Three mobs of warriors live in the Kalahari, struggling to survive the harsh surroundings and recover from the severity of the harshest drought. Choose your meerkats and live the life of a Desert Warrior!
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 Living With Meerkats: A Little Big Adventure

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Join date : 2010-02-18
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PostSubject: Living With Meerkats: A Little Big Adventure    Living With Meerkats: A Little Big Adventure  I_icon_minitimeWed Nov 05, 2014 11:40 pm

Chapter One: The Ultimate Wish

My eyelids part to see that it's exactly eight 'o clock in the morning on the digital clock sitting on a night stand that's located approximately a foot from the left side of my bed. Remembering that the date is December 22nd, the day the Mario gang and I are scheduled to make our departure, via airplane, for Isle Delfino for a two week long vacation, a sense of excitement flows through my system as I sit up, shifting myself into an Indian style sitting position.

"OMG, so can't wait!" I cheered excitedly, my pulse elevated from the sense of excitement circulating through my bloodstream. "In just two hours from now, we'll be departing from Princess Peach's Castle and embarking on a plane to Isle Defino, yes!" I exclaimed ecstatically, motioning both my fists into a clench and bounced up simultaneously.

Upon turning my head to the right, snowflakes delicately descending to the ground enters my right peripheral vision and I turn towards the window to see that it's snowing moderately outside, reminding me that a week ago the Mushroom Kingdom meteorologists had predicted that a significant snowstorm would effect the area, possibly burying some portions of the land in a foot of snow, guaranteeing the Mushroom Kingdom a white Christmas. A spectacular event I've been yearning to experience for years, but this year that privilege is being sacrificed for a wonderful vacation to a toasty tropical climate. To be perfectly honest, I'd rather spend my Christmas touring the pleasantly warm tropics than enduring frigid temperatures up here anyway.

"Absolutely beautiful out there" I said, throwing my legs over the side of the bed and got up to walk over to the window, admiring the pulchritude of the snow covered landscape. "Would really love to go out there and build a snowman, but I only have time to brush my teeth, shower, get dressed and pack the last of what I'll need to bring." I added, counting the amount of stuff I need to do on the fingers of my left hand. "

"Man, without a doubt this vacation is going to be doused in so much awesomesauce! We'll go shopping at Delfino Plaza, ride the roller coaster at Pinna Park until we barf, watch the sunset on the balcony of a luxurious hotel and engage in some really fun games with the Yoshi inhabitants. It's sure to be the best Christmas ever, yesh!" I cheered, grinning ecstatically as images of the Mario gang and I engaging in all of those activities play in my mind.

"Oh, Liz, you're already up. Phew thank Heavens. Then that means I'm spared from getting a pillow chucked at my head" I heard a high pitched voice chuckle with relief behind me.

Upon turning around, my hazel orbs make visual contact with the cobalt blue irises of a four foot tall individual adorned with a white mushroom cap that has five large, circular red spots, is donning a blue vest, white pants and brown shoes and has short legs. He is Toad, Princess Peach's most loyal attendant/bodyguard and the provider of assistance to the Mario brothers and I. Although he can be a coward at times and be prone to having incapacitating panic attacks, once a sense of valor develops and commandeers his emotions he won't hesitate to put his life in jeopardy in order to save the Princess and his friends from a life-threatening situation, and it's inspired me to become one of Princess Peach's gallant bodyguards. Seeing a piece of paper clutched in Toad's right hand and a look of profound concern formed on his visage, my sense of excitement is immediately replaced with a sense of forebode.

"A-anyway. I...I have some terrible news..." Toad announced, a grim frown formed on his visage.

"Wh-what's...the terrible news, Toad?" I asked curiously, my heart palpitating and an expression of concern forming upon my visage.

"Our vacation to Isle Delfino....has been cancelled." Toad lowered his head in disappointment.

Hearing that our vacation to the tropics has been cancelled sends a sense of disbelief through my system.

"Seriously?! Wh-why?!" I inquired, feeling like I want to collapse on my bed and throw a tantrum like a spoiled child that didn't get that awesome toy they wanted.

Toad motions the paper towards me and responds, "Well come and read for yourself. This letter pretty much explains why."

Tentatively, I approach Toad and grasp the paper, a bit reluctant to read it, but my sense of curiosity is just too overwhelming to suppress, so I began to read it, grudgingly of course:

Dear Toad and Elizabeth

We're sorry to inform you guys, but...Link had paid us an unexpected visit this morning. Something catastrophic is transpiring in the land of Hyrule. Being the altruistic heroes that we are, Luigi and I didn't hesitate to offer Link our assistance. Considering Princess Zelda is Princess Peach's best friend, she grew understandably worried about her welfare and insisted on joining us on what will certainly be a perilous adventure. We're not certain on when we'll return, but no doubt it'll be far beyond the date of our scheduled departure for vacation, so I'm afraid we have no choice but to cancel, we're terribly sorry, guys. We hope you'll understand. In the mean time though, don't you guys forget that the Star Spirits had entrusted us with the responsibility of protecting the Star Rod after Bowser barged into Star Spirit Sanctuary last month and tried to steal it again, so we'd greatly appreciate it if you guys not spend a protracted amount of time away from castle Premises, that means no embarking on adventures of your own. Bowser and his minions may not know where the Star Rod is now, but if it were to somehow end up in the hands of another flagitious villain, the consequences could be catastrophic. Only under life-threatening circumstances you are permitted to utilize the Star Rod's immense powers. However, violate that rule and you guys will be harshly punished. And don't think we won't find out... Anyways, It would be fantastic if we could all physically spend Christmas together, however keep in mind that doesn't mean we still can't in spirit. Lets all keep each other in our thoughts and prayers over the Holidays. Merry Christmas, Elizabeth and Toad. We'll miss both of you and hope to return home safely as soon as we can


Mario, Luigi, Peach.

"So...yeah..." Toad spoke in a gloomy tone.

"Wow, jeez. I hope Princess Zelda will be alright." I responded with a worried tone in my voice. "But, man, we've been prohibited from embarking on any of our own adventures until they return?! Ugh, I fear my mental health may rapidly deteriorate as a result of being severely bored. There's nothing exhilarating to do in this drab castle." I complained as I returned the letter to Toad and sat down in an Indian Style position, placing my elbows on my legs and my chin in both of my palms, pouting.

"Liz, please, there's plenty of enjoyable activities we can engage in while guarding the Star Rod. Remember, every once in a while boos from Big Boo's Haunt Land like to materialize in the courtyard and generate innocuous mischief throughout the castle. Perhaps if we encounter our impish apparitions, we could engage in some fun games with them. Also, don't forget that we're supposed to get a foot of snow. We could engage in a multitude of winter games that would suffice to keep us occupied until whenever the Mario crew return. Don't be so pessimistic. Use your imagination, derp!" Toad suggests, protruding his tongue from his mouth at me teasingly and placing his left index finger against the left side of his head.

"Can't help it that I'm a thrill-seeker and desire to embark on perilous adventures so that I can enjoy the feeling of adrenaline permeating my system when we are confronted by a flagitious villain." I responded, returning the raspberries to Toad. "But yeah, you're right. We can certainly engage in the activities that you mentioned to keep ourselves from going insane. Given the circumstances, we're restricted to making the best of our Holiday vacation right here at the castle. I'm sure we could level it up to being just as epic." I said, crossing my arms and leaning my back against the wall, endeavoring to suppress the urge to grab my pillow and shred it to pieces with my teeth.

Man, I was immensely excited about making our departure for Isle Defino today, but oh well. Can't do anything about it now, I shrug mentally. All we can do, however, is keep the Star Rod protected from an act of thievery. Not looking forward to spending an uncertain amount of time lounging around the castle, but for the Mario gang, I'd gladly comply with whatever they instruct me to do, even if it's something with a low excitement level. They've treated me with several acts of kindness, it'd be totally insolent of me not to return the favor, right?

"Certainly we can. Adventures don't always have to include engaging in fights with flagitious villains or trekking across the treacherous terrains of another land. Depending on the circumstances, we can always use our imagination to embark on an adventure. And if you desire to travel, you could always do so in a more conventional way, like through reading a book, yet another activity you could engage in to kill time, ya know." Toad suggests with a positive wink and tilt of his head.

Hearing the word "book" emit from Toad's maw causes an image depicting a book with a single meerkat standing in a straight posture gazing upon a sublime portion of the Kalahari Desert's landscape from the crest of a dune titled "The Extraordinary Adventures Of Sage: A Meerkat's Life Saga" on the cover to appear in my mind, a book that I had purchased while residing in the real world and had brought it along with me when I had returned to the Mushroom Kingdom a month ago. I've been meaning to read the story of this phenomenal meerkat since the day I returned when things became tranquil, but abruptly had to assist the Mario gang in impeding Bowser and his minions from stealing the Star Rod again. As I shift my hazel orbs towards the window, I notice that the rate of the snow descending to the earth has accelerated to the point where you can barely see one mile into the distance. Considering the weather conditions are rapidly deteriorating, today would be the perfect opportunity to start reading about Sage's life saga. Upon thinking about reading such a compelling sounding story, a sense of ecstasy flows through my system, causing me to clench my fists and a broad grin to form on my visage. Yerp, I've already been struck with an idea of what I'm gonna do today.

"Actually, Toad, there is a particular book I've been meaning to read for a while now. Since adverse weather conditions are currently upon us, I plan to start reading it once I'm finished making myself decent for the day." I replied.

"Oh? What's the book called?" He inquired, blinking his eyes twice with interest.

"It's called, The Extraordinary Adventures Of Sage: A Meerkat's Life Saga." I responded, a sense of ecstasy spreading through my system as hearing how epic the title sounds makes me want to pull the book off the shelf and commence reading it right now, but I'd prefer getting my morning routine done first so I feel more refreshed and invigorated.

"M-meerkat? What's a meerkat?" Toad inquires, tipping his head to the right curiously.

"I'll explain later. Let me take my shower first and then I'll show you the book." I replied, smiling in amusement at how I'm leaving Toad in wonder.

"Aw, alright. You sure have my interest piqued, but I'm patient, I can tolerate waiting several minutes to hear about what a meerkat is." Toad responds, grinning eagerly. "I shall head downstairs and make us a scrumptious breakfast." He adds cheerfully.

"Okie dokiez, sounds splendid." I said, clasping my hands together and grinning in delight.

After Toad departs the room, I snatch my pillow off the bed and plunge my teeth into the soft material, thrashing it around like a dog ripping up a toy, then I chuck it on the floor, puffing out my cheeks angrily. Okay, now that that's out of my system, I head into the bathroom to commence my daily morning hygiene routines. Approximately a half an hour later, I exit the bathroom donning a pair of cobalt blue sweatpants, a black long sleeved shirt adorned with a cobalt blue lightning bolt pattern and a pair of white sneakers. Remembering my book, I walk over to my book shelf, which is situated approximately a foot adjacent to the window and took it off the shelf, a sense of ecstasy spreading through my system as I gazed upon the sublime cover.

"The Extraordinary Adventures Of Sage: A Meerkat's Life Saga. I can sense that this is going to be quite a captivating story to read." I predict, grinning with excitement.

"Breakfast is ready!" I heard a familiar voice chime behind me.

Upon turning around, I make visual contact with Toad, whom is standing in the door frame of my room, his clothes covered in pancake mix.

"Heh ha, what happened to you? Fall for a prank formulated by one of those mischievous boos?" I chuckled in amusement.

"Hee hee, well, what actually happened was when I was trying to grasp the box of pancake mix from the cabinet, I lost my balance and bumped the box with my right hand, causing it to topple over and spill all over me." Toad explains, grinning in embarrassment. "Man, if only I was at least a few inches taller, I could've reached that box without encountering any problems. Princess Peach should really invest in purchasing taller stools. Good thing we had another box of pancake mix though." He adds, smiling in relief.

"Aww jeez." I replied, sympathetically face palming. "I know how you feel, dude. Heh, I experience short people problems all the time. But hey, the awesome part about having a petite physique is that we're able to be more agile in battle." I replied, smirking wryly.

"Yes, that's true. Heh, heh, I never grow bored of running circles around Bowser, watching him become dizzy. It's hilarious watching him endeavor to capture me and fail epically by toppling over on his moronic face." Toad replies, the both of us chuckling simultaneously in amusement. "Anyways, I'm gonna go change my clothes. Breakfast has been served, so feel free to go down and enjoy. I'll accompany you in a few minutes." He adds.

"Yaaay!" I exclaimed cheerfully.

A few seconds after Toad makes his departure, I exit my room, jovially prancing through a corridor adorned with a variety of pictures ranging from sublime Mushroom Kingdom landscapes to the Mario gang having fun on their adventures, descend the stairs, then began to casually walk in the direction of the dinning room, my meerkat book grasped in my left hand. Upon entering the dinning room, the delectable aroma of golden brown pancakes enters my nasal passages, causing a sensation of hunger to rumble through my stomach.

"Mmmm, smells absolutely delicious." I said in delight.

The pink walls of the dinning room are adorned with a floral and fruit design, which extends from approximately an inch from the ceiling to an inch from the floor. A few pictures of the Mario Crew are sporadically hung up on the wall throughout the room. A single, exquisite chandelier dangles above the dinning table, which is covered in a solid hot pink table cloth. There is a single window across the room from me, through which I could see the snow is still majestically descending to the earth. Absolutely a beautiful scene before me. Eager to savor the scrumptious looking breakfast, I flopped down on one of the chairs and commenced consuming the pancakes from the floral patterned plate. OMG, they're absolutely delicious! I seriously think Toad should consider becoming a professional chef. He seems to genuinely enjoy concocting and providing meals for the Mario gang, so he certainly has the potential, in my opinion. Hearing the sound of something making contact with a soft chair cushion across from me, I look up from my plate and make visual contact with Toad, whom is wearing a white T-shirt adorned with large, circular spots, a grin of delight spread across his visage.

"I'm quite flattered to see you consuming my pancakes in immense delight, Liz. Are they seriously that delicious?" Toad questions, his head slightly tipped to the left, not entirely convinced.

"Dude, you possess professional chef qualities, they are that delicious, not joking. Every meal you concoct only seems to get more and more delicious, nom nom nom." I respond in between voraciously consuming my pancakes.

"R-really? You seriously think I have the potential to become a professional chef? Heh, well, th-thanks. Never thought of my food being that good." Toad replies, fidgeting with his fork in a flattered fashion. "Heh, would be awesome to be at the helm of my own restaurant chain though. Bringing people cheer through food would be a delightful experience, especially to the homeless residents of Toad Town. Under my management, they'd eat for free." He adds, grinning in delight.

"Awww, you're such a kindhearted person, Toad. I bet you'd be a prosperous restaurant owner with an attitude like that." I smiled with genuine honesty.

"Really? Heh, I suppose I'll give it a try, starting my own restaurant business. It'll sure make me more useful. I could learn to concoct elixirs and meals meant to heal status effects and injuries when we're embarking on adventures." Toad states before using the fork to put a piece of pancake into his mouth.

"You need to give yourself more credit, man. You're quite useful already. You provide excellent advice, demonstrate countless acts of altruism when your friends' lives are in jeopardy and are fiercely loyal to the Mario gang no matter the circumstances. You inherit admirable qualities, I'm... I'm genuinely glad to be friends with someone like you." I stated, smiling fondly.

"R-really? Even though my total freak out put your life in jeopardy on our previous adventure with the Mario Brothers? You still perceive me as a loyal friend?" Toad questions, a flattered expression forming upon his visage.

"Absolutely, bud. You're my best friend. I could never resent you. It's just not in my heart to hold grudges, especially against those I cherish tremendously in my life. I'd never abandon you, no matter what." I replied, placing my right hand on Toad's left hand reassuringly.

Upon hearing my touching statement and my right hand making contact with his left hand, the expression on Toad's face alters from flattered to an expression of appreciation.

"Awww, Liz, I'm so grateful to have a friend as fiercely loyal as you. Whenever we're on adventures together, I tend to take the loyalty of you and the Mario gang for granted quite often, thinking that I'm just being an annoying burden to you guys because of my panic attacks... that I may just screw things up somehow as a result and shouldn't be permitted to accompany you guys on adventures, but from now on I shall start to work on improving my confidence and putting more endeavor into assisting you guys in vanquishing enemies, no matter how petrified I become. I will break through my panic barrier and pulverize the enemy!" Toad exclaims with a look of determination upon his visage and clenching his fists.

"Honestly, buddy, an adventure without you wouldn't be as enjoyable. I'd miss my partner in crime when it comes to pestering foes and getting into adrenaline pumping predicaments." I said, sticking out my tongue playfully as Toad smirks mischievously.

"Man, conversing about adventures suddenly has me wanting to go to Hyrule to help the Mario Brothers resolve the land's dire situation, but we can't 'cause we've been assigned security here at the castle, ugh!" Toad groans, pressing his face against the table in disappointment.

"Sucks, but we can't do anything about it now I guess. We have no choice but to deal with the responsibility we've been given. All we can do is pray that they'll resolve the situation in Hyrule and that no lives will be lost in the process." I said, briefly lowering my head in prayer.

"Yeah..." Responded Toad, frowning worriedly. "Anyway..." He starts as his cobalt blue orbs make contact with my book on the table. "You were going to explain to me what a meerkat was. Is it related to a cat in any way?" He inquires, tipping his head to the right curiously.

"Ah right." I replied, remembering what I said before I went to take a shower. "Nope. A meerkat isn't a species of feline at all. It's actually a totally different species all together, called a mongoose. this type of mongoose, though, only grows to approximately a foot high and resides in a place called the Kalahari Desert located in the southern portion of real world Africa. They're social mammals that depend on each other for survival and live in groups called mobs, which can range in size from three to fifty individuals. There are several different types of mongoose, but these ones in particular fascinate me the most." I added, picking up my book and thumbing through the pages.

"Actually, what got me into these fascinating little creatures was a show called Meerkat Manor, which was about a mob called the Whiskers, led by another amazing meerkat named Flower, I used to watch while living in the real world." I said while my eyes drifted across a page of my book, then returned to Toad.  

"Aww, they look so cute." Toad cooed, grinning with adoration as he caught glimpses of some of the pictures.

"And they're remarkable creatures too. Determined, persistent, gallant, altruistic and resilient. I mean, heck, despite their small size, they can survive a bite from a virulent serpent because they inherit some immunity to snake venom. How phenomenal is that?" I explained excitedly.

"Ha, awesome!" Exclaimed Toad in amazement.

"Awww." Is what I heard emit from Toad's maw next when I stop at a page depicting four meerkat pups engaged in a play fight. "They're absolutely adorable as babies. I'd totally hug one and give it a name and cuddle it and affectionately stroke it if I saw one in person." He added dotingly.

"Hee hee, I know right? They're called pups as babies. They remain inside a burrow until they're three weeks old, emerge, then embark on foraging trips with the adults at approximately a month old. Throughout the week they're exploring on burrow premises. A few of the adults will remain to supervise them, and if a predator or rival meerkat appears, the adults won't hesitate to defend the precious little ones with their lives." I explained.

"Urghf, meerkat babysitting sounds like an awfully hazardous responsibility." Toad responds dreadfully.

"Fortunately, babysitting duty is more often drab than action packed. Your biggest concern is having to worry about ensuring that none of the pups vanish into the vegetation to explore than having to fend off an enemy, and dealing with flies annoyingly buzzing around your head. However when the pups make their departure from the burrow to learn to forage, things become considerably precarious for them then. One in four pups will perish before adulthood unfortunately." I explained frowning grimly.

"Awww, poor babies. They have such fragile lives." Toad responds frowning sympathetically.

"They certainly do. At the helm of a mob of meerkats is one dominant male and female whom reserve the right to produce pups. If a subordinate female conceives pups, the dominant female will kill them to ensure her own pups' survival since food rations can become scarce in the Kalahari. It can be vice versa if a dominant and subordinate female happen to be pregnant simultaneously and the dominant female gives birth first." I explained.

"Awww, how barbaric, but that's nature I guess." Replied Toad, shaking his head in disgust.

"Yeah, it is unfortunately." I responded.

"What's that meerkat doing?" Toad inquired when I turned to a page depicting a meerkat standing on its hind legs on the top of a small, decayed stump.

"He's on sentry duty, vigilantly scanning the terrain and sky for carnivorous predators and rival meerkat gangs. When a mob of meerkats commence foraging, one of the individuals will altruistically volunteer to keep watch for danger and will do so for about an hour, then switch with another individual. When a meerkat is on sentry duty, they'll be more concerned about ensuring the safety of their mob than sating their hunger. If a threat is visually detected, the sentry will emit an alarm vocalization, warning the mob to seek refuge immediately. Pretty much, meerkats are altruistic creatures. An individual won't hesitate to sacrifice themselves to protect their mob and the young." I explained as I imagine the scene unfolding in my mind.

"Awww, I can see why you're so fascinated with these creatures. They possess several admirable qualities. OMG, now you've got me fascinated with them, ha ha!" Toads chuckles delightfully.

"My dream is to someday travel to Southern Africa... to observe these remarkable creatures in action. If there was a means of teleportation transportation within my reach at this very moment, I'd take it in a heartbe--- Hey wait a minute..." I paused, a sly smirk forming upon my visage as I'm struck with what would certainly be a forbidden idea, which causes Toad give me a worried facial expression. "Maybe there is..." I added, placing my right index finger against the area of my face between my lips and chin and smirking conspiringly.

"Oh-no, it's the 'bad idea in progress' look." Toad whimpers nervously.

"So far the Star Rod has only been used to grant wishes of immense physical power, right? But can it also grant a variety of other wishes?" I put my right hand to my chin in wonder.

"Aw, shitake Mushrooms, I knew it!" Toad whined, snapping his fingers in a cringe.

"OMG, Toad!" I exclaimed upon placing my hands down quite harshly on Toad's shoulders, causing him to emit a startled yelp at being jostled by the impact. "We've SO gotta try this!" I added with a tone of immense excitement in my voice.

"B-but Liz, you read what the Mario Brothers wrote in the letter: Only under life-threatening circumstances we're permitted to use the Star Rod. If we violate that rule...." Toad emits a groan of misery and trembles simultaneously, probably imagining the punishment the Mario Brothers have in mind must be quite brutal should we dare to violate their rule. "I really don't wanna risk enduring a barbaric punishment. Besides, we still don't exactly know what the Star Rod is capable of. Who knows, it could vaporize us to ashes or something. Listen, it would be more rational of you to wait until a much less hazardous means of transportation is made available to you, otherwise this could result in disaster." Toad warned gravely.

"No way! That would mean I'd have to wait several years before I can afford an aerial trip to Southern Africa. No way in Lethal Lava Land I'm waiting that long." I stood up in protest, tossing my book down on the table so harshly that the loud clap sound impact causes Toad to emit a startled yelp and jolt simultaneously. "Anyhow, look at it this way, by experimenting with the Star Rod, we'd be providing ourselves with some sort of excitement. I know we're forbidden from embarking on adventures and risk being harshly punished if we go through with this escapade, but now the suspense is killing me! c'mon, buddy, can you imagine how epic it'd be to reside in a mob of meerkats?" I added, trying the best I can to persuade Toad into accompanying me on an illicit, but awesome adventure.

"Wh-what exactly are you suggesting, Liz?" Toad inquired with uncertainty.

"I'm suggesting that we use the Star Rod to wish ourselves to be twelve inches tall and to be transported to Southern Africa. OMG, that would be so awesome if it works!" I exclaimed, clasping my hands together and grinning ecstatically.

Toad coughs as if he swallowed his saliva wrong.

"Seriously? That'd be totally insane! You know there's no guarantee that it'd work, and even if it does, how would we return to the Mushroom Kingdom? Also, if the Mario Crew return to discover we used the Star Rod for our own pleasure, they'll go totally nuclear! I really don't want to disobey them and end up getting my butt scorched by one of Mario's fireballs." Toad replied frantically.

I couldn't help but emit a chuckle of amusement at Toad's scenario of how Mario could punish him, which causes him to glare at me in disapproval, obviously not amused.

"Eh, I have no idea how we'd get back..." I replied, shrugging cluelessly. "But, damn it, we deserve some action after being left to endure what could be several months of torturous boredom. C'mon, Toad, we're going to Africa!" I declared, grasping Toad's right wrist with my left hand and forcibly yanking him forward, causing him to emit a scream of discomfort.

"Ow! You're hurting my wrist! Relinquish me right now!" Toad demanded fiercely as I was yanking him down a corridor leading to a securely locked room where the Star Rod is being kept. "I'm warning you that if we go through with this escapade, it'll result in utter chaos!" He adds with a tone of dread.

