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Kids Fantasy Funny

🐿

Zainab walked into the backyard with her mug of steaming tea and a thick book. Finally, Saturday. No rules, no homework, no sixth grade. Spring break was here, and her best friend had left town. It was the first year her Baba didn’t sign her up for a camp, and she was all about it. This was just how she wanted to spend it. 

Alone, reading, and gorging herself on butter cookies and honey-lemon tea.

 She surely wouldn’t head onto the trail on spring break. They’d all promised her that she could lay low. 

After placing her tea on the metal side table, she settled into the little iron bench next to the oak tree. Her new book opened with a satisfying crack... 

...followed by a thunk against her head. 

She closed her eyes and groaned.

“What do you want, dog bait?”

The squirrel from the tree hissed at her. “I asked you not to call me that. It’s really not funny. Try having them at your tail all the time.”

“Can’t say I relate, no tail,” Zainab said flatly, and sipped her tea. She kept her nose buried in her book, hoping he’d take the hint. 

Thunk.

“Will you stop?” she asked, and picked up the water bottle cap.

“Make your humans stop.”

“I never use water bottles, ever,” she complained, shaking the small piece of plastic at him. “I’ve organized beach clean ups, forest clean ups, bottle drives… I’ve gotten garbage cans on the trail and given out reusable bottles.”

“Do more,” the squirrel said, fluffing out his tail.

“Ugh, like what? We just ran a campaign to stop giving junk food to animals.”

The squirrel’s jaw dropped open. “Why would you do a thing like that? Why do you think we say ‘chee-chee-chee’ at humans? Chee-tohs are delicious!”

“They’re not good for you,” Zainab scolded. 

“But they’re just so… salty,” he said, wistfully.

Zainab rolled her eyes and opened her book. She managed to read three sentences.

Thunk.

She closed her eyes and dropped the book down.

“What?! What do you want, Dog Bait?”

“Can’t you call me Cheetoh?”

She opened her mouth to tell him he was being ridiculous, but then reconsidered. “You know, that has a nice ring to it. OK, fine. Cheetoh, what do you want?”

🌲

“Baba! I’m taking a walk!” she called, wrapping her hijab around her head. She walked out the door with her backpack on. Cheetoh wouldn’t tell her exactly what was needed, only that for some reason she was the only human he could ask for help. 

“They always just say ‘awwww, how cute!’ at me, but they never understand what I’m saying, now matter how much trouble someone is in,” he complained. He ran alongside her as she left their apartment building and rounded the corner. He stiffened as they approached the main road, the cars racing too fast for the heavy pedestrian area. Zainab stopped.

“I just can’t decide when I get to the road, do I stop, do I go, do I run back? And I know that’s how I become a pancake, and not a Cheetoh.”

Zainab looked him sympathetically. “Why don’t you ride in my pack?” 

“I’ll get seasick,” Cheetoh complained. 

Zainab sighed. She knew what he wanted. She leaned down and let him climb into the hood of her hoodie and then covered them both with her scarf.

“Just don’t scratch me. And you better not leave any fleas.” 

Zainab felt him shift in the hood, putting his hands on his hips. “That was one time!” 

She ignored him and walked down past the coffee shop and grocery store. If you walked a couple of blocks behind it, there was a trail. Her trail. In Portland, you couldn’t go too far without finding one. She slowed as she approached the clearing that opened to her forest. There was a cigarette butt on the ground! And a gum wrapper, right in front of the garbage can.

“Gross. It took like two years to get the garbage can put in and people just throw their stuff on the ground?”

Cheetoh peeked out from under the scarf. “That might have been Wilbur. He saw the Sour Cream and Onion chip bag in there and… you know the rest.”

Zainab picked up the garbage shrapnel and threw it away. “I guess you can’t expect more than that from raccoons. Where am I headed?” she asked. 

“She’s panicking, can you hurry? This way,” a bird called from the branch of the fir. 

“Who’s panicking?” Zainab called to the chickadee, but she’d flown back in through the forest.  

“Why all the mystery?” Zainab asked.

“It’s half the fun,” Cheetoh said with a shiver.

“You’re getting heavy,” she said to him. 

🦊

Rabbits bolted past them as they approached the audience of birds, waiting in the trees. 

“Where are they going?” she asked.

“Well, once you help out, they’re not going to want to be around.”

Zainab swallowed. The sun rose higher in the sky and even though the ground was relatively flat, maneuvering over the recent felled trees and branches made her sweat more than usual. The recent unexpected ice storm had whipped through and the weight of the ice was too much. Even for some of the evergreens. Branches and full trees clogged the forest floor. She was glad they’d had a few rain free days so she wouldn’t sink into thick mud. 

“There,” Cheetoh told her, and Zainab leaned close to a tree for him to scamper up to safety. 

“Where are you going?” she asked him. “I don’t see anything.”

“Nothing to see,” said the chickadee. “She stopped moving a couple of minutes ago.”

“Who?” Zainab asked, scanning the tree trunk and lifting branches. She didn’t need the chickadee to respond. She found the matted tail poking out from under the fallen tree.

“Mama fox,” Chickadee whimpered.

