I have two turtles. Their names are Ike and Mike. They aren’t very big - their shells are about 6” long - but size is irrelevant with these dudes. My guys are really special. So special that I’m seriously considering renaming them: Ichabod and Michael. Sounds a little more fancy, yes? Unless somebody goes over my head and gives them nicknames like Ick and Mick, which are worse than Ike and Mike, for sure.
What you should know about this pair is that they have special abilities. Not only can both of them play fetch as well as any dog, but they are also very strong and agile. They can climb up the side of my bed and get under the covers. They can transport my heavy leather winter boots anywhere, even down the stairs to the basement. One time they even opened my new hardshell suitcase, put the boots - yes, both of them - inside it, then closed it and snapped the latches shut.
Ike and Mike aren’t just mischievous. In their defense, if they hide something or tip something over, they always come tell me what they’ve done. We have shared a residence for ten years now. They were 40 years old when I got them, so lately I am beginning to worry about who will care for them when I am gone. I understand they can easily reach 150, which means I need to put something in my will.
“Mom,” says Ike, “don’t forget to tell them we’re studying algebra and Spanish. Tell them.”
This is the first I’ve heard about it.
“Mom, remember to mention we sometimes do the dishes for you and we feed the cats if you have to go out,” adds Mike, tugging at my left pant leg.
That is true, I admit. I will let everybody know because, as I stated previously, my boys are special. And you haven’t seen anything yet...
My turtles, when they’re in the mood, will go out in the back yard and work on weeding the flower beds or staking the tomatoes. They wanted to prune the rhododendron and the forsythias and quince, but when they started arguing about who would get to prune first, I put a stop to the plan. It’s actually safer to just have them help me move a bookcase or couch, which they’re always willing to do.
It’s a little scary to keep telling you all what Ike and Mike add to my life, with their sense of humor, willingness to do chores, and other helpful, sweet gestures. It’s scary because people started listening and decided I must be guilty of animal abuse. Well, that’s preposterous, because I adore the two fellows and they were the ones who asked if they could do some tasks. They wanted more physical activity.
This would all be very nice if I really did have two turtles like Ike and Mike. I did have turtles, but I can’t tell you what happened to them. I wasn’t very good at caring for turtles when I was little, and the real Ike and Mike are long gone. I learned a hard, sad lesson. It helps to pretend they are still here and that we have a really amazing life together, but imagining things won’t bring them back. Please don’t ask me what happened or what I did. I am trying hard to move on.
The animals I have in my life now are the real thing. They are not supercharged tortoises who zip around the house. Rather, they are rare beasts and I treat them as they deserve. They are an echeneis and a parandrus. Now you might find there are different ways to spell these animals’ names, but these are correct, too. Just to help you out:
“According to Brunetto Latini the Parandrus lived in Ethiopia and had the tracks of an ibex, the branching horns of a stag, the colour of a bear, and, like a bear, it has a shaggy coat. It is believed to change colour into a likeness of whatever it is close to.”
This makes my parandrus a sort of shapeshifter and it has the ability to become invisible by altering its color. Don’t tell me that’s impossible, because we know there are many animals that can change colors. I had a chameleon once who did that. It didn’t turn pink or purple or blue, but it did hover between green, yellow, and brown as the occasion required.
As for my echeneis, despite the similarity in name to the flower echinacea, there is no relationship. The echeneis is a fish that slows down ships. I’ve heard it’s also called sharksucker, rémora or mora. Nobody would make something like that up, so it really does exist. Here’s my research on this animal:
“Isidore of Seville writes ‘The echinais has its name because it clings to a ship and holds it fast (echei-naus). It is a small fish, about six inches long, but when it attaches to a ship the ship cannot move, but seems rooted in the sea, despite raging storms and gales. This fish is also called “delay” (mora) because it causes ships to stand still’.”
Note, again, the different spellings. Note also that I am not a ship, but I do have one of these fish. It is very considerate and never stops me from doing things, although it does hold me back from doing stupid things, which is its virtue. Not like sailing off the edge of the earth, but rather like blurting things out, impulse buying, losing my temper in a group. The echeneis really keeps me on an even keel. It pairs well with the parandrus, which has been teaching me how to camouflage myself. This ability allows me to venture out and not be identified in places or situations where it is better to remain ambiguous. By ambiguous I mean invisible, kind of. You know, able to do things and not get caught (parandrus-style) or not setting off a third world war with my mouth (echeneis-like). I do hate crowds.
I’ll give you just one example of how this team of mine works, just as long as you don’t start asking where you can get your own medieval beasts…
My job - and this will probably not surprise you - is animal rescue and, occasionally, rehabilitation. Despite the rumors that I was abusing Ike and Mike - oh, wait, that part of the story wasn’t true, as you’ve already found out - I love animals. They are so much better than most humans, especially the humans who chain up their dogs, leave rabbits and chickens out in the dead of winter, hang cats from trees. (This is gruesome, but it happens because some people associate felines with evil forces, we all know that.) There are rules we’re supposed to follow when we find cases of mistreated or hurting animals, but I’m impatient to save them, so Monet the Parandrus and Miró the Echeneis hop in the car with me and we set out. Recently there was a call about a puppy mill with dogs living in absolutely squalid conditions. We had to get them out of there. (By we, I mean my crew of two and I.)
