Thanking the evil rabbit, they took off down the trail and, at the curve, plunged into the trees. Anders shouted for MacPherson as they ran, a call that went unanswered. What’s worse, he detected movement in the corner of his eye. 30 or so meters to their left, an elongated dark shape kept pace with them, slithering and crawling, flashing and fluttering, fluid and light like a hypnotic kite tail.
It’s only a couple hundred meters to the bungalow. Anders could run faster, but he knew Eirik couldn’t. Not unless he ditched the mortified panda cub. We might make it even without green things or a manatee.
Panting, Eirik started falling behind. “There’s no river around here. If MacPherson is a literal manatee…”
Anders cringed. I know.
A familiar giant parrot dropped from the canopy and landed in their path. Anders stopped short and Eirik slammed into his back, nearly toppling them both.
The egg-shell white parrot was more impressive up close. The crown of its head reached Anders’ chin easily. Bowing its head, the bird pulled a pale green cake of wet cardboard from under a wing. This, it extended to Anders.
Taking it, Anders’ eyes widened. The green tea box, or what’s left of it. He met the bird’s incredible blue stare. It made the rabbit’s door cough up the box. “I – thank you. Thank you!”
Their monstrous pursuer had stopped as well. It floated down against the earth, conforming to it like a stingray made of oil, watching.
Alfred isn’t coming any closer. The box didn’t stop him before… Maybe it’s the parrot. Maybe Alfred doesn’t like the herald. He nodded, allowing himself to feel relieved. “You think we can skip the next unnatural disaster?”
The parrot blinked, slowly. “Watch out for the idiot behind me.”
Frowning, Anders and Eirik leaned opposite ways to look past it. There was no one there.
It added, “I brake for trees.”
“You brake for -.” Anders blinked. It’s quoting the Land Rover’s bumper stickers. “You’ve seen my truck? You’ve been watching us?”
“Or watching out for us,” said Eirik.
“Or it likes my car.”
Eirik blinked. “And it can read.”
Abruptly, the parrot hissed like a rabid gas leak, beating wings that’d put a glider to shame. To their left, Alfred shimmied up a tall pine. An odd, hollow rumble disturbed the stillness.
The panda snorted in alarm. Searching for what might scare the bear, Eirik did a double take over his shoulder. “Nature!”
Behind them, a raging dark brown tsunami-like flood gushed through the forest with astonishing speed and power. There was no time to run.
Alfred had the right idea. “We’ve gotta climb!” cried Anders. “Now!”
Most branches were too high. Spotting a good candidate, Anders performed a skilled running start, stepped off the trunk and grabbed a relatively low branch, pulling himself over. Once up, he reached down and was tossed the cub.
Pausing, Eirik looked back.
Adrenaline rose in Anders’ chest. “Let’s go!” Hand extended down, he realized, even as Eirik’s running start commenced, the massive wave would close its distance first.
Sweeping down, the parrot snatched Eirik up by the arms, wings pounding the air in great bursts, just as the wave smashed past the trees. The bird dropped its burden awkwardly on a branch in the next tree, and then perched a few branches above.
Anders and Eirik exchanged surprised stares from separate trees. That’s when they noticed steam rising from the frothing torrent below. And a distinct aroma permeated the air. They looked down.
No way. “It’s coffee.”
Eirik laughed, which made Anders smile slightly despite the panda which had latched on to his neck, painfully.
The parrot sounded off like an alarm. “Listen more than you taaaaalk!”
In instant response, a jolly voice boomed from the forest below. “Balderdash! I don’t listen to anyone! Oho, who’s there?”
A manatee drifted through the trees like a low-flying blimp. The flood actively fled from the hovering mammal. Within minutes the coffee had completely receded to parts unknown.
The manatee suddenly flinched. “STOP FOLLOWING ME!” It turned ’round like a tug boat with a broken rudder. “Oh, there’s nothing there.”
Eirik stared, amazed.
We found him. Yes! Anders cleared his throat. “MacPherson?”
“Who’s there?” The manatee looked up. “Hello, sir. Do I know you?”
“I’m Nana Ana’s grandson.”
“Ah, yes, indeed. Come down from there and let me have a look – gently. Careful, don’t fall. There now, let me look at you.”
Boots back on the ground, the men stood before the airborne manatee, and their malicious pursuer was nowhere in sight.
“Her grandson,” said MacPherson. “It’s Anders, correct? She mentioned you. Said you’d be by. Your compass is sniveling – they’re typically so hardy – what frightened it?”
“Rabbits and coffee.” Anders smiled broadly. We’re gonna make it.
“You mean squirrels.”
He pulled a face. “No. Rabbits and coffee.”
“Squirrels are – I HAVE PROBLEMS, TOO, FUZZBALL!” MacPherson glanced up and down the nearest tree as though expecting something to happen, and then carried on when nothing did. “They’re terrible little delinquents.”
Confused, Anders and Eirik wore identical scowls.
The jovial manatee patiently listened to a recounting of recent events and their plight, and eagerly agreed to guide Nana’s boys through the steaming, coffee-scented wood. A short walk later led to a break in the trees and a stone fence. They heard it before they saw it. Lazy, lapping waves and the unmistakable rustle of palm fronds.
[next, the conclusion]