Companions for Life
"As there has been great interest in Hovermutts, especially the fact that they choose their riding companion, and not the other way around, I am happy to delve into the lives of our three most well known." ~ Kamilla
Benoline Crabbitt fought a tug in his heart as he handed out leather bound booklets to the Bond.
“What’s this?” Root asked.
“All the information you need to know about your new mates. History, family tree, allergies, hopes, fears. Everything.”
Root’s hand tightened around the folio as it became suddenly very precious. How wonderful to have such a thing. She opened the first page.
Stogie’s mum was named Rhubarb. His dad was named Puddle. When Stogie was born, he looked like a fat little brindled cigar, thus his name.
He was the youngest of eleven brothers and sisters who lived on a Hovermutt Farm. At least that’s what he’d been told. But Stogie soon learned that it was actually a Hovermutt Mill as he watched his poor, exhausted mother forced to breed over and over again with no rest afforded her.
This made Stogie angry and in due time, difficult to handle. His dad, who was kept solitary in a breeding cage, warned Stogie that this would be his fate, too, if he didn’t ‘cuten up’.
But Stogie refused to ingratiate himself to the brutal and hated Breeder and soon became a rebel of sorts, causing more trouble than he was considered worth.
It was not long before he found himself a frequent guest of the Punishment Leash without food or water for days. Whenever a potential suitor was brought to him, his appearance and behaviour always turned them off. Many were cruel to him just to make sure he didn’t pick them.
This, of course, gave Stogie sufficient reason to reject them all. And so, while all his siblings were partnered and moved away, Stogie remained.
His rebellion shifted into rage, a constant brooding that goaded him into further misfortune. It wasn’t long before his father’s premonition came true and Stogie was thrown into the Breeding cage too. There, he lost all contact with his mother and watched his father weaken into a mere husk of himself. Dying for lack of freedom.
“Do not end up like me,” his father had urged him one night when the heat had left him panting for life.
So Stogie, in a last-ditch attempt, tried to soften his heart. He tried to be kinder. He tried to obey.
But at every turn, the Breeder mocked and beat and starved him. He was hidden from visitors for it was too late. He was now trapped in the Breeder’s world, a useful mutt to replace the dying one.
It was a stiflingly hot night when his father took his last breath. Stogie had watched helplessly from the corner of the filthy cage. He had watched and rendered nothing.
No whimper. No cry.
And then he came undone.
As a gravely silent crescent moon glazed overhead, Stogie did the only thing he could.
He howled a heart-wrenching cry that sent shivers along the spine and tore out into the world with pain and grief at its back. It ripped through the cages and the pens and the very blood of his inmates who, in their own wretchedness, joined his despairing call.
When the Breeder came out, his hair stood on end. It was a sound that besieged his ears and challenged his tyranny for the very last time. The howl drew wind into it and earth. Walls came down. Cages snapped and splintered. The land itself rumbled and groaned.
And still Stogie howled. A small broken shadow before a brilliant crescent moon that seemed to lynch him.
The Breeder tried to stop him, but a pack of his own frothing mutts barred his way and encircled him with a vengeful hunger.
The Breeder’s shack began to quake and crumble, sending a lantern into his conceding curtains. Soon, the flames were licking and crackling and devouring the shack before they were to sweep over the entire land and char to ashes any remaining cruelty.
And still Stogie howled.
While his friends escaped into whatever paths opened for them and long after the Breeder had taken to the field, Stogie howled until finally his lungs collapsed and he fell whimpering into unconsciousness.
When a morning rain soothed the embers and dashed out the remaining flames that had scorched a vast blackness around him, Stogie woke to the gentle shaking of a hand.
“You okay little fella?” Benoline Crabbit’s voice was the first voice Stogie had ever detected to have kindness in it.
He later learned after his first scrumptious introduction to Hover-Meal and his first bubble bath and his first brushing and his second Nice Person, Benoline Crabbit’s wife, Tergusa; that his howl had woken up the hundreds of Hovermutts on the Crabbit’s Hovermutt Farm miles away and inspired Benoline to borrow his neighbour’s top Noser, Pilsnips to find him.
