The Creative Spirit couldn't remember where he came from, but he knew where he was going. He was going to find some company even if it took traveling to the farthest reaches of the star-speckled emptiness to do so.
He looked and looked, but there was no one else to talk to. Disappointed, he stopped to rest on a large empty rock floating in the blackness and let his mind wander. There was water on the rock. He imagined a being that could absorb it into itself, combining it with energy taken from a nearby star to grow and become beautiful.
He thought and thought, until tiny green tendrils began sprouting from the soil. A smile bloomed on his face. He thought up more and more, until he lost count of how many different types he had created. He named them plants.
The plants were pleasant to look at, but they were not company. The Creative Spirit thought harder about what kind of beings could do this. He thought of beings that could move over the surface of the rock, through the sky, and under the water. His Power gave life to his imagination once again, and creatures of countless forms sprang up to live where he imagined they were best suited. He named them animals.
He was still not satisfied. The animals were aware of him when he visited them, but they were not able to carry on conversations. They also did not last forever. Even with plenty of food, their bodies eventually wore out and they died.
He puzzled over the mistakes he had made in designing the animals. Though he was free to wipe them off of the face of the rock and start over, he had already grown too attached to them. Instead, he thought harder about what kind of being could transcend these flaws. He created intelligent minds that were not tied to physical bodies. They floated through the air and rippled under the water, curious, exploring their new surroundings. He named them manitous.
The manitous filled him with a greater joy than the animals had been able to bring. As spirit beings they were more like himself. They expressed an interest in his work, so he decided to give each of them a job. "Bring rain so that the plants and animals may thrive," he told one. "Search out the old and sick to ease into relief through death," he told another. One by one each received an assignment and spread out over the rock.
For some time the Creative Spirit was satisfied with the company the manitous provided. He visited them randomly and checked on their progress. Eventually something began to nag at him though. They could speak to him, but their responses seemed limited to simple questions and observations. His loneliness grew again, but he brushed away the thought that his newest creations were as imperfect as their predecessors.
One day he decided to travel north and search out the nearest manitou. It was winter, and he found one named Wendigo dutifully at work sprinkling the landscape with snow. Wendigo was an odd manitou, brought into existence with a hunger similar to the one the animals felt but no way to satisfy it due to his lack of physical form. The Creative Spirit had fussed over the poor creature when he discovered this, but could not figure out how to fix him. Already too attached to unmake him, he gave Wendigo the task of looking after winter in the north and using it to make sure only the strongest animals survived to contribute to the next generation. The manitou was rewarded with the life energy of the animals that died during his season. He never made the weather too harsh or took more than he was allowed.
The Creative Spirit materialized on the ground and stretched his hand out into the wind. "Wendigo! I am glad to see you. How has your work been?"
The snow stopped falling and the wind crawled across his body, nipping and tugging at his clothes as if searching for something. A voice whistled from it. Fooo
He shrugged. "I already gave you what you need to feed yourself. So, how have things been this season?"
The manitou stopped investigating and drew back. Gooot foood. Haaave foood?
He sighed. "I am sorry. I do not have any treats. I will be sure to bring something next time."
The manitou wandered away and the snow resumed falling. The Creative Spirit was left with a loneliness so strong he could no longer deny it. The spirits were interesting enough and they did their jobs as well as could be expected, but they were not the companions he wanted.
He was determined to get it right this time. Using the forms of his favorite animals and the immortality of the manitous, he set to work making beings that would be able to think and learn. In addition to their animal shapes he set them apart by giving them a second form that walked on two legs and looked a bit like the physical form he took to visit his world. He called them animal spirits, and named each one after his or her counterpart species.
When he was finished he gathered them together and assigned them jobs like he had done with the manitous. He told them of the imbalances that still existed among the mortal animals. For the most part they lived as they should, but some species had a difficult time fitting in. They took more food than they needed, or didn't reproduce well and lived in fragmented populations. The animal spirits were given the task of working together to find a solution to these problems.
