Sample chapter from Changer

Excerpt from CHANGER by Jane Lindskold.

Published by Avon Eos in December 1998.  Copyright © 1998 by Jane Lindskold. All rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the Publisher. Exceptions are made for downloading this file to a computer for personal use.


 

sample-changer


 

= I =
     There are people whose watch stops at a certain hour and who remain permanently at that age.
                               –Sainte-Beuve

Death comes in many forms, but it has one smell, a smell of blood stagnating, of flesh stiffening, of breath grown stale. Later there is decay, and that can have many smells: sweet and sick and sour. But death has one smell. Returning from hunting, a limp rabbit in his jaws, the dog coyote smells another death carried in the wind from his den.
Dropping the rabbit, the dog coyote crouches and sniffs the breeze. Death is there, death in quantity, and with it other smells. The smell of human sweat, of gun powder, of horses, and of blood — coyote blood. He does not need to see more to know who has died, but he creeps forward nonetheless, a very uncanine dread blending with his coyote terror.
From the shelter of a low-hanging bush he sees two humans, both dressed for riding. Their horses are picketed to a tree a few paces away, shifting nervously, either at the smell of fresh blood or at the scent of carnivores, the dog coyote cannot tell, nor does he care: his attention is all for the humans.
One is skinning a dead coyote. The overwhelming smell of blood should mask identification, but the dog coyote knows the scent, knows the reddish pelt of his older daughter; her black-tipped tail is blown by a faint breeze in a parody of life. He does not need to see the thin scar running from shoulder to flank to know that the pelt already hanging from one of the horse’s saddles is that of his mate.
He bites back a wail of grief and rage. Still crouched in concealment, he looks to where the second human kneels by the mouth of the den, twisting something with his gloved right hand, his head tilted as if listening.
The dog coyote’s hearing is much more acute than the human’s and he hears the frightened whimpers of the pups beneath the earth. Perhaps those infant cries would have softened the human’s heart, but he does not hear the cries, only the sharp, short scream as the wire gig rips into the puppy’s belly.
“Got it!” the man grunts, satisfied. Pulling on the wire, he hauls out the pup. One thump from his hand breaks the puppy’s neck and the crying stops.
The dog coyote who is more than a coyote can do nothing but watch as his baby’s body is tossed into a sack already lumpy and bloodstained by the corpses of its littermates. Bitter lessons from centuries past have taught him to hold still at such times, to preserve himself even when he cannot preserve those he loves.
Waiting, he weeps within, chides himself for not relocating the den, for not keeping a tighter watch on where the young female roamed. With little reason, ranchers hate and fear coyotes; there are few places coyotes can live that do not infringe on human territories. Once again, the coyotes have lost and with them so has the Changer.
When the humans have departed, their grisly trophies slung behind their saddles, the dog coyote turns away. As he turns, he hears a faint sound, a whimper and a scrabbling. In two bounds he is at the entry to the den. The smell of blood and urine almost covers another scent.
Aware of his danger should the two humans return, he forces head and shoulders into the den. The entryway is tight, dug for his mate’s slimmer build, but he can make his way. In the dim light from the second entry, he sees a chubby form blindly trying to dig its way into the dirt at the back of the burrow.
It is his daughter, the runt, the smallest and weakest of the litter. Small to begin with, unable to compete fairly with the others, she had not grown as quickly; now her littleness has been the saving of her life.
With his teeth he drags her from the hollow in which she had taken refuge from the searching gig. Mother and siblings dead, she would have died of starvation or fallen prey to owl, fox, or hawk if he had not found her.
Quickly now, the dog coyote hauls his daughter into the sunlight. Her whimpering increases when she sees the skinned bodies of the others. First he must get away and wait for darkness. Then he will consider what to do next.
As he is ascending the hill into safer ground, he freezes at a flicker of motion down where the pasture meets the highway. Thinking it might be more humans, perhaps the same two returning, he sets down his daughter and watches.
The two ranchers have ridden to meet someone in a car, someone who hands them money in exchange for the raw pelts and the bloody, dripping sack. Their bodies keep him from seeing who is in the car, but here the smell of death does not so dominate.
Through the clear air, the dog coyote catches a new scent, one that registers with the dormant portion of his mind, a smell that recalls flowers and musk, seductive and artificial.
A growl rumbles in his throat, a growl so furious that his daughter rolls on her back, pissing in submission and fear. He ignores her, his entire attention focused in a very uncoyote-like fashion on gathering information. When the car pulls away, he memorizes the license number. Then he watches until the two horsemen stop at a ranch where they clearly reside.
Now is not the time, but soon he will have some calls to make, some questions to ask, and, quite possibly, some deaths of his own to arrange.

