A ridiculously long slash one-shot for SerialXLain, who requested a barn, an alcoholic Vietnam war veteran who discusses religion, band-aids, and summer.
It very much got away from me.
It's okay if you're confused at first.
You're not stupid. It is indeed confusing.
Non-linear format, but definitely readable;
Heavy use of Diné/Navajo mythology.
- Near Lukachukai, Arizona. Right now.
Outside, Coyote howling.
Running his hands through his hair, Cody opens the plastic blinds. Slivers of the dark slide in through the slats, streaky starlight and the glow of the sturgeon moon. Wind like church bells blows open the metal door of his trailer and the nighttime sweeps in on its four paws, growling in the back of its throat.
"What happened to you?" Cody asks. He shuts the door and leans against it. "It's late."
"I need to rest."
Climbing into Cody's bed. Curling into his blankets, embodying them. Cody watches him move, like shadows move on water. They lie underneath the thin, cotton sheets.
Brushing fingertips over shoulders. "Cody."
Just a name. Cody shivers; a yucca trees grows up through his spine and becomes him. He slides his arms around his sometimes-lover, and they lie touching as much as the crackling July heat will allow them to.
He opens his mouth to speak, but there are no words.
Smiling— teeth glow in the dark like abalone knives.
- Phoenix, Arizona. Thanksgiving, 2004.
Cody, age 15, stood in line for dinner at the failed Catholic church. The line stretched six blocks, around the corner and past the generic convenience store and all the way to the supermarket, where people who could afford to bring food home to their families purchased it and people who couldn't stood awkwardly outside, waiting like ghosts in the dark.
Inside, the austere women with crosses hooked around their slender necks handed out paper plates and detached smiles. Cody returned one —the latter, the smile, a moment of unguarded, unpretentious gratitude because he hadn't eaten in days— and the girl in the gray gown just shook her head and turned away.
The bland, white tables stretched from one cheerily-decorated wall to another, making regimented lines of hungry diners, all hunched over their watery meals. Cody swung his legs back and forth and stared at the graffiti in the table. HK loves AB.
"Is someone sitting here?"
The other boy had appeared older, but only by a couple of years. His skin reminded Cody of smooth clay dug up from the earth with trowels, and his eyes looked like storms. Why storms? They looked like everyone else's eyes. Cody glanced away quickly. "No," he said. "No one is sitting there."
"Why are you sitting alone?" The other boy slid onto the bench of the cafeteria table. He blinked at Cody with his bright owl-eyes, through a curtain of matted ashen hair that hung in his face. He reached out to brush his fingertips over Cody's arm in a feeble attempt to show concern. "You shouldn't sit alone."
Cody smiled, folded his mouth into a thin grimace that he reserved for people he didn't yet trust. That was to say, everyone. "My parents are at work," he said, and this was true in the way that it is true that your uncle really did catch a fish as long as his arm but it got away— in parts and in pieces.
He scraped at the last of his mashed potatoes.
"What's your name?" Cody asked finally. He wiped his mouth on the back of his flannel sleeve. On receiving no answer but the blink of two gourd-yellow eyes, he offered up his own as collateral.
In response: "I'm Sikya," replied Sikya, who had sharp teeth and an easy smile.
They sat in the basement of the church, surrounded by yellow and pink butcher paper flowers and women in button-down dresses, and talked about things that meant little to either of them. The weather came up twice. Cody felt the bites of nervousness at his spine, urging him to turn and flee, to disappear into some unknown crevice and fall through the cracks.
"Do you go to school?"
"No," said Sikya. "Do you?"
Mint ice cream came in little plastic Dixie cups.
They walked out of the church together, close enough that someone might mistake them from afar as friends. Cody walked with his head down, black hair falling in front of his eyes in choppy strands. He kept his hands in his pockets, arms clutched tightly to his body. He could see only Sikya's shoes, shuffling in an unnatural patter, the gait of someone unfamiliar with this world.
Cody shook his head to clear it.
Dressed in a loose, purple skirt and three sweatshirts, a little woman, shriveled beneath the sun like a raisin, hobbled past them. She stopped, just a few steps away, and turned abruptly on them. She lifted her cane, higher than her head, until it pointed directly at Sikya. She shook it, mouth open, eyes blazing from beneath her knit hat.
"They have a word for you," she growled, low in her throat. She stamped her cane on the ground, her back heaving. "With it, he goes on all fours."
Sikya bared his teeth and the woman fled as fast as she could, tripping and toddling over the cracked sidewalk, down towards the funeral home and away from Sikya and Cody.
"She was probably crazy," Cody offered, shifting uncomfortably on his feet. "Don't worry about it. There are lots of crazy people out there."
Absently, Sikya nodded. "There are lots of crazy people out there," he echoed, twirling the blondish strands of hair between his fingers. "You just have to take them in stride, especially when they don't understand the whole picture."