I relinquish Toad's right wrist and turned to face him.

"C'mon, buddy, the African landscape is one of the most beautiful in the world. Don't you want the opportunity to admire it in person instead of from a book? Don't you want to be at eye level with a meerkat and accompany them on their adrenaline pumping daily adventures? Don't you want to dote over a meerkat pup for real? Because, damn it, I wanna be friends with a meerkat!" I squeal, flailing my arms like a ridiculously ecstatic anime character and jumping up and down in immense excitement. "I'm honestly skeptical the Star Rod will grant this wish as well, but trust me, if it works, committing this illicit act will be totally worth it." I add ecstatically.

"Well, I would love to smother a meerkat pup with affection and act as their guide and protector...urf, my heart is racing at the prospect that a forbidden adventure could be imminent. Thinking about violating the Mario Crew's rule is making me feel nauseous." Toad said, rocking himself back and forth on his feet nervously.

"I know, me too, and has sent a sense of shame through me for acting selfish, but, I also sense that this would be our most epic adventure yet." I predict.

"I...I can't believe I'm starting to feel excited about this." Toad said shaking his head in denial. "No, I can't, I mustn't, but, there will be meerkat pups...Okay! Let's do it! It may actually be quite fun." He added, grinning and clenching his fists excitedly.

"Squeee! You're so awesome when you unleash your rebellious side." I complimented, smirking mischievously.

"Yeah, well, don't get used to it. I'm only doing this so I can see some meerkat pup cuteness in action. I just hope we don't end up regretting this later on." Toad replied worriedly.

"Don't worry, bud, if the wish works, I'm sure there's a way to reverse the spell and return to the Mushroom Kingdom. Who knows, more or likely nothing will happen. At least we would have experienced some sort of excitement for the day." I said, shrugging skeptically.

"Indeed, and if the latter ends up transpiring, then we could engage in all those fun winter activities I suggested earlier." Toad suggested.

"True. I suppose the situation for us then wouldn't be totally boring. Anyway..." I said turning towards the door to the room that's harboring the Star Rod. "What's the code to gain access into this room again?" I inquired Toad.

"Ah, yes. The number is 611027" Toad revealed.

"611027..." I repeated to myself as I typed in the numbers on the security box. I sway from side to side, humming a cheery Mario Brothers themed tune as I waited for the door to unlock.  

Approximately a moment later a click was heard, indicating that we had been granted access into the Star Rod room, which sends a sense of ecstasy through my system.

"YES!" I exclaimed, vertically leaping into the air ecstatically.

"Aw shitake mushrooms, here we go." Toad said a bit nervously.

Without hesitation, I push the door open, my heart palpitating when the perpetually illuminated Star Rod, which is contained in a dome shaped glass display on a pedestal located at the back of the room, enters the center of my vision. A gasp of amazement emits from our mouths simultaneously, mesmerized by the Star Rod's sublime illumination.

"And, BEHOLD, the almighty Star Rod!" I throw my hands up in the air excitedly as we approach the pedestal, my heart now racing.

"Urf, I...I can't believe we're actually going to do this. Now I'm starting to feel really nauseous." Toad said as he tentatively removed the glass dome and grasped the Star Rod in both his hands. "But at the same time...this is so exhilarating!" He added, his eyes wide and mouth agape in exhilaration.

"Oooh, I know." I responded as an adrenaline induced chill ascends my spine at the prospect that this wish could dramatically alter our lives forever. "We're in the process of making a wish to shrink ourselves to twelve inches tall so that we could experience life through a meerkat's perspective. However, the Kalahari Desert is a very hostile environment. The misfortunate part about meerkat society is that several of them are denied a chance to survive to adulthood. This could be the most perilous adventure we're about to embark on. There's a possibility we may never see the Mushroom Kingdom or the Mario gang ever again. And.... and I'd never get a chance to read about Sage's life story." As an image of myself and Toad being grasped by the talons of an aerial predator enters my mind, a sense of trepidation flows through my system, suddenly making me feel unsure whether we should go through with making the wish or not. I clench my fists and bite my lower lip, trembling a little bit.

Hearing a trepid whimper emit from Toad's maw, we exchange looks of uncertainty, but imagining myself acclimating to life in a mob of meerkats has me too ecstatic to decline experimenting with the Star Rod. Ya know what, to heck with it, I'm gonna do it! However, if the results are catastrophic, so be it. That may seem callous, but at least we'd learn more about the Star Rod's capabilities in the process, even if it transpires in an apocalyptic fashion.

"Per-perhaps we should back out on making this wish. Really terrible things could happen!" Warned Toad, placing the pulsating Star Rod back on the pedestal.

"Meh, I'm sure we'll be fine, buddy. We've proven to be strong spirited warriors here in the Mushroom Kingdom. Surely we can do the same in the Kalahari Desert as well. This'll be a fun kind of danger. We've just gotta believe that no matter how perilous a situation may become for us, no matter how treacherous the environment is, we'll survive." I said, placing my left hand on Toad's right shoulder as a way of reassuring him.

"Are... are you absolutely sure you want to go through with this?" Toad questioned, exuding an air of uncertainty.

"Totally, absolutely, positively sure. My sense of curiosity won't fade until I learn what happens when one uses the Star Rod to request this unique wish, so let's do this!" I exclaimed, fueled by a sense of determination.

Exhaling a sigh of relaxation, I grasped the Star Rod with my right hand and raised it in the air, causing Toad to emit a nervous whimper. At this point, my heart is racing and my entire body is trembling from the adrenaline spreading through my bloodstream. We've advanced too far to retreat now. You only live once, YOLO, as they say nowadays, so if I don't go through with this, the variety of possible outcomes that could have transpired would circulate through my mind and make me regret not going through with this for the rest of my life. However, within the next moment or so, we may end up in Africa or dealing with an impending catastrophe. Obviously I pray that we are warped to Africa physically intact.

"Oh please work for wishes other than those of power." I prayed, still holding the Star Rod in the air. "Here we go, Toad." I added, averting my hazel orbs from the Star Rod and making eye contact with Toad, whom presses himself against me nervously.

Upon returning visual contact with the pulsating Star Rod, I commence making the wish, "I wish we were twelve inches tall and in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa!"

Several heart pounding moments pass, my eyes wide, mouth agape and entire body trembling in anticipation, waiting for some sort of activation to transpire, but the Star Rod yields nothing. Its perpetual illumination remains unaltered, which sends a sense of disappointment through my system and causes me to emit a disappointed groan.

"Aw, man, it didn't work. Guess it can't grant that kind of wish after all. Man, I really wanna go to Africa, so badly! I was praying this would've been the quickest way for me to get there, but guess it's not meant to be. Damn it, I don't wanna wait until I can afford an aerial trip out there, but I have no choice now. Ugh, this sucks. I got ecstatic over nothing!" I complained, putting the Star Rod back on the pedestal.

"Well, nothing transpiring was one of the things we expected, which is an enormous disappointment, but actually a bit of relief since an apocalypse wasn't unleashed. At least this escapade has taught us that the Star Rod is only meant to grant wishes of power. Anyway, at least now you get a chance to start reading your book." Toad reminded, trying to cheer me up.

"Imaging I'm walking beside Sage is as close as I'll have to get to being in Africa for now, I guess. Anyway, Toad, lets keep this little escapade between me and you, shall we?" I recommended, smirking mischievously and draping my right arm over his right shoulder.

"Heh, sure, they shall know nothing." Toad replied with a sly smirk. "Anyway, wanna go build a snow fort?" He asks.

"Ooh, sure, that would be fun." I responded, grinning at the suggestion.

Upon turning to exit the room, a harmonious, undulating hum fills the room, causing Toad and I to turn simultaneously and make visual contact with the Star Rod, my heart palpitating and mouth agape in amazement as I notice the Star Rod's illumination has grown significantly brighter, causing me to block the light with my right hand as it had begun to cause discomfort to my eyes upon gazing at it. As the illumination altered from white to a variation of exquisite colors, I couldn't help but become mesmerized and watch between my fingers as these colors radiated from the Star Rod incessantly.

"Wh-what's happening?!" I heard Toad inquire with a tone of panic in his voice.

"Could... could it be that the wish has been granted, or are we about to witness a cataclysm unfold?" I wondered to myself, my entire body trembling as adrenaline spreads through my system.

"L-Liz, I don't like this." Toad said worriedly, causing me to avert my hazel orbs from the Star Rod and make visual contact with him when I felt him nervously embrace me.

Suddenly, the volume of the harmonious hum increases several decibels, causing Toad and I to return visual contact with the Star Rod simultaneously, an amazed gasp involuntarily erupting from our maws as we witness the Star Rod's iridescent illumination rapidly expanding in our direction, obscuring details of the room in the process. The brightness of the illumination is so intense that it sends a burning sensation through my eyes when I gaze in the Star Rod's direction for a mere few seconds.

"Ow! It's bright! Why is it getting brighter? Is... is it supposed to do this?" I questioned with a mix intrigue and worry, blocking my eyes with my left hand.

"Holy shitake mushrooms, I've been blinded, aaaaaarrgh!!!" Upon hearing Toad yell frantically, I avert my eyes from the Star Rod and turn to witness him collide into the wall in a state of panic, knocking himself unconscious.

"Pfff." I put my hands to my mouth to stifle a snicker building up in my throat.

Seeing the iridescent illumination rapidly advancing in our direction in my right peripheral vision, upon turning, my entire field of vision becomes filled with a variety of colors while simultaneously it feels as though my body is starting to lift off the ground, the locks of my hair swaying as a breeze picks up. Whoa! The hell?! Now what's going on?! Soon my entire body becomes paralyzed and my vision fades to black.

End Chapter One

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Living With Meerkats: A Little Big Adventure  Empty
PostSubject: Re: Living With Meerkats: A Little Big Adventure    Living With Meerkats: A Little Big Adventure  I_icon_minitimeWed Aug 19, 2015 12:16 am

Chapter 2: Destination Africa, Our Expedition Across The Kalahari Begins

As I regained consciousness, a cloudless, blue sky enters my field of vision while the sounds of a variety of wildlife, ranging from birds to insects, fill my auditory senses. A warm sensation spreads through my system, the source being the rays of the sun enveloping my entire petite frame. The texture of the terrain beneath my hands feels soft and grainy indicating it must be sand. Remembering the weather conditions back in the Mushroom Kingdom were frigid and snowy, a sense of ecstasy spreads through my system, my pulse accelerating at the prospect that the Star Rod had granted my wish. Could it be that Toad and I have been warped to the Kalahari Desert? Or did the Star Rod merely recognize the word "desert" and warp us to a desert on Nintendo planet instead? It can't be the latter. I've never heard wildlife like this in any of Nintendo planet's arid environments before. Only in one place I've seen on nature documentaries, the Kalahari Desert. Having regained sensation in my extremities and eager to locate Toad, whom I pray is physically intact like myself, I push myself up into an Indian style sitting position, a gasp of amazement emitting from my mouth once the pulchritude of the landscape enters my field of vision, immediately mesmerizing me, my eyes wide and a grin of admiration spreading across my visage. Approximately ten feet before me is a meadow of high and low level wheat colored grass that extends across the terrain for miles. A variety of vegetation, ranging from thickets of drie doring and acacia bushes to shepherd and camel thorn trees are spread sporadically across the beautiful landscape. But the most sublime scenery of all are the mountains in the distance. How the sun's toasty rays illuminated them made them look absolutely exquisite. There seems to be an abundance of wildlife in the vicinity, ranging from gemsbok idly grazing in the meadow in the foreground, to a giraffe nonchalantly consuming the foliage of a nearby acacia tree to a yellow mongoose that has paused and is gazing at me with its ears pricked up curiously, my heart palpitating as I realize I'm at eye level with the cousin of the meerkat upon standing up, fully convincing me that the Star Rod possesses the power to grant any wish. I had made travelling to Southern Africa a lifelong dream of mine, one I honestly doubted would ever come true. Experimenting with a potent device that I learned still possessed extraordinary powers may have been illicit and potentially catastrophic, but the outcome has me wanting to erupt into a celebratory dance. Suddenly a sense of suspicion ripples through my system, my left eye twitching with a hint of doubt. Wait a minute...wh-what if a cataclysm is currently transpiring and Toad and I have actually been knocked unconscious? What if this is actually an incredibly vivid dream? O-or what if we're dead and we've been sent to the African part of Heaven? I shake my head in denial. Nuh-uh. It can't be the latter. This feels too real for us to be dead. There's one more test I'm gonna put myself through to prove that this isn't actually an illusion. Raising my left hand to the level of my left cheek, I squeeze my left eye shut and grit my teeth. Yes, I'm going to smack myself. I'm actually praying it hurts so that my arrival to Africa isn't just a stupid illusion. I hesitate for a minute, then struck myself across my left cheek, wincing as a stinging sensation spreads across the area of impact. Ow! It hurt more than I intended it to, but it just completely proved to me that this is for real. My hazel eyes widen and my mouth goes agape in immense euphoria. And I swear I could feel my pupils dilating! For real, before my hazel orbs, is an absolutely gorgeous African landscape abundant with a variety of majestic wildlife engaging in nonchalant activities as they gradually migrate across the terrain. Finally, the dream that I have been immensely wanting to accomplish the most has actually come true! My extremities begin to tremble as adrenaline enters my bloodstream, knowing that from this point on things are certain to become exhilarating.

"My worked. It really worked! I'm actually in the Kalahari Desert of Southern Africa. This is... going to be so AWESOME!!!" I squealed ecstatically, leaping vertically into the air jubilantly.

Upon making visual contact with the giraffe that was consuming the foliage of an acacia tree nearby and is now majestically migrating through a patch of high level grass, a sense of vulnerability spreads through my system. Having been shrunk to a mere twelve inches tall, a majority of the Kalahari's inhabitants are gargantuan compared to me! I mean, if I inadvertently put myself in the trajectory of an antelope, giraffe or any other enormous terrestrial creature, without a doubt I'd be squelched like an insect, a misfortune I hope to avoid while exploring the Kalahari. As the giraffe vanishes from my field of vision behind a grove of camel thorn trees in the distance, I turn my head to the left, making visual contact with an adult Kalahari cape fox simultaneously as it made visual contact with me, its large ears pricked up in curiosity. Approximately a moment later it turns in the opposite direction of me and scampered into the vegetation, as if alarmed by my presence. Gazing upon the pulchritude of the Kalahari landscape sends a sense of euphoria through my system. I could just shift myself into a reclined sitting position and admire the beauty of the landscape for hours, but the fate of my friend Toad still has yet to be discovered.

"The absolutely spectacular." I said gazing across the beautiful landscape in a state of enchantment, chills of exhilaration ascending my spine.

I inhale deeply, feeling my trachea constricting as I develop the sensation to cry, "Oh my God, I'm so happy right now I feel like I'm gonna cry." I fan my face with my left hand to try to calm myself. "Calm down, Liz. Now's not the time to get emotional.  What happened to Toad? I don't see him anywhere."

A sense of anxiety spreads through my system as my hazel orbs gaze across the terrain, hoping to see Toad through an opening in the vegetation nearby. My pulse accelerates at the prospect that we've been separated in the process of being teleported here. Ugh, man, I really hope that's not the situation we've just been put in. The Kalahari Desert is not an environment you'd want to explore alone as a small creature. Even when you're constantly surveying the environment for danger, a predator could still easily infiltrate one of your blind spots undetected, sealing your fate. Just your pair of eyes isn't sufficient to guard you against a death sentence. The more eyes you have accompanying you on an adventure here, the more likely you are to avoid being attacked by predators. Heck, even as an average sized human exploring the Kalahari Desert alone can be extremely dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. As I continue to vigilantly scan the terrain for any sign of Toad, a light, warm breeze blows through the vegetation, causing me to jolt in alarm at the sound of it rustling, thinking a terrestrial predator could be in the vicinity, stalking me. After a few minutes lapse of the environment yielding nothing but the rustle of the vegetation surrounding me, a sense of relief spreads through my system, confident I'm in the clear regarding predators, for now. Surmising that a considerable amount of distance had been put between Toad and I upon arrival, my sense of relief alters to a sense of worry. Not knowing whether Toad is safe or in grave peril has elevated my sense of worry to a sense of panic.

"Oh, Toad," I whimpered, approaching a tuft of tall grass and parting it with my hands to see if Toad was there, a sense of disappointment flowing through my system as I found it to be vacant. "Oh, man. There's so much vegetation to rummage through that it could take hours to find Toad, enough time for a predator to easily dispatch him. This kind of predicament could not only jeopardize my ultimate dream but our lives as well. Please, Fate, spare my dream from being shattered and let Toad be somewhere nearby." I clasped my hands in prayer.

On cue, as if Fate was answering my prayer, a groan of disorientation permeates the air, causing me to turn in the direction it emitted from, a sense of joyful relief spreading through my system as a familiar head protruding from a tuft of low level grass located approximately eight feet across from me enters the center of my vision.

"TOAD!!!" I squealed with joy as I sprinted towards him.

Toad was groggily rubbing his right eye with his right hand when I make physical contact with him, causing him to emit an alarmed yell, then a series of grunts of discomfort erupt from his throat when I apply a tremendous amount of pressure to the upper part of his body as I embrace him tightly, pressing his face against my stomach.

"Thank Heavens you're alright. I was afraid we got separated and was worried that your welfare may have been in jeopardy." I said, turning my head from left to right in a state of paranoia, my hazel orbs vigilantly scanning the terrain for terrestrial predators.

"It is now that you have my face pressed against your stomach. Now relinquish me before I suffocate to death!" Toad muffled, applying pressure to my stomach with both his hands as he pulls against my embrace.

"Oooh, sorry buddy." I apologized as I relinquished Toad. "But, damn it, I'm just super duper looper ecstatic to be in Africa right now that I could go as crazy as Tom Cruise did on the Oprah Winfrey Show, yesh, yesh, yesh, yesh, yesh!" I cheered flailing my arms and leaping up and down in immense excitement.

"Oh, Star Heavens, please don't even...Liz, chill and retreat from the chaos zone now!" Toad ordered, grasping my left wrist with his right hand in an authoritative fashion, causing me to cease leaping up and down like an ecstatic child in a toy store. "I'm not going to endure being thrown around like a rag doll again like the last time you got this excited. I nearly lost an important body function when I struck a street light pole." He added, his left eye twitching with agony.

"Oh, wow, I...totally forgot about that. Man, then that was close." My eyes widened, a bit perturbed by how insane my level of excitement can get. "Phew, thanks for helping me regain my composure, buddy." I added, placing my left hand on Toad's right shoulder in appreciation. "Heh, man, my sense of excitement is like consuming too much alcohol, it clouds my judgment and I end up committing acts that I don't even remember doing." I added, making Toad emit a chuckle of amusement.

"So this is the Kalahari, huh?" Toad said, placing his hands on his hips as he gazed upon the pulchritude of the landscape, a look of admiration forming on his visage. "It's... absolutely beautiful."

"I know right?!" I squealed ecstatically. "I can't wait to 'splore over there and over there and over there and over there..." I repeat as I point in every direction with my left index finger.

"Nnnnngh! I can't stand still any longer! Our African adventure commences naaoo!!" I declared ecstatically as I started running across a portion of the terrain that is devoid of vegetation.

"Hey, wait, don't move so fast! We could easily lose track of each other in all this vegetation!" Toad cried out anxiously.

Remembering our separation scare from the start, I reduce my brisk pace to a leisurely walk so that Toad can catch up.

"Sorry, buddy. The last thing I want to happen is for us to become separated, especially in a dangerous environment like this." I apologized, averting my hazel orbs from the vast landscape before me to follow Toad's movement to my right side, his pace now matching mine.

"Upon arriving here, not only did we become adventurers, we became survivalists as well. So, yes, it's extremely crucial that we remain vigilant and in close proximity to each other at all times." I nodded in understanding.

"Survivalists?" Toad questioned, an inquisitive expression formed on his visage.

"Yup, there are no McDonalds or truck stops here, so from here on, we live like the very mammals we are searching for, our diet for breakfast, lunch and dinner consisting of insects, from which we'll be getting our liquid intake, checking into abandoned burrows as our hotels, eluding detection from aerial and terrestrial predators and using a bush as the bathroom." I smirked, suppressing a snicker of amusement as I know exactly what Toad's reaction will be to hearing the consuming bugs part. He's quite queasy about that kind of stuff.

Emitting a gag of disgust, Toad's head jerks forward in a way that looks like he's about to vomit. Yup, exactly the reaction I imagined he'd give.

"Oh hell no! Just imagining myself munching on a rancid flavored bug made me throw up a little bit in my mouth. Nope, nope, nope!" Toad objected strongly, shaking his head in disgust and crossing his arms.

"Then we die, because insects are a more common source of fluids out here. The Kalahari isn't called The Great Thirst Land for nothing. Water is extremely difficult to find here. The other alternative would be to suck out the fluids from leaves and stems of plants, but I lack the knowledge of what plants are life savors and what plants will kill you if consumed so I'd rather not take that risk." I cautioned.

"Well, since you put it that way, guess I have no choice but to endure when it comes time for us to eat here. And try not to throw up." Toad cringed in disgust.

"Oh, and not to mention we'll be part Bear Grylls-ing it, what with resorting to sleeping in other means of shelter if no burrows are available, getting creative with ways to cool off when the temperatures reach scorching levels, making a fire in order to keep warm and deter predators, making survival tools when needed, embarking on hunting escursions when insects become difficult to find and confronting treacherous and perilous terrain, just in a miniature scale of course. Yup, primitive life will be primitive." I said, a sense of exhilaration flowing through my system as I know that being confronted with danger will be inevitable.

"Ugh, how can you watch that show, watching him gut animals and stuff, disgusting! Just, I can't even...If I were to ever cave in and watch a single episode of Man Vs. Wild, I'm afraid I'd projectile vomit everywhere." Toad grimaced in disgust. "I sure hope you remembered his survival tactics, because this is the first time we're doing something like this."

"Uhhhh...." I endeavored to remember something, but all I was getting was blankness from my mind. "Damn! I've been struck with the can't remember crap bug, so nope."

"Terrific. We're totally gonna die." Toad whimpers nervously, facepalming.

"Nah, we'll be fine, buddy. As long as we use common sense we should avoid getting ourselves killed. And, hey, if we do happen to perish here, at least it'd be in one of the world's most beautiful places." I said, grinning with optimism.

Shifting his cobalt orbs from me to scan the landscape, Toad fidgets with his fingers nervously, "Err, well I still say the chances of us dying here will be pretty high. W-we're so small! I feel so vulnerable! This is absolutely terrifying! At least every part of me was warped here intact." He added, examining every part of himself, his body trembling with excitement.

"Hee hee, but seriously, the landscape of this place is just captivatingly exquisite. I'd at least be glad to die here because I have completed my dream. On another note, I really didn't want much for Christmas this year anyway, just to spend quality time with the Mario gang and to somehow be transported here without having to pay for an expensive plane ticket and having to wait weeks or even months to fly to Africa, which I thought would never happen until the Star Rod happened." I grinned euphorically.

"Urf, I'm feeling ashamed for disobeying the Mario Brothers." Toad frowned, lowering his head. He then averts his eyes from the ground to gaze at the landscape with an expression of admiration formed on his visage. "But how could I stay ashamed in a place that makes me feel so euphoric and enchanted? While there must be a way to return to the Mushroom Kingdom, this is sure to be a once in a life time adventure considering the most likely punishment will be a permanent ban from using the Star Rod, so I shall relish this African adventure for as long as it lasts."

"Yes! Our vacation, a Christmas present to ourselves. Nnnngh, yeah, this is bound to be the best Christmas ever, buddy!" I cheered ecstatically.

"Totally!" Toad exclaimed his assent as we high fived each other.

As Toad and I hike merrily across a portion of the terrain that has low level vegetation, enjoying the feel of the warm, light breeze against my face and the beautiful ambiance of the Kalahari nature around us, I start to wonder how long it could take us to locate a mob of meerkats. We've been here for several minutes and I'm already getting impatient! The moment I make visual contact with a meerkat I'm gonna run over to it, embrace it tightly and squeal with immense delight while jumping up and down ecstatically. No, I must keep in mind that meerkats are fiercely territorial and protective of their group, especially their offspring. The chances of Toad and I being accepted into a mob upon first approach is extremely slim. I'd put myself in grave danger of being ripped to shreds by the entire mob if I did something reckless like that! As an image of four meerkats plunging their serrated teeth into my flesh appears in my mind, I cringed. Urf, not a scenario I'd like to transpire. It could be days or maybe even weeks before we see a mob of meerkats, but whenever we do, it's essential that I resist the urge to go tackle hug a meerkat. Tackle hugging a meerkat equals death and my dream shattering into itty bitty pieces. Remember that Liz! But, if we are to find them, we must be observant for any signs that they're in this portion of the Kalahari, paw prints, poop, anything. I believe the further we travel, the more likely we are to encounter them, just gotta remain patient and optimistic throughout our perilous and arduous hike.

