It was so desolate. Coyote looked through the trees that stretched for miles. The further away the trunks, the more they seemed to disappear into the wintery fog. There was so much white now. Even the trees had become white now that the deer had stripped them of their bark in desperation. It was so eerily quiet. With this strange whiteness on the ground, the leaves had long since been covered. The wind in the trees, at best, made a simple clack of twigs clicking together. At its most powerful on stormy blizzard nights, he could hear it whistle so hauntingly through them. Now, however, it was so silent.
A gurgle broke the silence and pulled Coyote from his thoughts. He looked down at his tummy accusingly. It had been a while since he had eaten. He didn’t much like this winter thing. The new form had been short-lived, as the fur coat was far more sufficient in warmth than that plain, pale skin. It was harder to find food. He sank so easily in the deep snow and the other coyotes were not as patient with him as they had been in the autumn days.
It had been a long search and Coyote was rather tired by the time a scent had finally come to his nose. He had found a young doe and made chase. She fled with him in awkward pursuit. The hunt was not in his favor to begin with. She was larger and faster than he could ever be at that time. Behind him was one angry buck. He may not have had a rack to stab him with, but it didn’t make him much less intimidating to a small animal like him.
His size did make it harder for the buck to touch him…with his head. Instead, the buck was able to step on his tail several times. He almost felt the need to abandon his chase, though the doe seemed to always be wherever he wanted to go. He was herding and not even trying. She flew ahead and then seemed to vanish into thin air, despite her cries still being audible. Moments later, Coyote found out the reason. His pads landed on the ice that had covered the pond. The doe was on her side a few feet out. Coyote skidded to a stop and tried to turn around. Her hooves were still dangerous and needed to be avoided.
The doe wasn’t the only thing to watch out for. Just as Coyote had turned, down came crashing the buck and he slid right in his direction. Coyote let out a yelp and leapt up to avoid him, landing on his flank much to the animal’s dislike. It slid further towards the center of the pond, which was deeper and had thinner ice to cover it. It cracked from the weight alone.
“Stop!” Coyote shouted at it. “Stop it or we’re going to fall through the ice!”
The buck didn’t seem to understand and he fought hard to get back into his feet. Of course, hooves such as his were not designed for walking on slippery ice and down he crashed, cracking the ice even further. Another attempt was all it took. Another crash and the ice gave way, sending the buck sliding into the cold water. He flailed and broke more pieces of ice away. It tipped and caused Coyote to panic, as it was a piece of ice on which he was standing. He yelped and clawed desperately, hoping to stay topside. The ice just kept tipping and seconds later, he felt the sharp bite of the water as it soaked into his fur, starting with his tail and working its way up until he was completely submerged.
Underwater, he could see the buck frantically trying to resurface as it strayed further and further from the opening. Coyote doggie paddled his way to the surface, lucky enough to have stayed closer to his freedom than the buck. He clawed at the ice that had not broken free and tried to pull himself up. He eyed the doe warily. She had tried a few times to free herself from her spot, but had taken to resting still. Perhaps she had heard the ice cracking and decided to not chance her little patch breaking.
Coyote scratched and pulled and lifted a hind leg as high as he could as he tried to get enough traction to pull himself out. The doe was close. In desperation, he bit down on her hind leg and closed his eyes tight. She jerked. That was enough to yank him from the hole and just barely have the top of his head missed by her other hind leg. Her movements scooted her closer to the edge of the pond. Panting, Coyote made it to the bank and gave the doe a pull. With a bit of struggle, she had managed to get up and bound away, leaving him to drop, sopping wet, into the snow.
He felt awful. He ached from the strain. He burned from the cold. A breeze licked against him, making him whimper. It hurt. It hurt so badly. Everything was so blurry and white. “I… I can’t do it,” he choked out. “I’m not strong enough. I’m so hungry. I’m so cold. I’m…so tired. I’m…sorry. I couldn’t do it… I failed.”
Warmth. Coyote felt the warmth. Slowly, he opened his eyes to see the inside of the dim, thorny thicket. He wiped his face before looking at his hands and sitting up. He was confused. Was he dead? He could see it was daylight through a small hole in the thicket and snow was falling once again. He looked behind him to see…the doe? Yes! There she rested calmly. She reached out her neck and began to lick the side of his face with her warm tongue. He had no idea exactly where he was or how he got there. Would it be safe to assume that the doe perhaps had felt pity on him? When had he even changed?
