“Ring-a-ding-ding,” yelled Coyote into the cool word stealing wind as the round moon, luna de nadie, shone down on the pale buildings clustered high on the hills above the king’s highway. The conquering king was long dead. Still his highway ran through the desert and the yellow grass valleys beyond.
“You’re right. It’s a trap.” Raven grinned and sped up. The yellow lines of the road flickered in the dim headlights. The water of the long aqueduct was a cement river beside them.
The canny might wonder why Raven drove a Mercedes roadster rather than flying. That was because he’d won it from Tiger in a card game. Spider had won Tiger’s dick. As he thought about the game, Raven tapped the wheel with his fingers and drove faster up the looping line of the road.
As to why Raven had hands and wings, it was simple. He was simultaneously a black bird with bright black eyes, a bright eyed man with a very shiny watch, a laughing toddler and woman in a black beaded dress. It was the same with Coyote. Except he was a yellow zoot suit riot all the way.
They were on a road trip. Coyote sometimes was a road. It was the best way to catch road runners.
After Raven had won the car, he’d decided the best place to be was where Tiger was not. Coyote’d howled, “House of the Rising Sun!”
But since they didn’t follow a map, they’d ended up on the king’s highway. The sun had died bloody orange in the western mountains and the moonlit buildings were the first civilization they’d seen since the last place.
Now they drove up. Away from the aqueduct fed orchards of the valley. Away from the cotton fields fed by far away snow mountains. Up into the dry grass hills.
A heavy bell rang as they arrived at white washed adobe buildings. The eucalyptus trees in front were strung with paper lanterns that cast shadows of skeletons on the king’s highway. A woman in a white dress with long shining white hair waited in an archway painted blue with white stars. Raven itched to throw the stars into the sky.
Instead Raven said, “Jolly.” He parked under a lantern. Shadows brushing over him. He hopped out of the car. “This should be fun. I love missions.”
The woman, glowing like moon that belonged to none, the Luna de Nadie, said, “It’s a hotel.” She held an unlit tallow candle. Coyote cracked a match. She took the fire from him and lit the candle. Raven could smell the burnt fat. The sulfur of the match. The warm dry grass that sounded like rattlesnakes. Foreign grass under foreign trees. Luna de Nadie said, “Everyone is welcome here.”
The yellow light flickered on the abalone shells in her necklace, but left the heavy embroidery of her white cotton dress to shine in her own light. Her gold bracelets jingled softly as the last toll of the bell faded away. She whispered over the candle, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
Coyote yipped. “All your life.” He offered her his arm. She took it and she led the way.
Raven rolled his eyes. He glanced at the shadows in the parking lot. He locked the car.
Luna de Nadie took them to a small courtyard that opened onto a series of corridors. In the center, there was a rough statue of a woman whose fountained tears fell into a tile basin.
Luna de Nadie whispered into the candle, its flame bent supple with her breath, “We‘ve been waiting a long time.”
Voices whispered from the dark corridors. From the statue. What they said was no doubt important, but Raven wasn’t really listening. He plucked the tallow candle from Luna de Nadie’s hand. Warm wax burnt his fingers.
Coyote slid his arm out and around. Spun Luna de Nadie. Her white skirts flared wide. Her sandaled feet scraped the tiles as she turned. Right and left. Coyote dipped her. Kissed her, because he was a dog. Licked the tears from her face. Raven took the opportunity to steal her necklace of dark abalone shells and put it on. Stole her jangling bracelets of gold.
They were shiny and Raven felt like being a natural woman. Raven shook her long glossy black hair and smiled at Luna de Nadie. Raven spun on one foot and the heavy beads of her dress flared out. Raven’s dress sounded like rain.
That startled a laugh from the woman, who said, “I‘d forgotten. It‘s been a long drought.”
“I figured.” Raven winked at her and went down one the corridors. She held the candle. She could hear music ahead of her. Behind her, she could hear the scrape of sandals and shoes on tile.
A fat bead of wax burned down the back of Raven’s hand. She licked at the burn. It tasted like yesterday. Fat and ashes.
Down the corridor, fast guitar music beckoned from beyond another archway. Tumbled notes over wrought iron barred trellises. Dark shapes by candlelight.
The trellis gave way to a red tile courtyard in front of a white stuccoed church. There, under strings of paper lanterns, rows of identical pretty pale boys danced in lines.
They weren’t entirely identical. Some of their short sleeved white shirts had blue stripes or red stripes. One or two wore tan slacks instead of black. But they all had short hair. Pale skin. They turned as one as she came out of the dark.
Pale hungry eyes. Followed the move of her steps in their precise patterns. Like a flock of birds. Always even spaced, they circled her. “Buy you a drink?” “Come here often?” “What’s your sign?” Hungry, hungry eyes.
Hungry shadows. Night men attached by the loafered toes to the rows of pale pretty boys. Like blades all in a row. On the ground, the shadows sharpened their fingers for the feast.
Raven arched an eyebrow and a shadow took her candle. She let it be stolen. A shadow twisted a bracelet. She said, “Hey, I just stole that.” She threw it away rather have it be stolen again.
The ground was strewn with golden poppies. She loved poppies. Bright colors. Shiny. Her silver man’s watch hung loosely on her wrist. A shadow reached for it. She spun. Beads flared out on her twirl. “I don’t think so.” Her arms twisted in the air. Hands took flight, while all around they watched. The boys. The shadows.
