CHAPTER 13: Home, Planning, and Reinforced Bullies
This is quite extraordinary, Tyrentia,’ her grandfather said for what must have been at least the third time, staring at the ball of black fur clinging to her front as she sat across the supper table from him. ‘Utterly attached to you - in more ways than one - and so soon after you found it.’
‘I still don’t understand what made you two go for a walk when you knew we’d be home so soon,’ Raine complained.
‘We would have been back earlier but got held up a bit with Pip and everything,’ Hugh said.
‘Why do you call him Pip?’ Mrs Flynn wanted to know.
‘That’s his name,’ Tye answered briefly. The adults rolled their eyes at the ceiling.
Tye had instructed Hugh to stick as closely to the truth as possible when they explained why they were late and had Pip with them. ‘There was another larger animal that had been killed, and he was clinging to the body,’ was the way Hugh had put it. ‘He looked as if he might die too, but Tye won his trust and he came away with her.’
Parents and grandparents had immediately translated this in their minds as meaning that the other animal had been Pip’s mother, run over on the road. The two didn’t contradict them.
As soon as supper was over, Hugh said, ‘Will you excuse us, please. Tye and I want to go to my computer and check what sort of animal Pip is. More definition on that than on pads and stuff.’ ‘Don’t be long,’ Donald said. ‘There’s something important we haven’t told you yet, in all the excitement.’
After some frantic googling, Hugh said, ‘This is about as close as we’re going to come. A rare type of large red bush squirrel found in Ngoye Forest, not far away. Can you look a bit more like the pictures, Pip?’
Pip studied the monitor, said. ‘Yip,’ and converted to looking more squirrel-like - but still staying black, though. Unlike the humans, the sprite had kept wings on Adapting, but it became clear certain things could be changed at will. After Pip had crawled up over her shoulder to study Tye’s back, the wings had abruptly vanished.
‘Now,’ Tye said, ‘how on earth do we persuade your father to take us to Ummango but simply drop us there and let us do our own thing for a while? It’s going to be quite impossible.’
‘Dunno,’ Hugh responded. ’We have to think of something.’
On the way back to the sitting room they heard their names mentioned. Tye grabbed Hugh’s arm and held him back so that she could do a spot of eavesdropping, whether or not it made him uncomfortable.
‘… both Hugh and Tyrentia are a bit strange tonight,’ they heard Mrs Flynn say. ‘Far more upset than I would have imagined finding a dead animal with an orphan would account for.’ There were murmurs of agreement.
‘I saw all of you go into shock when you heard Hugh calling Tyrentia “Tye”,’ Donald put in. ‘Then, when I called her that without thinking, she nearly bit my head off.’
’It is a bit of a shock, indeed,’ Raine said. ‘I’m the only one she has allowed to use that pet name after … that is, the only one.’
‘Yes, we don’t dare, either,’ said her grandmother. ‘Anyway, they do seem good for one another. Tyrentia is just nicer, somehow, when they are together.’
‘Hugh is more lively and … I hate to say this, but it fits … more “normal” than he has been for ages,’ Donald said.
Hugh tore himself from Tye’s grasp and fled, blushing. Then he came back down the passage pretending to cough loudly.
‘Looks like one of the rare red squirrels from Ngoye,’ he said as he walked in, ‘only, er, rarer because of being bigger and blacker and fluffier.’
‘That’s unlikely,’ said Donald. He peered. ‘Oddly enough, though, he does seem more like a squirrel now. Maybe I didn’t see him properly before. At any rate, I know a way to find out for certain what he is.’ He took out his mobile phone. ‘Bongani Khumalo is a friend of mine who lectures in zoology and ecology at the university, and he lives just up the road.’
After a fairly short phone conversation, Donald told them that his friend was excited at the news, and was on his way over to see for himself.
‘Anyway,’ said Tye, ‘I’m going to have to take home schooling again. I can’t leave Pip. He simply won’t be parted from me.’
‘Oh, no you aren’t,’ Raine said in a definite tone of voice. ‘You will be going to school tomorrow, and that’s that!’
The argument was still raging when Professor Khumalo arrived, still in a state of excitement which increased even further as soon as he set eyes on Pip.
