A coyote with golden and grey fur walked into a hospital with wildflowers in his mouth. The flowers were droopy and damp, and clumps of dirty roots were still connected at the bases. The coyote walked down the corridors with busy doctors and nurses, and no one paid him a second glance. He went into an open elevator, reared up on his hind legs, and pressed the button for the sixth floor with his paw.
On the sixth floor, he made his way down the hall to room 623. It was completely silent in the hallway except for his footsteps, and when he arrived at his destination, he reared up again to open the door and walk inside.
It was a standard hospital room. There were some chairs, a window with metal bars on it, and a bed surrounded by all sorts of medical devices. Outside the window was the night sky, but there was no moon present, and the stars couldn't pierce the thick clouds. In the bed there was a doe. She woke up from a deep sleep the very second the door opened, but she did not look frightened, or even fully awake.
The coyote dropped the dirty flowers on the floor and nudged them a few inches forward with his nose. He looked up at the doe, surrounded by comfortable blankets and beeping machines.
“I’ve come here to kill you,” he said.
“Oh, you always say that,” the doe replied. She turned over in her bed, as if she was trying to ignore a fly.
“This time I mean it,” there was a touch of anger in his voice. “I’ll bite you up into a thousand-and-one pieces, and drag your meat home to the forest.”
“I hope you do. I’d rather be dead than stuck here.”
He pushed the flowers a little closer and jumped on the hospital bed with carefully placed paws. He didn’t touch the doe, but he walked slowly along the side of the bed towards her. He went in close to smell her throat and shoulders. And although she wasn't truly frightened, she couldn’t stop herself from quivering as he investigated her scent.
“You smell like death,” he said.
“Well, I am dying.”
“Dying and dead are two very different things. Why do you smell like death, even though you haven't died?”
“I think you invest too much value in smells, especially here, where smells are just a brief afterthought.” She turned in her bed again, as if annoyed by another flying bug, to look the coyote in the eyes. “Did you gather those flowers in the meadow?” she asked.
“Yes, in the meadow, of course. Where else would I go?”
“I don’t know. It’s a wide world. Don’t you think there are other places where you can find dirty flowers?”
Insulted, the coyote pounced off the bed. He landed with a grunt, went back to the flowers, and bit down on them with his sharp, golden teeth. Stems broke. Little damp flower petals fell onto the hospital floor. The coyote jumped back on the bed, and offered the flowers on her lap.
“Look at them,” he said. “Look. The green, the black, the brown--the perfect shade of dirt. Where else could you find colors like these?”
“Everywhere, basically. Oh, you fool. Don’t you know the important part is the pedals? Those are the important colors. The red, violet, and blue. No one cares about dirt.”
He nudged the flowers again and the dirt crumbled into the bedsheets. He motioned at them, as if perplexed by the statement.
“Tell me, how are the other deer?” She asked, looking him in the eyes again.
“The deer? I wouldn’t know. They run, I suppose. They still run around.”
“So, they’re healthy?”
“Healthy? Well, guess I’ve found more deadmeat lately.”
“Deadmeat? As opposed to live-meat?”
“No, deadmeat. Meat you don’t wanna eat. It’s too dead. It’ll make you dead, too.”
“Do they look sick... like me?”
She did look incredibly sick. Deer are naturally skinny and delicate, but her features were heavily exaggerated. You could see her bones thinly veiled by her fur. Her neck seemed too weak to fully support her head, and the fur that ran along her spine looked like it had been stained with black and grey ash.
“Guess they did, some of them,” the coyote said.
He considered that for a moment.
“Did you give your sickness to them?” he asked.
“Maybe I did,” she said, and the way she said it made the hair on his spine stand up.
“Then why are you still here,” he asked. “And all the others are dead?”
“Because nature doesn't care how many hours there are in a day, or how many days there are in a week. Nature spins like a hurricane, while we can only watch.”
She looked off with dreamy eyes. The machines, which supposedly kept her alive, continued beeping furiously.
“Tell me a story,” she said. “It’s time we end this.”
“Ah yes, the deal,” the coyote smiled with golden teeth. “I tell you a story, and then you tell me a story,” he walked closer to her, sniffed her throat again, and laid down right next to her. “And after we’re both done, I eat you.”
“Yes, that was the arrangement. Go on then.”
“Alright, here’s my story:
The other day I noticed an injured hawk hiding in a tree. I never tasted hawk before, so I kept watching and got closer. Its wing was broken. Don’t know how, but I was pretty sure it couldn’t fly.
‘How’d you get in that tree if you can’t fly,’ I asked.
‘Fuck off, dog,’ it said to me.
I sat at the base of the tree. The hawk kept picking at its broken wing, and the wing was twitching like it was being controlled by something else. Some of its feathers floated down to the ground, and I sniffed them, and I licked them, and there were tiny drops of hawk blood that made my stomach rumble.
‘I can taste the wind on your feathers,’ I said.