Awkwardly, Cody fidgeted. "I'm not good at taking things in stride," he admitted, leaning back on the heels of his feet and sliding his hands into the pockets of his ill-fitting jeans. "People like that scare me."
Sikya shrugged and said nothing more about it. "Where are you going?" he asked, tilting his head to one side and observing Cody like a dog eying another dog, but the expression struck Cody as a little bit sharper. Aloof, maybe, as aloof as someone could be and still be standing only inches away.
"Home," said Cody, in what was a mostly-true statement. "Maybe the store first. I'm supposed to pick up something for breakfast tomorrow." He had three dollars in quarters rattling around in his pocket. Mostly South Carolina state quarters. He found a lot of those.
On the horizon, the sun had begun to dip. It slipped down, inch by inch, into the cool pleasure of nighttime, drawing away the light with it. Only the passing bursts of color and flush in the sky persisted, indicating that once, in that rippling sky, had hung a leaking sun.
"You shouldn't walk alone at night."
"I shouldn't talk to strangers either, but here you are." Cody's sweatshirt hung off his shoulder and he wrapped his arms around his ribs. "Where are you going?"
Sikya shook his head. "I have nowhere to be." His eyes —the ones that looked like storms over endless playa— flicked down to his worn shoes. "Not for a while, anyway."
They walked down the angular streets, towards the long lines of cheap, boxy apartments stacked on top of each other. "Where are you from?" Cody asked.
"A lot of places."
The air decayed.
They sat on a bus stop bench with their legs drawn up, watching the stars creep out from their hiding places in the folds of the night sky. The lampposts, some of which were burned out and some of which cast only the palest orange glow, lined the sheets of shattered sidewalks, the moat of plastic trash.
"What do you believe in?"
Sikya stared down at his hands and wrinkled his eyebrows, as if he could not believe those words had come from his mouth.
"I don't know." Cody peered into the black windows of the store across the street. It had once been a Vietnamese restaurant, but it had shriveled up and died with everything else on that block. The newspaper had mentioned something about another barrack of identical, oppressive little apartments, but nothing had materialized in the past three years. "My mother taught me all the Navajo legends, but I don't really know what to make of them."
Sikya didn't say anything for a minute. Two minutes. Waiting. He crossed his legs and leaned back on the slats of varnished wood. "You don't have to believe in anything."
They sat on the busy street and said nothing as headlights bled into one another. Drunks on a sidewalk started up a fight about nothing and they bickered on and on, always one step away from a strike on the face. When they finished, they sat down to share a bottle of amber liquid. Junk trees shed their yellowing leaves and worthless hoards.
Eventually, the white metal bus crept up the street towards the stop.
"This is my bus," said Cody. He fished the crinkled ticket stub from his pocket. "Is there a way I can get a hold of you?"
"I'll be around."
Like a strike of lightning, Sikya was gone.
When Cody was older, he would understand what the bundled woman had been explaining— the thin line between what is good at what is evil, light and dark, this world and the next. He would comprehend the nuanced differences between trickster and skinwalker, of which there are uncomfortably few. Of course, by then it didn't matter: Cody absorbed the darkness outside, the wolf at the door, gathered it up in his arms and brought it inside.
Not remembering the beginning. Remembering, instead, that there was no beginning.
"Where are you going, Coyote?"
That is what they called Sikya on these pebble-heavy paths between this world and another.
"Just roaming around."
"Be careful of the giant," says Old Woman, whose back is bent and whose fingers move like broken branches. "He's much larger and much fiercer than you imagine."
Knowing no fear; wandering through golden fields ripe with wheat and black-veined butterflies. Picking up the stick and hoisting it over his head, and charging, headlong, into the cave with its limestone teeth. Hunting the giant— too big to see, whose belly swallowed a whole valley, whose very heart was a volcano of liquid fire.
The woman on the ground peers up through the slick hair plastered against her face.
"What are you doing?"
"Hunting the giant."
Twirling the stick around and around. It's not very heavy.
"You are already in his belly!" The woman laughs and rolls back and forth, clutching her own distended stomach. "Anyone can walk in, but no one ever walks out!"
Shrugging. There are worse ways to die.
More people sit on the sides of the road, heads in their hands groaning the low groans of suffering calves.
Never the less, waving at people. The few with strength enough left return the gesture warily.
"What's wrong? Are you sick?"
"No. We're starving."
Slicing, neat and precise, into the walls of the cave. "Eat this." The people raise their eyebrows and consume the flesh of their captor: giant tartare, géant à la carte, tirano asada.
"We never thought of that!"
"Because you're not as smart as me."
Proceeding towards the volcano.
"Is that his heart?"
"Yes!" offers a woman still curled on the ground. "That's his heart."
Hacking bit by bit the giant's heart to shards of dead stars.
"Are you Coyote?"
"And to think I swallowed you...stop that cutting and I'll open my mouth."
Instead, striking the hunting knife one more time.
The giant gasps for air as he dies and they flood out, the trapped nation and the lava, together in one great stream through the sticky cave-mouth.
