BELLA KENDRICKS

Bella Kendricks

DIVINER/PSYCHOPOMP


PATRON:
COYOTE


CHARACTER SHEETS

BELLA'S STORY


Bella felt like she was falling, and then found her feet in the convenience store around the corner from the apartment where she grew up. The feeling of free-fall somewhere in her gut didn’t go away, even though she seemed to have landed.

There was a bespectacled old man in the back corner of the store, holding the cooler door open, staring hard into a gallon of milk. She vaguely remembered the day - she was thirteen, the man had unnerved her. She’d complained to her mother, who looked distressed and hurried them out without buying anything. The next day they had seen the news - not two minutes after they left, the bespectacled man had shot the cashier, the other customer in the store, and himself.

Her mother was gone, of course she was gone. And without her prodding to leave, Bella took a bullet to the back of the head.

Then she was 15 and there was no microwave on the curb on the way home from school to slow her down - so she was crossing the street when a car blew through the intersection.

Then she was 18, the first time the fog rolled in, bleeding out on the kitchen floor from the lines she cut in her hips. She hadn’t been trying to kill herself but she’d nicked something major. The phone was nowhere in sight and 911 wasn’t coming this time.

The week before she turned 19 - whatever one of her regulars had been smoking, it was laced with something vile. He was thrown out of the club for fighting with the bartender and waited in the dark around the corner for Bella to walk home. She had caught a ride with Lindsey that night, and unknowingly drove right past him. This time she was on foot, and he stabbed her in a frenzy, seven times with a chef’s knife from his house.

She was 19, living with James. She was standing out on his balcony in the midst of a days-long crying jag, and he was over it. He was screaming at her that she was an ungrateful bitch and he had given her everything she could possibly need and it still wasn’t good enough her. He’d been interrupted by a phone call and Bella had taken refuge in the bedroom. When he came back was the first time he’d hit her, and she had the bruise on her cheek for a week. This Bella didn’t go inside. The hit sent her reeling, stumbling back and over the balcony railing, falling six stories to the sidewalk below.

She was 24, and she and James were picking up an artist friend of his for dinner. She caught sight of herself in a mirror, dolled up on his arm, paraded like a sideshow act - the homeless, depressed stripper, rehabilitated. She was a proper lady now, and selfless, nurturing, heroic James was to thank. She wanted to humiliate him, make him eat his own self-satisfied story, and saw her opportunity in the X-acto knives in his friend’s studio. She turned one over in her hands, but James had pulled her away, and she lost her nerve. Not this Bella, though. She got a sick satisfaction watching herself slash her wrists, collapse on the floor of the studio, bleed all over James’ crisp, impeccably clean white shirt.

It seemed the majority of her life had been walking a tightrope between wanting to die and sheer luck keeping her out of situations that would kill her.

Then was falling again, through nothing, swaddled in inky blackness. Pinpricks of white light darted around her, and Bella watched transfixed as they arranged themselves in a constellation she recognized, a mirror of her own face. There was a sudden soft glow as the constellation was filled in, expressive brown eyes and slightly upturned nose, same jawline and cheek bones.

But slightly off: pronounced parenthesis-shaped wrinkles on either side of her smiling mouth, crows feet forming at the corners of her eyes, strands of gray hair growing in among the brown. She realized it was her mother’s face, not her own, just as it winked out of existence.

She was standing in moonlight on the desert sand, and Doc Pleasant beckoned.

***

Doc Pleasant beckoned, and Bella followed.

A staff appeared in his hand, something that had definitely not been there before - wrapped in leather and decorated with feathers and bits of fur with strings of beads that rattled as it moved. He tapped the staff against the hard, packed path of dirt and sand, and the beads tinkled in time with his rhythm.

After a few moments of silent travel, they neared what appeared to be steps down, carved into the earth and rock. He began to make his way down, carefully, with the stiff movements of an old man. And certainly, if one examined his face here, he would seem much older than he had back in the living world.