Thus, Stogie remained with the Crabbits. And over time, he grew happy. Though he was still mischievous and a little disruptive, his heart had mellowed and even found the will to beam at times. Then one day, when a family visited for Selection, he actually found himself appraising them, wondering if there was someone special for him.
It was a lovely thought and one that tipped the scales for Stogie. He began to feel love.
Root felt her throat swell as she watched her Stogie tugging at Pilsnip’s ankles.
He picked me, she marveled and in that moment, vowed herself eternal. She turned the pages and discovered that Stogie loved grapes and carrots and well, pretty much everything, except red peppers. He despised flies buzzing around him and loved to soak in a pond or pool or lake on hot summer days with his back feet stretched out. He had no allergies, but weak dew claws that needed frequent cutting. His favourite pastime was chasing and barking and ‘getting into things’. And if he could, he would always try to sleep on a human bed.
At one week old, before she knew her parents’ names, Hana was taken to a Hover Shelter.
She had two sisters, LuLu and Blithe, who were immediately attracted to a pair of twins. They left when Hana was only six weeks old and she felt a terrible hollow when they were gone.
The shelter was kind enough and clean enough, but it was empty of the important stuff, the bliss that grew out of a home.
Every day people would gawk and wave and pretend to bark, but no one gave her the Home feeling. Days lingered into weeks of eating, sleeping and more heavy, lonely silence and still no one reached across the bars with the heart she sought.
She began to wonder if she would ever find the right one. Her pen became a prison cell and she soon took to tucking into its furthest corner. Every once in awhile she’d look hopefully at a face, but it would be empty. Eventually she gave up.
Then one day, a little girl peered through the bars at Hana’s slumped body.
“Here puppy, puppy!” the girl called and Hana glanced over. The girl was a curly little thing in lace and floral. Hana looked at the face. A pinkish nose, chubby cheeks, a plump mouth. She looked into the girl’s eyes. And that’s when she saw it. It was only a flicker, but it was enough to make Hana’s ears go back. Malice. This was one rotten apple, a bonafide spoiled brat in cute clothing.
Hana turned away and sunk her head between her paws.
“Hey!” the girl shrieked. “You can’t turn away from me! I’m Wilamyra Orange!”
“What’s the matter, dear?” The girl’s mum approached. “Are you okay? Did one choose you?”
“That one! I want that one!” Wilamyra pointed and demanded.
“And how does she feel about you?” the mum pleaded in a feeble voice.
“Who cares! I want her and that’s that!” the girl stamped her foot.
“Well, Sweetykins, her Like-O-Metre is on zero. I’m afraid she has…well…she has declined interest.” The mum braced herself as she said this.
The girl turned purple. “You get me that Hovermutt or I’m gonna scream.”
It was a shrill attack that went straight for the mother’s spine (or lack thereof). The mother waved her hands and fanned her daughter and begged her to please give her a chance to make things better, but the shriek carried on.
Hana tucked farther in her corner.
A Shelter clerk ran over to see what was the matter. But the crying had already stopped and the girl was smiling smugly.
“Is everything alright?” the clerk asked.
“Oh…uh…yes, my daughter was just excited to have…found a match is all. This grey one,” the mum whispered looking entirely defeated.
The clerk, a trainee with pimples and freckles and gangly limbs looked at the Like-O-Metre, which was nothing more than a novelty really. It was curiously suspended at number five, which meant ‘adore’ despite the fact that Hana showed no such signs.
But he had missed the day of training that had covered the Tell Tale Signs of Hovermutt Selection and Tampering, which would have enabled him to see a fraud when it presented. And, in the end it mattered not, for there was now a fat pouch of coins thrown in his palm.
Hana was loaded into a kennel much too small for her and released into a lacy stable under the tortuous watch of the brat.
Correction, brat and whip.
But Hana was no pushover.
Days later, the mother was storming the Shelter, daughter in tow. “I demand to speak with the owner!” she spewed.