Hugh and Tye left it to the adults to give him their versions of where and how Pip had become attached to Tye. The Professor then conducted as much of an examination as a highly annoyed Pip would allow.
Then they ran a short demonstration, where Hugh tried to take Pip from her and got snarled at furiously, and when she put the ‘squirrel’ down and tried to leave the room without it, when it obligingly gave an act of going completely frantic.
After that the Professor accepted a drink, sat back comfortably, and said, ’There is no doubt in my mind that this is a rare member of an already endangered branch of the local Paraxerus palliates ornatus squirrel family, showing some lucifer characteristics. As such, every care must be taken to keep it safe and happy. It is obvious that it has bonded closely with Tyrentia here, and she is right not to want to risk upsetting it in any way.’
He paused for thought, and for a good swig of his drink. ‘What I suggest,’ he went on, ‘is that I provide a letter to Tyrentia’s school to stress how important it is that an exception to their rules be made in her case until we are sure the animal will not be subjected to undue stress by being parted from her.’
After he had done some scribbling he wanted them to take him to where the body of the other one was. Hugh thought fast, and then said that it had somehow vanished.
‘Pity, that. A scavenger, no doubt,’ said the professor.
As soon as their visitor had taken his leave Donald declared, ‘And now, what I have been trying to tell you two all evening is that, quite unexpectedly, Raine and I have to fly to Johannesburg tomorrow for a vital set of business meetings which will last over the whole long weekend until Tuesday. The Flynns have kindly agreed to have you as a guest during that time, Hugh, so you and Tyrentia will go straight there after school.’
Hugh gave a start, and got a gleam in his eye, but Tye was ahead of him.
‘I think it would be a better idea,’ she said with elaborate casualness, ‘if I come back here with Hugh and we help Happiness look after the place. It’ll give Gran and Grandpa a break, and it’ll give us a real chance to see if we can get on together as family.’
Donald and Raine looked doubtful, but the Flynns looked shocked. ‘Most improper,’ said Mrs Flynn.
Perversely, Donald and Raine seemed to become less doubtful after the Flynn’s reaction.
Hugh put on a hurt expression. ‘Well, of course,’ he said reproachfully, ‘if you think you can’t trust us not to get up to mischief …’
‘Oh, I don’t see why not,’ Raine said suddenly, and Donald shrugged.
‘As long as you don’t make extra work for Happiness,’ he said. ‘And keep everything tidy, yourselves. Remember, she’s off on Saturday afternoon and Sunday.’
‘We’ll manage,’ Hugh and Tye managed to say at exactly the same instant, which managed to get a smile from their audience – even the still-disapproving Flynns.
When the Flynn family were walking to their car a bit later, they disturbed a hadeda ibis roosting in a tree above, and the bird uttered a loud, ‘Haaa!’
‘Why are you crying, Tye?’ asked a bewildered Raine, sitting next to her daughter in the back seat as they drove home. Pip was also uttering pathetic squeaks.
‘J-just that something reminded me of s-someone,’ Tye sobbed, and that was all her mother could get out of her.
Hugh took an early bus to school to meet Tye, who had done the same. Other early arrivals looked in great astonishment as she marched in with Pip on her shoulder – the ‘squirrel’ showing a lively interest in the scene. The two headed directly for the principal’s office. He was already there, and the school secretary ushered them into his presence immediately, blinking a good deal.
The minute the principal saw Pip, he looked as if he were about to explode. He took in a deep breath to do it with, but Tye handed him the professor’s letter and he let it out again while he read. He had a deepening frown, though, and Hugh could see another pre-explosion breath starting to happen.
‘Isn’t it just the most amazing opportunity,’ he said enthusiastically, ‘to show what you have been saying about the importance of conservation and all that? I mean, when an exception can be made to a strict rule for such a good reason?’
The second breath was also released harmlessly while the principal gave some deep thought. Then he nodded. ‘I’ll allow it on a trial basis, provided it does not provide any nuisance or distraction in classes, and provided no other children start regarding it as a precedent. By the way, Redcorn, I have been provided with some good reports lately about how you are applying yourself. Keep it up.’
‘That’s provided for that!’ Tye giggled to Hugh as they made their way down the corridor.
