If the coyote whined or yelped, the sound was lost under the scream of the horn and the sickening thump of the impact. The coyote flew, legs stiff, knocked off to the side at a weird angle. The car slowed for just a second, and then accelerated away. With a whimper, the coyote staggered to its feet, fell, clambered up again, stumbled out into the intersection. Fell.
Shoulders hunched, Maggie dug her toes into the gravel of the shoulder. She tried not to see the blood. She pulled her jacket collar tight around her throat. She glanced out at the coyote, its chest rising and falling rapidly, breath thin white puffs. Hastily, she looked away, looked around, up and down the empty Camino Cabra and Calle Picacho, anywhere but down at the dying animal.
Out onto the road, one step, two, heels catching. Swallowing, she knelt. The asphalt was cold. Her bag felt heavy across her back and chest. She grabbed at the strap. “Hi.” Lame. “I’m really sorry.” Lamer. She swallowed again. The coyote’s rear legs kicked, catching her across the knees. She winced. Fingers stiff, she disentangled one hand from her bag strap and slowly, slowly lowered it to the coyote’s nose. The fur was harsh, rough, a wild swirl of ambers and golds and rusts and blacks and whites. Its eyes rolled towards her. “I’m really sorry you got hit. That guy’s an idiot. He was driving too fast. He shoulda known better.” She swallowed again, licked her lips. “Oh wait.” She heaved her bag over her head and it thunked down on the asphalt. Pushing books out of the way and dog-eared notepads she pulled out her water bottle. “Here. Want some? Will this help?”
The coyote’s eyes rolled away from her and then back again. Its tongue lolled out of its mouth, licking at the air.
“Okay, here.” She popped the cap, pouring a bit into the animal’s mouth, bottle held awkwardly. It lapped at the water, tongue curling. She ran her free hand over the coyote’s head. Mom would have yelled at her about fleas and hosed her down with insecticide. Dad would have called her stupid.
“So, listen. You’re dying, you know. I can’t — I’m sorry, but I can’t really do anything about that. But, I was kinda hoping that maybe you could carry a message for me. See, I’ve been reading these books. About all those old Goddesses, like Hekate and Ereshkigal and The Morrigan. And people used to pray to them. Some people, like my Aunt Sarah, still do, when things are bad. And things are bad for me, right now.”
The coyote’s tongue darted out. She poured more water, rubbing its ears gently. Blood pooled around her knees.
“So, could you carry a message for me? Please? To Hekate. You’re a coyote, so I think she’d listen to you. You’re her kind of animal. Could you please tell her that things are really bad now? Getting worse? Dad’s drinking again. The hard stuff. Mom’s yelling at me again. She hit me last week. She hasn’t done that for a while, but … well; I don’t want her to hit me anymore. I want Dad to stop drinking. Can’t I just go live with Aunt Sarah again, like last summer?” More water. “If you could just take that message to Hekate for me.” The coyote choked, wheezed. “Thank you. And I’m really sorry you got killed.”
A violent shiver, a wheeze. The coyote’s eyes rolled away, and it stilled.
Maggie stayed for a few more minutes, rubbing its ears. Eventually, shivering, she stuffed her water bottle back into her bag. Pushing her sleeves down over her hands, she grabbed the coyote’s rear legs and dragged it out of the intersection. Over the shoulder, around the scrawny ponderosa, over a few clumps of burrograss, and over to the base of a yucca. Back to the ponderosa to pick up a few branches scattered across the ground. She laid those across the coyote.
“So ….” She twisted the zipper pull on her jacket. “Sleep well.”
Back out into the street to grab her backpack, just before a car roared through the intersection. Hugging her arms tight against the increasing cold, she trudged down Picacho. Around a corner and up Camino de Cruz Blanca. A police cruiser sped passed her. Her feet were beginning to hurt. Around another corner and up Camino Ocaso del Sol. Another cruiser. She frowned. Around a curve in the road, and she saw the lights flashing. Two police cars, three, and an ambulance, neighbors on their lawns or peering out windows.
Maggie stopped, chest tight, knees locked. The lights hurt her eyes.
Something blocked her view. She looked up, squinting. Badge. Mustache. Hat.
“Are you Maggie?”
She nodded, head loose and wobbly.
“I’m sorry, but there’s been an … incident. Is there someone we can call? Someone you can stay with tonight?”
Maggie nodded. Her knees unlocked. She fell.