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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
A Journey To Paradise

The swaying of the tall savanna grasses made a swishing sound that echoed off the surrounding mountains. Gamba stretched his long neck and ripped off a branch covered with long green leaves. The acacia tree rattled back and forth as the giraffe tugged and chewed. The scent of an approaching storm was in the air. Dark gray clouds hung heavily in the sky, waiting for the heat of the afternoon to release their torrents of rain.

Hundreds of termite mounds stood like small volcanoes that had erupted from the sun-dried ground, stretching across the land to the horizon. Gamba often used the mounds to scratch the patchwork of chestnut-colored blotches on his lower back and legs.

"Jambo, Gamba. How do the acacia leaves taste today?" Taji asked. The crane pecked at several ants. A line of them extended from the treeís roots into the jungle. They ran hurriedly, carrying bits of leaves and grass in their mouths.

"Jambo, Taji. Theyíre tasty, but probably not as delicious as those ants." A low rumbling filled the sky. " It looks like a storm is coming our way," Gamba said, lowering his stubby-horned head. "We could use a good rain. The watering holes are nearly dried up." His jaws girated as he spoke. "I think we could all use a summer shower. Your black feathers arenít so shiny anymore. Theyíre full of dust."

"Iíve avoided the watering holes. The last time I went, there were too many baboons, wild dogs and lions fighting over the last precious puddles. I didnít want to end up their evening meal," Taji said, examining her feathers. "Youíre right. They are looking rather dull." She tried to brush the dust out of them.

The sky began to crackle. Great bolts of lightning lit the sky. Booms of thunder shook the ground. The air became thick with humidity as the first drops of rain began to fall. "Weíd better find shelter in the trees. I fear this will be a dangerous downpour," Gamba urged.

The two animals hid among the trees. Puddles formed in the lower parts of the savanna grasses, filling the burrows and mounds of the meerkats. Dozens of furry animals came scurrying towards the trees.

The cracked earth soon turned into reddish-brown mud. Lizards, snakes, frogs, ants, and beetles seeped from the cracks and rushed to safety.

The blackened sky seemed to be ablaze as the electric charges fingered around the clouds, grasping them in their fiery tentacles.

"We have company," Taji said, watching as the homeless crowds rushed towards them. "Itís going to get crowded in here." The bird raised her wing as the meerkats rushed past, nearly knocking her over.

From the heights near his head, Gamba noticed other animals moving through the treetops. Hordes of brightly colored parrots flew into the highest branches. Their squawks nearly deafened him. Two monkeys swung over on rope-like vines, landing on a limb next to Gambaís head. "It seems none of us may have homes if this storm doesnít pass quickly," sighed Zesiro. "My twin brother, Odongo, and I were nearly caught in the flood."

"What flood?" Gamba asked.

"The riverbed, which was empty, is now raging with water. Many animals didnít see it coming and couldnít escape," Odongo added.

Gamba thought of the lions and jackals that often stayed near the water. He sighed, "At least a few of us have been spared the lionís jaws and will live to see another day." The two monkeys swung over to another tree.

Gamba and Taji found themselves surrounded by dozens of creatures of the savanna as the rain continued to fall all day and night.

When the morning sun burst over the horizon, the weakening clouds turned purple, red, pink, and orange as the rays reflected off them. "The storm has past," Taji shouted.

Within hours the water had seeped into the ground. "Look what has happened," Gamba smiled. "Instead of brown, dried earth and grasses, the land is carpeted with tender green shoots. Flowers are blossoming and the trees have new buds. The rivers and ponds have filled with fresh water to drink. It is a joyous morning."

The meerkats began to dig new mounds and burrows. The ants blazed new trails. The frogs leapt from one puddle to the next. Zesiro and Ogondo splashed about in the small streams that great mountain where the leaves are the size of an elephantís back, the fruit is larger than we could ever imagine and where there are no lions or jackals to torment you. The trees are like umbrellas, wide and beautiful, and there are flowers of more colors than there are in the rainbows. Since there is plenty of fresh water, why donít we go to the mountain," Taji said. He pointed north. "It is two days journey."

"We want to go," shouted Ogondo, as he and Zesiro swing on a vine to the ground. "We want to come with you."

"Iíve heard of that place too. They say there are waterfalls that sparkle like a million diamonds falling from the clouds. The rivers are filled with fish that shimmer like rubies and emeralds. They even say there are bananas longer than Ogondoís tail," Zesiro added.

Ogondoís eyes lit up. "There are?" He grabbed his tail and laughed. "We must go with you, Gamba."

