a tale in weekly parts
As Xander’s father left his son’s bedroom, the two dogs pushed past him through the door. Xander was delighted to find that, though he couldn’t communicate with Jarvis, Albert or his sister, he was picking up very clearly the banter between Chav and Ixus. In fact, the last thing he heard, as they entered his room, was Ixus saying to Chav, “Quiet, now. If he finds out about it, he’ll spoil everything.”
“Don’t worry,” he heard Chav reply, “I’ve known him a lot longer than you have. He’s cool. He won’t spoil our fun.”
“What fun?” Xander asked.
“Nothi—” Ixus started to say, but was interrupted by Chav.
“We found a whole warren,” Chav said, excitedly, “there must have been ten or twenty rabbits, or even more.”
“How many did you see above ground?”
“About ten or twenty.”
You know that look a dog gives you, when you’re convinced he’s done something really bad; the look that speaks of pure guilt? That’s the look Chav gave Xander at that point. “I don’t know. We can’t count beyond five.”
“Of course you can, Chav. What makes you say that?”
“When you learn to count, you use your fingers and thumbs. That takes you to ten.”
“And then we learn to count without using our fingers. But why five?”
“We don’t have fingers or thumbs, or toes, for that matter. The best we can do is four legs and one tail. Teach us to count without using them, please, Xander.” His look changed to the one you get when you have food and the dog wants some; only without (thank goodness) the drooling.
Xander painstakingly took them through the number system. They were bright dogs, and by the end of the day, they could both count to one hundred, which Xander said would be enough for them. For their final practice, Xander threw for each of them, a handful of their favourite treats, which they could have as soon as they could count them correcttly. They both had their treats on the first attempt.
The following day, the two dogs came running into Xander’s room, their noses and front paws coated with mud.
“Eighteen,” Chav said.
“Eighteen what?” Xander asked.
“Eighteen rabbits on the surface.”
“Actually,” Ixus said, rather smugly, it seemed to Xander, “you missed one. There were nineteen.”
“Didn’t miss one!”
“Behind the big tree. It came out, saw me and bolted.”
“Do you blame it?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ixus asked, smiling.
“Calm down, you pair; come on, backs down. You’ve done well. Did you catch any rabbits?”
“No,” Ixus replied, “too busy counting them. Much more fun than just chasing them.”
“We’re trying to work out how they live their lives underground, too,” Chav added, “we’d like to learn about their lifestyle, their diet, the threats they face; that sort of thing.”
“Why?” Xander asked. “What’s your objective, your game plan?”
“Does there have to be one? Isn’t the acquisition of knowledge an end in itself?”
Oh God, Xander thought, what have we created? which, on reflection, was an outstandingly mature thought for an eleven-year-old boy.
“Listen, guys,” he said to the two canines, “I have to do my homework for school. If you’re planning to stay in here, you’ll need to keep quiet. Okay?”
“Does it involve counting?” Ixus asked.
“I’ve some maths to do, so yes, it might. Why do you ask?”
“We can help you with that.”
“Okay; I’ll tell you what I’ll do. Each time I finish a question, I’ll tell you. When I’ve finished them all, you can tell me how many I did. How does that sound?”
“Not very challenging.”
“Do I have to remind you…”
“I know, we’re dogs. But we can be so much more.”
“Not when there’s anyone else around, you can’t. If you just stand around thinking and sending, like now, most people will think you’re having a petit mal seizure or something, and take you straight to the vet.”
“NOT THE VET!” they shouted out in unison.
“What is it with dogs and vets?” Xander asked.
“They stick things up your bum,” Chav complained.
“Only to take your temperature.”
“It doesn’t matter what it’s for. Things are supposed to come out of there, not go in. It’s not natural.”
“And,” Ixus added, “it detracts from our basic dignity.”
“We won’t let anyone think we’re anything but normal dogs,” Chav offered. Ixus agreed.
Xander let out a small sigh of relief and made a start on his homework, wondering all the while where Jarvis, Albert and Kr’veth’neq’is were, and why he couldn’t contact, or even sense them.