“Well the sun has risen, it’s time to see what you lot have come up with.” The spider said. The Raven shot the Coyote a harsh look as he started giggling, and the Coyote cleared his throat, sitting quietly. The other companions stepped away from the jars as the sun rose and looked at the turtle.
“Did any of you catch stars?” The Raven asked, eyeing the rising sun.
“As a matter of fact, ” the turtle re-positioned the bottles slightly so they caught the first rays of the sun. “We have caught the biggest light in the sky for you. And as Coyote put it so clearly last night… all the lights in the sky are stars.”
The Coyote burst into laughter, rolling dangerously close to the fire. The Raven, the Rabbit, and the Spider each approached the jars, eyeing them carefully. The other companions moved behind the turtle, looking nervous.
“And of course this was the turtle’s idea, wasn’t it?” The Raven sighed heavily as the others nodded slowly. The Rabbit and the Spider grinned at each other and laughed a little.
“Did you all have fun?” The Rabbit asked, ignoring the Raven as he ruffled his feather.
“Once we stopped tiring ourselves out chasing after stars, it was pretty fun.” The mouse said.
“They did well this year, I think we can call this one done.” The Spider said. The Rabbit, the Raven, and the Coyote all nodded in agreement.
“So… what now?” The chipmunk asked, as Coyote gathered up the jars.
“Now we take each of you home. We’ve taken up enough of your time.”
“I hope I didn’t disappoint you.” The mouse said to the Raven.
“Don’t be silly, my friend. You all did well.”
“Yes but I didn’t win.” Everyone was surprised to hear the Raven laugh at this remark.
“Oh you didn’t lose, I did. The competition was never really between you four. If I was a bit curt it was because every time Coyote comes up with the challenge he wins.”
“You’ll beat me next time I’m sure.” The Coyote said. The Raven nodded and almost smiled before taking off with the mouse clutched in his claw. The mouse waved goodbye as it disappeared into the horizon. The fox lowered her head so the Spider could climb on, and the Rabbit did the same for the Chipmunk. They both nodded goodbye and headed off in their separate directions as the Coyote carefully put the turtle in the pouch again and starting toward home.
They had traveled in silence for what seemed like many miles before the turtle poked his head out.
“What did you win, anyways?” He asked. The Coyote smiled at him, though his smile seemed less foolish than usual.
“Do not worry about that just yet, friend turtle. Let’s just enjoy the journey. Would you like another song?” The Coyote had slowed to a casual trot so they could speak. Something about the look on his face made the turtle feel a little sad.
“I think I would.” The turtle said. The coyote threw back his head and let out a sharp bark of a laugh. His steps gained a peculiar dancing quality and he started humming a tune. It was more somber, and slower, than the Coyote’s usual silliness.
I knew a pretty little star, so vibrant and so far away.
I asked her if she’d care to dance, she laughed and told me not today.
Oh what a coy and clever girl, she always knew just what to say.
To keep me falling in love with her, though it was always “not today”.
I’d gladly take this fairy light, and dance across the moonlight sky.
And when the sun does rise again, I watch her go and start to cry.
Oh why oh why my fairy light, must you depart at end of night.
When will the day come that you stay, and with me dance and dream and laugh.
Until that day I ask each night, oh will you dance with me just once.
But you would always laugh and say maybe one day, not tonight.
The song rang in the turtle’s mind and he fell into silence, slipping back into the pouch.
They stopped and made a modest lunch as the sun hit its peak, sitting in silence beside a cool stream they came across. The Coyote finally put a paw on the turtle’s shell.
“You seem more grumpy than usual, turtle friend. Does something other than your shell weigh heavily on you?” He asked.
“Why’d you choose me?”
The Coyote looked more serious than the turtle had ever seen him, and stared off at the horizon for a moment, “I knew you could figure out the challenge, and I wanted to spend more time with you before…” He seemed to hesitate.
“Before what?” The turtle was starting to get annoyed.
“You asked what the prize was before… I’m going to be going on a long trip.” The Coyote looked up at the sky.
“How long, and to where?” The turtle was surprised to find himself alarmed at this revelation.
“I will be gone for a year.”
“So you drag me away from home for some silly contest, just so you can take off for a year on some trip?” The turtle raised his voice unintentionally.
“I am sorry, friend turtle…” The Coyote genuinely looked sorry, and the turtle felt a little bad for his outburst.
“You didn’t tell me where you’re going.” The turtle said as the Coyote began packing him up again.
“I am going to ask a pretty star to dance with me.” The Coyote said, before laughing loudly.
“If you’re going to say nonsense you might as well make it a song and get back to taking me home.” The turtle grumbled, though they both knew he didn’t mean anything by it. The Coyote laughed again and started sprinting for home, singing a nonsense tune the turtle could only barely make out. He settled in and managed to drift off to sleep to the Coyote’s singing, waking only as they arrived home to the setting sun.
The dog greeted them, and the Coyote set the turtle down in front of him, safe and sound, “See, no harm done, errand complete.”
“Did you win again?” The dog asked after sniffing at the turtle.
“Friend turtle was brilliant, as I knew he would be.”
“So you’ll be off again?” The dog looked up at the Coyote.
“Aww, will you miss me friend dog?”
“Hardly, at least we won’t have any troublemakers for a year.” The dog huffed. The Coyote laughed and the turtle could have sworn that his eyes sparkled like fire even as the sky grew dark.
“I will miss you too, friend dog and friend turtle. Try to stay out of trouble.”
“That’ll be easy without you around.” The turtle said. The dog laughed at this and the Coyote let out his sharp barking laugh before turning towards the open desert. He started to walk away without another word and the turtle and the dog watched him go.
As he hit the darkest shadows the Coyote’s fur seemed to shimmer and he began to laugh, softly at first and then louder. He broke into a run and the turtle and the dog saw him turn into a dozen bright points of light that ran into the horizon and then up into the sky. The Coyote’s laughter faded as the lights disappeared among the stars and the turtle turned to look at the dog, who was still staring at the horizon, looking a little sad.
“What…” The turtle started, unsure of what he wanted to ask. The dog put a friendly paw on his shell.
“There are some things we aren’t meant to understand friend turtle.”
The turtle frowned out at the horizon again, “He’s done this before, hasn’t he?”
“Back when I was a pup and we moved out here… Let’s get inside out of this cold and I’ll tell you about it if you’d like.”
The turtle nodded and the dog scooped him up in his mouth carefully, heading for the warmth and light of their desert home.