Title: The Safe Way In
Author: Strega
© 2003
All rights reserved. This story is not to be reprinted, or redistributed without the author's permission.
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The safe way in

By Strega

"And it's safe?"

Trashdigger sighed. It was an impressive sigh, since though he was thin to the point of gauntness and mangy of pelt, he was nine feet tall. "Carlos…you know it's safe. How many times do I have to take someone across and let them out before you believe me?"

The drug-dealer hesitated. "I haven't heard back from everyone you've taken across. A few never reported back." He looked the werecoyote up and down, and the two Uzi-armed thugs behind him came to full alertness.

Trashdigger chose his words carefully. He didn't smell silver, but a clip of lead bullets could put a serious hurt on him if the increasingly paranoid druggie decided he was untrustworthy. "Maybe they got rounded up by the federales. I don't keep track of them once I cough them back up. Look, what would it take to convince you it's safe?"

The druggie frowned. "You." He pointed at the closer thug. "Give me your gun."

The thug, looking a bit puzzled, handed over the Uzi. "And the other." With an increasingly worried expression, a pistol was handed over as well. "Now step up here."

Trashdigger guessed what Carlos was going to say next, and stepped up to meet the thug. "Swallow him," the druggie said.

"But boss --"

"Be silent." Carlos looked at Trashdigger. "I told you to swallow him. Then we will see how 'safe' it is."

Trash shrugged, and yawned. His narrow, almost foxish muzzle strained wide, then wider still, and a great vista of purple-pink gams and yellowed fangs opened over the thug. As Trash leaned downward, his maw continued to distend: his upper and lower jaws stayed the same size, but somehow his cheeks stretched until his mouth was more than wide enough to take in the man's head and shoulders. A purple tunnel of gullet dripped saliva on the man's face as he pushed his muzzle down --

The thug cursed and tried to duck out of the way, but it was too late. The descending maw cut off his retreat, pressed him down toward the floor and engulfed him alive. A moment later, Trash stood back up, his neck vastly swelled and a pair of kicking feet in cheap tennis shoes sticking past his lips.

He didn't wait for further instructions, but swallowed. Thin-stretched neckfur ripped, echoing the movements of his powerful swallowing muscles. A muffled squeak might have been the last protest of the thug, or some bone in his torso shifting, and the bulge worked its way rapidly downward.

But as it passed through his ribcage, with its rails of rib showing through the thin pelt, something happened to it. The bulge somehow drained away, vanishing bit by bit as it moved past the ribs. In seconds, the swelling was gone entirely.

Trash stood back up and yawned, working his lower jaw from side to side until it popped back into place. Without so much as a hiccup, and certainly without any trace of the massive belly he should have right now, he smiled. "See?"

Carlos reached out wonderingly, running his hand over the Bone Gnawer's washboard ribcage. There was so little muscle on the nine-foot werecoyote that the muscular thug probably weighed half what Trash did, and yet the man was gone. Swallowed and somehow…vanished. The coyote was every bit as sunken of belly as he'd been before he fed.

"He's still alive? Where did he go?"

"Into a place called the Umbra. It's sort of a spirit world. This trick creates a spirit 'stomach' that's more like a storage sack. It's not actually connected to my body, and it can't digest anything. All I can do is hide things there, and cough them back up later. Eventually I have to cough them up. In about eighteen hours, max."

"And he can breathe?"

"I've never been in there myself -- wouldn't that be a party trick? -- but they come back up alive, and undamaged. So I guess they can."

"So." He druggie gestured him toward the next room. "Do you watch football?"

It turned out to be soccer, but Trash slumped into a beaten-up sofa anyway. As far as he was concerned soccer was a boring game, but Carlos wanted him to watch it.

So he watched, drinking a can or two of awful Mexican beer. By the time the game finally ended (0-1), the sun had set behind the blinds. He looked at the watch on his wiry, furry wrist. "I have to meet the other two I am taking across soon. I suppose you want me to…."

He trailed off as he realized both Uzis were pointed at him. "…Throw him back up…?"

Carlos nodded. "One hopes he will be intact."