“What did you see, child?” he asked, his voice startling loud in the silence. “What visions accompanied you here?”

“I died. A lot.” Bella said, picking her way down the steps behind him. “But if I had to guess, I’d say you knew that already.”

She added, almost as an afterthought, “ I think I saw my mom, right before I saw you.”

“Why you be tryin’ to die so much, then?” he asked. “You making your Ma proud of you, you think?”

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” she snapped.

“You think if you succeed you gonna be happy and back with your Ma, then? You think she gon’ to pat you on the head and tell you you was a good girl to throw away the life she give you?”

She didn’t mean to be disrespectful, but her mother was a soft spot. “Well I don’t think she’s going to pat me on the head for what I’ve been doing otherwise,” she muttered.

“An’ how you know that? Why you sure she be judging you?”

“If you heard the way she used to talk.” Bella shook her head. “She thought I was going to be an astronaut, or Bill Gates or something. I’d break her heart.”

“You got to give your Ma more credit’n that, child,” he said, shaking his head. “Sure, she wants good things for you, but you really think she prefer you dead than bein’ one of them exotic dancers?”

“I don’t know. Maybe?” she shrugged. “Mom kind of already lost the moral high ground in the rather-be-dead argument, though.”

“How you figure that? Your Ma went hard.” He tapped the staff against the hard packed stair. “Ain’t the way she wanted to go, either.”

“How do you know?” she asked.

Doc Pleasant’s laugh boomed out, echoing over the empty plains. “You standin’ here with me, in the shadow worlds, goin’ to the Isle of the Dead, and you be doubting that I know?” He stopped and turned to face her. “I know, child,” he said, shaking the staff. “Iseen it. And you know what else I know?”

He had a point, she supposed. “What else?”

They were nearing the bottom of the steps, and the path opened up to an expanse of beach - nearly obscured with heavy fog. He stopped, started to speak again, then shook his head. “On second thought, that be something you gon’ to learn for yourself.”

He took off, striding across the sand, heading towards what sounded like the ocean, washing ashore. “Somethings, you can’t be tole. You got to see it with your own eyes.

The fog curled away in the face of his advance, melting smoothly, like wax above a flame. And as it dissipated, the ocean came into view - the ocean, and a small boat, a gondola decorated with what appeared to be a canine skull of some sort, totems and other bits and pieces, like his staff.

“C’mon, child, get in the boat. You got folks waiting on you.”

The journey to the island was silent, save for the splash of the ferryman’s staff-cum-pole and his discordantly merry humming - it sounded astonishingly like the nursery rhyme,Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, but he being the sort of man he was, it couldn’t have been.

The gondola slid up onto the sand, depositing them on an expanse of land filled with tall, dead grass, whispering in the breeze, large rocks, and hulking shadows of the remains of ancient buildings, left over from the gold rush, with all the detritus of a community lost to time.
“End of the line, girl,” Doc Pleasant said, breaking the silence. “Off you go.”

“Go where?” she blurted, not keen on the idea of going alone.

He pointed inland. “Don’t matter. You gon’ to have company here in a minute, but he be shy, an’ he ain’t gonna show up till you get out the boat.”

Bella stepped reluctantly out of the boat. There was something particularly ominous about a ghost town in the Isle of the Dead. “I don’t suppose you’d like to come along?” she tried.

He shook his head, his smile as kind as it had ever been. “You gon’ to have a guide, here shortly, though, child. A word of advice before you, though, eh? Hidin’ beneath the covers don’t make the boogey man go ‘way, hear? Only thing that take takes the fear out of shit is facin’ it, seein’ it for what it is and embracin’ it. Now go on, get out of here. You got a friend waitin’ over there.”

He pointed, and there, in fact, was a creature that hadn’t been there a moment before: a large coyote with a snarky grin, clear even in the dim light.

It seemed to be waiting for her, just sitting still at first, but then bouncing around in place, tongue lolling - a puppy wanting to play.

Bella grinned and walked over, not sure what to do, exactly. “Hi?” she said, with a little wave.

