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hvysmker
February 24th, 2020, 08:34 PM
Ruffie Lion’s Quest 1 of 3 [YA] 2,500


In Almost Africa, humans capture his family.

Little Ruffie must save them.





Did you ever try to see that fuzzy something moving alongside your head, way back where you can almost see it? No matter how quickly you turn, there's nothing. There is a land out there, almost seen but not quite, where things are the same as in front of you, but only almost.




You think you might be hearing someone talking softly, you're almost sure. The only one present is your goldfish, and he's ignoring you. You can almost make out what that something is saying, almost.




In that almost place, there are plants and animals that are almost like the ones you know, but only almost.




There are important differences in Almost Land. For one thing, the animals are much smarter in many ways. They talk among themselves and some can even talk to humans. It's the same thing here, but only almost. Do you sometimes get the feeling that your cat is trying to talk to you and you can almost understand, well ... almost?




Maybe you would be a tad smarter if you were in Almost Land? And that place is almost there, out of the corner of your eye … almost.




For example, take the family of Lena and Larry Lion, in Almost Africa....




***




"Put down that book and get your butt back to town," Lena growled at her husband as she peered into the refrigerator. "We're about out'a Joe, so you gotta go shopping."




"Grwww," Larry replied, placing a stray human finger bone in his copy of "Pleasing your Mate" before closing and laying it down on a coffee table. The king of the jungle slowly rose to all four legs. Reaching back to scratch his butt with one paw, he replied, "Darn, but that Joe was good, though. Especially the liver. Pickled liver makes me feel nice all over."




A week before, Joseph M'tomba, the town drunk, had been slow getting under cover when Larry Lion came to town to shop. The lion had been looking for food to feed his family. Faster in lifting his elbow than his feet, poor Joe ended up dining with the lion family.




At that moment, the last member of the family, a six-month-old cub named Ruffie, was a little distance away playing "Tarzan" in the bushes. Although he tried, he couldn't swing on any of the branches. He tried jumping, but they would either break or bend down to the ground. Tarzan never had that problem. But, then, Tarzan did have opposable thumbs.




Hearing a growl from his daddy, Ruffie stopped, panting, to see him plodding off into the distance.




Suddenly, there was loud banging, booming, and blammmming, as his daddy fell down on the ground. Mama Lena ran out of the house and over to Ruffie.




"Your Daddy's hurt," she told Ruffie. "Now, no matter what happens, you stay out of the way. Don't you dare leave these bushes. You hear me?"




Ruffie nodded, watching humans surrounding his father. He was very frightened, seeing his mama running at the humans, roaring curses as she ran.




She knocked three humans down before they captured her, putting her in a cage and hauling them both away.




Although the humans walked around and inside their home, stealing the television and microwave, Ruffie obeyed his mama and stayed hidden in the bushes. He did almost come out to fight when one of the humans stole his favorite Oscar Rat novels.




Ruffie stayed in the bushes when the humans left, then all night, shivering alone from both fear and loneliness. Just as he became hungry enough to sneak back home, the hyenas came. His fear returned as he heard them laughing and plundering the rest of his family’s valuables. He was a big guy for his age, but knew he couldn't fight off all those thieves by himself. Not even the real Tarzan could do that.




The next morning, after a restless night in the shrubbery, kept awake by fear, cold, and because he was used to his own bed in his own room, Ruffie finally went back to what had formerly been a nice comfortable home. First, though, he lay in the bushes for a few more hours to make sure they had all gone.




He found his home torn up. Bits of food were scattered over the kitchen and even the couch torn up in the living room. Hyenas aren't very neat, especially with other people's property. His own room was missing his bed with his comic book collection torn and scattered around the room, hyena pee all over everything.




Tears came to Ruffie’s eyes as he entered his parents' room. He could still smell his mama, even over the stink of hyena poop. Ruffie sniffed his mama's torn nightgown, then lay alone in the corner, crying for her return.




