This continues with 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
These kinds of days normally concerned him. Days of little sleep and an over-wrought mind.
When he had been a young pup, he had lived like this for months on end, chasing tail and pushing iron. Days were spent behind the wheel running coast to coast, breaking the hours rules as often as he changed clothing. Seven, eight hundred miles a day, seven days a week, grinning all the way to the bank as he bagged run after run with his stellar on-time performance. Nights were spent in bars and motels, wasting his youth as he ruined that of others. Four hours of drunken slumber was considered a good night's rest. More often than not he hadn't slept at all, trading his blood pressure and digestion for bennies, a thermos full of a mixture of cold coffee and warm cola, and whatever excuse for food he could find in roadside diners at two AM.
These days, in the quiet of his sleeper bunk in the middle of the night, he occasionally marveled that he was still alive after all these years.
She had been young, perhaps in her mid twenties. He had been driving for a long haul outfit back then, thirty foot doubles with a short-coupled two-axle Peterbilt cab-over. He had been trying to make some time when he met her, out there on the plains of South Dakota one late fall morning.
She'd been a doll, a pretty little feline with short black hair, a low-cut peasant blouse over tight bell-bottom jeans, and deep brown eyes. She'd been dressed for a party, had in fact been on her way to meet a young fur somewhere when their paths crossed. Their meeting had changed all that, had permanently altered both of their lives. She was the prettiest thing he'd ever seen, much more attractive than the little canine hybrid he'd just spent the night with, had been speeding all morning to make up the time for.
She never spoke a word to him.
It had been foggy with a light snowfall that morning. He'd been rolling westbound on US 14 since leaving Shakopee, Minnesota before sunrise with a load. The intense cold kept the snow dry on the roadway, and he was able to maintain an easy seventy miles an hour as he and sixty eight thousand pounds of road train raced west. After picking up the 14 at Nicolette it had been almost arrow-straight and pool-table flat, aiming at a delivery over the horizon in Pocatello, Idaho.
He'd never made it.
Somewhere east of Huron, South Dakota, near a little hamlet called Iroquois, he had made the acquaintance of Madeline Lee. Their meeting had begun with a horrific, metal rending crash that had put his jack-knifed truck into a snow-filled ditch at sixty five miles per hour, dragging her almost new Ford Pinto with it. Had he not been intelligent enough to wear a seat belt he'd have died then and there, tossed about in the cab of the rolling, twisting tractor like a porcelain figureen in a cement mixer. As it was he had regained consciousness hanging by that belt. Somehow he had managed to extricate himself from the twisted wreckage with nothing more than a fractured collar bone, some relatively minor lacerations, and a mouthful of windshield shards. Thank the Lord for his high-contrast sunglasses, otherwise his eyes would have suffered a similar fate with the glass.
She had come out of a side road from the north. In the fog and snow her silver-gray Pinto had been invisible to him until he was almost upon her. He'd never know why she didn't see, or had possibly ignored, his four blazing headlights approaching. In the days before cell phones, and in the absence of a CB radio in her car, he couldn't fathom what she might have been distracted by to not see the juggernaut that was his semi barreling down upon her. That question kept him awake nights even now, almost forty years later.
His first notion of what was coming was when his headlights reflected off the corner of her chrome-plated back bumper. On pure instinct he hit the air hard and felt the brakes under his cab lock and his tires begin to slide. As he stared through the windshield in horror the vehicle materialized, still turning into his path, turning to head west. Without thinking twice he had sacrificed his truck, his career, and potentially his life. At over sixty miles an hour, sliding, he turned his wheel sharply to the right, hoping to pass behind her and spare her the crash he already knew was his fate.
She'd been too slow. The left corner of his heavy-gage steel bumper had pierced the left rear quarter of her car and snagged it. The Pinto went careening into the ditch with them, Frank and his semi, eventually coming to rest above him. His cab had half-buried itself in the snow and muck of the ditch, laying on it's right side, pushed partially underground by the momentum of the heavy trailers behind. He'd been just able to squeeze out of the hole in front of him where the windshields had been, above the mud where the shotgun side of his cab should have been. The Pinto lay atop the driver's side of the cab, blocking any exit via that door.
