Coyote
By Dana Quell

Skiriki walks along the narrow path at the edge of the woods, the path that leads to her past and to her future, the path that is now her present time.  She has been here before, she knows, but as something -- someone -- else, and it is difficult for her to remember the time before she was Skiriki.  And so she walks forward with only the slightest sense of occurence.

She hesitates when the footpath winds lazily away from the clear day into the darkness of the forest, uneasy about the familiar unknown that yawns before her.  The twilight of the weald gleams with memory older than human remembrance, and suddenly she is more frightened than she can ever remember being.  Yet buried deep in her mind are the words of her father, Ferdox, and they claw their way up through the dirt that is her recollections to find themselves spoken softly from her lips; "There would be no darkness without light -- there would be no good without evil -- there would be no right without wrong -- there would be no courage without fear.  Those who do not have fear cannot have courage, for courage is what comes from conquering fear.  They know nothing of this experience and, therefore, nothing of this reward.  Do not fear your apprehension, Skiriki; it brings with it bravery to those patient enough to cultivate it."

The shadows of these words bring a renewed energy to Skiriki, and with a bound she crosses the threshold, enters the gloomy woods.  Immediately, she is struck with respect for the sturdy oaks, the thick maples, the magnificent trees that grow so high as to touch the sun.  Idly she wonders how they keep from catching fire.

As she walks deeper into thicker parts of the forest, she begins to notice things, like how narrow the path has become or how less light seems to find its way through the leafy branches overhead.  And then she begins to recognize that this is an older part of the forest, perhaps the oldest part, and she knows she has arrived on sacred ground.  Marks and emblems of the faith, the older practices of her people, begin to appear, faded and ancient, upon the barks of the trees.

She has reached the end of the tapered path.

The oldest tree stands rooted to the ground before her, a massive tree whose thick branches hold aloft leaves the colour of flames, even though the days are still long and scorching.  In the middle of its south side, the sacred symbol of Skiriki's people is carved, a lone coyote standing guard within the circle of time.  She, like all of her people, knows nothing of the person who carved it - only that it was a great and powerful shaman who stood outside of time and carved it before her people were created.  She is lucky, one of only a few people from her tribe to even set eyes upon it.

Awed, she falls to her knees before it, able to feel the power it radiates from the respectful distance she keeps, content for a little while to follow its pattern with her eyes.  And then, she can no longer curb her desire for contact; she approaches hesitantly, cautiously outstretching her arm to the ancient plant.  She touches the carving on the tree, traces its curves and memorizes its every movement with her fingers.  And suddenly, she is drawn into it somehow, trapped in a silver swirl illusion of time --  past, present and future.

She is Coyote, the being that stands within the circle of time.  She howls her joy as the universe is created and, at the same time, she caterwauls her grief as the universe is destroyed.  She experiences the life of each individual of the past and the future simultaneously; she watches history play out as if it were a single moment, views it as a tapestry woven of individual experiences and events to form a beautiful creation of duration.  She is everyone and everything, but most of all, she is Coyote.

She stands within and without the circle of time.

She is at the beginning of the circle, carving out the sacred token in a young sapling with leaves the colour of bright fire.  She is at the end of the circle, watching irascible flames scorch the dry, elderly trees, watching the inferno lick at the bark and the leaves that were already red, already fervid and fiery.  She is travelling the circle, roaming each and every singular curve as it twists and brings her back to where she started, watching the never-ending cycle of births and deaths, watching souls live and die, returning the worn materials of the physical bodies back to the earth to be absorbed and replenished in order to create more life, more corporeal shelters for the essences of the souls.

And then the circle breaks, and she is no longer Coyote -- but she is not Skiriki anymore either.  She is someone more, someone better for having seen time in all its grandeur and eminence.  Her heart is filled with spiritual satisfaction; her mind is still reeling from all it needs to process.  And her essence, her soul, is intertwined with those of everyone else, still a thread on the tapestry, but somehow is the entire tapestry now as well.

She stares at the carving, which has remained unchanged by her experience.  The coyote still stands guard over the circle, still without a companion.  Yet she thinks the coyote is not alone as long as it is within the circle, for the circle is composed of the lives of everyone and the beast could not possibly be lonesome surrounded by all people.  She whispers a goodbye to it, out of unecessary courtesy; she knows she is forever a part of the circle and therefore never really leaves the coyote.  Yet she says her goodbyes anyway and turns to begin her journey back through the darkness of the forest and down the narrow path, back home to her tribe in order to share what she has learned.  She hesitates when she reaches the edge of the weald, reluctant to leave, but, seeing that the starlight has replaced the sun in its journey acoss the sky, knows that her people will begin to worry if she pauses any longer and so commences her journey home.