I was fuming and close to frothing at the mouth when I pulled up a couple of houses down from the puppy site so nobody could identify my car as having parked right by it. All three of us hopped out and circled around to the back yard, which was really big and had tall trees growing on one side. The sight was sickening and you don’t need a description of filth, hunger, chains, yipping. Those puppies and dogs of other ages were going to be removed, immediately. No waiting for my coworkers!
Monet and I were able to shapeshift our way into the space, and Miró was fine because she (or he) was safely stowed in my pocket and thus was also not readily visible. I had my metal clippers and snipped every last link from the doggies’ necks, so they began yapping in glee. That could arouse attention, so we had to act fast. I have a van, so we started moving the canines into it as quickly as possible. If we needed to, we knew our stunt could work one more time to go back and get the rest, but some of the little ones were urgently in need of vet care. Monet did some fast teaching and we had the dogs almost faded out as we removed them, because they’d taken on the color of grass or the blue sky or some even had a solar glow. I mean, Monet is really good with those colors. Echeneis had a smaller role to play, but it was an important one, because his (or her) presence kept me from going up to the breeder’s door, banging on it and screaming insults while saying we were confiscating the poor, abused dogs. That’s what I really wanted to do, but I was restrained from such a foolish action. (Thank you, Miró.)
Once everybody was loaded up - and the rescue had been quite swift, thanks to my helpers - we got out of there. The puppies began to get their natural color back and were squirming around, knowing they were finally out of that hellhole. Now to wait until evening, go to the rehab center’s enclosure (I have a key, of course), and unload everybody. They’d been fed at my house, so I knew they’d be fine until the morning when the rest of the staff arrived. The small herd of puppies would be a shock, but since nobody would know or admit to knowing, how they’d gotten there, it would all work out perfectly. The little ones as well as the older ones would be vetted and put up for adoption. The bad breeder would be out of luck and hopefully would find another way to make money. You see, I was going to go back and tell him there’d been a report on what he had been doing, and even though he would deny it because there were no more dogs in the back yard, he’d be pretty worried and unlikely to try again.
There are many more stories like that one, where my partners in crime - although I don’t think about what we do as crime, you know - go into an iffy situation and rescue or steal or walk off with an animal that needs help. I couldn’t do it without Monet and Miró, of course. However, it’s not only Monet who plays a big part because of the color shifting/camouflage thing; it’s also Miró who deserves credit for keeping my sharp tongue and angry comments in check. I need that support just as much, because blurting things out at the wrong moment can get a person into trouble.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my job, but am thinking about setting up a small business with Monet and Miró. Well, maybe not a business so much as a service. I play the front person’s role because I’m human and can field the calls of people who need our services. Of course I can’t tell them I’ve got partners, but I can guarantee success once I am able to assess the need. We can certainly do more than rescue abused animals. We can probably offer the service of getting a nosy, obnoxious neighbor to back off by having Monet spend some time hanging around, changing colors. The neighbor calls the police about the strange thing next door, then gets hauled off to the funny farm. (Do they still call it that?) Or maybe we could sneak into a big garden with lots of extra produce and walk off with enough to give to the food kitchen, a homeless shelter, or the school cafeteria that has to provide free lunches for some kids. If you go to any of those places offering a load of food items like fresh greens and root vegetables, nobody is going to turn you away. Just tell the recipients they’re things from your garden. I’ve also considered removing extra vehicles from residences that have too many vehicles and donating the extra cars to associations that need them to transfer patients to different facilities.
The biggest problem I can foresee is how to advertise. We need to get the word out, but social media might not be the best venue. Even Robin Hood back in his day couldn’t tell people what he was doing, and we can’t advertise robbery, kidnapping, or actions that look somewhat criminal. Perhaps we should bill ourselves as counselors, women’s rights activists, or social workers in general. That’s vague enough. Also, when I say we, I have to make it look like I’m the only one providing the service. Monet and Miró might frighten people, even though they are very sweet and totally harmless. I wouldn’t want them to be taken away from me and locked up in some horrible zoo to entertain humans, nor could I bear having them taken to a scientific lab to be studied by people who just want to analyze their DNA and speculate on their geographical origins.
No, this idea needs to be developed carefully, with input from my parandrus and my echeneis. This has to be a democratic decision and they need to be on board. If they decide we need more partners - maybe reinforcements is a better term - then we can discuss that. I have my bestiary right on the nightstand by my bed and can look for some good candidates. I’m considering an alerion, a cinnamologus, and a hercinia in the bird category, and a manticore and a muscaliet in the mammal group. Monet and Miró are sure to have other suggestions and since this is their area of expertise, they must weigh in. As we expand the capacity of our association to serve the community’s needs, we can offer a wider range of things we can do, problems we can solve. A yale is one other option, by the way. I’m not sure yet what function it would have, but the feature of moveable horns surely has potential.
Before you laugh at this plan, or decide I’m crazy, just think that the folks who made up the beasts and put them in manuals where they catalogued them and suggested their purposes in the world, those folks were not crazy at all. They knew the world was not made up entirely of humans and that humans had tendencies that needed correcting. They also knew that animals had not been created to serve people (such an arrogant concept). So, take a moment, get your hands on a well-written, well-illustrated bestiary - there are a few I can suggest if you like - and start creating your own world.
The only thing I will ask is that you treat the animals fairly, with total kindness. Whether they are real or imaginary - note that Ike and Mike were imaginary, but Monet and Miró are real - all of them are sentient beings. And none of them should be enslaved or mistreated. Beasts really do have the power to make the world a better place if humans will take time to learn from them.