"I gotta find Mama," he cried, wiping his snout. "I just gotta."




***




Ruffie woke later, hungry and sad. He looked around his mama's room. It seemed strange, with clothing thrown around and dresser drawers emptied onto the floor, somehow not familiar anymore, as though it ... it ... it was someone else's house.




He padded downstairs, hearing his claws clicking on the stairs. Ruffie normally made a game of it, clicking away like a tap-dancer to Elvis Presley tunes in his head. Today ... well, they were only partially unsheathed claws, making sounds that would make his mother angry because fingernails scratched wooden steps. And he didn’t care.




At the thought, he had to stop, grabbing the railing with one paw and wiping his eyes with the other. He'd suddenly realized his mother wasn't there to punish him any more.




A growl from his tummy reminded the youngster that he'd better find something to eat, and then begin a quest to find his parents. Ruffie had little hope for his daddy. Being a lion, he had already seen plenty of death in his few short months. And the way Daddy had fallen showed Ruffie that he probably wasn't gonna get up again.




"But I'll find Mama," he growled out loud, to himself. "You just see if I don't."




The young lion searched the remains of his kitchen, looking for something to eat for breakfast. All the remaining Joe had been eaten by the hyenas, but he found a spilled pile of Klibbles and Bites breakfast cereal. There was plenty of milk, since hyenas didn't like health foods, so he fixed himself a big bowl of cereal.




Feeling a little better, Ruffie set out into the vast Almost African plains, seeking his mama.




At the top of a small hill, he turned around for a last look before leaving it, and his childhood, behind. With misty eyes, the lion cub stepped off the slope and padded resolutely down the other side.




Being young and inexperienced, Ruffie hadn't thought to bring anything with him but his own fur. For days and endless nights he wandered toward the sunset. By day, the sun beat down on his shaggy head, while cold Almost African winds froze him at night.




Ruffie was thirsty most of the time while living on roots and bugs. Which was how he had his first emergency.




Hungry and thirsty, Ruffie saw a line of trees. Desperately seeking shade, he lost any caution he might have had as he hurried toward them. Pausing inside the tree-line, he could see, dimly and through thick bushes, a flowing stream in the distance.




Ruffie ran down a slope and right into very thick berry bushes. At first, it was easy going, but soon became harder as vines and thorns slowed him down. He was finally forced to stop, less than four-feet from the other side. His fur was caught in tough thorny bushes while his legs were tangled in vines. The poor lion couldn't move an inch, yet was only a few feet from life-giving water.




"Grrrrrrowwwwllll," he cried, but growling did no good. It didn't scare the vines one whit. Not even half a whit. Almost African berry bushes were selfish and weren't afraid of lions, not at all. They held on tightly. He struggled until he was too tired to fight anymore, and hung limply, only one paw on the ground. Eventually, the small lion, tired from his ordeal, ate all the berries he could reach and dozed off into a restless slumber.




"That's a funny way to sleep."




Ruffie shook his weary head, eyes opening to find he was only inches from a pair of larger brown orbs, looking back at him. It was a deer, a young one. Ruffie had never met a deer, though he had seen a picture in one of his mama's cookbooks.




"Isn't that uncomfortable? Or are you one of those wood mites my mother warned me about?" the deer asked.




"Get me out of here, please," Ruffie begged. In his condition, even a lion would beg.




"Ha. So you can eat me, I suppose? Mother warned me about you mites. You can stay there for all I care."




"I'm not a mite. I'm a lion ... and I won't eat you. I promise."




"You're a mite. Mites grow on trees and bushes. And you're supposed to give me three wishes when I find you." The deer looked around, then shook her head. "And you don't look like a lion to me."




"Well, I am a lion."




"Prove it. Do something a lion does."




"Like what? I'm not an adult. I don't know what lions do."




"They growl real scary. Can you do that? I don't think wood mites can growl very good at all."




