Published on December 9th, 2013 | by Timothy Thomas McNeely


The Holly and the Ivy, Part 2

Read “The Holly and the Ivy, Part 1” here.

One frightening moment, an ivy vine entangled Beatrice and Amos’ arms, hauled them into the hole in the holly tree, and up its hollow interior. The next moment, they were free again.

The vine swung sideways, loosened its grip, and dropped them. In the dark they stood up on a hard surface of some sort, rough on top, and held each other tightly for a moment. It smelled of dry leaves, and there was a hint of spices in the air.

Beatrice saw a wall to her right and reached her hand out. What she touched was both rippled and smooth. “I think we’re inside the tree,” she said.

Amos sniffed. “What? Really?”

“I think so,” Beatrice said, almost in a whisper.

“Wow,” Amos said.

Their eyes adjusted quickly, and they could see they were in a cylindrical space that rose far above them and also dropped below the place they stood. At the bottom, they could see a small speck of light where the hole in the holly tree must be. The ivy vine hung down the center of it all. They saw that it disappeared above their heads in a tangle. The tree was largely hollow, but green still, and growing. Lines of sap traced some contours of the far wall. 

“How did we fit in here?” Beatrice asked the echoless air.

Across the tree from them there was a hole leading to light – the outside of the tree.

“Look!” Amos shouted, pointing to the hole. “Let’s go!” Immediately, he took off running toward the way out.

“Wait!” Beatrice shouted after him. “Amos!” She ran to catch up.

They stopped at the opening, caught in the bright light from outside. Below their feet was a branch, angling up as it joined the mass of other branches growing out of the tree. Their eyes readjusted. There were a thousand pointed green leaves and bright red berries on the tree, and just ahead on the branch stood a squirrel looking back at them. It stood on its hind legs and held the flower bulb in its front paws.

The squirrel was the same size as Amos, but the boy didn’t hesitate. “There it is! Pirate!” Amos yelled, and ran out of the hole and onto the branch.

Beatrice paused for just a second before she followed him, not because she was scared, but because she thought she’d heard the squirrel say, “Oh, no!” when it started to run away, and that wasn’t a squirrel sound she’d heard before. She started running.

Squirrel with tulip bulb

Illustration by Rhett Thomas Nelson

Out over the wide distance between the trunk and the tip of the branch they ran, and turned quickly to follow the squirrel, leaping from limb to limb. The squirrel turned again and ran back toward the center of the tree, and they hurried after. Amos’s coat sleeve caught on a spiky leaf, but he pulled himself out of the coat and kept running. Beatrice, trying to not bump into him, leaned out toward the leaves, and scratched the back of her hand so badly that it started to bleed.

Amos ran, head down, as fast as he could after the squirrel; Beatrice almost caught up to him just as the squirrel dove into an opening in a big tangle of ivy ringing the entire trunk at that point. Amos dove in, catching the squirrel by the tail. Beatrice stumbled after him, and all three fell  onto the smooth-tiled floor of a kitchen.

“Oh! Ow! Get off!” the squirrel said. “Let go!”

“Ah!” Amos shrieked. He rolled off the squirrel, which wrapped its freed tail around itself and stood up.

Beatrice scrambled back into a kneeling position and looked up to see that they weren’t alone. There were three other squirrels in the room. The littlest, standing by the stove, began to cry.

“Mommy, they were chasing me,” said the squirrel beside Amos, looking up at a larger, soft-furred gray-brown squirrel. The thief’s fur stood up in wild tufts about his head and neck, and he had bright, black eyes.

“He stole our flower,” Amos declared, undaunted by the situation. “He’s a pirate!”

The squirrel’s mother bent and picked up the little crying squirrel, small-featured, with a bit of red in her fur. “Felix, did you?” she said over her shoulder. “Are you okay, Esther? It’s going to be ok.” she said. Esther peered over her mother’s shoulders with wide eyes at the children.

“They weren’t using it,” said the squirrel named Felix. “They’d just buried it and left it.”

“We were, too, using it,” said Amos in a huff. “It was going to grow a flower.”

“I wanna flower,” the little one said.

“Who are your  friends here, Felix?” the mother squirrel asked.

“I don’t know,” he said, and backed up, growing shy.

