[Cover illustration by Claire Scully]
"Quick, come and see this!"
"Not now I'm busy," said Harum.
This was perfectly true as he was snacking on three or four hundred ants at the time.
"But this is incredible," I said "its a happy donkey."
Harum executed a complicated manoeuvre which involved withdrawing his snout from the ants lair, jumping backwards, turning 180 degrees in the air and landing shoulder to shoulder with me in something under a second.
"Impossible," he snorted then "Incredible."
"I told you so," I said, no doubt annoyingly.
We both gazed wonderingly at the phenomenon. Even when not carrying a load donkeys are a morose bunch. When fully laden they are misery incarnate. Yet this chap was not only carrying a bundle of human chattels and knick-knacks but also a human female who can best be described as extremely heavy with child. And under it all the donkey fairly radiated good cheer. He was positively grinning and walking with a verve and enthusiasm which qualified him as one donkey in a million.
"You have a good memory Scarum," accurately observed Harum "In all the history of the Lost Tribe of the Pangolins has a happy donkey ever been seen before?"
"I can't answer for the entire history," I answered "but I can say that it has never been mentioned in the oral accounts of our folk here at Bethlehem, neither have our cousins at Jerusalem or Jericho ever passed on such a story to us. And it certainly isn't in any of the five Books of Noses."
While we had been talking the little party, two humans, male and female, and our happy donkey, had been making their way along the valley and getting closer to us. I was half-minded to call out to the jolly quadruped to ask him the reason for his high spirits. The Law of Noses, however, is quite firm about forbidding us to deliberately draw human attention upon ourselves so I stayed silent and entranced by the sight. Pangolins are well camouflaged in this region so the Lady and the man did not see us. Animals of course are much more acute about these things so our donkey had no problem spotting us. Observing animal etiquette he didn't do anything to cause his companions to notice us but he did give a cheery nod and actually winked at us. No word of a lie, the donkey palpably winked.
"We have a religious obligation to look into this more deeply," I said.
"We do?" Queried Harum "Religious in what sense?"
"The Cosmic Pangolin created us with long snouts so that we could stick them into things and longer tongues so that we could talk about it afterwards." I pointed out.
"Hmm," he grunted. Harum is a New Atheist and has some crazy theory about 'evolutionary purpose' but clearly did not want to argue the point. "How do you propose to do this 'looking into it' exactly?"
"The humans must be bound for Bethlehem so all we have to do is sneak into town at night when they are asleep and ask the donkey why he's so uppish."
"Risky, very risky Scarum. It comes perilously close to breaking the Law of Noses."
"Not if we do our best to avoid humans. It won't be the first time Pangolins have gone into town, young folk do it for a lark sometimes."
"And not all of them return either."
"We are old enough and wise enough to manage the thing safely. Anyway, admit it Harum you'd likely die of curiosity if you didn't find out about the happy donkey."
"Maybe, maybe not. Look, I'll finish my snack while you work out ways and means. If you come up with a workable scheme then we'll both go in. If not you're on your own.