"Oh, wow, what majestic creatures." Toad said in amazement. "Hey, Liz, since you seem to have some knowledge of the Kalahari would you happen to know what those are?" He inquired inquisitively.

Upon turning my head, I make visual contact with a herd of majestic gemsbok located approximately one hundred yards from us, my attention instantly captivated by their pulchritude.

"Oooh, those are gemsbok!" I exclaimed ecstatically. "They're a type of antelope that are herbivores, meaning they just eat plants and stuff like that. They're harmless unless you're unfortunate to get underneath their hooves as they're migrating across the terrain, then you'd be crushed to death. They sure are beautiful creatures though." I added, mesmerized by the graceful motions of their bulky forms across the field of grass.

"Heh, well then, we'd better make sure to steer clear of the direction they're moving in, huh. I'd rather not end up like a cartoon character on a classic cartoon show where an anvil falls on them, flattening them like a pancake." Toad said with a look of nervousness formed on his visage.

"I feel ya, bud, but not to worry, it appears this herd is slowly heading in the opposite direction." I smiled reassuringly.

Toad and I watch the herd of gemsbok as they graze at steady intervals for a few moments before I realize we're standing on open terrain, leaving us exposed to aerial predators. Worried we could be visually detected at any given moment, I avert my hazel orbs from the gemsbok, my gaze drifting to the sky to scan for carnivorous raptors.

"Ugh, man, wish we could stand here and admire them for a little bit longer, but we're exposed out here. We must keep moving and maintain close proximity to shrubs." I urged warily.

"Definitely since our hike has been tranquil so far. It would be unfortunate if we were to meet our demise as a result of exposing ourselves so soon into our adventure." Toad agreed worriedly.

Toad and I start walking across a portion of the terrain that is inhabited by acacia bushes and waist high, wheat colored grass. As a hot sensation spreads through my system from the scorching rays of the sun being absorbed through the black color of my shirt, I rolled up my sleeves while Toad fans his face with his right hand.

"Holy shitake mushrooms, it's as hot as Lethal Lava Land here! ...But... it's December. Isn't it supposed to be cold? And where's the snow? Does it ever snow in the Kalahari?" Toad inquired, gazing across the landscape inquisitively.

"December is the start of summer in the Kalahari, bud." I replied.

"Really?" Toad makes eye contact with me and slightly tilts his head to the left, his beady eyes glimmering with curiosity.

"You see, the southern portion of Africa is located below the equator of the earth, making December, January and February summer months here. During the day, the temperatures can exceed over one hundred degrees while at night they can decrease to a degree where we'll have to cuddle up in order to stay warm. Thunderstorms and showers can occur between November and April, which can often be accompanied by strong winds that can generate sandstorms, although they're erratic so this can be uncertain. Snow is very rare, but has occurred in the Kalahari before. Heh, who knows, if we're here through the winter and we're fortunate enough to experience a rare nuisance level snow storm, maybe we'll get a chance to build a snowman." I grinned, clapping my hands ecstatically as an image of a snowman shaped like a meerkat appears in my mind.

"And we could name him Olaf." Toad suggested jokingly, referring to the movie Frozen.

"Some creatures are worth melting for, like meerkats." I squealed fondly as an imagine of me embracing and smothering a meerkat with affection appears in my mind.

"D'aaaaaw, that line is made even more precious with the word "meerkat" in it." Toad grinned with adoration.

"OMG, yaaaaas!" I squealed with delight. "Nnnngh, man I wish we were walking with meerkats right now! Meh, nothing we can do about it but to remain alert for signs of meerkats being in this portion of the Kalahari for now. And like meerkats, we must remain vigilant at all times while we're on this scenic hike. Don't let the pulchritude of the Kalahari mesmerize you too much, bud. We have plenty of hazardous wildlife to be on the look out for."

"Oh man. L-like what, exactly?" Toad whimpered as he nervously shifted his eyes from me to scan the landscape before us.

"Well, common terrestrial foes of the meerkat are black backed jackals, which looks like a fox with a slender body, long legs, large ears and has reddish brown fur along with a black saddle intermixed with silvery hair that extends from the shoulders to the base of the tail. Caracals, which are a species of wild cat with long, black tuft ears, tawny brown to brick red colored fur and black lines that run from the eyes to the nose. African wildcats, which resemble your average house cat. Rock monitors, which are enormous lizards with serrated teeth, razor sharp claws and a long, powerful tail that can break bones upon impact. Snakes, particularly the cape cobra and puff adder, which are highly venomous." I explained.

"Ugh, snakes." Toad groaned, shivering. "Because I was so fascinated with learning about meerkats from your book earlier I was able to block out that word. Hearing it again just sent a sense of horror through me. My psychological wounds still haven't completely healed from what happened on Yoshi's Island a while ago. That enormous red snake, those horrifying green eyes and sharp teeth! I can still smell its putrid breath as it wrapped its tongue around me and consumed me whole. I thought I was going to perish for sure once I felt its stomach acids starting to burn my skin. I swear if we encounter a snake out here, regardless of its level of danger, I may just relapse into a catatonic, thumb sucking state. Oh please let there be no snakes in this grass. If I see any part of one, I'll run in the opposite direction like Usain Bolt." He adds, frantically lifting his feet, paranoid he may step on a serpent every time each foot makes contact with the ground.

"Heh heh, relax, buddy. Meerkats are rarely consumed by snakes here. A pup is more likely to be consumed, but adults are often incapacitated by bites, so you don't have to worry about finding yourself in a snake's belly here. And whenever we do encounter a snake, because it's inevitable out here, I won't hesitate to put myself between you and the snake. My fascination with snakes has rendered me fearless towards them, so I'd gladly deal with it to ensure our safety." I winked at him reassuringly.

"B-but, what if you get bitten?" Toad questions worriedly. "And...and then it comes after me!" He shivers, his eyes wide with horror.

"That won't happen, 'cause I've got reflex skills like a ninja, 'member? I'll just pivot myself, swiftly leap into the air, turning so that the front part of my body is facing the back of the serpent, my eyes not averting from it for even a second, and land a few inches behind it. Then I'll swiftly grasp its tail with both my hands, drawing its attention away from you, and, mustering as much strength as my body will allow me to, chuck it as far from us as possible, similar to what we do to Bowser, then voila, snake go bye bye." I smirked, acting out the scenario I just described.

"Of course. I totally trust in your abilities to safely deal with a snake, but don't expect me to assist you as I'll most likely be in a fetal position... sucking my thumb... under a bush... trembling with immobilizing fear." He warned, hugging himself and scanning the terrain in a paranoid fashion as if a snake could slither out from the vegetation and lunge at him any minute.

"I don't expect you to and I honestly wouldn't mind if your ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) renders you incapacitated, 'cause I'll totally own the situation, even if it means sacrificing my health to protect my best buddy." I reassured Toad, embracing him with my right arm fondly.

"Aww, Liz, you're too altruistic for your own good. I... no! I will not just sit there in a fetal position sucking my thumb like a coward and watch you risk your life to protect me. While we're here, I'm gonna make it my goal to conquer my fear of snakes, and that's a promise!" Toad fiercely vowed.

"Awesome. I know you can do it buddy." I replied, embracing him supportively.

"Whoa, those are some peculiar looking birds." Toad commented as his gaze was to my right upon disengaging from our hug, then made eye contact with me with an expression of concern formed on his visage.

"And, uh, sh-should we be worried about them?" He inquired nervously, returning his gaze to these mysterious birds.

My hazel orbs follow the direction in which Toad is gazing and make visual contact with a camel thorn tree located approximately thirty feet from us. Perched on flimsy branches of foliage swaying gently up and down in the light breeze are a trio of medium sized birds with large, down curved beaks that resemble a banana, yellow eyes, pinkish skin around the eyes, long tails, long eyelashes, stubby legs and toes. They appear to have gray necks, which have gray spots, and chests that are lightly striated with black. As one of them adjusts its position, turning its back in our direction, I notice it's black with an abundance of white spots and stripes. Yep, without a doubt those are yellow-billed hornbill birds.

"Eh, no need to worry about those birds, buddy. Those are yellow-billed hornbills." I told him, placing my left hand on his right shoulder reassuringly.

"Yellow-billed hornbills?" He raised a brow curiously.

"They're diet consists of small insects, spiders, scorpions, seeds, fruits and sometimes slightly larger creatures such as mice, frogs, chameleons and bird chicks. They can be a bit of a nuisance as they'll sometimes loiter around meerkats, waiting to steal whatever they reveal from under the sand. But they can also act as a warning system for meerkats by emitting an urgent sounding vocalization that will alert them to the presence of a threat in the area." I explained.

Exhaling a sigh of relief, Toad replies, "Thank Heavens, that makes me glad to know we're safe when coexisting with those birds. Hee, hee, hee, oh man, I'm gonna have trouble keeping a straight face the next time I see them, though. Because banana with wings." He chuckles, wrapping his arms around his torso as he erupts into a fit laughter.

"Hee, hee, I know right?" I giggled in amusement. "But, um, on a more serious matter, there are quite a few birds that pose a serious threat to our lives here. Actually, meerkats are often killed by aerial predators." I warned, briefly gazing up at the sky to ensure none of the birds I'm about to educate Toad on are in the vicinity before retuning eye contact with him.

"Wh-what kinds of birds must we be on the look out for?" Toad inquired, briefly glancing up at the sky nervously.

"There's the pale chanting goshawk, which has tail feathers that are black tipped with white, grey and white outer feathers, a pale grey head and upper breast, finely barred dark grey and white underparts, yellow eyes, orange beak and long orange legs. The tawny eagle, which has tawny colored upperparts, blackish flight feathers and tail, a very pale lower back and a yellow and black beak. The eagle owl, which is large and can be easily distinguished by a white oval disk shaped face with a black border and pink eyelids. They also have two fluffy ear-tufts, are fairly uniform brownish grey with white spots on the shoulder and have a pale underside." I elaborated, shifting my eyes from Toad to the sky, then back to Toad every now and then. "But the aerial predator with the highest level of danger to the meerkat is the martial eagle." I added, my pulse elevating at just hearing those two words emit from my mouth.

"Martial... eagle?" Toad questioned nervously.

"It's the largest eagle in Africa and is incredibly powerful, capable of knocking an adult man off his feet, even breaking his arm. They can weigh up to fourteen pounds, measure up to thirty two inches long and have a wingspan of about six feet four inches. The upper part of its body is dark brown with a white belly with black streaks and its legs are white, which are equipped with large talons, long enough to inflict fatal wounds. They also have yellow eyes and a black beak." I explained, scanning the landscape warily.

"Yeeeaaah, um, that predator is definitely get on the nope train worthy. No way in hell am I gonna challenge the physical strength of that thing!" Toad exclaimed, his eyes wide with fear.

"And that's not even the largest predator to worry about. There are also lions, cheetahs, leopards and hyenas, although they rarely consume meerkats. But still..." I trembled as the vocalizations of those predators I just mentioned reverberate in my mind.

Whimpering, Toad replies, "Oh man, with that many predators to worry about, we're screwed!"

"We'll be fine, buddy. so long as we remain in close proximity to some sort of refuge, we should avoid being detected. For now, though, good fortune appears to be in our favor, as from as far as I can see, the only animals currently moving across the landscape are vegetarians." I reassured Toad. "Now lets keep moving before we attract the attention of a predator."

"Oh, yeah, right." Toad replied.

Toad and I resume our hike across the Kalahari grassland, a sense of pleasure flowing through my system as I made visual contact with a trio of giraffes galloping majestically across the terrain several dozen yards from us. Upon averting my hazel orbs from the giraffes and making visual contact with a herd of prancing springbok in the distance, I start to reflect on a vacation to Disney World I took for the first time with family back in the real world in the summer of 2007. One of the theme parks we explored was the Animal Kingdom, which has a section that's dedicated to the safaris of Africa. I grin euphorically as memories of my family and I taking the safari adventure ride and embarking on the walk through safari percolate through my mind. It was so amazing getting to see the rare okapi in person, to witness a variety of majestic antelope and giraffes traverse across the attraction as if they were travelling across a real African landscape, to observe a pride of lions lounging under the shade of a tree. But what I enjoyed the most was the little mob of meerkats that inhabited the walk through safari. A thunderstorm struck at the time we came to their open enclosure, which sent a sense of disappointment through me as I thought I'd never get to see them, but after a while the rain ceased. Soon enough a single meerkat emerged and clambered to the top of a mound to scan the area for threats. Unfortunately none of the other meerkats emerged while we were there, but it still had me immensely excited to see a meerkat in person for the first time. You could say I experienced travelling through a touch of Africa there, but actually being in Africa and traversing across a real safari is much more exhilarating for sure. I'm enjoying the pulchritude of the African landscape so much that it's actually crossed my mind to move here. Who knows, maybe our time in Africa could become permanent. I wouldn't mind waking up to spectacular sun rises, coexisting with majestic creatures as I explore a beautiful environment while searching for a meal, watching the gorgeous sunsets before going to bed, and if fortune is on my side, becoming a permanent, contributive member of a meerkat mob. ....Although I'd miss the Mario Crew and the Mushroom Kingdom immensely. I'd no longer be able to accompany the Mario Crew on adventures or annoy the heck out of Bowser or seek other kinds of adventures with Toad while the Mario Crew is away on adventures of their own....that's right, Toad. I have to consider his desires as well. No doubt he's not going to want to reside in the Kalahari Desert forever. He'll want to return to the Mushroom Kingdom at some point. No. I can't reside here forever. The desires of my best friend will always come first. Someway, somehow Toad and I will make it back to the Mushroom Kingdom! Suddenly I'm snapped out of my thoughts when I bump into Toad.

"Whoa, hey buddy, why'd you stop so abruptly?" I questioned in a state of confusion.

"I...I thought I heard something in the grass." Toad explained just above a whisper, nervously scanning the vegetation.

"Eh, it's probably just the wind blowing through the grass." I shrugged nonchalantly. "...At least I hope it is." I added, starting to feel a bit nervous.

Suddenly I heard a rustling in the vegetation to my left, causing Toad to emit an alarmed gasp and my pulse to become a bit elevated.

"Th-there it is again. S-something's moving through the grass." Toad whisper yelled nervously.

My pulse now elevated to a rapid pace, I turn in the direction the rustling sounds are coming from, a sense of forebode spreading through my system as I make visual contact with movement through a patch of grass that appears to be headed in our direction. Could we have been detected and are currently being stalked by an African wildcat, caracal, jackal, or even something more frightening a l-lion?! The shorter the distance between us and the movement becomes, the faster my heart beats. The muscles in my extremities constrict and adrenaline enters my bloodstream, causing my body to tremble, poised to defend Toad and myself to the death if a terrestrial predator manifests from the patch of grass.

"Nnnnnnnnngh, no!" Toad suddenly shouts, causing me to avert my eyes from the grass and make visual contact with him in surprise. "I will not permit myself to become incapacitated by another panic attack! I shall strike down the enemy before it has a chance to plunge a single fang or claw into our flesh. Stay back, Liz, I'm gonna own this situation!"

Emitting a valorous caterwaul, Toad charges towards the encroaching movement in the grass, like an African tribal warrior charging into battle, and ferociously hollered, "RAAARRGH! Death to the enemy!!!"

A sense of horror flows through my system, afraid that I'm about to witness my best friend get gruesomely mutilated or killed by a potential terrestrial threat.

"No wait, Toad! You could be making a potentially fatal mistake!" I panicked, putting my hands over my eyes, not wanting to witness Toad get ripped to shreds as a result of his act of recklessness.

"Eh?! A squirrel?!" I heard Toad snort in amusement. "Jeez, you scared the crap out of us Mr. Bushy Tail. At least you're not something that could eat my face off." He added, exhaling a sigh of relief.

Upon uncovering my eyes, I make visual contact with an African cape ground squirrel that is sniffing Toad curiously and collapse to my knees, relieved that it wasn't a terrestrial predator.

"Oh thank Heavens. Never in my life have I been so happy to see a squirrel." I said, exhaling a sigh of relief.

"Ack, hey that tickles." Toad giggled as the African cape ground squirrel began gently nibbling on the back of his neck as a way of removing any parasites he may have collected while hiking through the vegetation, the upper part of his body bent forward from the ground squirrel's front paws putting pressure on his head and midsection of his back.

"Awww, what a kind-hearted squirrel Mr. Bushy Tail is, offering you tick removal service. Looks like you made your first Kalahari friend, buddy." I grinned with adoration as I stood up and approached the pair.

"Meep, t-ticks?! Eeew! Seriously, I hope one didn't hitch a ride on me, I'll scream like Chris Tucker in the Fifth Element!" Toad squeaked in disgust, disengaging from the African ground squirrel and rapidly brushing his torso with his hands in a state of paranoia. "I absolutely despise any insect that sucks blood. As a matter of fact anything that involves blood makes me queasy."

"I know, bud, but I'm sure our new pal Mr. Bushy Tail took care of the problem already." I giggled adoringly as the African ground squirrel sniffed me curiously, then permitted me to pet him fondly on the head.

"Hee hee, I trust he did. Thank you, Mr. Bushy Tail, I really appreciate it." Toad smiled with gratitude as he joined me in petting the African ground squirrel, which emits a purr of delight.

Remembering that African ground squirrels are said to share burrow complexes with meerkat mobs, a sense of hope flows through my system. Where there are African ground squirrels there are often meerkats. Yaaas! I grin ecstatically at the prospect that a complex of meerkat burrows could be in the vicinity. Maybe we're about to locate a mob of meerkats sooner than I initially thought. I emit an ecstatic squeal.

"OMG, yaaas! This is definitely a good sign!" I exclaimed ecstatically.

"Huh? What are you talking about?" Toad questioned, tilting his head to the right in a state of confusion.

"Whoa!" Toad suddenly exclaimed as Mr. Bushy Tail nudged him with his head with enough force to knock him to the ground.

"Oh, you wanna play a game of tag, huh?" Toad giggled with adoration as Mr. Bushy Tail turned his back in his direction, flicking his tail a couple times as a way of encouraging Toad to chase him.

"What I mean, buddy, is that African ground squirrels sometimes share burrows with meerkats." I explained. "We must be on a mob's territory. I wouldn't doubt they're beyond this large patch of grass. Nnnnngh the urge to find out now is strong. C'mon, buddy, lets go introduce ourselves to some meerkats!"

I grasp Toad's right wrist with my left hand impatiently and began sprinting as fast as my legs will permit me to go through the patch of eye level grass. I could feel the weight of the lower part of Toad's body being dragged through the sand, which considerably reduces my running pace.

"Nooooooooooooo! I don't wanna leave my squirrel friend!" Protested Toad emotionally.

"Awwwww, don't cry, buddy. The Kalahari has plenty of squirrels you can become friends with." I told him jovially, trying to comfort him.

"B-but I sensed something special in this one. And... and what if the next squirrel happens to be rabid and tries to eat my face off?" Toad whines, unconfident.

"Nah, I doubt that would happen. It's rare to encounter a rabid animal here. The squirrels are happy, beady eyed, adorably fluffy creatures that would be glad to embrace your desire to become their friend." I replied optimistically.

"Well, okay. If you say so." Toad responded. "Then the next squirrel I form a bond with will be smothered with affectionate hugs, strokes and I think I'm gonna name him..... Winston. Yeah, Winston sounds like a terrific squirrel name."

"Awww, you're going to be a fantastic friend to the squirrels, buddy." I giggled with adoration.

"Hee hee, thanks." Toad replied in delight. "Now could you please relinquish me? I'm starting to wonder if I should be more concerned about you being the death of me rather than a predator."

"Oooh, sorry, buddy." I apologized as I relinquished his wrist.

Upon stepping out from the patch of eye level grass, what enters my field of vision is a dry river bed devoid of vegetation. It appears to be the length of a football field across and extends beyond that in both horizontal directions. A sense of disappointment flows through my system as in every direction I look yields no meerkats scampering across the terrain, just a small cloud of dust generated by the light breeze. The pace of my pulse elevates slightly, knowing the chances of us being detected by an aerial predator will increase significantly once we commence crossing this perilously exposed terrain. Fortunately I can see that there's plenty of vegetation on the other side. I just pray that danger continues to steer clear of our location and we make it across the dry river bed without attracting the attention of something that would be more than delighted to go nom nom on our delectable corpses. And, hey, if we're lucky, maybe a mob of meerkats is foraging in the vegetation on the other side?

"Aw fungus, no meerkats?!" I complained, folding my arms and puffed up my cheeks in a pout. "But mamamia, look at this dry river bed, it's huge! Welp, crossing this is sure going to be interesting." I said, putting my hands on my hips, a sense of nervousness blossoming in my chest.

"Oh man, there's no way we can cross this without being spotted." Toad whined. "Not with that terrifying looking bird surveying the landscape like a prison guard looking to strike down escapees." His eyes widened with terror as he pointed behind me in an upward direction.

My hazel orbs follow the direction Toad's left index finger is pointing in and, upon turning around, I make visual contact with a large bird perched at the top of a camel thorn tree located approximately fifty feet from us. The bird appears to have a dark brown upper body, a white stomach with black streaks, a pair of white legs, a black beak and a pair of yellow eyes. A sense of terror flows through my system as I immediately identify the bird to be an adult martial eagle, the meerkat's most feared aerial enemy. My hazel eyes widen. Well that escalated quickly! I mean I expected us to encounter this deadly aerial foe at some point but I wasn't expecting the encounter to occur this soon! I imagined us to be in a meerkat mob when the encounter would happen, but this made me realize just how unpredictable the Kalahari really is. It's frightening to think this environment possesses a thousand ways to kill, any of which can strike you down at any given moment. Fortunately the martial eagle hasn't detected us, but its presence has put us in a grave predicament and is enough to cause my heart to palpitate, knowing that upon impact this flagitious aerial predator can inflict fatal injuries.

"Wait a minute...isn't that one of the birds of prey you told me about earlier?" Toad questioned suspiciously. "Oh my gawd it is! It's the get on the nope train one! Oh my gawd, what should we do, what should we do, what should we do?! If that thing spots us we're dead for sure! I don't wanna shake hands with the Lord yet. I wanna get a girlfriend, get married, have kids and---"

"Dude, chill!" I growled in annoyance as I grasped a part of Toad's T-shirt with my right hand, stopping him from running around like a frightened chicken in a pen. "You running around and panicking like a fool is only going to make things worse. Actually, it's an example of how to get ourselves killed."

"Gaaagh! I'm such an epic failure! Always caving into panic when danger strikes, even after I promised I wouldn't! So much for developing what I thought was a sense of permanent newfound courage earlier. Just...why, why, why!" Toad growled in frustration, slamming his fists down three times on the ground angrily.

Upon returning visual contact with the martial eagle, a sense of horror flows through my system as it turns in our direction, making me think Toad's outburst of panic had attracted its attention, but upon closer inspection, the avian threat's gaze is directed beyond our location. Perhaps something in the distance had captivated its attention? I can only hope, and pray the martial eagle doesn't gaze down or the result for Toad and I could be tragic.

"Errrr, buddy, this is no time for a psychology session. We need to concentrate on announcing our presence as minimal as possible, or we will become bird food, so calm the hell down!" I exclaimed in frustration.

"Derp, r-right. Putting an end to my freak out now." Toad said, regaining his composure and raising his arms up in surrender.

Suddenly the martial eagle makes its departure from the top of the camel thorn tree and flies in the direction it was facing, sending a sense of horror through my system and making me emit an alarmed whimper as I instinctively lowered myself to the ground on my belly to reduce the chances of being visually detected, my pulse now elevated to a rapid pace and my entire body trembling from the adrenaline entering my bloodstream.

"OR NOT!!!" Toad shrieked, horrified. "Oh my gawd, we're gonna die, we're gonna die, we're gonna die!" he cried, running back and forth in a panic.