* * * * *

Elsewhere, in a clean but cheap motel room, a whippet-thin, sharp-featured, red-haired man punches an unlisted number into a telephone. That the number is not only unlisted but the connection impossible delights him. He has a fondness for amulets and charms, for tools of all sorts that permit him to expand his own eclectic but not terribly powerful talents.
After a series of chimes, soft and high, like a crystal goblet tapped with a silver filament, a voice speaks, deep and resonant, in cadences pedantic: “Greetings to you, fire-born, fire’s self, flickering fastness, impossible imp.”
The red-haired man sighs. “Can’t you just say ‘Hi, Sven’?”
“Without body, with naught but mind, I make shape, shapeless one, from words, from fancy.”
“We’re working on fixing that, buddy,” Sven says. “I’ve pinpointed where the Changer is hiding. He’s definitely in New Mexico, out in the Salinas District. All the portents indicate that he’s living as a coyote.”
“Salinas? So salt calls sea-born master of shapes, such said I when searching started.”
“You said you thought he was near an ocean,” Sven retorts sarcastically. “New Mexico is about as different from an ocean as you can get: hot and dry, cold and dry, mountainous and dry. I don’t think anyone could mistake it for an ocean.”
Sven’s auditor maintains a dignified — or perhaps offended — silence and, after a moment, Sven continues: “When I get him — and that’s not going to be easy, let me remind you — I’ll try to get you your pound of flesh.”
An indignant hrumph precedes the inevitable alliteration: “Embodied blood, not flaccid flesh is what sorcery seeks to build bodies. Ocular oracles so ordain.”
“I know,” Sven says. “I’ll try not to harm the Changer. I have plans to use him against another of my targets. When they’ve worn each other out, then I’ll catch him for you.”
“Seize swiftly, this one, oldest of us all.”
“I’ve promised, haven’t I?” Sven retorts. “In any case, I have a lot going on right now. Revolution isn’t easy to manage.”
“Easier,” his cohort reminds him, “when alongside I stand.”
Sven nods as if the creature on the other end of the phone could see him — as perhaps he can.
“I haven’t forgotten. I’ll check back in a few days.”
“Farewell, fire’s friend.”
“Bye.”
Hanging up, Sven considers what to do next. He needs to make a bunch more calls tonight, uplink to his Website, then continue scouting for the Changer. Quickly he punches the extension for the motel restaurant and orders a snack. No rest for the wicked, his mother might have said — if he’d ever had a mother. To be perfectly honest, he doesn’t remember.
The gap in his memory doesn’t bother him a great deal.

