I had had to take a break from writing the family history after the first chapter. Finishing off the last of the historical fiction novels I was contracted for had become a lot easier after writing my first chapter of real history. Then, in the early summer, Jenna had fallen and broken her hip. Even with nanobiotics, some things didn't heal that well as you got old. We were half way through planning how various family members would modify the old house so that she could get around it better when she dropped the bomb on us.
"John's house was originally built as a kind of 'Dower-house' thing, and only later became the place where the next in line lived. John should move into the main house anyway, since he's head of the family now. It would be much less hassle to make the smaller place accessible for me, provided you agree, John."
"I don't know, Jenna, it would feel horribly like turning you out of here, where all your memories are."
"I've memories in the other place too, John. When Mikhail and I were first married we lived there. I wouldn't mind revisiting them, and him."
"She's right, John." This was Marie, Sandra's younger sister and Jennas second daughter. "You're here a lot of the time anyway, dealing with family business."
"When you put it that way, I guess I'm thoroughly outvoted."
"Listen to your mother-in-law, dear..."
When we all stopped laughing we had agreed to do it. By the time everything was organized and moved, summer was already giving way to fall. Now, staring out at the woodlands and at the rain beating down on the foothills of the Cascades, I was thinking about where to pick up the story. Records from the early part of the "years of fear", right after the breakout in 2021 were sketchy. All I had was a diary that began in 2035, written by Ian Williamson. David and Zia's son.
Ian closed the door of the apartment he shared with Margaret and leaned back on it, breathing heavily. The side of his face was bruised, his lip was cut and his knuckles were bleeding. Margaret heard the door close and stepped out of the bedroom, her mouth dropping open in horror as she ran to him.
"My God, Ian.. what happened?"
"Alex happened. Again." He sighed. "I am so sick of this small-minded town, Maggie. I don't know how much longer I can take this shit."
"Let's get you cleaned up. Then we can clean the door." She pointed at where his bleeding knuckles had left red streaks on the white paint of the door. "Whoever started the rumor that you were a shifter, I wish I could get my hands on them."
"That's only half of it, Maggie. Even if the rumor were true it shouldn't matter, should it? But in this place with Pastor Carlson ranting about 'beasts from Hell' and 'the unclean amongst us', practically frothing at the mouth every Sunday... The hate in this place just turns my stomach."
"Ian, I know YOU. It's you I love. Even if you were a shifter it wouldn't matter to me. I've an idea. We've all summer before we have to be here for anything. How about seeing if we could borrow my folks RV and just leaving for a couple of months?"
"Two months out of this place with the woman I love? Where do I sign up?" He kissed her, wincing as his cut lip touched hers. Then he frowned. "Are the pinheads going to vandalize the apartment while we're gone?"
"Not if they know whats good for them. My mom is county Sherriff, remember? She'd go ballistic. Not even Alex is that dumb."
"I dunno about that - all his brains are in his testicles and his muscles."
She giggled.. "Yeah, typical linebacker. All balls and no forehead. I'd swear he's juicing too. C'mon, let's finish cleaning you up and I'll call my dad while you start packing. If we're going I want us gone as soon as possible."
"Anywhere we want. Somewhere other than here. If it's got RV hookups, it might be where we are going!"
"Are you sure you don't mind doing so much of the driving, Maggie?"
"I've driven this monster before. You haven't. We'll switch at our first freeway rest stop and you can get used to driving it without having to handle city streets. Pick a direction.”
“Sounds good to me, lover. Go west, young shifter!”
“Ian, I’m sorry.. “
“Let’s put it this way, Mags. If I was, that would hurt. If I wasn’t that would hurt different but would still hurt. I’m sorry, I’m a little touchy.”
“That compassion and empathy is part of why I love you, Ian. I’m sorry.”
“Quit getting mushy and drive, girl!” They shared a grin as the city limits sign faded in the rear view mirror.
Taos,NM.Two weeks later.
Ian and Margaret had spent a day wandering around the art galleries in Taos. The sun was getting low as they found themselves back in the center of town. They collapsed on a bench together, hugging each other close. “Ian, I could stay here a while. There’s such a kind of peace here.. “
Ian didn’t reply at once. He didn’t feel peaceful at all, something had been bugging him for half the day. It had started last time they wandered this square in the center of town just after lunch. He had this idea to buy Maggie a gift from this town, but he hadn’t seen the right thing yet and it was getting late. It didn’t seem right to leave it until tomorrow, even though they had no real plans for their next move.