In an announcement of the concession a little later at Assembly, the principal made it abundantly clear that anyone else who thought it would be a good idea to try bringing animals to school, endangered or not, would find themselves rethinking the matter during detention.
Before classes started Tye got permission to give a little speech from in front of the blackboard, when she begged everyone not to let themselves be distracted by Pip or he and she would be thrown out. Everyone co-operated well except a couple of the naughtier ones - but they were quickly brought in line by their classmates.
At the end of the lesson before big break, Hugh was asked to stay behind with a couple of others to have a maths problem explained to them. With her mind still on Breena from the recent past and Darx Circle from the near future, Tye was hardly conscious of her surroundings as she wandered out into the playgrounds. She soon regretted that.
‘Let’s prove the rat is quite happy to be away from her,’ came the hated voice of Brian Simpkins, and he stood in her way and leered at her. ‘Grab her, Sipho; Ben!’
Tye’s arms were seized from either side.
‘Frik; Bongi; get her ankles. She kicks!’
She felt herself half-lifted as her legs were held from behind. It was clear that Brian had recruited some reinforcements for his gang of troublemakers.
‘Now …’ Brian sneered, reaching for Pip.
The little creature snarled, somehow not looking so little any more, and revealing a set of fangs more like those of a wolf than a squirrel. Tye felt the body tensing to leap. ‘Don’t scratch or bite!’ she warned urgently. Even in such a crisis she was able to think quickly enough to realise that if Brian or any of his gang showed bite- or claw-marks later, it would provide a problem.
Pip paused for a fraction of a second, and then launched past the reaching hand and straight at the leering face. It felt to Brian more as if he had been hit with a large sandbag than by the body of a small animal. He staggered backwards and sat down hard.
In one fluid movement, Pip sprang back and up onto Tye’s shoulder, and from there plummeted down at the crouching Frik. To Frik, also, it felt as if a large solid weight had hit his neck and upper back. His face went into the dirt, and he let go of the ankle.
That was enough for Tye. She aimed a vicious downward kick at Sipho’s shin, and as he gave a yelp of agony and released her arm, she swung the heel of her hand across her body to connect with Ben’s nose for the second time in a matter of days. He let go, too, with his attention now fully taken up with bleeding.
Letting go had become fashionable. Bongi had done it, too, and was backing away in terror, screaming, ‘Devil tokoloshe!’ while Pip made a series of threatening darts at him.
To hit somebody when they are down may be frowned upon as being unsporting, but Tye decided five against one - or against two, to be accurate, as Pip had done most of the damage - cancelled that out. She stepped up to where Brian was trying to get back on his feet, and delivered a solid and well-aimed kick. He lay down, doubled-up, and making a strangled squeaking sound.
‘I would strongly suggest that all of you bunch of verminous sewage scum keep well clear of me in the future,’ she said, thinking Hugh would be proud of her if he could hear her language.
He had, and he was. The maths explanation hadn’t taken long. ‘Good advice, that,’ he said, smacking the side of Bongi’s head hard while on his way past him to deliver some slaps to the face of Frik. Frik had just got up, but lay down again promptly. ‘Tye might allow Pip to become rough with you, and after that I might want a turn and not be in a good mood like now.’
‘Time to leave,’ Tye warned, and called Pip. The beginnings of a crowd had started gathering, and prefects were approaching. She and Hugh strolled off casually, with Pip back on her shoulder looking particularly innocent-little-squirrel-ish.
‘Look,’ Hugh laughed. ‘Everyone thinks they have been fighting amongst themselves, and they’re getting gated for it.’
‘That’s good poetic justice,’ Tye said. ‘Why is it that some people simply won’t learn not to be nasty, though? No wonder history repeats itself like this: the same mistakes lead to the same results. Actually, though, you’ve become a bit nastier yourself. I like it more than your silly wimpy ways.’
‘I guess I’m going to need all the practice I can get in being that, on this little adventure,’ Hugh observed grimly, thinking again of recent events.
‘Anyway,’ said Tye, going into her best bossy mode, ‘we have a lot of thinking and planning to do if we’re going to make full use of these amazing coincidences that have been acting in our favour so far. They should be a great help towards letting us get to Ummango in time.’
‘I think I have some ideas to work on, for that,’ said Hugh. ‘For starters, we need to have your bike handy, and then …’