The coyote yipped in glee, bounding away…but looking back over its shoulder to make sure she was following.

Bella laughed and ran after it - not quite able to catch up, but it didn’t let her fall too far behind, either. They looped around the rusted husk of an old Ford and the coyote made a beeline for one of the abandoned houses.

She turned the corner around the house not a second after the coyote did and stopped short. It had been out of sight not even a moment, but now it was nowhere to be found. She walked around the back of the house, turned another corner…still nothing. She pivoted to head back around the house the way she’d come.

Oof. The furry mass pounced, appearing as suddenly as if from thin air, knocking Bella to the ground. She laid there a moment, giggling helplessly when the coyote licked her face. It bounded a few paces and turned, crouching as though getting ready to pounce again, and then took off with a preening little swagger in its steps.

She got to her feet, and could have sworn she heard a peal of laughter trailing behind it.

The coyote yipped and bounded off again, wagging its tail - this time heading to one of the derelict buildings. It paused outside, sitting down on the doorway step and whining, cocking its head.

When Bella approached, it nudged her with its nose, and looked meaningfully at the door, indicating that she should go in.

Bella pushed open the door uncertainly, the motion kicking up dust motes from the dilapidated wood floors. She stepped over the threshold, and the door swung closed, hard, behind her.

“Please don’t slam the door, Bluebell, I just got the twins down.”

She jumped. Carmen Walker was smiling, chopping vegetables at the kitchen counter.

“I’m sorry!” Bella squeaked. She was thirteen again, all lime-green nail polish, Happy Bunny t-shirts and fake glitter tattoos.

“No harm done, honey. Des is in the dining room, and of course you’re welcome to stay for dinner.”

She thanked the woman and cut a familiar path through the Walker home to the dining room, where Desiree was hunched over a notebook. “Please tell me you understand the prealgebra homework because I am so lost!” the blonde cried out dramatically.

Bella laughed and sat down at the table. “Yeah, it’s easy, here…”

She awoke with a start when her head slipped off of her hand, nearly falling into her plate of mashed potatoes. Rambunctious toddler sounds were coming from the living room.

Des was hunched over the math textbook again. “Did you fall asleep? You were in the middle of sentence, like, a second ago.”

Bella shrugged. “I guess so. Had a weird dream, that your mom left the burner going on the stove and Dylan put his hand right on it. I was really only out for a second?”

She cleaned her plate and leaned back in her chair, peeking over Des’s shoulder occasionally to help.

“Dustin, Dylan, no more cookies, put your plates in the sink and go get ready for baths.” The twins ran off to the kitchen and Carmen turned up the volume on the evening news.

“Okay, where are these cookies everybody’s talking about?” Bella asked, stomach rumbling. Des pointed wordlessly at the kitchen, clearly in her zone.

The boys were trying to make the most of their brief moments out of their mother’s watchful sight, Dustin giving Dylan a boost to climb onto the counter in search of the forbidden dessert.

Bella came in to the room just in time to watch Dylan try to pull himself up on top of the stove, putting his hand down on the hot burner the same way she had seen in her dream. She moved instinctively to catch him as he toppled off of his brother’s shoulders, wailing.

They were joined by Des and her mother a moment later, panicked, asking what had happened.

Carmen took Dylan from her arms, and she could see that the burn was already red and blistered. “He was trying to climb up on the counter, he-he put his hand on the stove- on the stovetop…” Bella stammered, face pale.

Desiree shot her a fiery look. “You knew!” she shouted. “You had that dream! You knew it was going to happen and you still let my baby brother get hurt!”

“I didn’t know! I didn’t know! I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!” Bella started crying. She could have stopped him.

Des shoved her, hard, toward the door. “Get out! Get out!”

Bella fled, shaking, slamming the door behind her.

The coyote was waiting outside. It looked up at her and whined anxiously, cocking its head, as if to ask if she was alright.

She wiped her eyes, brushed her hair out of her face. It hadn’t been real. Why did she feel so sick? “What was that?”