Beatrice was looking around at the squirrels, at this house that appeared to be up their holly tree, and at the kitchen they were in now. “I don’t understand what happened,” she said to the mother squirrel. Her voice was heavy with suppressed tears.

“I suppose we should figure that out,” the mother squirrel said calmly. “Well, these are Oliver, Felix and Esther.” She nodded at each. “And I’m Mrs. Squirrel. What are your names?”

“I’m Amos,” he said, stepping up. “She’s Beatrice.”

“Well, hi there, Amos and Beatrice. Would you like some water?”

“Yes, please,” Amos said right away.

Mrs. Squirrel put down Esther and filled two acorn caps from the large nutshell on the counter which was their sink. When she’d handed Beatrice the cup, she noticed the blood on the girl’s hand. “Did you hurt yourself?” she asked. Beatrice nodded.

Mrs. Squirrel went to a drawer, from which she produced a small leaf, which she placed gently on Beatrice’s hand like a bandage. She did all of this slowly.

“I think,” she said, addressing Beatrice again, “That you came here because you were following Felix.”

“The ivy pulled them up. I saw,” Felix interrupted.

“Bea shouted right at me and said ‘Shut up,’ to me,” Amos said, always proud with a question he could answer.

“Oh.” Mrs. Squirrel said, looking at the children and the squirrels around her for a moment. “Well, saying ‘up’ would do it. That’s the way it works.”

“Is it magic?” Amos asked.

“It’ something we know how to do,” she answered. Then, changing the subject, she said, “We were about to have a special supper together. Would you like to join us for a little while? You should be able to get back just the way you came when you’re ready to go home.”

“Yay!” said Felix.

“Can they sit by me?” said Oliver Squirrel.

“Sure!” Amos said.

“Alright,” Beatrice said, being cautious. “We should go home soon, though,” she said, not quite convincing herself. This was too amazing.

“Yay!” said Amos, Oliver and Felix together.

“Yay!” said Esther after them.

“Mommy, can we go play?” Oliver asked.

“Not yet, Oliver. I want you to help set the table. Supper will be ready in one minute.” Mrs. Squirrel turned back to the stove – a collection of flat rocks stacked in just such a way, and a small fire within.

“Wait,” Amos said, remembering. “What about the flower.” He pointed at Felix.

“Felix,” his mother said, “Can you say ‘Sorry.’”

“Sorry,” Felix said.

“It’s okay,” they said.

“Amos, Beatrice,” Mrs. Squirrel said, “Would you like to have tulip soup? I think now that it’s been torn out of the ground it won’t be good for a flower. I’m sorry. You can tell your daddy that we’re sorry.”

“Well, we planted lots,” Amos said with a shrug.

Felix and Oliver’s eyes got wide at the thought of so many more bulbs to find, but they controlled themselves.

“Why don’t you three wash your hands and help Oliver set the table, and we’ll eat soon,” Mrs. Squirrel said. “You can play till then.”

The children hurriedly washed their hands beside Felix, and went into the next room. Esther climbed up on a stool after them and tried to wash her hands, too.

In the dining room, Oliver went over to a hutch with all of the plates and such, most made of seed shells of various sorts. They were setting a long table – a piece of bark, turned smooth side up – for twelve places.

“How old are you?” Oliver asked Beatrice. “I’m twenty-one weeks old.”

“I’m four!” said Amos, interrupting.

“Twenty-one weeks?” repeated Beatrice, emphasising ‘weeks.’

“Yeah. How old are you?”

“I’m six years old,” she answered. She said ‘years’ quite clearly.

“That’s impossible,” Oliver said.

“No it’s not,” Beatrice said. She used her teaching tone of voice. “People get a lot older than squirrels.”

“But that means that you’re lots older than our Mommy!” he said, cracking up at the thought. Felix started laughing, and Amos did, too.

“I am,” she said, and looked frustrated.

“I’m done first!” Felix announced, as he placed the last cap down.

“Let’s go play, quick!” Oliver said, forgetting the argument. Off they all ran.

They ran through the kitchen, past Esther (who was just coming toward them, hands dripping), past Mrs. Squirrel, and back outside onto the tree branches to play.

Read “The Holly and the Ivy, Part 3″ 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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