* * * * *

The night following the deaths of his mate and pups, the dog coyote sits on a rough, rocky hilltop about five miles from where his former den had been. Superficially, the area is exposed, but given his current situation, it is far preferable to where he had denned before.
Humans and their creatures do not care for these places. The bristly foliage of pi�on, juniper, and four-wing saltbush do not offer grazing, only shade. The mica-flecked sand slips under boots or all but the cleverest hooves. Nor do the creatures who often reside in such copses invite visitors: biting ants, rattlesnakes, millipedes, scorpions. Not that a coyote is particularly fond of such crawlers and biters, but he knows how to scent them, to avoid them.
Here he takes his motherless daughter for protection. An old ground squirrel burrow can be enlarged enough to hide a scrawny whelp such as she, and, regardless of what other ways she may be a poor excuse of a coyote, she is a survivor. She is the last of his family, the last except for the scattered litters of other years, most of whom are most probably dead already. There are reasons that coyotes litter six pups a year.
Scratching behind his right ear with a rear leg, the dog coyote contemplates the moon, considers what he must do. That teasing scent on the wind has given to him to believe that the deaths of his family were not merely vermin extermination, but were murder. The humans who did the kills may or may not have known what they did. This is something he must resolve.
But before he can do this, he must do other things, things that are tangled in with yet other things. His mind is not a coyote’s mind, for all that it resides in a coyote’s brain, but even his other-than-coyote mind rebels from the complexities he must resolve before he can do the simple thing of asking the two ranchers why they slew his family.
First there is his daughter. At least she is no longer so dependent on nursing. He can take many shapes, but they are all male. Mother’s milk is the one thing he cannot give her. Although she is just reaching the age where she would be learning to hunt, she cannot be expected to do so for herself.
Scrawny as she is, she is still vulnerable to numerous predators. Accident could also claim her: a fall, a chance encounter with a rattler, poison, or bad water. No, whatever he does, he must make provisions for her.
Abandoning her does not even occur to him. She may have been the runt of this litter, but she is his daughter and has claim on his protection for at least her first year. And, in all honesty, he no longer thinks of her as the poorest example of this year’s pups. Her attempt to avoid the wire gig rather than giving in to terror has won his admiration.
So he must provide for her. For several days, she should be safe enough on this scrubby hilltop. He will regurgitate food for her and warn her to stay near the ground squirrel’s burrow. Having learned the practical uses of caution, she should obey.
Next, he must consider how to confront the humans. Unlike other of the Earth’s inhabitants, humans only know how to converse as equals with other humans. He tries to remember how long it has been since he lived as a human for any extended period of time and decides that it has been about fifty years. During that time there have been many changes, changes he has observed but not taken part in. Still, if he does not claim too much, he should be able to pass himself off as a human.
Now things become difficult. He can take human form, but human society demands things that he cannot shape from his own body: clothing, money, transportation, personal history. His exasperated growl sends his daughter, who had been battling a twig, scuttling into the ground squirrel’s burrow.
A moment later, her little black nose peeks up over the edge, sniffing vigorously for sign of whatever had annoyed her father. Turning his mind back to his problems, he lets her decide for herself when it is safe to come forth. It is a lesson she will need to learn.
Bright and laughing, the moon stares down at him, offering him a partial solution. Her face shines over more than this hilltop; her gaze encompasses the ranch house and the pastures. Although the Changer has no form that can fly as high as the moon, he can take other forms, something he has been resisting until he knows better what he needs.
Now he admits that what he needs will not be found on this hilltop. Nor will he find what he desires in coyote form. Reluctantly, for he has loved being coyote as he has loved only a handful of other forms, he reaches for a new shape.