All but the wood tick make it through unharmed.
The giant catches the wood tick between his teeth.
"Now I am flat," says the wood tick.
Shrugging. There are worse things to be.
- Phoenix, Arizona. The following January.
Cody pressed his body against the cool, firm wall. His eyes stayed shut, sealed with moisture and salt, and he struggled to breathe. His mother had hit him before. He told himself it didn't bother him any more, because that was just how she was and it wasn't her fault and when he left, he would be gone.
Later, she would come in and apologize for being a bad mother and she'd whisper, over and over, I love you, I love you, I love you. That was the only time she'd ever say it, after his skin split and his chapped lips cracked open. I love you, but I don't recognize you.
She held him tightly in her liver-spotted arms and he let her because he couldn't blame her.
He put a band-aid over the scrapes on his elbow.
The window snapped open and chilly wind and sand blew into the tiny, dull room. Cody opened one bleary eye. "You're here." He flopped back on the bedspread. The orange pattern made him look like he was covered in dust, but he had always liked the color. "I didn't expect you."
Sikya climbed into Cody's bed, between his blue gingham sheets. "And yet, here I am." His mouth brushed against Cody's collarbone. Cody tangled his hands in Sikya's dreadlocks. "Let's go somewhere. I've got money."
Sikya always had money. Bundles of bills, all neatly folded and barely wrinkled. He handled it gingerly. "I hate this stuff. It's fucking pointless."
They sat in the all-nite diner in the middle of a neon wasteland.
Country music played in the background, twangy men with stoic guitars.
"Don't ask me about that. It makes me feel young." Cody took measured sips from his plain blue coffee cup. The waitress with the frizzy hair and acid-green gum smiled at him across the room and he waved back with the tips of his fingers.
"Aw, are you jealous?" Cody laughed in the back of his throat and his eyes fluttered shut. "That's stupid."
He pressed the tips of his fingers against Sikya's open palm.
"It's possible." Sikya wrapped his hands around Cody's. "Very possible."
"Waitresses can't compete with...whatever it is that you are."
The trickster. Older than man. Quicker and sharper and wiser than man.
Sikya laughed. It was the laugh of strange rivers, of deep valleys, staunch mountains. It was an old sound, and it belonged to the world. "Don't think about what I am. Think about what you are."
Cody was unsure about his place in the family of things. Unannounced by wild geese, he spent his nights waxing existential, and his days working split shifts at a grocery store to sustain his mother's fragmenting life. The wanting seed buried inside his pulpy heart made him skittish and mooning, prone to long interludes of starvation from senses and emotion.
He grew hungry for love and art and sex and mint ice cream milkshakes.
In full view of the frizzy-haired waitress, Cody brushed his mouth against Sikya's. He squeezed his eyes shut to block out the stare of the world. His hands scrambled to clasp around Sikya's wrists and he held on tightly as if some strange tornado would arrive to pluck them out of the diner and cast them into the graying skies.
This particular all-nite diner agreed to make Cody a mint ice cream milkshake, and he was that much closer to satisfaction.
- Phoenix, Arizona. That same year.
His mother taught him all the stories of her people.
In the windows of compassion, of lucidity, of conscience that interrupted her waking rage, they perched on the couch, drinking astringent tea made from little blue flower blossoms. She would wear her hair in loose, dark waves around her shoulders and drink cans and cans of diet Coke with lime. The TV was always on mute.
"Never forget where you come from," she would continue, even as she consumed carefully measured doses of poison. "It's all you have left. What you come from. If you leave that, you're rootless. Floating. No matter how far you go in whatever direction you go, you come from this place."
He came from red. Small apartments, public school and chain-link fences; Diné or Navajo or Welcome to Arizona, home of the Grand Canyon, all twirled with ribbons of class struggle and left to simmer in existential angst for 16 long years. He had reached out and touched the seed of truth in mythology.
It had touched him back.
"You are not city lights. You are Joshua trees, sickle moons, rocks with holes through the middle."
Someone died so she could have those pretty dreams, but she had them nonetheless. Wild visions swallowed up her waking hours. Scrabble tiles spelled out prophecies for 24 points, including the double letter score. She lost sight of the illusion, and the illusion was resentful of it.
They watched late-night TV. Cody leaned his head on his mother's shoulder and she tilted her head to rest against his and they looked like little owls, watching the Late Late Show. Outside, the city slurped on, content with the river of headlights and steel that wound through its belly.
- Near Lukachukai, Arizona. Right now.
At dawn, Cody wakes up to an empty bed. He scowls at the space beside him and stretches his arms into it as if that can reclaim the warmth that has been lost.
He gets up. He gets dressed. He brushes his teeth with off-brand toothpaste.
The phone rings. He presses it against his ear and listens to the explanation provided by the person on the other end of the line. When he hangs up, he feels infinitely more hallow, as if he has been scraped out like a winter squash.
