Some questions just keep showing up.
It’s true. No matter how many times I answer them, there's always new, enquiring minds to ask the old favourites again. And I'm not complaining; I'm lucky that folks continue to arrive to ask them.
And this one is a very good question.
For those beautiful folk of the late, lamented 28-day writing challenge, I present a classic tale * that will once and for all answer the troubling question raised in Hold On...
What is a Squiddrel?
[ * And yes, yes, some readers will recall that Max was actually called iDifficult in 2010. I've updated that in the text so you don't ask THAT question, too. ]
Is there anything on the scanner?
Nope. No sign of it yet.
I’m standing with my best friend Dr. Max Tunguska by a pedestrian crossing in my home town. We're both carrying a wide fishing net.
It's the summer of 1986.
This morning, it was 2010. It's strange, how some days turn out.
I sigh and scratch my false beard.
You’d think it’d be easy to locate a hybrid squid-squirrel.
We’ve refrained from using Max’s time tunnel since the infamous Kentucky Fried Dodo incident. But today, my friend’s escaped genetic experiment thought that the past was a terrific place to hide. So, pushing the deliciously extinct memory of Colonel Tunguska’s Secret Recipe with Eleven Different Herbs and Spices aside, we became chrononauts once again.
It’s odd, I muse to my friend, but this place looks much the same as it does in 2010.
The scientist looks up distractedly from his scanner and quickly takes in the surroundings. This narrow-but-busy road is on the edge of a picturesque, tree-strewn park. From the distance, the sound of excited springtime ducks on the boating lake reaches our ears.
Well, the park is Victorian by the look of it. This road is hemmed in by the park on one side and a river on the other... He shrugs, Not much reason or chance for change.
He sounds so sane at times.
I lean my fishing net against the wall next to me. Why did we have to disguise ourselves as tramps?
Oh, I couldn’t find the invisibility machine, comes the non sequitur reply. I probably left it switched on, he adds vaguely. I let a few seconds pass. No more information is forthcoming.
So...? I leave the question hanging.
Max looks round, realising with a start that I’m not following his train of thought. Oh. Yes. So... he waves his hands up and down to indicate our costumes. This was the next best thing. Virtually invisible.
As I puzzle on that, two figures come walking towards us, and move to use the crossing. They look familiar. Actually, very familiar. A tall, somewhat gangly youth, and a good-looking girl with a nice figure. I know that both are seventeen. She has a tight-lipped expression, but I remember all too well that she had a melting, killer smile when it suited her.
Good grief, that’s...
My friend hushes me with a pat on the arm and swigs from an empty decoy bottle of über-cider.
Young Indigo and haughty blonde Veronica wait for the traffic to stop in silence. They ignore us totally, which pleases me beyond words. I remember that we’d been arguing about something. We did a lot of that. I remember some timeless, fabulous moments, but those were the punctuation in something that could easily have been a life sentence for both of us.
The traffic slows and they start to cross, with him/me a step ahead. Her high heels click enticingly on the striped tarmac. As I pass the halted vehicle, I turn my head and raise an appreciative hand to the driver. He nods and raises a finger an inch off his steering wheel.
As I step off the crossing, she passes me and turns, stopping me in my tracks.
Why did you do that? she asks, with a hint of a demeaning sneer. I remember that too.
I look at her, my young face open and honest. An unkind person might describe it as gormless.
Sorry? Why did I do what?
She points at the car that’s pulling away. Wave at that car.
I look at my hand dumbly for the answer and then back to her. Seconds pass.
I was thanking the driver.
For what? It’s amazing how a simple question can sound like an accusation.
For stopping. Now, that sounds like an apology. Oh my, I've come along way since this.
Why? she demands sharply, incredulity on her lips, He had to stop. It’s a Pedestrian Crossing. It’s The Law.
I shrug, and wave a hand at the empty crossing.
Well, I still appreciated the fact that he stopped.
She stares at the young Indigo for a second, shakes her head, turns down the road, and strides away. The lad that is me stares at her retreating form with a thoughtful look on his face, and then hastens after her tapping heels.
Neither of them so much as glanced our way during this scene.
Wow, says Max, giving his own chin an itch. Did you two go out for long?
I nod sadly. Far too long. But this was close to the end. Actually, I think that was the moment I realised.
Realised? he says, briefly casting an eye my way before checking the scanner again.
Oh, why it wasn’t going to work. I half smile; there’s something curiously cathartic about seeing this moment again. I appreciated the kindness of others. She either expected it from them, or viewed it as weakness. It was the fundamental difference between us.
This draws his gaze again. He looks apologetic. Sorry to drag you here, matey.
No, no, it’s fine. In the distance, they’ve almost vanished. I suspect I’ll not be thinking of them again. They're gone now.
A cool breeze stirs the dense leafed canopy above us.
Suddenly, there’s a slow, pulsing beep from the scanner.
Hang on, hang on, says Max, I think we’ve got something.
Bleep..... bleep..... bleep.....
I look about, scanning the park beyond the wall as far as the lake. The ducks have fallen silent. I can see nothing.
By the way, I ask quietly, why did you cross a squid with a squirrel?
From the corner of my eye, I sense him looking blankly at me, as if I’d asked why he was using both feet for walking. I attempt to rephrase.
What I mean is... well, what was the driving impulse for the creation of a... I struggle to find an interesting way to combine the two words. Um, a squiddrel?
My friend coughs, perhaps embarrassed at my amateur hybri-nym.
Well, I had a working title of Arboreal Cephalopod. But... he fishes a dog-eared notebook from his pocket and scribbles something in pencil, But Squiddrel is way cooler. Thanks.
Yes, we’ve got him. He’s close. He swings about, focusing on the scanner. But I can’t get a bearing. His signal is obscured by something.
Behind Max, I’m aware of a wide, red-brown sine wave of fur moving towards us behind the park’s boundary wall. There’s an occasional flash of what looks like pink tentacles, and a low chittering. Absently, I pick up the net. Lost in concentration, my unhinged genius buddy seems oblivious to everything but the scanner’s heartbeat.
Beep beep beep
Um, was it a red squirrel? For the experiment?
It was actually, so he should be a doddle to spot. He adjusts a dial. Keep an eye out, he’s very close.
The red-pink flurry is twenty yards away now, its coarse fur breaching above the wall with increasing frequency.
Um, what sort of squid did you cross the squirrel with?
Well, the DNA was marked Mesonychoteuthis... his head tilts in scholarly recall, which I suppose makes it a Colossal Squid. Why do you ask?
I look at the inadequate net in my hands, and then across the park towards the lake.
Well... I thought we might go borrow some boating hooks. From the lake. You know, long, pointy ones. Just in case.
As we race across the park with the very devil at our heels, for some reason I’m laughing with all my heart.
I'd thought it would be easy enough to catch a hybrid squid-squirrel.
So perhaps today, like the first time round, is not my day.
But man, this is way more fun.
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