Pegasus and Coyote ran across the open field. The moon was hanging low in the sky. Soon the Sun would come up and they would be in real trouble. The goddess had warned every single one of them. Every avatar and mythical creature. She could only protect them as long as the Sun slept. She was powerless once the Sun’s rays touched the dying earth.
The sky began to lighten and the Maiden in the Moon felt her power weaken. She fretted over her children still out on this side of the world. Every day break felt a little like dying as her power faded and the Sun’s gaze fell upon the earth. It was a neverending dance as the Sun chased the Maiden across the sky. She stood in her castle built of Moon dust and let out a sigh. No matter how her prison was wrapped in velvet and stocked with exotic nectarines, it was still a prison. She turned her focus to her children on the other side of the earth. They needed the limited help she could give them.
Pegasus felt the sun’s rays begin to hit her wings and she whinnied in fear. An extra burst of speed helped her gain the safety of the mountain’s shadow. Coyote yipped and tried to keep up. The Sun’s rays touched his tail and he knew he was lost. In a last desperate move he shifted into human form. Pegasus paced from the shadows but dared not be caught herself. Coyote stood to full man height. It was always disorienting to stand on two legs instead of four. He felt his face, scratchy with a several day old beard. He looked down. His clothes were shabby but mostly clean. A gasp escaped his mouth when he realized he still posessed his tail. After loosening his belt and readjusting his worn flannel overshirt, his tail was mostly contained. Coyote bowed to Pegasus and waved her off. She whinnied once and then headed deeper into the sanctuary hidden in the mountains.
Coyote looked around. He couldn’t stay here. Even just one day in the Sun would sap his strength to the point where it would take him months to transform back to his natural form. He had maybe an hour or two to find shelter before the Sun was fully overhead. In their headlong flight from the rising sun, he had barely registered that there was human habitation nearby. Now in the daylight, even with his weak human nose, he could smell their stink. He turned and walked North. After an hour he was out of the fields and could see a human made road winding through the hills. It stunk of smoke belching machines and perverted magic. Science they called it. They took the alchemy of old and used it for profit instead of enlightenment. A shudder ran through Coyote. It would take him a week of bathing in the moon pools to wash the stink off. He longed for the moonlit paths of myth that he usually walked down, only occasionally pausing to cause mischief for the mortals. Coyote shook his head. This was an opportunity for mischief like no other. Usually he worked his magic at night in the dreams of mortals but now he’d have a chance to see the chaos his magic would bring in the light of day. His tail began to wag and he stopped to calm himself down. It wouldn’t do to reveal himself too soon. Another half hour of walking and he had been passed by at least ten of those stinking machines the humans loved to drive. He’d sneezed every time they had roared by. A structure loomed in the distance. Sweat began to trickle down Coyote’s back as the sun rose higher and the heat began coming off the road in waves. Another ten minutes of walking found Coyote standing outside the All Saints Bar & Grill. The scents wafting from inside the rough building made his stomach growl.
A bell rung over his head as he walked in. The humans inside only glanced at him with mild curiousity before returning to their meals. An old woman came up to him in an apron. “Breakfast?”
Coyote nodded. The waitress grabbed some shiny papers and started walking away. She made it a few steps before she realized he wasn’t following her. She turned around and put her hand on her hip. “Come on. Follow me.”
Coyote did as he was told. She led him to the far corner of the room, away from most of the other patrons. She motioned for him to sit in the worn red booth. “I’m gonna ask you this once and don’t you lie to me.” Coyote looked at her with his golden eyes. “Do you have any money to pay? The owner said I can’t be letting drifters grab a bite to eat for free. You look like you’ve had a rough night.”
Coyote smiled without showing his teeth. “I have something of value to trade for food, but I don’t have paper money.”
The waitress sighed. “What do you have?”
Coyote reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a tiny chunk of the shiny rock humans seemed to like so much. He placed it on the table and the waitress gasped. “Gold? You want to buy lunch with gold???”
The diner fell silent and all eyes turned to look at the corner Coyote was sitting in. Coyote looked at the waitress with wide eyes. “It’s all I have. I’ve been hunting in the river for awhile and I found this little beauty a few days ago. I hoped to turn it into paper money in town but I walked past this place and I must confess I haven’t had a good meal in a long while.” He smiled wide and the waitress shivered without knowing why.
“I’ll have to get the manager. I’ll be right back.” She disappeared behind the swing door behind the long bar. A few minutes later she returned with a heavyset man in a chef’s uniform. The waitress was frowning and the chef was smiling.
“Good morning sir.” The chef’s voice was thick and he smelled of grilled meats and something sweet. “Would you be interested in a trade of information for a meal on the house?”
Coyote cocked his head to the side. “On the house? I don’t know what that means.”
The chef laughed. “It means free. No cost.”
Coyote smiled and the chef shivered for a moment. “What sort of information would I be trading?”
The Chef slid into the opposite side of the booth and leaned across. “Tell me where you found that little nugget and you can eat your fill today.” The Chef leaned back and folded his arms. A half smile brought out the dimples in his round face.
Coyote paused for a moment and then nodded. “You have a deal. I tell you where I found this and you’ll feed me for the whole day?”
