attention.
The topic of snakes rapidly became a non-issue in the ensuing discussion. Yahzi fielded questions about Frank, and truk, and what little she could remember about how she had come to be in Tonalea that evening. She answered carefully to the best of her ability.
Meanwhile Teddy Atcitty's gaze was lingering on the doe seated before him. She was trim and shapely, perhaps seventeen or eighteen he guessed, and despite the mud splattered on portions of her clothing was quite attractive with luxuriously thick fur and long, flowing dark hair. She did have a curious way of speaking, and was dressed unconventionally. Most of the young females on the rez tended to dress like the Anglos they saw on TV these days, eschewing the long velvet skirts and blouses of their more traditional mothers in favor of the tight fitting denim jeans and revealing cotton tank tops. While this one could have certainly done justice to anything the white-eye's world could have dressed her in, she was dressed in conservative, traditional clothing consisting of a calf-length dark blue velvet skirt, bright red velvet blouse with silver and turquoise conchos holding it closed, and no footwear. Teddy noted that the top two conchos had been lost or removed, revealing the barest hint of a full bustline.
He drew a deep breath, shaking his head slightly to clarify his train of thought. <You say you fell in the canyon after the snake bit you. Then what happened? >
Teh-dee's voice betrayed his impatience to Yahzi, a character trait not looked upon favorably in the Navajo culture. Yahzi looked at him with renewed interest, wondering which clan he was from. Such an emotion as impatience bordered on impertinence, especially when directed towards a female of the Diné. She wondered about this briefly as she stared at Teh-dee, and then let her gaze wander back to the canine as she answered the jack.
<I don't remember much after that.>
The doe turned her brown eyes to meet the jack's. <I don't remember much after falling in the canyon. I have brief memories of a sing, of Hosteen Tso, but I don't remember who it was for, or why.> Yahzi sighed, her small tail flicking in frustration. <The next thing I remember clearly is waking up in truk.>
Hosteen Tso? The name rattled in Teddy Atcitty's head like a rock under a hubcap.
A noise caught Yahzi's attention, and she looked past Teh-dee's shoulder to see a piece of the wall of bil-ding swing out, and yet another jack rabbit entered. The other jacks and the canid all turned to look at him.
Wil-lee said something that sounded completely foreign in Yahzi's ears, and suddenly everyone was talking rapidly and none of it made sense to her.
"Captain Begay," Willie said in English.
"Cap'n…" Teddy smiled, nodding slightly.
Frank sized up the latest entrant to the little party. The latest jack cottontail was considerably older than the others, perhaps almost his own age. He looked the grizzled veteran. This fur had seen his share of fights, apparently. There was a small notch missing from his left ear and a couple of scars disfiguring the lay of the fur on his face. Frank noticed a Colt .45 auto in a holster on this fur's hip. It suddenly occurred to him that the other two Navajo Tribal Police furs appeared unarmed.
"Officer Cly, Sergeant Atcitty," the newcomer replied, nodding to each of his subordinates before turning to the Labrador and extending a paw.
"Captain James Begay, Navajo Tribal Police," the veteran jack introduced himself.
"Frank Turner, temporarily immobile trucker," Frank grinned slightly as he took the jack's paw in a firm shake. "How ya doin'?"
"That remains to be seen," the captain replied with a hint of a smile of his own. He turned to his officers with a quizzical expression.
Captain Begay was an old paw. He had joined the NTP thirty one years ago and had served in every corner of the Navajo Nation, from Ship Rock and Gallup on the east to Page and Flagstaff on the west, and everywhere in-between. He'd seen just about every type of crime the Diné and the white-eyes had to offer, and was mildly curious as to why he had been summoned by his junior patrol officer for what looked at first glance like a typical run-away.
Mindful of the political charge that any action involving the white-eyes carried the captain addressed his furs in English. "So, Willie, what have you got?"
The youngest jack in the room took a deep breath and proceeded to relate, in English, the brief tale of how Frank had picked up the doe on the highway and brought her to Tonalea. "Sergeant Atcitty and I have been interrogating her," he concluded. "She speaks only Navajo, and an old dialect at that."
The sergeant snorted. <Willie's been reading too much of the white-eye's science fiction crap again,> he said in Navajo. Teddy Atcitty grinned in response to a giggle from the shapely young doe, and ignored the sour expression on Willie Cly's muzzle.
"How's that?" Captain Begay asked in English.
The sergeant cast a disdainful glance at the junior officer next to him as the youngest jack replied.
"Sir," Willie said slowly, "she speaks an old dialect, like my grandmother spoke. She claims to be Bit'aanii from the canyon country north of Tsegi, but the Talks In Blanket Clan…"
"Has been extinct for generations," Captain Begay finished. The captain's brow furrowed in thought for several long seconds. Presently his expression went blank, a small smile appeared on his muzzle, and he addressed the doe in Navajo.
<What's your name, daughter?>
The doe smiled demurely at the familial respect the oldest jack showed her. <Yahzi Atsósie, uncle.>
<You are from the canyon country above Tsegi?>
The doe nodded slowly, her smile fading.
The jack scratched his chin briefly in thought, looking at her. <How old are you, Yahzi?>
<I have seen sixteen summers,> Yahzi answered him respectfully.
