One day, Coyote decided to steal pretty much everything he could get his paws on.
He went to a vast lake, and saw the Moon on the surface of the water. “I know what you’re thinking,” said the Moon, “and you cannot do it. For I am but a reflection of the Moon. I appear to be a beautiful pearly circle, so close you could just snatch me up, but if you tried, you would merely swipe right through me, disrupting the very image you love. And if you kept trying, you would eventually overbalance and land right in the water and go home, empty-handed and soaking wet. In a way, it’s a metaphor—”
And it cut off abruptly, as Coyote plucked the Moon out of the lake and popped it in his sack. And on he walked.
Next, Coyote decided to steal the Sun from the sky. Perhaps this was a kindness; after all, the Sun and Moon live together in the house which is the Sky, but they never get to see each other, for each must make appointed rounds at appointed times. The Sun was on the other side of the world at that moment, of course, but Coyote had a trick:
You know how, when you are very tired, sometimes, you close your eyes, and you’re sure it only lasts a moment, but just when your dreams are getting really good, the Sun’s bright rays awaken you? Coyote spent much of his time perfecting the magic of dreams (or, as Grandfather Crow called it, “Loafing around like an aimless galoot”); and so he somnambulated a truly great fantasy (it was about a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich taller than he was). He was still trying to figure out how to get his jaws around it when, sure as meat loves salt, a sunbeam splashed across his face. Coyote can be clumsy, but sometimes he is very quick; before his eyelids even finished opening, he grabbed that sunbeam and yanked in a special way, and bam! the Sun joined the Moon in the sack.
(It took excellent aim to get it straight into the opening of the bag; clearly, the long days he had spent popping morsels of food into his mouth without looking had been valuable practice, and Coyote was, once again, proven extremely wise.)
Then Coyote thought he might steal all the Stars; but the Stars, not having been born yesterday, saw what happened to the Sun and the Moon, and they’d already left, going on holiday to faraway Kalgash; but that’s a different tale.
Coyote then wanted to steal the secret of Wine from the Gods, but as he approached the celestial Tavern, he saw that the bouncer was looking at him with recognition. The Bouncer spoke words of power (“You gonna pay your tab?”)—and Coyote fled.
Coyote then stole all the left socks in the world. Why the left ones? Well, why not?
And at last, Coyote decided he would thieve the greatest treasure of all, Knowledge. So he searched out the biggest University he could find, and there sought out a Professor of anthropology. Boldy, Coyote stepped right up to him, thinking of clever and crafty schemes.
Before Coyote could open his mouth, the other spoke. “You don’t exist,” the Professor said.
“I most certainly do!” said Coyote, startled out of his plotting.
“No, you don’t,” the Professor replied. “Lots of peoples all of the world have lots of Gods. The reason for that is, humans are basically primitive and superstitious. They make up stuff to help explain the world because they don’t understand how things really work. So they create, say, a God of Lightning because they don’t understand that the big flash in the sky is just a meteorological phenomenon.”
“I see,” said Coyote. “And how does lightning really work?”
“Electricity,” replied the Professor. “Clouds. Ion particles. Superconductivity. Not my field, really. But anyway, I know there’s a perfectly natural explanation, and that’s better than Gods.”
“Better how?” asked Coyote.
“Well, if somebody knows how electricity works, they can make machines which use it. Whereas if somebody prays, who knows what will happen?”
“Is there some particular reason why a God of Lightning wouldn’t fit electricity into a reasonable framework of the way the world works? It seems like that would make a lot more sense, and be a lot more viablen than needing to make a conscious effort in order to permit every spark to ignite. And obviously Gods don’t always answer people. Are you caught up on your email, Professor?”
The Professor shrugged, annoyed. “I happen to be religious, like many anthropologists; but that’s personal. I can believe, for myself, that God or Gods are real; but I’m hardly going to believe that some particular God takes a physical form and knocks on my door in pursuit of some kind of myth-fulfillment. I don’t care if you think you can justify your existence; the point is, if anthropologists went around saying, ‘So-and-so people believe in such-and-such a God because that God is quite real and will be annoyed if they don’t believe’, nobody would take us seriously. We wouldn’t be a science.”
“Wait a minute,” Coyote said slowly. “So you’re telling me that your entire field of scientific endeavor needs to disbelieve in me, or you’ll lose your own credibility?”
“So…no matter what I do, you’ll disbelieve in me, and you’ll tell everyone else to disbelieve in me, and the more firmly you describe me as a folk-tale, a primitive metaphor, the better off you are?”
“But I’m standing right here. In front of you. I can tap you on the shoulder. I’m quite real.”
Coyote prepared to begin doing all manner of things to show that he was a material being occupying the same plane as the Professor, but the Professor held up a hand. “Anything you do could be a dream, a hallucination, a false memory, or, if worst comes to worst, something I can’t explain, but which I know cannot possibly be you. Whatever you do, I’ll ignore it, and so will every other right-thinking person. I know you’re not real; my friends and companions know you’re not real; you’re not going to change my mind. I’d have to rethink just about everything if that happened, and I’d be on my own in doing so. I’d be shunned, laughed at, scorned. So get used to it. You are not real.”
The beast stared at the man for a moment. Then, with unusual humility, he walked forward and extended a hand. The Professor took it. “I’m sorry about this, but there’s nothing I can do,” said the Professor. “No, no,” said Coyote, “Thank you.”
Coyote walked carefully out of the University. He pawed into his sack, made sure the Sun and Moon were comfortable and the socks all stored as efficiently as possible. It was a big sack; there was still plenty of room.
Coyote took a long look at the place which was dedicated to proving that he wasn’t there. He smiled a slow, wide, Coyote smile.
Then he stole the World.
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