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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
Hereís To Old Friends

Pink heather bells swayed gently in the morning breeze. Catriona, the sheep, stood munching on a prickly purple thistle. She loved living in the highlands of Scotland. Her thick wool kept her warm and protected her during the bitter cold winters. "Bruce," she said to the spider that dangled from another thistle growing nearby, "itís been so long since Iíve gone to visit my dear friend, Nessie, over in Loch Ness. I think Iíll go and see her. Would you like to come with me?"

"Iíd love to go, Catriona. Iíve heard you talk about Nessie before, but Iíve never met her. Let me climb onto your back and Iíll go with you," the black, hairy spider replied.

Bruce swung over from the thistle to Catrionaís wool using a strand of his web. He found a place to sit and rested as Catriona bent over to get a drink from a little burn. The water was cold and refreshing and flowed quickly through the glen. Bruce held on tightly as they walked alongside it. After a while, Bruce cried out, "Oh look! Thereís Angus. Whatís that highland bull up to now?"

Catriona approached Angus. He was chewing the thick grass growing around his hooves. "Good morning, Bruce. Good morning, Catriona. What are you two up to on this fine day?" he asked.

"Weíre going to Loch Ness to visit my dear friend, Nessie. I havenít seen her for a long time. Would you like to come with us?" she asked.

"Why, certainly, young lassie. Iíd love to go with you both," Angus answered, "but first, will you help me untangle my long, reddish-brown hair from these bushes?

Catriona reached down and pulled his hair from the gnarled, flowering broom bushes and then the three of them were on their way. As they were walking along, Bruce asked, "Whatís that horrible noise?" He put his hands over his tiny ears.

"Itís old Mr. MacTavish playing his bagpipes. He stands outside his croft every morning and blows them, driving all of us around nearby mad," said Angus. "The only one that doesnít seem to mind the awful noise is his old Scotty dog, Malcolm. I think he must be deaf by now."

Just then, Malcolm came running down the path, barking at Angus, Bruce and Catriona. He stopped when he recognized them. "Oh, itís only you. Where are you going? Are you coming to hear Mr. MacTavish play his bagpipes?" he asked.

"We can hear them from here, Malcolm. Weíre on our way to Loch Ness to visit my old friend, Nessie," explained Catriona. "I havenít seen her for a long time. Angus and Bruce are coming with me. Would you like to come too?" she asked.

"Aye, Iíd love to. MacTavishís bagpipes are driving me crazy. Iíve got to keep wax plugs in my ears so I donít go deaf," Malcolm said. Malcolm joined the others and soon they were on their way to Loch Ness. "Can we stop and pick some heather on the way home?" Malcolm asked. "Mrs. MacTavish loves wee heather bells."

"We can stop on the way back. Iíll keep an eye out for some other pretty flowers that grow around here too. If I remember right, there are some beautiful rhododendrons that grow around the loch," Catriona said.

"That would be lovely," Malcolm smiled.

The group plodded along beside the burn. Catriona led the way with Bruce on her back, followed in single file by Angus and Malcolm. They were enjoying the quiet walk when suddenly a loud, piercing shriek came from the ground near Angusís foot. "Ouch!" They stopped abruptly. Angus lifted his foot. He had stepped on Fiona, the grouseís tail and had accidentally pulled one of her feathers out. "You silly bull!" she screamed. "Look what youíve done. Oh, my poor tail!"

Angus looked down at Fiona and said, "Iím sorry. I didnít see you down there. You were hidden in the gorse. All I can see from up here are the yellow flowers growing all over the bush."

Fiona calmed down. "Iím sorry for shouting. I was napping and you frightened me." She held up her tail and looked at it. She noticed the missing feather lying on the ground. After trying for a few minutes to stick it back in, she gave up and dropped it. "Where are you all going? It looks like youíre having a parade or something."

Catriona explained that they were going to visit Nessie. "Would you like to come with us?" she asked.

Fiona answered, "I might as well. Iíll never finish my nap now." She snarled at Angus and then flapped her wings and flew onto his back. "The least you can do is give me a ride." Angus turned and looked back at her. She glared at him. "Well, you did pull out one of my feathers."

The bull didnít really want the bird to be there but he had stepped on her, so he nodded his head and the group continued on their way through the glen towards the loch.

They soon came to a forest, thick with pine, bracken and fern. "Whatís that noise?" Malcolm asked. "I hear something."

The others stopped and listened. Just then a head popped up from behind a large fern. "Itís only me, Duncan," he said, surprising the group.

