George closed the back door and sat down on the step leading to the garden. It was cold outside, and dark, but at least it was quiet out here, peaceful. Inside the argument raged on, shouts and screams suddenly piercing the night as the front door was opened and then slammed shut again so hard that the shell of the house trembled. The hairs on the back of George’s neck bristled at the spark of an ignition, followed by the rev of an engine which roared off into the distance.
George switched on his flashlight, wiped the lenses of his spectacles with the corner of his pyjama top and opened his book; ‘The Origin of Species,’ by Charles Darwin. One by one the lights in the house behind him were extinguished, and the metallic twist of a key inside a lockclicked shut just metres from his ears. Everything went silent. He was alone; just him, his book and the torchlight, which hovered over the pages of his book and onto the leaves blowing gently in the evening breeze.
He was half way through the introduction when he heard a thudding sound emanate from the back of the garden. George peered into the darkness for a second, then returned to his book. But there it was again, a slow, methodical, thump, thump, thump. George slowly placed his book onto the floor beside him, pulled himself up and, with both hands gripped around the torch, he edged forwards.
At first it looked like a big rock, a huge, solid, black shape in the darkness, but as George advanced he could just about make out the twirled patterns of a shell. Then, without warning, a long neck swung towards him and a large leathery face with bulbous black eyes stopped less than a metre from him. George jumped and shone the torchlight straight into the creature’s face.
“Hey!” it said, its large gums chewing its words “too bright!”
“Oh. Sorry,” said George and clumsily adjusted the torch.
“Much better,” said the thing. “Ooooh, a human, how interesting.”
“And you’re a, you’re a g, g, giant turtle,” stammered George.
“Well of course I am,” said the turtle, “but most of my friends just call me Tony.”
George opened and closed his mouth like a fish for a few moments, trying to form a sentence, finally managing “But you can talk.”
“Well,” said Tony, “We couldn’t be having this conversation if I couldn’t now, could we?”
George shook his head back and forth and asked “But what are you, what are you doing in my garden?”
“Migrating of course,” replied Tony, “Need to get somewhere warmer for the summer. Its been getting a little nippy around here lately, don’t you agree?”
George felt the chill in his toes and nodded his head.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I’m off to Galapagos, lovely place it is, usually go with the wife and kids but they’re heading to the Seychelles this year.” The turtle frowned, turned his face to the darkness and then back to George again.
“Hey,” it said, “I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you come with me? I could use the company, if you aren’t doing anything that is.”
“Me!” George exclaimed.
“Well, why not,” replied the turtle, “Doesn’t seem like you’ve got much else to do right now, and anyway, I’ve got plenty of room on my shell.”
George turned around, towards the house with its locked doors and dark windows and carless drive. He squinted his eyes and stared at it, really stared at it for a moment. And then, taking a long, deep breath, he turned towards the turtle, took a few steps forward and climbed on.