“I need to find something, Mags. Give me a moment.”
Ian stood up and looked around. On the far side of the square where earlier a dozen native american women had been selling crafts and jewelry, only two remained. As he walked towards them one of them packed up and left. The only one remaining was an old woman, sitting there pale and shrunken on a stool next to a blanket on which were spread pieces of jewelry. She looked up as he approached.
“You took your time returning. I was almost ready to give up on you, but then I saw you come back into the square.”
“What do you mean?”
“One of these called to you, called to your life-mate. I felt it when you passed earlier. Maybe a trickster can even outsmart himself?”
“I don’t understand.”
“In time you will. In the meantime do you see anything here that you would like to see your lover wear?”
“That one.. how much is it?”
“This one?” The woman picked up an elaborate silver bracelet, set with turquoise.
“No, the necklace next to it.”
“Ah.” The woman smiled and picked up an elegantly simple silver pendant with single piece of turquoise in its center, dangling from a leather thong. “Something to keep this place with her, wherever you may travel.”
“It’s a gift for my girlfriend.”
“This place holds peace for her, Trickster, but not for you and not for the two of you together. You should go north, a long way north. There is a Makah story-teller you should hear. His stories will heal you. If you find him, tell him Chu’mana sent you to him. As for a price, I will accept whatever you have in your wallet. This will be my last sale of the day.”
“I’ve only got $45, that seems a little low for a piece like that - I can write you a check or give you a card though...”
“No, that cash is enough. It would be ill luck to accept anything else from a trickster this late in the day.”
“Why do you keep calling me ‘Trickster’?”
“There is more than one kind of sight, more than one kind of vision.” The woman looked up and stared at Ian and he realized that her eyes were almost completely filmed over with cataracts. “Now, make the trade or do not. My old bones are getting weary of sitting here.”
Curled up in bed in the RV with Margaret that night, Ian watched her sleep, watched the moonlight coming through the window reflecting off the silver pendant resting between her breasts. She had insisted on wearing it immediately and showed no intention of taking it off. He was settling down to sleep when his phone rang.
“This is Marcus.” Ian felt like his blood had turned to ice. “Two government types picked up your parents ten minutes ago. Hit an ATM and drain your account immediately. Ditch your phone and get another. Be far away from wherever you are before you call me back.” The caller hung up.
Ian pulled the back off his phone and yanked the battery. He stood in the RV for a moment and then pulled on his shorts and his pants, grabbing a tshirt at random. He then stepped out and started disconnecting the hookups from the RV. Once back inside, he grabbed the keys and gently shook his girlfriends shoulder... “Mags, wake up.. “
“Ian, what’s wrong?”
“My parents are in trouble and we have to go. Right now. Get dressed. I’ll be back in a minute.” He didn’t give her a chance to reply, he simply ran out - heading for the ATM at the campground offices. He was back in less than three minutes. Margaret was dressed, sitting on the bed. Ian threw himself into the drivers seat of the RV and beckoned her forward to join him as he started the engine and pulled away from their campsite.
“Ian, this is weird. What’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you in a little while. For now you just have to trust me, ok?”
“I guess.. but it’s still weird.”
For want of a better direction, Ian headed north. As soon as he passed a 24 hour walmart he pulled in, dashed in and came out with a prepaid cellphone, then got on the road again. “Here, Mags. Dial this number and put it on speaker... “
“This is Marcus.”
“This is Ian. Heading north from Taos.”
“There’s a kit at the first rest area after you cross into Colorado. The name is ‘Marks’.”
“Thank you. Is there anything else that you can tell me?”
“Not at this time. Keep this phone between us.” *click*
“Ian, what is going on?”
“I’ll tell you everything at the rest area.”
Some time later, Ian was sitting in the RV across from Margaret with what looked like an ammo box on the table between them.
“This is an escape kit, Mags. Everything I need to change my identity and disappear. Because the rumors were true. I am a shifter. Both my parents are so I was born that way. I want you to drive for a while and then call your folks, telling them I ran out on you. I’ll catch a lift from one of the truckers here.”
“Why would you need to disappear, Ian? Even if you are a shifter? What’s going on?”
