(Ed. note: "Coyote" is one of Notch's previous names.)
Flat on her stomach and stretched out along the bank, face nearly in the cool water of the river, seemed to be the most sensible position from which to view the proceedings below. Beetle squinted for long moments before giggling as a tiny minnow darted by. Her hand flashed out in the next instant, disrupting the peaceful surface, and grabbing uselessly at another fish. All she managed to do, however, was splash about and soak herself thoroughly. When the resulting muck settled again to the riverbed, total emptiness greeted her eager eyes. Her lower lip wobbled in disappointment and she settled one chubby palm against the bank-edge before starting the upwards push.
“What do you see, little bug?”
The sudden voice drew a squeak from her and Beetle flailed for a moment, pout forgotten as she brought both hands to bear on the grass beneath her in an attempt to keep from tumbling head-first. As the alarm faded and she stabilized, the laughter behind her registered and she gave a huff of annoyance. With a squirm, she twisted around and landed with a thump on her backside to glare at her big brother. She tried to pout again.
Coyote merely snickered. Then he sank down onto his haunches in front of her, reached out, and flicked a finger over the jutting lip. “Wind will blow and your face will stay like that,” he cautioned. His hand moved up to ruffle her nut-brown curls fondly, though, before he rocked back on his heels and settled both palms atop his knees. “What were you looking for?”
“Fish.” Beetle made a vague motion towards the quietly bubbling river behind her. “The little fish sparkle and I wanna see them closer. Why do they sparkle?” The bright look she gave her big brother clearly let him know that she expected an answer and would not be happy without one. It didn’t matter if it were true or not; Coyote’s word held the same weight for the cub that their chief’s announcements held.
Reaching back to scratch the back of his head, the older elf considered her words for a moment. His smokey green eyes turned to watch the play of moonlight over water then and he noticed with amusement how the fish had caught the danger of their situation, darting off into water further out or ducking beneath clumps of waterweed. Suddenly, a wide grin broke his thoughtful expression. Dropping a hand behind him, Coyote lowered himself to sit cross-legged on the cool grass. Then he patted the spot beside him. “Come on over here, little bug,” he coaxed. “I’ll tell you all about it.”
Beetle’s face lit up and she gave an unguarded squeal of delight before scrambling over to take the offered seat. Then she leaned into his side, cuddling in with a soft sigh. “Is this gonna be like the croaker story?” she asked.
“Better,” he promised as he slid an arm around her shoulders. “Look up.”
|Illustration by Joanne P.|
Nose wrinkling but still trusting, Beetle lifted her chin and squinted through the overhanging trees to the dark sky, shot through with the pinpricks of starlight and washed with moonlight. A smile appeared as she watched a cloud skid across the face of one of the moons. “Uh huh.”
“So you see how the moons look, right?” Coyote waited until he saw a nod. Then he lifted his free hand to make an expansive pass across the sky, taking it all in with a gesture. “Once fish were a kind of bird and they had very shiny feathers on their big wings and they were all over the place. In the trees and the forest and just getting into everything. They annoyed all of the other animals so much that some of them started sleeping during the day to avoid the fish. The fish just couldn’t help themselves, though. Stuck their nose into everything.”
“Fish don’t have noses.”
“They did back then,” he answered without skipping a beat. “Big, long noses. They used them to feed from trumpet flowers. Anyway, the only thing that made them stop was when the sun went down. Then they got cold and quiet and scared.”
“Uh huh. Without the sun and the clouds to show them where the sky ended, they thought they would get lost.” Coyote’s face held only solemn concern and sympathy for the poor winged fish. Beetle’s upturned face mimicked it unknowingly. “But one day one of the fish got to thinking that there might be exciting things that happened at night when they were sleeping. So they started talking to each other and came up with a plan.” He ruffled Beetle’s hair again and she looked at him obediently, eyes round and wide. “They were going to gorge themselves on food until the sun was high and then they would sleep until it went down. Then...” He lifted a finger and grinned. “Then they were going to fly at night and look at the moons.”
Beetle considered this plan in the moment of silence her brother allowed. Finally, she nodded with approval. “That’s smart,” she announced.
Coyote mirrored her nod but let his face return to solemnity. “They thought so, too. So they did just that.”
“And they liked it, right?”
“They loved it. They had so much fun that they decided that they would sleep all day and spend the night playing... Which meant that now they were driving the very animals that had turned their days around in the first place because of them howling mad. Picture trying to get through the things you have to do with some pushy fish poking its nose into your den.” Beetle giggled and her brother nodded gravely. “Not good, huh? So all of the other animals got together to have a council about it.”
Beetle’s eyes and mouth went round, clearly impressed at the idea. Coyote bit back a grin. “And no one could come up with an idea until one old fox arrived. He had walked a long, long distance and he moved slow because he was so old and tired. But he was clever. Clever as anything.”
“And he knew what to do?”
“Uh huh. He told all of the other animals that what they had to do was remind the fish about how big and scary the sky was, but just telling them about it wouldn’t work. The fish had spent too much time in the moonlight.” Ducking his head, Coyote dropped his voice to a whisper as if afraid the fish would hear and know how they had been tricked. His sister leaned in, eyes widening. “So they waited until the old fox could find some of the smartest fish, the bravest fish. He made friends with them. Then, on a cold night, he sat with the chief fish and began talking about the moons and how bright they were and how they must be so warm. Then he shivered.”
Coyote paused again and looked skywards. “So the chief fish got to thinking and talked to all of the other fish and they decided that they should fly up to the moons and find out if what the old fox said was true.”
“But it wasn’t, was it?”
“Not a bit of it. All of those fish with their big, pretty wings flew as hard as they could until the other animals thought the stars were dancing. The feathers were just that bright in the moonlight. And they flew higher and higher until they were tired but they kept going because they had promised each other they would find out if the moons were warm. But they got too tired after a while and, one by one, they started falling out of the sky. When they fell, their wings bent back along their sides and stuck there until bits of them started coming off. Their feathers stuck to their body and they squirmed as they fell down.”
Beetle’s mouth parted in a silent gasp and her eyes shimmered with threatening tears. Quickly, Coyote squeezed her to his side for a moment. Then he tumbled her over and into his lap for a cuddle. “Don’t worry, little bug,” he whispered with panicked thoughts of what his father would say to him if he made the cub cry again. “They squirmed so well that they all landed in the rivers and lakes and big waters. Safe and sound and cooled down right away from all that exercise. But their wings were just little things now and all their pretty feathers were stuck to their skinny bodies now.”
He let the words settle between them and watched as his little sister processed the idea. When she lit up, he grinned in anticipation. “Yes?” he prompted.
“Their feathers were shiny! That’s what makes them sparkle!”
Coyote laughed and gave his sister an extra-tight hug. “Good work,” he praised her. “You got that right. Those silly fish lost their wings and feathers but got fins and scales.” He gave a final nuzzle to her hair before lifting her from his lap and settling back on her feet. Then he untangled his long legs and clambered upright as well. He stretched a bit before reaching down to take Beetle’s hand to begin their walk back to the Dentrees. Long moments passed and then, suddenly...
“So where did their noses go?”
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