The coyote nudged her hand with his nose, thumping his tail, trying to comfort her. Don’t weep, little one, a voice whispered - not in her ear, but in her mind. Deep, rich, and faintly accented.

She knelt and ran her fingers through the soft fur on his neck, scratching behind his ears, glad for something to keep her hands busy. “I don’t understand why I didn’t do something.”

The voice didn’t speak again, but he did move away, indicating for her to follow him, headed off towards another dilapidated building.

In the next building, she was 20, and saw an old woman fatally shot in a home invasion. The next, when she was 17, a bike accident that left a class valedictorian paralyzed. 24, a first time mother was in a car accident and miscarried. 16, a librarian caught in a riptide and dragged out to sea. Dozens of them. She saw as many deaths as there were ways to die.

The earliest scenes she actually remembered. They’d come before her unraveling, before she started sneaking out, going home with boys who let her raid their parents’ liquor cabinets, playing chicken with cars in the street after midnight. Before she started smoking, stopped eating, started cutting. Before she was winding up James just for something else to think about, because a black eye was easier than the flashes of tragedy she’d see everywhere.

She hadn’t acknowledged the later scenes at the time. She watched them then, and the aftermaths as well - cold emergency rooms, funerals, the people left behind.

The coyote followed her from scene to scene, silent but comforting. When she left the final scene, though, she turned around to find - instead of a gossipy-looking coyote - a native man, in traditional dress, facepaint and adornment.

“What did you see, daughter?” he asked - the same, deep voice she’d heard in her thoughts earlier. “What did the spirits show you?”

“I saw people getting hurt, or dying, and everything that happened to them afterward, and the people they left behind,” she said softly. “I’d seen it before but I didn’t… I didn’t understand, I tried ignoring it but it never went away.”

“Surprisingly, it rarely does,” the man said, rather dryly. “But for all that, people still keep trying.” He sat down, settling himself in the grass. Looking up, he patted the ground, indicating she should sit.

“Did you know your mother was a Seer?” he asked, voice carefully neutral.

Bella blinked. “I don’t…no. She never said…What do you mean?”

“Where do you think your own ability came from?” he asked, shrugging. “She refused to acknowledge it, though. Tried ignoring it, too. That didn’t work so well for her, either.”

“Did she see the same…did she see what I saw? I thought I was going crazy,” she confessed. “She was so sick, was that why?”

He nodded. “Yep. Being a seer is no easy task. And trying to ignore will destroy you. Sometimes slow and quiet, like your mother. Sometimes,” and he arched an eyebrow at Bella, “loud and fast.”

“Don’t look at me like that,” she muttered. “I’m still here, aren’t I? And mostly in one piece, even.”

“Certainly not for a lack of trying,” he said, dryer still. “You’re exceptionally fortunate, you realize.”

She shrugged and didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t wrong.

“That the way you want to end up?” he asked, then gave her a sly, naughty sort of look. “I bet that pretty priest you’re fucking would be awfully sad if that happened.”

She blushed, defensive. “Please, I’m not fucking Rafe.”

He raised both eyebrows. “You’re not? Please. What exactly do you think you were doing earlier?”

“What do you think we were doing earlier?” she demanded.

“Looked like either the start to the world’s most drawn-out foreplay session,” he drawled, leaning back on his arms in the grass, smirking, “or a damned fine mind-fuck. Either way, you’re fucking him, daughter.”

She gave a dismissive snort, accompanied by her signature eye roll, but couldn’t stop the little smile creeping across her face. “We’re not fucking,” she insisted.

“If that’s what you need to tell yourself to get through the day,” he said, giving her a serene smile, “ then go for it. But you know I have to point out - ignoring something that doesn’t make it go away…”

“Noted,” she said wryly.

“So, if I…acknowledge this thing, whatever it is, will I stop…” she trailed off, unsure how exactly how to phrase it. Trying to die?