* * * * *

“WHAT HAS THE KING EVER DONE FOR YOU?” ask words printed in red on a sheet of canary yellow paper.
The envelope containing this flyer had been delivered to a rural mailbox at the edge of a large tract of forested land in Oregon, bordering on Umatilla National Forest. No one ever saw the person or persons to whom this mailbox belonged. Much of the mail was simply addressed to “Box Holder” but some was sent to “Mr. and Mrs. Trapper” or to “J.Q. Fuzzy.”
The letter carrier knew that a week or more could pass before the box was emptied. Then the junk mail would be sorted into a bag neatly labeled “Please Recycle.” Sometimes a stack of boxes waited for pick-up. Often a small envelope containing five or ten dollars “For Your Troubles” would be attached.
Today the sheet of canary yellow paper is almost dropped into the recycling bag without a careful reading, but a hairy hand reaches out and intercepts it before it can fall.
“Wait,” says a voice, distinctly female for all its guttural inflection. “I want to read that.”
The creature that takes the letter cannot be called a woman. She is too hairy — furry might be a better word — and as muscular as a professional football player. She is also at least six feet tall. Next to her husband, who towers over seven feet in height and is covered with thick, coarse reddish-brown fur, she is a dainty thing. With her silky black coat and delicately pointed head, she knows herself a young and beautiful representative of her kind.
“Listen to this,” Rebecca Trapper says. She begins reading aloud to her husband, who politely looks up from a report on fashion models protesting against fur coats:
WHAT HAS THE KING EVER DONE FOR YOU? The humanocentric policies of the current administration need to be challenged and now! Since the dawning of the Industrial Revolution, those incapable of human-form have been told that their only refuge is in secrecy. Why? BECAUSE IT SUITS THE NEEDS OF THE HUMAN-FORMED! Our coalition believes that there are other options available to those among us who have been relegated to the status of monsters and myths. Let’s band together and take advantage of modern society’s need for mysteries to balance materialism!
ASK THE DRAGONS! Before you dismiss our appeal with the tried and true response “The King is always right” why not ask the dragons about their feelings on current policy?”
“Ask the dragons!” grunts Bronson Trapper. “What kind of nonsense is that? Everyone knows that dragons are extinct!”
“I think that’s the point, my dear,” Rebecca Trapper says calmly. “There’s an address and a Website here for further information. I think I’ll look into it.”
“Politics have never done us any good,” Mr. Trapper protests, turning into the forest. “The King helped us purchase this land and secure the equipment we need to run a business without exposing ourselves to ridicule and rude inquiry.”
“Still,” Rebecca Trapper muses, thinking of the places and things she has seen on television via satellite dish, of the friends she has made via computer chatrooms whom she would love to meet in person, “this flyer does have a point. There’s no harm in looking up their Website, is there?”
“No dear,” says Bronson Trapper, his mind already back on what this latest anti-fur crusade could do to business. “No harm at all.”