Later, after reading about the Ford Pinto and the location of it's fuel tank, he would wonder why it hadn't burst into flame on impact. But it hadn't. After clearing his head and confirming that he was not only still alive but more or less unhurt, he'd stumbled and crawled up a snow-covered, rocky slope to the roadway, about five feet above the bottom of the ditch. Here he stood on stable, level ground in the gently falling snow and turned to survey the damage. As his mind cleared and he began to understand what had just happened, he heard her.
It wasn't as much a moan as a whimper, clearly audible despite the wind that blew the snow around him. Suddenly forgetting his own circumstances, Frank had immediately loped and stumbled back into the ditch and scrabbled up onto the wreckage of his tractor, and then onto the roof of the Pinto, which was laying mangled but sort of upright on the left side of what was left of his truck's cab. In the surreal light of a late-morning snow shower he searched for the source of the muffled cry, but found nothing.
The Pinto had been empty.
He'd stood there confused, spitting glass from his bloody mouth as he wondered if he'd been hearing things.
Then he'd heard her again. She wasn't in the car, but was in fact about fifteen feet away from the front of his half-buried cab, face up in the ditch, surrounded by tall grass. He'd later learn that she had been ejected, thrown into and through her windshield, thrown from the still moving mass of metal as it crashed into the ditch. His ears had led him towards her until his eyes found her in the gloom.
She appeared unhurt at first, but had just laid there, staring at him, occasionally mewling or whimpering. As he studied her, her clothes, her youthful, angelic face, he became aware of the fact that her head was at an odd angle to the rest of her body, sort of tilted over and back.
He'd knealt beside her.
“Are you hurt?”
She had made a slight choking sound and blinked in response.
“Can you understand me?”
A slight nod, barely noticeable.
“I'm sorry,” he choked out, his voice suddenly hoarse as tears filled his eyes. “I'm so sorry. I never saw you...”
Those deep brown eyes stared at him.
“Can you move?” he asked impulsively.
A slight shake in the negative, followed by another whimper.
He rubbed his eyes to clear them, and then took one of her soft paws in his own. It was icy cold to the touch. He stared into her eyes for long moments, and she in turn stared back at him, her eyes moving to look into one of his, then the other. Tears continued to roll down his cheeks even as she struggled to say something. All she could muster was another slight choke.
He stared at her, and her expression softened, changing from fear to resignation. Her eyebrows arched slightly, as if she were trying to smile at him, but her mouth did not move. And as he stared through his tears at the beautiful young female, she died there in the ditch, her cold paw still in his own.
It was how the law found them. No one knew how long he'd sat there holding her paw, crying over the life he had taken. The motor of his tractor was cold by the time the state police had arrived, a layer of snow already covered the wreck. They found him sitting there naked from the waist up, his shirt and jacket covering the deceased female he guarded. He'd growled like a retrogressing fur as they approached, and had he not been half frozen would probably have tried to fight them off to protect her.
He'd suffered from hypothermia and maybe a bit of frostbite in addition to a slight concussion. He'd been two weeks in a hospital somewhere or other, during which time he'd been summarily fired from the trucking company. The law had absolved him of any blame based on his story and what few facts and evidence they had at the scene. The day the hospital released him one of the state police officers had bought him lunch and given him a bus ticket to Pocatello. With that meal in his stomach and his duffel of worldly possessions on his back he'd hitch-hiked back to the family home in Wyoming, and had gone back to work for a different trucking company within a month or two. Twenty four years later he had bought the Freightliner conventional he now drove, and he'd been an independent ever since.