Zainab’s eyes flooded with tears. “No,” she whispered. She stood up and angrily pushed on the tree, knowing it was pointless. She still had to do something. 

“She’s gone,” Cheetoh said, now sitting on the tree.

“Oh, fox, I’m so sorry I wasn’t faster,” and she let out loud, heaving sobs.

Why had she even bothered to come? All she wanted was to escape into a book (any kind except one with talking animals), not come here…  She’d been coming almost every day ever since her Baba had entrusted her to come alone. The work was neverending, but she’d never been too late before.

Cheetoh let Zainab wail for a few minutes. When her sobs slowed, he scampered into her bag and pulled out a tissue to blow her nose.

One of the larger brown rabbits hopped back up and side eyed Cheetoh. “I hope you didn’t let Zainab think that she was going to save mama fox from under that tree? She’s sensitive. Zainab is a vegan,” she said, knowingly. 

Zainab sniffed and appreciated her audience. “I can take it. I’m sorry again,” she said to the ever-growing audience.

“What about the babies?” the rabbit said. 

Zainab turned to look at her. “What babies?”

The rabbit stood on her two hind legs and sniffed the air, pointing with an ear to a mass of sticks and moss just to the side of the tree. There really wasn’t much of an entrance, but when Zainab lifted some of the branches away, she heard scuffling. She reached into her back jean pocket and pulled out her cell phone. She switched the flashlight function on and tiny legs and squirming furry bodies with tightly closed eyes came into view. 

🍼

 Walking into the grocery store with a backpack of squirming, squeaking fox kits was a risk. Zainab hustled to the milk section and picked up a bottle of goat’s milk, which seemed to be the safest thing to feed her foundlings. She went to the self check-out as quickly as she could move. She then scurried home with her backpack slung over her chest. Three kits inside, and a squirrel in her hood. 

“You can walk now, you know,” Zainab complained to Cheetoh, shifting under all the extra weight. 

“I’m supervising,” Cheetoh said, proudly. 

“If Baba catches you in the house, you’ll get whacked by the broom.”

“If he can catch me,” Cheetoh responded with a smirk.

“Fine. Maybe you can help look after the kits.”

Me? Feed them? Those things grow up and eat squirrels. You can’t ask me to help feed something that thinks I’m food!”

Zainab stopped short of her door. “You did ask me to call you Cheetoh.”

Cheetoh gulped. 

“Who knows. Maybe the kits will come to like you and can defend you in the forest. Take you for rides and stuff.”

Cheetoh huffed into a ball. Zainab rolled her eyes and walked through her front door. 

Her Baba was heading out the door as she walked in, and they nearly collided. 

“Hi Baba, I’m fine!” Zainab said, a little faster and louder than she wanted to. She clutched her pack.

Baba raised an eyebrow. He looked at the milk in her hand. “Milk? I thought you were vegan,” he said, chuckling. “I’m going to go help Khaltu with her car. Do you wanna come? You can play with your cousins.”

“No, Baba, I’m babysitting.”

“Babysitting?”

“I mean, watching the Babysitter’s Club. I’m in the middle of the series. Maybe tomorrow,” she said. 

He shrugged. “Maybe lay off the sugar, ok?” He pulled his keys off the hook in the wall and went out the door. 

Zainab carried the pack into her bedroom and closed her door. She spread a comforter on the ground and opened the bag. She let out a soft cry when she saw their tiny faces. She put one hand to her chest. “Aren’t they so sweet?”

“Mini demons of flesh eating fury,” Cheetoh said, wrinkling his nose in disgust. 

Zainab shot him a look. “Can I trust you for five minutes to watch them while I heat up some milk and find a syringe?”

“I don’t know what that is, but I guess it’s fine.”

“Don’t make me let the cat in here,” she joked. Cheetoh hissed at her. 

She warmed the milk and found a medicine dropper in the drawer of ‘everything that doesn’t have it’s own drawer.’ She shot back to her room where she caught Cheetoh peeking into her bag. 

“What are you going to do? You know these things grow up bigger than your cat?”

“Keep them warm and feed them, I guess.”

“Humans can’t keep foxes!”

“Then maybe you should’ve left me to my book and found someone else to bother.”

Cheetoh kept squawking, but it was no use. She lifted one of the kits that was a bit redder than the others, and held him close to her chest. He rooted around her chest, looking for milk and making sucking sounds. 

“Sorry, little guy. This will taste a bit different.”

It was a struggle to help him get used to the hard, plastic tip of the dropper. Zainab fed him drop by drop. 

“Don’t feed them too much, probably good to keep them a bit puny,” Cheetoh advised. 

Zainab saved her side eye, wholly immersed in her task. “Snickerdoodle,” she called the first one, and placed him on the comforter. She pulled out the second kit, who picked up using the dropper right away. She sucked down every drop in record time. “Good girl,” Zainab encouraged. “Chloe.”

The third kit didn’t show any interest in the dropper. She didn’t root around, didn’t sniff the air, and moved her mouth away when Zainab tried to use the dropper.

“Come on, sweetie, you need to eat,”

The kit stayed limp and uninterested in her hand. 