A quick look at the clock says it is quarter after 6, but he's not sure that's right. He doesn't have a watch to check so instead he crawls from his trailer into the early day. He shuffles through the fluffy patches of yellow flowers and into his red truck.
It struggles to start.
"You stupid fuck," he growls at it.
It howls to life in response, and this is the way of things.
Cody drives all the way into town. There isn't much to Lukachukai: a few stores line sparsely-populated streets, everyone is poor. The last building in town is a warped wooden barn that sells cheap tack.
In the market, Cody buys Wonderbread and granola bars and pays in quarters. They are mostly from South Dakota and Vermont. He doesn't talk to the clerk, but the clerk smiles at him anyway. He never says anything to her and she doesn't mind because, elsewhere, she is the star of her own performance. Her role in Cody's is merely walk-on, but she doesn't mind.
He climbs into his truck and sets the Wonderbread on the seat. He drives down the street, past the sloping town, past the street to where the street becomes red desert. The hula girl on his dashboard flutters in response to the rocks beneath the wheels.
When the civilization stops, so does Cody.
At first, there is nothing. Only the silence greets Cody, sparing not even an echo in response. He slaps the side of his car, turning his palm an angry red. He rubs his hand. Still nothing. The desert crawls around him, all scorpions and scaly lizards and slick snakes made from clay.
But no coyote. The coyote is not here.
It would be easy to give up. Cody has Wonderbread. What does he need Sikya for when he has Wonderbread?
He calls out again anyway. "Sikya!" It means "yellow" in a language that isn't Navajo: an arbitrary name, one that doesn't fit him, doesn't describe anything about him beyond his hair. It's yellowish, the color and texture of hemp cord. He could shave it off, and then that name wouldn't describe him at all.
The stillness persists for a moment longer.
But then, whirling. The dust. Whirling in circles like wheels with spokes of wind, motion spinning too quickly to make out all the details.
"You left this morning."
Laughing. Head tilts back, laughing, and eyes like the Harvest moon peer right into Cody's head.
"I leave every morning."
Cody scowls. "It was barely light."
"Coyotes are nocturnal."
"So?" Cody wrinkles his face like the inside of a peach and stomps his foot in the red dirt. It billows up like sheets on a clothes line. "You're awake now, aren't you? You didn't have to leave. You didn't always leave."
Any other day (every other day) he would let it go.
Rolling his eyes, hands over hands over hands pressing Cody against the warm metal of his beat-up pick-up truck. "You worry too much. You don't have to come find me, I'll find you."
I will always find you.
Even though he has angry words he wants to throw back, they aren't really directed at Sikya, and so Cody tries to diffuse the anger into the ground. He presses his body back up against the body of his other, better half.
July cooks on the flat pan of the desert; Cody shivers anyway. He climbs backwards on four spider limbs, back into his truck, and stops only against the far door. The handle jabs him in the back.
Crawling in after him, crushing him against plexiglass and making his breath short.
In an otherworldly desert: reinventing fire.
- Phoenix, Arizona. Summer 2007.
Sikya didn't always leave.
Sometimes he stayed late into the lazy afternoon, curled up beside Cody, tracing sunflowers that wound between Cody's many scars. He brought the creeping desert in with him and brought it out when he left. The proximity to scorpions and rattlesnakes was not easy to get used to, especially when the city kept such things at a firm distance.
"It won't hurt you if you don't bother it," Sikya said. He peered over the edge of the bed. Cody could hear buzzing and he squeezed his eyes shut.
"Tell me there is no snake under my bed."
"There's no snake under your bed."
"Are you lying?"
They lay tangled up in each other's shapes, seamless stretches of flesh that made up one living entity confined to two bodies. Even though the light was distinctly afternoon, Sikya was still there and the stillness of the room persisted on and on.
His mother's voice shook.
Cody rolled out of bed, careful to jump back so as not to disturb whatever had collected under his bed during the night. Even if the window was closed, all sorts of creepy things managed to find their way into his space.
He poked his head out of the doorway and shouted into the hall. "I'm awake! What do you want?"
His mother pulled the cigarette from her withered mouth. "I have errands for you. I need two loafs of bread, a quart of milk, and a six-pack."
"I can't buy booze."
"Figure it out."
Cody retreated to his room. "Are you holding a snake?"
"Do you want to come shopping with me?"
They departed. Cody sent shifty glances at the rattlesnake that slithered out of Sikya's hands once they had slipped down the fire escape and into the alley, but even that was routine in its own way. He hoped no one called animal control on it.
"You don't really have to come." They sat on the stone bench in front of the bus stop.
"It's okay. I appreciate my forays into the realm of mere mortals."
Cody elbowed him and Sikya elbowed him back.
"Your elbows are bony."
They got on the bus, which was mostly populated by old people and women with children. In the back of the bus, they wilted like flowers, leaning against each other for support. The heat beckoned them towards sleep again, but then the supermarket was looming and they had to step out into the heat of the day.