Trash shrugged, and retched. He didn't bother to stand up, just leaning over the coffee table and heaving. At first, his hollow belly sank in without result, and the sound of dry heaves filled the room. But on the third retch, his ribcage began to bulge again.

The swelling moved upward, expanding, and soon his throat swelled around a melon-shaped bulge. A larger bulge just below it announced the thug's shoulders. As his jaws once more gaped wide, a damp face appeared between them, the man's open mouth letting out a pitiful wail as it emerged from the gullet.

With a last, powerful heave, he spewed the man out onto the carpet. Gravity helped, and in less than two seconds the entire body, head to sneakers, thumped damply on the rug. Trash sat back, popped his jaws into place, and nodded to Carlos as the freed thug crawled away.

"Well, I suppose…" The druggie watched the man make it to his feet and bolt from the room, "He seems intact enough."

Trash shrugged. "I can't help that he's scared. He probably thought he was going to be coyote shit." He looked at his watch again. "Carlos, I gotta go. I have two paying customers waiting."

"Wait." Carlos went into the other room and came back with a briefcase. Trash waited while the druggie stuffed his pockets with a wallet, car keys, and what was probably a forged passport. "Now you," he pointed to the remaining thug, "Come with me."

The two men left the Uzis, stuffed their pistols into their waistbands and followed Trash through the streets until they reached the werecoyote's meeting place. It was, in fact, just a rented room over a souvenir shop. Laredo had hundreds of souvenir shops, given that it was right across the river from the identically named Texas town.

A man and woman were waiting for Trash at the door, and followed the three of them in.

Few words passed between the werecoyote and the two would-be illegal émigrés. They simply handed him a few bills each (American money) and, carrying little more than a backpack each, closed their eyes and waited.

The woman first: Trash yawned, leaned down until her head and upper body were forced into his gullet, and with a single economical grab-and-toss of his muzzle, swallowed her in one gulp. One sandal popped off as her feet slid out of sight, but he caught it and tossed it in after her. The man didn't even open his eyes, but waited for -- and soon received -- a similarly rapid trip down the werecoyote's throat.

Again, Trash's sunken belly revealed not the slightest bulge. Carlos gave the mangy belly a look, then pointed at the thug. "You next."

Trash pointed at the man's pistol. "I don't know what would happen if you fired that in there. Probably nothing good. You might poke a hole in the 'sack' and end up lost in the Umbra." The man just nodded, sweat running down his face as Trash leaned down --

Gulp. And then there was one. "Where do you want me to drop you off?"

"I have a car waiting at Santa Maria and Farragut. Anywhere near there."

"With a driver? If I have to dodge the federales it may be a few hours."

"I drive myself." Carlos said, and with that, Trash yawned one last time.


Besides the river, which had its share of small and large boats (Laredo, despite its inland location, was used as a port by both Mexico and the U.S.), the main access from Laredo, Mexico to Laredo, Texas, was the bridge. The highway had customs booths at each end of the span, of course, and anyone using the footpaths likewise had to pass through customs.

The inspectors on both sides knew the smelly, towering Bone Gnawer well. "Ah jeez, Trash, couldn't you have had a bath while you were over there?" The guard waved a hand in front of his face dramatically.

The customs man was more professional. "Anything to declare?"

Trash hiccuped. "Two Tecate (cheap Mexican beer), a shot of whiskey and…eh…" He pulled the bottle out of his shorts-pocket, "…Some kind of cheap ass tequila I can't read the label of." A crass belch followed the hiccup, and he swayed.

The customs man (Bob, today) just waved him through. "Two beers, Right. Go sleep it off, furball. And take a shower!" After all, the werecoyote was wearing just the ragged cutoffs. There was literally no place for him to hide anything illicit unless he'd stuck it someplace unnatural. And the drug-sniffing dog hadn't reacted to the coyote save to whimper and back away.

There was also the point that he, Bob, had orders not to harass Trash. Something about not appearing to discriminate. Whatever the reason, though, the customs men had been told to treat the coyote just like anyone else, which is to say, to ignore him unless he did something really suspicious.

Trash wove through the crowd and out of the customs building. His gangly frame, however hunched-over and bony, still towered over anyone there, and he was given plenty of leeway. In moments, he was in town proper, and turned into an alley. He was most comfortable in alleys, even in this town where many of the people would wave to him rather than spit or run.