I could hear the sound of the martial eagle's wings flapping as it flew over our location, emitting an eerie screech as it vanished from my field of vision behind a grove of camel thorn trees in the foreground, which sent a sense of horror through my system once more. Holy. Shitake. Mushrooms. That was too close too soon, but at the same time, was totally awesome! Man, what an exhilarating experience that was seeing the formidable martial eagle in action in person for the first time. Definitely deserves to go on the list of predators to respect, that's for sure. A sense of relief flows through my system as I exhale a shaky sigh, glad that Fate had spared our lives from becoming bird food. Despite that the atmosphere has returned to being tranquil, my pulse remains at a rapid pace and my body is still trembling uncontrollably from the adrenaline coursing through my bloodstream. As for Toad. Well, he's still running around and blubbering as if the apocalypse is upon us.

"Yo, Toad! The martial eagle went bye bye, so you can stop freaking out now!!!" I hollered loud enough so that he could hear me.

"It's gone?" He said as he ceased his panic attack. "Oh, thank the Star Spirits in Heaven, we've been spared from meeting our untimely demise!" Toad praised, raising his hands up in rejoice.

"Yeah, well, for now at least." I exhaled a sigh of relaxation as my pulse returns to its normal pace and the trembling in my extremities subsides.

"Eh? Ugh, well that's terrific. I stepped in poop when I was running around having a panic attack." His face contorted with disgust upon gazing down at his right foot to discover animal feces on his shoe.

"Heh, see? That's another reason why it's essential to be constantly aware of what's around you in an environment like this. Even poop can give you a hard time." I joked, sticking my tongue out at Toad teasingly.

"Heh, very funny, sister. This is seriously so not cool! Now I have to deal with inhaling a nauseating odor for the rest of our hike." Toad complained, rubbing his right foot vigorously in a back and forth motion through the sand to get rid of the animal feces.

I couldn't help but chuckle at Toad's comical situation.

"Hey, could've been worse, buddy. You should be grateful that stepping in poop was the only outcome of that perilous situation." I told him teasingly. "On a more serious note, this sure won't be the last time we'll encounter a predator, so as we resume our hike it's become as crucial as ever to remain constantly alert for predators and maintain our composure as best as we possibly can when dealing with one."

"R-right. That'll be my next obstacle to conquer, to endeavor not to become incapacitated by a panic attack when confronted by a predator." Toad vowed, a look of courage formed on his visage.

"I believe you'll conquer your fears when the time is right, buddy." I smiled hopefully, embracing him with my right arm fondly.

"Thanks, Liz." Toad smiled with gratitude "The next time we encounter a predator, it'll have to go through me first, and this time I really mean it! I'll pummel it to a bloody pulp like Bruce Lee without mercy, yaaah, yaah, yaah!" Toad said ferociously, throwing a barrage of punches at the air, fueled by his determination to defend me and himself to the death from future threats.

Emitting a chuckle of amusement, Toad and I commence crossing the dry river bed, my pulse elevating to a rapid pace as my sense of humor is replaced with a sense of paranoia. The encounter with the martial eagle had made me realize that danger could manifest abruptly without any warning, making me feel uncertain about the outcome of our journey. Fortunately, there appears to be no sign of any other carnivorous creatures loitering in the vicinity, only a herd of eland off in the distance parallel to our left. But that doesn't mean we should permit ourselves to become too relaxed. We must maintain a high level of alert at all times and do whatever we can to minimize the chances of being detected by another predator if we are to complete our perilous journey intact. As I gaze at the vegetation gently swaying in the light breeze several feet before us, I can only imagine what may be waiting for us on the other side. A valley or another meadow occupied by a variety of herbivores? More open terrain currently being surveyed by several birds of prey? African big cat territory? Regardless of what it may be, we're prepared, so bring it on Kalahari!

End Chapter 2

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PostSubject: Re: Living With Meerkats: A Little Big Adventure    Living With Meerkats: A Little Big Adventure  I_icon_minitimeSun Mar 20, 2016 12:15 am

Chapter 3: Foraging Fun And A Friendly Fox

What lied beyond the vegetation on the periphery of the dry river bed is a field of two foot tall sour grass, which Toad and I have been trekking through for approximately three hours. The first hour was torturous to our auditory senses, making us think that we were being stalked by a terrestrial predator every time the light breeze rustled the grass. A sense of forebode would flow through my system every time I placed a foot on the ground, worried I'd feel the hypodermic like needle fangs of a virulent puff adder plunge into my leg at any moment. Every now and then I'd gaze up at the cloudless sky to ensure no aerial predators were soaring directly above our location. Beyond the second hour feeling the gentle warm breeze wafting through my hair every now and then and hearing the harmonious chorus of crickets and a variety of birds chirping has put me in a state of relaxation, instantly dissolving my fear that I could be dispatched by a terrestrial predator at any given moment. Ya know, the wind blowing through the grass no longer worries me anymore. Regardless of what environment I'm in the wind blowing through the leaves of trees or vegetation will always be one of my favorite sounds of nature, even if the environment happens to be volatile. my sense of trepidation instantly gets replaced with a sense of pleasure whenever I feel the comforting, warm breeze waft through my hair. As for the heat though, while I've maintained a straight posture of endurance, Toad is hunched over, panting heavily with beads of sweat oozing down his flushed face.

"Holy cannoli! It. Is. So. Hot! I need a drink really badly!" Toad panted desperately.

"Hang in there, buddy. I'm sure there's some sort of a liquid source not too far beyond this grass that could rehydrate us." I said optimistically, placing my right hand on Toad's left shoulder as a way of reassuring him.

"I sure hope so." He says between breathing heavily, wiping a bead of sweat from his forehead. "Otherwise I'm afraid I'm gonna melt to a pile of goo any minute, that's how hot I feel."

"Nah, I'll make sure you won't get to that point." I smiled reassuringly, then lowered myself to the ground on my hands and knees, offering Toad a piggyback ride. "I'd be glad to carry you for as long as you want."

"But you could over exert yourself and collapse from heat exhaustion." Toad frowned with concern.

"Don't worry about me, buddy, I'll be fine. I haven't been sweating profusely, so I still have plenty of fluids left in me to keep me going for a while. You, however, have already lost a tremendous amount of fluids and need to conserve what you have left, otherwise you could enter a state of life threatening dehydration, so, please, let me be your steadfast Yoshi." I altruistically offered, motioning with my right hand for him to climb onto my back.

"B-but with the combination of the scorching sun's rays being absorbed through your black shirt and my body heat, you'll---"

I emit a three syllable gibberish word as I placed my left hand over Toad's mouth, silencing him.

"Don't make me carry you by force, mister!" I scolded, glaring at Toad sternly who makes a pouty face. "So go on, get on my back. And I don't want to hear you argue any more, understood?"

"Y-yes ma'am." Toad nodded obediently.

Upon climbing onto my back I felt the heat emanating from Toad's body begin to spread through my system, but I ignored the sensation of my body temperature beginning to rise rapidly, more concerned about Toad's health than I was of my own. Upon standing up with a grunt, my legs buckled a bit from Toad's weight being applied to my back, I mean despite his short stature, Toad actually isn't very light weight. Whenever his anxiety gets really bad at home, he tends to over eat, which has resulted in him gaining several pounds. I sometimes get the urge to bluntly tell Toad that he's getting heavier each time I have to hoist him over my back or when I lift him off the ground on impulse, but decide against it, not wanting to offend him and send him on a rampage where he could leap on me like a crazed baboon and maul my face off. Ugh! It just sends a chill down my spine when I think of how Toad could possibly react if I told him he's getting fatter. Once I regained my balance, I take off running as fast as my legs will allow me to go through the tall sour grass, causing Toad to emit a series of grunts as I felt him being jostled around on my back.

"WAAAAAH! Whoa, Liz, slow down! Not only does this hurt, but I'm starting to develop motion sickness!" Gagged Toad.

"Sorry, buddy." I apologized. "Just wanna reach a portion of the Kalahari that could possibly have a source of fluids as fast as we can. Just hang in there. We're getting close, I can sense it!"

"I sure hope you're right, 'cause now I feel like I'm gonna throw up, bluh!" Warned Toad, his voice sounding muffled towards the end of his sentence, probably because he put his hands over his mouth to suppress his urge to spew his guts out.

"Aw, jeez. Well if you do vomit make sure not to get it all over me." I grimaced in disgust.

"Guuugh, I'll try." Toad groaned in an ailing way.

Ugh, I really hope Toad can prevent himself from projectile vomiting everywhere until we enter another riverbed or something. Vomit and saliva are one of the things that truly disgust me the most. If he throws up on me, I claim no responsibilities for any injuries he may sustain when I panic and send him tumbling across the ground harshly, then I'd projectile vomit myself in response to seeing his vomit splattered everywhere. Yuck! Through several wholes in the sour grass, I can see a portion of the Kalahari that has low level grass, acacia trees and mountains in the distance, my pace quickly returning to normal as a sense of relief flows through my system. Finally, open terrain! I hope it has a puddle of water. Toad is rapidly becoming dehydrated and my mouth has grown terribly dry just over the past several minutes. If we don't get any fluids in our systems soon, our situation could quickly become abysmal. Upon stepping out from the sour grass, a gasp of amazement emits from my maw as the pulchritude of a valley enters my field of vision. As my hazel orbs gaze across the valley, I notice it to be dotted with a variety of wildlife, both in the distance and in the foreground. Approximately a mile to our left a heard of blue wildebeest are grazing at a leisure pace across a patch of a variety of vegetation. In the center of the foreground is a giraffe extending its long, flexible tongue to grasp a chunk of vegetation from an acacia tree, skillfully avoiding the spines, then it reels the vegetation into its mouth like a Yoshi inhaling fruit and begins munching on it. As I watch the giraffe consume the last of its meal, I'm filled with a sense of sadness as I remember that the giraffe has been added to the endangered species list. It makes me wanna cry knowing that some day these majestic icons of Africa will disappear from the wild. In the distance to our right is a herd of zebra leisurely migrating across the landscape, possibly on the search for a watering hole. Man, we sure can relate to those zebra right now. It's so hot I can see the wave of heat rippling across the terrain, morphing the shapes of the landscape and animals into moving psychedelic patterns. Quite trippy looking actually. In between two patches of low level grass the heatwave is rippling in a way that it resembles water in a pond, but I am not fooled. The "pond" has a sand colored hue to it, indicating that it's merely a mirage. Damn illusion! I'm so thirsty that I'm starting to develop the urge to do what I had advised not to do earlier, go suck on the stem of a plant in the hopes that it'll yield some thirst quenching fluid. Seeing some sort of weed in my right peripheral vision, I turn and make visual contact with the plant, gliding my tongue across my upper lip desirably. Shaking my head in resistance, I turn away from the plant. No! That could be suicide! What if it's poisonous? But, I'm really thirsty! Maybe if I take just one sip nothing will happen. Nope! Must. Resist. As the giraffe that I saw eating the vegetation of an acacia tree earlier enters my field of vision, my hazel orbs follow its graceful canter across the terrain, an expression of admiration forming upon my visage. At least this valley has an abundance of majestic creatures to enjoy.

"Hello?! Liz?! Hey snap out of it!" Shouted Toad as I felt him cuff me across the top of my cranium, snapping me out of my mesmerized gaze. "I said put me down or I'll end up spewing my guts out all over ya!"

"Ehhh, eeew, yeah, get off me." I said, grimacing in disgust as I leaned backwards, causing Toad to slide off my back and land on the ground butt first.

"Guuuh, thank you." Toad groaned his gratitude. "Aww, jeez, here it comes..."

Hearing Toad start to vomit causes me to grimace repulsively. I hate listening to someone throwing up with a passion. The coughing, the gagging, the vomit splattering on a surface, the rancid smell...just...really grosses me out. Worried Toad's condition could deteriorate precipitously, I glance over at him, a slight sense of nausea developing in my stomach as I witness vomit spraying from his mouth. I turn my head away with my eyes squeezed shut in pure disgust. Eeeew! Yeeeaaaah, not a good idea. That made me nauseous seeing him throw up. I need to get that image out of my head before the urge to vomit myself intensifies. Upon opening my eyes, I make visual contact with a large, decayed fallen camel thorn tree located approximately fifty feet to our left. Ooooh, something to explore in. I wonder if there are any creatures inhabiting it? No longer hearing Toad vomiting, I turn to see him gazing in the direction of the mirage, a look of rejoice formed on his visage.

"Oh, thank Heavens! Finally, some water! Must. Quench. Thirst!" Toad exclaimed desperately as he ran towards the mirage without hesitation.

"D'aah! No, wait, Toad! That's just a---"

Toad leaps into the air, then belly flops onto a small pile of sand, coughing hysterically as he inhaled some of the dust and grains that got kicked up from him making impact with the ground.

"Mirage..." I sighed as I face palmed.

" 'The hell?! Where's the pond of water?! I saw it right here!" Toad exclaimed in a flustered tone, spitting grains of sand out of his mouth in between words.

"Sorry to inform you, bud, but there never was a pond of water there. What you fell for was merely a mirage." I explained, putting my right hand to my mouth to suppress a snicker.

"Aaarrrgh, I did it again! I'm such an imbecile!" Toad groaned furiously, slamming both his fists on the ground. "Just like that time in Shifting Sand Land."

"Huh? What happened in Shifting Sand Land?" I asked, raising a brow curiously.

"Remember Kolorado Koopa, the world's most fearless adventurer as he likes to call himself?" Toad replied.

"Ha ha, oh yeah, that Indiana Jones looking koopa, I remember him." I giggled as an image of Kolorado running around in circles frantically with a chain chomp clamped on his tail plays in my mind.

"Well, a while ago when you were away in the real world, I encountered Kolorado and Goombario while shopping in Toad Town. They were there to purchase combat and healing items for an expedition to Shifting Sand Land, where they planned to search for the ancient King Pokey's star scepter which was rumored to possess mystical powers. I had been left behind by the Mario Brothers when they embarked on a mission to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser and his koopalings and was expected to guard the castle, but I just couldn't resist the opportunity to embark on an adventure myself, so I eagerly accompanied them to Shifting Sand Land when they convinced me it'd be fun. Man, did I end up regretting it. I fell for two mirages, nearly collapsed from heatstroke a few times, almost suffocated to death in quicksand, was nearly skewered by a gang of Pokeys and was almost pancaked several times by Thwomps inhabiting the temple. Urgh! It seems like whenever I accompany people on an adventure, misfortune follows me. I'm so unlucky!" Toad whines, smothering his face in the sand in despair.

"Aww, you poor, sad soul." I said as I approached and knelt down beside the blubbering Toad, patting him on the top of the head as I shook my head with pity. "Ya know, it could've been worse. You could've returned with a severed leg and an eyeball dangling from your eye socket or something."

"Dear God, thanks for that disturbing image, Liz." Toad grimaced in disgust, shaking his head to try to rid the image from his mind.

"You're welcome." I grinned sadistically, sticking my tongue out at him. "Anyway, lets try not to think about what could go wrong while we're here. In order to survive, we must remain optimistic and keep our spirits strong. I believe that somewhere around here there's either a watering hole or a patch of terrain that's filled with juicy insects."

"I sure hope so. Landing in this sand pile has made me so unbearably thirsty I could cry!" Toad sniffled as tears started to develop at the bottom rim of his eyelids.

Curious about what could be residing in the innards of the decayed fallen down tree, I turn and start walking towards it, grimacing slightly as an audible rumbling sensation briefly vibrates through my stomach.

"C'mon, bud. lets start our search for fluids by checking out that decayed tree over there." I suggested, gesturing with my right hand for him to follow, then pointed at the decayed tree. "I wouldn't doubt there's something juicy and scrumptious in there. And besides, I'm hungry. I'm actually eager to know what a millipede, beetle or even ants taste like."

"Ehhh, I don't even think I'll be able to eat. I haven't completely recovered from my motion sickness. Just thinking about putting something as repulsive as a millipede on my tongue at the moment is making me feel like I've gotta vomit again." Toad gagged, putting his hands over his mouth to suppress the urge to projectile vomit. "Yeah, no thanks, I'm skipping lunch."

"The reality of the circumstances in this environment, buddy, is if you are to extend your life expectancy it's crucial to put your prejudices aside. Otherwise.... You. Will. Die." I warned, putting my face a couple inches in front of Toad's, glaring at him grimly, which causes him to emit a yelp of alarm.

"Ehhh, bugs, death, bugs, death, bugs..." Debated Toad, gesturing his hands up and down like a balance scale as he weighs his options. "Yeah, I'm not that big of a fool. Of course I'd choose bugs over death. There's no guarantee I'll keep it down, though."

"Trust me, buddy, you'll feel exuberant after consuming an insect. They're full of protein and other kinds of rejuvenating nutrients." I said reassuringly.

"Eh, I'll see what happens, I guess." Toad shrugged, still unsure.

As I made visual contact with the decayed fallen tree, I noticed the trunk has a multitude of openings ranging in size from being small enough to fit your hand through to being large enough for your entire body to fit through. I lowered myself to my hands and knees and began crawling along the base of the trunk, curiously peeking through each hole to see if any invertebrates may be scurrying across its rough textured innards. However I must maintain a high level of alert as there could be venomous snakes hiding in here, just waiting to plunge their deadly pair of needles into the flesh of an unwary explorer. Suddenly, I'm struck with an idea. With an impish smirk I glance over at Toad, whom is currently sticking his head through one of the holes curiously, totally unsuspecting. Yup, imma pull a prank on him, just because I'd love to see how he'll react. Snickering to myself, I put my left arm through one of the holes, pulled my hand into my sleeve, then pulled my arm out of the hole, emitting a shriek that sounds so horrifying that, upon retreating from the hole, Toad nearly falls backwards in terror.

"OH MY GOD! SOMETHING JUST BIT MY HAND OFF!!!!" I shrieked, flailing my arm in feigned panic.

Toad shrieks like a horror movie scream queen, then screams, "OH MY GOD SHE'S GONNA BLEED OUT AND DIE!!! Uhhhh, I'm not feeling so good again." He suddenly faints from the prospect of seeing a tremendous amount of blood form a puddle on the sand.

I couldn't help but burst out into a fit of cruel laughter as Toad gullibly fell for my prank.

"Just kidding." I giggled mischievously as my hand appears out from the sleeve with all five digits intact. "I still have my hand and there aren't any carnivores in there."

Conscious enough to be audibly alert, Toad swiftly stood up and approached me with an infuriated pout formed on his face.

"Damn it, Liz! Don't do that!" He scolded fiercely, cuffing me across the top of my head. "I seriously thought we were in a grave situation there for a moment. That better be the only prank you pull here, or I'll rearrange your face into a Picasso painting!" He put his clenched right fist up to my face.

"Heh heh, sorry, bud, won't happen again. Promise." I grinned, holding my hands up an inch below my chin in apology.

Suddenly, a black object enters my right peripheral vision and I turn to see that it's a large millipede casually crawling across the sand several inches from us.

"oooh, look, a millipede." I said with interest, shifting my body so that it's facing the insect.

"EEEWWW!" Toad shouted in extreme disgust as he stumbled back a few inches.

"Yaaas! We hit good fortune on obtaining the first portion of our Kalahari cuisine, buddy! Yeah, it may be grotesque, but this thing possesses a significant amount of nutrients. You'd be foolish not to take this opportunity considering we didn't have to further deplete our energy supply by extracting it from the ground like regular meerkats do. Just by consuming this millipede, it should rejuvenate us significantly." I said trying to persuade Toad into becoming more flexible.

"Ugh, considering I die if I don't eat here..." Exhaling a resigned sigh, Toad crosses his arms, feeling a bit uncomfortable. "Alright, lets get this over with." He added as he started to reach for the millipede with his right hand.

"Hold on a sec, bud." I said, placing my left hand on his right hand, causing him to pause. "We must properly prep this creature for consumption first."

Toad makes eye contact with me, his right eye brow raised questioningly.

"Huh, why?" He asked.

"Because these millipedes excrete a toxic substance on their exoskeleton that can cause some not so pleasant gastrointestinal side effects if consumed prematurely, so what we're going to do is drag it through the sand for a few minutes to remove the toxins." I explained.

"Eh, yeeaaah, I'm already in the process of recuperating from one digestive system upset, the last thing I need is to deal with...explosive diarrhea." Toad cringed, his left eye twitching with disgust at the last part of his sentence.

"Exactly, 'cause that'd quicken the approach of death from dehydration. Okay, so, I'm gonna drag it through the sand. You keep an eye out for potential threats, okie doke?" I instructed, asking if Toad would be agreeable with that plan.

"Okie doke. I'm fine with that." Toad replied, nodding in agreement.

As Toad shifted his gaze from me to the sky, I put my right hand on the millipede as it came in close proximity to me, making it curl into itself as a defense mechanism. I start to drag it through the sand, flipping it every so often to ensure all of the toxic substance gets rubbed off its exoskeleton. After approximately five minutes, I cease dragging the millipede through the sand, deeming it safe to consume.

"Okie doke, bud, lets do this." I said, putting on my game face as I severed the millipede in half with both my hands, then offered a piece to Toad.

"Ugh, yuck, that is so disgusting." Toad's face contorted with disgust as he witnessed some of the millipede's guts drop on the sand. "Oh, crap I think I'm gonna hurl again." He gagged, putting his hands over his mouth to suppress the urge to vomit.

"C'mon, buddy, we'll do this at the same time on the count of three." I smirked with poise as I lifted my piece of the millipede up to my mouth.

Toad just whimpered as he reluctantly lifted his piece of the millipede up to his mouth.

"One...two...three!" I declared.

Without any further hesitation, Toad and I hurriedly put the pieces of the millipede into our mouths simultaneously. As its scaly texture makes contact with my tongue, a pungent flavor spreads through my taste buds, causing Toad and I to make animalistic gagging sounds and spit the pieces out a few times at the same time.

"Auugh, man, that was awful!" I grimaced.  

"Gaack! I think I've been poisoned! Oh man, I need something, anything to get rid of this putrid after taste and strange sensation on my tongue." Toad gagged, squeezing his eyes shut and sticking out his tongue in pure disgust.

"Err, sorry, bud. Guess I didn't drag the millipede through the sand long enough." I smiled apologetically, lowering my head as a sense of guilt went through me.

Then Toad scooped up some sand with both his hands and began licking it, causing me to raise a brow in confusion.

"Ugh, what a relief, it worked. You're forgiven for tricking me before, sand. I declare you my new savior." He purrs, cradling the sand against the left side of his face fondly.

Heh, looks like a love/hate relationship is starting to develop between Toad and the sand. Who knows, it could actually save our lives somehow some day. I...dunno how that could be possible... But seriously, Toad is making himself look like a herp derp by hugging a pile of... sand.

"Welp, buddy, now that millipedes have been deemed a nope on our menu, this means we'll have to dig for the next portion of our meal." I said, positioning myself on my hands and knees several inches to the right of the decayed tree.

"Alright. Whatever it takes to find something to moisturize my mouth." He agreed, his tongue protruding from his mouth as a way of expressing his unbearable thirst.

Toad positions himself on his hands and knees a few inches to my left, his eyes briefly shifting from me to the sky, then back to me.

"There doesn't appear to be any threats in our vicinity so we should be good to go for a while." Toad reported.

"Excellent." I replied, a sense of relief flowing through my system. "Alrighty, time to be like meerkats and dig, dig, dig!"

At the same time, Toad and I plunge our fingers into the hard textured sand and began to rapidly excavate the ground, spraying a tremendous amount of chunks of the ground between our legs as we shifted to standing with our knees bent and legs spread apart. Approximately two minutes into our excavation endeavor, An incapacitating burning sensation radiates through the muscles in my arms, rendering me immobilized for a few seconds. Once the burning sensation fades, I collapse onto my bottom, panting heavily. Hearing Toad panting heavily next to me, I turn to see just this little bit of digging has exhausted him as well.

"Ughhugh! Fudge nugget, my poor arms. Feels like the muscles in them have just been incinerated." I grimaced. "Honestly, buddy, I feel that digging isn't going to benefit us. Our endurance and stamina just isn't designed like a meerkat's. We're going to have to rely on above ground dwelling invertebrates."

"Oh well. I'd rather we do that than risk pulling a muscle anyway. Mamamia do my arms hurt!" Toad cursed under his breath as he rubbed his arms with his hands to alleviate the ache in his muscles.

Upon averting my hazel orbs from Toad, I position myself on my hands and knees as I turn to resume searching for invertebrates through the openings of the decayed fallen tree. A sense of disappointment flows through me as it appears to be devoid of creatures.

"Unfortunately, it doesn't look like anything is crawling around in here, bud. Maybe we'll get lucky if we sift through the nearby vegetation for a little bit." I said, rising to my feet.

"Alright." Toad agreed.

