Chapter 8 – They’re Off to See the Lizard
The morning was cool, or as cool as it could get on a morning in May in this hot and dry place they lived. Rollie was up early, stretching and yawning as he left the burrow. His mother Sara, his father Ben, and his sister Sally were right behind him.
“Oh, Rollie,” his mother said, “do you really think you should do this? I fear for you. I know what it’s like out there and I know it’s dangerous.” Sara was rocking back and forth and washing her little paws together in despair. “I wish you’d give up this foolishness.”
His father, who had very little to say at any time, finally spoke. “You know I’ve never interfered with any of your crazy ideas, Rollie. You know I can’t forbid you to do this, but I wish you’d listen to your mother. I know, I always do.”
Rollie assured them he wouldn’t do anything foolish, take any unnecessary chances. “But I am going. This is just something I have to do. I promise that my three companions and I will come back safe and sound. And with visions of places and things we can only now dream of. There just must be a better place out there. And we will find it.”
Both Sara and Ben shrugged their shoulders, flipped their paws in the air in resignation, and both came to Rollie for a goodbye hug. Hugs over, they returned to the burrow.
Sally Rabbit spoke softly to her brother, “Rollie, I wish I could go with you but mother and father aren’t even happy about your going. Please be careful and when you get back you have to tell me everything about what you see and do, every detail. That will make me feel like I was there with you.”
Rollie gave her a hug and a brotherly nose rub and promised he would be careful and would share his adventures with her.
Fred came scuttling over from his place in the first arborvitae, running fifteen steps, then yawning and stretching and doing his pushups before running fifteen more steps.
“Rollie, old friend and traveling companion of mine, how are you this fine morning? Are you ready to depart?”
“I’m more than ready. It seems like I’ve been ready my whole life. And you, Fred, any second thoughts about going with me on this quest of mine?”
“No. Maybe a third thought or two, but no seconds. I wonder, though, if our other two travelers are still as willing.”
“And speaking of them, here comes Millie, fluttering and flapping down from the orange tree.”
Millie landed on a low branch of the arborvitae, flapped her wings several times, and said, “Isn’t it a wonderful day for a voyage of discovery? I feel like I’m about to depart on a sea of sky, and the clouds are bright and puffy and the winds are gentle. What a nice day for a sail.”
“That must mean you’re still going with us. And Buzz, where is he?” Just as these words left Rollie’s mouth, there was a flash of emerald and ruby, zipping past them, then whirring back to hover right in front of Rollie’s nose. Buzz was so close Rollie feared he might just give his nose a little hummingbird peck.
"I'm here, I’m here, I’m here, and as ready as I’ll ever be for this adventure into the wild blue. And Millie is here, and Fred is here, and we’re all here. So, when are we going?” Buzz’s nervous energy was catching, and the others felt their enthusiasm grow.
“I see no reason to delay” Rollie said. “The sun is just peeking over the edge of the house. We have the light of day, and we can find provisions along the way. So, let’s be off.” Rollie snapped off a sturdy branch of arborvitae and stripped it of its flat sprays of hand-like leaves. “Now I’m ready. A journey requires a walking stick, and this will be mine.” He raised the stick high above him, then brought it down parallel to the ground, directing it to the east. “And we’re off!” he said, like a general leading his troops.
Tucker Rabbit stood in the shadows of the Arbor and watched them go. He smiled as he considered their departure, the possibility that none of them would ever come back. He didn’t really care if the monarch or the hummingbird did or didn’t come back, but he especially wanted the ugly one and the little irritating one to lose themselves in the wild, fall in a hole and kill themselves, get eaten up by monsters. He didn’t care what befell them as long as he never had to see them again. He let out a low chuckle when he imagined some of the awful things his mind conjured for them. He turned and went back to his burrow.
Just as the four travelers were taking their first hops and waddles and flights, they noticed Dusty and Squeakie watching them from their perch within the back patio of the house.
“Good morning, Dusty and Squeakie,” Rollie greeted them. We’re just about to start on our way. Don’t you wish you could join us? There will be adventures enough for all.”
“We wish you luck, travelers. Much as we’d like to join you, we can’t. Neither of us has ever been outside this house. Our pets just don’t allow it. We can make them do almost anything we ask, but letting us out in the wild is forbidden.” Dusty glanced at Squeakie, seeing if he confirmed what he’d said. “And since we’ve never been outside, we can’t even give you any advice about where to go or what to avoid. We’ve heard tales of wild things that go jump in the night, creatures that would leap from the dark and gobble you up if you aren’t watchful. I guess that’s why we’re more than happy to live within these walls. No bad creature can get us in here.”
“Oh yes,” echoed Squeakie, “I’ve seen terrible flying things that swoop through the yard; I’ve seen large loping animals come crashing through the arborvitae. I’ve seen them look at me through the screen and lick their lips, and I’ve turned and fled into the safety of the house. They may not be able to get through this screen, but their terrible eyes have haunted me in many of my dreams, and I shiver and I shake and even whimper a bit when I dream of them.”
“Good luck, good speed, be careful, and come back safe,” said Dusty, lashing his tail and waving one paw.
Squeakie squeaked a high “Goodbye! Goodbye! Hurry back!”
