Willie White Raven sat in the shadow of a large rock in the middle of the Mojave Desert, wondering what was going on this secluded area. Something was glowing out there among the cacti. He wanted to take a closer look, but he also felt something was warning him away with tinges of fear and loathing. That was probably nothing more than memories of his grandfather’s complaints of white man’s medicine.
Still, it was something to do. The desert whispered to him its lonesome song, and he knew he would not resist its call, because, like his namesake, he was ever curious.
Willie silently advanced on the glow, the white streak in his otherwise black hair gleaming almost yellow from the thing in the desert. He hoped it was a trick on his eyes like a night mirage. The desert called to him, and Willie knew he was seeing an actual event and not a trick of the light.
The sand danced in front of Willie as he drew closer to the phenomenon. He reached out one hand, putting his fingers in the sickly glow.
The American Indian then vanished in a flash of light and a roll of thunder.
Willie looked around quizzically. The dry Mojave had given way to a temperate forest. An owl hooted as a blast of light threw dirt and debris on him. He scrambled to one side as another blast reached for him, and a furrow of soil and grass was ripped from the ground as he threw himself clear.
“Your lackey won’t help you, Raven,” said a fearsome thing of claws and teeth. Fire boiled from his mouth as he tried to close with the wounded bird near Willie.
Typically, Willie was one to avoid a fight. He just wasn’t suited by temperament to get involved in other people’s business. But it seemed like he had stumbled onto something much bigger than himself, and he decided to just accept his new situation without questioning it further. Deciding that discretion was the best option at the moment, he scooped up the injured bird and took off.
Willie White Raven ran for his life while all around him trees splintered, rocks shattered, and grass burned up in an exposure of flaming malice. “What did you do?” Willie demanded, using cover to elude the fiery blasts.
“I just borrowed a ring,” said Raven.
“You stole something?” said Willie, in amazement. “From that?”
“I was going to return it,” said Raven.
“I’m sure it will understand,” said Willie. He looked for a place to dump the bird without getting killed in the process.
“It went smoothly until Bear came back too early,” said Raven.
“That happens,” Willie said.
“That happens?” said the bird, regarding his namesake. “No, it doesn’t. Not when I’m on the job.”
“Better hope I can outrun the critter,” said Willie. “Otherwise fried crow will be the next thing he’s eating.”
“Hey, kid!” called a coyote. “Over here.”
“Coyote!” yelled the Raven. “Where have you been?”
“Stealing the rest of Bear’s haul,” said the small canine.
“What?!” said Willie and his burden at the same time.
“Sure, while he was out chasing you, Raven,” said the Coyote cheerfully, setting off down a narrow trail. “Your distraction worked better than I expected.”
“What distraction?” asked Raven. His countenance had assumed an all-too-human look of dark rage.
“Never mind that now,” said Willie. “We have to get away from Bear before you guys can start squabbling.”
“Gonna peck your eyes out!” declared Raven, his wings huffing in Willie’s arms.
“Gonna chew your beak off,” said Coyote with a laughing grin.
A blast of fire ripped the ground up behind Willie, throwing embers in his hair. He slapped the tiny flames out with one hand as he ran.
“Less talk, more speed,” he grumbled, his lungs burning from the effort he had already made to stay ahead of the swift Bear.
“Almost there, kid,” said Coyote, leading the way into a cave in the side of the mountain. The entrance was half-camouflaged by a growth of bushes. He jogged forward, leading them to a small crack in the back wall of the cavern.
“This is your big escape plan?” asked Willie, more than a little disturbed that the opening wasn’t big enough for a human being.
“Sure,” said Coyote, grinning. “Watch.” The canine slipped through the crack easily. Raven hopped out of Willie’s arms and also scuttled through with his wings folded.
“Where does that leave me?” Willie asked.
“S.O.L.,” said Coyote as he jogged off.
“What?” Willie almost shouted, too caught up in predicament to wonder whether the spirit animal had really just spoken to him with an American idiom, or if his mind had just somehow translated it that way.
“See ya, kid,” said Raven, hopping after his comrade.
Then a blast of flame ripped the concealing brush away, and Bear stood at the entrance of the cavern, towering over him in all his glory.
Willie knew he was going to die, and he held his hands up defensively, trying to think of something to do.
“Where are your partners?” Bear growled as he snuffled the air.
“They’re gone,” said Willie. “I guess it’s just easy to leave the Indian behind.”
“They left you to die,” said Bear, inhaling with his powerful lungs. His already massive chest expanded from the effort.
Willie ran forward, trying to get around the angry spirit animal, but Bear’s paw swiftly slammed him to the ground in a daze. Willie looked up through a haze of pain.
A thin howl then drew Bear’s attention from his intended victim, causing him to perk his ears as a yip drifted to him.
Coyote danced behind Bear, holding a glittering something in his mouth, attracting the spirit animal’s wrath immediately. Bear exhaled his fiery breath in a long stream, and Coyote leaped to one side as Bear ripped a trench in the ground. The canine howled in derision as he ran off, and Bear gave chase on his barrel legs.
“That went well,” said Raven, squeezing back into the cave through the crack in the back wall.
“Why the change of heart?” Willie White Raven asked, heading for the entrance of the cave. “I thought you guys were running off.”
“We kind of like you humans,” said Raven. “So I felt guilty about making you a fall guy. Coyote agreed and came up with a plan. He said to give you this.”
