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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Excerpt from Scapegoat by Susan J. Kroupa

A haunting retelling of a rainmaker myth, Scapegoat is set in the barren mesas of northern Arizona, after a brutal war has destroyed modern civilization. The story originally appeared in Realms of Fantasy. (Oct 1996).



The night Nuva was born was like too many other nights that autumn. The wind raged across the land shrieking like a spirit come face to face with Masau, God of Death, himself. But it was barren, as all the winds that season had been. It brought the cold, but no snow, not even a cloud to shadow the mesas. A barren, old-woman wind.
Tiyo huddled against a juniper trunk where he could keep a wary eye out for coyotes and cursed. The wind meant a miserable night and most likely his uncle's wrath the next day. Mana, fat as a cow though she was only a goat, had been restless and crying all afternoon, and Tiyo was sure she was ready to kid, goats always picking the worst weather for birthing. Her babies would have rough going in this cold. And if they died, his uncle would probably blame him, as if it were his fault that Mana had bred late and had to kid in the fall when the wind blew endlessly, sucking the life from the land.
He caught a motion among the goats bedded down in the hollow. His hand tightened around his bow. But it wasn't a coyote. Mana bleated and struggled to her feet then sank back to the ground, as if Tiyo's very fears of her kidding had brought it to pass. Grabbing his bundle of rags, he ran to her side.
Now his uncle's best goat--she usually had triplets--would probably lose her kids and maybe even her own life to the cold. If he had been closer to home, he could have sheltered her in the goat pen that sat below Second Mesa. He could have run up the twisting, rocky trail to the village on top, to his uncle's house on the plaza, and sought help. But there hadn't been any grass or forage within a day's journey of the mesa since the snows stopped coming, and it seemed that every day Tiyo took the goats farther from home.
Still, his uncle expected miracles and Tiyo wished with all his heart that he could provide one. He didn't want to see the anger twist his uncle's face or hear the words spat out like rattlesnake venom. Hear him ask, to anyone within earshot, why he had to be burdened with such a clumsy child, too young to be any use, why Tiyo's mother couldn't have raised her son before she died.
Mana heaved, breaking her water, and the first kid came sliding out. Tiyo rubbed at it furiously with a rag. A second kid followed and then a third. He dumped the bundle of rags over one while he dried the other, racing against the wind's deadly bite. Finally, they were dry. He tried to coax Mana to her feet so that the babies could nurse. But Mana wouldn't budge.
"Get up!" he said angrily. Couldn't she hear her babies crying as they shivered in the cold?
Then he saw it. Another kid, a fourth, slid to the ground, bloody and still. Dead, he thought, but instinctively picked it up, wiped its face and blew gently into its nostrils. With a snort and a shudder, it began to breathe.
Mana struggled to her feet and nuzzled her babies, calling to them in urgent, throaty tones while they bobbed underneath her thrusting for milk.
Tiyo held the last born in his arms. A doe, so tiny that with her long Nubian ears she looked more like a rabbit than a goat. He knew what his uncle would want. He'd want her dressed out and in a pot of boiled corn before midday.
"Puny," he'd say. "She'll only rob the milk from the strong ones.
And there was no milk to spare. Not while the Cloud People ignored their prayers and the land lay gasping for water.
The doe trembled in his arms as he fingered the handle of the knife at his side. But then she suddenly cried out and nuzzled him, and he was undone; the cry was too close to a human infant's. Releasing the knife, he rooted through the pile of rags for a clean one and rubbed her dry. He pulled away one of the other kids and gave her a turn at Mana's teat.
Finally, Mana lay down heavily and the other three kids crowded against her. Tiyo tucked the little doe inside his shirt and eased to the ground, bending over Mana and her kids to use his back as a windbreak. Suddenly tired, he forgot about coyotes and wind and even about his mother, and fell asleep.
The silence woke him, the silence and the sun on his back. He sat up, stiff and disorientated, jolting the little doe awake so that she cried out in a high, plaintive voice.
He put the little doe on the ground to try her legs. She was pure white and her coat glowed in the light of the rising sun. Watching her stagger about, the only white against the dull browns and greens of the desert, he named her. To the west, he could see the sacred mountains that his people called Nuvatukya'ovi--snow-covered peaks--but they had not been white once in the last three winters.
So he named the little doe for his heart's desire, for his people's desperate need. He called her Nuva, snow, and plotted to hide her from his uncle.
Read more from Susan J. Kroupa on Writers & Other Animals ~ 

Susan J. Kroupa is an award-winning author whose fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, and in a variety of professional anthologies, including Bruce Coville's Shapeshifters.
She has lived and worked on both the Hopi and Navajo reservations. Her non-fiction publications include features about environmental issues and Hopi Indian culture for The Arizona Republic, High Country News, American Forests, and the Bristol Herald-Courier. 

She now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Southwestern Virginia with her husband, two cats, and a trouble-prone labradoodle who's the inspiration for her Doodlebugged mysteries. 


  1. Thanks for posting this, Sheila!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Hi Susan, I guess my comment didn't make it yesterday! Loved your writing and want to read more!! Wonderful!!

    1. Sheri, you posted a comment for Susan on the excerpt from my book, Drop Dead on Recall.

    2. Sheri, thanks so much! for reading the excerpt and commenting! The story is available on all the ebook sites.