They showed great enthusiasm for their work, immediately setting off to observe their chosen species. They compared notes and frequently sought him out to ask his opinion on a change before implementing it. They were excited to share his company and wanted to please him. The Creative Spirit felt a sense of pride when he watched them that was stronger than anything he felt for the manitous. Here, at last, were beings that deserved to be called his children.
Already burdened with the duties of watching over the plants, animals, and manitous, he could only give a little time to each animal spirit. Each had a unique personality, and each devised different ways to try to get his attention. Some focused only on their species, finding more and more ways to improve it. Some decided they were satisfied with the changes made to their species and turned their focus to helping the others. Some did this and kept looked for any possible other thing that could be improved, hoping to impress their father into stopping to give them extra attention. They tried harder and harder, but this did not generate any more free time in the Creative Spirit's schedule.
One animal spirit looked at all of this competition and laughed instead of joining in. This was Coyote. He was the only one who did not prefer the Creative Spirit's company to anyone else's. He felt his father lacked a sense of humor, so when he was finished fixing the coyotes (an easy task; they were coyotes and therefore, he thought, as perfect a species as you could find) he spent time amusing himself. Sometimes he managed to pull his best friend, Spider, away from work, but even someone as easygoing as Spider could not be convinced that there were better ways to spend your time than earning someone's affection. Mostly, Coyote followed the others while they worked and waited to play jokes on them.
The Creative Spirit believed all was going well until the diseases appeared. They popped up in species after species, growing increasingly deadly until he worried he had done something terribly wrong at the beginning that was only now revealing itself. He asked the manitous and animal spirits to help him investigate.
A manitou brought him a report. He did not want to believe it, but several others came and shared similar stories. They had seen animal spirits using what they learned from working with each other to create diseases that would harm species that were in competition with their own.
Furious, he called them together for questioning. None would admit to doing such a thing except for Coyote, who confessed with a chuckle and a grin that convinced the Creative Spirit to ignore him. Since he could not determine who had engaged in this shameful behavior and who was innocent, he removed the worst of the diseases and added new ones until each species had its own to remind the animal spirits of his disappointment.
He thought that would be the end of it, but the attitudes in many hearts would not change and bitter rivalries were formed. It broke his own heart to watch how they shunned, gossiped about, or attempted to sabotage each other. This disappointment was even greater than what he felt when he realized the manitous could not be the companions he had intended. With each act of pettiness he grew angrier, until he called them together again for a final threat. He warned that if they continued being so foolish he would strip them of their immortality and let them die like their mortal counterparts. The animal spirits returned to their work humbled and frightened. Their father would not tell them what death was like, leaving it a great unknown hanging over their heads.
Coyote knew that his father did not approve of his disruptive pranks. He looked for Red Fox and found her busily sewing coats for her foxes. She made them in different lengths so they would be comfortable in different climates, and designed beautiful colors to please the Creative Spirit with their variety. Coyote waited until her back was turned and took a red winter coat, long and thick, and pulled clumps out of it.
Red Fox caught him as he was putting it back and slapped him on the wrist. "Eww, what did you do to this?"
Coyote tilted his head back and smiled. "You are looking for ways to add more variety to the foxes, right? How about if some of them lose patches of hair at different rates when they shed their winter coats. Weirdness counts as variety, right?"
She poked a claw into his chest. "That does it! We've all set aside our differences, but you're just too stubborn to change. I bet some manitou saw that and is going right now to tell Father." Her lips pulled back with a hint of a grin. "He's going to let you die now."
Coyote slapped his paws to his cheeks and let his jaw drop. "Oh no! You're right! I'm a goner for sure." He dropped his paws and let out a deep sigh. "Well, nothing else to do but face it. I'll tell you what. How about you go get everyone and let them know. I have no idea how much time I've got left, so I might as well say my goodbyes all at once."
Her grin grew into a smirk. She did as he wished and spread the news. Everyone dropped their work and came to see what would become of Coyote. They found him perched awkwardly on a thin branch at the top of a tall tree.
