Petra’s challenge.

 

 

Months past, and Petra opened her eyes.  If this wasn’t a great milestone in itself, it was also time for Petra to start being weaned off Tembi’s milk.  Petra was keen to eat solid food, but when she tried the fish veg mix she found she didn’t like it.  Spitting out the fish, she separated the vegetables from the fish and ate those.  Tembi watched her anxiously.

      “You don’t like fish?”  She asked.  Petra winced:

    “No I don’t!”  She replied, “it’s disgusting!”

       “How about trying lamb or pork?”  Theo asked.  Petra knew she wouldn’t like that either, but went through the  course.  Days passed, where Theo and Tembi tried Petra on several kinds of meat. Petra wouldn’t eat any of the meat, screwing up her face with disgust and  spitting it out.  When this happened She avoided her parent’s eyes, as if she’d done something wrong.  Theo was coming to the conclusion something was up with Petra, but Tembi lost it completely. Frustrated, Tembi ended up screaming at Petra, walloping her and telling her she must eat meat or else!  Petra forced the tuna down, but half an hour later, ran for the back door.  Reaching the garden she was violently sick.  Tembi watched her cub’s distress as Petra got rid of the meat she’d just eaten.  Tembi realised that this was the first time Petra had actually eaten fish alone.  She decided to try her on vegetables alone for a few days and see what happened.

 

To noone’s real surprise, Petra had no reaction to the veg.  Tembi then suggested she and Theo try a rather gruesome experiment to see once and for all if Petra was making fools of them to get her own way so she could eat veg all day.  Tembi suggested to Theo that they force feed Petra the meat, Tembi holding Petra’s mouth open while Theo threw the meat to the back of the cub’s mouth.  Tembi said she would then let Petra close her mouth, then hold Petra’s mouth shut until the white cub was forced to swallow., Theo protested, but Tembi overruled his objections, telling him Petra was a spoilt little cub and was probably playing games with them, and this would find out for sure.  The experiment was performed, Tembi doing her bit with firm paws, Theo reluctantly playing his part, conscious of Petra’s distress at being forced to eat meat.  Once Petra had consumed, under duress, a quantity of meat, Tembi and Theo waited to see what would happen.  Petra was fine for about ten minutes, apart from complaining bitterly about the force feeding.  Then suddenly she got up and sprinted for the back door!  Tembi and Theo knew this wasn’t acting, their cub was in real distress!  Petra just about made it into the garden before she was violently sick.  Theo watched his cub with concern, for he knew she’d not eaten grass to make herself sick, this was a genuine reaction to meat.  Was it something to do with leucism? Theo thought not.

 

Days passed, in which Petra would only eat veg, and she was happy with this.  Tembi was anxious, as veg gave Petra very few of the nutrients she needed.  With help from Matilda, who knew about these things, Petra’s diet was supplemented with rice, beans, sweet corn, and other delights found in and raided from nearby gardens.  Petra also ate eggs, which she persuaded some local hens to give to her.  The hens were scared of the little cub at first, but when they realised she meant them no harm, and that she needed their eggs, rather than just wanting them like the humans did, they relented and let her have as many as they could comfortably lay.  The community thought getting milk would be a problem, though it wasn’t.  The boss always kept a bottle in the fridge, which Leo could open.  the boss, being a serious milk drinker, always had a lot of the stuff, so Petra drinking a pint here and there went unnoticed, and even if it had been missed, the community were always ready to back Petra to the hilt if she got into trouble for drinking it.  The general understanding was that the animals could have what they wanted, as long as they didn’t go crazy and eat the boss out of house and home.  That said, the boss always made sure there was plenty of tuna, which it was said he hated with a passion, and vegetables for the basic mix which the animals ate.  It was also noticed that more milk suddenly appeared.  Was the boss watching over them?

 

Petra’s strange eating habits made the other animals fear her even more than they already did.  Petra thrived on her vegetarian diet.  The boss even helped by getting in cereals.  Petra’s morning bowl of cornflakes was at first a great source of amusement for the community, but the amusement wore off when they were all into it.