Three alleys into his travels, there was someone waiting for him.

"How many?" The man had on dark sunglasses, the deadest of dead giveaways.

"Two immigrants, a man and a woman with no possessions. And…Carlos, with drugs and a follower." The werecoyote's muzzle wore an anticipatory grin now.

"Carlos? You're kidding." The agent looked him up and down. "Where do you put it all?"

Trash's grin grew wider still. "I could show you sometime."

"No thanks," came the expected answer. "…Now, the two immigrants, they aren't important. As for Carlos and friend, well, sometimes these druggies drop out of sight with their drugs. If we'd caught then they'd have ended up in jail. Eventually. You know how slow and expensive the justice system is. But," the agent shrugged, "We can't catch them all."

"He has a car at Santa Maria and Farragut. I don't know what kind."

"Should be easy enough to figure out. I'll have a friend deal with it. Half an hour in a chop shop and no one will be able to identify it as his."

The agent handed the werecoyote a stack of bills, used twenties. It was only a thousand dollars, but the coyote had small needs and accepted it gratefully. "Next run is Thursday."

"Thursday, right." The man turned away. "Shame about Carlos getting away."



Trash paused in another alley, half a mile away, and retched. His gullet pulsed forcefully, grabbing the feet that emerged from the Umbra into his body and tugging them upward. The single shoe these feet wore told him who it was, and a final, massive heave spewed the woman out onto the pavement. She waited, shivering and fingering her wet hair, as the werecoyote regurgitated her…husband? Lover? Friend? Trash didn't know, or care.

The shoe was the last thing up. Trash was expert at keeping his various 'meals' separate in folds of his spirit 'stomach', and when he finished, everything that had gone down in those first two gulps had come back up.

He pointed. "La casa segura es esa manera, acerca de cien metros." The safe house is that way, about a hundred meters.

The two walked off without a backward glance. He'd never known their names, and unless they ended up back in Mexico and needed his services again, he likely never would. That had happened a time or two. One man he'd brought across four times now.

That duty discharged, he headed for his apartment. It was hardly fancier than the rented room across the river, but it did have a few things he liked. High ceilings, enough room for a king-sized mattress in one corner, and a bathroom large enough for a huge shower and what you might call an industrial-strength toilet.

His various illicit activities provided him with enough money to live better than this, if he chose. No more rooting through the garbage for his evening's meal for Trashdigger. He could buy his own. And he didn't have to be filthy and stinking all the time. He could just step into the shower, turn on the water and grab the big bottle of shampoo.

But he didn't. His stink was part of his image, and part of why people ignored him.

Ignored him, and underestimated him. That was useful when he needed to get through customs. Enough people on the far side of the river knew about his 'gift' that he made a decent living just smuggling immigrants across.

What wasn't as well known was that some of the people he swallowed and smuggled across never came back up again.

His belly was gaunt, sunken, his ribs exposed, his pelt filthy. He had the look of a half-starved scavenger. That look too was part of his image, and it was why he exercised so often and limited this sort of fun to only one or two times a month.

He retched. His gullet pulsed….

…But as the bulge of a head appeared in his throat, swelling his ribcage slightly, he didn't bring it up. He gulped it down.

It was obvious, really. Carlos had seen the bulge disappear as it passed his sternum. It was only a few inches from there to his stomach. Like others before him, the drug dealer had concluded that once in the Umbral 'stomach', the only way out was back up the werecoyote's throat and out.

That was the way the gift was meant to work. But it wasn't the only way it could work, if the Bone Gnawer in question had put a lot of thought and effort into finding another way.

The melon-shaped bulge of Carlos' head pushed downward, entirely out of the ribcage, through the remaining tightness of his throat. He knew it was Carlos, because he could feel how bald the head was. And now the heavy bulge slipped from the tightness, into a looseness.

Carlos' face emerged into Trashpicker's stomach, and the drug dealer instantly knew something was wrong. Harsh fumes bit at the man's nose, and the soft, clinging walls were coated with a caustic slime that stung his skin. Carlos did the only thing he could think of: he reached for his guns.