When the owner arrived, he was lambasted with a tale in which the ending detailed a nasty welt on a rear end.
“That beastly mongrel bit my daughter! I demand it be put down!”
Too busy for any kind of formal inquest and acutely aware of the gawks that were coming from potential buyers, the manager swiftly took the Hovermutt from the woman and pasted on a smooth apology.
Wilamyra Orange actually smirked as she watched her ex-Hovermutt, ears down, being led to the Termination Chambers.
Hana had no idea where she was being taken, but from the look on the Clerk’s face, it was not somewhere pleasant.
The door clanged with an echo behind her. It was a sterile, cold room. Not even the corners offered any warmth. She sat in the middle of the empty floor and shivered.
A lady came in. Hana wagged her little stump of a tail for it was the kindly feeding lady. But there were no cheerful coos today. Only a smile. A sad, aching smile.
And a foul-smelling liquid in a cup.
The lady scratched Hana behind the ears and drew in closer.
“This will taste a little bitter, love,” she comforted and held out the cup.
The door swung open, knocking the lady and sending the cup flying. In the threshold stood Benoline Crabbit.
“A little too close for my liking, Master Crabbitt,” the lady sighed.
“Sorry Berta, I got stuck in the mud.” He looked at Hana. She wiggled her stub slightly. “Hey, pretty lady. I hear you had a bad time at Orange Mansion.”
Hana’s tail sunk.
“It’s okay. I’m not here to take you back. In fact I’m gonna get you outta here into a big wide open field with lots of fresh air and delicious food. Wha’dya think of that, mmmm?”
As Benoline Crabbit led Hana out the back door, he turned to the feeding lady. “And for goodness sake, Berta, tell them to get rid of those ridiculous Like-O-Metres.”
Dwyn puffed his chest. It was a fierce, protective puff. “I will never, ever let you down,” he pledged.
As Hana lovingly nudged him for more pets, he flipped through the other pages of her booklet. She loved the outdoors. She didn’t like swimming so much and preferred her water dish to always be full so her whiskers didn’t get too wet. She was lightning fast, one of the fastest of the pack and would often get way ahead and have to wait for the others, pouncing on them as they arrived. Her favourite food was Hover-Meal, although there was nothing like a good meaty bone. This she would hoard and savour and flaunt until eventually Stogie would figure out a way to get it from her.
Hana loved to herd the pack and take on the role of caretaker, often sleeping in a spot that offered a full view of the Farm so she could keep a watchful eye.
Pilsnips was born in a breezy house on Barberry Cove where he and his parents would often go on Hover hikes along the pebbly beach. His was a good life complete with doting newlyweds, Dullyn and Joob. Joob was a piano Pyrist who gave lessons in their home and Dullyn was a highly Torched harpist in the symphony. Needless to say, there was always music in the newlywed house along with plenty of hugs, tummy scratches and a full food bowl.
When Dullyn had her baby, a whopping eleven pound girl, there was a fair amount of nervousness as to whether Pilsnips would take to her as his parents had taken to them.
They hoped he would, thereby keeping the family together, but were fully prepared to let him decide on his own.
At first, Pilsnips didn’t even notice the new addition. He was already quite immersed in a routine of sleeping, eating and general recreational lounging.
Eventually, on the third day, he smelled something very strange and debated whether to investigate. It was a tough decision. He was rather comfy on the porch with the sun bathing his belly. But the smell steadily lingered so he heaved his great body up and followed his nose.
He ended up at a picnic blanket in the back yard. On it sat a simple white cradle with a delicate net spread over it. He sniffed as he approached. When he saw the baby he thought Dullyn had shrunk into a pudgy wrinkled doll, but then Dullyn came from the garden humming softly to herself. She saw Pilsnips and without saying a word, lifted the veil away from the cradle.
Pilsnips poked his head in and sniffed some more. The baby gurgled and smiled and pinched his big black wet nose. And he was caught. Happily, sweetfully trapped in her bright blue eyes.
