A raspy cry pierced eerie silence
Whispering for water.
A ragged hand, a cursed claw
Clutched cold sons and daughters.
The land was dry, the storehouse bare
The last ooze of livestock’s breath.
But a few remain to tell the tale
Of Trickster’s reign as Death.
There had never been a Sunday like this one. A fateful Sunday in the boughs of the driest Summer that had ever been upon the Earth. The lakes, the rivers, the oceans had long since dried up in the scorching sun, the livestock keeled over from want, and mothers had taken to dashing the brains of newborns in give other children a small, minute chance at life.
On this Sunday slunk the Trickster, festering grouchily under a wiry thorn brush, the only shade to be found in miles. With putrid disdain, he recounted his past meals upon his ragged paw;
“Mealworm…cactus flower…dung beetle….”
What I wouldn’t give for that roll of bread, he thought to himself, as he gazed with longing at the old woman baking the last of her flour into a small loaf to share with her family. He watched her place the dough with tremendous love and care into the small brick oven, close the door, and haggle outside to begin sweeping off the dust from the steps.
Trickster licked his dry, chapped lips, feeling a raw screaming for sustenance from his shriveled insides.
Surely just a little wouldn’t hurt . . .
Trickster was fully aware that it was counted as the sole highest crime in all the land to steal life forces in times of hardship and famine. No one will know after all . . .
And thus, on this Sunday, did Trickster begin his short-lived career of thieving, as he shimmied to the window outside of the oven and snagged the half-baked bread from the oven, burning his paws on the steam.
He didn’t stop there. He couldn’t stop there. From Old Woman’s house he moseyed to the hut of Little Boy and swiped the last of the eggs from underneath Hen. He pranced to the house of Fruitful Mother and scooped up a pawful of honey. He danced to the tent of Father Wisdom and snagged a flagon of wine.
Trickster shied back to his wiry shade haven, exuberant on his thieving success and eager to bite into his new delicacies.
But Trickster was ignorant.
In his haste to satisfy his appetite, he didn’t realize the marks that the stolen goods were leaving on his body. He didn’t see the burn marks on his paws from the steam, nor the egg shell remains caught in his whiskers, nor the sticky honey caught matted in his neck nor the dribbles of red wine that stained his belly.
When Trickster emerged from his haven, he found Old Woman, Little Boy, Beautiful Mother and Father Wisdom coming straight toward him with Almighty Fate towering in stride behind them.
“TRICKSTER!” boomed the Almighty Fate. Trickster felt a tremendous shiver rack his body; suddenly he was too full to run, to sleepy to move, too guilty to escape.
“Trickster!” thundered the Almighty Fate once more. “Trickster, what you have done is unforgivable. You know our laws. Our rules.” Trickster dug at the dry dirt with his feet. With slow, deliberate understanding, he recited the Old Code:
“In times of hardship or times of famine
We bind together, sister and brother.
One man cooks, one girl cleans
And no one takes from the other.”
“Your crime has caused the starvation of the families of Old Woman, Little Boy, Beautiful Mother, and Father Wisdom. Therefore, I banish you to Death,” declared Almighty Fate.
Trickster perked his ears up. That really wasn’t so bad….it was going to happen sooner or later anyways, might as well be now. Almighty Fate gave a knowing smile; he wasn’t finished.
“You will become Death. You will face the burden of selecting the dead for a term, sentenced for eternity or until you learn your lesson.”
Not a day went by when Trickster did not curse the Almighty Fate.
Trickster propped his chin in his paws and gazed longingly at his former home below him. The rains had returned, the livestock reincarnated, the land was prosperous and vibrant once more. The children ran in between mother’s legs and danced around the persimmons.
Trickster shared no part of it.
The only way that he had found consolidation in his loneliness and isolation had been to try to capture the same aesthetic in his new community; this he did by selecting the happiest of the land and forcing them to join him in the afterlife.
But the happiness of the happiest faded once they entered his domain; joy was replaced with constant weeping, smiles and laughter with bitter wails. Trickster couldn’t stand it. He hated the shrieks of his new environment more than his hatred of the shouts of delight from the earth he could not share.
But the worst part.
The people had found out how to evade him.
Now Trickster could no longer further his quest to improve his current environment with the happiness of good people plucked from Earth.
Not a day went by that he did not curse the Almighty Fate.
The people had found that by volunteering their time and efforts to serve each other, Death could no longer take them. Their time was no longer their own; it had been gifted to another person. Therefore Trickster was rendered powerless to touch them.
He was stuck with the wailing, crying sissies that traipsed aimlessly about him, day in a day out, tugging at his fur and pleading with him to let them return.
Oh, if I could I would, Trickster thought angrily, as he swiped at the grizzled claw of Bear tugging on his forearm.
I don’t want to be Death anymore.
And then a light turned on in Trickster’s mind; an idea blossomed that hadn’t come to him before.
If the people can trick me, then surely, surely I can trick them! He garnered all of his strength and began to implement his plan.
By creating a massive famine on the earth–done easily enough by transferring trees, water, and life force from the Earth into his domain–Death set about implementing the same situation that had tempted him to steal in the first place.
Death ravaged the land, plucking children from the mother’s breast, snatching hens and bees and fish from the huts. Death killed the harvests, devastated the livestock, destroyed the food stores.
For three long moons did this famine wrack the Earth.
On one fateful, fateful Sunday, did Death’s plan play itself fully out.
Young Coyote sought refuge underneath a hawthorn branch, feeling the raw screaming for sustenance from his shriveled insides. He hadn’t eaten in as many moons as the famine had been upon the Earth, and his hunger had become to transform him.
With quiet, scared desperation, Young Coyote stole upon the Old Woman’s hut, snatching the last of her bread from the clay oven.
It didn’t stop there. It couldn’t stop there. He went to the hut of Little Boy, of Fruitful Mother, of Father Wisdom. All the while not realizing the stains and crumbs and shells caught in his matted fur.
And Death–Trickster–smiled, because he knew what was to come.