He looked back to the doe curiously. “Who are you?” He asked. She said nothing. She simply gave her ear a flick, somewhat put off by this human sound he made. She got to her feet and slid past him to go out into the snow. He followed quietly only to observe her lifting her head and seemingly sniffing the snowflakes. He wanted to ask what she was doing, but then knew she would not be able to answer him.
It was then that a giggle caught his attention. It was so quiet, but he knew it was close. He looked around frantically until he saw a little body sitting on one of the vines of the thicket. “Was…that you?” He asked.
“You can speak too,” she observed. “You must be one of us: the otherkin. You are no pixie, though. I am not sure what you are.”
“Otherkin?” He repeated. “You’re a pixie? You don’t look like the pixies that I’ve seen before. They were green and pink and orange. So many pretty colors. You are just…white.”
“I am a pixie,” she insisted. “I am a winter pixie. We are all this color. We fly with the snow.”
“Doesn’t Winter try to gobble you up?” He asked. “The forest pixies say that Winter is a beast that devours everything in its path. Why are you not afraid?”
“Winter cannot devour us,” she replied kindly. “You needn’t be afraid if you are smart.”
“Then, I am not smart,” he replied with a scowl. “I am cold and hungry. I am sad and lonely.”
The pixie looked at him with a cock of her head. She was considering his words and seemed a bit confused by them. “Why do you not make fire? Why do you not make weapons? Why do you not stitch hide together?”
“Why…would I do these things?” He asked curiously.
“Fire is wild but can be tamed. It can keep you warm,” she explained. “There are things in the forest that can be put together to become instruments to hunt and forage. You are otherkin. Why do you not eat the roots, berries, and bark that are behind? You have a form with hands, Child. What you now lack in fur, you have gained in ingenuity and dexterity. You can climb and dig and look over the lands. Nature made not just a predator of you, but an omnivore. You do not have to bow to the world around you, but make it work for you. You are not so helpless.”
“What of her?” He asked, looking over his shoulder at the doe. “She was to be my meal, and now she stands over me like a mother. Why?”
“She knows you are not like the others. She has warm milk in her, Child. Nature is kind to you, it seems. Not everything will be in your favor, but it seems you have mercy this time.”
turned away from the pixie and stepped over to the doe. He placed a hand on her back and began to pet her damp fur. She licked the top of his head. He hadn’t even considered the doe to continue to be his saving grace. He could kill and eat her now and be fed for days. He could also care for her and benefit from the warm milk. It would be easier to feed her with all the foliage she could digest.
He crouched down and peered up at the teats. The milk was very warm and welcome. The doe seemed rather content with him there. Nature had indeed been merciful on him. He only partook of a little. Just enough to line his belly and warm his mouth. “You protected me,” he said to her. She simply looked at him. She had a feeling he was speaking to her but couldn’t understand. “Then, from here on out, I’ll protect you too. You fed me when I needed it. I shall use all that Nature gave me to feed you too. Maybe, just maybe, …winter won’t be so bad, after all. I won’t just sit and wait for the beast to devour us. I am going to face it head on. If it tries to devour us, it won’t do so without a fight.”
If there’s one thing that Coyote learned, it was that the season was indeed hard. He had learned many skills. He had learned to make weapons of icicles, spears of fallen branches, stone tools to cut and break. He even learned to weave twigs into baskets thanks to the kindness of the winter pixies. He could keep the doe warm and fed, and he could even dine on things other than her milk. He had discovered a great many fish under the ice. He had found hiding places he could not reach previously to hunt other meats.
were fruits in the forest, even in this cold season. He found the caches of nuts. He dug up roots. He learned to make twigs into baskets which allowed him to carry his horde. Everything was mediocre and catawampus. He hadn’t perfected any of it. However, it did the job better than having nothing. Hides provided insulation within the thicket den. It even provided a cover for the entrance so no wind could seep in.
Wherever the doe went, Coyote followed. In his hand, he kept his spear, cut with the rocks he had found and broken into knives. The pixies were often about and provided him with the company he thought he had lost. There came the cardinals and sparrows and crows. There came foxes too. Coyote began to realize just how alive this dead forest truly was. It was harsh, yes, but it wasn’t too different from the autumn days. He suddenly didn’t feel so scared of the beast that was Winter. Even when he felt alone, he wasn’t as alone as he had thought. There were dangers for him and the doe, and yet, he wasn’t consumed by the fear. In fact, he smiled more often.