“For the last three years, the feds have been tracking down and ‘taking’ shifters. We don’t know where, we don’t know what they do with us when they take us. We just know that we never hear from anyone again that gets taken. They took my parents last night, they have to be looking for me.”
“Ian Williamson, you are not running out on me and I am not running out on you. I’m going with you, wherever it is we end up. Get back in that seat and drive.”
“Mags, you can’t do this. They’ll put it about that I’ve abducted you and your mom will shoot me on sight.” Margaret fished out her phone and typed a quick txt.. “Whatever you hear will be a lie. Like the bullying incident at school”
“Not now she won’t. That’s something only she and I know about, she’ll know it was me sending it of my own free will. Are you going to sit here until they catch us or are you going to drive?”
“Pull your phone’s battery. You don’t want it tracked. My name is Ian Marks if anyone asks. Let’s put some miles between here and ourselves and we can make use of that escape kit.”
A couple hundred miles away from the rest area, Ian and Margaret were looking through the escape kit.
“We’ve got all we need to make male or female fake IDs, but both will have the same last name. Mags, you’d have to masquerade as my wife.”
“Masquerade now, reality later.”
“Yes, Ian. You are the man I want to spend my life with, and if that means we’re running all the time then I’ll run with you. Just make sure you get to marry me officially sooner rather than later, ok?” The two lovers shared a kiss, then looked back at the items strewn on the table.
“Ok so you are Margaret Marks, I am Ian Marks.. with this kit and these two blanks we can give ourselves fake Colorado licenses. There’s a few prepaid credit cards here that we can alter to be in our names. The big deal is the license plates on the RV. They still link to your folks.”
“Can your friend on the phone fix that?” Ian looked at her and dialed.
“Ian Marks. I need a set of untraceable RV plates. Can you do that or do I need to look elsewhere?”
“She’s with you?”
“Yes, we are Mr and Mrs Marks as far as our IDs show.”
“Take down this address... There is a RV up on blocks in the driveway but it still has plates with tabs valid for this year. By the time you get there, the owner will be expecting you to turn up and remove them and will not interfere. If anyone asks, Mr Marks, you borrowed the RV you are driving from your uncle, Robert Callahan, for your honeymoon.”
Somewhere on I25, WY
“Ian, we have to stop. You’ve been driving too long and I’m too tired to take over. Look for a campground sign. We’re two states away from the last time we left any traces under our real names, we should be good to take a break.”
Twenty minutes later, the RV was hooked up and the young couple was collapsed exhausted on the bed. Margaret could no longer contain her curiosity.
“Ian, how come all this... “ she waved her arm “’spy stuff’ was there for us? Who was that on the phone?”
“It’s a bunch of shifters, no real organization, they just have promised to help others who have to vanish in a hurry. My parents taught me when I was 12 that if anyone calls identifying himself as ‘Marcus’ I was to do as I was told, even if it didn’t make much sense. Marcus isn’t a person, it’s a code that you’re in deep trouble and another shifter is trying to get you out of it. As far as I know you’re the first person who isn’t a shifter that’s been told about this. The guys on the other end of the phone probably assume that you’ve become a shifter too since you stayed with me. Shifters really are not safe anywhere, Mags.”
“I don’t really know anything about shifters, most of the stuff online is so obviously wlid-eyed ranting.”
“What do you want to know?’
“I’m in love with one, on the run with him and have a false identity as his new bride.. so... Everything, I guess? Like why would they assume I had become a shifter?”
“Because we’re a couple and sex is part of what it takes to make a static person into a shifter. Don’t ask me how it works, I just know it does. What we call birth-shape is the way you were born, whether human or morphic. Soul-shape is the other one. Shifters can switch between them. Your birth-shape always matches your mothers when she became pregnant - in which shape she’ll stay until she gives birth, because pregnant women can’t shift. Shifter ladies don’t need pregnancy tests - if she can shift, she’s not pregnant. If both your parents are shifters, and were both in birth-shape or both in soul-shape when you were conceived, you’ll be born a shifter but won’t develop the ability until puberty. Otherwise you’re born static whether human or morphic.”
“Could you turn me into a shifter if I wanted you to?”
