The Actual Times
Friday, 08 November 2019

A Fishy Tail

The bears to skating and come across an unwilling prisoner


By November things had turned cold. There was a sudden hard frost that took the Actuals by surprise and everything glistened and sparkled in the moonlight. Each blade of grass looked as if it had dressed to go to the ball, and autumn’s remaining berries were coated in a light dusting of icing sugar.

Albert and Knot had a warming breakfast of compost-baked eggs washed down with a drink of hot hazel. The voles had borrowed some straw from the strawberry patch to make the Garden Canteen as cosy as ever.

“Let’s just stay here all night, Albert,” said Knot dreamily. “It’s so cosy.”

Just as Knot spoke, there was an excited commotion over by the Fish Lake. Albert stood up and stretched his neck to see what was going on.

“Ha ha!” he exclaimed. “I thought as much. Those enterprising rabbits! Come on, Knot.”

Knot, who had just started to dream about a nice snooze with some hot hazel, got up reluctantly to follow Albert, who was already heading towards the cliffs.

The cliffs, behind the Cold Glasshouse, were huge rocks that came out of the ground as if from nowhere. Knot had passed them every day en route to the Garden Canteen but had never thought to climb them. Now, Knot trustingly followed close behind Albert as he picked his way carefully between the rocks and up towards the top.

At one point Knot heard a low growl that seemed to come from somewhere underneath the edge of the house behind them.

“Blimey me!” said Albert. “That’s new. It sounds like a growly ghost!”

Knot had no time to consider how much that wasn’t a cheery thought because, at that moment, they reached the top of the cliffs, where the most beautiful sight met Knot’s eyes. There, in a circular sunken hole in the middle of the cliffs, was a frozen lake on which Actuals were skating and having a wonderful time. Those who hadn’t skated before edged cautiously around the perimeter, while the newts from the Elephant Lake on the east side zoomed about, causing Actuals to trip up and spin in a precarious fashion. On the other side of the lake stood Pete and Ben Rabbit, looking uncharacteristically officious with chalk and note slates. They were providing skates for any Actual that was too furry or scratchy to manage to slide on the ice themselves.

The bears caught Pete’s eye and he waved them over. “Albert, can you play your guitar later?”

Albert agreed that he would, and Ben handed both of them a stamped mahonia leaf. “Take this ticket and give it to Flo, she’ll sort you out.”

Albert went off to secure his guitar while Knot took the ticket and joined the queue for skates. Flo Rabbit was a warm-natured bunny who cared about her clientele. “Now, let me see,” she said, examining Knot’s feet, “I think you’ll be a size… small bear. Am I right?”

“I guess,” said Knot, “I don’t really know. I’ve never been skating before.”

“Never been skating before?” laughed Flo. “What? Not ever?”

“No, never.” Knot smiled.

“Oh, you poor thing,” she said. “Here are your skates. What say we skate together this evening? It’s a while since I’ve been out on the ice.”

“That would be lovely,” said Knot, who had been starting to wonder how on earth to skate and why.

“Look after the tickets, won’t you? I’m off skating with Knot,” Flo called out to another rabbit a little way off, and with that, she took Knot’s arm and led the two of them out onto the ice.

It was slippy and slidey and slidey and slippy, and Knot was just starting to wonder how any Actual could ever do this and whether any Actual had ever looked any less graceful, when they started to get the hang of it together. Round and round the ice they went whilst Flo told Knot how she and her brothers had gone into business organising events, parties, weddings, that sort of thing.

Knot was just saying how that sounded lovely and that they might need an event one day, when out of the corner of Knot’s eye there came the special sight of Albert dancing on the ice. He appeared to have developed his very own special kind of skating! At first Knot thought that perhaps he needed to be rescued. There was nothing very beautiful or graceful about the way Albert skated. For some reason, it helped his balance and momentum to swing his arms round and round as he went, whilst making the occasional loud squawking noise that sounded a bit like a seagull. For a moment, Knot didn’t know what to do, but then locked a look with Albert’s and they both started to laugh and laugh.

“It’s the only way I can skate and enjoy it,” said Albert between gasps. By this time Knot was lying on the ice, rolling over and over with laughter and trying to find a breath from somewhere.

It was whilst lying face down that Knot suddenly noticed something strange stuck in the ice below. Knot beckoned Albert over and pointed it out to him.

“Not good,” said Albert, “not good at all.”

Flo joined them and gasped. It was unmistakable. There was a fish tail caught in the ice. The poor little fish had been sleeping when the ice had formed and now its tail was trapped firmly. “How can we set it free?” she asked.

The three Actuals thought for a moment. The ice was too deep to crack, which was precisely what made it great for skating.

“Perhaps with the right tools…” thought Knot.

“What tools exactly?” said Albert.

Knot wasn’t sure.

“First, we need to create a cordon around this area to protect the fish’s tail from skaters,” said Albert, taking charge.

The bunnies quickly organised a protective circle of holly branches around the fish tail to keep the skaters away from the trapped fish.

“That’s all we can do for this evening, there’s no way we can thaw the ice,” said Albert.

“But what about the fish? We can’t leave!” wailed Knot.

Albert reassured his friend. “We’ll come back tomorrow, and if the ice doesn’t show any signs of melting by then, we’ll be back with a plan!”  But Albert wasn’t yet sure what that plan would be.


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