“That’s one of the net benefits, usually, yes,” Coyote said, face solemn, though his eyes still twinkled. “Though at this point, you’ve got a lot of…ah, what’s the word?” He snapped his fingers, trying to remember. “Oh, yeah. Learned behavior. You’ve got a lot of learning to unlearn.”

“That sounds like a very diplomatic way to say baggage,” she remarked. “I’ll have to remember that one.”

He grinned, as toothy as his canine form. “That’s me. Diplomat to the troubled.”

“I don’t see anything anymore, though. Not for a long time,” Bella said. “Fucking buried it. I get nightmares, but by the time I wake up it’s all gone. I don’t…” Frustration crept into her voice. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with this. Am I supposed to save them? I don’t even know who they are…and I can’t even save myself most of the time.”

He shook his head. “You are a Seer, not a Savior,” he said, with a hint of a smile. “What you saw when you were a child? Those were their choices, daughter. You cannot change their choices. You can tell folk what you’ve seen, you can encourage them to choose better, but you cannot change their future. And if you try, the results are often worse than if you’d just let it alone. But sometimes,” and he smiled again, “seeing is believing. If you can show someone the consequences of an action, good or not so good, sometimes that’s enough.”

“As for the Seeing, itself…” He leaned forward,and when he spoke, it was low and urgent. “Do you truly want to See, again, daughter?”

She gave an ironic little laugh. “Do I want to start seeing people dying again? Not particularly.”

“That’s not the only thing there is to See, you know,” he replied. “Death and injury leaves a strong imprint, so that’s what an untrained oracle will receive, at first. With knowledge, you can direct your visions.”

“Awesome. Great. Way to really put the best possible face on it,” she rolled her eyes, but she didn’t sound bitter so much as sad. “Please tell me there is some part of this thatdoesn’t absolutely blow. Please.”

A hint of furry coyote face appeared, then disappeared - superimposed on the man’s own face. He stuck his tongue out at her - a gesture both at odds with his solemn demeanor and right up the coyote’s alley - then smirked. “What, you want me to lie to you? To tell you it’s all sunshine and roses? So later you can tell me I misled you, tricked you? What do I look like, some kind of thoughtless prankster?”

“Do let’s be honest here: are you really looking for a part that doesn’t - as you so eloquently put it - blow, or are you just looking for a way to escape responsibility?” He watched her, his gaze intense. “I tell you, daughter, the opportunity to See is as much blessing as the curse you think it to be.”

He seemed as if he would speak further, but then stood up abruptly. “Come,” he said. “Let me show you something.”

Coyote trotted off, heading in the direction of one of the ramshackle buildings, clearly expecting her to follow.

She did so. “Listen, I’m not trying to escape responsibility for anything. That’s the job? Fine. I’m an easy sell, and it doesn’t sound like I’d have much of a choice anyway. You say it gets better, I’ll trust you. But it’s been a shit sandwich so far, so you’ll have to forgive me if my enthusiasm isn’t off the fucking charts just yet.”

He shrugged. “You’ve not really experienced it, so hold off on judgments for a few, okay?” He pushed the door of the house open and headed inside, gesturing for her to follow.

The room they stepped into was a bedroom - dingy, drab, it looked like something out of the seventies, shag carpet and all. There was a woman in shorts and a loose t-shirt, heavily pregnant. There were dark circles beneath her eyes…along with a bruise that was clearly man made.

She paced and muttered, muttered and paced. Stroked her stomach and made soothing noises. Looked over at the bed, where disheveled man snored, empty beer cans and cigarette stubs littering the bedside table.

“She look familiar?” he murmured.

A strangled sort of noise escaped her throat. It was like looking in a mirror. She’d probably even had the same bruise at one point or another.

Bella looked at Coyote sharply. “If you are fucking with me, I swear to every god, I will murder you where you stand.” The words tumbled out of her mouth without any conscious thoughts forming them. She knew the threat was empty and inadvisable at best - she knew he wasn’t fucking with her, even - but didn’t bother to pretend she didn’t mean it.

