Iguana at Halloween
(translated from Iguana by Zantippy Skiphop)
I am Iguana, and this is my swamp. My life is made of misty mornings, sunny naps with crickets singing, evening stillness that hangs between light and dark. And my favorite time, the night, when I sleep on a rocking branch, listening to frogsong. The stars wink at me, knowing this is iguana Heaven.
In a house behind my tree lives my human. She speaks Iguana and her name is Polly. She climbs my tree and says hi to the owls, she brings me tomatoes, and a cracker for Nimnog the woodmouse. Polly is my most favorite human.
I never thought she'd be taken from me.
Last night began wonderful as always. Nimnog poked his nose out of a tree hole, sniffing for crackers. We watched the moon together, waiting for Polly. I was full of contentfulness.
Then the owls landed, covering the tree. They rattled to each other, and not in the pleasant way. It was the rattle they sing before the hunt. And they were watching Polly's house. Nimnog ducked inside his tree hole. My tail started twitching.
I heard a creak. The owls rustled their wings and grew silent as Polly walked through her gate. She was wearing her speckled owl costume, and she carried a pumpkin. I didn't see a tomato. Was the pumpkin for me?
I ran down the tree trunk to greet her. The pumpkin looked very tasty, and I gazed up at Polly, thanking her with my smile. She put the pumpkin down and I tasted it. But it wasn't nice to eat. It was just the crunchy shell, filled with candy wrappers. Plus, it had a bucket handle. I looked at Polly, sad to let her know I didn't like it. She laughed, and pulled a tomato out of the pumpkin. I licked it, to see if it had gone the way of the pumpkin, turning hard and hollow. But it was very yummers.
I took my tomato under the tree, and felt a wind pass my tail. Polly shrieked, and I turned an eye to see.
The owls were flying at her, swirling in a cyclone. She screamed as she disappeared behind the living, spinning wall.
Then her screaming stopped. The owls left their vortex and flew back to the tree. They left a tiny screech owl in the grass, a screech owl with a pumpkin bucket hanging on her wing. My Polly was gone.
I ran around the tree and up it, looking for my friend. All I wanted was Polly back. I hardly saw the barn owl who swooped in and carried off the screecher, pumpkin and all.
Nimnog poked his nose back out, his whiskers trembling in the moonlight. We watched as the owls flew away.
“What does this mean, Moon?” I asked.
But the moon only lit up the bronze feathers of the owl pack, and glowed without blinking. The moon had no answers.
I felt more feather-wind behind me and slashed my tail around. No owl would take me! Then I saw the bird, and stopped breathing. It was a vulture. Had they expected death?
The vulture said, “Be calm, green one. We're here to help”.
We? And then I saw throughout the tree an army of vultures, with bats hanging around them.
A parrot flew past my ear and landed by Nimnog.
“Do you know what happened?” I asked the talking vulture. “Where's my Polly?”
The vulture said:
“Polly has been pulled into an ancient ritual, that started long before we were hatched. Every Fall, a new owl queen is chosen. A long time ago, many owls would die trying to claim the Queen's Nest. So now, no one born an owl is allowed to be the queen.”
The vulture bowed her head.
“Owl spirits live in dreams and visions. They send the owl image to human children while they sleep, then watch. The child who makes the strongest connection with owls is taken, and turned into an owl. She will be Queen for a year. This is what happened to Polly.”
Yes, Polly loved owls. She covered her walls with their pictures. She wore her owl costume to sit in my tree, and not just on Halloween. But her owls had just betrayed her.
“I am trained as an iguana samurai,” I said. “I want to rescue my Polly.”
The vulture almost smiled. “Come on, green one. Let's go find your friend.”
I swam through the swamp, following the vultures and bats as they skimmed the clouds. We headed for an island where the trees look unfriendly. I've always stayed away.
At the top of the biggest oak was a nest. It was bigger than an alligator wallow. The Queen's Nest.
That's where Polly was.
Something landed in my stomach. I think it was my heart.
The vulture flew to me. “Green one, remember this: Polly must not eat mice tonight, or she will be an owl forever. And to become fully human again, she must remember herself before dawn.” I nodded, and set off through the tree tops.
It felt like forever till I reached the nest. I could hear gagging, and an owlish whimper. This time I knew it was my heart that swallowed my throat. Would the owls be mean to their queen?
I started to climb the nest, but was slammed back down by an owl with a mouse in his beak.
The owl squawked and flew away, chased by the rescue bats.
Another owl saw me and attacked, but the vulture landed on him and they went tumbling past.
Before anyone else could stop me, I leaped for the nest, scrambled up the side and jumped in. Owlet Polly was sitting on a downey bed, a mouse tail hanging from her beak.
I was too late. She'd had her first mouse meal.
Overhead, the bats were dive-bombing any owl they saw carrying a mouse. Then all the vultures arrived, driving back most of the owls. Why were they still fighting? We'd never get Polly back now. She had eaten a mouse meal, and the sky was beginning to lighten. Dawn. Polly was now an owl forever.
But Polly the owl didn't look happy. Maybe she would be, if she could swallow that mouse tail.
Polly screwed her face up, and vomited the mouse. An owl overhead screeched in fury, then swooped in with another mouse. I ducked as bats followed the owl, trying to knock the mouse out of his beak.
“Why are you smiling, silly lizard?” squeaked a bat.
There was still hope. Polly hadn't had her mouse meal. She couldn't keep the mice down. A lot of her friends were mice.
But Polly still didn't remember herself, and dawn was coming.
The owl dangled the new mouse over Polly's eyes, and she looked curious. No! And then I saw what she saw, this mouse was alive.
His whiskers were trembling, he was screaming in fright. And when he saw Polly, he screamed all the louder. He wanted to go to Polly. He called out for her.
“It's Nimnog!” I yelled.
The owls were trying to feed Polly one of her best friends!
I am a trained iguana samurai. I don't act in anger. But I almost knocked that owl out of the nest. I wanted him to hit the forest floor. But before my tail slashed out, I remembered:
Nimnog was still clasped by the owl, hanging by his tail.
The owl lowered Nimnog to Polly's open beak. Her owl senses told her this was a good meal, but her big owl eyes were filling with tears. She didn't seem to know why.
A green and purple thunder streaked past me, and attacked Polly's head. “Nimnog! Nimnog!” the parrot screamed. He landed on her head and shouted right in her ear, “NIMNOG!”
Polly's eyes fixed on her mouse friend. Nimnog quieted and gazed back, into her mind. Something shone in her eyes, something beyond the raptor. Nimnog reached a tiny hand to her.
The owl shook him.
And Polly let out the biggest screech of outrage ever known to owldom, and bit the owl on his feathered leg.
The owl dropped Nimnog. Polly's feathers fell out. She floated into the air, then landed back on the nest, a girl in an owl costume.
And we all were lit in a pink glow. Dawn had arrived.
That night, back in my tree, Polly came to visit.
“Was I an owl last night, a real owl?” she asked me and Nimnog.
I smiled and ate my strawberries. She said, “I remember being sad, and really scared. Not scared for me, though. For Nimnog? It was all so upsetting. But still...” She thought for a moment. “I'm glad it happened.”