‘You can taste the wind on my shit, too,’ the hawk said.
I sat there for awhile. Didn’t move. My eyes and ears were fixed on the bird. It kept fighting with its wing, and shuffling back and forth on the branch. The sun was on its way down. The air was getting cold. I wanted to eat it while it was still warm. I wanted to feel its strong tendons moving as I snapped them with my teeth.
‘I can fix your wing,’ I said.
‘How’s that, mutt?’ it said.
‘I’ll tear you up into little pieces, and you’ll be born again as a new hawk.’
‘I see a rabbit over there by that big rock. How about you go tear it into little pieces and leave me be.’
‘I’ve tasted rabbit a thousand times, but I’ve never tasted hawk.’
‘And you never will.’
The sun went down but I kept looking and listening. I wondered how long it had been in that tree. Maybe a day or two. It must be hungry too, I thought. And how did it get up there? What hurt its wing?
‘Was it another hawk that hurt you?’ I asked.
‘You talk too much for a dog. Leave me be,’ it said.
‘It must have attacked you in the air, and you floated down here like your feathers floated down to me.’
It remained still, and so did I. The clouds were shifting behind the hawk and the tree, and the stars were shining bright behind them. I wondered what a star tasted like, and what they smelled like.
‘Could you fly as high as the stars?’ I asked.
‘Let me sleep, dog. I won’t answer your stupid questions.’
I tried to keep watching, but the wind was cold and sleep took hold of me. I curled up at the base of the tree, hoping the hawk wouldn’t escape before the sun came back.
I woke up to the smell of rabbits. The sun was rising and the wind had changed, and I could smell at least three rabbits up the hill. My stomach was yelling at me, but I looked up to see the bird still stuck on the branch.
‘I see you’re still broken,” I said. ‘Have you ever been broken before?”
It remained silent.
‘You must be hungry,’ I said. ‘If I killed a rabbit or two, would you be able to float down here and eat some?’
‘You won’t trick me, dog. Go hunt your rabbits and leave me alone.’
Its voice was weak. I wanted to stay there by the tree, but the hunger was too much. I can eat the hawk later, I thought. For now, this will do. The smell swirled around me, and I started chasing it as it flowed around trees and up the hill. I slowed my pace and sharpened my ears, listing for tiny footsteps.
I broke a branch. They must have heard me. I stopped, and crouched low to the ground. They had to be close. I listened, and there it was! I could hear it chewing. I could hear its little heart beating. Must be just around the bush, I thought. My stomach was so empty and angry, it seemed to take over my legs. In three quick steps I passed the bush and jumped, and in the air I could finally see it, just where I thought it was, but it was already running.
I landed and chased, but it zigged and zagged and disappeared again. I spent all morning following the smell, but I never laid eyes on another bunny. I remembered the hawk, and started going back to the tree. How far had I gone? I wondered as I made my way in that direction.
The sun was in the middle of the sky when I found it again. The hawk was still there.
‘Are you almost dead yet?’ I asked.
‘Are you?’ it said.
‘Don’t think so. Just hungry.’
‘Is food all you think about?’
‘Yeah, when I’m hungry.’
‘Well I didn’t come here to die. I’ll be gone when the southern wind picks up.’
‘With one wing?’
‘My wings are fine.’
I didn’t believe him, so I looked at him real closely. Which wing was it? I forgot. It sat there, looking back at me.
‘Then fly,’ I said.
And that got me thinking. Why don’t I have wings? I imagined diving into clouds, tearing their fluff apart with my teeth. Clouds must be delicious.
‘I watched your pathetic attempt,’ it said to me, interrupting my dream.
‘It was a quick rabbit,’ I said. ‘No matter, I’ll get the next one.’
‘How do you ever catch anything, being so clumsy?’
‘Guess a lot of things are clumsy.’
I sat there and scratched myself for a while. I thought about taking a nap until the sun went down. It’s always better to hunt at night. I still wanted to taste the hawk, but now I wasn’t sure if it was really hurt.
‘A storm is coming,’ it said to me.
And it wasn’t lying. I could taste the air changing. Soon enough the storm had arrived. The clouds were dark, and I thought back to flying around and tasting clouds, and I wondered if storm clouds tasted different than normal clouds. The rain got thick, and the wind pushed the trees back and forth. I watched the hawk in the storm, getting pushed around just like the branches. I watched it until the sun went down, and I couldn’t tell the difference between the hawk and all the branches swaying in the wind.
I curled around the base of the tree and tried to sleep through the storm, and somehow, I slept.
In the morning the hawk was gone. The end.”
“That’s it?” the doe asked the coyote as the medical devices kept humming.
“Did it die? Did you find its body?”
“Nope. I figure it floated away on the southern wind, or something like that.”
The coyote stretched its legs and rolled over in the hospital bed. The deer looked weak, and thoroughly unamused.
“A story’s a story,” it said. “Now it’s your turn.”
