THE CHURCH OF THE
COYOTES WHO WOULD BE WOLVES
The old, cold
Catholic church is just three blocks in distance from the new, warm Catholic
church, but they are one hundred and sixty-two years apart in age.
And far apart in
other ways too.
The old church had
been built of off-white limestone from local farm quarries, and has steeples on
each end of its roof, the steeple in front being twice as tall as the one in
back. The one in front also has a small belfry with a copper bell, and a cross
on the tip of it. The steeple in the back is bare. Most likely an architect’s
The new church is
of the rambling architecture popular with the mega-churches that have sprung up
across the country over the last twenty years. It’s made of red brick. While
the old church has hard wooden pews and thinly padded kneelers the faithful
used for years, the new church’s kneelers and bleacher-type seats have plush
But this story
isn’t about the new church or its parishioners.
This story is
about the old church and its current squatter parishioners.
And the god who
reigns over them. Their god is a wendigo.
Let’s talk about
wolves. And coyotes. And wendigos.
There are very few
wolves in the south-central region of the state of Wisconsin. Most of Wisconsin’s
wolves reside in the woods in the northern parts of the state. And there aren’t
many of them.
But coyotes have
made a comeback even in the lower half of the state, sometimes showing up in
fancy gated community developments.
And small rural
villages, such as where our story takes place.
Will there be
wolves in this story? No, but there’ll be wannabe wolves.
rather have the story be about wolves. Everybody likes to have a wolf in a
story. There’ve already been plenty of stories about wolves. This one is about
coyotes. And a wendigo.
Both the front
and back doors of the old church have been locked now for the last three years.
During the first six months after it was abandoned by its flock, the janitor
for the new church had checked on it daily, going in and making sure all was
after never finding anything amiss, the evening patrol became just a stroll
around the outside of the building once or twice a week. Now, it was once or
twice a month.
been plumbing in the building, so there were no pipes to freeze. And the old
coal furnace had been only fired up on winter Sunday mornings, or for a winter
wedding or funeral if one were to occur during the week.
shrubs bordering the building have been allowed to grow thick and wild. There’s
been no attempt at trimming, and they’re now flush with the building and with
Behind one of
these bushes in the back of the building, a basement window pane’s been broken.
It wasn’t kids.
It was coyotes.
would be wolves. Coyotes who serve a wendigo.
Most of the
broken glass has been worn away from the framework of the basement window pane.
On some of the jagged edges there are pieces of fur and dried blood from the
comings and goings of the coyotes.
There’s one dead
coyote near the window, up close to the building. It’s a casualty of the
overzealousness of the religious fervor of the coyotes. When it’s time for the
service, there can be pushing and shoving, snarling and biting, to gain admittance
through that small entrance.
It’s not that
there isn’t enough good seating in the old church, it’s that sometimes the
dominance games played by coyotes gets out of hand.
Walks With Coyotes is not your common garden variety First Nation wendigo.
a wendigo during a terrible winter about two hundred years ago. Her people, the
Ho-Chunk Tribe, lived in the Midwest of the United States, mainly in Minnesota,
Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. Cassandra’s own family resided on the isthmus area
that is now the city of Madison, Wisconsin.
No one knows
what causes a person to be overcome by the spirit called a wendigo, but often
it seems to have occurred during times of famine and extreme cold. Food
shortages brought on by a cold winter were common in the northern United States
and Canada with First Nation tribes. The spirit of a wendigo convinces a person
that eating their family and neighbors is the way to survive. And following
this advice, that person may or may not become a wendigo.
inhabiting the basement of the old church for six months. Before that, she was
in a type of suspended animation in a cave in the Driftless Area of
Southwestern Wisconsin. She’d rested in that cave for over eighty years.
Being a spirit,
she has few corporal needs. She doesn’t need to eat, drink, or sleep.
But a wendigo
spirit has some physical attributes. Wendigos can be seen and they can speak
aloud. They have a distinctive obnoxious odor. They can leave footprints in
soft earth of fresh snow.
extremely cold. And that cold can kill.
Also, when not
in hibernation, they need an outlet for their perverse, all-consuming anger.
Cassandra relishes the irony of living in the basement of the old church. As a
child, she’d endured a forced education in a government reservation school run
by Catholic nuns. The nuns were brutal in driving out the Native American
culture from their students.
When she became
a wendigo, some of her first victims were the nuns who’d taught at the school
she’d attended. She didn’t transform them into wendigos.
them body and spirit.
When her coyote
disciples brought mice, rats, sparrows, and roadkill to the basement as
offerings, she converted that bounty to rabbits, squirrels, chickens, and other
freshly dead animals for them.
the loaves and fishes concept at the reservation school. More delicious irony.
almost always went along with whatever new idea Corrine Derry came up with.