Luckily, the supermarket was refrigerated.
Cody picked out loafs of bread from the day-old pile and wrapped them in pink plastic bags. He moved with hollow, tentative steps, like a ghost, like a fragile facsimile of a teenage boy.
Sikya wove their fingers together easily and tugged Cody down the aisles. The mirrors reflected and refracted their moving bodies along the long rows of yogurt and meat. Pointless twirling, spinning, the occasional giggle. They wandered to the front of the store and Cody counted quarters from his pocket.
"I have money."
"Do you have a job I don't know about or something?" Cody couldn't imagine Sikya did— the trickster held a marked disdain for the modern monetary system.
"I'm a Anarchist," he once said, when they were lying on Cody's bed, breathing the same air. Cody looked up from the strand of Sikya's hair he had been examining and arched one dark eyebrow. "I am. I have to be."
Sikya rarely addressed his own unusual origins.
Cody had said nothing. Go on. Keep talking.
Give me something.
"You really can't trust anyone," Sikya began. He had straightened his spine a little, preparing himself to deliver words both immortal and profane. "Not a single fucking soul. The good news, however, is that individually, there's a natural balance of things. The bad news is that when people start coagulating into corporations and governments, the balance is thrown off. Someone has to encourage people to think for themselves, isn't that the point of anarchy?"
And Cody, who had never been very good with politics, had not quite understood.
Back in the supermarket, Cody picked up the plastic bag with the mint ice cream and milk and bread and booze, courtesy of Sikya's ID, which said his name was Humphrey.
The automatic doors swished open and they stepped into the parking lot.
"Are you supposed to encourage people to be as greedy and selfish as possible?"
Sikya glanced over his shoulder and raised one unkempt blonde eyebrow. "Am I supposed to encourage people to be as— I don't think so. No. Since when do you wonder about that, anyway?"
"Since forever. Just tell me."
They started towards the bus stop again.
"There are alternate ways to live in the world. You can survive off their rules, or you can survive off your wits. I merely encourage balance in this creative tension."
Cody waited, but Sikya said nothing else. Instead, they sat, bone-bleached, waiting for the bus to come.
- Phoenix, Arizona. Autumn 2007.
And then one day, he did leave.
"I have to go."
And there had been no explanation. There had been a jumble of words back and forth on either side but no explanation, nothing Cody could cling to as the spokes of the wheel of the world came undone. Sikya kissed him sharply —it had tasted of blood and sorrow and rye toast with organic honey— and then left for some distant destination Cody would never see. Abruptly.
He had always expected it. Waited for it. Anticipated it.
The wanting seed, buried inside Cody's chest, tugged him back to his empty bed. The monotony of solitude made every waking hour another blank page in an even blanker chapter; he found comfort in the sheets that tangled around his body.
Profound. He decided it was profound.
His evidence? In the wake of Sikya's departure, he had taken to smoking throaty cigarettes and painting in the living room until the whole apartment smelled like fumes: art justified his loneliness and made it worth something, even if all he did was hurl paint at walls to keep from thinking for too long. Being an alcoholic meant he was alive.
After, he ate mint ice cream because it soothed him in a way no amount of late-night TV or marijuana could soothe him. His whole body relaxed into his overstuffed couch, warm with alcohol and yearning, and he watched the ceiling fan click around and around in circles.
Sometimes, at night, he opened his windows and listened to the sound of wind on rocks, sand on sidewalks. The quiet discontent bloomed in his heart and though he could never quite articulate the sensation, it made everything feel wrong. As if something he had loved or tried to love or could learn to love had left him and now he was alone, listening.
After three weeks of lying in bed, Cody got up one morning and went to work at the grocery store and realized he hated looking at the meat and dairy aisle and thinking about Anarchy and that he had to move.
So he got in his truck and drove to the most depressing place he could think of: Albuquerque, New Mexico.
When he saw the grocery store was hiring, he applied at the movie theater.
- Lukachukai, Arizona. Right now.
They go to breakfast. It's still early enough for the early bird special, but neither of them get that.
Across the table, eating bacon.
"That smells good."
"You want a piece?"
Sighing, twirling his dreadlocks, rolling his eyes. Swaying side to side with the beat of the earth, the music Cody can't hear, always in time to the rhythm of the universe without even realizing it.
"If you're still worried I'm going to—"
"No." Cody cuts him off and shakes his head quickly from side to side. "It has nothing to do with you. Or you leaving, I guess. It does have to do with you, but only because I need a favor."
Cody thinks of Phaëton, who borrowed the chariot of the sun and died for it because his father promised him anything he wanted.
"I'm going to go say goodbye to my mother. This afternoon. She's in a hospital in Phoenix. They called me this morning and I'm not surprised, but..."
Instead of finishing his sentence, Cody takes a drink of his coffee. It's black. Black coffee and English muffins is actually the all-American breakfast, even though the muffins are English and the coffee is from Sumatra. The only thing that tastes good is the strawberry jam that comes with breakfast, and that's from Vermont.