He'd learned her name, and what little else he knew about Madeline, in the hospital. No one had ever spoken to him about her or the accident except the cops. He'd never learned if she had any family. He'd never learned anything about Madeline Lee except her name, and he'd never forgotten the way she almost smiled at him as she died. In the dark corners of his mind it haunted him to this day.
He'd never driven US 14 in South Dakota again.
He slept well now, and didn't dream about her nearly as much as he used to. Still, last night he'd slept hardly at all, and visions of a raven-haired female had filled his erratic slumber. But it hadn't been Madeline that occupied his subconscious. It had been that indian girl, Yahtzee.
# # #
She worked the morning shift at Rita's Coffee Shop six days a week, keeping Sunday for herself and her Lord. She was single with an adult daughter, and was supposed to be a grandmother by this summer. She'd been waiting tables and the counter at Rita's for many years, since her husband had died in a train wreck down below Ash Fork back in the days of the Santa Fe blue bonnet diesels.
She had grown up in Flagstaff. The daughter of a puma that worked as a fireman on the last of the Santa Fe steam road power and his bobcat stay-at-home wife, she had grown up quietly with no siblings. But she did well in school and made lots of friends, especially the big tiger that had eventually become her husband. She took after her father a lot, with the smaller ears, broad chest, and medium-brown fur typical of his species, but she retained the pretty ear tufts of her mother's family, as well as the short tail.
Lisa Dell knew just about every trucker in northern Arizona that worked regularly back and forth on Interstate 40 or up and down the state on US 89. Sooner or later they all came to Rita's in Flag to see the petite, friendly waitress and to try the fresh coffee at a good price, and maybe to also try some buckwheat cakes or a pastrami on fresh rye bread. And some of the locals from the south side of town, those industrial furs who worked on the crews of the BNSF or in the Purina plant or at the Walgreens Distribution warehousing complex, were also well known regulars. She greeted them all with a bright smile and a cheerful greeting, and was loved by a great many of them.
So it was that she recognized Jason Arnold as the brown bear stuffed his way though the door early that morning. She waved him over to a seat at the counter and brought him the cup of coffee and the cinnamon roll she knew he wanted, without asking.
Jason nodded, a tight smile on his muzzle as he seated himself. He reached for the mug of steaming brew without comment.
“How are you, Jason?” Lisa asked.
“OK, I guess.”
The feline regarded the bear for a few moments, her expression changing slightly. “You're not being honest with me, Jason,” she said with concern in her voice. “I've known you for enough years to know that something is on your mind. Is it anything I can help with?”
The bear looked up from his mug of coffee and looked into the eyes of the waitress. “Seen Frank Turner this morning?” he asked after a few moments.
Lisa thought about that. The big canid trucker was usually in before sunrise while Jason's crew loaded his trailer over at the industrial siding just east of the yard. He would usually have come and gone by the time anyone from the BNSF crew wandered in.
“No, I haven't seen him this morning. Why?”
“I was hoping you could tell me what's on his mind, is all.”
“What's on his mind?”
The bear sat back on his counter stool and sipped again from his mug. Placing the coffee on the counter next to his untouched pastry he took a breath. “Dunno, but he ain't acting himself. Damndest thing I ever saw him do. He almost came to blows with Bo about half an hour ago. We were forking pallets of stuff into his trailer, and he said something to Bo about having to get going. Bo... well, you know how Bo is, he more or less told Frank that his female companionship would probably wait for him, and that if she didn't there'd be a dozen more stepping up to take her place...”
Lisa winced at that. Males could be so inconsiderate in their conversations with each other.
“... and Frank jumped into that fork lift and grabbed Bo by the collar and almost dragged him down to the dirt while they were still rolling.”
Gerald “Bo” Bonner was a big old bulldog, a wrangler, hostler, machine operator, and all 'round huge mass of muscle. A gentle giant, he none the less commanded much respect, especially from those who worked with him. The described action on the part of the trucker could be considered to border on the suicidal...