The Chef shifted in his seat. Then nodded. “It’s a deal.”
Coyote smiled. “I will tell you a little more of where I found it with each course I receive. I wouldn’t want to be cheated you know. Do you know the large river near her. It’s cut into the hillside and there is a large waterfall with a sign that says ‘Fool’s Leap’?”
The Chef nodded. “Yes. I’ve been to Fool’s Leap. Is that where you found the nugget?”
Coyote shook his head. “No. But it was in that river. Now. May I have the Hungry Man Platter with extra of all the meat?”
The Chef nodded and bustled off to the kitchen. The waitress brought over a pot of coffee and a handful of creamers. Coyote sat and sipped his black coffee. His breakfast was out soon after. It smelled delicious. Coyote had almost forgotten how good human food could be. All the mythical creatures had been avoiding human settlements for centuries other than the occasional foray for supplies. Coyote at slowly and savored every bite. The waitress cleared the table and dropped off a newspaper. “Here. Someone left this. Wouldn’t want you to get bored while waiting for lunch.”
Coyote took the paper and began reading. Humans had come so far from chiseling their thoughts into stone and painting cave walls. He read about all the breakings news in this part of the world. Humans were trying to save their dying planet. He watched over the newspaper as people got up and paid for their food. The restaurant emptied out and then an hour later it began filling up again with different people. It never reached full. The waitress took away his shiny paper and gave him a different one. “Here’s the lunch menu. You should put your order in soon before the rest of the rush gets here. Chef will be by to take your payment.”
Coyote nodded. He looked over the shiny paper menu. It all sounded delicious. The Chef snuck out of the kitchen and over to his table. “So what’s the next part of the directions?”
Coyote smiled and the Chef shivered. “Travel one mile upstream from Fool’s Leap. There the river splits into two smaller rivers.”
The Chef smiled. “So you found it at the Devil’s Fork?”
Coyote shook his head. “It was further upriver one of the two streams. I will tell you which one and where after the sun goes down. Now I would like the 20 oz porterhouse steak with bacon and an order of the loaded mashed potatoes. I’d also like an ale if you have that.”
The Chef nodded. “I’ll send the waitress to get your drink order. How do you want your steak cooked?”
Coyote smiled. “As little as possible but warm.”
The Chef nodded and headed to the kitchen. The waitress came out of the kitchen a few minutes later and headed towards Coyote’s table. “Chef says you want a beer? What kind?”
Coyote shrugged. “Something cold and refreshing. Surprise me.”
The waitress nodded and returned with a locally brewed ale. Coyote took a sip from the bottle and a sigh escaped his lips. He had forgotten how good a nice ale felt after a hot day. A part of Coyote missed the days when the magical and mundane mixed together regularly. There had been so much more mischief to spread around. Now he spent most of his days up in the mountain sanctuary bothering his brethren. They weren’t nearly as quick to excite as the shorter lived humans were. He was tempted to stir up some trouble in the bar but the glare of the midday sun coming through the windows was enough to keep him in line. The waitress brought his steak out a few minutes later. There was a large knife on the side of the plate. Coyote wanted to growl at the annoying niceties humans kept themselves to. He longed to just tear the steak between his very sharp teeth. Instead he used the silverware with a sigh. The waitress dropped off a second and then a third beer. Coyote began to feel a little wobbly. He glanced out of the corner of his eye at the waitress. She was in a hushed conversation with the Chef. Moments later she brought him another beer. This time Coyote slipped it slowly while pretending to get wobblier with each sip. The Sun was slipping towards the horizon. Within an hour or less he’d be able to make his escape. But not without one bit of mischief.
Coyote stood and wobbled towards the bar. He took the bottle the waitress handed him and he sat on the stool. With his other hand he took out the little gold nugget. The waitress watched the nugget shine in the light with fascination. “Should I give you the last piece of the directions? I’m not sure I trust your Chef. I must be going soon. I don’t want to break our deal, but maybe if I told you the last bit it would be alright? I’ll even skip the last meal of the day to even the bargain.”
The waitress smiled wide. “I think that would be fair. I have to leave soon too. So what’s the last part of the directions?”
“At the fork in the river, travel up the eastern triver. After two miles you will come to the base of a mountain where a small waterfall pours into a pool. I found it there.” Coyote could feel the power of the Sun beginning to wane. The sky outside was darkening by the minute. He dared not wait any longer. “I’ll be off. Happy hunting.”
The waitress smiled and nodded. Coyote walked out the door and headed down the road away from the mountain. No sense in getting careless now. He heard the Chef come out roaring in frustration. Once Coyote was a mile away he found a ditch he could shift back to his true form in. He raced a wild trail back to the mountain. This bit of mischief would sustain him for many long boring nights ahead. Whether the Chef ever got the information out of the waitress mattered not. There was no gold in that hidden waterfall. But there was a water horse that would be happy to give out a ride or two. Too bad it was the kind of ride no one survived. Coyote laughed as the Moon rose overhead and he headed for home.
The prompts for this story:
- The Empress
- royal velvet plums
- genie’s bottle
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Copyright 2020 Klaudia Grady