At the same time, Toad and I enter a patch of high level grass located a couple yards from the fallen tree. Parting a tuft of the grass with both of my hands, my hazel orbs gaze along the ground, hoping to find a grasshopper or something. At least by searching for sustenance in the vegetation we're minimizing our chances of being visually detected by a predator. As I'm sifting through the grass, I can hear Toad's movements nearby, which sends a sense of comfort through me knowing that Toad is paying mind not to distance himself too far from me. We must remember that it's crucial to stay close at all times. Just one misjudgment could get us killed swiftly here. Fortunately every direction I look in reveals nothing that should warrant our concern so far. Suddenly a light green colored object flies across my field of vision. Upon turning in the direction it traveled in, I make visual contact with a large grasshopper perched on a blade of grass.

"Ha ha! Yes, finally, more prey has appeared." I cheered, grinning excitedly. "Now time to be like a kitty and strike a ready to pounce pose."

Smirking slyly, I lower myself on to my hands and knees, sticking my butt up in the air. The grasshopper moves a few inches up the blade of grass but doesn't seem to be disturbed enough by my presence to make a swift escape.

"That's right little grasshopper, just make yourself comfortable and casually gnaw on that blade of grass, not suspecting that you're about to meet your demise. Time to unleash my predatory instincts upon you like a fearsome lion!" I growled fiercely, constricting the muscles throughout my body in preparation to propel myself in the grasshopper's direction.

"Now, Iz proceed with the butt wiggle." I said, wiggling my butt. "Aaaand, activate the kitty pounce!"

Emitting a ferocious cat-like growl, I catapult myself in the direction of the grasshopper with my arms extended and fingers curled, now just a couple seconds away from capturing my juicy looking prey. When I'm within approximately an inch of the grasshopper it disappears from my field of vision and I make impact with the ground, coughing as I felt the wind get knocked out of me.

"Ungh! Ah man, I think one of my lungs just ruptured from that impact." I grunted, coughing between words.

Once I regained my breath, I stood up with my fists clenched and emitted a closed mouthed growl of frustration.

"How could that thing have escaped unscathed?! I was, like, an inch away, close enough for it to have been thrown off balance by the breeze I generated. Maybe that grasshopper has super powers or something." I speculated, raising a brow.

Suddenly, a shriek of horror resounded through the air, causing me to jolt with alarm and my pulse to accelerate as I recognize the voice to be Toad's.

"Oh-no, Toad! I was so fixated on catching that stupid grasshopper I totally forgot that we were supposed to not let each other out of our sights for even a mere minute. A jackal is probably gnawing on his head now. I've gotta go save him before it's too late!" I exclaimed frantically.

I ran as fast as my legs will allow me to go in the direction Toad's shriek originated from, smacking blades of grass out of my field of vision and leaping over any debris that appears in my path. As another horrified shriek resounds through the air, a sense of horror flows through my system and my heart rate increases significantly, fearing Toad may be in the process of dying from a predator attack at this very moment. I cringe as an image of Toad being devoured by a jackal appears in my mind. Oh, God, please let that not be what's transpiring right now. Let Toad be freaking out about a spider or something. Suddenly, Toad enters the center of my field of vision and collides into my stomach, toppling me to the ground on my back with him laying on top of me. I cough several times from getting the wind knocked out of me when we made impact. Once I regained my breath and realized there wasn't a single wound on Toad, a sense of relief flows through me and, upon sitting up, I embrace him tightly, causing him to gag.

"Oh, thank Heavens you're alright! I thought a predator was turning you into its lunch!" I exclaimed worriedly, still embracing Toad tightly.


"Gaah, Sorry buddy." I apologized as I relinquished Toad. "It's gonna take me a while to work on my emotional impulses, hee hee. Anyway, what freaked you out before? Should...should I be concerned?" I questioned, scanning the grass nervously for any signs of movement.

As I return eye contact with Toad, I see that he's trembling in terror and has his eyes squeezed shut.

"Th-there's a snake in the grass!" Toad shouted, frightened.

"Snake? Where?" I asked, a grin of excitement spreading across my face as I glanced around with interest.

"I-in th-that direction!" Toad shivered, pointing to his right with his right index finger.

Excited to know what species of snake Toad encountered, I stood up and started walking in the direction he was pointing in, my heart palpitating as an image of a puff adder and cape cobra simultaneously appear in my mind. From how freaked out Toad was, I wouldn't be surprised if he saw one of those virulent serpents. This would be an ideal place for them to make an ambush. The grass obstructs your view in every direction, making it difficult to spot a threat from a distance. I have no idea what effect our size being minimized has had on our immune system, but I imagine a bite from either one of those serpents could kill us in minutes. Urf, with that prospect now circulating through my mind, I'm feeling disconcerted to a point where I wish I was holding a stick to defend Toad and myself with. What an exhilarating experience that'd be, though, being in close proximity to a puff adder or cape cobra. I'd be so fascinated to watch the cape cobra follow the motion of my hands or listen to the ominous hiss of the puff adder. Truth be told, I'm one of those crazy people that's fascinated with snakes. Since I've started reading and learning about snakes, I've been wanting to encounter and observe them in the wild whenever I'm out on a hike. Some of them just look so darn cute with their round heads and circular, beady pupils while others look so badass with their slit pupils, triangular heads and hypodermic needle like fangs. Upon stepping out into an opening in the grass, a medium sized snake with grey scales, a small head, pointed snout and a thick body enters my field of vision. Immediately I recognize the species to be a mole snake. They're nonvenomous, but their bite can be painful, sometimes requiring stiches if, while their serrated fangs are plunged into your flesh, they twist their body, leaving grievous wounds. Sensing our presence, the mole snake shifts its body into a coiled position, prepared to strike should we come any closer, its round, beady, black orbs glimmering with courage.

"Awww, Toad, it's just a harmless young mole snake. He doesn't want to come after you and murder you like some psycho killer in a horror movie. He would rather want to avoid a confrontation. He's probably more frightened of us than we are of him. I mean we are trespassing in his territory. As long as we don't infringe on his personal space he won't mean any harm." I explained, grinning with adoration as the mole snake flicked its tongue in a wary but precious manner.

"Oh, well good. That puts me at ease." Toad exhaled a sigh of relief. "I was afraid he was gonna seek retribution against me." He added, his eyes widening fearfully.

"Eh, why would he want to do that?" I questioned, raising my left eyebrow in confusion.

"Well, as we were searching for insects, I developed the urge to go to the bathroom and stopped here to pee, not noticing the snake until it almost bit you know..." Toad said, averting his cobalt orbs from me with an expression of embarrassment formed on his face.

"Ahhh." I nodded in understanding, stifling a snicker of amusement. "Careful of where you pee next time, bud, would be unfortunate if you received a bite there."

"Dear God, it's giving me Forrest Whitaker eye just thinking about it." Toad said, his right eye twitching in immense discomfort.

"Hee, hee, well I dunno about you, but I could stand here for hours and observe this little beauty through the grass." I grinned with fascination, shifting my hazel orbs from Toad to the mole snake.

"Eh, well I'll admit, he is kinda cute." Toad remarked, a small smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

"Aww, I'd say that's great progress with you facing your fear of snakes, buddy." I praised, grinning proudly as I returned eye contact with him.

"Heh, I supposed it is, but it's gonna take me a while to fully get over my fear of snakes." Toad replied, twiddling his fingers nervously.

"Yeah, I think we've disturbed our adorable snake friend enough. Time to move on and leave him in peace." I said, returning visual contact with the mole snake, which has adjusted to a calm, flat coiled position.

"Agreed." Toad nodded. "So my apologies for peeing on you, Mr. Snake. May you have a prosperous life full of cute little danger noodles."

Emitting a giggle of adoration, I turn to my right and Toad and I resume our hike through the grass. One thing I absolutely love about hiking through the wilderness is listening to the beautiful ambiance of the inhabitants of my environment. We may have only been here for a few hours, but I've already decided that the Kalahari is my favorite choir. Listening to the breeze blow through the grass and the relaxing chorus of crickets, geckos and the delightful chirps of birds I've never heard before sends an unwavering sense of pleasure circulating through my system, quickly causing me to drift off into a reverie. After approximately a half an hour passes, the tall grass recedes from my field of vision to reveal the majestic herd of zebra Toad and I saw when we entered the valley earlier. A sense of pleasure flows through my system as I pause to admire the pulchritude of the zebras and the vast savannah dotted with varying levels of grass, camel thorn trees and a variety of bushes they're leisurely foraging through.

"So beautiful..." I said softly in amazement. "I could never get bored with this kind of scenery."

"Uh, Liz, can you help me, please?" I heard Toad ask anxiously behind me, snapping me out of my trance.

When I turn around, I see that Toad is caught on a couple flimsy branches of a prickly bush. I bite my lower lip, trying to suppress a giggle. The thorns were attached to both sleeves and the back of his shirt and the left sleeve of his pants, elevating his foot a few inches off the ground. When a pout forms on Toad's face after he makes a couple futile attempts to free himself from the bush, I giggle inwardly. His predicament just looks absolutely comical, like a slapstick sketch out of a silent comedy film.

"Hn, hn, sure, buddy, I'd be glad to help you out of your little predicament." I replied as I started to approach the scene.

Once I approached Toad, I grasped the collar of his shirt with both my hands and yanked him as hard as I could, causing the material to rip in the process of freeing him from the bush. Upon toppling to the ground, the right side of my face presses into the sand as Toad's upper body comes to rest on the left side of my face. I twitch my left eye in discomfort as I felt the strange sensation of grains of sand entering my ear canal, sending a chill rippling up my spine. Out of reflex I spring up into an Indian style sitting position, catapulting Toad a few feet into the air. I winced as I witness Toad make impact with the ground quite harshly approximately six feet across from me. As Toad slowly lifts the upper part of his body using his elbows to prop himself, coughing a bit from having the wind knocked out of him, I quickly stood up and ran over to him, worried he may have sustained a serious injury. Upon kneeling beside him, I start to examine Toad's body for any signs of an abrasion or an area of broken skin. Fortunately the only casualty of this mishap is just his shirt. I exhale a sigh of relief.

An anxious whimper erupts from Toad's mouth as the back of his left hand brushes against an area of exposed skin, "Oh no, my shirt!"

"Be thankful that's the only thing that got shredded by the bush. Even a minor scratch out here could turn into a life threatening infection." I warned, pulling Toad away from another prickly bush that is located closely behind him.

"Urrrgh, gives me the hibbie gibbies just thinking about what could happen if I let a cut get infected here. A limb could shrivel up and fall off or something." Toad exaggerates, trembling, probably from that said image appearing in his mind. Placing his right hand on his chest, Toad exhales a sigh of relief, "Thank the Star Spirits I escaped my little mishap without a scratch. Thanks, Liz, for saving me from getting skewered."

"Heh, you're welcome, bud." I replied with a glad grin. My hazel orbs shift from Toad to the vegetative terrain before us, a sense of caution flowing through my system as I notice there appears to be a multitude of prickly bushes in this portion of the Kalahari. "Oh, jeez. We'd best tread carefully through here though, otherwise we'll end up on an undocumented episode of Naked And Afraid."

"Meep! No way in Lethal Lava Land am I gonna let that happen!" Toad exclaims anxiously, distancing himself a few inches more from a prickly bush. "Those people are nuts to sign up for a challenge like that. I can't imagine the torture one would be subject to, getting shredded up by anything sharp and baked by the sun....As long as we don't move around like a Three Stooges klutz, I guess we should---Gaaagh!"

At the same time as Toad suddenly drops to the ground on his stomach, I hear the sound of birds' wings rapidly flapping above us, my body jolting back in alarm thinking our prickly bush action attracted the attention of a hungry raptor. I get a quick glimpse at the birds before they vanish from my field of vision behind some vegetation. They appeared to be small and black in color. Drongos or starlings maybe? Thank God it wasn't another martial eagle. I'm still a bit shaken up from the first one we encountered earlier. I tremble as an image of the martial eagle vanishing behind a grove of trees emitting an eerie screech replays in my mind. Lets not have that dangerous situation happen again anytime soon.

"Wha...what the hell was that?" Toad questioned between trembling breaths as he slowly stood back up.

"Harmless birds, thankfully." I replied, shifting my hazel orbs from the vegetation the birds vanished behind to gaze across the cloudless sky. "It's a reminder not to prolong the lowering of our guard beyond ten minutes, so, buddy, I'm going to impose that every ten minutes we pause to check for predators, mkay?" I add, returning eye contact with Toad in expectation of his approval.

"Al-alright, whatever minimizes our chances of becoming something's lunch." Toad fidgets with the bottom of his shirt nervously, shifting his gaze from me to the sky.

Tilting my head up to the sky causes the grains of sand in my right ear canal to shift, sending another chill of discomfort rippling through my spine. I tilt my head to the right sideways, repeatedly smacking the left side of my head to empty out the irritating particles. Once I no longer feel any sand particles in my ear, my hazel orbs shift to the herd of zebra when a series of whinnies permeates the air, slightly alarming me for a second, thinking they've detected a lion pride or something in the area. When a predator is spotted zebra will often bark or bray to alert members of the herd or any other source of potential prey of an approaching threat. Fortunately it's just a few juvenile zebra leaping across the open terrain engaged in a game of tag. I avert my hazel orbs from the juvenile zebra and gaze across the rest of the herd, noticing several of a couple different species of small, harmless birds pecking at the ground between their powerful hooves, probably gobbling up ants and worms. It seems tempting but entering that kind of Kalahari buffet would offer us a one star meal. We need more succulent stuff, like a scorpion or a lizard. Would be wonderful if one of those came scurrying out from the vegetation ahead of us right about now. I avert my gaze from the ground and shift it over to Toad, whom is gazing nervously at the sky, an expression of concern formed on my face. Toad is known to have poor tolerance for hot environments. I hope he's strong enough to pull through the tribulations of the Kalahari... Shaking away any negative thoughts that try to enter my mind, I shift my hazel orbs to the sky, pausing every now and then to check for predators. A sense of relief flows through me as I see from horizon to horizon there's nothing to be alarmed about. After carefully maneuvering through the field of prickly bushes, the herd of blue wildebeest we saw earlier enters my field of vision. In between four of the wildebeest appears to be a mother gently nudging the hindquarters of a calf onto its four legs. The calf's legs shake and it stumbles a few feet, then it gradually gains its balance. The mother wildebeest fondly brushes the left side of her snout against the left side of the calf's face in a welcoming manner, causing me to grin with adoration.

"Awww, how precious." I spoke with a tone of delight.

"Huh, wh-what is it? Have you detected a predator?" I hear Toad respond nervously, indicating he hadn't heard what I said clearly because he had most likely let himself become overly paranoid about predators coming after us. Jeez relax and enjoy some of the scenery, dude. It's not like they have a vendetta against us or something.

I tap Toad's left shoulder a couple times with my right index finger, getting his attention, then motion it in the direction of the mother blue wildebeest and calf. As Toad makes visual contact with the scene, a look of adoration forms on his visage, his bulged biceps shrinking as the adrenaline appears to fade in his body.

"D'aawwww, so cute." Toad says fondly.

"Little cutie must've just been born." I said, my grin of adoration widening to the point where the muscles in my cheeks start to feel sore. "I'd say the little guy looks to have a prosperous future ahead of him."

I watch, impressed, as the blue wildebeest calf exuberantly gallops around its mother and bodyguards. That was remarkable how fast it mastered the use of its legs. I don't see him being struck down by a predator anytime soon. With that kind of agility, it's likely that he'll make it to adulthood. I had started to enter a mesmerized state when I suddenly felt the cold, wet nose of something press lightly against the back of my neck, sending a sensation of horror through my chest, thinking a black backed jackal has just snuck up on us. Feeling the warm breath of the creature exhaling down my upper spine gives me the urge to whirl around and deliver a repelling whack across its snout, but every single muscle in my body has become stiff, rendering me paralyzed. Is this it? Is this precious scene about to be the last thing we'll ever see? Maybe if we hadn't allowed ourselves to become too captivated, Toad and I could've had plenty of time to shield ourselves from an assault. At the moment I brace myself for my head to be chewed off or something, I vaguely hear a ferocious caterwaul erupt from Toad. Then the next thing I know, I'm positioned on my back making eye contact with the mammal and Toad. Seeing that the mammal appears to have a silver-gray fluffy coat, a black tipped bushy tail with a black stripe on top, a pair of enormous, black and white ears and a black and white long, sharp muzzle, I immediately recognize it to be a bat eared fox, a juvenile one to be exact. Remembering that I read bat eared foxes are a meerkat friend in a book a while back, I relax, my pulse and respirations returning to their normal rhythm. But Toad doesn't yet know that and is standing on his tippy toes with his hands placed on his hips, his chest and cheeks inflated to try to make himself look as intimidating as possible.

"If you wanna eat my friend, you're gonna have to chew through me first!" Toad challenges the juvenile bat eared fox boldly, his entire body trembling slightly, probably from the adrenaline coursing through his system.

I place my right hand over my mouth, suppressing a developing urge giggle. I mean, I admire Toad's gallant efforts to protect me and everything, but the defensive stance he chose to shift his body into makes him look comically adorable and not meant to be taken seriously. Like, it reminds of a scene from the Pokémon short movie Pikachu's Summer Vacation where Squirtle and Snubble engage in a stare down. When Squirtle puffed himself up too much he lost his balance and fell backwards, getting himself stuck on his shell. What a humiliating, yet, funny moment that would be if the same happened to Toad. I giggled inwardly as an image of Toad losing his balance and falling backwards, then screaming like a horror movie girl about to be murdered plays in my mind. Okay, maybe I'm a bit of a sadist when it comes to watching Toad panic. Anyway, the only thing Toad has achieved is reaching the level of cuteness overload. In response to Toad's goofy display of defense, the juvenile bat eared fox tips its head to the left in confusion, not exactly sure what to make of the bizarre looking creature standing before it. Suddenly the canine gently body slams Toad, pinning him to the ground, most likely thinking Toad was inviting it to play. Toad lets out a horrified shriek and squirms frantically under the bat eared fox's weight, scared that he's about to be devoured alive.

"AAAAHH!!! LIZ, HELP ME!!! IT'S TRYING TO EAT MY FACE!!!" Toad shouted, panic-stricken, as he was applying pressure to the tip of the bat eared fox's snout with both his hands, impeding it from appearing to want to nip him playfully.

"Hee, hee, it's okay, buddy. What's interacting with you is a bat eared fox. They're a meerkat friend." I explain as I approach the scene. "This one just wants to play with you, it's just a baby after all."

My hazel orbs shift from the still petrified Toad to the bat eared fox as it disengaged and took a few steps back, its satellite dish like ears flat against the back of its head and tail between its legs in disappointment that Toad didn't return its playful gestures. I clasp my hands together and feel a glimmer of adoration ripple across my hazel eyes, enamored of the bat eared fox's physical features. That soft, bushy tail, those adorably large ears and those beady eyes, just make me wanna go over there and smother the precious little thing with an excessive amount of affection, but I restrain myself from going through with the impulsive action, not wanting to scare it off. Its gaze shifting to me, the juvenile bat eared fox's large ears prick up and it tilts its head to the right, then the left, appearing to be curious as to what kind of creatures its interacting with, its black, beady eyes glimmering adorably.

"Daaaawwww! You're just so adorable!" I squeal with delight as I approach the juvenile bat eared fox, which doesn't cause it to become even an ounce skittish, just prick its ears up with interest. "But you gave us quite a scare, little fella. I thought you might've been a predator or something."

"Sure as hell did! I felt my heart literally stop for a second when that little menace knocked me down. That's the third time an animal has scared the crap out of us today. I'm starting to fear an Africanized horror movie jump scare scene will kill us by causing a heart attack or something. I thought....I thought I was actually going to die." I heard Toad panting behind me.

"But how could one be so mad at something so cute? Just look at it, look at it!" I speak in a way as if I'm talking to an adorable baby, impulsively smooshing the bat eared fox's furry cheeks forward with both my hands, puckering its lips.

The open frown formed on Toad's face alters to a smirk of admiration, " Hmph, well, I'll give him credit for having the courage to approach us unnoticed. I mean, we could've been slumbering lions that could've not hesitated to take off his head out of startled reflex with one paw or something. You'd better be careful in the future, little fella. Some creatures may not be so passive if you approach them recklessly like that." He added, approaching the juvenile bat eared fox and giving him a swift, abrasive rub across the top of his head.

Excited by the physical contact, the juvenile bat eared fox forcefully nudges Toad's left shoulder, sending him staggering backwards several inches before falling on his butt, a look of discomfort formed on his face. I grit my teeth, worried Toad may have provoked an act of aggression from the bat eared fox, but when I see the upper part of his body lowered like a dog that wants to play, I clasp my hands together as a squeal of delight erupts from my mouth.

"So cute! Nnnnngh, I've just gotta get this out of my system now!"

Having decided to engage in affectionate physical contact with the juvenile bat eared fox, I started gently scratching behind its right ear with my left hand, causing the youngster to shift into a sitting position and thump its left hind foot repeatedly against the ground in pleasure. When a burning sensation begins to develop in the muscles of my arm, I cease the act of affection, making the youngster nibble at the right side of my neck as a way of pleading for more scratches. The strange sensation sent a ticklish chill rippling down my spine.

"Aaah, that tickled!" I giggled, placing my right hand on the area of my neck that was tickled. "Ah, alright if you insist."

With my right index finger, I gently scratch under the juvenile bat eared fox's chin, making him tilt his head upward and chirr in pleasure. In my left peripheral vision I see Toad satisfyingly rubbing the fox's right ear between the thumb and four fingers of both his hands, his lips forming a pucker of fascination.

"Hee, hee, glad to see you're finally warming up to the little fella, buddy." I giggle in delight, still scratching the bat eared fox's chin.

"His ears are so cute. I just had to touch 'em. A-and...he's letting me...this is so exhilarating!" Toad beamed, his cobalt orbs glimmering with amazement. "I never thought he'd be this amiable."

"Hmmm, strange, I would think his family would be in close proximity to him, but I see they're nowhere in the vicinity." I said, as my hazel orbs gaze across the landscape. "Could it be this little guy got separated from his clan?"

"Uh-oh. I hope that's not the case, but considering how bold he is, wouldn't be a surprise." Toad said with a grim tone in his voice.

As Toad and I exchange looks of concern, a sharp bark resonates through the air, causing me to shift my hazel orbs from Toad to the direction the vocalization originated from. Soon a larger bat eared fox appears in the center of my vision from a patch of tall sour grass several yards away, its ears pricking up as it made visual contact with us, probably wondering what those weird looking two legged things are accompanying its miniature version. The juvenile bat eared fox emits an ecstatic squeak, indicating that must be one of his parents, which sends a sense of relief through my system. He trots a few yards, then stops, turning towards us with his ears flat against the back of his head and beady eyes glimmering with sadness.

"Noooo, please don't leave! Come back so I can love you some more!" Pleaded Toad, collapsing to his knees with his right hand extended to attract the young bat eared fox back.

The juvenile bat eared fox shifts his eyes from us to his parent, then returns visual contact with us, not sure if he wants to respond to his parent's second vocalization to follow or engage in play with us. The look of confliction in his eyes causes an ache to develop in my chest.

"Aww, poor guy... We don't want to make you stay and play with us. We understand you must keep up with your parents in order to maximize your chances of becoming a prosperous adult. Go on little guy. Who knows, maybe we'll cross paths again in the near future." I gleam a smile of hope.

The juvenile bat eared fox's ears prick up at my words, as if reciprocating my sense of hope. In my right peripheral vision, I see the adult bat eared fox vanish into the tall grass, prompting the juvenile bat eared fox to gallop after his departing parent. The sound of Toad sniffling and blubbering enters my ear canals, making me turn my head in his direction.

"G-good luck, little guy! I-I'm gonna miss you!" Toad calls out while returning to his feet. "Man, and I was just about to give him a name too." He adds, lowering his head somberly.

"Awww, what name did you have in mind for him, buddy?" I inquire with interest.

"I was going to name him....George." Toad says, smiling with delight.

"Eh, George? Well that's a bit original." I raised a brow, expecting something more cool sounding.

"What, George is a great name!" Toad exclaimed defensively.

"Well, I was expecting something more cool sounding for the courageous little guy, like, Nesibindi." I grin, thinking that sounded like the appropriate name.

"Eh?" Toad coughed, raising a brow and tilting his head in confusion.

"It means 'courageous' in Zulu." I explained.

"Man, first Winston, now George...It's not fair. Just as I'm bonding with something cute it leaves." Toad said, closing his eyes and lowering his head somberly.

