Jimmy Shupla never
wanted to be anything other than human.
He especially didn't want to be a coyote. In all the Hopi stories
his grandmother told him, coyotes
were the silliest of animals--
always trying to trick others and always
having their tricks backfire.
Still, the day he turned into a coyote he wasn't entirely surprised.
Coyotes had always
haunted the edges of his life.
grandmother told him she'd spotted a coyote on the day
of his naming
when he was just a baby? And three years ago, when
he was eight, he'd seen one
at his initiation. It trotted right through
the center of the village,
past the old stone houses and the kiva,
and then calmly loped off. Everyone who saw it laughed. Silly Coyote
to his tricks again.
came because he is your animal guide," his
grandmother said that
"How is he
going to help me?" Jimmy asked. "Everyone always
Coyote." He wished that Badger or Eagle had appeared
at his initiation instead.
frowned. "If you can learn from him, that is what
matters. Worrying too much about what other people think can be
a pathway to becoming a
Jimmy didn't want
to be a witch, using power to hurt others, but he
secretly hoped that his grandmother was wrong about Coyote being
his animal guide.
Then, to his
dismay, a coyote appeared again, this time when his
mother showed up at his grandmother's house and said she was
"taking Jimmy to live with her
in Apache Junction. She said she
finally had a decent job and a trailer with enough space
Everyone was surprised by this. She had always said it was hard
enough for one person to live on what she earned waiting tables
Apache Junction. She had always said there were no jobs on the
reservation. But his grandmother once told Jimmy that his mother
preferred the Anglo citiesto the Hopi villages.
hold much to the old ways," his grandmother said,
deepening the lines on her face.
grandmother and grandfather had let his mother take him
away. All the way out to the car he had waited for them to call out,
to tell her to stop, but
they hadn't. He saw the coyote out the car
window as he rode beside his mother down the mesa. He
he saw it because his eyes stayed dry and clear even though his
cramped so tight he could hardly breathe.
"We have TV
and you'll have your own room," his mother said. "And
He wondered why
that was better than having his grandparents
sleeping beside him.
It took hours to
drive to Apache Junction, a desert town near
Phoenix. His mother took
him to a small trailer that sweltered on
a patch of dirt near dozens of
other trailers. The walls shook with
every gust of wind, and Jimmy missed his grandmother's solid
stone house, which had shut out the weather for centuries.
The next morning,
as he walked down the long gravel road to the
bus stop, he saw a coyote.
It crossed in front of him, but then
stopped and looked him in the eye,
something not even a friendly
dog would normally do. It stared at him,
its face sad.
away!" Jimmy said, shaken. "I don't want you around." The
coyote turned then, and loped off.
At school that day
he discovered that--despite its name--Apache
Junction had hardly any Indian kids. Some of the boys in the class
laughed out loud when the
teacher announced that Jimmy had
come from the Hopi reservation. The teacher glared at
they still snickered in loud whispers. During the first
met a Navajo boy named Delbert, and sat with him at lunch. They
shot hoops together during the second
recess, too, until they
suddenly were surrounded by the other boys from the class. A
stocky boy grabbed the ball.
give it back!" Delbert shouted.
laughed and threw it to one of his friends. They tossed
it back and
Jimmy jumped after
it but missed, and Miguel grabbed his shirt,
holding his fist so it
almost touched Jimmy's nose. He was a good
head taller than either Jimmy
or Delbert, and Jimmy thought he
looked more Indian than Hispanic, but
then Miguel's words drove
all such thoughts out of his head.
"You want it?
You want it? I'll give it to you!" Miguel's black eyes
Jimmy stared at
Miguel's shirt, frozen, not even daring to breathe.
released him and turned away, and the boys all left,
taking the ball
with them. Jimmy and Delbert walked back to the
classroom then, Jimmy forcing his eyes to stay dry even
his whole body shook with anger.
After that, he and
Delbert stuck close to the playground teacher |
But the teacher
couldn't protect him after he got off the bus. The
worst discovery of
Jimmy's first day at school was that Miguel lived
in the same trailer park. He
and his friend Nick, a skinny kid with
stringy blond hair, poked and
shouted at Jimmy the entire walk home.
After a few days, they began
chasing him down the gravel road, punching
him if he didn't run fast
enough to escape them.
It was one of
those times that it happened. He was walking home
from the bus stop,
suffocating in the brutal September heat, listening
to the footsteps
behind him. Miguel and Nick, as usual. Jimmy wished
they'd leave him
alone, wished he were strong enough to beat them
up. He hated them.
Stupid bullies who made his life miserable. An anger
rose within him,
churning like a dust devil. It swirled inside until he felt he
to split apart, and then he was dizzy as if it had moved outside
sucked him up. The ground seemed to spring toward him.