“No. There’s two parts to it and I only know how to do one of them.” He grinned, reaching out to caress his lover. She relaxed into his caress and made a quiet sound that he interpreted as curiosity, so he continued. “The part I can’t do is lead what we call the meditation of seeking, where we’d find your soul-shape and allow to to take it on temporarily even though you’re not a shifter yourself. Neither mom nor dad could teach me that.”
“What’s the part you do know how to do?”
He smiled and whispered in her ear.. “Making love to the woman I adore beyond all else in the world....”
“Rain check, my love, I’m exhausted.” Without evening bothering to undress or get into the bed, the couple were soon fast asleep.
At about three in the morning, both were awakened as a thunderstorm swept over the campground. Still too tired to make love, they snuggled together on the bed, exchanging gentle caresses and kisses, listening to the thunder and the rain.
“Can you... show me?”
“I’ve been wanting to ever since we got together. Let me loose so I can get undressed.”
“Do you have to be naked to shift?”
“Only if I don't want to rip my clothes, hurt my tail and end up with the ball-crushing wedgie from Hell.”
She giggled. “Sound like pretty good reasons to me, particularly the last.. wait.. tail?”
“Most morphics have some kind of tail, although for some it’s pretty short. I rather like the look of mine.” Dropping the last of his clothes he stood up, blurred and changed.
Golden eyes, reflecting the faint light coming in from outside, gazed at her from above a narrow, fox-like muzzle. Large, pointed ears with patches of white fur within them stood up from the top of his head. A subtle ruff of grey-brown fur ran down his neck and over his shoulders, blending into the paler brown fur that covered his body and faded to lighter shades on his belly. His arms and legs were wiry rather than heavy with muscle and were long enough to give him a lanky appearance. Behind him, a large, bushy tail continued his body coloration up to the black furred tip. Lightly poised on his paws, he simply stood there watching her.
She couldn’t fully suppress a shiver as she looked up and down his body. The light reflecting from his eyes touched something visceral and deep in her own ancestral memories. She felt like prey, watching a predator.... and she was surprised that it excited her. She felt another shiver, which she realized, as it left her nipples hard and her groin tight, was arousal.
He caught her scent and gave a shiver of his own. “I think you are liking what you see.. and thats a huge relief. I’m not sure how I’d react if you had started running across the campground like a scene from a b-grade horror movie.”
“In that kind of movie wouldn’t that end up with the monster running me down and raping me?” Both of them laughed and she stepped up and put her arms around him, nuzzling her face into his chest and inhaling the oddly spicy scent of his fur. “I’d rather save the effort of running, if that’s ok with you?”
“The scent of you is depriving me of my better judgement and you feel so good against my fur, but I should point out that condoms made for humans don't fit this shape too good and running away from the black helicopters is probably not the best time to get knocked up”
“Maybe I’m willing to take the risk?”
Gently he stroked her hair. “Dearest, it would be more than a risk tonight. That’s part of why your scent is driving me so crazy. You’re just starting your most fertile time tonight, love. We do that and there will be three of us on this little road trip by tomorrow morning.”
After a short pause she giggled again... “I was about to say ‘so do me in the ass instead’ but I know a bit about how canines are built and I don’t think I’m quite ready for that yet. Come back to bed, love.. Just hold me and let me feel your fur against me until morning.”
As they were drifting off to sleep, she murmured “I know why that old lady kept calling you ‘trickster’, she must have known somehow...”
“You’re a coyote.”
The following morning, over breakfast, Margaret was giving Ian a huge raft of shit for knowing as little as he did about native American mythology as they discussed where to go next. Suddenly Ian’s head came up as he remembered something.
“That old woman.. She said to go far north and that there was a Makah storyteller who’s stories would somehow heal me.”
“The Makah are in Washington, I think. That qualifies as ‘far north’ since if you go any further you’re in Canada. Oh, and.. I know you are decent in a kayak because of those white-water trophies. Ever done any ocean canoeing?”
“No, but I can handle a sea-kayak - it’s a lot different from a canoe, though.”
“It’s just that around Puget Sound, it should be pretty easy to disappear into Canada if we need to and we can move on the water.”
“I guess that’s our travel plans then. Pacific Northwest, here we come.”
Two days later, everything went to Hell.
They were about an hour past Olympia, seeing the sky slowly lighten as the sun rose behind them when Ian’s phone rang.