* * * * *

After considering his needs, the Changer decides an owl will suit, a large spotted owl, capable of covering vast distances, of seeing with little light, and of carrying away prey. The idea pleases him, and his blood thrills in anticipation of flight. Too long has passed since he took wing.
Warning his daughter that strange things are coming (news that she acknowledges by diving into her burrow and peeking out over the edge), the Changer begins the shift from coyote to owl.
With some amusement he has perused human legends regarding those who can alter their shape — legends that have remained legends because, even when confronted with the truth, most humans are unwilling to relinquish their myth that they are the dominant creature upon the Earth. As the human race has spread, those cultures which believe in humanity’s dominance have tended to overwhelm or absorb those that do not. Thus the truth is further obscured beneath legend.
One of the dominant “truths” that humans use to deny the presence of shapeshifters among them is the question of matter and mass. Logically, they argue, something the size of a coyote could not become something larger (like a human) or something smaller (like an owl) because there would either be not enough matter or there would be too much matter.
Only with the advent of modern subatomic physics have humans begun to come close to the truth. Matter is mostly space. Moreover, the building blocks of matter are, at a most basic level, interchangeable. One such as the Changer knows how to make such exchanges. The only difficulty is in the individual template. Thus, he can become anything living, but its gender must be male. Others of his kind have fewer shapes (indeed, all do, for he is the supreme shapeshifter), but are not restricted by gender.
What templates are available to a shapeshifter vary from type to type. This issue interests him only slightly, since he is little restricted in his choices. Even as he considers such abstractions, he is beginning to alter his form.
Feathers dark and brown over wings, tail, and round, puffy, head. The eyes, set frontally in that round head, are dark as well, but this brown on brown scheme is relieved by bars and spots artistically scattered along the owl’s underside. Yes.
The details he needs are stored in the slowly awakening portion of his mind. Anything he has studied he can shape. Long ago he committed a vast number of creatures and their variations to memory. Some of the animals he can shape are extinct, but he has made no effort to restore them. To do so would be to court stagnation and he is the Changer.
When he has designed this particular owl form (and sent the black nose of his daughter deep into her burrow), he strokes a quick brush of memory over the shape. If he has need, he can reassume this shape with minimal effort, go in moments from coyote to owl. There are other such stored shapes in his repertoire, even other stored owls, but he enjoys the act of design. Making new shapes is part of his delight in being the Changer.
Without further ceremony, he beats his wings and, faster than magic, he is aloft. Shapeshifting has made him hungry. He sweeps down, a rodent’s silent nightmare, and takes a shivering mouse. This is eaten not only still warm, but so close to living that he can feel the beating of its heart. The kill has been easy, so easy that it reminds him why he does not frequently take the shapes of the smaller members of the order rodentia.
Then he is over the ranch to which he saw the two men ride earlier that day. It is an attractive place, although built to serve practical needs. There is a large house, a single story structure that has been added onto over the years. Parts of it are thick, solid adobe brick, others more modern frame-stucco. The building materials have dictated its rectangular form and its brownish color, but color touches door and window-frames.
The livestock barns are more modern, constructed largely of sheet metal and concrete. Most reek of cattle, but there is one for horses, and another with a few pygmy goats. Off to one side, there is a large vegetable patch, planted with tomatoes, onions, chilies, and squash. This early in the season, the plants are small and seem set too far apart. Near the vegetable patch is a little white wooden chicken coop. Doubtless the chickens are encouraged to forage in the vegetable patch during the day.
Tonight they are locked safely behind wire and metal, safe from the predations of the local red or grey foxes and ambitious owls like himself. Several large dogs sleep in the shelter of the barns. One sprawls across the back door to the house. No doubt any more usual prowler would find himself receiving an unpleasant welcome.
Finishing his circuit, the Changer notices another, smaller, house set in a copse of cottonwood and tamarisk along an irrigation ditch bank. While not precisely hidden, the house is effectively hidden from casual observation from either road or field. Curious, he swoops down to take a closer look.
Perched in a tree branch outside of a window lit by the bluish glow of a television set, he observes.
Four men sit within, watching a program on a screen whose sharpness of resolution and clearness of color surprises the Changer — especially since its battered case suggests that it is not a particularly new model. His brief ventures into the human world have not included taking time to watch television. Apparently the technology has advanced quite a bit since he last bothered to look at it.
Judging by what is playing on the screen, the programming does not seem to have advanced very far. His interest in the television is passing, however; he studies the four men.
Neither of the two who killed his family are among their number, nor does he catch the disturbing scent of flowers and musk that had made his hackles rise earlier that day.
All four of the men are brown-skinned and dark-haired. Although the television program they are engrossed in is in English, the few comments they exchange among themselves are in Spanish. During a commercial, a debate over the virtues of the two gringa actresses breaks out. Listening to the cadences of their speech, the Changer becomes certain that they are Mexicans.
A small mystery is solved then. These men are most probably wetbacks, illegal aliens hired by the rancher to augment his work force at minimal cost to himself. If the rancher is Hispanic, they might even be relatives.
Had the owl’s face been constructed to smile, the Changer would have smiled. Now he has a means of bringing pressure on the rancher. The Changer takes wing then and continues his survey.
Changes in farming practices makes absolute judgement difficult, but he guesses that the rancher is doing well enough, but is certainly not prosperous. A severe drought or an unfavorable fluctuation in cattle prices could put him deep in debt. If a stranger came and offered him a couple hundred dollars for a bunch of freshly killed coyotes, no questions asked, doubtless he would welcome the opportunity to earn some easy money and rid himself of vermin at the same time.
The Changer’s last sweep takes him by the black metal mail box at the edge of the road. The name “Martinez” is stenciled neatly in white on the side.
Very good. He knows precisely how he is going to acquire the human goods that he needs before he can call on Mr. Martinez.
Ravens, another of the Changer’s favorite shapes, share with their cousins the jays a fondness for shiny objects. Over the years, the Changer has collected a variety of useful objects which he has cached throughout his territory.
Because he is the Changer, and not merely a raven or coyote, the caches contain cash as well as coins and jewelry. They also contain some fairly useless items, for a bit of broken glass or bent metal can catch his fancy and hold it.
The Changer spends the remainder of the dark hours winging from cache to cache, collecting his finds and carrying them to the hilltop where his daughter is hiding. It is onerous work, for while only a winged creature could reach his caches, transferring their contents efficiently is difficult without hands. He remedies part of his difficulty by scooping up a plastic grocery bag from the side of the road and using it as a carry-all. Still, he frequently must stop to forage, and by dawn he is quite exhausted.
With the last of his energy, he brings his daughter a ground squirrel (possibly kin to the one who so kindly provided the burrow) and stretches out beneath the thick growth of juniper. Sleep claims him almost immediately.

