a dark wood where the straight way was lost

POSTED: Sat Sep 01, 2018 8:54 am

Once the man told Jethro his name, things changed between them.

Their meeting happened by accident. Smoke carried far when the wind was right, and Jethro was high enough on horseback to locate its source. It was a small fire and gave off little smoke, all things considered, but the closer Jethro came the more he could make out – marijuana, horse, and hot cat-piss that prickled his fur.

It was a coyote sitting near the fire, making use of the low stone wall that might have been part of a building during another life. The ground was marked with signs as such, though a sapling had taken root in one sharp corner where the water pooled and was obviously growing fast. Some of its leaves were still red and turning green, reaching for the sunlight that the open area exposed the ground to.

He looked scraggly and rough the way that loners so often looked (something Jethro himself reflected), and was well aware of the approaching rider. There were scars all over him, and gray shot through his pelt and suggested his age – Jethro certainly didn't overlook the way he was being watched, or how the cat he could smell was not visible.

The horse was, though. It was tied to a piece of pipe sticking up from the ground, and snorted and expressed its irritation with the new arrivals noisily. For someone like Jethro, who recognized qualities in horses as he did people, this one read mean.

Its master looked similar, though his expression was hard to read.

You lookin' for something? He asked – his voice was peculiar too.

No. I just smelled the smoke.

Figured someone might, the coyote scoffed. I don't got no food.

That's fine, I don't need your food.

Yeah?

Jethro's eyes narrowed as he saw the stranger look him over. He was still thin – a few days of good eating could not make up for weeks without so quickly. So what's the fire for?

Medicine.

Are you a healer?

No.

Where'd you get it from then?

What are you talking about?

Your medicine.

Around.

The blonde frowned. He looked between the man and the horse again, wondering if the cat was close. Tobi was no help – he was already nosing at the greens in what had once been someone's garden.

What kind of medicine is it?

Why? Are you sick?

No. I smelled it – what you were smoking. Where'd you find it?

It's mine, but if you look around hard enough maybe you'll find some.

You want to trade?

For what, flaco?

For food, anciano, Jethro shot back. He saw the man's ears twitch.

Maybe. You smoke this before?

Yeah. Haven't in a while.

You want to?

What, now?

Sure – see if you like it. If you don't, no harm.

That's generous.

You think I'm tryin' to jump you, chico?

I'd advise against it.

Oh yeah? You someone important?

No.

The coyote set about producing a joint from the pouch on his hip. He slid off the wall and plucked a stick from the fire to light it while Jethro dismounted. It worried him to let Tobi loose, so he didn't and held onto his reins with one hand.

Where are you from?

South of here.

You live alone?

No.

Here, the man held out his hand, forcing Jethro to reach for the joint. It burnt nicely even though Jethro was left coughing soon after. This your first time?

No. It's been a while.

Sure, chico.

Where are you from?

South – the other way, he gestured west.

What are you doing up here?

You know, the coyote took a drag, and when he exhaled Jethro swore he saw him smile. I'm not entirely sure. What about you?

I'm hunting.

All the way out here? I thought you said you live with people.

I do.

Why don't you all hunt together then?

It's complicated.

Oh , that makes sense. Maybe makes it hard to trade if your pockets are empty, hm?

You said—

Careful, the dark coyote rumbled. Bad habit, telling people what they think they said. Easy, he added when Jethro stiffened, holding up a hand. Who are you with, anyway? Inferni?

Jethro nearly growled.

What do you care?

I'm just asking. Figured if you were you'd say so.

Yeah well, Inferni's gone, so you won't find it.

Gone? It was the first time he heard real emotion in the stranger's voice. What do you mean it's gone?

I mean it's gone. There were wars, and things got worse, and everyone left.

What wars? Who did you fight?

What's it matter to you? Who are you, anyway? You never told me your name.

He saw the man's face flicker, like a flame in the dark. It was fleeting, the expression, and one Jethro barely had enough time to read. What he saw was enough to make him wary, though the drug was reaching him now and his head felt strange.

It's Marlowe.


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