“This is Marcus. They have found you. Abandon vehicle soonest.” *click*
Ian looked over at Margaret, who was driving, and quietly muttered “Oh shit.”
Margaret didn’t say a word. She took the first exit onto an old logging road that wound up into the Olympic mountains. She followed the winding road to its end, deep in the forest and stopped. “What the fuck do we do now, Ian?”
“We break out the hiking gear and we make sure we’re somewhere else when they find the RV.”
Both had brought backpacks and hiking boots. They spent a few minutes pushing food and clothing into the packs and then Ian paused... “We’re doing this wrong.” He pulled half of his clothing out of his pack and started loading it with more food and water. He stuffed his hiking boots into the pack as well and then started stripping off the clothes he was wearing.
“The boots wont fit me how I’m going to be hiking. I can carry more this way and if they come at us from upwind I’ll know it before they are anywhere near us. Load up, we’re going to need to carry at least 4 days food although I’m betting we can find clean water. Grab the fishing gear too, we’ve no way to know how long we’re going to have to stay out here. In morphic shape I can probably hunt too. Dad’s tried it once and says it comes pretty naturally.”
“You’re seriously about to start hiking up a mountain naked?”
“The fur’s pretty warm and I didn’t pack any clothes to fit me in that shape on this trip anyway. My biggest worry is cutting up my pads on rocks. Might have to improvise something for that. Let’s get out of here.” He buckled a broad belt holding a hunting knife, a canteen of water and a few pouches for gear around his waist, then hoisted his pack, adjusting the straps to fit his morphic form. “Damn, if there was ever a time I wished to have the same soul-shape as my dad, this would be it.”
“Why, what’s he?”
“Timber wolf. He could carry twice this weight for a lot longer.. Mom’s a lynx. We’re both faster than he is but for sheer strength and endurance he’s got both of us beat by a mile.”
“Just so long as you keep ME warm, lover.. I don’t have your natural covering!”
“Let’s go. From here we want to be heading as close to northwest as we can and still have the wind mostly at our backs. We’ve got about 14 hours of daylight in the summer up here, but we’re going to need to use some of them to find shelter for the night. Let’s see how close to 30 miles away from here we can get before we have to stop and do that.”
“Ian, I have to take a break.”
“Yeah, me too. Sorry, I’ve been pushing us a bit.”
“Hey, you’re the one that folks are after you to make you disappear. I’d say you got reason to hurry.”
Squatting in front of her as she sat on a fallen tree, he started massaging her calves and thighs. His paws were strong, digging into the tired muscles. It felt good, the ache slowly leaving her legs. “How far have we come?”
“About 10 miles. So far we’re making good time.”
“Where are we actually going?”
“Right now, away from everything. If we aim for a destination, any destination, we start becoming predictable and sooner or later they’d pick up our trail. We’re just going in as close as a straight line as we can towards nothing in particular. Dad taught me backwoods survival. I just hope we can replenish food and water - that’s what is going to limit us. Shelter and warmth won’t be a problem out here.”
“I was planning on being a botany major. I may not know all the plants up here that are safe to eat, but I can identify a lot of the ones that aren’t. Shame it’s not later in the year, there would be berries and nuts all over this place.”
“And you’ve got this to help out if you’re in any doubt too” He tapped the side of his long muzzle. “A lot of stuff that is poisonous just plain smells BAD to a canine nose.”
“So do we just hide out up here and raise a cabin full of kids as mountain men?”
“Tempting thought, but no. We hide out far enough away from where we ditched the RV until it’s been long enough that anyone with half a brain would think we weren’t up here but had escaped somewhere else. Speaking of which... “ He fished out his burner phone and dialed.
“Marks. Going dark to conserve power. Listening for 5 minutes at 6pm daily. Calling only in emergency.” He hung up, and shut off the phone.
They fished a couple of energy bars out of his pack and sat there quietly, enjoying their “breakfast” in the woods. She looked over at him, studying him more intently now that she saw him in daylight rather than in the darkness of a night-time RV. The more she saw of him in his morphic form, the more handsome she found it. When they stood up to continue on their way she walked behind him admiring the bunching of muscles in his buns as he walked, and getting surprised how his tail was held pretty much straight behind him and didnt sway from side to side as he walked. As they hiked for longer she found herself thinking she saw a difference in him, she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.