 

Now Petra’s food supply was sorted, there was much fun to be had mixing up the vegetables and cereals into weird and wonderful creations which, as long as they had the right balance of nutrients, vitamins and roughage in them, could be as diverse as cornflakes with milk and apples, often with an egg thrown in for good measure, or just plain cornflakes with milk, depending on what Petra wished.  The other animals started getting to like the things the strange white cub liked, and before they knew it, they were all into veg and other unlikely things.  Carnivores most of them might have been, but there was often times when a polar bear could be seen slurping down the last of the milk from their bowl of cornflakes, or a lion deftly cracking an egg and sucking out its contents.  This often made a horrid slurping sound which put a lot of other animals off their food, and any “slurpies,”  as Kalahari dubbed them, were requested to carry out their disgusting activity outside.

 

Petra’s reaction to meat was so extreme she couldn’t even go near meat, it made her feel dreadfully unwell.  Nanuq took a shine to Petra, who soon grew to love the huge polar bear.  This was quite comical, as Nanuq and Petra had very similar coats, one as fluffy and white as the other.  Nanuq took Petra in paw and looked after her, and they could often be seen playing together.  It was a curious sight, a huge polar bear playing with a cub which was no bigger than the span of both his forepaws.  Nanuq loved Petra like she was his own cub, and Petra grew close to Nanuq, the polar bear letting her snuggle up to him as and when she wished, though not pressuring her to spend time with him.

 

Petra’s diet was soon unremarkable to the other animals, they just had to keep meat away from her to stop her being violently ill.

 

Bruno’s sessions with Tigger continued, the tiger showing the polar bear all he knew about getting an animal’s fur clean, as well as how to stroke paws properly.  Bruno learned quickly, actually looking forward to, and enjoying his time with Tigger.

 

Things were not going so well for Petra however.  Her allergy to meat meant she had to have more veg and other non meat products than the other animals.  This “special treatment,”  as Tarker called it, began to annoy the otter cub, and by extension, the capybara, who as a group were always looking to pick a fight with other members of the community.  They decided to teach Petra a lesson.  For they saw her vegetarianism as attention seeking behaviour, and not the serious challenge for her that it truly was.

 

One day, Tarker, who was being taught the otter’s trade of food sourcing and preparation, mixed fish oil with Petra’s food.  The fish oil was well mixed in, with herbs and spices to disguise the taste.  Tarker hoped the white cub would be so hungry after her games with Aslan and Nanuq, that she’d just eat the food and not think any more about it.  Tarker was taking a gamble on fish oil being  the agent which made Petra sick.  If it wasn’t that, then the prank wouldn’t work.  That night, Petra ate her meal as normal, settling down to sleep.  That night she had the most violent reaction of all, the details of which are too grim to retell, except to say that Petra spent the night in the garden, her stomach racked by cramp.  Her reaction to the food was so extreme she couldn’t settle down to sleep at all, for her body kept wanting to get rid of what she’d eaten, when there was nothing more to get rid of.  Theo and Tembi stayed up all night with their cub, realising that poor Petra was rapidly dehydrating.  Any fluid she drank just came straight back up again.  When dawn came, Petra was thoroughly miserable and totally exhausted.  Now it was even an effort to raise her head from the grass.  Petra was dreadfully ill, and noone could work out why.  This is the story of the night that had just passed.

 

Theo watched as Petra, with all four paws clenched, fought to vomit, when there was nothing to get rid of.  He could do nothing for her.  After each bout, the white cub would lie shivering and twitching while sobbing with fear and misery.  Theo touched Petra’s paw, it was so hot it nearly burnt his.

     “You are dreadfully unwell little cub,”  Theo thought, struggling not to weep.  Petra became delirious, hallucinating about giant fish that were about to eat her, lashing out with her paws at nothing, pawing feebly at air and grass.  Her terrors were real, to her at least, and Theo knew to tell her to shut it and pull herself together was a crazy thing to do, so he didn’t.  Tembi did though, once walloping Petra when the white cub started raving about a snake that was about to strangle her.  Tembi lost it, smacking Petra with all her force!  This didn’t seem at all to phase Petra, who was too far gone in her own world to notice Tembi’s anger, let alone feel her paw smacking her.  Theo dragged Tembi away to yell at her.