But this time he
“Break into a
church? Nope. No way.”
“Aw, come on,”
said Corrine. “It’s not being used anymore. We could pretend it’s our own
The two were
seniors in high school and planned to run away together after graduation.
Eddie was fine
with the running away part. He thought it would be an adventure. But setting up
house in the old church didn’t seem like it would all that much fun.
Kind of creepy.
right?” said Corrine. “Scared you’ll get struck down by a lightning bolt, aren’t
“Nah, I ain’t
scared,” said Eddie. “It just doesn’t seem like something worth gettin’ caught
over. We’ve only got two months until we can blow this pop stand.”
goin’ in and checkin’ the place out,” Corrine said, walking away from Eddie.
“Come on or don’t.”
“All right, but we don’t break anything and we don’t steal nothin’ either.”
what a wimp.”
both the front doors and a side door. Locked.
“Artie Jones has
his hands full at being head janitor at the new church,” said Corrine.
“I heard our neighbor, Mrs. Barton,
tell my mom he never even goes inside anymore. Let’s see if any of the basement
windows are unlocked.”
breaking,” said Eddie.
It was tough even
finding the windows with the bushes being so overgrown, but they managed. The
third window they came to was the one with the broken pane.
already broken,” said Corrine. “I’ll just reach in and unlock —”
“That. It looks
like a dead dog.”
“Yeah, so? A
dead dog in the bushes. Come on, let’s go in.”
on those shards of glass,” said Eddie.
“You really are
lookin’ for reasons not to go in, aren’t ya?”
“I was just
unlatched the window, dropped to her stomach, and went in feet first. The
window was only about six feet from the floor, so there wasn’t much of a drop.
“Come on, Eddie. Get yer butt in here
before somebody sees ya.”
through the window and landed next to Corrine.
“How do we get
back out?” he asked.
“How do we get
back out?” Corrine said in a whiney voice mimicking him. “We just got in.
Relax. We can find a chair or table to stand on later. Come on, let’s go
smell?” said Eddie. “Gross.”
another dead animal,” said Corrine. “Came in the broken window and couldn’t get
out. Probably starved.”
happen to us.”
“You just had a
burger, some fries, and a shake, Eddie. I’m sure you won’t starve in the next
hour. Come on.”
From an adjacent
room, what started out as a low chuckle rose to a hysterical howling laugh.
“Oh, my god,”
said Eddie. “What was that?”
answer, a coyote came through the window head-first. It landed on its feet and
had a bird in its mouth.
The coyote eyed
the two warily and growled around the mouthful of bird.
A sharp whistle
came from the other room of the basement. From where the laughter had come.
immediately lost interest in Eddie and Corrine and left them standing there.
“Let’s get the
hell outta —”
could finish that thought, another coyote came through the window. It was
followed by two more. And then another.
All of them were
carrying dead animals in their mouths, and none of these new ones gave the two
more than a glance before moving on to the other room.
“We’re in some
deep shit here,” Eddie moaned.
already looking for something to climb on to help them get back out of the
she whispered. “Help me pull that desk over under the window.”
anything in my house!” came a voice from the other room. “Come in here and join
the service! Now!”
Corrine’s feet were moving toward the room before their minds had even
registered the command.
Corrine’s hand as they passed into the other room. There were five coyotes
crouched in front of the eight-foot tall wendigo that had both a head and a
body, but neither of those resembled any head or body Eddie or Corrine had ever
head was huge and misshapen. She was covered in a dark purple skin-like surface
and running sores covered her face. Her body was wide at the shoulders, like a
wrestler’s, but it then tapered off to thinness until you got to the feet. They
were more like hooves than feet or paws. And they were gigantic.
She wore a
loosely fitting cloak-like garment that looked to be made of deerskin.
The coyotes hadn’t
looked up when Eddie and Corrine entered. On their stomachs, their heads were
on their paws in front of them as if in prayer. Their offerings lay in front of
them at the feet of the wendigo.
“You broke into
a church,” said the wendigo in a guttural tone. “As did I and my followers. We
may be the same, you and I.”
“I don’t think I
could ever be the same as you,” muttered Corrine.
her. “You tryin’ to get us killed?” he hissed.
threw back her head and laughed that terrible laugh the two kids had heard
earlier. It was even scarier up close.
“You will be
as me, or you will be as those scattered offerings at my feet. Whichever your
choice, you are mine.”
The wendigo’s penetrating
stare held Eddie and Corrine in place. “Come!