Suddenly he stopped, lifting his muzzle to the breeze. He laughed quietly and started walking again.
“Ian, what is it? Are they back there?”
“Depends on what you mean by ‘they’, there’s a few coyotes following us - ferals not morphics. Dunno what they want but having them confuse our scent trail like that can’t be a bad thing.”
Ian lifted his eyes to look at the sun, then glanced down at his watch. “We need to stop for lunch. If we push it any further we’ll start cramping up. Stopping for a break before you have to is the key to keeping up a good pace.”
“Honey, something’s happening to you out here.”
“Nothing bad. I mean, we’re out here in the middle of nowhere, we’ve got some shadowy bunch of feds after us and you’re more relaxed than I’ve seen you before.. it’s like you belong here... no... that’s not right... it’s like you’re not an intruder in the woods like I am.”
“Well, even before I grew up enough to shift, I’d always loved back-country hiking. Once I could shift and could hear and smell everything around me like this.. yeah, it’s relaxing. I sink into it and become part of it, not so much a visitor, yanno?”
“What’s it like, being able to hear and smell like that?”
He leaned back against a tree and lifted his muzzle. “It’s hard to describe. Like I know that there are three coyotes upwind there. I’m betting they aint interested in our trail. One of ‘em is a bitch and she’s in heat, the other two are males probably more interested in her than anything else. I know we are going to want to bend our track south a little up ahead. If I can smell bear this strong, even against the wind, I’m guessing momma has a den up in the rock about half a mile ahead and we dont wanna go there. I can smell water off that way...” he waved a hand “And somewhere near here there’s a rabbit scared shitless at having a coyote my size in the neighborhood. As for hearing, I’m not that good. For that you want my mom. She can pinpoint individual sounds hundreds of yards away. Feline ears are more mobile than canine ones and much more accurate when it comes to localizing sounds.”
“Finish your sandwich, Ian. We’ve been stopped for long enough.”
“Yeah, we have.”
The sun was getting low as they approached an undercut rock wall with a deep cleft under the overhang. Ian looked it over and shed his pack.
“This looks like a good place to keep my promise to you.”
“To keep you warm. Set up the tent but dont stake it down. I need to gather some branches.”
As Margaret set up the lightweight dome tent, Ian pulled a machete out of his pack and wandered into the forest. One by one he brought back a dozen stout branches, an armful of more slender ones and several loads of evergreen fronds.
“Ok. lift the tent and wedge it as far under that overhang as it will go... Face the entrance to the right, along the rocks.”
“Is the rock going to be enough to hide it?”
“No, but this is. Give me a hand here.”
Together they built a small lean-to of branches over the tent, weaving thick cedar and pine fronds through a lattice of the larger branches until no sign of the bright orange tent was visible from the outside.
“When it gets dark, won’t they be using infrared cameras? Those can see right through stuff like this.”
“Yeah, but other than a deep cave I don’t know a good way to mask our IR presence.. Shit! yes I do.. Grab me the survival blanket out of my kit, Mags.”
Ian spread the mylar blanket over the lean-to, pegging it down with the stakes they were not using for the tent, then covered the mylar with another layer of interwoven evergreen fronds.
“This stuff is designed to reflect heat back inwards. I guess we’re going to find out how well it works. I’m afraid we’re on cold rations tonight, love. I dont think we can risk a fire or using the camp stove.”
“Hey, I made the sandwiches, I know they are good!”
“I should probably eat them in human shape.”
“Morphic, I’m a carnivore and a scavenger, Mags. The shape I’m wearing affects my tastes in food.”
“Have this one then. The only veggie in it is the tomato.”
“And the girl can cook too, what’s not to like?”
Margaret woke. It was dark and her lovers furry arms were draped around her. She started to caress his paws but froze as he whispered in her ear... “Don’t move”
“I can hear helicopters. If we don’t move the mylar should be enough and they shouldn’t see us.”
Soon she could hear them too. She felt herself shiver and shrink back against her lovers fur. “Shit, Ian.. they are coming right over the top of us.”
“I know. Just stay with me, love.. If I hear their sound change in the least, I’ll bolt and you should be safe even after they catch me.”
“Ian Williamson, don’t you fucking dare!”
“Remember, our name is Marks”
They lay there in the dark, shivering as they heard a helicopter pass directly above their shelter. They froze in each other arms, the only movement the twitching of Ian’s ears.
