“Howdy, pardner!” Stan Lee says while strumming a guitar on the midnight plains of the Arizona desert. He wears a ten-gallon hat as he sits beside the campfire, and is surrounded by horses, mice, bison, and jackrabbits. “Here’s yer ol’ buckaroo buddy, Stan ‘Sagebrush’ Lee, strummin’ his heart out for yuh! Got a yahoo of a yarn that’ll sizzle yer saddle an’ curdle yer colts! So drop them gunbelts, yuh rawhide-rustlin’ rapscallions! I’m singing ‘bout two good ol’ red-blooded brothers, James n’ John Proudstar. ‘Course, later on, yuh’ll be knowin’ them as Warpath ‘n Thunderbird—till ol’ Thunderbird gives his life for his X-Men pards! As fer Warpath, what happened to his brother’ll haunt ‘im forever—and then some,” he says.
“But fer now, we’re luckier than a spotted hawg in a pile o’ mud, ‘cause we’re gonna git a shot at seein’ Warpath an’ Thunderbird together agin, as they battle t’save their tribe an’ their kinfolk from—but shoot, no need t’gnash muh gums tellin’ yuh when it’s all waiting down the road a’piece on the pages ahead! So gallop to it, hombres—it’s all yourn! Excelsior, y’all!”
A young James Proudstar, wearing a red bandana, white T-shirt, and blue jeans, casts a cockeyed gaze the cat up in his tree. A boy of eleven years old, James was born and raised on the Camp Verde Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona. Like many boys his age, he longs for a life of adventure and danger. Soon, he will learn the cost of such a wish.
James tells his cat, Coyote, that he’s been looking all over for him. What’s he doing up in the tree? Did Old Man Trueheart’s dog get loose again? He tells Coyote that he can’t stay out there all night, and warns the cat to not make him come after him. As he says this, however, the cat arches its back and hisses, as if spooked by a predator. Confused, James asks aloud what’s spooking the cat. There’s nothing around there that can hurt him, he says.
In another few years, James senses will heighten dramatically, allowing him to distinguish the faintest sounds and most subtle smells. He will possess strength and speed beyond that of an ordinary man. This night, however, he remains blissfully unaware of the strange creature looming behind him.
The large, canine creature outstretches its arms and reaches for James, sporting a sinister smile on its face. James still doesn’t notice it. However, when the creature speaks James’s name aloud, it finally gets his attention. The startled boy gulps, asks who’s there, and begins to turn around. As he does this, Coyote, his loyal cat, lunges at the creature from his perch in the tree. The creature cries out as the cat’s claws dig into its face. As Coyote buries its claws into the monstrous beast, James Proudstar takes advantage of the distraction to run.
Flinging Coyote aside, the creature claims that James cannot escape him. James pleads for the monster to stay away from him as he winds his way through the canyon. He’s got to get out of there, he thinks, and just hope the monster doesn’t know the canyon like he does! While inching his way across a precarious ledge, he realizes that he never quite noticed how far away his house was—but he can’t stop. He’s got to keep running, even though his legs are starting to cramp and he feels like he’s about to drop.
As he nears his house, he braces himself and decides to glance back over his shoulder, just to see if that thing is still behind him. Without breaking his pace, he turns his head to check his rear, praying that the creature, whatever it is, is not still behind him. James is still running in this position when he runs directly into the figure of a burly man in a U.S. Marine Corps uniform.
Stunned, James falls to the ground and lands on his butt. The tall marine looks down at him. “Where do you think you’re goin’, runt?” he asks.
“You!” James replies, his eyes wide with excitement. “You’re back!” He leaps to his feet and hugs his big brother around the torso. It’s been only two years since John Proudstar left Camp Verde to join the Marines—but for James, it’s seemed like an eternity.
John tells his little brother that he got his walking papers two days earlier; he’s a civilian now. Changing subjects, he asks James why he was doing a roadrunner impression. He was practically flying, he says!
Immediately, James unleashes his hyperactive account of what just happened in the canyon. At an incomprehensible pace, he tells John all about the monster in the canyon, how Coyote attacked it, and how he got away. John asks his little brother to slow down; is he really telling him there’s a monster in the canyon? And to think, he thought grandpa was the storyteller in their family. Well, if there is something out there, John says, he’s sure it was no match for the mighty Coyote. He picks up the cat from the ground and begins stroking its back. The cat purrs with delight.