     “Look Tembi,”  he snarled, “Petra’s dangerously ill!  She doesn’t know where she is or what’s happening to her!  I don’t know what’s caused this, but you losing your temper and hitting her isn’t going to solve Petra’s problems!  Just leave her alone, don’t shout at her, and keep your bloody paws off her!  If you can’t use your paws to soothe Petra, don’t touch her!  That’s an order!”  Tembi mewed that she was as scared as Theo, but Theo wasn’t listening:

     “You are scared?”  He asked, “no you’re not!  You’re angry with Petra, that’s all!  Tembi, just get out of my sight!  If I find you anywhere, anywhere near Petra ever again, I’ll, I’ll really hurt you!”  Tembi was knocked sideways by Theo’s aggression towards her.  He’d always been so calm, so kind, now he was anything but.

 

Tembi’s reading of the situation was inaccurate.  Theo was only trying to protect Petra from Tembi’s temper, and matching Tembi’s anger with threats of his own was the only way he knew of doing so.  Theo spent hours with Petra, holding the cub in his paws, supporting her while her body took its revenge on her, soothing her when she had terrible visions of mutant fish and pigs.  When she began to lash out with her paws, all Theo could do was hold Petra tightly, trying to soothe her by stroking her fur and talking to her.

 

From the onset of Petra’s illness till dawn was about twelve hours or so, but it seemed longer to Theo.  The young lion was worn out, but he kept going by thinking of Petra and the hell she was still going through.  Tigger came up with the idea of making Petra drink charcoal, as he’d heard it soaked up poisons.  It wasn’t very nice, or so he said, but it would hopefully help.  Theo was willing to try anything.  In one of Petra’s more lucid moments, Tigger told her to drink as much of the charcoal water mix as she could.  It was clear the mixture tasted dreadful, but Petra, sensing in her confused way that this might do her good, forced the mixture down.  Exhausted from taking on board so much fluid, she lay down and closed her eyes.  Theo thought she looked better already, but then gave himself a mental slapping for thinking that.”

    One hour at a time Theo,”  he told himself sternly.  Petra slept for a long time, and there were no hallucinations this time.  Waking in the late evening of the following day, Petra opened her eyes and looked round her.  She saw the devastated grass, and knew what had taken place upon it.  Turning her head, she saw Theo lying beside her.

     “Hello Petra my cub,”  he mewed.  Petra buried her head in Theo’s shoulder.

     “Hold me, don’t let me go back into that horrible place!”  she pleaded.  Theo held the white cub tightly.

      “You won’t go back there,”  he whispered.

      “Promise me?”  She pleaded.

      “I promise you that Petra my dear sweet cub, for I won’t let you go back there ever again.”  Petra clung to Theo with desperation, her paws buried in his fur,  gripping his mane fiercely with her toes, which Theo couldn’t blame her for.

      “Now you are on the mend,”  Theo said, “I will investigate who poisoned you, and with what.”  Petra wasn’t sure if Theo would find out anything, but she said nothing of her concerns.

 

Theo hugged his cub tightly, Petra snuggling close.

      “Thank you for staying with me Theo,”  Petra whispered, “for even in my most terrible dreams, I knew you were there beside me, holding my paw, giving me the strength to fight.  I know that if you’d left me, I would have died.  Don’t ask me how I know this.”  Theo wept into Petra’s thick fur.

      “I wasn’t sure if you’d make it,”  he sobbed, “it’s not me you should thank, it’s Tigger, for it was he who came up with trying to make you drink charcoal.  He saved your life.”

     “He did the physical things,”  Petra replied, “you supported me spiritually.  I knew you’d never leave me, even if all else failed and I died, you’d be there till the very end.”  Theo buried his face in Petra’s fur, breathing in her scent, trying to convince himself she was alive, for he still wasn’t quite sure.  Petra felt Theo’s turmoil.

      “I’m here,”  she said, “I’m getting well now thanks to you and Tigger.”  Theo relaxed for the first time in the best part of twenty four hours.

      “I love you Petra my cub,”  Theo purred.  Petra touched Theo’s paw with hers, then took gentle hold of it.

      “I love you too Theo, my sire.”  Petra had never referred to Theo in these terms before, and it made his eyes fill with tears.