“Ah, the runt. Want to put it out for the cat?” Cheetoh asked.

Zainab whipped her head around. “What? No! How could you be so heartless?”

“It’s a runt, not meant to make it,” Cheetoh shrugged. “Happened to my own brother. Happens all the time.”

Zainab’s heart sank. She lifted the runt close and held the kit to her neck. “I know it’s tough. But you’re interrupting my spring break, and so you better eat. House rules, gotta finish what’s on your plate.”

She unwrapped her scarf and then placed the kit directly against her chest, wrapping the shawl around herself and the kit. 

🏘

It took hours filled with anxiety that the kit would starve, topped with the worry that her Baba would be home any minute, and how would she explain the baby-wearing contraption with a kit inside?

Cheetoh had fallen asleep next to the other two baby kits, who were curled under his fat, bushy tail. Zainab’s eyes drooped heavily, until she felt a tiny, wet, interested snout on her skin. She got up slowly, walked with the kit into the kitchen, and heated more milk in the microwave. The kit’s snout kept searching. She filled the dropper slowly and drop by drop, the kit accepted each one. 

Her whole body warmed. She looked deeply at the kit wrapped in her hands. 

“That’s a girl. Layla.”

Her father opened the front door.

😿

The fake tears didn’t work on Baba. They still didn’t work when they turned into real ones. He would never understand. Zainab didn’t even understand the bond that had happened within hours. He was threatening to take the babies away when they’d just come into her life. He didn’t think she saw when he rolled his eyes as she put the kits inside her shirt. She left them there even though they’d scratched her skin. She couldn’t let Baba see that she knew he was right.

He drove to the animal rehab center. Zainab cradled the kits and pouted the whole time.

Apparently, he’d called already, because Lucy walked out to meet them, her blonde ponytail bobbing behind her. She grinned broadly at them. “You again?” she teased. 

Zainab had to stay mad at Baba, but could smile at Lucy. It was true that’d she’d had her dad drop off their fair share of birds, a snake, and several of Cheetoh’s cousins. 

“What have we today?” she asked.

“Fox kits. They’re in my shirt.”

She looked at Baba. “Really?”

“She wanted to keep them at home.”

“I don’t blame you,” Lucy said. 

At least she’d stopped calling her ‘kiddo.”

“Can you tell me what you’ve done so far?”

Zainab inhaled, exhaled softly. “Just kept them warm. I fed them some goats milk with a dropper. The little one was pretty hesitant to eat.” 

She focused on Zainab. Paused. “Do you wanna come back and help get me oriented to them?” 

She shot a look to Baba. He nodded permission, pulled out his phone and sat in the one of the lobby chairs.

Zainab explained finding the kits and the dead fox ‘on a hike.’

“You spend a lot of time on the trail,” Lucy said. 

Zainab nodded. “I like it out there.” 

Lucy brought Zainab back to the room with long tables. She pulled a container of formula out and mixed it with warm water.

“Can I see which one gave you trouble before?”

Zainab reluctantly pulled the runt from her neck. Lucy put some blankets on the table and helped put the others on it. 

Lucy pulled the smallest bottle Zainab had ever seen and warmed some milk for the runt. Then, she handed the bottle to Zainab, nodding encouragingly. 

After all kits were fed, Zainab’s chest tightened. Her Baba hadn’t rushed her. He’d waited patiently in the lobby while she’d fed the kits one by one as slowly as she could. She peered longingly at her kits.

She felt her cheeks going hot as she realized that it was almost time for the center to close. 

“Do you want to keep my hoodie? So they can have my smell?”

Lucy looked at her. “What’s your plans for spring break?”

Zainab sucked in her lips. “Honestly, I wasn’t planning anything until I met them.”

She could tell Lucy’s mind was turning over an idea. 

“Could I come visit them?” she pleaded with her hands in front.

“Let’s go talk to your dad.”

🕮

Zainab snuck in some nuts into the bedroom. 

“Sorry, Cheetoh, I can’t get outside tonight without raising suspicion. Baba’s already curious why I wouldn’t let the cat in the room.”

He nibbled at one of the walnuts, then narrowed an eye after she filled him in. She lay on the bed, grateful to finally put her feet up.

“So, you volunteered to go there… all week? I thought you were taking the week off,” he said, mouth full of nut mash.

“Me, too,” she said. “But they’re pretty cute, those kits.” 

He shook his head. “Maybe. At least now you can relax.”

She chuckled. “I’ll be going to work with Lucy everyday. Baba will drop me off on his way to work.”

“What about reading your book?” Cheetoh asked, looking concerned. 

“I guess I’ll read it later,” Zainab said.

Cheetoh looked at a small bookshelf next to her bed, pulled out a paperback and lugged it to her. “Will you tell me this one?”

Charlotte’s Web.

She rolled her eyes, but took it. She patted the bed. Cheetoh jumped up next to her. Zainab opened the book and began to read. 

March 26, 2021 16:01

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1 comment

Palak Shah
15:03 Aug 08, 2021

I love the way that you have used the prompt and it was a great story. Well done :)) Could you please read my latest story if possible? :))

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