"Trust me, buddy, this isn't the worst way the Kalahari could break our hearts. If we're able to integrate into a mob of meerkats we'll be witnessing a variety of disasters it's capable of delivering. The Kalahari is very unforgiving and has no room for sympathy. All we can do is move on and hope for the best." I said, placing my right hand on his left shoulder, probably making him feel uncomfortable about that fact.

"Oh, hey look. Being distracted has suddenly just benefitted us." Toad suddenly said, pointing with his left index finger.


My hazel orbs follow the direction Toad's index finger is pointing in and make visual contact with a skink scurrying at a fast pace across the sand.

"Finally, our Kalahari dinner has arrived. That's a skink. it'll make a great first course!" I exclaim excitedly.

"Quick! Lets grab it before it gets away!" Exclaims Toad as he starts to pursue the swift moving creature.

I didn't even bother to run after the prey like Toad. Lowering my belly to the sand, I've decided to unleash the African predator within me once again, as if I were a lion preparing to pounce on a separated feeble antelope of a herd. When the distance between Toad and the skink lessens to five inches, he lunges, but ends up missing the skink and tumbles a few feet across the sand. Toad's attempt at being a predator was a fail, but I'm determined to make sure this makes up for the grasshopper I failed to capture earlier. This time I shall master a strike down and reward us with a nutritious morsel. constricting the muscles in my extremities, I catapult myself towards the scurrying skink, swiftly snatching it in my left hand as I made impact with the ground, tumbling a few feet before I come to a stop on my back. I grimace as I felt moderate level aches radiate through various parts of my body. I most likely gained a few bruises here and there from making impact with a hard portion of the ground, but it was worth it. I succeeded at capturing one of the meerkat's most valuable prey items.

"Oh my gosh, Liz, are you alright? That looked like a nasty tumble!" I heard Toad exclaim worriedly.

Hearing Toad's feet shuffling through the sand at a quick pace, my hazel orbs shift from the stunned skink to view my mushroom headed friend gazing down at me with a look of concern formed on his face.

"Hee, hee, I caught it, buddy." I announce, panting a bit, a grin of achievement spreading across my face as I shift my body into a sitting position with the skink gripped in both my hands.

"That was quite an amazing catch, it dead?" Toad questions, leaning the upper part of his body over my lap to examine the skink closer.

"Not sure. I think it's just stunned." I assume, my left hand relinquishing the skink as I turned my right hand over with the palm side facing up, making the small reptile go limp. I poke the skink with my left index finger just to make sure it's dead. A few seconds pass. No response. "Yep, it's dead. Guess when I grabbed the skink the blunt force killed it instantly."

"Ah, well that's good. Saved us from having to inflict any extended suffering in order to kill it then." Toad said in a relieved tone, straightening his standing posture.

"We still have to split it in half though...and that's gonna be gross." I grimace in disgust.

"Ehhhh, yuck!" squeaked Toad, putting both hands up to his mouth in disgust, to probably suppress any vomit that may be building up in the back of his throat.

The sound of an alarm vocalization suddenly fills the air of our vicinity, sending a sense of alarm through my chest, my heart rate accelerating. Out of startled reflex, I drop the skink and grasp Toad's right arm with my left hand, applying enough pressure to cause him to yelp in discomfort as my legs carry us as fast as they could in the direction of a nearby bush.

"Ow! Elizabeth what the hell?!" Toad yelled indignantly, not appreciating me pulling him along abrasively.

"Sorry, buddy, but that was the alarm call of a drongo. While we were occupied with our skink it must've spotted something in the vicinity, so we must seek refuge posthaste!" I explain urgently.

I skid to an abrupt halt once we reached the periphery of the bush, causing us to slip and fall on our backs. The impact with the rough ground briefly knocks the wind out of my lungs, but I recover quickly, shifting onto my stomach to hastily retreat into the shroud of the bush, my heart accelerating to a rapid rate as another rush of adrenaline spreads through my system. When Toad and I exchange a look of trepidation, I felt a sense of irresponsibility develop in the pit of my stomach. What was I thinking?! I have more knowledge on the erratically hostile environment of the Kalahari than Toad does. I should've been more alert and instructed Toad to remain in pursuit of that skink while I surveyed the terrain and sky for danger. Thank God that drongo was there otherwise the consequences of having lowered my guard to act as if I was a ravenous lioness could've gotten us killed. My fingers sink into the sand and the muscles in my trembling extremities constrict, prepared to defend Toad and myself to the death from whatever threat the drongo had detected. Images of possible suspects begin to appear in my mind. What could be lurking in our vicinity this time? Another martial eagle? Jeez, how absurd that'd be! Two martial eagle encounters and we've only been in the Kalahari for one day! Nah, the chances of that happening is quite slim. Meerkats encountering one bird of prey is even a once in a while occurrence. Or maybe we're dealing with a paranoid drongo that's freaking out over another innocuous squirrel Toad will want to be friends with. What a comical scene that'd be. As I put my left hand to my mouth to stifle a snicker at the thought, the drongo enters my field of vision, landing a couple inches near the skink I dropped in my panic. The drongo glances around with a glimmer of deceit in its eyes before swiftly snatching the skink and fluttering off. My hazel eyes widen and my jaw drops, shocked.

"What.. the hell?!" I heard Toad exclaim in disbelief beside me.

I place my forehead into the palm of my left hand, exhaling a sigh of frustration, knowing that this new development means foraging is about to become a huge pain in the ass...

End Chapter 3

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PostSubject: Re: Living With Meerkats: A Little Big Adventure    Living With Meerkats: A Little Big Adventure  I_icon_minitimeThu Dec 14, 2017 12:04 am

Chapter 4: Dining with Drongos

"Hey, give that back you thief!" I hear Toad shout furiously.

I remove my forehead from my left palm to make visual contact with Toad standing approximately two feet from the bush, leaping up once in an attempt to reach the drongo. I guess it perched itself on one of the bush's branches? Shifting myself onto my hands and knees, I crawl out from under the bush, briefly shifting my hazel orbs from Toad to the sky to make sure a more hazardous avian mammal didn't accompany our nuisance visitor. Once I take my place at Toad's right side, I shift my body into an Indian style sitting position, my lips pursing and eyes furrowing in annoyance when I make visual contact with a pair of drongos perched on one of the bush's flimsy branches. The drongo on the right has our skink clenched in its beak. What an audacious little jerk, remaining at the scene of the crime. And its got an accomplice, great. A mating pair perhaps? I snort and cross my arms in a bit of amusement as I witness the two drongos split the skink in half, a series of chirps erupting from the one on the right as they rapidly devour the stolen good simultaneously. It's as if it's...mocking us. Insolent poo poo head!

"Hey, we pretty much bruised our bodies to get that thing!" Toad shouted, shaking his right fist at the two drongos furiously.

"Toad, meet the drongo. Drongos... are jerks..." I introduced, smirking with amusement. "But they can also be life savers. As demonstrated before they emit an alarm vocalization if they detect a predator in the area, warning any small mammals that happen to be in the area to seek refuge immediately. Like an outdoor siren system. Unfortunately they occasionally choose to take advantage of the trust of small terrestrial creatures to commit acts of thievery as well. So they can be hard to trust." I added as I stood up, brushing particles of sand off my pants.

Upon returning visual contact with the two drongos, I narrow my eyes suspiciously and cross my arms as I witness them exchange sly looks, then glance from Toad and I to the ground, most likely waiting for the next chance to trick us again. I shake my head, not fooled one bit. I have an idea as to how we'll deal with them.

"Great...So what should we do? Looks like they plan on hanging around for a while. It's going to put us in a dilemma the next time they sound an alarm." Toad said worriedly, his cobalt orbs shifting from me to the drongos.

"Don't remove your eyes from them, not even for a split second." I ordered, pointing to my own eyes then to Toad with my left index finger and middle finger, acting out the 'I'm watching you' thingy. "They shouldn't try anything if someone is constantly watching them. I'll handle foraging."

"Alright." Toad nodded with determination, clenching his fists. "They're gonna have to peck me to death in order to get their deceptive talons on any more of our morsels."

Upon turning my back to Toad and the drongos, a small, oblong shaped hole, which is located a couple of inches from a tuft of grass, enters my field of vision, piquing my interest. I know I said that Toad and I would cross digging off the list of ways we would find our food due to it putting an enormous amount of strain on our arm muscles earlier, but my sense of curiosity has sent an urge to find out what may be occupying the hole through me. Once I approached the hole, I lowered myself to my hands and knees, plunging the fingers of my left hand into the sand to commence my excavation. Unlike the sand Toad and I tried to excavate earlier the sand in this area is softer, easily seeping through my fingers as I grab clumps of it with my left hand, then right hand, kicking up a light cloud of dust as I toss it behind me. Maybe the Kalahari will let us dig into parts of it after all. Suddenly the tail of a scorpion springs up from the sand, sending a sense of alarm through my system as I throw myself backwards onto my butt blurting out an incomprehensible word of surprise. Adrenaline enters my bloodstream, increasing my heart rate, when the scorpion fully emerges from the sand, raising its stinger in preparation to defend itself should I try to attack it.

"What's wrong, Liz?" I heard Toad ask, my surprised vocalization most likely gaining his attention. "Are you oka---Baaaaagh, holy flaming hot Cheetos! Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope!"

I avert my hazel orbs from the scorpion to see Toad retreating into a tuft of grass. I place my face into my right palm, exhaling a sigh of frustration. I hope he doesn't act like this the whole time we're here. How could a meerkat mob react if he flees in the process of a burrow raid unfolding? I close my eyes and rub my temples as an image of the dominant couple of a mob biting Toad in the butt then chasing him into the horizon plays in my mind. God, I don't know what'd I'd do if that happens... Remembering the two drongos, I open my eyes to see they're still hanging out on the branch of the bush, my heart skipping a beat when their attention shifts to me, probably interested in the scorpion I just revealed. Crap! Please don't tell me I now have to deal with them too...Returning my attention to the scorpion, my heart rate increases to a rapid pace, remembering what I've read about the Kalahari scorpion. Harbored within the bulbous tip of its tail is a venom potent enough to kill a human child. Meerkats are highly immune to the venom, but as for me and Toad a sting could probably result in us collapsing to the ground, foaming at the mouth, convulsing violently then dying within probably a mere two minutes. Not a fate I'd like to experience. The scorpion is known to be a very nutritious morsel, so it'd be great to have for dinner. Just gotta disable its stinger first though. I avert my eyes from the scorpion to scan the terrain for a rock or a stick I can use to pin its stinger down so I can sever it. I lower my head in disappointment when I don't see any of those things in the area.

"Oh, man, that means I gotta use my foot to sever its stinger." I whine, returning my eyes on the scorpion. I chuckle nervously. "This is going to be interesting."

As I pulled myself up onto my legs the scorpion scurries back a few inches from me, its stinger erect in preparation to defend itself against my assault. A sense of perturbation develops in my chest. I could've sworn I just saw a drop of venom ooze from the scorpion's tail.... Tucking strands of my hair behind my ears, an expression of determination forms on my face as I shift my body into a position where my legs are spread apart, knees slightly bent and the upper part of my body is slightly bent forward, the muscles in my extremities tightening as I wait for the right opportunity to incapacitate my prey. I'm not gonna let a measly drop of venom discourage me from making this delectable morsel our dinner. The adrenaline coursing through my bloodstream has my heart rate at a painfully rapid pace and is making my extremities tremble but has me feeling exhilarated. I mean I'm about to tango with a freaking lobster of death! This is so cool! Like entering a minion fight in a video game. Only if something goes wrong I can't go into gamer rage mode, chuck the controller across the room and restart the game. This is a real survival of the fittest situation! I clench my fists in excitement. Okay, it's important that I maintain my composure and focus. I've gotta be swift and precise at the right moment. If I misjudge the placement of my feet the consequences could be fatal. The scorpion starts to scurry across the sand at a leisurely pace, heading in the direction of a tuft of grass, but not the one Toad is hiding in. I narrow my eyes tenaciously. Oh no you don't you little death lobster. There's no way I'm letting you succeed at escaping from your dinner-y fate, not after the struggles Toad and I had endured with our previous prey creatures. The moment you sprang up from the sand your fate was sealed. Smirking excitedly, I shuffle after the scorpion, poised to strike the moment the opportunity presents itself. Suddenly the scorpion halts its movement, its back facing my direction as I stealthily pause a few inches from it. Now! Say goodbye to your stinger! The moment I lift my left foot up to pin down the stinger is when the scorpion whips around, as though it had sensed my presence behind it, causing me to involuntarily emit a squeak of alarm and jolt my left leg upward in a startled fashion, missing kicking the stinger by a mere couple inches as I topple backwards onto my butt. Instinctively the scorpion lunges its stinger at my right leg, plunging the lethal tip into the sand a mere two inches from the extremity as I rolled out of the way. I swiftly rise to my feet, blowing strands of my bangs out of my line of vision when they drape across my eyes. I puff up my cheeks and cross my arms in frustration. Damn! Guess I acted too slow. Suddenly the scorpion turns around and starts scurrying across the sand, this time at a brisk pace in the direction of a different tuft of grass. I clench my fists and grit my teeth, a ferocious growl erupting from the back of my throat. Oh no you don't! Alright, this time I've gotta be aggressive. That scorpion is going to become our dinner, even if it means getting stung in the process of stomping it to death! Toad had been sweating profusely and really needs this type of sustenance in order to regain the precious electrolytes he lost. Though I really pray I don't get stung. Oh Lord in Heaven please don't let me get stung! I pursue the scorpion at a brisk pace, skidding to a halt once the distance between my prey and I was reduced to a few inches. The scorpion pauses, its stinger raised in preparation to counter my assault as it turns to confront me, my heart sustaining its rapid pace and extremities trembling from the adrenaline circulating through my bloodstream. Dear Lord in Heaven please give me the speed and accuracy of a puff adder. Must. Not. Get. Stung! Without any further hesitation I swiftly thrust my left leg towards the stinger, my foot striking the bull's-eye with enough force that it causes the scorpion to topple onto its side, its body writhing desperately as I had successfully pinned its lethal weapon to the ground.

"Yes, booyah!" I cheer, throwing both my hands up into the air in triumph. "Hee, hee, hee, can't escape from me now, death lobster, for I have rendered your defense useless. You're finished."

I start to apply pressure to the top section of the scorpion's tail, rubbing my foot from side to side in an effort to remove the stinger when the sound of two sets of wings rapidly fluttering enter my ear canals, causing me to avert my hazel orbs from my quarry to see one of the drongos landing a few inches from me to my left, the other drongo entering my right peripheral vision as it lands a few inches in front of me. Turning my head to view the drongo in front of me, my right eye twitches in annoyance as a look of mischief gleams in its pupils.

"Eeegh, damn it, I knew you guys were gonna be annoyingly persistent." I grumbled, grasping a lock of my honey blond hair on the left side of my head and tugging at it with frustration. "But seriously that skink wasn't enough? I mean that was a pretty fat skink!"

Seeing movement in my left peripheral vision, I turn my head to catch, eh lets call this drongo Bonnie, encroaching on the scorpion, nipping at one of its legs. Immediately I swiftly swipe at Bonnie with my left hand, chasing him/her, not even sure what the gender of the drongos are, off a few feet. Bonnie emits a series of chirps, as if mocking me. I narrow my eyes in annoyance. I oughta pluck the feathers out of that little jerk's butt. Seeing, I'm gonna call the other drongo, Clyde, ya know, like the criminals Bonnie and Clyde, 'cause that's exactly what these two nuisances are, thieves, nipping at one of the scorpion's pinchers in my right peripheral vision, I swipe at him/her with my right hand, nearly losing my balance in the process, my arms flailing and body swaying to and fro.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, not a good idea." I said as I regained my balance, my left foot still glued on the scorpion's stinger. "Yeh, I can't deal with these guys and the scorpion alone. It's going to jeopardize my safety. Toad's gonna have to help me."

Undaunted by my act of aggression, Clyde starts to approach the scorpion again, then pauses when I direct the scariest face that I can make at him/her, trying to imitate Luigi's ominous death stare. Cue the Kill Bill siren sound effect thingy! Clyde lifts up his/her right leg, hesitant to reduce the distance between us any further. A chirp of discouragement emits from his/her beak. A smirk tugs at the left side of my lips. Hee, hee, seems like my Luigi death stare imitation is really effective on my foe so far. Suddenly in my left peripheral vision I see Bonnie nibbling on one of the scorpion's legs and shift what I consider is a pretty badass death stare to him/her, emitting a ferocious snarl.

"Get outta here you little nuisance!" I snap, swiping at Bonnie with my left hand, causing him/her to swiftly flutter backwards out of the way of my assault. "Do you think you can pry the scorpion out from under my foot with your pathetic little beaks? You're going to have to try something better than that. I put my life in jeopardy to obtain this delicacy. No way in hell I'm letting you guys steal this one! Now go harass a squirrel or something." I added, motioning with my left hand for them to go away.

Exchanging devious looks, Bonnie and Clyde flutter off the ground simultaneously, causing me to shield my head with my arms when they fly what feels like a few inches over me, the breeze they kick up blowing strands of my hair across my face. Suddenly I feel some sort of lukewarm substance on my right arm and lower my arms to see a large, white glob of...bird crap starting to drip from said arm to the sand. My left eye twitches in immense disgust and I grit my teeth.

"EEW! EEEHEHEEEEW!" I shriek, flicking my right arm as a way of removing the gross substance, sending droplets of it into some nearby vegetation.

After blowing the strands of hair out of my line of vision, I shift my hazel orbs to Bonnie and Clyde when I hear them emit a series of chirps in unison, noticing they've positioned themselves four feet to my right on a small mound of sand. I glare at them menacingly as I notice the look of mockery formed on their stupid faces. I bite my lower lip and clench my fists in frustration. If this scorpion didn't have me anchored to it I'd run over there and rip their feathers out! Shifting my hazel orbs to the tuft of grass Toad sought refuge in, an ache of sympathy develops in my chest as I see how violently it's rustling from his trembling. Poor guy is really scared, but right now he really needs to grow a pair and help me! No way in hell I'm allowing myself to be struck down by a scorpion and a pair of pathetic drongos on our first day in Africa!

"TOOAAAAD, get djerbouti (ha ha, Djibouti, get it? XD) out of the grass and help me!" My voice comes out sounding like it's between a whine and a shout.

"NO! I refuse to get even within five feet of that lobster of death!" Toad protests fiercely, starting to hyperventilate.

A closed mouth groan of frustration erupts from my throat, " I'm gonna die..." I facepalmed with my left hand.

It's a shame Toad's fear of arachnids is worse than his fear of snakes. When he sees a spider he becomes totally incapacitated with horror, like he's inconsolable and comforting him ends up being in vain. He trembles violently and hyperventilates uncontrollably, rendering him useless to be honest as this can last for a few hours, even under circumstances when his help is really needed. Unless.... A smirk tugs at the left side of my lips as I'm struck with an idea. It seems my welfare being in potential jeopardy tends to ignite a sense of courage within Toad. Maybe if I pretend I'm being attacked by Bonnie and Clyde he'll come out of the grass and act as a distraction for them. I return my gaze to Bonnie and Clyde, hissing as I see them approaching me again. Please make this work, these damn drongos are driving me crazy!

"Ow! Oh man, one of them just stabbed me in the eye with their beak!" I think my cry of pain sounded pretty believable. Bonnie and Clyde pause and exchange looks of confusion as I place both my hands over my left eye.

"Ugh! I...I think it's bleeding!" I exclaim in a dramatic tone as I remove both my hands from my left eye and gaze down at the palms in fake horror at the imaginative blood. Clyde chirps in a way that makes it sound like he/she could be saying, "What in the hell is wrong with this two legged thing?!"

I shift my hazel orbs from Bonnie and Clyde to the tuft of grass shielding Toad, biting my lower lip nervously when I notice it stopped rustling and it's occupied with silence. I narrow my eyes suspiciously. Please don't tell me he fainted...Suddenly Toad comes charging out from the tuft of grass emitting a furious caterwaul, causing me to quickly cover my "injured" left eye with both my hands before he discovers the attack was feigned.

"GET AWAY FROM MY FRIEND YOU FEATHER BUTTED MONSTERS!" Toad shouts as he charges at Bonnie and Clyde, his cobalt orbs illuminated with flames of fury. "I'm gonna make you pay for stabbing her in the eye!"

Toad swipes at Bonnie, missing him/her as he/she rapidly flutters up to the branches of a nearby camel thorn tree, hopefully disappearing behind the vegetation for good.

"How about we have roasted drongo for dinner? Yeah! I'm gonna pluck out every one of those feathers and roast you in the sun! I think you'd taste absolutely delicious!" Toad cackles maniacally as he tries to grab at Clyde's tail feathers when he/she flutters over his head.

I automatically put my hands over my mouth to muffle a fit of giggles as I watch Toad pursue Clyde in every direction trying to capture his/her tail feathers in one of his hands. Upon pivoting on his right foot while trying to grab Clyde's tail feathers when he/she whirls past his head, Toad topples onto his stomach, blurting out various cuss words I imagine being censored by sound effects from the Mario Brothers games. To add insult to injury, Clyde flies over Toad's head, dropping a large, white colored load on his mushroom top. His left eye twitches with a mixture of profound disgust and wanting to murder Clyde's entire family. My cheeks inflate from struggling to hold in the building urge to burst out laughing. Poor Toad. He's having such terrible luck with poop today, from stepping in it to being pooped on. I don't think I can hold in my laughter for much longer. The hilarity of Toad's mishaps...I can't breathe! But if I lose my composure I could throw myself off balance, putting myself in jeopardy of receiving a fatal sting to one of my legs. I press both my hands firmly against my mouth, endeavoring not to let the intensifying urge to laugh overcome me. Must. Not. Laugh. Grumbling incomprehensible words of frustration, Toad pushes himself up into an Indian style sitting position, his right eye twitching when the motion of his body causes the liquefied feces to seep down his mushroom cap to his forehead. Still pressing both my hands against my mouth, I squeeze my eyes shut and tilt my head forward, the upper part of my body shaking as I laugh internally. A series of hilarious sounding gags enter my ear canals, signifying Mt. Toad is about to erupt with vomit again. At this point a burning sensation spreads through my inflated cheeks. That's it. I can't hold in my laughter any longer. The hilarity is just too much. It's making me feel like I'm literally going to explode. And with that said, I finally burst out laughing, causing my body to jerk back a little bit, my left foot slightly shifting off the scorpion's stinger. I mentally order myself to stop laughing repeatedly, but I'm at the point of tears and knee slapping. At this rate I'm probably going to literally die laughing.

"Don't laugh at me! This is absolutely disgusting and humiliating! I feel like I'm gonna puke myself to death here!" Toad cries, his gags now sounding muffled from his hands covering his mouth to suppress the building bile in his throat.

"Don't feel bad, buddy. I got the poop treatment too, see?" I extend my right arm, showing Toad the paste textured substance rather positively. "Ya know, when a bird poops on you it means good luck."

"Yuck! Eeeh, wh-hey, wait a minute, your eyes aren't injured! You tricked me!" Toad points his left index finger at me accusingly.

"I had to do something to get you out of that stupid tuft of grass." I said as I readjust my left foot on the scorpion's stinger. "I couldn't handle the scorpion and both drongos by myself. My left foot is planted on a Kalahari landmine. A slip up would've meant certain death for me and no meerkat pups for you."

"Oh, using meerkat pups to persuade me into helping you dispatch that arachnid of death, huh?" Toad places his hands on his hips suspiciously. "But you have a point since you know WAY more about the Kalahari than I do. If something happens to you..."

His entire body trembles at the thought of me meeting my untimely demise. He then lowers his head apologetically. "Sorry I let another one of my phobias overcome me, Liz. I guess I'm just cursed to always be a useless coward."

"Don't say that, buddy." I frown sympathetically. "You do have a sense of courage in your heart, especially when the lives of your friends are in jeopardy. If necessary, I believe you'd sacrifice your welfare to protect those precious to you. I'll admit it was cute the way you protected me from the squirrel and bat eared fox earlier, but you were pretty badass too. Guess I should put myself in danger more often, hee, hee."

A bright shade of pink spreads across Toad's face and he scratches his right cheek with his right hand in a seemingly embarrassed fashion. "Heh, gee, thanks. But when I enter ferocity mode don't under estimate me as cute, I am death! At my regular height I'm at the perfect level to crotch kick somebody." He adds, roundhouse kicking the air.