Millie and Buzz flew off to reconnoiter.
* * *
Their journey began this way.
They went around the house to the east, crossed the street in front, into the yard of the house on the other side, made their way into the back yard, crossed that yard and into the one just to the north, then another yard, and another yard. They saw creatures just like them as they went—rabbits, doves, grackles, lizards, many many quail mothers and fathers with broods of from one to twenty-four tiny weeuns trailing along behind. They greeted them all but didn’t stop to chat.
It took them two hours to make their way through a dozen yards to the north.
When the sun was up one fourth of the way into the sky, they stopped in a thick oleander bush to assess their trip so far. It was there that Millie found them.
“I’ve flown ahead and not seen anything but exactly what we’ve seen so far. Houses and houses and yards and yards and creatures such as us. But nothing very exciting, nothing very dangerous. And Buzz has flown far ahead and should report back soon.”
They rested, Fred on his belly next to Rollie, panting and grunting and moaning, “I don’t know, Rollie, this doesn’t seem very exciting, and I should be taking my mid-morning nap right now. Tell me again, what is it we’re looking for and where are we going and when will we get there and will we have some adventures?” He rolled over on his back with his little lizard legs sticking up the air. “It’s so hot, Rollie, and my feet are killing me. Can we stay here long enough for me to take a nap? Can we, can we?”
Rollie ignored his little friend but some of Fred’s words managed to seep through his concentration. Where? What? How Soon? Excitement? Adventures? Their quest had just begun and already Fred was questioning it. Even he was beginning to doubt what his heart had told him, that there was a better place to be found somewhere. But where?
Just then, Buzz flashed down to join them on a nearby oleander branch. Millie fluttered down to sit beside him.
“What news, Scout Buzz?” Rollie asked, hoping Buzz would have some good news about what lay ahead.
“I’ve been far north and east and it looks like there’s a wall enclosing all the houses and yards, and an opening in the wall that leads to a whole world of open space. I couldn’t see exactly what lies beyond the wall, but whatever it is, there’s a lot of it.”
Well, Rollie thought, the news wasn’t all good nor all bad, just sort of no news. Which, he had heard, was the same as good news. But at least now they had a more immediate goal, the opening in the wall and all that lay beyond.
“All right, Fred, up and at ‘em,” Rollie said, nudging Fred’s exposed stomach. “We have to keep going or there’s no point in going at all. You can nap later on.”
“Ohhhh,” Fred moaned. “You go on without me and I’ll catch up. Just leave me here.”
“No, Fred, I’m not going to leave you. We’re in this together and it’s far too early for you to be giving up. You’ll just have to get up and go on, and then get up and go on again. One lizard foot in front of the other, one rabbit hop after another. The race is not to the swift but to the determined. We’re on a mission, and only the faint of heart would think of giving up.” He smiled at his friend. “I know you’re not a quitter. Quitters never win, and winners never quit. Why, why, you’re my . . . Sancho Panza.” Where in the Arbor did he come up with that name, thought Rollie. It had just popped into his head. Who or what is a Sancho Panza? Well, it sounded good anyway.
“I’m your what?” Fred asked. “I’m your sandchew pansy? I’ve been called a lot of things in my life but never that. I don’t chew sand and I’m no pansy,” he said indignantly.
With that having been said, Fred got awkwardly to his feet. “But soon we’ll stop to rest and maybe have some lunch. Promise me that, Rollie. I need to find some fire ants and stoke up my furnace, get my motor going.” They left the oleander. Millie and Buzz would stay ahead of them, but not far this time. The two scouts would act as guardians of their path, to warn them of impending danger.
They crossed another road, through another two sets of houses, then another road, then two more sets of houses. By this time, the sun was at its zenith and the day had warmed to an uncomfortable degree.
As they started across another road, Fred began hopping and jumping as though he had fire ants in his pants. “Oh, ooo, ow ow ow, hot hot hot!” he squawked in his bull frog voice. “Oh ouch ouch! This stuff is hot enough to roast a rooster!” He made it to the other side and then scurried into the shade of a large palo verde tree in front of the house on that side. Rollie joined him, hopping swiftly after his friend. He didn’t admit it to Fred, but he could swear he’d felt his toes start to sizzle. Millie and Buzz joined them there.
“I think we’ll find us a nice shady patch of oleander to rest awhile and maybe eat a bit. We can always begin again after the day cools down. Would that plan satisfy you, Fred?”
“Hmmm,” Fred said. “Let me think about that for a minute. Okay, minute’s up. We’ll rest if you say so, even though I’m more than willing to keep going. Rest it is. Now to find some fire ants.”
They made their way into a deep hedge of oleander where they sat for a while, both of them rubbing their hot toes and feet, Millie and Buzz flapping their wings like fans to cool their companions. The shade was deep and soon they felt refreshed but hungry.
Rollie went off to find some arborvitae berries and Fred to find some fire ants. Millie and Buzz flew off to find a flowery lunch nearby. After satisfying themselves they all returned to the oleander to rest until the day cooled. Their first steps and flights had been taken and now they were committed to the rest of the steps and flights, hot and wearisome as they might be. And who knew, they might still find adventures to stir even the most grumpy of lizards.