Three meerkat cubs stand on a mound. The blazing sun beats down around them. Their mother had warned them not to wander away from the burrows. There were lions about. Lions that would love three meerkat cubs as a tasty snack. Tilly, the tallest of the cubs, stretched tall.
“Can you see any lions Tilly?”
Tilly shook her head, “No lions, but even from here I can see wiggly worms on the muddy bank.”
“What about crocodiles?” asked the smallest of the three.
“No crocodiles, Tiny. In fact, the coast looks completely clear.” Tilly bent back down to her brothers and scratched at her belly with short, black claws. “We could go for just one worm each, maybe?”
Tiny and Timmy looked at each other. Wiggly worms were their favourite, but what if there were lions and crocodiles hiding, waiting to pounce? Tilly sensed their hesitation. She strutted off towards the riverbank, her tail pointed high in the air.
“Well, I’m going to get myself some tasty worms, but if you two are too scared, you just stay here. I’m sure you’ll find some crunchy beetles in the dirt by the burrow.”
Tiny scrunched up his nose. “Beetles, ew.” He bounded after her on all fours.
“Wait for me,” shouted Timmy behind them.
Tiny slammed into the back of Tilly as she slid to a halt at the edge of the tall, savannah grass.
“Ouch. Watch it.”
Timmy slid to a halt next to them and sniffed at the air. “Smells like lions to me. Maybe we should just go home?”
“Don’t be such a scaredy cat,” Tilly stretched as tall as she could, until she could just see over the top of the grass, “I don’t see any lions, come on.”
Tiny and Timmy crept into the grass behind Tilly. It had grown thick, much thicker than the last time they came through here with their mother. Too thick to see any lions that might lie in wait for unsuspecting cubs. The brothers huddled close to their sister, hoping for safety in numbers. The cool breeze carried with it a gentle rustling, and all three pups froze.
“What was that?”
They trembled as the rustling noise grew louder. Tilly spread her arms wide in front of her younger siblings. A look of steely determination cast across her face as she readied herself to defend them. Then, the grass parted, and before them stood not a terrifying lion but a bewildered zebra.
“Oh. Hi little meerkats. You haven’t seen a herd of zebras around here, have you?”
Tilly relaxed her arms and shook her head, “no, sorry.”
“Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to keep looking then,” he trotted past them, just as his tail was about to disappear into the tall grass, he shouted back, “you should get back home too you know, there’re lions around here.”
“See, I told you there we’re lions. You heard the zebra, let’s just go home. Mum will be furious if she comes back to find we’re gone,” pleaded Timmy.
Tiny stumbled, sending dust high into the air, as he scurried to catch his brother, who had already begun walking back towards the burrow.
“Pfft, don’t be such a scaredy cat. There’s nothing here but lost little zebras, but if you want to run home, that’s fine, more yummy worms for me.” Tilly licked her lips and rubbed her belly as she strode through the grass towards the river bank.
Tiny and Timmy stopped and turned to face each other. Tiny’s tummy groaned, “maybe just one wiggly worm?”
Timmy took Tiny’s hand, “just one, we’ll be back before mother even knows we’re gone,” and they rushed off to catch up with their sister who had already reached the edge of the tall grass.
Tilly peered through the gaps in the strands at the muddy bank. It was indeed alive with thousands of juicy worms. There wouldn’t be thousands for long though, as birds of every colour swooped down to snatch them from the goop. She jumped as Tiny and Timmy appeared behind her.
“Didn’t meet any hungry lions along the way then?” She raised an eyebrow. “I can’t see or smell any crocs, let’s get some tasty worms!” With a final cautious sniff, she parted the grass and stepped into the mud. The cool gloop rose around all four of her toes as she began stuffing her face with as many worms as she could catch, slurping them up as though they were strands of spaghetti.
Timmy had one paw in the mud when he spotted something move behind Tilly. It wasn’t a wriggle, more of a quick blink. He stopped in his tracks and stared where he was sure he’d seen the movement. Then he saw it again, a definite blink. Two yellow, prehistoric eyes firmly glued on Tilly’s back, waiting for the right moment.
Tilly raised her head, worms still dangling from her overflowing mouth, “huh?”
The croc launched, the dried mud which had been camouflaging its enormous body cracked and flaked with every movement. Its jaws opened, then snapped shut, narrowly missing Tilly’s tail as she lept out of its reach just in time. She let out a muffled squeal as she rushed towards her brothers and the safety of the long grass. She ran right into them and all three Cubs landed in a tangled ball of fur on the floor. The crocodile snapped its teeth-filled jaws one last time before returning to its spot by the bank. It squirmed, settling itself back down into the mud, and closed its eyes, becoming invisible once again.
Timmy pulled his tail free from the tangled ball of fur and claws, “that was too close Tilly, let’s get home before anything else tries to eat us.”
Tilly nodded, swallowed the worms still in her mouth, and began to lead the way back to the burrow. As the sun started to set, the wispy grass rustled and cast long shadows across the cracked ground.
“Hurry, mum said she’d be back by sundown,” Tilly grabbed her brother’s paws and dragged them through the brush. “Timmy, what are you doing?”
Timmy had freed his arm from his sister’s grasp and was staring, wide-eyed, at a rustling patch of grass directly behind them.
“Run!” Timmy tripped and hit the ground hard, grazing his knees. Tilly grabbed him by the tail and dragged him back just in time. A hungry, sharp-toothed lioness had just pounced from the spot Timmy had been watching. Her deadly paws landed inches from where Timmy now lay, panting, in a cloud of dust. All three meerkat cubs scrambled to their feet and ran as fast as they could. Back through the tall grass. Back up the hill. All the way back to the burrow, where they collapsed in a relieved pile.
“Grub’s up, cubs,” the three siblings jumped to their feet at the sound of their mother’s voice. She appeared over the hill, her arms full of grubs, beetles, and tasty, wiggly worms. “I hope you’re hungry. I brought your favourite.” She handed a squirming worm to each of her three children. A concerned look crossed her face as she spotted the bald patch on Timmy’s knee and Tilly’s mud-stained belly. She turned to her youngest boy, who was still panting, “is everything ok, cubs? You all look like you’ve had a scuffle.”
The three cubs looked at each other. “We’re fine, mum, thanks for the worms,” they said in unison.
That night, as they were tucked up, safe and warm in the burrow, their mother kissed each of them goodnight.
“You’ll never guess who I met today, cubs, a lost little zebra. The poor foal was terrified of meeting lions or a crocodile. Thankfully, I’d passed his herd and could lead him home.” She gave her cubs a knowing look “I’m so glad you three would never put yourselves in such danger.”
The cubs remained silent in their beds. Later that night, they swore never to disobey their mother and venture away from the burrow without her again.