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Auverin Morrow 1 Dogoai Adam Hightower sat on a flat desert rock and studied his hand before plunging

it into the scorching sand. The grains rushed between his fingers, gritty and unforgiving rivers forging paths through the canyons of his palm. He took another drink of his whiskey and grimaced. The alcohol reminded him of the hospital, the bitterness of sterilized needles, and the uninvited heat that uncoiled in his chest and slithered through his blood the day after treatment. At least the Wild Turkey didnt upset his stomach. He turned to his daughter. Melissa was scratching the grey ears of the dog that sat panting between them. The butt of a pistol jutted from her hip, gleaming in the harsh sun. Skull is getting old. He was with me before you, baidi. I got him for your mother, so she would feel safe when I had to go away. He killed snakes for her. Mom hated him. She told me he was too wild. That he would give in to his coyote blood and turn on me. But I knew him better than that. She rubbed her fingers and scowled. He needs a bath. The dog padded away, sniffing at the ground. My father used to tell me stories. He said Coyote was a god when the world began. He saw the Earth was getting too full, because people did not die. The land couldnt hold them all. So he brought death into the world. Coyote made himself look like Wolfs cousin to keep wandering spirits from returning to life. Melissa turned to study the scarlet canyon jutting from the horizon. You told me that when Mom died.

Auverin Morrow 2 I remember, little wolf. He turned to watch his dog pace around them. Skull moved like clockwork. The small, grainy avalanches spilling around his paws reminded Adam of the hourglass he kept on his nightstand. Or used to, until the mound of sand waiting to fall became a curse and he heaved the glass into his bedroom door. He asked his daughter why she had come. To take you back to the hospital. The virulence in her voice did not sound like it could belong to her. Adam shook his head, wondering when anger had coiled around his little wolfs heart. Im not going back, baidi. She thrust the toe of her boot into the sand. You have to, dad. Weve already paid for the rest of the chemo. The sun blazed, and the ground sizzled under the thin soles of Adams shoes. His head felt too heavy. He took another long drink. More fire in his stomach. He could not decide which was hotter. I need rest. Im so tired, but I cannot find my peace there. Too much beeping, too much pain. That is no place for a man to die. Mom did it. She died fighting in that same hospital. Youre being a coward. You are your mothers ghost. You have her heart. But I do not. We cannot fight death, baidi. You know this. We shouldnt invite it in for dinner, either. A large vulture screeched and swept across the sky, casting an expectant. Skull was still pacing, his tongue lolling out of his mouth. Something moved behind the rock. Adam glanced over his shoulder at the coil of diamonds breathing in the shade.

Auverin Morrow 3 He did not have to invite death to dinner. It had been waiting for him here. Melissa scrambled to her feet. The snake that was sleeping behind them awoke with a threatening hiss. It slithered toward her, head raised. She fumbled for the gun at her side and pointed it with shaking hands. One shot. Adam winced at the crack. He had tried to end his life at the mouth of that same barrel, but its metallic taste had reminded him too much of vomiting blood. Another shot. The snakes tail rattled in the echo of a misplaced bullet. His daughter cocked the gun for a third time, but Adam stood and raised a hand. Dad what do you think youre doing? Its alright, baidi. Dont be afraid. The desiccated air cheated him of breath, and his knees groaned as he gingerly stepped forward step. He flexed the joints of his hand, hoping he had something left in them from his youth. In one swift motion, he seized the snake by the back of its head. Its scales were smooth against his cracked skin The creature hissed and coiled around his arm, baring its fangs and pink gums. Melissa reached for the snake. It spat, and she quickly withdrew her hand, cursing. Feed that damn thing to the dog. Adam whistled. The dog trotted to his masters side. He reached down and scratched Skulls muzzle. His tongue was warm and rough on Adams forearm. Adam held down his other hand. Skull sniffed and growled at the hissing creature, then sat on his haunches. Melissa shoved him with her foot. Worthless mutt. He sees what your anger will not allow you to, little wolf. This is no snake. This is babi. Brother.

Auverin Morrow 4 The snake writhed in Adams hand as he lifted it to his face. Its stone-colored eyes were split by a black abyss. The sun crushed his shoulders, and he tried to blink the spots out of his eyes. The heat boiled his blood, a too-familiar internal fire. Skull whined and lay across Adams feet. Melissa touched his shoulder. Dad, please put it down. I cant do that, little wolf. Adam kissed her cheek. The salt of tears stung his lips. Dad we already lost mom. Dont make me lose you too. Adam loosened his grip. Long fangs buried in his flesh. He closed his eyes, breathing slowly. The venom ran cool and smooth like river water in his veins. His shoulders felt heavy. His fingers fell away, and the snake slipped from his grasp. Melissas arms were around his waist. She was shaking. He rested his cheek her head. Ne en tepitsi tsaa suankanna, baidi. I love you very much.