Reginald had always known life would be interesting when he’d gone to live with his uncle. After all, Commodore Franklin Giles-Whitton was known for the adventure tales he’d written after leaving the navy.
They were wonderful books, full of fantastic creatures the Commodore claimed he’d encountered during his decades of service to Queen and country.
In the first one, a little boy named Ronald befriended a creature that was half-leopard and half-snowy owl, taming it by giving up bits of his breakfast bacon each morning. Of course, the creature had befriended the boy, ultimately protecting him from the Stone Knights that came to life, literally, once in a blue moon.
Reginald had always suspected that Ronald was based on him. Certainly, the ink boy shared his features and the stupid fussy clothes his mother made him wear. He was eleven! Surely, he was old enough for long trousers by now!
But his suspicion wasn’t confirmed until he’d been living with the Commodore and his wife for three months. He’d woken to a murky sky and rolling thunder had arrived just after breakfast. Confined to the house, Reginald (no one ever shortened his name) began exploring the back hallways of the ancient mansion.
He found a stray feather at the bottom of a steep stairway – an owl feather dotted with leopard spots – and took it as an invitation. He was halfway up to the top when a red ball came bouncing toward him. He caught it – he was a decent athlete despite the stupid clothes – and tossed back.
This game of catch continued until he reached the landing. To his right was a foggy window. To his left – he wasn’t sure why he hadn’t seen the light flooding out of what was obviously his uncle’s workroom – but the bright space beckoned.
Also beckoning was – well, Reginald thought it was a bat at first – and it DID have wings – but the red, rubber ball in its mouth and the way its furry body wriggled with joy reminded him of his friend Anne-Elise’s Yorkshire terrier.
“Hey there, little one,” he addressed the animal. “Can I have the ball?”
And so, the game continued, and with each round, the bat-dog-thing drew Reginald further into the workroom until, finally –
“It’s about time you joined us, m’boy!” The Commodore’s booming voice preceded the big man’s appearance. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
And that’s when Reginald realized. All the creatures from his uncle’s books were REAL. All were in cages or on perches around the room – the white leopard-owl had a raised bed right near the old man’s desk.
“But… this… how?”
The Commodore laughed. “I had a feeling it was Tiberius here who would find you. Every boy needs a dog. And every man needs someone to follow in his footsteps, as it were. I’m drawing the new Ronald book’s first frame… care to watch?”
Reginald’s eyes were wide as saucers, but his voice had gone missing. He could only offer an enthusiastic nod.
“Catbird got your tongue?” The old man’s tone was full of amused affection. “No worries, lad. Take a seat over there. Tiberius likes his ears scratched, and his shoulders at the wing-roots, too.”
He knew a command when he heard one. Reginald went to the indicated chair and sat in it, and the bat-dog, Tiberius, landed on his lap. Dropping the ball, the furry creature darted out a rough tongue and licked the boy’s hand, then looked up at him expectantly.
Reginald understood that sort of command, also, and immediately began giving the animal the attention it was demanding.
Many more rainy days were spent in the workroom, often with Tiberius resting atop Reginald’s shoulders while the boy watched his uncle draw and write. He didn’t mind, except when the animal put its paws across the boy’s mouth. The tiny claws made his skin itchy.
On sunny days, the endless games of catch continued, in the house, in the gardens, and even outside the gates in the rolling hills. Their bond had been forged and was unbreakable.
Aunt Felicity worried and fussed over her nephew, but the Commodore brushed aside his wife’s concerns.
“He’s just a boy playing with his dog, my dear.”
“Yes, my love,” Felicity responded as the two gazed upon their sleeping nephew and the ball of wings and fur nestled at his side. “But the dog has wings.”
“That’s true, my love,” the Commodore said, guiding his wife from the room. “Then again, so do you.”