“Not much,” Jason replied. “Bo, he's kinda used to other guys calling him out, and he knows Frank some, so he played it cool. Frank, he never said a word, just stood there holding Bo's collar, fangs bared, breathing heavy, all red under his fur like he was about to go completely ballistic.” The bear picked up his cinnamon roll and broke off a small piece and tossed it in his mouth. “Den Wes jumped down offa Frank's trailer an' ast him what the..” the bear swallowed. “Well, what he was doing, and Frank just growled and pushed Bo away, telling them both to 'hurry the F up.' Except he didn't say 'F,' if ya know what I mean.” Jason picked up his mug and sipped from it.
The feline thought about that. She knew Frank well enough, they'd gone out once or twice over the years. She had never seen him angry, never heard him swear. She knew him to be a gentle, slightly introspective male, friendly and attentive. “He hasn't been in here this morning,” Lisa said quietly. “I haven't seen him for a couple of days.”
“Al said he got in really late last night.”
Lisa nodded. That made sense. Frank usually ate breakfast at Rita's before he left town. If he had missed this morning it was probably because he was tired.
“Al saw him arrive?” Al was the night watchfur at the warehouse on the industry spur where the BNSF unloaded local manifests from the railcars.
Jason snorted. “Hell, Al watched him pace around the parking lot and docks most of the night. Said that the old dog never did climb into his sleeper bunk, just wandered around 'til about three AM and then disappeared, sort of.”
Lisa thought about that, too. It certainly didn't sound like the affable, calm, older fur she knew to be Frank Turner. And he hadn't been in that morning...
Plates clattered on the order counter. “Sorry honey,” Lisa said brightly to the bear. “I've gotta get back to work. I'll come chat with you in a few.”
The brown bear nodded around another mouthful of cinnamon roll as she scurried away.
# # #
The bottom of the sun was just climbing away from the eastern horizon as Frank Turner and his Freightliner conventional blasted down grade, heading north on US 89 towards Gray Mountain. The Painted Desert was coming alive outside his windshield, but the black Labrador paid it no mind. Neither did his mind contemplate the little coyote that might or might not be waiting for him at the Cameron Trading Post diner.
Frank dropped his Road Ranger transmission into second over and came up on the throttle. He also wasn't paying attention to his speed, which was approaching seventy miles per hour.
He'd thought of her all night. Yahtzee.
He growled deep in his chest, and his paw lifted from the shifter of his transmission to ball into a fist, which then smacked the steering wheel with some authority.
“Why is this happening to me?” he asked aloud of the inside of his truck cab.
# # #
Meanwhile, over a light breakfast of shepherd's bread and tea, Captain James Begay of the Navajo Tribal Police was beginning to start his day as well. He and his wife had arisen early to the sound of soft weeping in their home. They had found their guest seated on the bare floor in the middle of the great room.
Shakyo Begay settled herself quietly beside the weeping young lapine, placing an arm gently about Yahzi's shoulders as she looked up into her husband's eyes.
<I will make some tea for us,> James Begay whispered in Navajo just before heading for their small kitchen.
Shakyo sat beside the younger female for several moments after her husband was gone, waiting patiently to see if Yahzi would invite conversation. Unlike their anglo counterparts, the Navajo did not grow uncomfortable in protracted periods of mutual silence. They realized that sometimes it was enough to just be, to exist, together. Shakyo therefore sat beside Yahzi on the floor and thought about the rising sun, and the sheep, and the Blessing Way, and her young companion.
So James was not surprised to find the two females together exactly as he had left them when he returned in ten minutes with two coffee mugs of hot tea. The two rabbits still sat side by side, although it was quiet. Yahzi's tears had stopped, and while his wife's arm was still about the younger female's shoulders, the two of them were quietly staring into the middle distance, beyond the wall of the home they sat within. James set the two mugs down in front of the two females and disappeared towards the kitchen yet again.