"So true. Hee, hee, hee, oh yes the fun advantage to being short..." I chuckle with amusement as an image of myself kicking Bowser in the groin plays in my mind. "Anyway you did help me by chasing those drongos away, so you don't have to worry about assisting me with dispatching the scorpion. I got this." I reassured him with a determined smirk and thumbs up with my left hand.

"Are-are you sure? 'Cause I'm feeling brave now and it appears the scorpion is trying to murder you with its pinchers through your pants." Toad snorts as he points down with his right index finger.

I shift my gaze from Toad to see the scorpion has bent its body to latch both its pinchers onto to the sleeve of my right pant leg, the claws of its pinchers moving in a scissor like fashion in an attempt to penetrate the material. I return my gaze to Toad, scoffing with amusement.

"Feisty thing, isn't it? Determined not to go down without a fight. Mamamia, now I know how much trouble a meerkat has to go through before dinning on one of these things. I don't think we should mess with scorpions anytime soon, buddy." I chuckle with a mixture of exhilaration and exhaustion, placing my left hand on my chest to try to calm my still racing heart.

A pained yell erupts from Toad's throat as the scorpion clamps down on his left index finger with its right pincher when he tries to remove its second set of weapons from my pants, causing him to recoil onto his back blurting out incomprehensible words of anger. He launches himself to a straight postured standing position, his fists clenched and teeth grit in anger.

"Ow! Damn! That hurt like hell! Alright, that's it! Step off it, Liz! Let me stomp Mr. Death Lobster to smithereens!" Toad snaps angrily as he starts to stomp over to the scorpion.

"No, wait! I almost forgot." I said, putting my left hand up to stop Toad from approaching. "One of us has to keep watch for danger, and since I'm anchored to the scorpion, that means you've gotta do it while I remove the stinger."

"Crap! That's right!" Toad face palmed. "With the amount of predators we've constantly gotta be on the look out for I'm surprised none of them saw the opportunity to munch on our distracted faces. Well, come at us, predators, 'cause I'm ready!" Toad challenged, leaping up into the air with his fists raised in preparation to fend off any predators that may appear on the horizon or from the sky.

I giggle at Toad's exuberant act of bravery before shifting my hazel orbs from him to the sky, then across a field of swaying sour grass spread across the horizon. It doesn't help that a breeze is present in the Kalahari today. It makes us think any rustle of the vegetation could be a terrestrial predator on the hunt for prey. Yeesh, I don't know how meerkats can do this, be in a state of perpetual alert on a daily basis. It's absolutely mentally exhausting and I'm starting to feel stressed out! Ya know what, screw the wind blowing through the grass being relaxing! I'm prepared to turn the scorpion into a weapon the moment I see something step out into the open! Living the lifestyle of a meerkat is going to take a while to get used to, especially after that martial eagle encounter earlier...Exhaling a breath of relaxation to try to calm myself down, I shift my eyes to the scorpion, smirking as I see it is no longer moving. Guess Mr. Death Lobster has finally accepted his fate. Removing his, or whatever gender the scorpion may be, stinger should be a peace of cake now.    

"If there are any predators in the area I dare you to come out of hiding!" I heard Toad boldly challenge again. "....No?...Good, you'd better stay away or I'll pummel you with my fists of death!"

I scoff with amusement. I'll take Toad's comically ominous warning as being in the clear. With my left foot I start to vigorously rub at the scorpion's stinger from side to side, grinning triumphantly as it detaches from the tail's other segments. The scorpion doesn't even react to its most valuable part being amputated. I think it actually died from fright or something. I kick the bulbous stinger into a tuft of grass, then pick up the deceased scorpion with both my hands, the pinchers and segments of its tail dangling limply. I hope the scorpion is truly 100 percent dead and not playing possum. A pincher to the nose would hurt like hell! I poke the scorpion a few times with my right index finger, then shake it vigorously. A minute passes with no reaction. Yep, it's definitely dead.

"Okie dokie, buddy, dinner is ser-ved~!" I sing song cheerfully, ripping the scorpion in half and grinning like a derpy hyena celebrating stealing a kill as its guts seep to the ground.

Upon turning around, a look of horror forms on Toad's face as his cobalt orbs follow a drop of the scorpion's slimy insides to the ground. Like with the millipede, only this time he didn't shout, "eeeew!" Toad places both his hands over his mouth and his face turns pale, looking like he's about to spew his guts again. Oh crap, please let it not be the projectile type of vomiting again. As I side step to the left, hopefully out of firing range, Toad collapses to the ground, unconscious. I gaze down at his motionless form with aggravation. C'mon, I didn't risk my life for this scorpion to be wasted. I can't gobble the whole thing down by myself. It's too big! Plus, I thought this would be a badass opportunity for Toad to conquer his fear of arachnids. If I had my cell phone with me I'd totally SnapChat him crunching down on it! But no, he had to go and faint...again...out in the open! I figured that pinch to the finger would put a hole in his bubble of courage... But Mr. Death Lobster is dead now. He can't kill Toad with his pinchers of doom. The sound of the nearby grass rustling in the gentle breeze causes me to gasp in alarm, thinking Toad's fainting was a cue for a potential terrestrial predator on the hunt to come charging out from its hide out. I avert my eyes from Toad's unconscious form to scan the row or sour grass again. Man, why did this wish have to drop us off in an area with so much grass?! I shift my hazel orbs to the sky, then back to Toad, exhaling a sigh of relief as it appears nothing of concern is in the area. I nudge Toad's body with my left foot.

"Toad, pull yourself together and wake up! Not a good idea to pass out right in the open, a bird of prey could pick you off!" I warn in a scolding tone.

Suddenly Toad springs up into a straight sitting position, his eyes wide with terror as he scans the sky in a panic.

"Bird of prey?! Quick, we've gotta hide before it sees us!" Toad cries in a panicked tone as he quickly rises to his feet.

As I open my mouth to make a smart remark, Toad grasps the bottom of my shirt and pulls me along as he sprints in the direction of a tuft of grass, causing me to drop both pieces of the scorpion. I look back and emit a plaintive whine. I was actually looking forward to dining on the African version of lobster. Sure, it'd taste absolutely bitter without some sort of tangy dip, but I imagine it has a scrumptious, crunchy texture to it, making it tolerable, I suppose. Once Toad and I reach the tuft of grass, he yanks me down by the collar of my shirt, making me gag as the fabric applies pressure to a sensitive part of my neck. I narrow my eyes, suspecting Toad's pulling me around roughly on purpose as pay back for treating him like a ragdoll earlier. Note to self, next time I get excited try not to manhandle Toad. Upon shifting my hazel orbs to an opening in the tuft of grass, my mouth goes agape in shock when I see that Bonnie and Clyde have returned, and they have our scorpion clenched between their filthy beaks! In my right peripheral vision I see Toad shift his eyes to me with an expression of bewilderment formed on his face. I can't believe this, I thought Toad charging at them like a psychopath was enough to scare them off permanently for sure. I pull the hair on both sides of my head and snarl with extreme frustration. Man, they're persistent as hell! They just won't give up! I gasp when I see Bonnie and Clyde flutter their wings and lower their bodies, preparing to take off. No! Don't. You. Dare! Like a trebuchet, the taut muscles in my legs propel me towards Bonnie and Clyde, spooking them into fluttering in the direction of a patch of high level sour grass. Pivoting on my right foot, I sprint after them as fast as my legs will allow me to go.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! DON'T LEAVE ME ALONE!!!" Erupted Toad's panicked tone from behind me.

A sense of trepidation spreads through my chest at the prospect that my impulsive action could result in us becoming separated. It's as if my legs have become possessed by some sort of spirit. I can't seem to make them stop running! It's like, run Forrest, run! Only Forrest, you're like a pissed off lion pursuing a hyena that just stole your supper and is mocking you like a clown. Soon Bonnie and Clyde enter the patch of high level sour grass, making me raise my right eyebrow in confusion. Why did they fly into the grass and not into the protection of a clump of leaves of a tree? As I enter what I'll start calling the Kalahari jungle, smacking the blades of grass out of my line of vision, I'm struck with an idea as to why Bonnie and Clyde are behaving like this. They're probably challenging me to snatch the scorpion from their beaks. I smirk excitedly. Alrighty then, challenge accepted!

"ARE YOU SERIOUSLY GONNA CHASE THEM THROUGH THERE?! WE'LL GET SEPARATED, FORGET ABOUT THE DRONGOS AND GET YOUR CRAZY ASS BACK HERE!!!" I heard Toad cry out in extreme panic behind me, his voice fading towards the end of his sentence as I continue pursuing Bonnie and Clyde at what feels like the speed of a cheetah on the Savannah while leaping over debris that appears in my path.

I grit my teeth regretfully, knowing that I'm steering myself in the direction of dire consequences. I've gotta keep reminding myself we're no longer in the Mushroom Kingdom. If something goes wrong there are no revival mushrooms to bring us back from the dead, no special elixirs made by Princess Peach to heal injuries and status effects and no super power items to defend ourselves with. I'm fighting a losing battle against Bonnie and Clyde. They can fly, while we're in the Kalahari, I cannot. Damn, I could use a winged Mario hat about now! I can just barely see Bonnie and Clyde through openings in the grass, why am I continuing to run after them? Because this is just so much fun! I'm actually enjoying the thrill of Bonnie and Clyde's game of keep-away. Also I refuse to give up, but I'm going to have to. As much as I want that scorpion, This is absolutely reckless and extremely dangerous. I could literally run into a terrestrial predator in here and the result could be fatal. Conceding defeat, I reduce my pace to a halt, placing my hands on my knees as I struggle to replenish the oxygen supply to my burning lungs. A burning sensation spreads through the muscles in my legs, causing me to wince. Grudgingly I throw my hands up in surrender and grit my teeth.

A groan erupts from my throat, "Oh, I give up!"

Bonnie and Clyde, 2, Toad and Elizabeth, fail to the nothing.

Toad...uh-ohez….Gritting my teeth nervously I avert my hazel orbs from the direction Bonnie and Clyde vanished in, a sense of anxiety spreading through my system as I don't see Toad at all through the gently swaying blades of grass. I'm not sure how far I've run into the Kalahari jungle, but realizing that I can no longer hear him freaking out has me fearing that we've been separated further than when we encountered that mole snake earlier. Terrific, Liz, just ter-freaking-rific. Trying to find Toad in this disorienting grass is going to be an absolute nightmare. I'm so stupid! Stupid, stupid, stupid! I smack my forehead with my right hand four times, my face contorting with disgust when I realize just how sweaty it's become from the exertion I put in to pursuing Bonnie and Clyde. I go to wipe my forehead off with my right arm, then my left eye twitches when I make visual contact with the dried bird poop on it. Would be nice if there was waterhole around here so I can wash this icky stuff off. Feeling a bead of sweat seeping down the left side of my face, I wipe it off with my left arm. Bleh, I'm all sweaty, poopy and...just...yuck! But this is the challenge of survival, so I've just gotta develop a tough African spirit and adapt. As my hazel orbs scan the grass for any signs of Toad making an appearance, I'm suddenly struck with a wave of dizziness, causing me to stagger backwards a bit as it's accompanied by my vision briefly greying out. I grimace and place my left hand on my forehead. I must've exerted myself too much. Great. Not the greatest situation for me to start feeling like I'm gonna pass out. As I removed my left hand from my forehead, the movement of bringing my head up sends another wave of dizziness through my system, causing me to collapse on my bottom as the landscape ripples into colorful psychedelic patterns across my field of vision. I emit an annoyed grunt. C'mon, body, don't give up on me now. Please just let me find Toad before you let heatstroke, exhaustion or whatever is going on vanquish you. Summoning as much strength as I can muster, with a grunt, I pull myself up onto my feet, then collapse to my hands and knees when I feel lightheaded, the blades of grass morphing into swaying, vertical psychedelic colors in my field of vision. So preeeetty, like looking through a kaleidoscope. I couldn't help but giggle a bit at my peculiar situation as I shift into an Indian style sitting position, my hands placed on the ground behind me to support myself. Is this what heatstroke is supposed to feel like? I feel more like I swallowed a bunch of mushrooms, and not the Mushroom Kingdom type of mushrooms...I swear the blades of grass look like snakes of various colors doing a hula dance...I squeeze my eyes shut and tilt my head towards the ground. Watching my surroundings morph into psychedelic patterns and do strange things has caused a sensation of nausea to develop in my stomach. Suddenly the muscles in my body start to grow heavy, making me nearly collapse to the ground, but I quickly catch myself, not wanting to lose consciousness. No! Must...resist...the world of...darkness. Must...find...Toad. I try to pull myself up once more, then collapse to my knees, my system depleted of the strength needed to move. The moment my body starts to tip forward is when my vision fades to black.

End Chapter 4

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PostSubject: Re: Living With Meerkats: A Little Big Adventure    Living With Meerkats: A Little Big Adventure  I_icon_minitimeSun Aug 05, 2018 6:22 pm

Chapter 5: Don't Do Scorpions, Kids

The sound of leaves rustling in the wind enters my auditory senses, sending a sense of relaxation through my system. Upon parting my eyelids, swirling green patterns enter my field of vision, causing the sensation of nausea I felt in my stomach before I passed out to flare up again. I put my hands to my mouth to suppress the vomit building up in my throat. Once my vision became clear and the sensation of nausea faded, I realize I'm laying underneath a camel thorn tree. I blink a few times, feeling a bit disoriented. How...did I get under a camel thorn tree?

"Holy shitake mushrooms, my back! Now I know what my grandmother feels like whenever she needs to bend down to pick something up! I swear I'll never make fun of old people for as long as I live!" I snicker softly. Welp, guess that answers my question.

Realizing it was Toad who found and brought me to the camel thorn tree sends a sense of relief through my system. I'm so glad we're back together again! I thought we had been sentenced to our deaths when we became separated! Suddenly my mental rejoice is interrupted by pulsating aches in the muscles of all four of my extremities and my torso, causing me to grit my teeth and squeeze my eyes shut. Obviously the adrenaline rush has completely worn off, causing my pain receptors to react to the aftermath of Bonnie and Clyde's strenuous chase. Ugh, now I feel like I've been crushed by a Thwomp! I emit a whimper. I need an Advil. I'm also alerted to a pulsating, burning sensation that's spreading from just above the right side of my left ankle to my foot, causing me to emit a grunt of discomfort. Why does my left foot feel like I put it in a puddle of lava? As I push myself up into a sitting position to inspect my left ankle, I feel Toad firmly grip the collar of my shirt with both his hands, the movement of him pulling me to face him triggers another dizzy spell, causing him and the landscape in my line of vision to morph into strange psychedelic patterns again. My eyes widen with horror. Nuuuu, the kaleidoscope effect thingy is back! Why is this happening?! What's going on with me?!

"Good, you're awake. 'Cause now I can kill you for your reckless act!" Toad angrily yells, a smirk tugging at the left corner of my lips. Now Toad's yelling at me for acting reckless. Eh, I can't really complain. Toad and I have a habit of seeking danger. And sometimes danger has a habit of finding us.

As Toad raises his right hand to clobber me across the head, the image of the dried bird poop, along with the large red spots on his mushroom top, morph in a way that it looks like bicolored icing on the top of a cupcake.

"Cupcakes! CUPCAKES!!!" I scream with delight as Toad's form transforms into a cupcake.

I lick from the base to the top of the right side of the cupcake, earning a scream of repulsion, followed by an abrasive impact to my chest that sends me skidding across the sand on my back a few feet. I cough a few times from getting the oxygen knocked out of my lungs. Once I regained my breath, I pull myself up into an Indian style sitting position, grunting as the motion causes the muscles in my extremities to ache. I smirk when I return eye contact with the "cupcake." Who knew cupcakes could fight back!  

"What the hell are you doing?! What's wrong with you?! You'd better not be messing with me again. I nearly threw out my back dragging you here! The last thing I need is for you to be pulling more pranks!" Toad scolded, my vision clearing to form the familiar shape of my mushroom buddy, causing me to bite my lip in embarrassment. Oh dear Lord, I can't believe I just licked Toad! "By the way, you should lay off the chocolate. You've gotten heavy."

I automatically scoff. Toad's calling me fat? He's one to talk! He's developed a pregnancy belly from eating too much when he's anxious. He looks like a little beach ball with a head and extremities. It's pretty comical. I stifle a chuckle as an image of a spherical shaped Toad tripping and rolling down some sort of landscape plays in my mind. I have the urge to make a comment about Toad's weight, but I keep my mouth shut, not wanting to incur his wrath. I really don't feel like dealing with a rampaging grass cupcake when I'm feeling like death. Heh, heh, grass cupcake...I'm sorry, but now that I've hallucinated Toad as a cupcake, it's an image that I can't un-see every time I look at him now! A giggle emits from my mouth.

"Eh, what's so funny?" Toad questioned, raising his right brow in suspicion.

"N-nothing" I replied, waving my left hand at him dismissively while covering my mouth with my right hand to suppress my giggling. "Any whoozles, how long was I out? You didn't see any meerkats, did you?"

"I'd say you were out for at least two hours. It felt like the longest two hours of my life dragging you through that grass jungle, straining my back and praying to the Heavens not to let us become Death with claw's food. Unfortunately I didn't see any meerkats, just a crap ton of grass and my life flashing before my eyes." Toad explained while scanning the sky and ground nervously.

I avert my hazel orbs from Toad to survey a field of lower level grass that is dotted with acacia bushes and camel thorn trees spread sporadically across the landscape, hoping to spot a meerkat's head protruding through the vegetation. I'm disappointed to see just a couple of giraffes leisurely clopping across the rippling wave of heat in the distance. Watching the rippling wave of heat morph the giraffes and landscape into strange patterns causes another episode of dizziness to develop, making the giraffes look like really tall tribesmen that are half human, half animal, like I'm hallucinating that some sort of African Gods have appeared. Well, an African God of rain would be nice. My mouth and throat feel like Death Valley! Who knows, maybe they really are African Gods of rain and are about to spread the precious life giving liquid throughout the Kalahari. I should signal them so they make it rain in our part of this thirst land.

I shift onto my hands and knees, nearly losing my balance as the sense of dizziness briefly intensified from the action. I wave at the really tall half human, half animal entities with my right hand, "Yoohoo, we could use a little rain over here!"

"Liz, what are you doing and who are you talking to?" I shift my hazel orbs in the direction I heard Toad's voice, making contact with his blurry figure.

"I'm trying to summon those African Gods over there so they can bring us rain." I said in a dazed tone while pointing my right index finger in the direction of the half human, half animal entities.

I watch hopelessly as the two half human, half animal tribal... looking... things disappear behind a grove of camel thorn trees. I lower my head and emit a hopeless whimper.

"Guess they didn't hear me." I pouted.

"Eh?! Those were giraffes..." Toad sounds utterly confused.

As my vision became clear, Toad's face is a few inches from mine, a look of concern formed on his visage.

"Liz, are you alright? You're acting really weird and it's freaking me out." Toad said, anxiety present in his voice.

Feeling the incessant burning sensation in the muscles of my extremities intensify from supporting my weight, I collapse onto my stomach, groaning in misery. I emit a single cough as a cloud of dust generated from when my stomach made impact with the ground seeps into my nostrils, irritating my dry throat.

"Ugh, no, I feel like death!" I rasped, squeezing my eyes shut as I felt another dizzy spell beginning to distort my vision. "My muscles feel like they were massaged by a Thwomp, I feel like I went nineteen rounds on Big Boo's merry-go-round of doom and I hallucinated you as a cupcake, then a pair of giraffes as African Gods."

I heard Toad gasp, like he thought of something really horrible that could be happening to me.

"Oh, God, I hope you haven't contracted some sort of strange, horrible African disease." I felt Toad place a hand on my sweaty forehead, then glide it down to my right cheek. "Hmm, you don't feel like you're burning up, and we've only been here for several hours, so that can't be."

As Toad removes his hand from my right cheek, I part my eyelids, remaining still so as not to trigger another dizzy spell.

"You didn't perhaps eat anything strange when we were foraging earlier, did you?" Toad questioned, his eyes wide with horror.

I open my mouth to reply, but then Toad suddenly freaks, placing his hands on both sides of his head, "Oh, God, I bet that's it! You've been poisoned! I've gotta induce vomiting ASAP!"

My eyes widen, knowing exactly how Toad is going to induce vomiting. He's going to stick his dirty fingers down my throat! My face contorts with disgust. Gross and absolutely unnecessary! I wave my hands in protest as Toad starts to approach me, verbalizing two "Noes" before I feel him slide his right hand under me, propping me up by my chest, then the pads of his left index and middle finger slide towards the back of my throat, causing me to squeeze my eyes shut in disgust and gag. My instincts command me to bite down, like Toad's a fool who just put his hand in the mouth of a crocodile, but I resist, not wanting to hurt my friend. Out of defensive reflex, I shove Toad away from me, knocking him down on his little marsh mellow looking butt, his cobalt orbs meeting my hazel ones with a look of a kicked puppy.

"I'm not poisoned!" I snapped. "I think I just over exerted myself and developed heat exhaustion or something. But I'm not entirely sure. I just know whatever is going on with me, it's making me see weird stuff."

As I shift into a sitting position, the motion of my left leg sliding across the sand causes a pulsating, burning sensation to spread from my left foot to the upper part of my left calf, causing me to blurt out an incomprehensible, three syllable word of pain as I briefly squeeze my eyes shut and grit my teeth.

"Holy Schnitzel nuggets, that hurt!" I yell, collapsing to a reclined position with my elbows propping my upper body and legs stretched out.

"Oh my Ga Ga, not only are you ill, but you're injured too?! I call us ghosts by sunset!" Toad panics, starting to hyperventilate.

"Chill, dude! Remember, just think happy thoughts. I'll be fine." I reassured him with an optimistic grin.

"R-right. Happy thoughts." Toad reminded himself softy, clasping his hands together and gazing up at the cloudless sky as if he's praying to the Star Spirits to lend us their protection. "We're not gonna die, we're not gonna die, we are not going to die...Gaah I can't! We're probably gonna succumb to heatstroke, or get ripped to shreds by predators, or mauled by rabid monkeys or..."

I roll my eyes at Toad as he reverts to pessimistic thoughts, before pushing myself back up into a sitting position, grimacing as my muscles ache from the action. tentatively, I bring my left hand to the sleeve of my left pant leg and slowly roll it up, revealing an inflamed looking scratch on the right side of my left ankle that has swelling around it. A sense of horror spreads through my chest, causing my heart rate to accelerate. Oh no! Please tell me that's not from... It must've happened when I was laughing my ass off at Toad earlier for getting pooped on by one of the drongos, when my foot slightly slid off the stinger. I facepalm with my left hand. I knew I was gonna die laughing! Welp, that explains why I feel so loopy. I feel a sense of panic developing in my system, but my strong-willed spirit quickly squelches it with its foot of strong willed composure, my heart rate quickly returning to its regular rhythm. If I allow myself to panic, I'll quicken the spread of venom through my bloodstream. I'm not sure how much venom entered my system, but my gut instinct is telling me the amount is not enough to kill, just enough to make me feel like a wisdom tooth aftermath video for awhile. I sigh and collapse on my back, both my arms draped over my eyes as my visual and auditory senses have suddenly grown considerably sensitive to the sun's rays. I squeeze my eyes shut, grit my teeth and cover my ears as a strange electromagnetic hum enters my auditory senses. Dear God, why did it have to be a cloudless day in this portion of Africa? This is absolute torture! Holy sweet baby Yoshies, Make the sun shut up! It's making my eardrums feel like they're going to explode like a bob-omb! I uncover my ears and slowly clap quietly with an irritated pout. Bravo, Mrs. or Mr. Death Lobster, you've succeeded in getting your revenge in death. I've learned my lesson. I don't plan on messing with another one of your species...ever! The suffering you've inflicted upon me is making me want to just die. I should've just that let scorpion go after the first time it tried to sting me.

"Oh my God, Liz, you're ankle! What happened?!" I heard Toad ask in a panic-stricken tone.

"That firkin' Death Lobster happened, that's what!" I hissed as I pushed myself back up into a sitting position.

"So you have been poisoned?!?!?!?!" Toad shrieked, causing me to cringe as his annoyingly high pitched voice makes my sensitive eardrums feel like they're going to rupture. "Oh my God, I've gotta suck out the poison!"

"No, I haven't!" I shout, slamming my hands down on the sand in frustration. "This was injected, not swallowed or absorbed through the skin."

"And you mean venom." I corrected, giving Toad a know it all smirk.

"WHATEVER!" Toad retorted, throwing his arms up in admission to his ignorance. "They're both really bad substances that shouldn't be in the body!"