Captain Begay shook his head, still smiling. <No, daughter,> he chuckled briefly, <when were you born?>
<Uncle, I was born in the spring following the return from the Long Walk.>
The captain's head jerked up, the briefest expression of shock crossed his face before he willed a neutral expression to his muzzle. The jack turned to face the trucker, he was certain his officers had caught the implication of her answer.
"Eighteen Sixty Nine," the captain said quietly in English.
"What?" Frank asked.
Captain Begay motioned with a paw towards the doe. "Your newfound friend here, her name is Yahzi. She lives in a canyon northeast of here." The rabbit paused, his expression earnest, his eyes boring into those of the Labrador. "She claims she was born around the year eighteen sixty nine."
The Labrador barked in laughter, but the sound died on his lips as he studied the expression on the captain's face. The jack rabbit was dead serious. "What the Hell does that mean?" Frank demanded. "You're telling me she's well over a hundred and twenty five years old! How can that be?"
Captain Begay shook his head slowly, a bemused expression on his face. "Yes, that is the question, isn't it. How can this be?"
# # #
It had not gotten any better from Frank's point of view. These locals were talking tripe, he was sure. All he wanted to do was get the Hell out of Dodge, as it were, get back on the road for Flagstaff, Mary Ann, and / or some sleep. Yet the more he tried to explain his job and scheduling to the captain, the more obstinate the old jack got.
The sergeant was convinced the young lady was a drunken or drug-infested run-away. The patrol officer was convinced that she had somehow teleported though time. The captain was eyeing the canine suspiciously, and Frank was certain that the captain thought he was somehow responsible for the young lady's injuries and odd behavior.
Captain James Begay had a problem. Yahzi Atsósie was not intoxicated, had not claimed to be the victim of a crime, and had committed no crime that any of them were aware of. Outside of her amazing claim about her age, she seemed to be the perfectly normal, if somewhat old-fashioned, Navajo girl. James was not aware of any Atsósies living in the canyons to the east, but that could be checked out easily enough in the morning. The problem regarding her was simple: how could he legally detain her if she chose to leave?
On the face of it no crime had been committed by anyone. Yet here was a young lady in his office, an unknown in the area yet claiming to live nearby, whom this truck driver claimed to have found asleep or unconscious on the side of US 160 several miles to the east. Captain Begay glanced with what he hoped was a non-committal expression at the Labrador leaning against the counter. Even now Frank Turner was glancing at his watch, fidgeting.
The captain's gaze and thoughts turned to his youngest officer. Willie Cly was a stable patrol officer, trustworthy and efficient. Yet he persisted in his assertion that Yahzi was from another time, from the generation of the "Long Walk".
It had started in the winter of early 1864. As the Anglos pressed in upon their ancestral homelands, the government of the United States had decided that the Navajo needed to be relocated. That they were not consulted about this had no bearing on the proceedings whatsoever. Somewhere between eight and twelve thousand Navajos were rounded up by Kit Carson and his troops and forced to walk more than 300 miles from northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico to Bosque Redondo, which was to be their new reservation, their new home. It was in reality a worthless chunk of dirt on the Pecos River in eastern New Mexico, inhospitable, dead. Hundreds died on the winter journey. The white-eyes promised them a land rich in opportunity and potential. What the Navajo were given amounted to a prison sentence. They endured horrible conditions for four miserable years there, during which time thousands more died of exposure, malnutrition, disease, and broken hearts. In June of 1868 the imprisoned leaders of the Navajo Nation negotiated a treaty with none other than Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, of Civil War fame, for the return of their homeland. The Navajos, at the execution of the treaty an emaciated yet joyous people, began their return trip immediately, and a small "baby boom" soon followed in their ancestral homelands in northeastern Arizona starting around 1869. Yahzi claimed to be part of this resultant boom.
The Captain sighed, scratching his chin absently. He began to consult with his two officers in their native tongue, momentarily forgetting his politically correct cautiousness.
Their conversation focused on who Yahzi might be, and the veracity of her story. She was unknown to them, not a local. There were no kidnapping or runaway reports from Window Rock headquarters. Teddy related her comment about Hosteen Tso to his captain, who reacted in a manner similar to how Teddy had reacted upon hearing the same name from Yahzi. This was a lead that could be followed up on in the morning as well, and would probably be the first on the list. One of them would then drive out to Dowozniebito Canyon to check up on her claim of residency there. They formed a plan for the investigation. Quickly after that the conversation swung away from the doe, and began to focus on the trucker.
Frank sighed as well, leaning against his piece of the counter. Much chatter in the cottontail's native language had followed Yahzi's confession of her birth year. Again Frank found himself on the periphery for the most part, waiting for somefur to address him in something resembling the Queen's English for a change. His annoyance was growing by the minute, as each minute ticked by he was getting closer and closer to busting either the time behind the wheel rules or his contract. He was not happy about either prospect.
Yet as much as he wanted to hit the road, as much as Mary Ann and a good night's sleep beckoned to him in his mind's eye, he felt obligated to stay. Something about the situation unfolding across the room made him keep his peace, nailed his feet to the floor as surely as if the big jack sergeant had driven the nails himself. He puzzled briefly over this, analyzing his emotions the way he had been taught to do long ago. As the native babble went on before him, Frank turned his attention inward.