Ruffie took a deep breath and growled one of the worst curses he'd ever heard his Daddy roar. It shook treetops and knocked the deer back three feet.




"Well, I guess you are a lion, but lions still eat deer. I better get a drink and leave. Maybe I can bring you some water? Where's your canteen?"




"I don't have one."




"Well, you can have a drink from mine, but don't bite me, okay?"




"Yes ... I mean no, I won't bite you."




Ruffie waited until the deer -- when she turned to go to the stream he could see it was a female--drank and filled her canteen with water, bringing it back to him. He wished she'd hurry, since he was very thirsty.




The doe came back and held the canteen to his lips, pouring it past sharp teeth. Then she sat down next to the confining bushes and dipped her head to eat tender grass at the edge.




"Come on, see if you can get me loose. I promise I won't eat you," Ruffie begged.




She shook her head, smiling as she swallowed.




"Lions eat deer, my Mama says. And I'm not stupid."




"My name's Ruffie. I don't think I know you well enough to call you dear," he said, trying to get on her good side.




"Oh, I forgot. My name's Doris, Doris Deerovika. My grandfather came all the way down from Almost Russia when he was a kid."




"Is that a long way? I never been to school yet."




"Or you're just stupid. Of course it's a long way from Almost Africa. Daddy says he started off with legs eight-feet tall, and they were worn down to only two-feet by the time he got here. Yes, a long, long way."




"I'm on a long trip too. Humans captured my Mama and I have to find her."




"It sounds like a long quest. Humans are everywhere in the world, places deer and lions can't go. They'd eat both of us. Well, now don't take me wrong ... Ruffie, but they've probably already eaten your mama. I hear they do that sometimes." She grinned, still chewing, and added, "And it doesn't look like you're going to go anywhere, stuck like you are."




"I'm hungry too," he said, watching her eat a clump of berries.




"Which is why I'm not letting you loose. Not till I get a long way from here."




"If you get a long way from here, how will you get me loose?"




"Oh. I'm a smart deer, I'll think of something. I can tie one end of a vine to that bush right there, and carry the other end with me, then jerk it when I get way over there." She pointed a hoof into the distance.




"If you try that, you'll have to get real close to tie it and maybe I can bite you." He make a fake growl.




They sat in silence, both trying to figure out what to do. Doris didn't really want to leave him like that, and Ruffie didn't really want to bite her. His parents had always done the hunting, not him, and he didn't know if he could bite a friend, much less eat her.




"I wish I could go on a quest, like you," Doris finally broke the silence, a plan forming in her young mind, "but a deer, alone on the veldt, wouldn't stand a chance. The first lio ... tiger that saw me would eat me." She hung her head. "Mama says before long though, I'll have to leave home. That I'm getting big enough to go my own way and get married. I don't want to get married. There's no adventure in getting married and having my own children."




"Then why not come with me? We could both look for my Mama, and I wouldn't eat you. Not at all. We're friends, and friends don't eat friends."




She raised her head and looked carefully at Ruffie, who in turn made sure he kept his mouth shut. Finally, Doris made up her mind. She reached delicately over to him, nibbling on and pulling bushes and vines aside, careful to stay away from his sharp teeth. It took a while and made her gums sore, but she loosened the vines enough so he could get out, leaving a lot of fur on the brambles and bushes.




Well, as hungry as he was, she did smell sweet and delicious to Ruffie, but he remembered his promise. A little later, while running ahead, Doris found a dead possum, which Ruffie was very glad to eat, though he wished he had his ketchup with him. The food eased his mind, as well as his stomach. He wasn't about to tell Doris about the deer his father had once caught. And, after all, "As king of the jungle, a lion always has to keep his promises," his mother had told him often. Ruffie sat on the grass, possum bones lying around him, and cried at her memory.




End of part one of three. Next: The two are joined by a raven and a rhino.
hvysmker