      “I would die for you little cub,”  he sobbed, “if it came to it, I’d lie down my life for you and Aslan.”  Petra knew Theo loved her as if she was born his cub, and she was deeply moved by Theo’s words.  Petra worked her paws free from Theo’s mane, Theo sensing she wanted to get to her feet.  He moved away slightly, only for Petra to throw her paws round his neck and hug him tightly.  Theo purred with utter contentment.

      “We are all glad you are back on your paws again,”  a familiar voice said.  Petra looked round to see Aslan watching her and Theo.  Now she was torn between hugging her sire and running to her brother to hug him.  Theo, sensing his cub’s dilemma, gently disengaged himself from her hug and pushed her away with one paw.

     “go and be with your brother,”  he said, “for he’s been worried about you too.”  Petra went to Aslan, who threw his paws round her neck and hugged her as fiercely as Theo had.

 

Tembi was in the doghouse, if a lioness can be said to be in such a place.  Word had gone round about her reactions to Petra’s illness, and nearly all the animals were furious with her.  Leo told whomever would listen that he thought Tembi’s conduct disgraceful.

      “How dare she hit her own cub when the cub’s done nothing wrong!”  he would yell, almost weeping.  Snowy tried to comfort him, but nothing really worked.  Tembi strode into the room, spitting with fury!

      “Theo accused me of neglecting my cub!”  She yelled.

      “You weren’t exactly kind to her,”  Snowy mewed.

      “You hit her!”  Leo yelled, “plus you made her eat meat which she can’t eat!”

     “We were finding out if she was playing games with us, cub’s do that kind of thing Leo!”  Tembi screamed.

      “The force feeding was your idea Tembi, it’s not a very nice one!”  Leo yelled.

      “Theo joined me in carrying that out!”  Tembi screamed, trying to shift blame.

      “He didn’t want to do it,”  Leo replied, “he cried bitterly afterwards.  He wanted to believe his cub.”

     “I had to coerce him into it, that’s true,”  Tembi said, “but we got the result we wanted.  Petra was not playing games with us after all.”

      “What I want to know is,”  Leo said, “if this happens again with another cub of yours Tembi, will you subject them to the same force feeding?”

      “I would,”  Tembi snapped, “dam right I would!”  Leo buried his face in his paws.

      “I don’t like this,”  he mewed.

      “You don’t have to,”  Tembi snapped, “it’s not you who’s getting force fed.”

     What I really want to know,”  Snowy said, “is who poisoned Petra.  She was on the way out before Tigger suggested trying her on charcoal to soak up the poison in her system.”

      “I’d like to know that too,”  Tembi snarled, “who would dare do such a thing to a lion cub!”

      “Who’d do such a thing to any cub?”  Leo asked.

 

Theo wanted to know the answers to the same questions Leo did, and lay down to consider what he already knew.  He knew it was the otters who prepared the meals, so it was very likely to be one of their number who’d devised the method and provided the means of poisoning Petra.  Theo then thought hard about the individual otters.  Winifred, would she do such a thing?  Theo thought not.  Then there was her cub, Tarker.  He was a totally different matter.  He would do such a thing, or so Theo thought, for the cub had been responsible for a lot of low level trouble within the community.  Could he have raised his game to poisoning Petra?

 

Theo stared at his paws, flexing his toes while extending and retracting his claws.  Turning his paws over, he examined the soles of his paws, watching his pads bunch and stretch as he flexed his toes.  Deep in thought, Theo felt someone settling down beside him.  Looking to his right, he saw Nanuq lying beside him, the polar bear supporting his chin on his massive forepaws.

      “Hello Nanuq,”  Theo said.  The polar bear looked troubled.

       “Petra, is she going to be okay?”  he asked calmly, his eyes betraying his true emotions, which were far from calm.

       “You really care for my cub don’t you Nanuq,”  Theo said.  Nanuq, his true feelings uncovered, rubbed his eyes with his huge paws.

       “I would be sad forever if she came to harm,”  he said.  Theo knew the huge polar bear was close to tears.

      “I saw her in the garden,”  the polar bear went on, “Petra looking so miserable.  It breaks  my heart to see her like that.”

     “Well you can see me now I’m better,”  Petra said, curling up beside Nanuq.  The polar bear looked over at her, to see Aslan walking away to lie down on the rug, leaving Petra lying beside her polar bear friend.  Nanuq gently touched Petra’s paw with his, the cub gripping the toes of his paw with her own.