Why should he care what happened here? He had certainly done nothing wrong, had done nothing less than any other good Samaritan would have done. He felt no guilt about nor any obligation regards this young doe's predicament, he should feel free to simply say "Good Day" and… leave. He belonged out on the road, he had things to do, a living to earn. He sure wasn't going to make any money here.
The Labrador looked up to the doe. She sat straight in her chair, staring intently at the three jacks, occasionally responding to a question with a nod or a few words. If this is on the level, Frank thought, she's all alone. Her family is gone, everything she's ever known is gone, her entire world has been taken away from her. She was truly lost, with nothing but her own devices and strength to get her by. He knew what that felt like. She'd need all the strength she could muster to face the new world she found herself in now.
Frank fidgeted, looking impatiently at his watch again. Time. It never stops. It's value is in what you choose to do with it, who you choose to share yours with. They say time is money, but you can't buy it. They say all good things come to those who wait, but Frank had been waiting all his life, and all he'd managed to do was lose time, not make it. So he had begun to conserve, to maximize the time he had left. He lived for the moment, but always with his eye to the horizon, wondering what Time would bring him next. And all the while he pushed iron from one side of the continent to the other… looking. Listening. Wondering. Watching.
I need a toothpick, the Labrador grumbled silently, reaching beneath his denim jacket. He'd grabbed a couple in Kayenta and stuffed them in his shirt pocket…
His fingers had just closed around that which he sought when he became aware of a metallic click accompanying a sudden silence in the room. Before he could look up Captain Begay's voice spoke in a low, gruff manner.
"Mister Turner, be so kind as to remove your paw slowly from your jacket, and keep your paws where I can see them."
What the…? Frank's head snapped up quickly, only to look into the snout of the captain's .45.
The Captain's face was a blank, but his eyes were cold and hard, drawn narrow in a squint, staring over the iron sights of his pistol. "Slowly, Mister Turner."
Frank ever so slowly removed his paw from beneath his jacket and held it out to his side at shoulder height, bringing up the other paw to match. "I was looking for a toothpick…" he offered, showing them the wrapped toothpick he held. He heard a loud click in reply to this, and looking past the captain observed a large blue steel revolver in the right paw of the big jack sergeant. He had just cocked the hammer back.
The captain turned his head aside to speak to the sergeant in their native tongue, all the while keeping his eyes trained on Frank's head, looking down the barrel of his pistol. <Did either of you frisk this fur?>
<Willy?> Teddy prompted.
<I certainly didn't frisk him!> the junior officer replied in Navajo. <Why would I? What probable cause would motivate such an action?>
<Teddy? You did not think to either?> the captain asked with a trace of annoyance.
<I assumed Willy did it.>
Willy Cly was becoming annoyed at his sergeant too. What Teddy had said was a flat out lie, and they both knew it. <You didn't think to for the same reason I didn't! There was no reason to do so!>
<No reason?> the big jack laughed harshly. <This white-eye wanders in out of the rain with some drug-infested tart under his arm, looking for a suitable receptacle to throw her in, and you…>
<She's Diné!> Willy cried in reply, the anger rising rapidly as blood under his skin, beneath his fur. <How dare you refer to her that way! She could be your own sister or daughter…>
<Shit! No daughter of mine would disgrace herself with a white-eye like that!>
<You have spent too much time drinking with your Anglo friends! You are losing your harmony, you will become another one of them!>
"Enough!" Captain Begay barked loudly in English.
The sergeant and patrol officer stared at him. Captain Begay was still staring at the canine, but the command had obviously been meant for the two of them.
"Officer Cly," the captain continued in English, "please be so good as to pat down this fur. Mister Turner, you will remain absolutely still until Officer Cly is finished." The voice was as hard and commanding as the steel snout of the .45; the patrol officer jumped to comply.
Frank nodded slowly, carefully.
<Teddy, put that damn cannon away.> the captain instructed in Navajo.
<Now!> The captain then turned his head to face the Labrador even as the sergeant holstered his weapon beneath his jacket.
"I understand you have schedules to keep, Mister Turner," the captain continued, speaking over the barrel of his .45 as the junior officer proceeded to quickly but thoroughly pat the Labrador down, searching for concealed weapons. "Please understand my point of view. You have brought us a young lady unknown in these parts, injured and clearly not herself. You claim to have found her out on the highway, yet she has no recollection of that. She is injured, and while having an explanation for that, her explanation does not mesh with the few facts we have in paw."
The captain paused, and Frank nodded again.
"We will detain you just as long as we need to, and when our investigation reaches a point where your participation and cooperation are no longer required, you will be released. Until such time you will cooperate with us in solving the small problem that is this young lady and her predicament."
Frank's throat was dry. As the officer finished frisking him and stood, nodding to his captain, Frank said "Of course." What choice did he have? These tank-town cops had him over a barrel, the best he could do was cooperate and get the Hell away from here as soon as possible. He looked with worried eyes at the doe, and was puzzled by two conflicting observations colliding in his head. He realized that he saw fear and worry in the doe's eyes. No, fear and concern. For him. Second, he asked himself why he was looking at her at all. Since he had first noticed her laying in the dust under that tree in the rain she'd been nothing more than a royal pain in the ass. He'd been delayed, inconvenienced, and was now being held in this two-bit excuse for a police station while the locals worked him over. Why should he care what the Hell she thought or felt?