"It sounds beautiful. If there are no lions or jackals, then we can live in peace and with no fear," Gamba said. "Should we see if any of the others want to come with us?"

"Gamba, I think most of the animals are happy here. See the meerkats. They have already dug their new burrows. The parrots are content in these trees. The frogs, lizards and snakes enjoy the puddles. I think it would be wise to go alone, just the four of us. Weíll bring less attention to ourselves that way. There may be a jackal or lion to contend with on the journey. The fewer of us, the better," Taji recommended.

"I see your wisdom in that," Gamba said. He looked toward the tall mountain. It looked majestic against the background of the azure sky. Its snowcapped peak glittered in the sunshine.

By midday the four were on their way. Gamba took the lead, with Taji, Zesiro and Ogondo following in a line. They passed herds of grazing wildebeest, zebras, and impala. Baobab trees stood like mighty guardians, watching over the savanna. The hours passed quickly. "Iím getting hungry," Ogondo complained. "Can we stop for a while and search for food?" he asked.

Gamba stopped. "Weíll rest for a while. Zesiro, why donít you and Ogondo look for something to eat? Taji will help you find some ants and beetles and Iíll nibble on the baobab leaves." The monkeys didnít hesitate. They ran through the grass, searching for stones. "Watch out for lions," Gamba shouted.

Ogondo stopped suddenly. "Lions?" He couldnít see much because the grass was so tall. "Taji, you watch for lions. Zesiro and I will lift the stones and find the beetles." Taji flew to the top of a tree and scanned the vast savanna.

After a feast of fat, crunchy beetles, worms, a few seeds, and juicy berries, the four continued their journey. "I hope it doesnít rain again," Taji said. She looked at the sky. The clouds were gray and rain-filled. "We have no place to run to for safety if a storm comes again."

"Nightfall is only an hour or two away. The mountain is still another dayís journey," Gamba said. He bent his long neck so he could see the others better.

"Gamba, do you think there are really beautiful waterfalls there? Ogondo and I like to splash in the water. What about the trees? Do you think they are like umbrellas? Do you think he and I can play in them and swing on vines?" Zesiro wondered.

"Zesiro, you ask too many questions. Look at the sky. See how the sun shines like a golden ball? Iíve heard that at the mountain seem to be on fire when the sun sets. They say there are fruits that are so sweet that their juices taste like honey and the air is filled with the fragrance of perfumed flowers, whose blossoms are so delicate and beautiful that they attract thousands of butterflies," Gamba said. "Zesiro, the waterfalls will be magnificent at this time of year.

Zesiro smiled. "Is that true? There are a lot of butterflies? Once a butterfly landed on my nose and it tickled. Iíll stand under the waterfall and let it splash on my head while I eat juicy fruit."

Gamba laughed at the monkey and stretched his neck to reach the leaves at the top of a tree.

"I want to get to the mountain so we donít have to worry about lions and tigers," Ogondo said.

"What about hyenas? What about jackals?" Zesiro asked.

"Do they have snakes there?" Ogondo chimed in.

"Stop asking so many questions you two. Tomorrow weíll be there and you can see for yourself. Before it gets any later, I suggest we find some shelter. The rain clouds are gathering and Iím afraid we may have a repeat of last night," Taji warned.

The sound of thunder once again rumbled across the land. "Can you see anything from way up there? Are there rocks we can climb?" Ogondo asked the giraffe.

Gamba strained his neck and looked ahead. "Thereís a pile of boulders about a mile away. If we hurry we can make it there before the rain begins to fall." They hadnít walked ten feet before it started to pour. "We must hurry. All of you climb on my back and Iíll carry you."

The two monkeys grabbed Gambaís tail and swung onto his back. "Iím going to hang onto Gambaís neck," Zesiro said.

"Me too." Ogondo joined his brother. They wrapped their tails around each other and held on. Taji flapped her wings and flew on top of Gambaís head. She sat between his stubby horns.

"Comfortable up there?" Gamba asked? Taji nodded. "Hold on." Gamba trotted quickly toward the boulders.

Half a mile later he found himself ankle deep in mud. Each step was difficult and tiring. The monkeys and crane were drenched. "Hurry, Gamba! The savanna is flooding again!" Taji shouted. Gamba could hardly hear her over the noise of the rain pelting down and the thundering booms of the evening sky.

As they neared the pile of boulders, Gamba could see there were other animals already there. He stopped. Ogondo climbed up the giraffeís neck as though it were a tree. "Whatís the matter?"