* * * * *

An isolated Website, unlinked to any others, unlisted by web-browsing programs, its address distributed only to those who have found a certain canary-yellow flyer in their mail the chatroom is untenanted except by two.
Rebecca>> Have you seen the latest posting?
Demetrios>> The one on the proposed referendum? Yeah. What do you think?
Rebecca>> I like it. Bronson isn’t so sure. He says the King has always been good to us. Why rock the boat?
Demetrios>> To get your feet wet? 🙂 Sure the King has been good to us, but what does it cost him? We’ve become his serfs.
Rebecca>> 🙁 Is it that bad? We live lots better than most Americans.
Demetrios>> Are we really Americans? I know: you live in Oregon; I live in California, but we aren’t permitted to take part in governing the states or counties in which we live.
Rebecca>> We don’t pay very high taxes either!!! We can handle what we pay and if we’re to own property we must be in human databases.
Demetrios>> True. But what about our dues to the King? What are those if not taxes?? An extra tax.
Rebecca>> Bronson says that the King’s help in securing our land is worth years of dues.
Demetrios>> Still… There’s more to life than having good hideouts. What about being able to experience the joys of life? I miss beaches and moonlit glades.
Rebecca>> Don’t you have a glade at your place?
Demetrios>> Sure, but one patch of greenery gets old after a while. I long for the freedom of the world. Anyhow, fauns are cute, not monstrous like dragons.
Rebecca>> Or sasquatches??? Don’t fool yourself. Fauns look like medieval depictions of the devil, at least some people think so.
Demetrios>> You’ve got a point. Sorry.
Rebecca>> Do you really think the Moderator can give us that freedom?
Demetrios>> He says the human world is ready to accept us — more than that — it yearns for us. I agree.
Rebecca>> I wish I was so certain…