One of the boys
yelled, but Jimmy hardly heard it. An overpowering
his nose. Worse, when he looked down at himself he saw
four legs. Four
furry legs. He turned his head and saw a long gray-brown
back that ended
in a tail. A coyote, he thought in
dismay, but there was |
no time to consider how this had come about.
Already the stench
began to sort itself into individual smells. The
scent of Nick and
Miguel jolted him with fear. Humans! something
deep inside him
But the Jimmy part
of him remembered the bruises he'd gotten
from their punches. Remembered
how humiliating it was to sit by
the teacher during recess. The anger
escaped his mouth in a snarl,
and the sound reminded him that coyotes
have sharp teeth.
He attacked Nick
first, sinking his jaws into a piece of arm, smelling
the blood as his
teeth ripped through flesh. It made him sick and elated
at the same
time. Nick fell to the ground screaming. Miguel turned and
toward the bus stop. Jimmy caught up to him easily, surprised
fast having four legs made him. He lunged at Miguel, tearing
jeans but only grazing the skin.
He snapped again,
but the voice within him was shouting No! Humans!
Run! The fear rose from his very bones and he could ignore it no
longer. He swerved around Miguel and bounded off into the desert,
running, running, running, until heat and
exhaustion overcame him.
He slowed to a trot. Hide! said the
Finally, he came
upon an old paved road. He followed it until it crossed
a wash. A
culvert ran beneath the road. He crawled into it, into the cool
and lay there panting. Somewhere, in the back part of his mind, Jimmy wondered how he had become a coyote. But he was too tired
to think about it. And then he fell asleep.
When he awoke, he
was human again. He was lying in the culvert,
clothed just as he'd been when he got off the bus, backpack and everything.
Maybe somehow he'd
dreamed it all, but it felt too real for that. Maybe
he was going crazy.
How many times had his grandmother told him it
was not the Hopi way to
let oneself become angry? And to attack someone--
his grandmother would
call that crazy.
It was almost
dark. He crawled out of the culvert and began walking
down the road,
wondering how he would ever find his way home. But
before he'd gone very
far, a police car came by and stopped beside
him. A woman in a uniform
rolled down the window.
she asked She had tired eyes like his mother's
when she got off work.
Jimmy nodded, his
heart pounding. Maybe they were going to arrest
him for attacking those
smiled, and her eyes seemed less tired. She got out
of the car. "A
whole bunch of people are looking for you! Were you
bitten by the
Jimmy shook his
head. So it wasn't a dream, he thought, his heart
a relief. Probably has rabies, attacking people like that.
Let's get you
home. Your mother's worried sick."
When they reached
the trailer, Jimmy's mother rushed out to meet
them, her eyes red and
swollen from crying. She surprised him by
how fiercely she hugged him.
Later, he learned that Nick and Miguel
were going to have to get shots
in case the coyote had rabies. There
was a big story about it on TV with
pictures of people with rifles, and
talk about a reward for the coyote's
That night, Jimmy
lay in his room wishing his grandmother's walls of
stone surrounded him.
In spite of the heat, he shivered. Why did he
have to have coyotes in
his life anyway?
He pulled his
pillow around his face. What if he turned into a coyote
again and got
killed? And what about the coyote with the sad face
he'd seen on the
first day of school? He hoped it was far away, safe
from all the hunters' bullets. He pictured the coyote in
Stay away! he told it. Hide!
And then something
deep inside him began to tremble. How could
his grandmother let him
leave? Why hadn't she kept him on the mesa
where he belonged? What if
the coyote with the sad eyes died? It
would be his fault if it got shot.
His eyes watered and he choked back
the tears, but it was a long time that night before he finally fell asleep.
Nick and Miguel
were at school the next day. Nick wore a big bandage
on his arm. At
recess, most of the class crowded around him to hear
about the coyote.
Jimmy and Delbert stood at the back of the group,
"We were just
walking home from the bus and bap! It sprang out of
the bushes and attacked us," Nick said. Face flushed, eyes bright,
plainly enjoying the attention. He brushed a strand of greasy
off his face, then held his hand up to his chest. "Biggest
I've ever seen. More like a wolf. Right?" He looked at Miguel
confirmation, but Miguel stared at his feet as if he were afraid.
teeth!" Nick pointed to his bandage. "I got thirty-four
the taste of flesh in his mouth and felt sick. He
hoped his grandmother
never found out.
On the way back
into the classroom, Jimmy and Delbert ended up in
line behind Miguel.
didn't come out of the bushes," Miguel said in a low voice
another boy. "That boy--he changed into a coyote, like that!"
snapped his finger. "Right before my eyes!" He turned then,
Jimmy. His eyes widened.
it!" Miguel's voice, defiant at first, trailed to a whisper. "Brujo!"