“Peace, daughter,” Coyote said, “peace. Though,” he added, almost as an afterthought, “you might consider how that feels the next time you’re fucking with someone on purpose, eh? Nevertheless, that is not what we’re here for.”

“Go over,” he told Bella. “Touch her arm, you will get a sense of what’s going on in her mind. No tricks, just pay attention and tell me what you see.”

She had to keep reminding herself that her mother wasn’t really standing there, so she didn’t do something stupid like try to hug her or start crying. She took a deep breath and put her hand on the woman’s shoulder.

“She wants to leave. She’s worried about the baby, growing up with him, but,” she winced, “he said he’d kill her if she tried to go. No matter where she went he’d find her—oh God, hunt is the word he used, Jesus fucking Christ,” she swore. “She doesn’t know where she’d go or what she’d do for money. She’s a waitress now, but she doesn’t think it’d be enough, on her own. Just wants to make sure they both…we both survive.”

Coyote nodded. “And in a stroke of irony, she visited a Seer for guidance. Would you like to see what the Seer saw?”

When she nodded, he snapped his fingers and a tingle shot through Bella’s body.

It came to her in flashes. Her mother’s shaking hands grinding up pills from her father’s stash, pouring them into the nearly-empty whiskey bottle by his chair. Praying he wouldn’t know the difference when he took a swig when he got home. Waiting until his eyelids were drooping to fake her contractions, knowing he’d tell her to go to her mother’s, because he thought labor was “repulsive.”

Stealing his wallet when he passed out, throwing whatever she could lay her hands on into a suitcase, dropping his keys in a dumpster when she left. Her newly-blonde bob still wet from the DIY bathroom dye-job. Looking over her shoulder as she boarded a Greyhound bus, scared to death that the bulky sweatshirt wasn’t hiding how distinctlypregnant she was, that someone would notice, that he’d find them. Responding to her new name. Waking up three days later, nauseous and sore, on a different coast.

Bringing baby Bella home to her closet-sized dump of an apartment, still looking over her shoulder. Stripping, alternating nights on with the other moms so there was always someone off to watch the kids. Moving to a nicer part of town, in a little apartment she wasn’t embarrassed to be raising a kid in. The look on Bella’s face when she brought home Tuffy, a scraggly stray cat they nursed back to glorious, fluffy health. Realizing it had been two years, four years, six years and he wasn’t coming, and her daughter was safe.

When the vision ended, Coyote was there, catching Bella as she sagged. “I’ve got you, daughter,”he murmured, holding her in his arms till she could regain her equilibrium.

“What did you See?” he said, when the a moment had passed, and Bella seemed coherent once more.

“How she got out, everything she did to protect me,” she replied, voice soft.

He nodded. “That’s what the Seer showed her, you know. When she went to see the woman, she was resigned to staying with that man, but the vision gave her the strength to move on. That,” he said, reaching up to stroke Bella’s hair, “is why you’re with us today.”

She threw her arms around his neck, burying her face against his shoulder until the choked-up feeling in her throat had passed. “How do I do it?”

“It’s far more simple than I think you expect,” he said, holding her gently till she pulled away of her own accord.

“If you want to guide the vision, you will need to touch the subject, of course,” he said, leading her out of the building, which had now returned to its dilapidated form. “It helps to choose a word of power, something to act as a focus - a trigger, if you will, so that you do not receive Sight unless you want it. If you would like to see something specific in their future, you simply focus on that particular question as you ask to receive the vision.”

“Keep in mind, the further into the future you look, the more changeable the Vision will be,” he added. “Would you like to try using your gift on some of the restless that you saw already? I will be there to help you show them the future that can be and perhaps, we can convince them to move on.”

Bella nodded, and the pair made their way back to the building where had seen the elderly woman killed during a home invasion. She seemed to be waiting for them, clicking her fingernails against her dining room table with one hand, holding a cigarette with the other. She glared at Bella when they came through the door, blowing smoke with a huff.

“What do I do?” Bella whispered. Savior or no, the guilt was tearing into her stomach all the same.