Reaching out to brush the strands of hair behind Cody's ears.
There are no words.
For the longest time, sitting in silence and eating bacon and English muffins and shitty coffee with no sugar in it because the only option is Sweet 'n' Low and Cody hates Sweet 'n' Low so much. Sweet 'n' Low is for diabetics and people who think they are fat.
Sometimes, Cody misplaces aggression along with his car keys.
"I want you to come with me," he says finally. "To go see her. She's in a hospital in Phoenix, and that's too far to make a day trip by myself and I don't want to stay in a motel room alone. I hate motels, almost as much as I hate the idea of seeing my mother again."
Reaching out to touch him.
Cody wilts away like a shrinking violet.
"Will you come?"
Rolling his eyes, again, as if he can't believe that's even a question. "Of course. You should have said something earlier, I would have saved you the trip out onto the playa."
Except Cody doesn't mind driving towards the pencil-thin horizon until he has only the bone-bleached desert and a forgotten legend for company. He keeps his mouth sewed shut and offers up a smile that doesn't reach his eyes.
Holding up his hands and saying, "It's nothing," even though it is.
- Albuquerque, New Mexico. Two summers ago.
Annie had pink hair and a lip ring.
Cody was afraid of her, and they were best friends.
On his lunch break, Cody stared out from the bench underneath the faux umbrella awnings. He nibbled on a kipper sandwich he had made. He'd had kippers in his refrigerator when he moved in, and that was the only reason he could afford kippers anyway. They tasted terrible.
"What're you looking at?"
"I thought I saw someone I used to know."
It had looked like Sikya— the same chlorochrous eyes, thin frame, wild tawny dreads held back with thick chord. He had walked with the same ill-timed, unfitting gait that marked him as unusual. Cody had watched the teenager cross the mall floor, glance over his shoulder, and keep walking.
"Where did you see them?"
Cody pointed and sipped his Pepsi discontentedly.
"Max would probably let you check security footage." Annie motioned for him to stand up and follow her. She shuffled him away from the movie theater and over towards the little security booth beside the Panda Wok Grill. "Here. Just ask him. It was about three, four minutes ago?"
Cody squinted in the darkness of the security box. "Yeah. Four minutes ago." The scent of liquor made everything spin right round (baby right round like a record baby right round round round).
Max fought in the Vietnam war. "I've survived mustard gas and pepper spray." He offered Annie a bottle of pale ale with a red label and she declined politely. "That makes me a seasoned veteran."
He was the security guard. He lives there, he joked, but Cody wouldn't have been surprised if that was true. Cody shoved his hands into his pockets while Annie talked to Max about Jesus Christ and the etiquette associated with appearing on toast.
"We don't really have to look," Cody mumbled. "I was just...I don't know."
"What else do I have to do?" Max rolled through the footage again. "It can't be random."
Annie crinkled her face. "Why not?"
"It would be a waste of godly energy. How many non-believers would eat the toast and not see it? People only see what they're looking for." He snapped his head around to stare at Cody. "Are you looking?"
And then he was there.
The phantom, blur of motion, forgotten god. Sikya, with his luminous gaze and sun-drenched skin. Even on grainy, black-and-white film; even under fluorescent lighting; even when he looked so skeletal in a band shirt he stole off the clearance rack.
"That's him." No mistake. There was no mistake. He could feel the familiar yearning, distant longing for a period long past— the faraway chapter written in the ink of intimacy and nights lying on the blueberry carpet of Cody's bedroom floor.
"What's he doing here?" Annie tilted her head to one side, blinking owlishly. "Do you want to find him?"
- Albuquerque, New Mexico. The next evening.
Cody sat on the top of a parking garage, watching the sun go down. Bursting, running streams of color dribbled down to the horizon line like splatters of house paint spilled between the stars, who in turn had no qualms about taking bites out of the city lights, leaving the world in darkness. Cody tugged his jacket around his shoulders and shivered into the fabric that swamped his rail-thin frame.
The heat of the night wrapped him up and cradled him in its palm.
When the streetlights were the only light left, he climbed down the rickety ladders to the ground and started down the street. Cork trees shaded the pavement from moonlight, cast shadows that obscured the landscape into one long, tunnel of darkness.
The coyote was waiting in the street. He stopped short and met its gaze —even if he had read somewhere that that was a challenge of some sort— and the coyote had stared back serenely. It was just a coyote, though: it had never brought fire to man or stolen the sun or killed the giant.
A car barreled down the street and the coyote bolted, leaving Cody standing dumbly in the middle of the sidewalk, trying to recollect his wayward firefly thoughts.
Someone said his name aloud.
Cody glanced over his shoulder. Nothing. Nothing to see but endless black, punctuated by spots of illumination. Decay crept in from all directions, swallowing his shoes, aging the skin of his ankles. Cody's legs found minds of their own and propelled him towards the lights of the all-night supermarket.