Nobody came crashing in on their fitful sleep the rest of the night, but they had no wish to emerge from concealment the following day and they stayed in their tent, stirring only to retrieve food from their packs. When night came, however, Margaret said what was on both their minds. “We can’t stay here, we need a place to hole up where we’ve got food and water.”
“Ian, how fast can you move in the woods if you don’t have to carry a pack, just supplies for the day on your belt?”
“Two, maybe three times as fast. Why?”
“Tomorrow, you go find our next campsite while I stay hidden here.”
“No. I’m not leaving you.”
“I love you too, but it makes sense. This area is still unsafe, we got away with it on the first helicopter pass but we have to move. We’ll get further if we know where we’re going and one of us has scouted the route in advance. We’ll work something out to make sure we’re both safe. On average, we’ll make better - and safer - daily progress this way.”
The following morning they had the same disagreement. Ian was almost convinced but was still concerned about leaving Margaret.
“Look, Ian, do it this way. Stash your pack a little way downwind. When you get back, go there and not here. If you don’t smell me or if you smell anyone else, don’t come into the camp - just grab your pack and go. For my part, I won’t be going anywhere. If you’re not back in two days I’ll put the battery back in my phone and call mom.”
“Ok... but.... “
“Ian, one other thing. Stop heading northwest. Look for our next camp further into the mountains. We need a place we can hunker down and live off what we can find for at least two weeks.”
Eight days later, they walked into the cave Ian had found. They were both hungry, having run out of the food they packed along two days before, but there was a nearby river where Ian had seen fish rising to feed. This was the best place he had found in four “hops”, with Ian ranging through the woods one day, then on the second the two of them breaking camp and moving to the new site he’d discovered. They were roughly a hundred miles from where they had ditched the RV and without words, they agreed. This was it. This was where they were going to live for a couple of weeks. The last three times Ian had gone off alone to find the next campsite he had refused to take food with him, only water. Margaret had objected, but he’d just taken her in his arms, looked in her eyes and quietly said “Scavenger, remember? In morphic shape I can stomach stuff that would make me puke BEFORE I ate it as a human. Just don’t ask and dont say anything about how my breath smells when I get back.”
Looking around the cave, Margaret grinned. “We can make a fire in here, so long as its this side of where the cave bends, nobody will see the light from outside.”
Ian walked to the back of the cave and picked up an improvised sack. “Dad was right, it does come pretty naturally. Bunny for supper, dear?”
“I’ll get that fire started.”
Their lives settled into a routine, centered around the river. Upstream from the cave was the spot where every morning they collected water. This was also their fishing hole. A little way downstream was the spot where they cleaned themselves, their clothes and their gear. Depending on what supplies they needed most, they would either fish or Ian would hunt, or they’d forage through the forest looking for plants that both Margaret’s botany knowledge and Ian’s nose agreed were edible. Firewood was gathered every day, whether they were running short or not. After the first couple of days in the cave they started to get better at their routine. By the end of the first week, changes could be seen in both of them. Both of them had developed harder, more defined bodies, more fully toned all over. This applied to both Ian’s human shape and his morphic one. His human shape was more suited to the work of gathering firewood, and after one memorable incident involving a fish-hook and a tail he preferred to fish in human shape too.
Every evening at 5:55, the alarm on Ian’s watch would remind them to turn on the burner phone, and they’d listen for calls until five past the hour, then shut the phone down to save its battery. They’d got so used to it remaining silent that they both jumped when at 6pm on their 13th day in the cave it rang.
“This is Marcus. Your trail is cold.” *click*
They looked at each other. Ian was the first to break the silence. “So what do we do now?”
Margaret looked over at him and thought for a moment. “We still have a destination. We’ve demonstrated that we’ve the means to get there by surviving out here this well. I’d say we use the next couple of days to pack up and get ready to move. Clear out this place as well as we can, fill in the latrine pit, stock up on food.. that sort of thing. Let’s take a look at the map... ok... we dont know exactly where we are, but we know about how far we went in roughly what direction each day, so know we’re somewhere in this general area....” She indicated a broad area on the map with her fingers.