He crowded forward into the line.
Delbert staring at him.
you a witch!" Delbert said. "What does he mean?"
The words were out
of Jimmy's mouth before he could think. "It just
happened. I don't know how. I didn't try to be a coyote...I didn't want to..."
But Delbert backed
away from him, a look of horror on his face.
asked a thin, freckled girl beside Jimmy. She gave a loud
chanted, "Witch, witch, where's your broomstick?"
gotta make it rhyme," Nick said, further up the line. "Witch,
witch, you're a--" The bell rang, cutting him off, and then the
led them into class.
But Jimmy knew
what Miguel and Delbert had meant. In Indian culture
women with black hats and broomsticks. They
were people who used magic
to hurt others. Sometimes witches made
people sick. Sometimes they took
the shape of animals. But they always
used their magic for evil.
The rest of the
day was awful. Jimmy wanted to tell Delbert he wasn't
a witch. He didn't
want to hurt anyone. But the bandage on Nick's
arm made him wonder if he
was lying to himself.
The awful day
stretched into an awful week. Without Delbert to talk
to at lunch and
recess, school seemed endless. Nick and Miguel no
longer bothered him on the walk home from the bus stop, but the way
they watched him, as if he
were a monster, made Jimmy almost wish
they'd go back to chasing him.
Even worse were the reports on the
nightly news: On the weekend,
volunteers from all over the state were
going to help search for the
coyote. Jimmy lay in bed at night and
worried about the sad-faced
coyote. "Hide," he said silently, hoping
it could hear. "And tell all your friends. Keep away from here."
arrived on Friday. As he walked home from the bus stop,
Jimmy saw the
trucks clustered into the trailer park. The men held a
big meeting and
then got into their trucks and took off in giant clouds
At first, Jimmy
huddled in the trailer, miserably waiting to hear a rifle
shot. If a
coyote died it'd be his fault. He thought about Delbert, who
was afraid to even come near
him now. And Miguel. Were they right?
Was he a witch? If so, maybe he'd
be better off dead. Maybe he ought
to turn back into a coyote. Maybe he ought to let the hunters shoot him,
instead of some innocent
coyote who'd never attacked a human, who'd
never sunk his teeth into
flesh just because he was angry.
The longer he
considered it, the more it seemed that changing back
to a coyote was the
right thing to do. Even if just thinking about it made
him shake inside.
The only problem was that he didn't know how. Could
just by wanting to?
He waited until
dusk and then walked outside in front of his trailer. He
eyes. Coyote, coyote, coyote. Shutting everything
of his mind, he willed his body to comply. Coyote, coyote,
pictured himself as a coyote and directed all his
energies to the picture.
Coyote, coyote, coyote.
After a long time,
when he became too tired to continue, he opened
his eyes. His body was
unchanged. But something moved in front of him.
It was nearly dark and it took him a moment to see it. A coyote sat a few
feet away, staring at
him with the same sad look he'd seen before.
No! This wasn't
what he wanted. Not here where the hunters would
he whispered. "Hide!"
The coyote stared
back, but it was if Jimmy heard him say, "Don't worry.
okay." And the confidence behind the thought was great enough
Jimmy's fear for the coyote vanished, leaving room for other fears.
"I don't want
to be a witch," Jimmy said, still in a whisper. "Don't make
a witch." Tears welled up unbidden in his eyes.
And again the
coyote's thoughts came into his mind. No one can make
you a witch. Only you can do that. And Jimmy remembered it wasn't the
coyote part of him
that had wanted to attack the boys.
The coyote trotted
over to a trash can in front of a neighbor's trailer.
Deftly, he jumped up on two legs and leaned over the top of the can,
biting through the bag
inside and fishing out something, which he ate.
And then he disappeared
into the night.
Jimmy was still
standing in front of the trailer when his mother drove
up a few minutes
"You need to
come inside," she said. "I don't want you getting lost
The fear in her voice was real. He remembered how she'd cried and
hugged him when the policewoman had brought him home.
in her eyes now reminded him of his grandmother.
safe out there until they catch that coyote," she said.
won't hurt anyone again." The confidence in his voice
puzzled expression to his mother's face.
That night, Jimmy
went to bed without bothering to watch the news.
Coyote had said he'd be
okay and Jimmy believed him. For the first
time, he thought that maybe
having Coyote as an animal guide wasn't
so bad. Coyote, once with an
endless desert to roam and hunt, now
had to find food in garbage cans.
The king of tricksters had pulled off
the greatest trick of all: His
whole world had changed and he'd survived.
Quite a trick,
thought Jimmy. And he thought that maybe he could do
© Susan J. Kroupa 2001