"Thereís a pride of lions on the boulders. We canít go any closer," Gamba said.

"Weíll drown if we stay down here. Where else can we go? The water is up to your knees already," Zesiro cried.

Gamba looked around, desperate to find someplace safe for the group. He spotted several baobab trees. "Zesiro, Ogondo, when I get close to the tree, jump and climb to the top of the highest branch. Hold on tight. Taji, fly, if you can, and perch near the monkeys."

"What will you do, Gamba?" Taji asked. "Youíll drown!"

"Iím a tall giraffe. The water wonít come up to my face. Iíll stand near the tree and hold onto it until the rain stops," Gamba answered. It took Gamba a long time to walk to the trees. The water was swirling around him. A few times he nearly lost his footing and fell, but had caught himself. "Quickly, into the tree," he shouted.

The monkeys leapt onto a branch and climbed to the top. Taji flew next to them. Gamba moved closer to the biggest tree. The waters splashed around him getting deeper and deeper as the night went on. "Is this ever going to stop," Ogondo sobbed. "Iím scared." Zesiro moved closer and the two monkeys clung to each other on the branch.

Sometime during the night the rain ceased. The water was up to the bottom of Gambaís neck. When the sun rose in the morning, he could see much better. He spotted the boulders. They were only about twenty feet away and the lions were sleeping. "Thereís seven of them," Gamba whispered.

"What did you say?" Taji asked, flying down to the branch nearest Gambaís face. "Be very quiet. There are seven lions sleeping on those boulders. When the water recedes, theyíre going to be feeling very hungry. Wake Ogondo and Zesiro."

Taji flew up to the monkeys and pecked softly at their paws. Zesiro started to giggle. "Shhh, be very quiet," she said, putting her wing to her beak. "Lions." She pointed to the boulders.

The monkeys didnít utter a sound but climbed down to Gamba. "Climb on my neck. Weíve got to get out of here right now."

Gamba made his way through the water. It was a slow task. He tried not to make splashing sounds as he waded past the boulders and snoring lions. The monkeys were terrified. They could see the lionís teeth and claws. "Those look sharp," Ogondo whispered to his brother.

"Shhhhhh," Taji warned.

The further away they walked, the shallower the water was. "Weíre climbing higher now," Gamba said. The others looked down.

"I can see your knees now, Gamba," Ogondo said. They were far enough away from the lions that they could speak. "Can lions swim?"

"You ask the silliest questions," Gamba chuckled.

"Well, do they?" Zesiro asked.

"They canít swim in water that deep for more than a few seconds. Donít worry. Weíre safe now," Taji answered.

"I can see the mountain. Itís close. Look how big it is. I donít think I want to play in the waterfalls though. Iím tired of being wet," Ogondo frowned.

"Iím hungry. I want some of that fruit that tastes like honey. What about bananas? Do they grow big? What about coconuts?" Zesiro asked.

"The bananas are big, remember? Gamba told us they were as big as our tails," Ogondo said.

Zesiro picked up his tail and looked at it. "I canít wait to eat a banana that big," he said.

Gamba smirked. "What about Taji? She doesnít eat fruit. Do they have bugs there and seeds?"

"They have butterflies," Ogondo answered. "Gamba told us there were thousands of them. Taji, do you eat butterflies? Theyíre very pretty."

"I try not to eat them. I prefer grubs, snails, and beetles. Iím sure there will be plenty of food for us all," Taji said.

An hour later they were out of the mud. Gamba turned and looked back at the savanna. "What a mess. The entire savanna is flooded. Weíll be safe here now."

Ogondo and Zesiro climbed down off Gambaís neck. "It feels good to be on solid ground again," Zesiro smiled. He ran about making all sorts of noise. Ogondo joined him.

Gamba walked on. Taji flew next to him and the monkeys ran. "Wow! There it is. Weíre at the mountain," Ogondo said. "Look how beautiful."

The four of them stood at the bottom of the snow-capped mountain. It was just like Gamba had promised. The fragrance of honeysuckle and jasmine greeted them as they walked into the trees. Flowers of every color waved in the wind, as if saying hello. "Weíre here! Hooray! Weíre here!" Zesiro shouted. He ran to the nearest palm and pulled off a banana. "It is huge!" He held it up to his tail. "Itís not as big as my tail, but close enough." He sat on the ground, peeled the thick skin off and gobbled down the banana.

"Itís beautiful," Taji said.

The four of the animals stayed at the base of the tall mountain. It protected them from the winds, from the raging storms, and they were happy.

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