       “I’m here, alive and well,”  Petra said.  Nanuq let tears, which he’d been holding back for so long, run down his nose and splash onto the carpet.  Petra did something then which she’d wanted to do for a long time.  Rubbing noses with the weeping polar bear, Petra raised a paw and tried to dry his tears.

        “I love you Petra,”  Nanuq choked.  Petra let the huge polar bear take her in his paws and hug her.

       “You’re not just my cub Petra,”  Theo said, “your Nanuq’s too I think.”

       “I can be yours and his cub Theo, that’s if you want me to be.  I love both of you dearly.”  Theo and Nanuq each took one of Petra’s paws.

      “Let’s both look after Petra Nanuq,”  Theo said, looking into the soft brown eyes of the huge polar bear.

      “yes let’s do that,”  Nanuq replied.  The lion and the polar bear rubbed noses, then, letting go of Petra’s paws, they hugged each other.

 

Tarker spat with disgust at this display of affection.

      “How can two male animals give a cub a good upbringing!”  He snapped, “it’s disgusting.

      “When her birth mother leaves her, and her adopted mother’s two sandwiches short of a picnic, then there’s only the male members of the family to take charge,” Kalahari said.  It was the first time anyone had directly accused Tembi of being less than with it.

     “What I want to know,”  Nanuq said, releasing Theo, “is who poisoned Petra.  For if I find them, I will rip their throat out!”

      “Look at the otters,”  someone said.  Everyone looked round, to see Tigger cradling Petra in his paws.

       “Look towards the otters,”  Tigger repeated, stroking Petra’s fur.

      “I was coming to that conclusion myself,”  Theo said, “but whom among them would do such a thing?  And how?”

      “I think you have already worked out the first one Theo my friend,”  Tigger said, “for your mind works like mine, we can see into the minds of animals you and I.  You don’t know you can do it yet, but you can, for you are hyper sensitive to the moods and feelings of animals.  I think you know who did it, if only you’d believe what you see in front of you.  Use the mind’s eye, use the senses which nature has given us to detect wrong doing.  You know very well Theo who’s responsible for this.”  Theo was about to ask a question, when Tigger held up his paw to stop him, as if he could see Theo opening his mouth to reply.

     “Don’t say anything,”  Tigger mewed, “just believe in what you see, and everything will be all right in the end.”  Theo closed his eyes and tried to think hard, hoping Tigger would catch his thoughts.

     “You don’t need to try hard to communicate with me Theo,”  Tigger said, “I know you are correct in your assumption.  Theo opened his eyes and looked into the Bengal tiger’s sightless ones.

       “I will do what I have to,”  Theo said, “and Tigger, if this otter lies, will you tell me?”  Tigger shook his head.

     “You will know Theo, you will know,”  the tiger replied.

 

Theo looked round the room, checking the faces of all the otters.  His eye settled on Tarker, who looked away.  Theo had a strong sense Tarker was the instigator of all this, the one who’d nearly killed Petra.

     “Come here Tarker,”  Theo said.  Tarker dug in his toes, refusing to go to Theo, for he knew he’d been found out.  Theo padded across to Tarker and tried to lift him up by the scruff of his neck.  Tarker curled his toes into the carpet, digging his claws into the pile, hanging on with all the strength he had.  Theo pulled hard, dragging Tarker’s paws free one by one, his claws doing a lot of damage to the carpet, but Theo didn’t care!  The otter’s toes were curled hard into the pile and there was a ripping sound as Tarker’s paws were torn free of the carpet.  Tarker realised he was really for it now!  Theo carried the cub back to his place, strands of carpet still caught between the otter’s toes, as Tarker stupidly would not relax his paws, even though keeping his toes curled would serve no purpose what so ever.  Theo’s paws were also clogged with carpet, for he’d dug in his toes to give him leverage to pick the otter cub up from the floor.  Snarling with anger, Theo dumped Tarker beside Nanuq, the huge polar bear covering the cub with his body, making sure Tarker could not escape.

      “So you get others to hold down your prey Theo?”  Tarker yinnied, “you can’t hold it down yourself?  You’re too weak, that’s it isn’t it!”  Theo picked Tarker up and shook him!  Tarker’s teeth nearly rattled in his head!