The captain lowered his gun, but Frank didn't really notice in his sudden introspection.
But I do care, he admitted to himself, looking at the doe. And once again the word echoed hollowly in his head.
# # #
Yahzi looked at the canine across the room, watched as the fear in his eyes faded with the holstering of the older Diné's weapon, replaced by a look of controlled irritation, perhaps even anger. This concerned her, and she unconsciously rubbed her sore leg as she watched the males she shared the room with.
James Begay turned to his junior patrolfur. He studied Officer Cly for a few moments in silence. Between them, the larger jack glanced first to his captain, then to the patrolfur.
<Willie,> Captain Begay said in his native tongue, <I desire that we check on Mr. Turner's claims. Call Window Rock and have the desk officer run the normal checks at the state and federal level on Mr. Turner and his truck. Get in touch with the company he claims to be under contract to.>
The youngest jack nodded. <Yes sir.>
The Captain turned to his sergeant.
<After I lock him up,> Teddy began, <I'll continue the interrogation of...>
Captain Begay raised his voice to an authoritative level. “No,” he said in English, clearly and loudly enough for the trucker to hear. “I want you to do two things for me.”
The sergeant stared at him silently. He had been rebuked, he knew it, and he knew that the white-eye also knew it. He could see the canine across the room out of the corner of his eye, staring at the two of them. His anger colored the skin beneath the fur of his face a bit.
“First,” the Captain continued, “you will return to Mary Tso, tonight. I want you to obtain any information she might have about the Atsósie family of the Bit'aanii. I am particularly interested in whatever she knows of them from the canyon country north of Tsegi.”
<That could take hours!> the sergeant protested in Navajo.
“Then you'd better get started, sergeant Atcitty,” the Captain retorted in English, “so you've got time to get some sleep tonight. I want you out in Dowozniebito Canyon at first light. Perhaps you can assist us in finding Miss Atsósie's home. That would be most helpful.”
Teddy Atcitty glowered at his superior officer for the briefest of moments. He knew the shit detail when it had been passed to him. Then he shrugged. Like many Navajo, Mary Tso had no telephone in any of the assorted buildings, trailers, and hogans that occupied her land near the BM&LP rail line in the Red Lake Valley. He also knew that Mary's son Joseph almost always had some Jim Beam near to paw. Maybe it wouldn't be a complete loss this evening.
“I also want you to find out from Mary if Hosteen Tso has any descendants in the area.”
The big jack nodded. “I'll get right on it,” he replied slowly in English.
Meanwhile Willy Cly had crossed the room to the counter Frank Turner leaned against. He could tell the big dog was agitated, and felt a pang of guilt for his continued captivity in the substation. He smiled cautiously at the larger fur.
“I'm sorry, Mister Turner, for the inconvenience. We will try to get you back on the road as soon as we can.”
The Labrador nodded guardedly at him, still looking across the room at the young doe.
“I need to see your license, registration, and manifest, Mister Turner,” Willy continued in a calm and friendly voice. “and any other documentation you may have pertaining to your cargo or contractor.”
The black fur glanced towards Willie momentarily in confusion. “Uh...”
Frank tore his attentions away from the doe across the room and concentrated on what he'd just heard.
“Sure... sure. I've got that. Right outside in the rig.”
Willy held out a paw towards the window at the front of the substation.
# # #
Sahkyo Begay knelt at her simple loom, various bundles of hand-spun wool laying near her knees. Her left paw held a fork-like device as her right paw manipulated a large batten. She methodically tamped the latest weave into place, using the fork to settle the latest row of yarn into the rug that was forming at the bottom of the loom and then rotating the batten to make way for the next pass of yarn. It was the traditional way Navajo females had been weaving for dozens of generations.
Sahkyo was fifty seven years old, a cotttontail from the Jaa'yaalóolii Dine'é, the “Sticking-Up-Ears-People”. She had been born during the big war of the Code-talkers near Sand Springs and the Dinnebito Wash in the Navajo – Hopi Joint Use Area. Sponsored by Christian missionaries after her father died in a prospecting accident on Garces Mesa, she had attended high school in Window Rock, where she met and fell in love with James Begay.
At that time James had been a quiet, methodical, and quite handsome young patrol fur for the relatively new Navajo Tribal Police. She was shy and somewhat withdrawn, but was attracted to his quiet ways and his long dark hair. As they became acquainted with one another she discovered that he had an almost mystical reverence for the nature around him, a character trait that was becoming less and less common in the furs of their nation, one which she shared with him. They had been together for well over thirty years now, and she had been by his side as he rose through the ranks to Captain of the NTP. She had bore him two children one winter years ago, a process that almost killed her. One had died in infancy, the other died of pneumonia before she was ten years old. Since then it had been just the two of them.
So it was with an odd combination of sweet anticipation and dread that she paused only briefly when her husband telephoned and asked if she would mind if he brought home a young girl for the night.
<Who is she?> Sahkyo asked. She spoke only Navajo.
<Yahzi Atsósie, dear one.>
<Atsósie?> Sahkyo pondered the name for a moment. <There are no Atsósie around us,> she said quietly.
