Published on December 2nd, 2013 | by Timothy Thomas McNeely


The Holly and the Ivy, Part 1

Beatrice and Amos ate their lunch staring outside at the pouring December rain. It rained all week, and was raining now on Saturday, as well.

The rain dripped off the bare December branches, the swing, the power lines. Amos dipped his fingers in his water glass and held them above it, dripping, too.

“Sorry about the zoo,” their mom had said. They were sorry. Their little brother Caleb had cried. He wanted to see the “willerbeasts” and the “ows.” He was only two years old, though, and already napping. When he woke up in a few hours, all would be forgotten.

“Let’s play Legos,” Amos said, eyes widening with anticipation. His hair was getting darker now that it was winter, and climbing over his ears. His round cheeks had a small smear of honey on them.

“No,” Beatrice said, and took another bite of her bread and jam sandwich. “And stop kicking the table.” Amos had a habit of this. Beatrice sat properly at the table. Her red-brown hair was pinned back on one side, and she leaned forward to avoid crumbs falling on her flower-print dress. Her dusting of freckles were fading away along with her memories of summer.

“Let’s play pirates,” Amos tried again.


“Build a fort?”


“No no no,” Amos said. He picked up an apple slice from the bowl between them and threw it at Beatrice.

“Hey! Ow!” She got up and hit Amos in the arm.

“Owwie!” Amos started crying. “Mommy! Bea hit me.”

“What’s happening out here?” their mother said, coming into the room from the kitchen. “Beatrice, did you hit your brother?”

“He threw an apple at me!”

Their mother looked indifferently at both of them and bent down, “Amos, did you throw an apple?”

“Bea kept saying ‘No,’ all the time. I want to go to the zoo.”

His mother ignored him and looked at Beatrice, who was attempting to look very innocent, back in her seat, eating her apples. “Beatrice, you can’t hit your brother.”

“But, Mommy, he tried to …” She tried to complain, but their mother spoke over her. “And Amos, you can’t throw things.”

Their mother took a deep breath and stood up. Their house seemed very small, the clouds very close, obscuring the view beyond the end of the block. “Listen,” she said. “Why don’t both of you eat one more apple and then go outside for a little while.”

“But, Mommy, it’s raining so much.”

“And you said we could watch something after lunch.”

“I know what I said, Amos. You can watch something after you’ve played outside for twenty minutes. Okay?”

“But, Mommy …”

“But, both of you eat one more apple, and then we’ll get your coats on and your rain boots, and you can go outside for just a little while.”

They both groaned.

Squirrel on the power lines.

Illustration by Rhett Thomas Nelson

Five minutes later they were outside, standing under the cherry tree. The cloudy day meant that it wasn’t too cold if they stayed mostly dry. Amos prodded the muddy ground under the swing, bare of grass where they skidded to stops in the summer. He carved deep ruts with his heel.

“Stop that,” Beatrice said.

“Why?” Amos looked up.

“Because you’ll get all muddy.”

“So?” Amos said, and continued to furrow.

“I wish it wasn’t raining,” Beatrice said. She looked at a chickadee above her in the tree, happily pulling at a section of bark.

“I wish it was snowing,” Amos said, looking up as well. He tried to catch a drop from the branch above him in his mouth. One landed in his eye. “Aw!”

“What happened?”

“Rain got in my eye.” He wiped at it some more.

Beatrice laughed at him.

Holding a hand over his right eye now, Amos made a face. “I’m a pirate!” he said. “I’ve got one eye! I’m a pirate! I’m going to walk the plank!” He started marching across the lawn.

“Pirates make other people walk the plank,” Beatrice said. “And you can’t play pirate in the rain.” She started walking toward the back door. She wanted to check the time on the clock inside to see if she could come in yet.

“Why not in the rain?” Amos said, following her. He began to sing, “What do you do with a scurvy pirate? Make them walk the … Hey!” he shouted, interrupting himself.

“What?” Beatrice said, and turned around just in time to see Amos running after a squirrel as it crossed the lawn.

“Hey! Stop!” Amos shouted at the squirrel.

Beatrice yelled, “Amos!” and ran after him.

The squirrel was carrying something in its mouth and bounding over the ground toward the holly tree.

“Stop! Pirate!” Amos commanded at the squirrel as it dove into a hole at the base of the tree. Amos stopped just before he ran into the trunk. He squatted down and looked at the hole. It was much larger than the squirrel, a space where another trunk might once have grown, almost big enough to fit his head.

“Pirate?” Beatrice said, catching up to him.

“He stole one of Daddy’s flower bulbs.” A few weeks before they had planted crocuses, tulips and irises around the yard and in two pots on the back porch. “He heard us talking about being pirates and so he stole one of the flowers right behind you.”

“Squirrels can’t be pirates. They don’t have boats,” she said, like she knew all about both squirrels and pirates. “And I didn’t want to play pirates.”

“Give back that flower!” Amos shouted into the hole. He stood up, picked up nearby stick , and hit the tree trunk. Thwack! This was a tall holly tree, nearly wild. It controlled one corner of their yard. They never went near it in summer because of all the prickly leaves on the ground. He hit it again. Thwack!

“Amos, stop it.” Beatrice said. “That won’t do anything.” But he kept on. It was fun.

Beatrice forgot about the rain and knelt down by the hole, trying to look inside. She’d never noticed it before. It was tucked  back, right next to the fence. She looked up, but saw nothing. She put her ear to the hole to listen. All she could hear was her brother still hitting the trunk with his stick. Thwack! Thwack!

She lay down on the ground and stuck her arm up carefully. “Stop it, Amos.” she said again. “Just a second.”

“What are you doing,” Amos said, pausing his attack. “Can I try?”

Beatrice closed her eyes. Her left arm was in the hole up to her shoulder now. She hadn’t yet thought what she might do if she felt something up there, and then she did feel something. It was a leaf, or many leaves. And there was a vine. She pulled on it, and she could feel the vine stretching up into the tree.

Amos was impatient. He got down beside her and reached his hand into the hole, too.

“Stop squishing me,” she said. Their faces were almost touching.

He reached up a bit more and touched the vine.

“Get! Up!” Beatrice screamed, right in his face.

In an instant, the vine wrapped around their hands and pulled them up into the tree.

They cried out and were surrounded by darkness.

Read “The Holly and the Ivy, Part 2” here.

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About the Author

Most days, Timothy Thomas McNeely leads federal and state education program reviews for the State of Washington. Born in Tacoma, he studied poetry and philosophy in Canada and the United Kingdom. He is editor of the Community and Literature sections for Post Defiance, and writes poetry and prose whenever he can. He and his family live in Tacoma. Find him on Twitter as @ttmcneely.

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