He waved his arms, struggling to maintain his balance, and addressed them. "Friends! Or, is it enemies? I suppose it doesn't matter anymore. What matters is this- I have offended Father for the last time, and so he is going to kill me. Let me die. Whatever. Say your goodbyes, for after today I shall be no more! I cannot bear the thought of waiting, so I will cut the suspense and throw myself from this tree and you will be rid of me."
A figure broke loose from the crowd of gawking onlookers and knelt at the base of the tree. Coyote squinted between the branches and recognized Gray Fox. The little fox clasped his paws together and looked up at him. "Coyote, please do not do this! I will speak with Father. I am sure he does not wish to be mad at you."
Coyote threw an arm across his forehead and leaned backwards, nearly losing his grip on his perch. "It is no use, dear Gray Fox. You know Father as well as I do. He will want to make an example of the first person to break his rule, and I have never been his favorite. You might as well dig my grave while you're down there. Speaking of which-"
He kicked off and fell backwards from the branch.
Gray Fox rushed to catch him, but he hit the ground head first and crumpled limp as one of Red Fox's coats. Gray Fox shook him, but got no response. He faced the crowd. "Please, someone help. I do not know much about healing, but if someone could help me try
The only one who stepped forward was Red Fox. Though she was not terribly sorry to see Coyote go, it pained her to see how distressed Gray Fox was over it. She had been dropping hints for some time about her feelings for him, but he was too distracted or clueless to notice. She bit her lip and looked at the ground. "I, um, know of some herbs that are good for bleeding and reviving the unconscious
Gray Fox gave her a sharp nod. "Thank you. Go look for them. I will stay here with him. Anyone else, if you could find Father and let him know what happened I would be grateful."
Raven left with Red Fox, promising to search for the Creative Spirit. Red Fox returned first with a liquid mixture of herbs in a bowl. Gray Fox held Coyote's head up so she could pour the drink down his throat. He was already growing cold and stiff, and the medicine did not bring any warmth to his body.
Gray Fox was nearing tears when Raven finally returned with the Creative Spirit. Gray Fox held Coyote out to him, letting his head fall limp against his chest. "Please give him another chance. What he did to Red Fox was wrong, but I am sure he can make it up to her."
The Creative Spirit shook his head. "He was warned."
Gray Fox set Coyote gently on the ground and took one of his Father's hands between his paws. "Then let me take his place. I have tried many times to correct him when he gets out of line. He has
impulse control problems and needs help remembering sometimes. Perhaps it is my fault this happened, for not trying hard enough."
Something in Gray Fox's plea touched the Creative Spirit's heart. There was an innocence there that he did not realize still existed among his children. He let his gaze linger over the body on the ground. "Very well, then. You will share in the punishment he has brought on himself."
Red Fox gasped, eliciting a confused look from Gray Fox before he returned his attention to his father. He lowered his head and closed his eyes. "Thank you."
The Creative Spirit left Gray Fox to stand beside Coyote and stare at him. His voice was subdued, nearly a whisper. All ears pricked and strained to catch his words. "Four times I tried. Four times I failed. I love you all, but my patience has nearly reached its end. You believe you are doing better now, but I can see you are as selfish as ever."
He lifted his head and his voice, addressing Gray Fox. "It is a pity there are not more like you. Your generosity is commendable, but in this environment it can be a weakness if over-expressed. Perhaps you can both learn from each other. Do you believe you have the patience to watch over him?"
Gray Fox nodded.
The Creative Spirit stepped over Coyote's body and his foot landed on the invisible path to the afterlife. He mumbled under his breath, "Get up again," voice monotone and eyes blank as if in a trance. He repeated this four more times until he reached the doorway to the afterlife, retrieved Coyote's spirit, and placed it back in his body.
Coyote's eyes slid open and he glanced at his surroundings in confusion. Gray Fox pounced on him for a hug, which he pushed away with a grimace. Before either could speak they felt their father's hands atop their heads.