At his small desk in his tiny office in the Tonalea substation James Begay smiled slightly and leaned back into his chair. <That is true, dear one. That is why I desire that she stay with us. She has no one else and nowhere to go.>
<She is a runaway?> The NTP dealt with runaways often enough that it was not an unusual question.
James shook his head slowly. <No. At least not that we've been notified of. She claims to be from Dowozniebito Canyon, but neither Teddy nor Willie nor I are aware of any families living in that canyon these days. I will ask Joshua and Paco if they know of anyone out there in the morning, but at the moment we have no leads to follow.>
Sahkyo considered this only momentarily. <Of course, you must bring her to our home.> Another pause. <What clan is she from?>
Now it was James' turn to pause momentarily. He swallowed. <Dear one, she claims to be of the Bit'aanii.>
He heard he sharp intake of breath. <Talks In Blanket people! They have been gone for generations!> Sahkyo lowered her voice in apprehension. <Is this safe?>
James nodded a bit. <Of course, dear one. She is only a young lady who is lost and confused. Tomorrow we will find her family and take her home. I just need a safe place for her to eat and get some sleep tonight.>
<How old is she?>
<She claims to be seventeen.>
Sahkyo grinned in spite of her concerns. She addressed her husband with her pet name for him. <Now Sani, you just remember who's fur it will be keeping you warm tonight.>
Captain Begay chuckled quietly. <I always remember who warms my bed, dear one.> Sani, you see, means old one. <We will be home in an hour or so.>
<I will have tea and bread and mutton waiting for you, then.>
<Thank you, Sahkyo. Walk in beauty.>
<Walk in beauty, my husband.>
# # #
The rain had stopped falling. The line of storms had moved farther east, the sky overhead was already clear. Millions of stars were as diamonds scattered against the blue-black velvet of the freshly washed night sky, stretching from the western horizon up overhead, and then on to the line of clouds that was the receding rain. Underfoot the red earth had already soaked up the moisture and had returned to it's loose, sandstone-and-dust consistency.
Frank Turner had remained outside to have himself a smoke while the Navajo Tribal Police conducted their small investigation of him. He only smoked out doors, never in his tractor, and never in any closed area with other furs. The youngest NTP officer had taken his logbook, manifest, registration, and licensing paperwork back into the substation. Through the window Frank could see him at a desk, telephone pawset to his ear, reading out loud from the registration form.
Frank grew introspective as he turned his back to the window and stared up to the stars. In fact, he reflected, he really didn't smoke that much at all. But suddenly now, with all this business going on around him, he felt nervous and needed something to distract him and help him settle down a bit. So he occupied his mouth with the thin small cigar, occasionally sniffing sparingly of the pleasant smoke it gave off but never taking a drag of it, never filling his lungs with the smoke. Meanwhile his eyes studied the stars while his mind danced in a jig. For a few moments he had considered the complete lack of anything interesting that the NTP would learn about his professional life.
Then he pondered what had happened with the captain, and why he had drawn a gun on him like that. It seemed very much an over-reaction, especially for a Navajo. But then he wasn't clear at all about what all their conversation with the young lady had turned up. As most of the conversation between the lot of them had been in Navajo up until the last bit, he really had no idea what had been said. But he did know one thing, that big jack of a sergeant had been smacked down by his boss, and he'd been meant to know it.
His mind skittered away from that, back to what bothered him. He growled quietly, deep in his chest. He kept forcing himself to think about his contract. Or his schedule. His tractor and it's maintenance program. The letter he owed his sister. He even focused once again on the concept of Mary Ann.
But like a magnet, his thoughts would quickly return to the doe inside.
Again Frank asked himself why this was. What was his interest? It certainly wasn't physical. Hell, his niece had a son older than this young cottontail.
The Labrador puffed on his cigar. No, it had to be something else. Something about the situation she found herself in. She was all alone in a world that had no place for her, and no furs for her to call her own. No family. No history. No memory of anything pertinent. And for that matter, no future. If what the captain had said was true, however impossible that may seem, then she had no plane of reference at all for what this world, his world, had to offer her. She was completely and absolutely unequipped for the twenty first century.
Who would help her? Who would take care of her? Teach her? Watch over her? Guide her?
That same growl from deep in his chest.
Suddenly the door to the substation banged open, and an obviously unhappy Teddy Atcitty stormed towards his Chevy Blazer. The jack sneered at the Labrador in passing, saying “I'll be seeing you again.”
Frank nodded quietly and puffed on his cigar, thinking Not if I can help it. But he realized that as long as he held this contract with British Petroleum, as long as he worked back and forth across the Navajo Nation, he'd have to tread very lightly around the NTP and this particular substation. It was not likely that he could hide a fifty three foot reefer van and conventional tractor every time the notion struck Sergeant Atcitty to look for him. Frank watched as the sergeant climbed into his vehicle. The engine roared into life and dust and damp sand flew as he gunned it in a semi-circle and then across the parking area. The Blazer made a left at the track leading past the substation to the dirt roadway that would lead him past Wildcat Peak on the first leg of his assignment.
Frank watched as the tail lights disappeared in the distance. What was her name? Yahtzee?
He spent a last few moments with his cigar, allowing his thoughts to stay focused on the doe inside the building behind him. Presently he dropped the butt of his cigar to the dirt, ground it under his boot heel, and then stooped to pick up the now-cold remnant. Turning, he walked quickly towards the entrance to the substation.