As they walk inside their home—a modest mobile unit with a wooden porch—James laments that his brother doesn’t believe him. “Next time you run into any monsters, runt,” John says, “—tell ‘em your big brother said to leave you alone—‘cause I’m the only one who gets to pick on you.”
Soon after, inside the Proudstar family home, Neal and Maria Proudstar welcome their prodigal son home. As Maria sets a large, cooked turkey on the table, Neal lovingly places his arm around her shoulder, tells her it looks great, and asks what the occasion is. Smiling, Maria tells him not to be silly; he knows she wanted to celebrate John’s homecoming. After all, she hasn’t been able to cook for her oldest son for two whole years. She has no idea how much he missed her cooking, John says; they served food in the mess hall he wouldn’t feed to Coyote.
Neal asks him how he liked the Marines, otherwise. It was a lot of work, John says, but nothing he couldn’t handle. He’s had his fill of taking orders, though. It’s hard to imagine John listening to anybody, James remarks. John whacks him upside the head for that crack, as older brothers are prone to do.
Setting a plate down between them, Maria reminds them not to play like that at the dinner table. This is just like old times, she says.
Bringing it back on topic, Neal Proudstar recalls that when he was in the army, he couldn’t stand most of the officers—except for Lt. Ross, who never forgot what it was like to be a grunt. He wonders what ever happened to old ‘Thunderbolt.’
John’s grandfather, while lighting his pipe at the table, interjects that he doesn’t understand why any Apache would put his life on the line for the United States government. Neal angrily reminds his father that he was drafted. John adds that he just wanted to get off the reservation and see the world—prove himself as a true Apache. Now that he’s done that, he’s glad to be back home.
After midnight, John Proudstar is restless. He has long sensed that he was different—different from his fellow tribesmen. He doesn’t know yet that he is a mutant—that his singular strength and endurance come as the result of the X-factor encoded in his DNA. What he does know is that—deep in his heart, in a place he would never admit exists—that difference frightens him.
His mom approaches him as he leans on a wooden fence. Can’t sleep, she asks? He tells her he wanted to look at the stars; they’re finally where they ought to be. When he was stationed overseas, he tells her, everything felt turned around. He never felt comfortable, like he belonged. Maria tells him how glad she is he made it home safely.
John, however, admits to his mom that he almost didn’t make it back. He never told her, because he didn’t want her to worry, but one night, his unit was skirting a thunderstorm on its way back to Guantanamo when the storm shifted suddenly. Lightning hit one of their engines and they nosedived into the Caribbean. John managed to get the pilot and himself on a lifeboat, but the waters were rough. He had figured they would probably drown before anyone could rescue them. Then suddenly, the sky opened up with a roar of thunder, and he saw—he could swear he saw—a great bird of lightning above him. That signaled the storm’s end, and he knew everything was okay.
As he hugs his mother, he tells her that he bets grandpa would say he had finally found his totem. Maria begins to cry. John tells her there’s no need for tears; he’s home, right? The Proudstars are survivors. Through her tears, Maria tells John there’s something she has kept from him as well: while he was away, she found out she has cancer. John is understandably startled at this news.
The next day, John, James and Maria head into town to the Camp Verde Medical Clinic. As John helps his mother out of the truck, she thanks him, but tells him it isn’t necessary. She may be sick, but she’s not an invalid, she says. John laughs and tells her he just wants to make sure she gets the best treatment possible.
Inside the clinic, Maria introduces John to her doctor, Dr. Edwin Martynec, a young, bespectacled man with a ponytail. Ah, yes, Dr. Martynec says—the soldier she’s been telling him about. After asking the Dr. Martynec not to take offense, John bluntly asks him if he’s sure about this cancer thing; after all, Martynec doesn’t look much older than he does. Dr. Martynec realizes John wants to grasp at any hope, and he’s certainly welcome to get a second opinion, but they’ll just tell him the same thing: his mother suffers from an advanced case of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Is it terminal, John asks? Putting his hand on John’s shoulder, Edwin tells him they’re going to begin an intensive program of radiation and chemotherapy—but at the current stage—he has to be honest that the chances are slim. John hangs his head.
Outside, John punches the side of his family’s truck in order to vent his anger. The force of the punch momentarily lifts the vehicle off the ground. While he does this, a man wearing a cowboy hat watches him from his porch. John Proudstar is finally back from the Marines, the mysterious man thinks. He guesses it’s time he and John had themselves a little conversation—although he’s not going to like what he tells him.