Cody sat in the frozen food aisle, leaned against a crate of half-ripe oranges. The floor was white in all directions, across his memories: supermarkets, hospice rooms, morgues, each more sinister in nature than the last. He picked at the hem of his stone-washed jeans and prayed he was dreaming.
He hadn't settled for a movie set existence.
"Are you all right?"
Everything moving ceased to be moving.
Cody stared at the bare ankles of a body he remembered, the same copper skin wrapped with the same tangerine cord. He flicked his eyes upwards. "What are you doing here?" he asked. He narrowed his eyes and climbed to his feet. "Where have you been?"
Maybe not dreaming: please be real.
Sikya raised an eyebrow. "You're the one who moved to Albuquerque." He looked around disdainfully and twirled a dreadlock around his finger. "Why would you ever want to move to Albuquerque, Cody?"
Snarling, Cody shoved Sikya back with the flats of his palms, as hard as he could. "I know you can go away, so go away."
Sikya stumbled and growled, baring his teeth.
"Stop talking!" Cody curled his fingers into his hair and yanked. "Just stop. I don't want any more ghosts or skinwalkers or whatever you are in my life right now. I'm fine how I am." He backed against the mirror glued to the wall and turned quickly to meet his own image.
His eyes met the gaze of Sikya's reflection.
"Maybe not fine."
They went to the all-night diner. Sikya pulled out thick rolls of crumpled paper bills and set them out on the table. The waitress walked by and her green eyed widened, but Cody kept his focus on Sikya's unwavering gaze. His own expression, determination were hardly that staunch.
"Why are you here?"
Sikya reached forward with one lily-like hand and brushed back the tangled hair from Cody's face. "I came to find you," he said.
His knuckles brushed over the curves of Cody's cheek.
Cody jerked his head back.
He had discovered himself. That meant he didn't need anyone else, especially not someone who played the angst mandolin, which is exactly what Sikya played. He had spent so many days out of that year eating cheap ice cream and warbling along to the Dixie Chicks that he was done. He could be his own person.
Wasn't that the point?
"I'm fine," he said. "I have a better job now. Friends, I guess. I don't need you."
Sikya curled his fingers around Cody's, sliding over wrist and palm and knuckle. The touch made Cody's skeleton relax with the cool familiarity. "It's not about you." He leaned forward and pressed his open mouth softly against Cody's. "I need you. I am so fucking tired of being alone that I don't want to deal with it any more."
Panting sharply, eyelids taut and narrow, Sikya's technicolor gaze pierced all that tried to slow it.
"I want you. Enough to come back to you. I will always come back."
The fight left Cody and he slumped. The glow of the OPEN sign outlined his midnight-cowboy features. "You didn't come back for so long. I thought you got bored and left."
Sikya tilted his head a little to one side. "Bored? You don't live long enough for me to get bored."
The callousness towards mortality made Cody's toes curl. He had seen a man die once, just last week, in a busy intersection of a head wound inflicted by a silver Dodge Durango. The image made him sick to his stomach. "I just don't live long enough?"
"Your life span is very short." Sikya ran the pads of his thumbs over the bones in Cody's hands. "I'm so ancient. I've been part of this place for so long, and you're...like a fleeting streak of light in a dark sky."
The collected tone of Sikya's voice made it sound like he had given this speech before. Did he have a meteor shower of lovers?
But Cody was so tired of being alone.
"Are you staying in Albuquerque?"
"I hate it here."
They left in Cody's truck and drove north by northwest, towards the same thin horizon that swallowed up the sun and left in its place a smattering of stars. Apache County was alarmingly sparse: only a few solitary buildings dared stand up to the restraint of this fierce terrain.
The empty trailer stood like an abandoned bombshell, struggling to stay one step ahead of the creeping sands. Cody eyed it through the bug-splattered windshield.
When he stepped out into the dirt, he could feel the resonance thrumming through his spine.
He opened his mouth, to ask Sikya if he could feel the vibrations, but Sikya smiled sharply at him and it suddenly felt like a silly question.
- Moenkopi, Arizona. Right now.
They drive through the Hopi reservation and stop for gas in Moenkopi.
Leaning against the side of the truck, scowling at everyone who walks by.
"Be nice," Cody scolds.
Moenkopi is even smaller than Lukachukai, but it's not as uncomfortably poor. Moenkopi is a small town on a Hopi reservation; Lukachukai is a refugee camp working backwards.
"People are staring at me."
"It's the hair."
Cody thinks the contrast is exotic. Sikya is dark enough to be a darkie, which is what a man with a Texas accent had once called him ("Get out of the way, you fucking darkie!"), and the interrupting dreadlocks makes him look like a zebra or a tiger or something else that is both striped and has very pointy teeth.
Growling in the back of his throat, climbing into the truck and stretching out in the backseat to avoid the stares of the few brave tourists who will go home and say to their water cooler comrades, "Some of the natives have blond dreadlocks!"