# # #
James Begay strode from his office at the same moment the front door to the station closed behind Frank Turner. From opposite sides of the room they each observed the doe, Yahzi, sitting quietly next to Willie Cly as he read through a few sheets of FAX printout. Willie's telephone inquiries to Window Rock were paying off.
Captain Begay watched the Labrador as he moved across the main room of the Tonalea substation towards the desk Willie and Yahzi sat at. The canine first found a trash can and dropped something in it, and then moved towards the same desk as if to meet him there.
The Captain stopped next to and slightly behind Willie's right shoulder, between the patrol officer and the young doe.
“Have you found anything interesting, Willie?” he asked in English.
The young jack shook his head in the negative, still reading. The Captain waited patiently, nodding to the Labrador as he also stopped at the other side of the desk. James noticed that the canine seemed more interested in the doe than in the results of their investigation of him. He knows he has nothing to worry about, James thought as he studied the expression on the trucker's face. What he saw there caused him to ponder the canine's motivations.
Willie Cly shuffled the several pages of FAX printout he held. “He is who he says he is, Captain.” Willie said in English. “His license and registration are current, out of Cody, Wyoming. All his tags are current, there are no wants or warrants against either the vehicle or the operator. His contract with British Petroleum is currently active, he hauls equipment into Black Mesa and Farmington and hazmats back out to the railroad in Flagstaff.” The young jack looked up briefly to smile at the trucker, and then turned to his boss. “He's clean.”
James Begay was silent, staring thoughtfully at the Labrador in front of him. What he saw puzzled him. The trucker was obviously very concerned about the young girl who had precipitated all this activity. The way he looked at her, the way he looked at the rest of them as they interacted with her, spoke greatly of his interest. But it wasn't the interest one might expect an older truck driver to show in a shapely young lady. No, this was something else altogether. The word jumped to the Captain's mind, and he nodded slowly in agreement with his own thoughts.
“Mr. Turner,” he smiled at the Labrador, “you are free to go. If you have a contact telephone number where we can reach you, please leave it with Officer Cly in case we need to get in touch with you.”
“I can go?” Frank asked, puzzled at the suddenness after all this time.
“Yes,” the Captain said, holding his smile.
Frank Turner hesitated momentarily, glancing quickly from the Captain to Yahzi to the seated patrol fur.
Captain Begay held out a paw in the anglo form of farewell. “Thank you for your patience and co-operation. I'm sorry if things got a little... strange.”
Frank shook the offered paw. “That's OK,” he mumbled.
Their paws parted, and still Frank hesitated.
“Mr. Turner,” Willie inquired politely, “do you have a telephone number where we can reach you?”
“Uh, yeah,” Frank replied. He looked at Willie long enough to recite his cellular telephone number. “I lose coverage here and there, but it's always on, so leave a message if I don't answer.”
Willie jotted the number on one of the FAX sheets with his pen. “Thank you,” he said when he was done, looking up again.
Still the trucker hesitated, looking again at the doe and then at the Captain.
“Is there anything else, Mr. Turner? Anything you need from us?” the Captain asked gently, watching the Labrador's face, his eyes.
Frank Turner jammed his paws into his pockets and shuffled his feet momentarily, looking at the floor.
James Begay saw something unexpected when the large canine looked up at him. Something that said much about the other things he'd seen in that face tonight.
“Can I come by tomorrow to see her? See how she's doing?”
The Captain smiled cautiously in understanding. “Certainly, Mr. Turner. She will be with me tomorrow morning, but I expect we'll be back here to the station by noon. If she is still with us, if we have been unsuccessful in finding her home, you may see her here at that time.”
A new emotion, relief, mixed with the earlier one the Captain had reacted to.
Frank Turner held out his paw, to shake that of the Captain once again. James extended his own paw.
“Thank you, Captain.” Frank looked at the doe as he shook paws. “May I say good-bye?”
The canine and the Captain parted as Frank moved around the desk to crouch slowly beside the doe, paws on his own thighs. The Captain pondered the earnestness in the trucker's eyes as he spoke softly to the young female.
“I'll be back, Yahtzee. Stay with these furs. They will protect you.”
The trucker stood and stared down at her. “I'll be back,” he repeated.
Frank Turner nodded briefly one last time to the Captain, muttered a “thank you” to officer Cly, and turning, strode rapidly across the room and through the door into the night.
Fear, the Captain thought. He's afraid for her safety.
# # #
Yahzi watched the big dog through glas as he climbed up on truk. She shivered involuntarily. While not understanding a word he had spoken, his intent had been clear. He had been saying goodbye. And while she was not afraid of the Diné whose company she shared in bil-ding, she felt as if a very important thing had just been lost to her. She felt alone, in a way she never had before.
She watched silently as truk jumped slightly, and then lurched forward into motion. It made a big, sweeping turn to reverse direction, and then headed into the trail that lead towards hai-way. Yahzi continued to watch as the lights of truk grew smaller in the distance. Truk turned again, onto hai-way, and pointed away from the horizon the sun would rise above. Her last glimpse of it was as it accelerated, faster and faster, across her field of view in the distance, until it passed out of site suddenly behind a low bluff.