* * * * *

When evening comes, the Changer uses the waning light to survey his haul. Pawing through, sorting and counting, he is impressed with the value of what he has collected.
In cash, there is something in the neighborhood of a thousand dollars — mostly in one and five dollar bills, although there are bills of larger denominations. There are several fifties with sequential serial numbers. These, he remembers, came from a wallet he found dragged by the current in a narrow mountain stream. He had flown the wallet to a postal drop and left it but had kept the money for his troubles.
In addition to the cash there is almost a hundred dollars in American coins and a smattering of foreign currency (mostly Mexican, although there is some German and British). He also possesses fifteen rings, numerous single earrings, five necklaces, and about a dozen bracelets. Since he has a good deal of cash, he decides to leave the jewelry. Some of it is merely costume jewelry, but he has lived long enough to see the trash of one age become the valued antiques of another.
Finally, there is the pure junk, including large quantities of broken glass and countless twists of scrap metal. Much of the latter is chrome from automobiles, but there is also copper, aluminum, steel, and brass. He turns an automobile antenna over with his paw, recalling the day his raven self had proudly ripped it from an elderly auto.
Some of the broken glass is far lovelier than the jewelry. Teal green, ruby red, various shades of blue, and delicate lavender, it recalls to him his mate of several seasons, a she-raven who enjoyed foraging for treasures in the ruins of a burned house that was at the heart of their nesting grounds. He had kept much of the glass out of memory of her and he does not discard it now for the same reason.
The money makes his current task easier, but it does not solve all his problems. Even with something like a thousand dollars in his possession, he cannot stroll stark naked onto the Martinez ranch and expect to be spoken to man to man. No, first he will need clothing, but without clothing he cannot enter an establishment to purchase clothing. Without much regret, he decides that first order of the night (after he has fed his daughter) is to steal something to wear.
Stealing does not bother the Changer overmuch. As he sees it, humans take property too seriously, and life too lightly. Therefore, after he has introduced the girl pup to some of the joys of mousing, he shifts into owl form and goes seeking human attire.
He has never paid a great deal of attention to human fashions, but memories from his coyote years reassure him that blue jeans and a button-down shirt are still considered reasonable menswear. Underclothing would be nice, but can wait until he can carry it.
Choosing a course that will carry him away from the Martinez ranch, he comes across a trailer court. Most of the folks who reside in this place apparently economize by hanging their laundry out to dry. In the darkness, the owl examines each of the clotheslines. From a particularly overloaded line, he takes a long-sleeved Western shirt and a pair of jeans.
Immediately, he realizes that he has chosen poorly. The shirt is light, but he will not be able to carry the jeans any distance. Dropping these on the ground with a silent apology to their owner, he takes a pair of khaki shorts and a tee shirt. These he can lift, although he will need to rest frequently.
As he wings away, the Changer considers what any who glimpses him might think. Had he possessed shoulders at that moment, he would have shrugged. Everyone in the Southwest knows that witches can turn themselves into owls. A sighting of an owl carrying off a shirt and a pair of shorts would add to local legend, nothing more. Certainly there would be nothing to indicate that once again the Changer walks among humankind.
Stowing the stolen clothing in an isolated copse at the edge of sprawling pasture many miles from the Martinez ranch, he hunts mice and makes his plans for the morrow. Then he returns to his daughter and sleeps as a coyote beneath the juniper bush.
In the morning, daughter fed and cautioned not to stray too far afield, the Changer assumes the form of a particularly magnificent raven. His beak is large, horny, and slightly curved. His plumage is black, but the light reveals highlights of green, blue, and even purple. With a wingspan in the area of four feet, an elegant wedge-shaped tail, and a bright eye, the raven knows himself the king of birds, bowing not even to the eagle or the hawk.
Pleased, the Changer grasps his stash of bills in one clawed foot and launches into the sky, croaking farewell to his coyote daughter. A few flaps of his great, dark wings and he is en route to his hidden clothing and closer to the vengeance his inhuman heart craves.

* * * * *

The E-mail message is anonymous: “You’re missing a story both sensational and true! Does the name Arthur Pendragon mean anything to you? He’s living right here in Albuquerque, reigning in secret for all to see.”
Chris Kristopher, junior reporter for the Albuquerque Journal, runs a hand through his brown hair. He is about to delete the message when he glimpses another further down the screen: “If you don’t believe me, it’s your great mistake. Look up Pendragon Productions! That’s all it’ll take.”
Chris sets a search program running and is rewarded when a Web-page takes shape on his screen. Even in a commercial art form dominated by amateurs, this page is badly designed. Blurry photos are captioned in glaring turquoise. The text is presented in solid blocks of tiny print almost impossible to read. Hot spots to other pages proliferate.
The business of Pendragon Productions is listed as “outreach and support.” Arthur Pendragon is president, Edward Zagano vice president, Vera Tso secretary and treasurer. Each hot spot connects to information about various government projects, some local, some statewide.
Despite his initial reluctance, learning that there really is someone calling himself Arthur Pendragon trying, however ineffectually, to influence public opinion, awakens Chris’ journalistic fervor. He composes an E-mail message of his own.
“Bill: Check out a business called Pendragon Productions…”


Excerpt from CHANGER by Jane Lindskold.

Published by Avon Eos in December 1998.  Copyright © 1998 by Jane Lindskold. All rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the Publisher. Exceptions are made for downloading this file to a computer for personal use.

Copyright © 1998 by Jane Lindskold. All rights reserved. 

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