Meanwhile, on the nearby Interstate 40, a family sedan adorned with bumper stickers cruises down the road, leaving a cloud of dust in its wake. The radio blares ‘Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Cowboys’ before the woman in the passenger seat changes it to a different station playing ‘Muskrat Love.’ The man in the driver seat reaches over and changes it back to the country song. Bearing a lit cigar in his fingers, he asks her if he said she could change the music. Angered, she tells her husband, Lou, that they’ve been listening to his country garbage for two days. Lou tells his wife, Mandy, that he happens to like Willie Nelson. Oh please, she sighs; when did he turn into an urban cowboy?
In the backseat, young Tabitha Smith endures the ninth day of her family vacation. Clutching her toy, she tells herself that if she knew how to drive, she would steal a car just so she didn’t have to listen to her dad and Mandy argue anymore. She doesn’t understand why they ever got married in the first place. They’re always screaming at each other—that is, when they’re not screaming at her.
Their travels take near a traveling carnival currently stationed near Camp Verde. Her parents decide to stop; they don’t get to see genuine roadside carnivals anymore.
Inside the carnival, Tabitha remarks that she’s thirsty. Lou generously gives her a couple of bucks, and tells her to go get whatever she wants. He’s spoiling her, Mandy remarks. Lou tells her not to start with him.
Elsewhere on the midway, John Proudstar leads his kid brother through the crowd by the hand. Abruptly, James looks up at his brother and tells him that he knows dad only told him to take him there because he doesn’t want to talk about their mom. Smiling at his little brother, John tells him he’s smarter than he looks. James replies he’s almost twelve; it’s not like he’s a kid anymore.
Changing subjects, he asks John if he wants to ride the tilt-a-whirl with him. Sure, John shrugs. Suddenly, he spots an old acquaintance of his named Susie Littlewing—and comments that she sure grew up nice. Annoyed, James tells his brother he supposes he’d rather hang out with those girls than with his little brother. He adds that he knows John is upset about their mom, too. As John waves him goodbye, he once again remarks that James is smarter than he looks.
James storms off, snidely remarking that his big brother doesn’t need to worry about him. He doesn’t need him! “Girls,” he groans. “Hmmph.”
Later, John tries to find James, but can’t. He supposes he’ll be easy enough to find, though. He bets he made a beeline for the roller coaster. Best he has some fun now, while he can, he thinks; if their mom gets bad, it’s gonna be toughest on him.
As John reaches into his pocket to pay for a soda, someone slaps down some cash on the counter and tells him he’s got it covered. John turns to see his old friend Michael Whitecloud, dressed in a cowboy hat and jacket. After greeting him, John asks him if he’s still working at the newspaper in Phoenix. Nah, Whitecloud replies. They said his reporting was too radical for their readership—meaning the publisher didn’t want him accusing his country club pals of crimes in his paper. Well, money talks, John replies.
Changing subjects, Michael tells John he heard about his mother, and that he thinks there’s something he should know. “Don’t tell me my mother’s cancer is one of your conspiracies,” John says. In lieu of answering, Whitecloud produces a folder from inside his jacket and tells Proudstar to take a look at it. John does, and realizes they are medical records. Whitecloud proceeds to tell him that every Apache in Camp Verde diagnosed with cancer in the previous three years has had their labwork sent to a place called Arroyo Laboratories. When John asks why that matters, Michael tells him most medical laboratories aren’t surrounded by electrical fences. Something is wrong with the picture, Whitecloud adds; he wants to break into Arroyo, and he needs Proudstar’s help to do it.
Elsewhere, young Tabitha Smith wanders by a tiger on display in a cage. She asks the kitty if it thinks it has it bad in the cage. Try spending two weeks in the backseat of her dad’s station wagon, she tells it.
Nearby, the tiger’s trainer, Clem, argues with a colleague who tells him he needs to take the tiger, Kimba, out of the show. The cat has been too temperamental lately to trust in front of an audience. Clem refuses to sideline Kimba. Without the tiger, he loses half of his act.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, may I have your attention please,” a bold voice suddenly rings out. “Prepare to be amazed as the Tiboldt Carnival of Wonder presents—the wondrous warlock, the sorcerer supreme, the one and only—Chondu the Magician!” The smiling Chondu appears in a puff of pink smoke and immediately begins his act. Releasing a pair of doves, he says the ancient masters in the Himalayas taught him the secret arts through which dreams become reality.