The animal form was useful, but Coyote took great advantage of his human form. As the pixie had told him, it provided him with the ability to do things the other animals could not do. Now that he knew how to feed himself and his friend and keep warm, it didn’t seem so deadly anymore.
“So, that’s just how simple it was?” Sonya asked. “Once the pixie made you realize you could do the human thing to your advantage, you conquered winter?”
“Well, it wasn’t an overnight thing. It was still hard,” he explained. “I was still small and clumsy. It was still a miserable existence, but I made do. I found things to make each day worth it. I had the doe, and I needed her milk less and less. Having a big brain, one has to find ways to entertain themselves. This kept me from getting too bored. I could get warm when I wanted, so experimenting with snow and what the season offered was less of an issue. Still, it was cold, as I had not yet learned the power of fire. I was not prepared for the season, so it was very tough to get ahead.”
“But, you made it,” she concluded.
“I thought it would never end,” he sighed.
Cold days came and went and then came again. It was bleak and it was hard to keep optimistic, even with so many new skills Coyote possessed in favor of himself and the doe. How long would he have to do this? How long would the food last? How long would he have to scrounge to feed himself and the doe together? He couldn’t live on her milk forever. Already, it was becoming harder to get, especially with little need to drink it every day. Coyote wanted to spend as many dark days within the thicket as possible. Still, he couldn’t leave the doe.
What if something happened to her? He was more than capable now to scratch out a living on his own and her absence would mean he only had himself. He didn’t need her milk anymore. By that logic, he could have easily killed her whenever he liked. She was easy and free meat. She had “outlived” her use for him. So, why didn’t he? If he were an animal, this wouldn’t have been an issue. He wasn’t an animal. He was…something else. This thing that he was, it had emotions and different reasoning; higher reasoning. She was his friend and she seemed to care for him. He cared for her too. He could dare say he loved her if he could understand. He felt for her what he felt for that strange woman in the glen.
No. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t kill her; he couldn’t betray her. She had risked so much to take a chance on him and he wouldn’t repay her in such an odious way. He felt her sigh under his head. This prompted him to reach up and stroke her face. “They didn’t treat me like this,” he said. It was more to himself than to her. “I looked like them, but I wasn’t like them. I was different. The more different I was, the less they were able to let me stay in.” He turned his head to watch her lick his hand. “You and I were supposed to be enemies. I could have killed you, and yet you still took the time to care for me. You didn’t have to. You could have left me out there for dead or finished me off yourself. You had no idea if you could trust me.”
She simply gave him a nuzzle. He couldn’t help but let out a soft laugh. “You are not what I expected. But then again, I guess I wasn’t quite what you expected either. Have I made your life any better? Have I made it as good as you’ve allowed mine to be?”
Of course, she said nothing. She never did. Instead she shimmied out from under him. No longer able to use her as a pillow, Coyote sat up and followed her from the thicket and out into the world. It felt a little warmer and more birds were singing than normal. He hurried to the doe’s side as she wandered further and further from the den. The snow was melting. He didn’t see as many winter pixies either. Things were starting to look familiar again. Over the days, he had noticed some of these subtle changes, but not to the extent that he suddenly noticed them now. It was as if, despite these things being in plain sight, they only now were beginning to register in his mind. He needed fewer layers to keep a comfortable temperature, and he recognized growing glimpses of a world he thought was long gone.
He looked onto the field that she had brought him to see. There was no snow here and the grass was growing. The flowers were blooming, and some had already bloomed. There were insects too! There were grasshoppers and crickets and ladybugs. There in the sky was a sight he had not seen in months: forest pixies! They had returned and were playing among the blossoms!
His face seemed to light up as a smile grew upon it. He thought they were gone. He thought all of this would be merely a distant memory, and even then, everything was so new. Everything had been a different color before winter had come. There were no crispy, crackly leaves and everything looked so vibrant, bright, and healthy.
“What is this magic?” He asked. He didn’t even realize that he was speaking until after it had passed through his lips. He dropped onto all fours and studied the un-blossomed petals of a nearby flower. The bud, even in this stage, had such a pretty shade of pink.