       “I can hold my own prey Tarker,”  Theo snarled round a mouthful of fur, “I will show you shall I?”  then he threw Tarker into the air!  Tarker flew up to the ceiling, somersaulting and tumbling.  On his way down, Tarker was horrified to see he was heading head first towards the carpet!  Screaming, he landed in Theo’s paws, the lion taking a fresh hold on the scruff of the otter’s neck, while Tarker thrashed and kicked.

      “It was you who poisoned Petra!”  Nanuq growled.  Tarker, now realising he couldn’t lie his way out of trouble, confessed all.

     “I did, I did!”  he spat, “I did it because I think Petra’s an attention seeking little scrap!  I thought her reaction to fish was a way of avoiding eating meat, so I put fish oil, well seasoned so she couldn’t taste it, in her vegetables.  She ate it, and then got very ill!  I didn’t think it would nearly kill her!”  Theo dropped Tarker, the otter cub collapsing in a heap.

       “Petra is no attention seeker,”  Theo snarled, “she’s a cub with a meat intolerance.  Meat can kill her, and nearly did!”

      “You should be punished for your stupidity and foolishness!”  Leo yelled, “In fact, we need to make sure you never, ever do this kind of thing again Tarker!  I think it’s down to those affected by your stupidity to punish you.  I think it’s down to Petra to decide what should be done to punish you Tarker.”

     “I’m not being punished on the whim of a jumped up cub!”  Tarker yelled, “especially one which is white, white from her nose to her toes!”  Tarker began to laugh and jab his paw at Petra.  He began to sing:

     “Petra’s  white from her nose to her toes! A cub who is white from her nose to her toes!  From her nose to her toes, from her nose to her toes!  Petra’s white from her nose to her toes!”  Theo became rigid with fury!

      “You sing that song again, I’ll, I’ll strangle you Tarker!”  Theo yelled.

      “I thought it was quite inventive,”  Petra mewed, “though the words are not quite correct.  I have a black nose, Blue eyes, and black pads on the soles of all four of my paws.  So I’m not quite white from my nose to my toes.”  Tarker raised his head and sang:

      “Petra’s not quite white from her nose to her toes!  From her nose to her toes, from her nose to her toes!  Petra’s not quite white from her nose to her toes!”  Theo clenched his paws, digging his own tawny toes into the carpet to suppress his fury towards Tarker.

       “No, that doesn’t work as well as the first version,”  Petra mewed.  In a desperate attempt to lighten the mood, Petra suddenly ran to the kitchen, dragged a bag of flour from the cupboard and ripped into it.  She then leapt into the bath to soak her fur and paws, jumped out and rolled in the mess of flour on the floor.  Petra went back to the bathtub to set the flour, making sure she got her paws wet so flour would stick to the soles of her paws and she could put the finishing touches to her new costume by gently brushing the pads of one paw over the black tip of her nose to make it white.

     “Now I’m white from my nose to my toes, look!”  Petra whooped, remembering just in time to retract her claws, which despite her best efforts, were still black.  Petra’s actions were so comical that everyone started to laugh, including Theo, who had experienced as harder time as Petra all things considered.

      “You lovely, crazy  cub!”  Nanuq laughed, hugging Petra tightly.  Petra rubbed floury paws into Nanuq’s fur, the polar bear laughing helplessly.

      “Now we’ve had that laugh,”  Leo said, grinning from ear to ear, “how are we going to clear the flour up?”  In the end, Tarker, as part of his punishment, was given a dustpan and brush and made to clear the flour up.  He was also made to get into the bath with Petra and wash her fur and paws, something which he particularly hated.

     “I don’t want to touch that dam cub!”  He yinnied, slamming a paw into the water.  Petra rolled onto her back and, taking careful aim,  used all four paws to flick water at Tarker until the otter cub was furious enough with her to wash her fur and paws to get the job over with.  Storming from the bathroom, he left Petra alone.  Petra levered herself from the water, shook herself vigorously, then padded into the living room.

       “I’m hungry!”  She announced.

      “I’ll get you some veg,”  Winifred  said.  She presented Petra with a huge bowl of vegetables.  Petra ate her fill, enjoying every mouthful.  She drank a pint of milk, then of water, before settling down on the rug, curling up to sleep.

 

 

 

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