The bird spirit held out on the tip of its wing a ring, with a turquoise stone that sat in a gold setting. The stone had an eerie resemblance to the Coyote.
“A ring,” Willie said, dubiously. “That’s nice, I guess.”
“Put it on,” said Raven. “Then we’ll get you back to the world.”
Willie put the ring on, and the stone canine seemed to wink as the young man was suddenly covered in flaming fur. His face owed more to animal than man, with a long muzzle and pointed ears.
“What have you done to me?!” Willie cried, his new tail standing in irritation as it burned from its first exposure to the open air. Willie glared at Raven, and rings of light danced around his fists.
“We gave you a little of Coyote’s trickster-ness,” the bird declared, holding both of its wings over its head. “That’s all.”
“You two are too smart for your own good,” Willie said. He raised a hand, and light turned the air into a cage around the bird. “As soon as I get Bear to calm down, we’ll discuss how you are going to return everything you two stole.”
Raven looked crestfallen as Willie flew away on a stream of light. Still, a glint remained in his eye.
Coyote and Bear paused as Willie approached. Coyote seemed to smile, while the grizzly puffed out his barrel chest in anger. Willie recognized the intake as a preparation for a fire blast, so he gestured with one hand, and atomic rings wrapped a muzzle of diamond around the angry spirit animal. Coyote laughed as Bear tried to claw the restraint away. Willie smiled slightly as he formed a box around the other spirit animal.
“What the Manitou is this?” the wild dog yipped.
“Now that I have your attentions,” Willie said, hovering in the air, “let’s settle this peacefully, if you please.”
Bear glared at the transformed Indian but sat on its haunches. Coyote rattled in the box for a moment but then sighed loudly. Willie picked up the box and shook it.
“What was that for?” Coyote asked.
“Just making sure you were still there,” Willie said. “Now, what did you do with the stuff you looted while Bear was chasing Raven?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” said Coyote said.
“The next voice and face you hear and see is going to belong to Bear,” Willie declared, raising a hand. Rings of light orbited the tip of his pointing index finger.
“Hold on,” said Coyote. “I put it in a hiding place only I can get to. If something happens to me, Bear won’t get it back.”
“A coyote rug will be a good substitute in that case,” said Willie. Bear nodded eagerly, clicking his claws together in joyful anticipation.
“OK, you got me,” said Coyote. “If I show you where the hoard is, you’ll let me go?”
“I promise,” said Willie. Bear shook his head, frowning in disappointment.
“OK,” said Coyote. “It’s behind the waterfall near Snake’s lair.”
“Let’s go see,” said Willie, rising in the air with the box and flying away. Bear set off behind at a clumsy, ground-covering pace. Willie paused to pick up Raven in its cage, and the group traveled to the waterfall.
The small group reached the waterfall in a matter of moments, and Willie set the cage and box down on the top of the drop-off.
“Any problems, kick them over,” he said to Bear before flying down the falls to find the shelf or cave that Coyote had used to hide Bear’s treasure.
He waved a hand, and a shelf grew out of the rock to split the water to either side. A cave was revealed by the divided water. A giant snake was also revealed by the cessation of water. It looked a bit peeved at the interruption.
“Excuse me,” said Willie. “Bear would like his treasure back, if you don’t mind.”
Snake lunged from the cave in a bite designed to rip the Indian in half. Willie held out a hand, and Snake crashed into an anvil that filled its maw and directed all of its momentum straight down. It yowled around the heavy steel until it hit the water at the bottom of the waterfall.
Willie placed as much of the treasure in a bag as he could carry and flew it to where the others waited. Three trips carried all the treasure up.
He then watched as Bear carefully picked out all the pieces that were marked with a bear face. That was only half of the treasure. Bear gestured at the diamond muzzle, and Willie wiped it away in a twinkling.
“Thank you, brother,” Bear said before he took his hoard back to his den.
Raven gasped in its cage. “What’s wrong?” Willie asked.
“Some of that is mine,” the bird said.
“Figures,” said Willie. Raven looked up, anger turning to fear as it looked at Willie. “Snake is behind me, isn’t he?” said Willie calmly as the spirit animal raised itself straight up to swallow his upper body.
Willie pointed a finger at the edge of the cliff. Suddenly, Snake began to fall, but he sank his fangs into the rock to prevent a second fall from a greater height. Willie waved his hand, and the serpent was now biting a rubber ducky. He glared at him and then was gone. Willie then dissolved Raven’s cage.
“Coyote stealing from me as–” Raven began, until the full import of his words hit him, and he widened his eyes in anger. “It was all a trap. I was played for a fool. I can’t believe it.” Raven gathered up his treasure, muttering in anger as he stuffed the things in some kind of pockets concealed by his feathers. He flew away, nursing his injured wing.
Willie then turned to the box that held Coyote and dissolved the prison, knowing what he would see. Coyote was already gone.
He laughed as he took to the air and soon spotted from above the glow where he had entered the land of the spirit animals. He flew into it.
Willie White Raven awoke with a start. In every direction, the Mojave Desert was as silent as a tomb. Willie rolled over, drawing his thin blanket closer. He went back to sleep, smiling at the dream he had just went through before the blackness claimed him again.
What he failed to notice was that on his finger was now a ring with a blue stone. Sometimes the stone looked like a raven, and sometimes it looked like a coyote. Both seemed to smile when they were visible, as if at some secret that only they knew.
A stray photon chased itself across the gold setting and vanished in a sparkling cascade. Willie White Raven slept on unaware.