In the audience, one onlooker asks his friend where she thinks the magician stashes the pigeons. The woman asks her friend who cares. Figuring out the trick just spoils the magic, she says.
Tabitha is much less cynical, and stands awestruck at the performance. The announcer once again addresses the crowd, telling them they have only glimpsed a fraction of Chondu’s mind-boggling mystical talent. Fortunately, Chondu performs his act in its otherworldly entirety in a mere fifteen minutes! They should purchase their tickets now, he adds, because they’re going fast!
Meanwhile, James wanders behind the crowd in front of Chondu’s stage. As he does so, he catches a glimpse of the shirt the young Tabitha Smith is wearing. He notes that it’s a Wacky World T-shirt, and wonders if the place is as great as it seems on TV.
Moving on, he wanders into a fortune-teller’s tent. The fortune-teller addresses him as he enters, remarking that he seems lost and without direction. “Let Madame Destiny part the curtain of tomorrow and show you your future,” she says.
Skeptical, James asks for clarification: she’s going to tell him his future by looking into a crystal ball? He doubts her. “A skeptic, eh? Well, then, I’ll make a deal with you,” Madame Destiny replies. “If you don’t believe your fortune, you don’t have to pay. All I need is your hand.”
Reluctantly, James agrees, and sits across the table from the mysterious, blind woman. He holds out his hand. As she takes it, she tells him that she senses he is very close to his brother—an older brother. His brother is very thick-skinned, but underneath that hardened exterior is a very giving soul—in fact, he will…
Suddenly, Madame Destiny gasps and stops speaking. Jerking his hand back, the incredulous James asks if something is wrong. When she remains silent, he asks her to please say something; she’s scaring him!
Madame Destiny begins muttering something about the future she really sees. In it, an older John Proudstar, dressed in his Thunderbird costume he one day wears with the X-Men, perches atop a fighter jet and punches the windshield as it crashes into the ground, erupting in flames. Madame Destiny does not reveal this vision to James, though. Apologizing, she claims she sometimes has faint spells. Resuming her service, she tells James he will become a man of the world, and have many wonderful adventures to tell his many children. Sensing his continued skepticism, she bluntly remarks that he isn’t buying any of it.
Smirking, James tells her she’s correct; it sounds like she’s just making it up. He bets she’s not even blind. He’s a smart boy, Madame Destiny tells him. She asks him to promise it will be their little secret. This is her job, after all. No problem, James says as he exits the tent. Just before he leaves, however, Madame Destiny tells him one last thing: to take good care of his brother.
After the boy exits the tent, a striking woman steps out of the shadows. “You lied to the boy, Irene,” Mystique says. “You of all people truly have a gift of prescience. What did you really see in his future?”
With her head buried in her hands, Irene tells Raven that she saw the death of the boy’s brother—and sensed that even more tragedy would follow that loss. Her foresight is no gift, she says to Raven. Sometimes it’s a terrible, terrible burden.
Gently touching her partner, the blue-skinned Mystique tells Destiny to let it go. She has wasted too much of her talent in this two0bit carnival. Destiny reminds her she had no choice; there are far too many people in this world who would use her abilities for their own purposes. She’ll never have to do this again, Mystique swears. They have bigger things ahead of them.
Outside the tent, meanwhile, James reunites with his older brother. When John asks if he’s having a good time, James shrugs and tells him he saw some cheesy magician and then a blind lady read his fortune. Incredulous, John asks his brother if he realizes that’s a con; nobody can really tell the future, he says. James says he knows, but adds that the woman was nice. Changing subjects, he asks John if that was Michael Whitecloud he saw speaking to him.
Suddenly, someone’s scream pierces the ambient noise of the carnival. John guesses that somebody must be hurt, but then immediately realizes it’s worse than that: the tiger, Kimba, has attacked its trainer and escaped captivity. Clem, the trainer, lies bleeding on the ground. He begs someone to call an ambulance, and laments that his colleague Jeb was right about the tiger.
James is unfazed. He looks straight at the tiger and remarks how cool it is! The scared onlookers realize the tiger is looking their way, and begin to run. At that point, James realizes he is closer to the cat than he would like to be. His older brother steps between them, shielding James’s body with his own. He’d better get behind him, he tells James, before the tiger attacks!