It wasn’t long before ‘his’ baby was crawling all over him and dressing him in skirts with matching headbands. Then came the riding lessons where he seemed to end up with more bruises than his baby. Which was just fine with him.
Life was grand.
One day, he sniffed something different about his baby. It was an odd smell, a not good smell. He tugged at Joob’s arm and nudged a dark spot on his baby’s tummy. She pulled back with a distinct “ouch!” and rubbed the spot. The next day, the spot was bigger and his baby was crying.
“Pilsnips!” Dullyn called. “We’re taking baby to the Curatives.”
Pilsnips hovered slower than usual. His baby wasn’t holding on very well and he didn’t want her to fall off.
He was left at a stall with his mum and dad while Joob and Dullyn carried his baby and placed her in the Curative’s hands.
That was the last time he saw his baby.
And for a very, very long time after that, there was no more music in the house.
If only he had not smelled it and just left the dark spot alone. With blame haunting his head, Pilsnips stopped sniffing.
When Dullyn had another baby, Pilsnips stayed far away. He wouldn’t come near the house and when the family played outside, he hid in the stables. Even when music came streaming out of the windows again, Pilsnips listened from a far distance.
It wasn’t until Joob’s first student in years came along, that Pilsnips lifted his ears. It was a boy. An earnest looking thing with shiny pecan eyes.
“Hello. Please come in,” said Joob. “I’ve got a brand new piece for you to work on.”
“Nifty,” said the boy.
Pilsnips snorted. Who says ‘nifty’ he thought and rolled to his side.
The next week, the boy returned. He was early and had brought with him an apple. Pilsnips watched him peel the apple with acute precision, as if his life depended on it, slowly scraping the skin round and round until it fell away in one long curl.
Who peels an apple like that? Pilsnips scoffed and rolled over.
The next week, the boy, early again, spent the entire wait scrutinizing a weed. Pilsnips couldn’t believe the concentration. Picking, smelling, lifting it to the light, tasting its leaves. Pilsnips yearned to see for himself what was so interesting about a stupid weed. But he swiftly killed the thought and rolled over.
The next week, the boy showed up with a bandage on his arm, but instead of leaving it be, he stripped it away and thoroughly inspected the cut the way a Natruid would inspect an insect. While the boy poked and prodded, Pilsnips wondered what had happened to the boy to get the cut. He extended a sniff then realized what he was doing, stopped mid-smell and rolled over.
This went on for months.
On his thirty-sixth lesson, early as usual, the boy did something completely unusual. He simply sat there and waited. He didn’t analyze anything, didn’t inspect the grass or the door bugs or the workings of the new porch light, didn’t pull off a bandage or pluck a hair for examination. He just sat there looking down at the dirt. Sad. This bothered Pilsnips, and being bothered, bothered him even more.
He rolled over. But the boy’s slumped image stayed with him for the whole rest of the week. And when the boy missed the next lesson, Pilsnips was shocked to find himself concerned.
Pilsnips then did something he hadn’t done in many, many years.
And this whiff of a sniff led to a longer, deeper sniff, one that had him on his feet and trotting. Minutes later, he was in a play yard, the same one he used to take his baby to.
The familiarity made his heart hurt and he wanted to turn right around, but his nose caught a distinct scent. Fear. He followed it around the corner of a Scholary and there he saw ‘his’ boy on the ground, nose bleeding, four much bigger boys towering over him.
“What’samatter, Blick? Bredin powers not working, huh?”
“Look at ‘im. Can’t even punch. How’s he gonna lead an army?”
Pilsnips struck. The bullies landed flat on their backs, a suitable amount of dirt plugging up their shnook mouths. When they got back on their feet, it was to run from the mad Hovermutt now baring a very healthy set of canines.
Lian Blick picked himself up. Pilsnips glided over and lifted him onto his great back.
“Nifty!” he heard his boy whisper.
The next day, Dullyn and Joob waved goodbye to their beloved Hovermutt as he moved to his new home.
By Kamilla Reid