"Anyways, it's against medical advice to---

I'm interrupted when Toad drops to his hands and knees, lowering his head to start sucking the venom out of the right side of my left ankle. Before his mouth could make contact with the wound, another wave of dizziness causes the landscape in my field of vision to morph into those strange psychedelic patterns again, making me feel like I have to vomit for real this time. My eyes widen. Oh no... I shift onto my hands and knees and spew all the contents out of my stomach, turning my head to the left in the process so as not to spray Toad with the disgusting bodily substance as he scrambles out of the line of fire.

I groan in discomfort as the force of the vomiting made my abdominal muscles sore, "Oh, great, there goes my entire breakfast."

I crawl a few feet away from the vomit, then collapse onto my stomach, smooshing my face into my folded arms, "Nnngh, I never wanna see a scorpion again!"

My body starts to tremble from purging its precious nutrients.


Toad's panic-stricken scream resonated through the air, sending a sense of alarm through my chest, fearing all the commotion he's causing will attract the attention of a predator at any given moment. Upon lifting my head from my arms to tell Toad to shut up, before I could respond, I find my face being smothered into his torso as he embraces me, making me feel like I'm going to asphyxiate. I emit a series of grunts, trying to squirm out of Toad's embrace. My body goes limp, my arms sinking into the sand. Gee, doesn't this situation seem familiar. I did this to Toad when we first arrived here. I call this his inadvertent way of exacting his revenge, but in his panic-stricken state he may actually kill me. What a pathetic way that would be to go, suffocated to death by one of the Mushroom Kingdom's weakest creatures. I attempt to squirm out of Toad's embrace once more, grunting as I struggle to summon the strength to lift up my left arm to try to push Toad away. I groan in despair as the heavy sensation in the muscles of my arm causes it to drop to the ground. Stupid Death Lobster! Stupid venom! I feel so weak!

"Please don't die! You can't die! Not when you're so close to fulfilling you're dream! Plus, I don't wanna be left alone out here! You've gotta fight the venom, Liz! Don't let that pathetic death lobster send you to pushing up daisies!" Toad cried with a shaky voice, cupping my cheeks in his hands, tears starting to form at the rim of his eye lids.

I inhale, then exhale a breath of relief as oxygen resumes its circulation through my system. Praise the Lord I can breathe again! Feeling a bit of strength returning to my muscles, I suddenly wrap my arms around Toad, placing my left hand over his mouth, causing him to emit a muffled yelp of alarm.

"Shush your face hole! You're going to attract bad things!" I whisper yelled, my hazel orbs surveying from the sky to across the field of vegetation, a sense of paranoia growing in my system.

The thought of having to rely on Toad to shield me from threats while I'm ill for Lord knows how long has me immensely worried. Sure, he protected me from the squirrel and bat eared fox earlier, but given his reaction towards the martial eagle I highly doubt he'd stand his ground and defend me with his life if a jackal suddenly came charging out of the vegetation this very moment, or if a bird of prey suddenly dive bombed us. Nope! He'd run off screaming like a horror movie scream queen, leaving me to deal with the adversary alone in poor health. Of course I don't blame him considering the Kalahari has already showed us just how unpredictable it can be. Heh, actually my predicament reminds me of an episode of a survival show, called Survivor Man, hosted by an expert wilderness survivalist named Les Stroud, I saw a long time ago. He took on a challenge to survive in the Kalahari Desert. Now this guy makes his episodes without a camera crew. He films them with his own camera equipment, and he's alone. I think it was halfway through the episode where he had developed a serious heat related illness, putting his life and show in jeopardy of being permanently severed. And this guy is an expert wilderness survivalist! The Kalahari nearly killed him. Toad and I are just amateur adventurers. I didn't exactly realize the magnitude of the dangers Toad and I are likely going to face. It was more like, lets go to the Kalahari, I said. It'll be fun, I said. I scoff to myself. What the hell did I get us into?! Even though the chances of survival appear to be gravely low for Toad and I, especially right now, I maintain my optimistic spirit, not daring to think we'll be dead by sunset like Toad believes. I roll my eyes. The nervous little grass cupcake is just exaggerating. Relinquishing Toad, I gaze at the sun, which is now positioned a couple hours above the brown colored mountains, squinting my eyelids against the harsh beam of light. I figure meerkat mobs are still out foraging, so there's still a chance we could encounter one before sunset, if we get moving immediately. Despite the burning aches in the muscles throughout my body and the pulsating burning sensation spreading through my left leg, I pull myself to my feet, putting on a poker face. It's going to take more than just heat exhaustion and scorpion venom to strike down this stubborn girl on a meerkat finding mission!

"Screw Death Lobster's venom and its effects! C'mon, buddy, we've got meerkats to find before sunset!" I said with determination, turning my head to see Toad gazing at me with a worried expression.

"A-are you sure you can walk?" Toad inquired worriedly, lifting his right hand in preparation to support me if necessary.

"I can endure. It's just a scratch and the amount of venom that's circulating through my system is just enough to make me feel like I'm drunk, that's all." I said, giving Toad a wave of my left hand for him to dismiss his worries.

As I take a step forward with my right foot, another wave of dizziness ripples through me, causing my vision to teeter-totter, then spin, like I've just been sent on another ride on the spinning wheel of misery. I stagger backwards a couple feet, struggling to maintain my balance.

"M-mamamia, not again!" I stammer in a dazed tone, tripping over my own feet as I turn to try to grab something for support.

My vision is swirling so fast that I can't distinguish what's in my line of vision. I imagine if I were an anime character my hazel irises would be replaced with spirals! I hear what I think is Toad shouting my name, but his voice sounded distorted and echoed eerily, sending a chill up my spine. I feel myself collide into something, actually someone, when I hear a vocalization of surprise, clearly Toad. The next thing I know I'm laying on my stomach making visual contact with Toad entangled in a prickly bush.

"Seriously?!" I whine, remembering the mishap that occurred when I freed Toad from the other prickly bush earlier.

I don't think his poor shirt can take another yank. Another rip and he'll be left in his diaper looking pants, exposing the sensitive skin on his upper body to the Kalahari sun's harsh rays. An adoring grin spreads across my face as an image of Toad without a shirt appears in my mind. Actually he'd look pretty cute without a shirt. He'd look like a precious little man child. The precious image vanishes from my mind when Toad's panicked scream reaches my ears, causing me to jolt in a startled fashion.

"LIZ, HELP!!! I'M BEING EATEN ALIVE BY CARNIVOROUS ANTS!!!" Toad Shrieked, gaining my attention.

I cringe as I watch Toad thrash around wildly, trying to pull himself free from the branches wrapped around his arms and the top of his head. An ache of sympathy spreads through my chest. Poor guy can't seem to catch a break! It just had to be a bush inhabited by a colony of the Kalahari's biting and stinging ants. Dear Heavens, stop torturing us! I don't even think I have the strength to pull him free. I whine in despair. What a hopeless predicament we're in. We are totally screwed. No! I can't think like that! I must free Toad from the bush, even if it means using the last drop of my strength. With a bit of effort, I push myself up, biting my lower lip and inhaling sharply as a burning, pulsating sensation spreads up my left leg from applying weight on it. I start to limp towards Toad, my hazel eyes shifting to the sky, then across the landscape, hoping not to make contact with a predator. I emit a sarcastic scoff. C'mon, predators! I'm so obvious, limping across the open terrain like a wounded antelope! I dare y'all to come fight me!

"AAHH!!! OW!!! OH GARGANTUAN GOOMBAS, THEY'RE IN MY PANTS!!! Please, God, let Elizabeth be awake AND HELP ME!!!" Toad screamed like a girl that just found a spider in her hair, his thrashing escalating to absolute freak out level.

"I'm awake, I'm coming. I can't move that fast with an injured ankle, so lay off you're panic button, or you're African version of Devil's Snare will end up breaking you're neck." I warned, referring to a scene from the first Harry Potter movie.

Toad lessens his squirming to occasional jerks from the biting and stinging ants continuing to assault him, his yelps of pain sending an ache of sympathy through my chest. I quicken my pace, biting my lower lip and squeezing my eyes shut each time I put weight on my left ankle. Just hang in there, buddy, I'm almost there! As the distance between Toad and I lessens to two feet, another dizzy spell develops, causing me to collapse to my hands and knees as my vision greys out. C'mon, body, don't falter on me now. I know the more I move around, the faster the scorpion venom will spread through my bloodstream, making the symptoms worse, but you've gotta resist, for Toad's sake! Feeling my system fill with a sense of restored determination, supplying me with ample strength, I pull myself to my feet and limp over to Toad, frowning in vexation as I get a better view of his bush predicament. It appears three thin branches are wrapped around from Toad's right wrist to the upper part of his forearm in an intertwined fashion, while only one slightly thicker branch is wrapped around his left wrist. It's not going to be easy to remove those. At least they're not adorned with thorns.

"Aaah! Liz, hurry! They're starting to devour me from the bottom up and it's very unpleasant!" Toad cries frantically, drawing my hazel eyes to his widened cobalt ones.

"It's okay, buddy, they're not eating you alive. They're just ants that happen to bite and sting, but I know how to remedy that." Alright, time to massacre a colony of ants.

Shifting my eyes to the ants scurrying up Toad's legs, I lower myself to my knees between his legs and start to brush them off his body with my hands, eliciting a fit of laughter from the grass cupcake as my left hand makes contact with the right side of his torso, removing several ants. Feeling the side of his right foot make strong impact with my left side, jerking me a bit, reminds me that he's 'I'm-not-responsible-for-any-injuries-you-may-sustain-if-you-touch-me-there' ticklish in that area. I smirk boldly, willing to risk a broken rib to prevent Toad from drowning in these terrestrial pests. Using my left hand again, I brush off an ant scurrying along the lower part of Toad's right torso, smashing it the moment it made contact with the ground. I feel Toad's right foot make impact with the left side of my torso again, nearly knocking me over. Once I readjusted myself, I release my fury upon the swarming ants, smashing them at a blurrily fast pace, my arms crossing over each other every now and then. I giggle maniacally, thinking of the game of Whack-O-Mole. Each time the little pests appear above ground, WHAM! That's when you strike. Only I'm an expert at this version. Death to this ant colony in particular! That's what you get for touching Toad with your filthy little pincher things! After removing the remainder of the ants from Toad's pant legs and other areas of his body, I shift my attention to the branches wrapped around his wrists, furrowing my brows in vexation as my eyes make contact with his right wrist. I really don't have the patience to remove them by hand. What if I bite them off?

Toad exhales a sigh of relief, "Oh, thank you so much, Liz. If I had the use of my hands, I'd applaud you for your awesome ant extermination skills."

"You're welcome, bud. Don't worry, I have an idea as to how I'll get your hands free in a jiffy." I reassured, brandishing my incisors as I grin broadly.

Toad's cobalt orbs widen with horror, understanding how I'm going to remove the branches from his wrists.

"You're going to chew them off?! There might be poisonous sap in the branches! In your current condition you'll die!" Toad cries, tugging at the branches wrapped around his wrists as he tries to sit up, only to be pulled back down.

"It's an acacia bush, Toad. It won't kill me." I said, giggling a bit as I position myself on my knees at Toad's right side.

"Well I think this one is trying to kill me! Maybe it's just my imagination, but it feels like the branches around my head and wrists are getting tighter." Toad's eyes then widen again with horrified realization. "Oh God! What if it's a predator disguised as a bush?! Like I tumbled into a nest of... SNAKES!!!" Toad panics and starts thrashing around wildly, screaming incomprehensible words.

I narrow my eyes in exasperation, "Maybe they're tightening because you're flipping out again! Calm down and let me help you out of this predicament before things get worse!"

Toad ceases his squirming and starts taking slow, deep breaths, whispering comforting words to himself. As I'm about to plunge my incisors into the branches wrapped around Toad's right wrist, in my right peripheral vision, I notice the thorns spread along the branches constricting his head are embedded in his mushroom top and I turn my head, raising my left eyebrow in puzzlement when I don't see any blood seeping from the puncture wounds. Strange. Shouldn't there be blood oozing from those wounds? Unless Toads just have really thick skulls or something. I shrug, thinking nothing of it, before I plunge my teeth into one of the branches, gnawing at the wooden material like a rodent. I feel some sap ooze onto my tongue, my face briefly contorting into a look of disgust as a bitter flavor spreads through my taste buds. It's no delectable exotic drink, but I'll at least take a small amount of this source of moisture to alleviate some of my burning thirst. Between chewing through the branches, I spit out some of the bitter sap, spluttering incomprehensible syllables and shaking my head in disgust, not able to take the bitter taste anymore.

"Liz, are you alright?" Toad asked, my gaze shifting to meet his concerned one, probably wondering if the scorpion venom is altering my mind or something

"I'm good. This bush tastes like rotten spinach leaves, yuck!" I replied with a silly grin, then turned my head to spit out more of the slimy sap.

Suddenly, that lightheaded sensation flows through me again, causing things in my line of vision to morph into psychedelic patterns. Upon returning my gaze to Toad, my eyes widen and a sense of horror spreads through my chest as the branches wrapped around his mushroom top appear to be tightening, like an anaconda constricting its prey. I throw myself on my back with a startled yelp and scramble a couple feet away from the awakening bush monster, propping myself up onto my elbows. Holy schnitzel nuggets! The bush is alive?! I shake my head back and forth and squeeze my eyes shut. No, it can't be. Calm down, Liz, it's just a hallucination. My eyes snap open when what sounds like Toad's worried voice, but is kinda distorted like earlier, enters my auditory senses, gasping as a brown, fuzzy looking thing constricting him enters the center of my vision. Collapsing on my back, I put my hands to my mouth as my imagination goes wild. What if we stumbled upon some sort of tribal burial ground and the bush is an African demon spirit thing trying to pull Toad into the underworld of very bad things? I can't let that happen to my precious grass cupcake buddy! Contracting the muscles in my arms and upper body, I volt myself to my feet, like a martial arts movie character recovering from being knocked down, and grab Toad by the ankles, pulling him as hard as my intoxicated body will allow me to, closing my eyes tightly as his distorted agonized scream causes my eardrums to ache.

"Unbranch Toad, you hideous African demon spirit thingy! If you so much as pull one of his fingers into your underworld of awful, terrible, horrible, dismal, very bad things I'll rip all of your branch tentacles off!" I yelled ferociously, shuffling back a couple inches as I feel myself gaining the upper hand in this game of Tug-o-War. Unbelievable! Even the bushes in Africa will try to kill you!

Simultaneously, a snap and pop noise enters my auditory senses and I feel Toad's body collide into mine, my lungs becoming deprived of oxygen as my body makes impact with the ground hard a couple times. While Toad coughs from getting the wind knocked out of him, I'm briefly rendered immobile as intense pain spreads through the muscles of my entire body, making me grit my teeth and squeeze my eyes shut. Once the pain subsides, with a grunt, I shift into an Indian style sitting position, my eyes widening and mouth dropping in disbelief when Toad enters my now clear field of vision. His mushroom top came off, revealing three thick, black vertical strands of hair at the top of his cranium. What the Frackville?! I can't believe this! You mean all this time Toad was wearing a hat?! Wait, maybe it's just another hallucination developing? No. this image is too clear to be a hallucination. But sweet Oreo churros, he looks so...weird! I can't help but to stare at Toad's head, suppressing the urge to laugh at his peculiar looking emoticon baby face. After removing the vine like branches from his wrists, Toad must've caught me staring at him in his peripheral vision because he shifts his gaze to me with his right brow raised in confusion.

"What? Wh-why are you looking at me like that?" Toad questions, his body now stiffening with anxiety as if I've seen a spider crawling on his shoulder.

My lips part, trying to push out words, but my vocal cords produce nothing, not even a whisper escapes my mouth. Seeing Toad without a portion of his hea-I mean mushroom cap- has rendered me speechless. I seriously thought that's where the brain of a Toad is contained, not a small, spherical head with a tuft of hair at the top. Toad doesn't even have a single strand of hair on the rest of his body. An image of a newborn baby in just a diaper with sparkling blue eyes and a tuft of black hair at the top of his head suddenly appears in my mind, making me smack both my hands to my mouth as I let out a muffled squeal of adoration. Ehrmahgerd, Toad actually resembles an oversized newborn baby! Oh God, I feel like this moment of cuteness overload is going to kill me faster than the scorpion venom! Nnnngh, now I wanna run over there, embrace Toad tightly and play with his soft looking tufts of hair!

"What?! What?! Why are you reacting like you just walked into a room full of puppies? Why can't you answer me?!" Toad shouted the latter question, throwing his hands up in the air frantically.

Removing my hands from my mouth, I part my lips again, trying to speak. C'mon you stupid vocal cords work! What ends up emitting from my mouth is a sound similar to that from the movie The Grudge, followed by a string of saliva that descends to the ground. My right eye twitches with disgust and I wipe my mouth on my left arm, smearing the glob of saliva across the sleeve of my shirt. Gross! Feeling more saliva bubbling up at the front of my mouth, threatening to seep through my lips, a sense of horror spreads through my chest, remembering that increased salivation is a symptom of severe scorpion envenomation, along with sweating, nausea and vomiting, which I'm already experiencing. That just leaves muscle twitching and convulsions...A chill ascends my spine as an image of me convulsing violently like my soul has been possessed appears in my mind, my hands covering my mouth not only to staunch the saliva but to suppress a horrified scream building up in my throat as well. Dear Lord, please don't let me decline to that point. Welp, so much for trusting my instincts. The scorpion envenomation is worse than what they told me. I feel like a rabid animal that's about to experience a horribly painful death as my mouth is now frothing, changing Toad's expression of shock to an expression of fear.

"L-Liz, what's happening to you? Please tell me the scorpion venom isn't turning you into a flesh eating zombie." Toad gasps, shifting his body through the sand away from me, placing his left arm a couple inches from his mushroom hat still attached to the thorny branches.

Not wanting to open my mouth and slobber all over my already dirty clothes, I shake my head back and fourth, replying with an "Nnn nnn!" as a way of saying "No." Then I point twice at the left side of my head with my left index finger, closed mouth grunting "You're hat!" to emphasize the mishap in his attire. I doubt he'll understand.

"Wh-what?! I-I don't...Oh God! The scorpion venom must be starting to liquidize her brain!" Toad cries with his eyes wide with horror, putting his hands to his mouth.  

"No! You're hat!" I suddenly blurt out while pointing at Toad's mushroom top again with my left index finger, saliva spraying from my mouth, causing my face to distort in disgust. Yuck!  

Furrowing his eyebrow-less eyes in confusion, Toad replies, "My wh-" as his cobalt orbs follow the direction I'm pointing in, screaming in horror when they make contact with his mushroom cap.

"OH-NO!!!" Toad screamed, turning his body towards his mushroom cap and covering his face with both his hands in embarrassment. "I can't believe this happened again!"

I blink twice and tilt my head to the left curiously, "Again? You mean this has happened before?"

"Yes!" Toad confesses, quickly turning around and coming up to me to grab the collar of my shirt with both his hands, causing me to grit my teeth and grunt as my body jerks from the force of the grab, sending pain through my muscles.

A stern expression forms on Toad's face, "It happened when I was on that expedition to Shifting Sand Land with Kolorado and Goombario. Only they know about this. No one else does, not even Mario, Luigi or Princess Peach. So if we ever make it back to the Mushroom Kingdom alive, I want you to promise me you'll never tell them about this, okay?!"

My eyes widen in disbelief. Wow, I can't believe that after all the years he spent with the Mario Crew, Toad never told them that his mushroom cap is actually a hat. Of course I can clearly understand why, he looks like a toddler you'd want to dote over, stripping him of his tiny but destructive reputation when it comes to defending Princess Peach from enemies. But at the same time I wonder how the Mario crew would react if they ever found out about Toad's adorable secret. Princess Peach probably wouldn't take him seriously as a bodyguard anymore and treat him like a child, smothering him with affection and try to shield him from the dangers of the Mushroom Kingdom. The Mario Brothers would probably ridicule him for how infantile he looks. My eyes widen and an impish grin spreads across my face. Nnnngh, please Heavenly spirits let us return to the Mushroom Kingdom alive because the desire to see the Mario Crew's reactions to hat-less Toad is now killing me!

"Please, Liz, promise me you'll never tell them! Promise me, promise me!" Toad pleads, shaking me at the end of his sentence to express how serious he is, causing me to grunt in discomfort as the force of his action sends another wave of pain through my muscles. "Mario could blab it out to everybody and I'd become the laughing stock of the entire Mushroom Kingdom. My reputation could be ruined!"

"But you're so cute!" I cooed, ruffling the three tufts of hair on his head affectionately with my left hand.

"Stop it!" Toad shouted angrily, swatting my left hand away with his right hand. "You know I hate being called cute!" He added, crossing his arms with a pout that makes me giggle with delight.

"I'm sorry, actually I'm not sorry for admiring how soft your hair is." I complimented, swiftly running the fingers of my left hand through Toad's hair, then quickly pinched his cheeks with the index, middle and thumb fingers of both my hands, "how adorable your chubby, baby face cheeks are."

"Cut it out!" Toad demanded, swatting both my hands away with both of his hands. "Don't treat me like a child!"

I gasp excitedly as I'm struck with an idea, "We should totally stylize your hair!"

Toad opens his mouth to likely protest, but I cut him off when I grab clumps of his hair with both my hands, forming it into the style of Bowser's hair, giving his adorable scowling babyface a deceiving appearance. I let a squeal of delight escape from my mouth.

"You'd look so badass with Bowser's hair style!" I exclaimed, then giggled when an image of Bowser with his mouth agape and right eyebrow raised in shock and disbelief appears in my mind. "Can you just imagine how Bowser would react if he ever saw you sporting his hair style? He'd be like 'What the F?!'"

Bowser may be a vile poo poo head capable of committing heinous acts, but hey, he's got an awesome hair style that could start a trend.

"Hell no! I refuse to copy that hideous beast's hair style, NOW STOP TOUCHING MY HAIR!!!" Toad furiously screamed, smacking both my hands away with both of his again.

"C'mon, let me touch it just one more time." I plead as I reach over with my left hand, touching the tip of one of the tufts of hair with my index and middle finger.

"NO!!!" Toad yelled fiercely, smacking my left hand away with his right hand again. "Liz, I swear to the Heavenly spirits if you touch my hair again I'll have to restrain you in a not so pleasant way..." He added with a dark, low tone to his voice that was tainted with danger.

The ominous death glare formed on Toad's face sends chills rippling up my spine but I decide not to heed his warning, slapping his left hand away with my right hand when he tries to defend his precious hair.

An infuriated growl erupts from Toad's throat, "That's it! I'm killing you before the scorpion venom does!"

Emitting a battle caterwaul, Toad grasps my left arm with both his hands at the striking speed of a puff adder, yanking my shoulder out of its socket, which causes me to yelp at the resulting pain, as I feel myself being lifted off the ground, my eyes widening and gasping as sand enters my field of vision. I squeeze my eyes shut tightly and grit my teeth, bracing myself for impact. I'm about to get my facial orifices full of sand in three, two, o--

"Ungh!" I involuntarily grunt as I felt my back make impact with the ground, hard, rendering my body paralyzed from the excruciating pain radiating through my torso, my eyes still squeezed shut and jaw still clenched.

Toad used Body Slam! And man was it super effective! Curse that deceivingly cute face of his! I swear someday it'll be the death of me if I keep underestimating him like this!

"Augh! My organs!" I strain, struggling to regain the oxygen knocked out of my lungs, my body stiffening from the immense pain radiating up and down my torso.

Feeling a weight on my lower abdomen, my hazel orbs open to see Toad straddling me, grabbing both my wrists, maybe thinking I was going to retaliate by grabbing his precious locks or something, and pinning them crossed against my chest, applying so much pressure I fear the bones in my wrists may snap at any minute.

"Ahahow! Uncle! UNCLE!!" I cry in surrender, squirming as I felt Toad applying so much of his body weight that it causes the upper part of my body to sink into the sand.

A sense of horror spreads through my system as I feel the lightheadedness returning, this time causing my vision to blur and tunnel. Oh God. I think this is it. I think I'm starting to succumb to the scorpion venom! The muscles throughout my body grow heavy as I feel the last of my strength fading away, rendering my arms limp in Toad's grasp. N-no! Please let me not be dyeing! As I shift my half lidded orbs to the sky, a large, dark brown fuzzy splotch soaring above us enters the center of my psychedelic vision. What's that? Could it be an angle coming to guide me up to Heaven?

End Chapter 5
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