Returning again after a few moments with his own mug of tea and a small chunk of Shakyo's sheepherder's bread, James sat across from his wife and erstwhile daughter. He also sat quietly, but after placing his mug on the floor in front of him he broke the bread into several smaller pieces and held them out to the females. Each took a piece, Sahkyo removing her arm from about Yahzi's shoulder as Yahzi finally broke her silence to say <Thank you, uncle.>
They ate and drank in silence, listening as the world outside awoke. Sheep bells chimed in the distance as a flock moved to get warm in the fresh sunlight of early morning, and here and there a bird of the desert chirped in greeting to the new day. They heard James' old mare in the corral out back snort once as she sought the warmth as well. It was a very Navajo early morning, and the spirit of the land infused the three rabbits as they ate breakfast, each lost in their own thoughts.
# # #
Elsewhere another lapine, a big jack, was sitting up groggily and rubbing his forehead tenderly. Teddy Atcitty was hung over. This in itself was not an unusual event.
He drank to forget. He drank to fight the boredom. He drank to ease the pain. He drank to drown out the frustration. He drank to get laid. Whatever the reason, Teddy Atcitty drank. A lot. And it almost never worked. Oh sure, once in a great while he woke up hung over next to some bar-babe that had looked like dynamite the night before, but who in the early morning light looked more or less like he felt. They were all one night stands, and not one of them were ever Diné. Young or old, fat or thin, rich or poor, his kind wouldn't have him. The females of his own culture despised him.
Teddy was not well liked or respected by any of the Navajo. It wasn't so much the fact that he was a cop, his captain was well respected by the Diné, it was more that Teddy had forsaken his culture, his history, his family. Most of his friends were anglo. The only Diné he hung out with were like himself, hard-drinking furs who were actively trying to forget who they were, where they had come from. All Teddy wanted out of life was to get some respect, get some money, and get the Hell off the rez.
And that trucker had majorly disrespected him last night. Shown him up in front of his captain, not to mention that little slice of all right that no one seemed to know. What was her name? Yoki? Yahzi? The jack rubbed his forehead gingerly. Something like that. Yahzi. Yeah... And that big fucking labrador. For an old fur he seemed pretty well put together. But no matter. He'd fix him. Him and his truck.
His gaze swept the interior of the small hogan in jerks and starts, and his head pained him all the more as his eyes struggled to move in an ordered fashion and focus on whatever his gaze fell upon. His mouth was as dry as the Begashibito Wash, and felt as if it were full of tumbleweeds as well. His stomach was talking to him, and telling him that it desperately needed to empty itself. He swallowed thickly.
“No time for that,” he muttered, rubbing his forehead gently.
Bright early-morning sunlight shone through the small doorway of the mud hut. Motes of dust danced in the glare, but Teddy's eyes were too out of focus to see them. Besides, he had other things to worry about.
His eyes found the pile of blankets where Mary Tso had been the night before. As he concentrated on the mass his eyes focused and he became aware of the fact that she was not there. The sergeant then cast his eyes about the rest of the dark interior of Mary's home, and eventually found his friend Joseph, out cold, slumped in a heap against a wall outside of the area of bright light cast on the floor by the rising sun.
“Shit,” the sergeant muttered as he struggled into a squat. His stomach rolled slowly as he contemplated his next move, and he tried to make his parched throat swallow down the urge to retch. Grunting, the barrel-chested jack slowly stood up, placing his paws over his mid-section as he stood erect. He slowly turned around. Starting with the now cold fire pit, his gaze slowly took in the entire interior of Mary's home, ending with the east-facing doorway. Staring at this, he dropped his paws momentarily and hunched over a bit to pass through the doorway of the hogan, propelling himself into the bright sunlight of early morning on the high desert of northeastern Arizona. He squinted his eyes against the sunlight as his sour stomach churned with the authority of a cement mixer.