"Duncan? Whatís a Shetland pony doing in the ferns?" asked Bruce.

"Iím not hiding," Duncan replied.

"Come out here, where we can see you. Iíll introduce you to my friends," Bruce said. The pony walked over to the burn. "This is Angus, the highland bull, Fiona, the grouse, Malcolm, the Scotty dog and you know Catriona, the highland sheep. Friends, this is Duncan. He was born in the Shetland Islands, which are way up in the North Sea, above mainland Scotland. He was captured in the wild and brought here to the highlands and let go a few years ago," Bruce explained.

The others looked at Duncan, who smiled. "Would you like to come with us?" Angus asked.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"Weíre going to visit Nessie, Catrionaís friend," explained Fiona.

"Iíd love to go," Duncan said. He walked over and got in line behind Malcolm. The six animals made their way towards Loch Ness. After an hour or two they spotted it. They kept walking and finally stopped to rest at some abandoned ruins, the ancient castle Urquhart. It stood on the shores of the loch. They sat down on the tender grass and rested

"Whereís Nessie?" asked Angus. "What kind of animal is she anyway?"

"Sheís in the water. I have to go down to the shore and call her. Why donít you stay here and Iíll be back shortly," Catriona said. The sheep walked down to the edge of the water. "Nessie!" she cried. "Baa. Baa. Nessie!" she called again.

The others stood and watched. "I wonder if Nessie is a fish," Malcolm said.

Just then the water began to churn. Angus, Malcolm, Duncan and Fiona stood up. "Whatís wrong with the water, Catriona? Nessie must be a big fish," shouted Angus.

Bruce was still sitting on Fionaís back. He too saw the water churn and crawled down into Catrionaís wool to hide. "Nessie!" she shouted again. "Itís me, Catriona."

The others watched in horror as suddenly a huge monstrous creature raised its head out of the water. It was green, had sharp teeth and a very long neck. Pieces of plants clung to the body. Malcolm, Fiona, Angus and Duncan ran into the castle to hide. "I hope it doesnít eat Catriona," Fiona whispered to the others as they peeked out through a hole in the castle wall.

"Hello Catriona," Nessie smiled. "Itís been a long time since Iíve seen you. What have you been up to?"

Catriona smiled back. "Hello Nessie. I was in mountains munching on some heather and thistle and thought of you. I wanted to come and visit you and invited some of my friends to come with me."

Nessie bent her head down to get a closer look. "What friends? All I can see is a spider hiding in your wool."

Catriona turned around. "Where did they all go? They were here just a minute ago. Malcolm? Angus? Duncan? Fiona? Where are you? Itís all right. Come out. This is my old friend, Nessie. She wonít hurt you," she called to the others.

One by one the shy animals came out from the castle ruins. Bruce crawled out of Catrionaís thick wool. "Nessie, these are my friends," she said, introducing them.

Nessie said, "Hello everyone. Iím Nessie. I live in the caves deep down under the water of Loch Ness. I stay there most of the time. Sometimes people come and bother me so I stay hidden unless an old friend like Catriona comes to visit me."

The others realized that the huge monster wasnít going to hurt them. Angus was the first to speak. "What are you? A dinosaur?"

Nessie laughed and said, "It doesnít matter what I am. The point is that now Iím your friend too and you can come to Loch Ness to visit me whenever you want."

For the next few hours they had fun with Nessie. She gave them rides on her back through the deep, black water. She took Malcolm over to a spot where she knew the most beautiful rhododendrons grew and waited while he picked some for Mrs. MacTavish. She splashed all over them and they laughed and laughed. Sadly, Catriona said, "I think itís time to go home now."

The others had to agree. "Youíll come and visit me again soon, wonít you?" Nessie pleased. They assured her that they would be back soon and then left. As they reached the path that went around the loch, they turned and saw Nessieís three humps and her long neck and head sticking out of the water in the middle of the loch. They watched as she quickly dove down and out of their sight.

"She must have gone back to her cave," Malcolm said.

"She was nice," Fiona added.

"She was very big," Bruce laughed.

Duncan wondered, "Doesnít she get lonely down there all by herself?"

"Iíd be lonely if I had to live in a dark cave by myself," said Malcolm.

"Donít you worry. I happen to know that Nessie has some friends that live in the cave with her. Sheíll be just fine," Catriona assured the others. They headed for home, walking through the heather-covered hills and valleys of the highlands, towards the setting sun.

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