But already half of him was out of the roomy Umbral 'stomach' and into the werecoyote's gullet. If he had been going up that wet, fleshy tube, there would have been air to breathe. The simple fact of the coyote's own breathing would have guaranteed that.

Instead, his entire head was in Trashpicker's stomach, an environment never intended to sustain life. So instead of sucking in a desperate breath and struggling, his nostrils drew in only acidic slime. Instead of being able to grasp his either of the pistols (his own and the first thug's), his arms were trapped to the elbows in muscular werecoyote throat. He could hardly move his arms, and his fingers couldn't -- quite -- reach his weapons.

And Trash was swallowing him whole. Eagerly, hungrily, and with more than a bit of sadism, the werecoyote gulped, feeling his gullet pulse around his meal, feeling Carlos dragged inch by inch out of the Umbra and into his throat. His throat grabbed each inch and sent it forcefully south, and however much the druggie struggled, still he was pushed bit by bit into the hot folds of werecoyote stomach. By the time he made a second effort to reach his weapons, his hands had followed his torso into the gullet and were being forced strongly downward by powerful swallowing muscles. His wrists crossed over his navel, and he simply didn't have the strength to push them against the ripples travelling the opposite direction. His pistols did eventually follow him into the throat, but stayed tantalizingly just out of reach.

And in any case, his time was up. His mouth and nostrils were full of corrosive slime, his eyes were burning, and with a last frantic spasm that kicked his feet against the Umbral wall, he succumbed to the heat and darkness pressing in from all sides.

Trash felt the twitch, and knew what it was. His meal was no longer a thinking, breathing thing, but was now just a lump of meat and bone. This in no way changed his actions: he continued swallowing, forcefully and happily, until the man's feet were pulled out of the Umbral 'stomach', drawn into his throat, and sent downward to join the rest of him in the werecoyote's more fleshy -- and far less hospitable -- true belly.

His normally sunken-in midsection was swollen tight now, mangy pelt thin over the muscles that contained the ex-drug-dealer. Flesh, bone, clothes, weapons, wallet, money, and a briefcase of drugs lay in his stomach, which was filling with the caustic juices that would render it all into nutrients. Or, in the case of the metals and drugs into something that could pass safely though the coyote's innards. This was another one of Trashpicker's Gifts: He could digest anything.

He stroked his taut belly, smiling. The Federale who let him have the occasional undesirable for his own knew that nothing survived his gut. Oh yes, he could have retched up lifeless Carlos, taken the drugs and sold them himself. Most likely, he'd be caught doing it, though, and he knew it.

He was a creature of very simple needs. All he needed was a place to sleep, a few friends, the occasional drink, and, every once in a while, a truly full belly.

As he began to retch up the thug, and send him as well south to his doom, he was still smiling. By the time he slept tonight, two entire humans would lie in his stomach, rapidly digesting. If anyone in Mexico ever asked what happened to them, he could honestly say he retched them back up and never saw them again. And he could tell a more probing questioner, 'If I had done something to them, I would have had the drugs and money, right? Or they would have appeared in the courts.'

The thug, quicker to react than Carlos, managed to get a shot off before he ran out of air. The bullet burrowed through Trash's flesh and spat forth from his belly, causing him a momentary pang. But the wound closed almost at once, leaving Trash with a bloody spot on his fur as he gulped the strong, struggling man down. Just as he had expected, minutes after he began, his belly was swollen like a great fruit around the shapes of two men.

Now his night was done, and he retired to the beaten-up mattress. He allowed the two only one belch to mark their passing: just the air from their lungs, released as they expired. Now they were just food. When he woke in the morning, he would put his oversized toilet, with its oversized piping, to good use. He wouldn't go outside until the belly-bulge was entirely gone.

It really was an effective way to make someone you didn't like, or just someone you didn't care about, disappear. Or, in his case, a good way to get a wonderful meal with almost no chance of being caught.

As he settled down to sleep, he remembered an earlier conversation, and stroked his taut belly once more.

"I told you it was safe, Carlos. Perfectly safe."

He rolled over, full and sleepy.

"….For me…."

The end