Just as he says that, the tiger leaps in his direction, its claws and fangs bared. It is a potent combination of adrenaline surge and brotherly love that moves John Proudstar into the wild cat’s path—but it is also something more that enables him to engage a snarling beast twice his weight. It is the knowledge that in the past four years, he has grown uncommonly strong and fast.
The onlookers watch with their mouths agape while John Proudstar wrestles the tiger. Thankfully, another trainer steps up and readies his tranquilizer gun to put the animal to sleep. Apparently not grasping the degree of Proudstar’s feat, though, he asks John to stand still so he can get a good shot. Struggling, John replies that he’s doing the best he can. He repositions Kimba into a chokehold and orients the tiger into the trainer’s line of sight. Time for an afternoon nap, he tells Kimba. The man fires the tranquilizer dart right into the tiger’s hide. Afterward, he asks John how he managed to wrestle the tiger, and thanks him. John thanks the man in return—for not shooting him.
As John stands triumphant over the sleeping tiger, the crowd cheers. Some people assume it was all a staged part of the show. Some others in the crowd recognize John Proudstar. James, meanwhile, runs up to his brother. He can’t believe he took on a tiger barehanded! That was totally amazing, he says. He asks John if he thinks he will ever be as strong as him. John says he doesn’t know. In fact, he didn’t know even he was that strong. He was acting on pure instinct.
He starts to realize that everyone is looking at him like he’s some sort of freak. James corrects him; he’s not a freak, but a hero. As John walks away, he remarks that he doesn’t want to be a hero. He just wants to be left alone. He tells James they should get home before people start asking questions.
As they try to leave, the announcer from the magic show calls out for John to stop. His feat was absolutely phenomenal, he says. Handing John a card, he introduces himself as Maynard Tiboldt. The carnival may be strictly penny-ante, but he’ll be running a bigger show soon. If John ever dreamed about running away to the circus, he should call him. Curious, John reads the Maynard’s card, advertising “The Ringmaster’s Circle of Delight.’
Sometime later, John accompanies Michael Whitecloud to the Arroyo Medical Laboratory, located sixty miles north of Camp Verde. In the dead of night, John scales the outer wall. He doesn’t know how he let Whitecloud talk him into this, he thinks as he climbs the rope. Maybe he’s just in denial. Lots of people get cancer, he tells himself. It’s a part of life. Still, if Michael says something’s wrong with the place…and I can find something that will help mom…I’m willing to trust his instincts. Let’s just hope his instincts land me in jail for breaking and entering.
Once inside, Proudstar returns to the entrance and opens the front door for Whitecloud, who asks him what he’s been eating for breakfast. He’s never seen anyone scale a building that fast. Proudstar asks how often he sees people scaling buildings at all. Moving on, he tells Whitecloud to get inside.
As the two begin snooping around the lab, Proudstar remarks that, although he’s no expert, he doesn’t see anything resembling ordinary lab equipment. Whitecloud replies that he did some checking up on the place, and didn’t find it anywhere in the American Medical Association’s records.
Digging into the records, Whitecloud discovers that all the patient files contain two different sets of records for each subject. It looks like they’ve been doctored to show cancerous growths requiring radiation therapy, he says—and half of them have been signed by Dr. Edwin Martynec, John’s mother’s doctor.
Suddenly, John hears a noise, and realizes they are not alone. Reaching into the shadows, he pulls out the faint figure he spots. To his surprise, it’s his little brother, James. James asks him not to hit him. John, meanwhile, asks his brother how he got there. He saw him sneaking out of the house, so he hid in the back of the pickup, James answers. Instead of getting angry, John just accepts his brother’s presence, but reminds him he should not be there. They’d both better hope that their mother never finds out about this, he says—not to mention the authorities.
James asks what they’re doing in the lab anyway. The less he knows, the better, John replies, urging his brother to stay out of the way. As John examines a shelf filled with specimen tubes, however, his attention immediately reverts to the investigation. He beholds rows and rows of vials filled with strange creatures suspended in green liquid. He calls for Michael and exclaims he should get a look at them; some of them even look human. He wonders what they’ve stumbled upon. Michael, readying his camera, remarks that this discovery is big, and starts to get it on film.