Coyote led her over to the woman’s side, making soothing chit chat. “Mother,” he told the older woman, “The Seer is here, as promised. She will show you what you need to see.” He took the woman’s frail hand in his own, stroking it, then joined Bella’s with theirs, linking the three together.

When Coyote spoke again, it was sub-aural, as it had been the first time he’d spoken to Bella. “Choose a word of Power, daughter,” he said - and when she heard him in her mind, now she could begin to hear the ancient echoes, flashes of his existence through the centuries. Instead of overwhelming her, though, they brought her strength - a kinship with the man standing next to her.

“Focus not only on her death,” he instructed, “but look further. When you’ve observed, speak to her. Hold her hand and invite her to see what you see, and speak of what you’ve seen. She will see it through you.”

Bella wondered, briefly, if she was setting herself up to fail, choosing a word of Power that meant something she’d never been very good at. It felt right, anyway. Peace, she thought. Peace.

She saw the woman die again, and then the impatient spirit waiting for her to arrive. Then the light changed, a dusky twilight on an old farmer’s porch. Bella smiled, blinking and holding on to the image. “I want to show you something,” she said, tentatively. “There’s a gentleman waiting for you. Arthur. He’s got that lake house, right on the water, the one with all of the peony bushes that you loved. He just took the kettle off the stove…he used to hate tea, but you always said it was good for killing time, and he’s been waiting. He misses you.”

The old woman stared at Bella, suspicious at first, expecting a trick. As Bella continued to speak, though, her eyes turned glassy with tears. She cleared her throat. “Y-you aren’t making that up…you can’t be. He hated tea something fierce, you know.”

She struggled to her feet, and Coyote was there, offering her his arm as she walked to the doorway of her home - now shining brightly, where there had only been darkness before. The woman started to step through, but then turned back to look at Bella with a tentative smile. “Thank you,” she said, simply, then stepped through the door.

Bella heaved a sigh, a little dizzy, letting out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. “Well, that was…wow.” She stood a little bit straighter, felt a little bit lighter, somehow.

Coyote smiled, and dipped his head. “The gift is not solely a burden. A solemn charge, yes, but not only a burden…”

They revisited other spirits, and Bella showed them the happier scenes waiting for them beyond the shadowy, in-between place where they were. It was a slow process, but strangely satisfying - for every restless ghost they helped to move on, she felt her own frustration and bitterness soothed a little more as well.

Still, each experience seemed to take something out of her, and Bella hadn’t seen anywhere near all of the spirits before she was leaning heavily on Coyote, head swimming, struggling to keep her eyes open.

“Are you well, daughter?” he asked, squeezing her hand.

“I feel great,” she mumbled, “just tired. Harder than I was expecting.”

Coyote nodded. “No one can catch up with a lifetime’s work in one night…but you’ve made a good start.” He reached up and stroked her hair gently. “I’m proud of you, daughter.”

He led her back outside, and sat down with her in the grass, wrapping his arm around her when she leaned against him in fatigue. “Your gift offers the chance to do both the living and the dead a great service,” he said, after a few silent moments had passed. “What’s being asked of you is no small thing, though. It is a responsibility that follows through life and death, yet, as you’ve seen…it has its rewards.”

He turned to her, facing her, holding both her hands in his. “Will you accept this role that you’ve been offered?” he asked, and the words seemed formal, ritualistic, almost.

It was on the tip of her tongue, I’m in, the same flippant little shrug she’d had in the diner the night before, but she paused, nodded, tried to imbue her words with the same respect and solemnity he did. “Yes, I will.”

“The spirits bear witness!” Coyote called, and brought his hands together.

There was a great crack of thunder and a flash of light that blinded Bella for an instant. When she blinked and opened her eyes, she found herself face to face with the furry, knowing canine she’d met upon arrival.

It gave her its biggest grin…then licked her face in a big, sloppy, doggy kiss and took off towards the beach, yipping with glee.

Bella wiped her face and laughed, then clambered to her feet and followed.