“Alright fine, let’s get this over with. Here we go:
Three human children were sitting in a park near their neighborhood. In front of them was a massive forrest. Behind them was a massive city. There were park benches, other people, and an old fountain right next to them. The three children all had different names, and were from different families. Their names were Magic, Night, and Time, and they were talking about what game they wanted to play.
Magic told the group that she wanted to play cops and robbers in the city, but they decided that would be boring, because they didn’t have enough players. The balance would inevitably be tipped in one direction, with either two cops or two robbers, and the one other all alone. Not this time, they agreed. We’ll wait ‘til we have more players.
Night suggested they fight imaginary monsters in the forest. We’ll each have a special power, he argued. We can each make up monsters as we go along. But again they disagreed. It’s just not quite as fun when the monsters aren’t real. They wanted to play the funnest game they could, and they wanted to play it against each other, not against their imaginations.
Time knew the perfect game, and she said they should do a few rounds of hide and seek. Perfect! They thought. We can play in the forest and in the city. We can make winners and losers in a fair manner.
But who would hide and who should seek?
Night wanted to hide, and Magic did too, so Time agreed to find them. Whoever got caught first would be the next seeker, they agreed.
Time closed her eyes. She counted to 300, as Magic and Night found their hiding places. They both went into the forest. After all, there are plenty of places to hide in the woods, and it’s dark. Time finished her count and went into the city. She looked around fences and behind cars with no luck.
Soon she was in the woods, considering how far they might have gone to hide. She examined trees that would be easy to climb, and poked various shrubs with a stick to see if a human child was hiding in there. She looked and looked, and couldn’t find them. She walked far enough to find a little stream, and Time sat there for a moment or two before heading back.
On the way back to the city, she noticed the tip of a shoe sticking out of a hollow tree, and upon investigation, she found Night, covered in dirt and bugs.
He walked with her as they approached the park. They noticed together that Magic was hiding in the fountain. She jumped out, and water dripped all over the concrete as she said, ‘About time!’
Now it was Night’s turn to seek, and he counted to 300 as the two human girls ran to the city to hide.
Like the previous seeker, he went in the wrong direction. Night scoured the woods for a while, found nothing, and went back towards the city. When he reached the fountain, he realized he could cheat, and he followed the water-stains on the concrete until it was nothing more than small drops in order to find Magic hiding behind a dumpster.
Together they looked for Time, but they remembered how they decided to not play cops and robbers for this same unfair reason. Two against one just isn’t fair. So Magic went home to get fresh cloths, and Night kept searching for Time alone.
He looked in all the obvious places. Then he looked in the less obvious places. Then he gave up, and just aimlessly walked around the city.
He thought about how long he had known her, and where she would think to go. Eventually he was walking right in front of Time’s house, and figured ‘Why not?’ He found her sitting on her couch, watching TV, and petting a cat. They went back to the park together.
Upon reaching the fountain, they noticed that Magic wasn’t there. They waited a while, and she didn’t come back.
‘Should we play another round between the two of us,’ Night asked her.
‘Only if we hide together,’ Time told him.
And they hide by the creek for so long that Magic forgot they were playing hide and seek,” the doe finished.
The coyote laid there with a perplexed look. He rolled around to get up on four feet and look at her.
“Did you see these humans do this?” he asked. “What a strange story.”
“No, I didn’t see it happen. I didn’t think you’d be back, to be honest. I thought of it just now, because, well, we agreed so long ago, and I figured I owed you a story. Especially if you remembered one for me.”
“And now you’re ready to die?”
“Yes. I don’t want to be here anymore.”
The medical devices were still beeping furiously. The coyote shook its body, as if it was trying to get water off its coat, and it walked with careful paws to the base of the bed. The deer turned its weak neck to look him in the eyes. The coyote’s golden and grey fur sparkled in the fluorescent lights as he showed his teeth, jumped a few feet in the air, and landed with a bite on the doe’s shoulder.
The blood stained the hospital bed immediately. Primal instincts kicked in, and the doe struggled against the coyote’s teeth as his grip tightened. They wrestled in the bed as the doe failed to break free. The wildflowers scattered across the floor. The sheets were kicked off to reveal that the doe wasn’t actually attached to the beeping medical devices in the room. Their bloody fight took them to the floor. The doe kicked and screeched as the coyote’s bite grew tighter and drew more blood.
“WHAT THE FUCK!” a janitor screamed as he entered the room to this scene.
The coyote kept biting, and the deer kept kicking furiously. The animals were breaking and contaminating everything they got close to. Blood touched the flowers on the floor. The janitor held his walkie-talkie to his mouth.
“Yeah, we got fucking wild animals on floor six,” he said.
And the coyote finished killing the deer, coughed out all the blood in its mouth, walked past the janitor and down the hall in a hurry, and reared up on his hind legs to press the ‘up’ elevator button.
The janitor watched in disbelief, as the coyote with golden and grey fur poked the button for the top floor--number 13--with his nose, and disappeared entirely beyond the slowly closing doors.