“Take all the pictures you want,” a voice says to them from behind. “You won’t be leaving with them.” Whitecloud and John Proudstar turn around to face the new entrant into the room, and see Dr. Martynec, holding little James at gunpoint. Dr. Martynec calmly begins telling them that he has been studying the effects of concentrated radiation in animal and human tissue. They’re looking at his attempts to clone organs and animals from irradiated DNA. His methods aren’t exactly legal, he says, which is why he can’t let the three of them leave alive.
Enraged, John Proudstar accuses him of using his people as guinea pigs. Lunging headfirst at Edwin, he declares he shall do so no more! The force of his body knocks the doctor’s gun loose and sets James free. However, it has the unpleasant side-effect of triggering a transformation in Dr. Martynec—a transformation into a furry, canine creature. As he grips John’s face with his claw, he tells him he shouldn’t have done that. John’s strong, but not as strong as he is. The astounded John can barely speak, so Edwin finishes his sentences for him. He is changing, he says. “Under the correct circumstances, the human body will constantly evolve and adapt to its surroundings,” Dr. Martynec says. “Prolonged exposure to radiation has proven deadly in general—but in a small but significant number of cases, it’s catalyzed remarkable adaptations…like mine.” With his animal strength, he overpowers the elder Proudstar and forces him away from his body.
Suddenly, a gunshot echoes through the room. The bullet hits Edwin in the arm, and he screams. Across the room, the bewildered James Proudstar holds the smoking gun in his hands. After remarking that Dr. Martynec is the monster he saw in the canyon earlier, he asks if he’s dead.
“You wish, l’il Hiawatha,” the injured Edwin says. His wounds heal in a matter of hours, merely another benefit of his transformation. Wasting no time, John implores Michael Whitecloud to get his brother out of the lab and call the police. Although Michael worries that they will be the ones the police arrest when they arrive, John tells them he will take the heat; he just wants them out of there, right away. Someone needs to remain alive and free to expose what Martynec is doing. James refuses to go, but Whitecloud scoops him up in his arm and carries him toward the exit. He doesn’t give the screaming kid a choice.
After they escape, Martynec continues taunting Proudstar. He tells John that he may be genetically advanced himself; he’s much stronger and faster than normal men. That’s why he went after his little brother, after all. Martynec claims that their mother, Maria, was exposed to nuclear fallout from government tests when she was younger. He wanted to see how that exposure affected her children.
Martynec hoists a specimen container over his head and hurls it at Proudstar. As he dodges the attack, Proudstar asks Martynec who’s funding his research; he can’t be doing this alone. Martynec, reaching for a dial marked ‘gas main,’ tells John that he works for men who want to control the future of mutants. He’s twisted, John says. Martynec tells him it’s a living. Too bad he can’t let this work be discovered. Pulling a lighter from his jacket pocket, he prepares to light the flame. John asks what he’s doing—he’ll kill them both! In response, Martynec says that he can survive an explosion. He asks John if he thinks he can too.
With that, Martynec sparks the lighter, triggering a massive natural gas explosion. John barely reaches the warehouse door when the explosion throws him into the air. He lands hard on the broken asphalt, but he is alive.
One week later, Whitecloud pulls up to the Proudstar home and greets John in the driveway. When he asks how John is feeling, John replies that he’s worried; he’s been waiting for the cops to show up on his doorstep. He can relax, Michael says; they’re in the clear. The official story, according to Michael, is that the Arroyo lab explosion was caused by a broken gas main—and Martynec’s body was never found.
Leaning on the door of the convertible car, John remarks that he was wrong; Whitecloud has good reason to be paranoid. Michael asks how his mom is doing. John tells her she’s okay; apparently the whole diagnosis was a sham. She never even had leukemia. It seems the other patients in his care will be okay, too. After remarking how good that is to hear, Whitecloud urges John to watch his back. As for him, he’s off to New Mexico; he’s got a lead on some gamma bomb the Army is testing out there.
“See, I told you I wasn’t making things up,” James says after Whitecloud departs. “There really was a monster.” John tells his little brother he should have believed him; the only people one can trust is one’s family. “Yeah, it’s a good thing you got me around to protect you, huh?” James says, smiling.
“Protect me? You’re dreamin’, runt,” John says. James bounces his basketball off his head. The two begin playing basketball in the yard, laughing and smiling like brothers and best friends.
From the porch, their mother watches them while holding the family cat, Coyote. Look at them together, she says to the cat. “It’s been too long since they had the chance to laugh and play together, the way brothers should,” she says, “and if the spirits be willing, they will never be separated again.”