“Spring,” came the tiny yet familiar voice. Coyote perked and looked up to see the little green, glowing pixie descending before him.
“Spring is what follows Winter,” she said. “Winter devours everything, but then Spring comes to give birth to the world anew.”
“You mean…Winter…,” he began, trying hard to process the situation, “…it doesn’t last forever?”
“No,” she giggled. “Only a few short months. Well, I suppose they must feel long in your case, here within the midst of it. Spring is upon us now and Winter shall depart. Offspring will be borne from their mothers, migrations shall return, and all shall grow warm and green… and blue, and pink, and yellow,” she continued with a laugh. “Things will be easy for you now. You have survived.”
“Yes,” he replied as he cast his eyes over at the grazing doe. “I got very lucky and I learned a lot about myself…and this world.”
“That is good,” the pixie said. “You have grown taller. You are not so skinnier. You must have found a good resource.”
“And a kind heart,” he replied. “What happens now?”
“Now?” She asked. “Now, we enjoy the bounty that returns with Nature’s graces. In due time, it shall grow hot as Summer embraces the land. Autumn shall return then, and once more, the land shall bow before Winter.”
It…repeats…” Coyote suddenly realized. “This happens…all the time? Non-stop?”
“Yes,” she assured. “This is how the year passes. Now, you will be prepared for next time, yes?”
Coyote puffed out his chest proudly at that, “I will be immune to Winter’s fury! I have a whole year in which to learn my world further. I have experience behind me, now. Nature was merciful to me, and I won’t let that be in vain.”
The pixie was rather amused by the gusto the strange boy exuded. She motioned towards the doe, but kept her eyes on him, “What of her? You’ve no need for her now. You are on the road to self-sufficiency, taking command of the role of an otherkin.”
“What of her?” He asked back. “I overcame the season by thinking…differently than that of the simple-minded beast I once thought I was. I’m…more. She may not last forever and I may have to eat meat to survive, but can’t I show mercy to her? Can she not be my companion until her final days?”
The pixie was silent for a few moments. This brought a look of confusion to Coyote’s face. Had he perhaps said something wrong? Was this some sort of unspoken faux pas? “She won’t last forever. You are correct. You are like us, Brother, in that you possess higher reasoning, emotions, and mercy. This is your world, and you may do with it as you please within the limits Nature has placed upon you.”
Coyote stood up. Limits. He was determined to learn those limits and do everything he could to make this world truly his world. Nature had given it to him and him to it. “I won’t make her regret it…”
Sonya had no words. She had so much going through her mind. There were so many images and yet, she could find words for none of them. Coyote could see the overwhelming expression on her face and couldn’t help but find it amusing. “As you can see, I’ve learned a lot from my world over the years. I took command of it and of myself.”
“What happened to the doe?” She asked. It was a silly question, she knew, but it just felt like something she had to ask him.
“She lived a good life,” he replied. “She had many fawns and she passed away when her time came. Over the years, I’ve befriended many a creature in these woods. Each one brought me something new. Each one taught me something special. Their times would come and go and their memories would become a part of me. Otherkin, grazers, predators, birds…and then came man. I have already told you how that situation unfolded.
“Yes,” she replied, bringing her knees to her chest. “Do you ever regret showing mercy to man?”
“No,” he replied. “I don’t regret it. That isn’t to say that I do not have regrets. I think everyone has them, be they minute or be they great. I’ve certainly made my mistakes and learned from…most of them.” He concluded that with a chuckle. Sonya too had to chuckle, feeling the tension that could have come heavy over them lighten.
“I’m sure there’s something I should take from this?” She asked.
“That is up to you,” he said. “I told you what you wanted to know. You know your history and now a little of mine. If you’ve taken something from those anecdotes and have grown from them in some way, then that is something I’m proud to have contributed. You’re a bright girl, Sonya. I just hope that the things you walk away with…serve you well in your future endeavors in some way.”
“I’ll do my best, Coyote,” she assured before a yawn escaped her.
“And, it is getting late,” he added. “You’ve got a long hike ahead of you tomorrow. You should get some rest.”
A long hike? She melted into him and rested her head back on his chest. Her curiosity was abuzz. How could she ever get to sleep like that? But, in time, sleep and Sonya finally found each other.