The Creative Spirit looked down into their eyes. "From this day on you are bound to each other, brothers as surely as any borne by mortal parents. You will be able to sense each other's presence from any distance when you need help. Protect each other. Teach each other."
Coyote furrowed his brow and Gray Fox nodded vigorously.
The Creative Spirit raised his voice to address the onlookers. "I will not be with you much longer, my children. When I am gone some of my Power will remain in this land, available to you if you are wise enough to understand it. If you treat each other with respect you may continue to live as you do. If you give in to harmful desires too often, my protection will withdraw and you will find yourselves mortal. The only exception is Coyote. Though he will not age I have no patience left to protect him from his foolishness. You may use the Power I showed you to bring him back, or let the punishment stick next time. I leave this up to you."
Gray Fox placed a paw on Coyote's shoulder and smiled. "Do not worry, brother. I will not let you stay dead. That must have been dreadful!"
Coyote merely scratched his head. "I was dead? Could have sworn I was taking a nap
The Creative Spirit silenced them with a glare, then continued. "Before I leave I will make one last creation to live among you. He will be young and innocent so that you can raise him yourselves. As you are my children, so will he be your child. Raise him wisely, so that you may be honored to present him to me when I return. Go, think of a gift for him, and come back here tomorrow."
The animal spirits broke away in small groups to discuss the new development, the drama caused by Coyote already forgotten. They were saddened by the thought of their father leaving, but were nonetheless excited by the prospect of meeting his new creation.
The creature the Creative Spirit showed up with the next day looked like a smaller version of the physical form he took. The child's dark skin was smooth save for a black patch of hair on his head. Large eyes set in a round face peered over the spirit's cradling arms, and he reached a chubby little hand out to the curious faces gathered around him.
The Creative Spirit could not help but smile despite the weariness that had driven him to decide to take some time away from his creations. He held the child out so the animal spirits could get a better look. "His name is Man. Now, who wants to be the first to present their gift?"
Some shuffled back and others lowered their eyes. They were worried about appearing too eager to impress their father. When Squirrel took a meek step forward, the crowd parted to let her through.
She smiled and held her hand out to let the child grasp her finger. "I will teach him to follow the seasons and be wise about storing food."
She stepped back and let Raven come forward. "I will give him curiosity, so that he will never grow tired of learning and creating with those flexible little hands he wants to wrap around everything."
Red Fox was next. "I will show him the uses of different plants, so that he will know which ones to eat and which can be used for medicine."
Each waited patiently for his or her turn, until the only one left to contribute was Coyote. Several pairs of eyes could not help but roll, their owners certain that he would think of something stupid that would ruin the new creature.
Coyote strode forward and crossed his arms. "I will give him death."
The Creative Spirit's face twisted into an ugly glare.
Coyote held a paw up before he could speak and continued, addressing the crowd as much as his father. "It is the only kind thing I can think of to do for him. Man will be so different, with all these skills thrown at him. You think we have a problem getting along with each other? How will it be for him, our Father's greatest achievement, left alone with people who grow to resent him? I think he would be happier if he lived like the animals. Give him a mate and a long life to explore his talents, and then let him leave us before we grow tired of him."
The Creative Spirit grumbled under his breath, but agreed to accept Coyote's gift. He made the child mortal and created a female child to be raised with him. He named them humans.
The animal spirits took the children and passed them around, doting on them and trying to get them to say their first words. They shot Coyote dirty looks, but except for Gray Fox all were secretly glad for the gift he gave.
The Creative Spirit stayed long enough to see that they were working together to make sure the humans got everything they needed, then said his goodbyes. He left the once-barren rock to its caretakers and drifted away into the blackness that lay beyond it. Maybe this time his search would turn up beings like himself. Maybe he would start over again and create a new race of companions on another rock. No matter what he did, he swore to return someday to check on their progress.
The animal spirits waited eagerly for that day to come, except for Coyote. He did not much care either way if his father ever decided to come back. Many humans, it turned out, had a great sense of humor.