The Valleys – Winter
The short Cyanos summer had ended all too soon with the arrival of the first of the new season’s snow. Holidays were over and Dieter had returned to Aoraki for the new school year. Jaak was looking forward to the start of school and now having made some friends, he did not feel so much like the new kit anymore.
On the first day of the new school year, Jaak had actually managed to be at his gate with a few minutes to spare before the ancient school bus with its familiar bingity bang like a thousand tin cans, managed to announce its impending arrival on its way up the valley road. Jaak flumped himself down into an empty seat and let his thoughts wander as Thar the mountain goat driver banged the door shut and the old bus once again gave a thunderous lurch as it headed back down the hill. At the bottom of Jaak’s road the bus turned right and after a few more stops it started its approach to the small commercial area of the valleys. As the bus rumbled to a stop outside Gazza’s Gas and Grease, Jaak rubbed the condensation off the window with his paw to try and catch a glimpse of his friend. Sure enough Tag was waiting by the gas sign and cattle grid along with a couple of other younger local kits heading to the lower grade school.
A familiar grey and white snow leopard, boarded the bus and made his way down to Jaak’s seat.
Jaak: Mooooor – yawn – ning.
Tag: Hey’a Jaak!
As usual Tag who never seemed to feel the cold only wore the bare minimum, bare-paw with his usual shorts – but for school he had condescended to put on a t-shirt. Jaak who was wearing jeans, sweatshirt and puffer jacket looked at Tag and even though he knew the answer, asked the question anyway.
Jaak: Aren’t you cold?
Tag: Huh? Nope. I didn’t even want to wear this stupid shirt, but me mam made me.
Jaak gave a knowing smirk. Tag’s mammy was the only person that could actually make Tag wear clothes.
Jaak: You bring it with you?
Tag: Yup. It’s in me pocket.
Jaak: Same. Just remember don’t go flashing it around to everyone at school. Keep it zipped!
The two friends settled back into the sagging seat, as the bus rumbled on up the fire circle road and then back down again to make the final ridge crossing before reaching the valley high school. The bus and Thar continued to share their innate understanding of each other as they twisted and turned their way together around the serpentine curves of the narrow snowy mountain road. As the bus descended into the next valley the reminder of why it is not always possible to be friends with everyone swung into view.
Any thought that Ounce and Chewie might have matured even just a little over the summer, was soon dashed as they muscled their way as usual onto the bus, bumping any wayward body parts or bags that intruded into the aisle. In fact they both seemed to have grown even bigger since last year, both physically and in attitude. As they neared the end of the bus, Tag who was in the aisle seat and without really thinking about what he was doing, moved his elbow pointedly into the aisle. Tag might still be small for his age, but he suddenly came to the decision that this year he was not going to be pushed around by these two morons. Something he could not explain, suddenly made him feel emboldened. Ounce and Chewie paused mid stride, gazing down at the offending elbow.
Ounce: Hey Chewie – it looks like the squirt needs to be taught some manners!
Chewie: Yeah – let’s teach the squirt some manners!
Tag simply turned his head slightly and looked impassively back at them. He then quite unexpectedly felt the stone in his pocket give a little jump, and he felt its warmth – Tag was sure that if he took it out it would be glowing bright blue.
Several moments passed. It was as if Ounce was undergoing some kind of internal conflict. He screwed up his face and his whiskers twitched. Part of him badly wanted to teach the squirt a lesson, but another stronger part wanted to recoil from him. Chewie who was still not generally capable of original thought or action, stood with his best derp-face looking somewhat confused behind Ounce – completely unsure as to what he should do.
Thar, looking in the rear view mirror was just about to tell Ounce and Chewie to – ‘git in yer seats or ye be walking’ – when something happened that no one could have ever predicted or imagined.
Ounce suddenly turned side on pressing his back to the seat armrest on the opposite side of the aisle. He kept as far away as he possibly could without resorting to climbing over the opposite rows of seats. He shuffled his way awkwardly past, all the time keeping his eyes firmly fixed on Tag’s elbow – as if touching it would mean a certain, sudden and painful death. Chewie then did the same, with a wild, wide eyed look in his eyes – constantly watching the elbow as he slunk past, lest it somehow leap out and gruesomely impale him. Having now passed the perilous protuberance with their entrails still intact Ounce and Chewie quickly took their usual seats on the back row of the bus.
Jaak and Tag looked at each other in silent amazement and were both thinking the same thing.
Tag: Did yours jump and get warm?
Jaak looked at Tag with a mischievous smile.
Jaak: Seasons change.
The bus lurched off again down the hill towards the school.