My sister went off to college when I was about 11 and in an instant I lost my unwilling idol. About the same time Andee, my cousin moved to town to live with her dad, Uncle Pat. I kept my horse at Pat’s house, in a pasture next to a pond full of trout and catfish that we had to protect from the boys and their fishing poles. Andee was 6 months older than me and lifetimes tougher so of course, she instantly replaced the void my sister had left.
My Mom was full of wisdom and was light years tougher than anyone else I knew, even Andee, so when she told me things I listened and believed them with all my heart. I had been told that if you didn’t ride your horse every day, even if only for a few minutes, you would loose something extremely precious. Much like Yoga I suppose… so ride everyday I did. I would catch the bus to my Uncle’s house and go for a ride after school come hell or high water.
Not even a week had gone by when Andee decided that my Mom was full of it and if she skipped a day or two of riding, nothing would be lost, because she had other things to do. Andee was a cowgirl to the core, she didn’t have to imagine or pretend she just was and she was tough, so I wasn’t about to argue. I would head out everyday on Windy, my dreamy grey boy even if Andee was too busy to come along.
One of my solitary rides magic happened- pure, complete, undeniable magic. I crossed the canal and opened a gate into a field we had never explored before. Somehow this land of sagebrush and willows had been there all along without our ever venturing there. I had Buddy, the ancient and ornery blue healer stumbling faithfully behind me and Joe trit trotting in front when I saw the Coyotes in a tiny patch of shade under a lone Oak tree. I stopped Windy and watched them, watching me for a long, long time.
Now my Mom had always said that Coyotes are harmless and really quite frightened. In fact for all their wailing and carrying on, they are actually much more afraid of us than we are of them. As I watched them busy with their business, tending the pups that romped in the sparse grass and snapping at flies that wandered too close, I felt like the luckiest girl on earth. When they had enough of leisurely lounging and it was time to move on, I swore I was invited along. We fell in with them at a respectful distance, toward the bluffs that glowed with the setting sun. More and more coyotes joined the lounging group and Windy, Buddy, Joe and I just followed along, as if we had always been part of this nightly migration. When I reluctantly turned around because daylight was nearly gone, I knew two things for sure. Andee was definitely going to want to come riding with me tomorrow and the rule of not letting your horse run home, was about to be broken.
The following morning was Saturday and sure enough after a long sleepover filled with my enthusiasm at being accepted into the Coyote Pack, Andee was ready to go first thing. We had named our new magical destination Coyote Field, Andee had mastered their howl perfectly and we had the entire day to become one with the pack. Somewhere after we turned the second corner away from her house, before we had even reached the dirt road, Andee started to tell me what her Mom had said about coyotes. Her Mom apparently called them Yotees, because she changed the pronunciation immediately and I must admit, it sounded more authoritative.
I was too little to remember meeting Andee’s mom but I knew she couldn’t be nearly as wise or tough as my own, especially when I heard the stories about her and Yotees. Andee could sense that I wasn’t buying the vicious, terrible, blood thirsty savage stories so she amped it up a couple hundred notches, throwing in gore and dead horses, dogs, children and almost mothers… It took a lot for me not to let the stories influence the giddy excitement I felt at reuniting with my new found family and I tried hard to pretend they hadn’t, even though they had.
As we crossed the canal and approached the gate, I looked at ancient Buddy and unsuspecting Joe and worried for their safety, even Windy and Moonstone seemed vulnerable, my imagination turned on me completely as I drug the gate through the dirt and I could almost feel my feet being torn from the stirrups in the Yotee blood thirsty madness.
Sure enough, as if on cue, a few hundred feet into Yotee Field, with the gate securely closed behind us and our hearts beating out of our chests we heard the haunting wail start to grow. Behind a sage brush only a stones toss from Windy’s face a huge Yotee looked straight to the sky starting the song of doom that sent electricity through my spine. Buddy and Joe backed dangerously close to the horses’ prancing feet as the song grew in number and volume and pitch completely encircling us in unnerving screams. We could see them all around us, a perfect circle tightening in, they took turns screaming, wailing, yipping and yowling so we couldn’t gather our thoughts or calm our hearts.
“We have to move!” I yelled above the racket. “Keep the dogs between us.”
Miraculously the horses were able to remember how to walk and we slowly started moving. Of course we moved away from the gate, down the fence, maybe because the Yotees drove us that way or maybe because we were incapable of logical thought. We could hear the rattlesnakes getting stirred up in the commotion of the pack moving as a unit encircling us.
“The snakes will help us.” Andee yelled over her shoulder “They will keep the Yotees from charging if we stay close to them.” I believed her with all my being and enjoyed the small comfort that the idea of a rattlesnake shield brought.
We kept creeping toward a grove of willows that we must have hoped would slow the closing of the pack. They kept up the racket, the perfectly choreographed terror cries but we were becoming less and less affected by it. The willows were distracting to us and to them and they fell quiet for a few breaths when suddenly we found ourselves in a clearing. Andee and I looked at each other and laughed, somehow believing we were safe in the circle of trees.
When the screaming started again it was deafening, not choreographed or sporadic, it was a frenzy of war cries, death screams and merciless viciousness. I felt my blood run cold as they came sulking from the trees, completely surrounding us, closing in on the kill.
I wasn’t nearly as tough as Andee or my Mom, this was a well known fact but I sure as hell could scream. I mean break glasses, ear drums and friendships scream. So scream I did. Blood curdling, high pitched, bat shit crazy scream. And slowly the Yotees fell silent and started backing away. So Andee started screaming too. Her scream was not as effective as mine, having never been put to use before now but it helped, nonetheless.
We slowly emerged from the willows, dogs between us, screaming bloody murder the whole way. Through the rattlesnakes, the sage brush and finally to the gate without seeing so much as a trace of Yotee.
We ran to the top of galloping hill and turned to look over the place where we almost lost everything. Just behind the barbed wire fence we made out the leader of the pack, seeing him clearly for the first time, he was huge and lighter than the rest of them, obviously a dog recruit. Eventually we saw the entire pack, lined up in a perfectly straight line, blending in to the brush and dirt flawlessly, watching us, watching them.