A feeling of emptiness began to grow within her.
# # #
Unknown to either of them, this feeling was almost exactly reproduced in Frank's own insides. With every turn of his eighteen wheels he fought with his own mind, harder and harder, trying to ignore the voice within him that begged him to turn around. He concentrated on contracts, and failed. He concentrated on making a living, and failed. He concentrated on Mary Ann, and while that occupied his mind for a bit, that ultimately failed as well.
By the time Frank reached US highway 89 and turned south for Flagstaff, he was feeling quite hollow inside and had already made up his mind to cruise through Cameron, sleep with the truck in Flagstaff, and begin unloading at first light. With a little cooperation from the warehouse crews he could be on the road by eight or nine and back to Tonalea well before noon.
# # #
Sahkyo Begay placed a small bowl of mutton and a piece of shepherd's bread before her guest.
<Eat, daughter. It has been a long day for you.>
The young doe nodded to the older one gratefully. <Thank you, mother.> She broke a small chunk of the bread off and, using it as a utensil, began to eat.
The table Yahzi sat at was in a corner of the room. As she began to eat, the older doe who had introduced herself as the Captain's wife returned to the small kitchen. Moments later she returned with a cup of tea. Yahzi could see little wisps of steam rising from it.
The elder doe placed the tea before her silently and then left her to her meal. She padded across the room and seated herself on a low sofa next to her husband. Yahzi continued to eat in silence. She had not tasted food this delicious in a long time. A very long time.
Sahkyo sat quietly with her husband for several minutes. Unlike the anglos all around them, the Navajo were not made nervous or uncomfortable by long periods of mutual silence. It was well enough to be together.
Presently James sighed and placed an arm about the shoulders of his wife.
<What are we going to do with her?> she murmured.
James smiled wistfully. <I'm not certain,> he said softly.
Sahkyo pondered this while she listed to the muted sounds of the young female eating, waiting for her husband to elaborate. James leaned forward and picked up his own cup of tea, sipped from it, placed it back on the table. He wiggled a bit in his seat, getting a little closer to her, and leaned his head towards her. He spoke in a low voice.
<Either we will find her home tomorrow, or we will not. If we do not, we will send word to Window Rock to see if anyone is looking for her.>
Sahkyo thought about this, thought about the Talks In Blanket people and wondered how this youngster might have turned up after all this time, long after the last member of that clan had passed into the spirit world.
<What if no one is looking for her?>
James pondered this for a few moments. <She has committed no crime,> he said slowly.<I cannot hold her against her will, if I even had a mind to. She will be free to go.>
<But where will she go?>
James stroked his chin, thinking. If it was all true, if somehow she had come forward in time from the Long Walk, he couldn't just let her go out into the world alone. She would be totally unprepared to deal with the twenty first century, even as it manifested itself on the Navajo Nation. Nothing would be the same, nothing would behave like it had. She would die, or worse, within days, out of sheer ignorance.
James looked into the soft brown eyes of his wife.
She stared back at him. He had no answer, and she knew it.
They were silent for perhaps a minute, thinking.
<She will stay with us, if she wants to,> Sahkyo said finally.
James placed a paw on her shoulder. <You have always been a wonderful mother.>
Her eyes glistened.
# # #
The ancient doe cackled quietly.
<Ah, Hosteen Tso, is it? You wish to know of my ancestor, do you?”
Sergeant Atcitty nodded, sipping again from the coffee mug that was one-third full of bourbon.
Mary Tso leaned back into her blankets. They were in a traditional hogan, the matriarch, the sergeant, and her son Joseph. The son sat quietly in the shadows, content to slowly get drunk while his mother and the cop talked business. Teddy was a friend of his, but Joseph knew when to stay out of the way.
The hogan was a dome-shaped dwelling made of mud and limbs from the scrub juniper and piñon trees of the area. It had no windows and only one door, which faced east according to tradition. There was a smoke hole at the apex of the dome, and a small fire was the only illumination within. The low light was a blessing to Mary, who had seen a great many years in the sun tending sheep, all of which had added to her many wrinkles and graying fur.
Mary wiggled slightly, adjusting herself in her blankets. She sighed. Teddy sipped again, waiting.
<Well...> Mary picked up her own mug from the dusty earthen floor. Neither of the males knew what it contained, she sipped from it carefully as if it were hot.
<Hosteen was wise in the Ways, a very spiritual fur, and a great leader. Not a warrior, but a leader. He was my grandmother's great uncle. He died an old fur the same year as General Sherman.>
<1891?> Teddy asked.
<That's what the white-eyes call it.>
<Where did he live before then, say around 1883 to 1885?> At her look of mild confusion he added <About six to eight summers before he died?>
Mary pondered this question for some time. In the intervening silence Teddy motioned to the other jack cottontail, his friend Joseph. The bottle of bourbon was passed to him, and he poured two more fingers in his mug. After passing the bottle back to the other male Teddy took a good swig of the Jim Beam and put his cup down, exhaling loudly after swallowing.