Teddy Atcitty gazed about the open desert that surrounded Mary Tso's quarters, trying to get his bearings while at the same time trying to make his eyes focus on his surroundings. His stomach made audible protests about his movements, and his paws grasped his mid-section again as he slowly turned, his blurred gaze sweeping the morning horizon. His head ached with the dull, mind-bending throb that too much cheap whiskey brings. He could see nothing recognizable as his bloodshot eyes stumbled across the terrain, but a larger blur nearby looked like it might be his NTP Chevy Blazer. He thought about walking toward it, but a sudden sharp pain changed his mind.
And as the policeman emptied the contents of his stomach into the red dust just outside Mary Tso's home, the matriarch looked on from her sheep pen and smiled slightly. Secure in her new knowledge and surrounded by her small flock, she knew exactly what would become of Teddy before the moon rose that evening, and was not in the least bit sorry about what awaited him.
# # #
She hadn't been waiting for him. It was pure coincidence that Mary Ann Rutherford happened to be fueling her faded white Jeep Cherokee at the Chevron just up Highway 89 from the Cameron Trading Post when the sound caught her attention.
She had waited for him, though. He had been visiting her at the diner for a couple of months now, every other night almost without fail as he rumbled up and down the highways between Flagstaff and the Four Corners area. At first it had been shy smiles and a pleasant “thank you” each time she stopped at his table or stool at the counter. After a few days he had begun to talk, at first about the weather, then about his work, and finally to ask about her. The usual questions any non-native might ask another non-native they found living on the reservation. Where was she from? How long had she been on the rez? What had brought her here? Where did she live? Was she alone out here? And her simple story had captivated his attention, trucker that he was. They had become friends. After a few more visits had gone by he had invited her up to Flagstaff with him for a movie followed by dinner and drinks at the Beaver Street Brewery.
They had become lovers.
But always he was gone over the horizon the next day, tire whine fading into the distance as the smell and sight of diesel exhaust drifted into the blue desert sky to disappear as well. At first she had stared wistfully after him, wondering. After a few times she had stopped worrying. He had always returned a day or two later with a smile on his face, a van full of cargo, fuel in his tanks, and cash in his pocket. Their trips to Flagstaff became a regular occurrence. He became a fixture in her life.
And Mary Ann was content, an emotion she had little familiarity with. A soft smile graced her muzzle as the gasoline gurgled into the Jeep's tank.
She was one of those femmes that hid her age well without really trying. She could be thirty five, or fifty. Frank certainly didn't know, and didn't seem to care. She was trim without being thin, curvy without being full figured, not tall at five foot five, but not short either. The color of her fur was natural for a female coyote, there was no gray anywhere. Her blue eyes gave away the fact that she was not a purebred, but no one seemed to care. They were in fact quite attractive. And her expressive tail was usually one of the first things the truckers, ranchers, and locals noticed when they encountered her.
She was originally from the northeast, up around New Hampshire, but had come here as a teen after running away from an unhappy home. Cameron was as far as her money and youthful good looks got her, and she had taken a job as a waitress at the trading post by lying about her age, telling the old bulldog that ran the place that she was nineteen, when in fact she was barely sixteen. She had lived in one of the many outbuildings around the trading post for several years after that, and eventually bought herself a single-wide and placed it on a small parcel of rented land belonging to one of the more prosperous Navajo in the area. And so Mary Ann came to call Cameron home, and Cameron came to know her as one of it's own.
Virtually all who came in contact with Mary Ann enjoyed the experience. She had no enemies and was recognized by all who lived on the western edge of the Navajo Nation. Any who regularly plied the asphalt ribbon of US 89 came to know her, sooner or later.
And so she was more than a little surprised to see the big, familiar Freightliner conventional roar by northbound at maximum speed, not even slowing down a little bit as the tractor – trailer rumbled by the trading post, over the bridge spanning the Little Colorado River, and on into the desert, towards Page. She turned with it as the truck passed, to watch it recede into the distance, listening to the song of the tires on the pavement fade with the image of her lover's truck.
The gasoline pump snapped off with the chime of a bell. She shrugged placidly, removing the nozzle and hanging it up on the pump. Another day at Cameron. He'd be back.
# # #
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