Kneel before me!”
walked over to the wendigo and knelt in front of her. Corrine walked over, but
stood in front of her with her hands on her hips.
stepped in front of Eddie and pulled him under her robe.
cold,” Eddie wailed. “It’s soooo cold!”
backed up, releasing Eddie from beneath her cape, and he tumbled to the floor.
His face was blue with a frozen rictus scream on it.
for the other room. The coyotes looked to Wendigo Cassandra for orders.
“Let her go. The
seed’s been planted. We’ll give it time to grow, and then I’ll harvest her.”
surging, Corrine pulled herself up and through the window. She ran as fast as
she could until she reached her front porch steps. Taking a minute, she composed
herself before going in to meet her mother.
“Your blouse is
dirty, Corrine. You’re such a tomboy. I don’t get what Eddie sees in you,”
whatever,” said Corrine. “I’m goin’ up to my room.”
When Eddie’s mom
called the next afternoon, Corrine told her she hadn’t seen Eddie since the day
before at school.
When the police
stopped over two days later, Corrine told them what they’d already found out
from Eddie and Corrine’s friends; that the two were planning on taking off
together after graduation.
“Maybe he just
decided to leave early,” Corrine told them with a casual shrug.
A week after
that, the investigation found its way to the church basement. Though the one
pane was still broken, the window had been locked again. And there was no sign
that anybody or anything had been in the basement.
It was beginning
to look to the authorities that Corrine may’ve been right. Eddie had left
later, a little into a bitter Wisconsin January, Corrine called upstairs to her
“Mom, you up
there? I’m hungry. You gonna make dinner?”
“I’m on the
phone with your Uncle Albert up in Ottawa. I’ll throw something together when
I’m done talking.”
Daisey, a yellow lab, looked up at her. Though she couldn’t determine colors, she
thought her eyes had changed. They were darker in color and seemed less
Hearing the name
Uncle Albert had been what had caused Corrine’s eyes to change from pale blue
to bright red. When she was five or six, he’d visited for a week, and more than
once she had awoken to find him sitting on her bed stroking her hair.
Not knowing why
she knew to do this, Corrine got up from the couch and walked out of the house
without a coat. By a hedge across the lawn stood Cassandra Wendigo and the five
Corrine? We can go anywhere you like. Anyplace you’d like to go?”
said. “I wanna go to Ottawa.”
Wendigo wrapped Corrine in her cloak and leaped into the sky. They were soon
flying through the winter air at a fantastic rate of speed.
Cassandra Wendigo. “Lovely, isn’t it?”
“It is,” said
watched the sky for a bit and then took off. They were now different from other
coyotes. Bigger, stronger, cannier.
Though they were
still coyotes, in their minds they would be wolves.
Roy Dorman, email@example.com, of Madison, WI, who
wrote BP #90’s “The
Return of the Ferryman” (+ BP #89’s “Orphans at the Dark Door”; BP #88’s “Blood
on the Riviera”; BP #87’s “The Sepia Photograph”; BP
#86’s “New Orleans Take-Out” & “Not
This Time”; BP #85’s “Door County Getaway” & “The Gift”; BP #84’s
“Goodbye to Nowhere Land” & “Nobody Should Be at 1610 Maple St.”; BP #83’s
“Door #2”; BP #82’s “A Nowhere Friend” & “Foundling”; BP #81’s “Nowhere
in Nowhere Land” & “The Box with Pearl Inlay”; BP #80’s “Andrew’s War”
& “Down at the Hardware Store”; BP #79’s “Cellmates” & “Get Some
Shelter”; BP #78’s “All Is as It Should Be”; BP #77’s “Essence of Andrew”; BP
#76’s “Flirting with the Alley”; BP #75’s “The Enemy of My Enemy…”; BP #74’s
“Doesn’t Play Well with Others”; BP #73’s “A Journey Starts with a Flower”; BP
#72’s “The Beach House”; BP #71’s “The Big Apple Bites”; BP #70’s “Borrowing
Some Love”; and BP #69’s “Back in Town” and “Finding Good Help…”), is retired
from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and has been a
voracious reader for 60 years. At the prompting of an old high school
friend, himself a retired English teacher, Roy is now a voracious
writer. He has had poetry and flash fiction published in Apocrypha and Abstractions, Birds Piled
Loosely, Burningword Literary Journal, Cease Cows,
Crack The Spine, Drunk Monkeys, Every Day Fiction,
Flash Fiction Magazine,
Flash Fiction Press, Gap-Toothed
Madness, Gravel, Lake City Lights,
Near To The Knuckle, Shotgun
Honey, The Creativity Webzine, Theme
of Absence, The Screech Owl, The Story
Shack, & Yellow Mama.