<My grandmother used to tell stories about the chants and sings he would conduct as a young fur over in Chilchinbito, before the Long Walk. Afterwards, when the Diné returned home, he never went there again. For a while he was living near the old trading post at Oljeto, but by the time he came to his sixtieth summer he was living on the mesa south of Tsegi, over by where the coal mines are now.>
<How old was he when he died, mother?>
Mary's eyes looked distant as she pondered this. <I would guess he had seen seventy, perhaps seventy one summers.>
Teddy thought about this. That meant that Hosteen Tso had indeed lived in the area Yahzi had claimed to be from, from about 1880 until his death. As Yahzi claimed to be seventeen and to have been born after the Long Walk, that would mean that she had come to them from the year 1886. It fit...
The sergeant shook his head. It was all so much crap she had made up. All this meant was that she had done her homework before running away. Another thought occurred to him, and he reached for his mug before asking.
<Mother, were there ever any Atsósies living near Hosteen Tso, or over there in the canyon country near Tsegi?>
The old doe cackled once again. <My son, there were many families living in those canyons in the time of my grandmother. She herself was born in the Long House Valley.>
<Where have they all gone?>
Mary grew pensive. <When the missionaries came, many of those families left to move into Kayenta, or down towards Tuba City.> Mary's eyes grew tight, her expression soured. <It was easier for many of them to get through the winters in the mission's kitchens than in their own homes. Many had not recovered the flocks they lost from the Long Walk. Many whose homes were destroyed by the white-eyes were not allowed to return and build new ones. They were told to go to the missions. Many of the terms of our peace with General Sherman were never fulfilled.>
Teddy nodded. The Long Walk was still, all these generations later, a festering wound in the protocol established between the government of the United States and the furs of the Navajo Nation. Passive and accepting by nature, seeking to be in harmony with all that was around them, the Navajo nonetheless studied their past mistakes and studied the habits and politics of their white-eyed benefactors. It was the prudent thing to do.
Teddy took another swig of bourbon and felt the warmth cascade towards his stomach. He saw Mary smile at him in a manner not altogether condescending, perhaps mixing small portions of sorrow and regret with her contentment.
<Thank you, mother.>
Mary studied him for long moments, until he began to feel uncomfortable. The flames of the fire flickered lower, and the room grew darker. Outside an owl called in the distance, just once, and all three of them glanced towards the doorway.
<You would do well, my son,> Mary said slowly, waiting for Teddy to focus his eyes and attention back on her, <to stay strong in the old ways. The ways of the white-eye are not for us, they are dangerous and destructive. The Diné are not anglos, and never can be.>
Crap, thought Teddy. Here it comes...
But she stopped with that, and sat in silence for the rest of the evening. As Joseph and Teddy proceeded to kill the fifth between them, Mary sipped at her tea and watched the males. While showing no evidence of the emotion, she was saddened by her son, and by the other male she called son in the tradition of the Diné. The old ways were lost on the youth; they were aimless and corrupt, without harmony, and didn't even know of the errors of their ways.
The fire slowly faded to embers. The speech of the males became more and more slurred, until they both finally fell silent. Within a very few minutes of that, they were both snoring.
Mary sighed. Hosteen Tso would have been very distressed to know these Navajo of today.
# # #
The speedometer needle didn't budge from sixty five as Frank Turner's truck whined past the tiny community of Cameron, where US highway 89 crossed over the canyon of the Little Colorado River. The trading post was dark, but the islands of the small service station at the junction south of the trading post were well illuminated by lamps in the canopy above the pumps which cast a garish, fluorescent glare into the surrounding high desert. No one was around, and Frank wouldn't have seen them had they been lining the highway waving at him. His mind was tightly focused on Flagstaff. His only desire was to unload the hazmats, grab whatever BP had waiting for him, and haul ass back to Tonalea as soon as possible.
The black Labrador didn't even blink as Cameron faded in his mirrors. The sweet coyote waitress never once invaded his thoughts. He worked a toothpick in his mouth quietly as a gloved paw reached for the shifter, coming up into second over at the top of the small grade leading up out of the canyon. Flagstaff, and sleep, were just a bit more than an hour ahead.
# # #
Much later that night, in her dreams, Yahzi saw Hosteen Tso. They were in a ceremonial sweat lodge, the odor of smoldering piñon log thick in the confined air. Hosteen was dressed only in leggings, his bare fur glistened in the darkness, reflecting the embers in the fire pit.
She couldn't move, for some reason. She sat passively, silently, as he sang a small chant of blessing in his croaky, old fur's voice. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
She was not afraid. But even so she jumped slightly when she felt his paw upon her shoulder. She saw the old shaman's amber eyes staring at her.
<I am sorry, daughter, for what I have done.>
She smiled at him, serene in his company. <I am not afraid, uncle.>
<You are a good girl. Walk in beauty, daughter.>
Yahzi closed her eyes to sleep. <Walk in beauty, uncle,> she murmured as she drifted into slumber.
# # #
Sahkyo looked into her husbands eyes.
<Did you see that?> she whispered.
James Begay nodded. The doe had jumped noticeably when his wife had gently caressed her shoulder while checking up on her.
James Begay took his wife by the paw and led her silently from the main room of their home into the bedroom in the back of the structure, leaving the young doe to sleep on their sofa.
<Tomorrow, dear one, we will make sense of all this,> he said quietly to his wife. <Tomorrow we will find out who Yahzi Atsósie is, and where she belongs.>
Sahkyo nodded in silence as she drew back the blankets of their bed for the two of them.
# # #
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