Eating cold cut sandwiches.
"Have you ever seen an actual coyote?"
Cody thinks about it. He remembers the coyote in Albuquerque, ethereal and fleeting.
"Only in the dark."
"They are exactly the same color as my hair."
All cats are gray in the dark.
Driving down the US-160. Still early morning.
The radio blares a mix of Hopi radio and oldies until suddenly Avril Lavigne's "My Happy Ending" is playing. It strikes all the right chords: 2004, teenage angst, complete and utter futility in all actions. It's not that it's a good song or even a memorable one, just that it reminds him of a very specific period of time during which it was played on the radio every other song. A period of time that coincides, in fact, with his mother's twirling descent into dizzying lunacy, the rise and fall of their home-owning empire, a string of lousy boyfriends (hers, not his), a string of academic disasters (his, not hers), and the intersection of sun-drenched stares in a church basement.
"Are you okay?"
Brushing his fingertips over the dips of bone and skin.
But he's not fine.
The nostalgia trip ends. Noise replaces Cody's childhood. He watches the landscape whir past the war, just one long blur of sand and street. Not saying anything, having curled up in the passenger seat, melon-round eyes watching. Just watching.
"What are you going to say to your mother?"
"She's so fucking drugged it doesn't matter."
"Yes it does."
Cody slid his eyes over to look at Sikya. Refusing to be intimidated, staring back; to which Cody replies by looking back at the road. "Something happy. I want her to smile. She deserves to smile."
"I don't know. Maybe. Maybe I learned not to care or something. I just want to say goodbye and go home."
Phoenix no longer feels familiar. The city clatters with each new fate and no one can keep their mouth shut for even one minute. All the buildings and people rush together, frantically pawing their way through the crowds to get to their little rat-wheel cubicles.
Living in a hallowed-out trailer on a reservation outside a lilliputian town was, if nothing else, exceptionally quiet.
St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center glows white. White tiles make Cody queasy, but the walls are white too and the ceilings are the same, so he stares first at his hands, then at red carnations in the angular vase, sitting on a counter.
They look like blood.
Eventually, a man in scrubs shows them down the hallway and points at room 203.
The nurse leaves. His shoes squeak down the hall.
"Did you want me to come in?"
Cody considers, but finally shakes his head. "Just wait for me out here."
Sitting down obediently. Sikya is patient is Cody's final thought before stepping into the room where his mother will die.
She lies in in the tangle of alien sheets, her copper skin faded to the color of fallow fields. Her mouth has swollen, blackened, and when she smiles —and she does, when she sees him— all that remains in her mouth are a few stray molars and her tongue.
"Cody." She reaches out and he takes her hand in his.
She blinks at him. "I told them you weren't coming."
Cody combs his hands through her burgundy hair, arranging it around her sunken face like a wreath. "I did come though." He presses his mouth to her forehead. Her skin feels like vegetable skin beneath his lips. "I..."
And there are no words.
They sit there, in silence. Mortality makes Cody uncomfortable because the seed of his own death is buried in his chest, the way the seed of his mother's death was buried in her chest, below her heart.
Now, it germinates.
Cody stands and turns away.
"You were so good," she rasps. Her dark eye follow him from across the room. "You took such good care of me."
"Not really. I left."
She shrugs. "You came back."
Only the beeping machine punctuates the gaps between their words, and Cody can feel the thinning of the veil, ready to reach out and sweep his mother back into its folds.
"Tell me something happy."
"Why did the cookie go to the doctor?"
She blinks at him.
"Because he was feeling crummy. I love you."
Her mouth splits into a wide, toothless grin and she laughs, high and trilling, before her body goes still.
The motel is pinstriped. Everything in it, and none of it matches: the chair is coffee and caramel; the wallpaper is coral and lime. The carpet is the color of chinchillas, and thankfully not pinstriped, although it doesn't match.
"I look terrible in vertical stripes."
Cody rolls his eyes and slides underneath the floral-and-pinstripe duvet. "You'd look worse in polka dots."
Breathing. Not quite touching, just too fragile to be handled. Their breath mingling, the gentle skirr and proof of life. Wasn't there a song for this? Like brothers on a hotel bed. Lying like brothers on a hotel bed, windows open to let in the heat that persists even after the day has died.
Just listening to ice melt in the ice bucket on the mahogany desk for so many minutes.
For so many minutes.
Finally, Cody loses this game and tugs on one of Sikya's dreadlocks.
"I hate that."
Cody curls against his sometimes-lover, bringer of rattlesnakes, eater of suns. Warm, sun-soaked, even when only the moon is out for reflection. He can hear blood, familiar blood, rushing under the skin of the untouchable, immortal, amoral but never immoral, occasionally mint flavored.
He has fallen in love with an eternity of fickle winds and well-mannered chaos.
If anyone is likely to pick up human boys to keep as lovers, it would be Coyote.
I wasn't sure if I liked this.
ilu Katy ._.