Raven said, “Oh, captain, my captain, bring me my wine.” The captain shook his head sadly. He offered her a glass that might have been pink champagne. Or champagne mixed with blood. Bubbles in the liquid. Bubbles in Raven’s mouth, as she turned right and left. Twisted. Her hands moved over her head. Wind breathed over the patio and the paper lanterns moved restlessly. The wind fresh and cool.
Raven smiled. She always smiled. It was the shape of her mouth. She said, “Friends, dance with me.” There in the sweet summer sweat, they sharked around her. Hard hands and hips. The heavy bell tolled over them. Rang in the hours from the church‘s adobe bell tower. Sound spiraled through thick walls. She surfed the sound like an updraft. Rode the jolts like an earthquake. Rode the dance of them. She smiled at them. The boys and the shadows. She spun through them. Flew. Heavy beads spun out from her dress that sounded like rain. Stung where they struck.
A hard hand pushed at her hip. Hands. A strand broke off her dress. Beads bounced on the hard pounded earth. She said, “I wish you hadn’t done that,” as the rain began. As Tiffany twisted thorns sprouted from the pretty boys where they fell. A thorn pierced through her foot. Red blood. She flew up through the thorns and perched on a wet vine. The shadows slipped away as the pretty boys’ toes dug into the earth and sprouted roots. Their arms into looped vines that bent with the pound of the rain. Raven cawed, “I should stop wearing that dress.”
Coyote plucked a berry from the brambles. He fed it to Luna de Nadie. Her white teeth bit into it. Bright red juice on her glowing lips that she licked it clean.
Coyote said, “I think you invented a new fruit.”
Raven pecked at the fruit. “olallieberry.” The name was redundant. Olallie meant fruit. They tasted sweet and sour at the same time. Luna de Nadie cast nightbows in the soft rain. The breeze ruffled glowing strands of her hair.
They left the vines there. Raven flew into the church, which really was a hotel. Shook the rain off his feathers and his long black trench coat, which he left with the coat girl. Dark as the earth. Stars in her eyes. Her lips berry stained and seeds in her teeth.
Raven’s eyes fell on his watch, which fit better now. Bright and counting down the hours. Raven smiled to look at it and shifted it in the light. Shiny.
A woman coughed. Raven looked up. Luna de Nadie, now in a silver dress, looked at Raven. “They are waiting for the feast.” Coyote stood behind her in shadow. Luna de Nadie said, “Somos todos prisioneros de propia voluntad.”
Raven exchanged a short glance with Coyote. Raven said, “Very philosophical. But I brought my own devices.”
Coyote laughed. Bright eyed and happy. He’d pulled out a new pack of matches and lit them one after the other. Put them out with his fingers. Cheap trick.
Luna de Nadie led them through the corridors up to the Master’s chamber. A wide chapel with a pipe organ. Mirrors on the ceiling. More “pink” champagne on ice. More pretty boys. Pretty girls. Night men. Even a many backed beast. Faces shifted on the roll of its flesh sides. The shadows, the night men raked the beast’s sides with their knife fingers, but nothing killed its movements.
That wasn’t the point.
Raven said, “So when you said feast, you meant…”
“Ring-a-ding-ding,” said Coyote, who was on the same page.
Coyote laughed and looked to Raven, who smiled. It was the way they were made. Coyote jumped up to the organ and picked out a tune. Then a melody. Got bored and turned it into a reed pipe. A Spanish guitar. He sang as he played. Coyote had always been the musician. Raven was not. He did not sing. That was for the best.
The beast groaned and the pretty boys and girls growled. The moon reflected on the tile floor and off the mirrored ceiling and the flesh on the altar as they all did what groaning growling things did.
Coyote played faster.
There were pale lines like milk on the floor. Coyote sang and strummed to them.
Raven smiled as the lines on the floor grew into milkweed that reflected on the ceiling. Mirrors that melted away into the cloudy sky and soft rain on their faces. Raven turned up his face and said, “Maybe you shouldn’t have built your hotel out of sugar cubes.”
Monarch butterflies quivered their wings on the milkweed leaves.
A butterfly fluttered onto Luna de Naide’s hand. Raven said, “They’re poisonous.”
Luna de Naide smiled at the butterfly. “I know.” She kissed the night men each in turn on the cheek.
The butterflies streamed outside. Although by this point, they were mostly outside. They stood in the Eucalyptus grove.
Raven danced with a night man. With the Captain. With Luna de Naide. The watch on Raven’s wrist counted the hours and Coyote played. Until Luna de Naide grew pale and the night men faded. Left only the drip drop of water on leaves, which was when Raven realized that he’d lost his coat.
He sighed and they went back to the car. They opened the doors and let the sea that had formed there out.
They got in the car and went back to the place they’d been before. Except that was never really possible. But they went forward anyway.
Raven dropped off Coyote at the street corner near his place.
Tiger waited on the steps of Raven’s house.
Tiger said, “You stole my car.”
Raven smiled, because that was the way his mouth was made. Her mouth. “No, I won your car. I stole your watch.” Raven kissed Tiger. A rapid flutter of surface pecks. Body pressed against his. She smiled and wriggled her bead covered hips, because she would never learn. “You got your dick back?”
He mumbled into her neck, hot wet breath, “Yeah.” Licked Raven’s neck.
She stretched into the swipe. “Next time. Don‘t lose it.”
“M’okay,” He rumbled into her and she laughed nothing like a mission bell.
She laced her fingers through Tiger’s. Feathers over his fur. “Come on big guy. I‘ve had a long night.” They went inside where it was warm and dry.