“So we’ve got two choices.. Stay in the back country all the way to our destination here... that will take us a while, and we don’t know how the food and water situation will look the further we go. Second choice is to head either this way or that way until we reach one of these roads and start hiking along it with our thumbs sticking out. We should be able to reach either road in less than three days and if we can get a ride we could be at our destination that same night.”
“I think this road, Ian.. Getting there is mostly downhill.”
The green pickup truck pulled to the side of the road ahead of them and the driver rolled down the window and stuck her head out. She was about their age, with the dark hair and lightly colored skin of her people. “Where’re you heading?”
Margaret smiled at her. “As far along the road to Neah Bay as you can take us.”
“That would be all the way there, My dad lives there. Call me Carla, pretty much everyone does.”
“Maggie. This is my husband, Ian.” Margaret got a strange feeling as she said introduced Ian that way for the first time, to match their fake IDs. From the look in his eyes Ian felt it too.
“Throw your packs in the back and climb in. We’ll be there in under an hour. Any particular place you want me to drop you?”
Ian shrugged. “This is going to sound crazy, but we were sent here to find a storyteller. No idea how long that’s going to take, so maybe somewhere we can find a place to stay?”
“I know a good place, it’s cheap too. It’s not far from where you’ll find your storyteller tomorrow morning too.”
“I’ll leave it to him to fill in the details. You’re not the first to be sent to him and I think you might like what he tells you.”
They pulled up by a small B&B with a “Vacancy” sign hanging in the window. Carla pointed down the road. “About half a mile that way is the cultural center. About 10 am tomorrow morning the person you are looking for will be telling some of our stories to tourists. Go get yourself settled in and maybe I’ll see you around.”
“Thanks for the ride, Carla. We owe you one. One other question... Where’s the nearest laundry?”
Sitting out the back of the cultural center, listening to the elderly storyteller, Ian and Margaret found themselves relaxing as his words rolled over them. He had the same relaxed and powerful delivery as he told them this story as he had shown telling his cultural stories to the tourists inside.
“Now, you need to understand that right from the start shifters and morphics have been welcome among our people. We have a cultural bias to accepting them, you see. It shows in our masks, in our dances, in the stories you heard this morning. We could no more hate a shifter or a morphic simply because of what they are than we could reject our own ancestors. Our people have felt the fear and hate that you have. We have been driven from our homes much as you two were. Now our places, our reservations, are becoming welcoming places for such as you. Places you can live openly, where some secret government agency has no authority to remove you. None of the shifters welcomed by a native people has disappeared. Many of you have been formally adopted as members over the few years that we and other peoples have been doing this. A few have also married into the band. For you, the reservation is a safe place, one where you can have your name back and live openly as who you are.”
“Why haven’t more shifters heard about this?”
“We have no easy way to tell them. They hide themselves until they have to run, and then they hide themselves deeper. If we could tell shifters, and only shifters, about it somehow, we would.”
“There might be a way. May I try it?” The old man nodded, looking at Ian as he pulled the burner phone from his pocket. The battery was almost dead and the charger was lost with everything else left back in the RV, but there was enough juice for a short call.
“This is Marcus.”
“Send them to the nearest reservation. Spread the word. We are welcome among most of the native people. To live openly as what we are.”
“We had heard this. It wasn’t confirmed.”
“I am your confirmation. Ian Marks is finished with. I’m not running any longer. If they have difficulties have them call me and ask for the trickster.” He hung up, shut down the phone and dropped it in the trash bin next to where he was sitting.
“Young man, why did you pick that name to use?”
“I’m a coyote.”
The old man erupted in gales of laughter. “Perfect! Although we already have a raven living here... it may be more cleverness than we can stand!”
Ian and Margaret stood by the side of the ocean, watching the waves roll in and the sun slowly set over the water. The old coffee tin in which they had burned their “Marks” identities was still smoking in front of them.
“Ian, I can take my name back, but I don’t want it. I’d prefer Williamson.”
The passionate embrace that followed was all the answer to that either of them needed.
Courthouse records show that Ian and Margaret were married in Neah Bay, WA, in July of 2035. As the word spread, more and more shifters sought refuge with native peoples. The economic growth that they brought - for many were entrepreneurs or highly educated and skilled individuals - brought prosperity to every reservation in north America.
Reading the accounts of such a radical shift in the dynamics of two nations came about, I realized I now had a working title for the book. It was going to be published as “Second Renaissance.”