“Our esteemed guests have arrived,” Ninja Harine said, leading in Whitey the Cat, Rebecca Racoon, and Polly Opossum.
“Excellent,” Zack said, still donning his dapper hat and bubble pipe from earlier in the day, which he had recently refilled with bubble fluid, much to Chloe’s dismay. “Please, come over to the planning table.”
“Do you know what might have been behind the attack on the castle last night?” Mariana asked.
“We have an idea,” Rebecca said. “There have been odd reports in the woods this past week, and odd activity.”
“They keep to the shadows,” Whitey said, “but we hear them. Mostly, it’s the awful howling at night. They’ve driven Ollie Owl and the Owl contingency into retreat.” Whitey paused, his green eyes downcast. “I’ve been so scared that we’ve been sleeping in the bed of your daddy’s pickup truck, Zack and Chloe, and a few others have joined us.”
“Uh no, you know daddy drives it to work once a week!” Zack said.
“I know. I hear your parronts come out when they leave for work in the mornings, and I move.”
“They won’t care if you sleep there, or anywhere else around the house,” Chloe said.
“You’re welcome to take refuge here as well,” Felix said, “if it helps.”
“I’m not sure if anything outside is safe these days,” Rebecca said. “Between the hunting districts being expanded this direction and that strange accident last week, we thing there may be more than one threat.”
“We read about this accident,” Sunny said. “Something about a truck crash that was transporting chickens?”
“Chicken the driver!” Polly said, her eyes rolling in opposite directions. Everybody stared at her. Finally, Chloe cleared her throat.
“Honey, are you alright?” Chloe asked.
“You can love me and pet me and call me George!” Polly said.
Jinx’s cheeks puffed, while Sassy and Morty’s faces brightened in amusement at watching Jinx trying not to laugh.
“Is she alright?” Marianna asked.
“I apologize,” Rebecca said, “I thought you knew. Polly took a hit to the head when she fell out of a delivery truck that she was scavenging.”
“Ok,” Zack said.
“It was delivering to the mental hospital,” Rebecca continued, “and it took us a month to find her and rescue her.”
“Rescue her?” Morty asked. “Why?”
“Do you see what they did to her?” Rebecca said.
“Point taken,” Sassy said. “Seriously, what happened there?”
“One of the patients thought she was their pet cat, George.”
“Oh,” the girls murmured.
“I am so glad I’m in a tank!” Felix said.
“I’ve been rehabilitated!” Polly said. “My behavior is all modified. I’m a good cat!”
“Sweetheart, I wouldn’t tell anybody else that,” Chloe said.
Jinx did laugh that time, as Zack’s pipe blew forth a stream of bubbles.
Whitey smacked Polly on the back, causing her eyes to roll around to normal. “Tell them what you heard there!”
“Jesus is coming and all of us good folks will be raptured! Satan is breaking forth from hell!”
“Not that, the other thing,” Rebecca said, sighing.
Polly thought. “Oh yes, the truck that crashed. There was a chicken driving it.”
“Excuse me?” Sunny asked.
“You know,” Polly said, “Chicken the driver! The chicken took the wheel and wrecked the truck. I saw it with my own eyes! It was right outside of the facility.”
“Of course, chicken the driver,” Jinx said.
“How reliable is this testimony?” Jeff Musk asked.
“Pretty good, actually,” Rebecca said, “because I saw it too. We were scouting the facility for a rescue mission. I couldn’t believe it but there were, indeed, chickens in the cab of the truck.”
“And then they got out of the back of the truck,” Whitey said. “They broke free. Now they’re all over the woods.”
“I can hardly blame them,” Ninja Harine said, “considering that their fate would have been considerably worse if they had made it to the slaughterhouse.”
“The problem is that the bears started chasing the chickens,” Polly said. “They came out in their packs, growling and howling. Those eyes! Glowing yellow. They were horrible!”
Chloe blinked. “Sweetheart, bears don’t travel in packs, or have yellow, glowing eyes.”
Polly stared at Chloe, her now straight eyes narrow. “And how would you know, smarty pants-feathers?”
“I lived in an aviary in the mountains for seven years,” Chloe said, “and I saw plenty of bears. They travel alone, mostly, and they won’t growl or announce their presence unless they feel threatened.”
“Besides that, we live nearly two hundred miles from the mountains,” Morty said. “There aren’t any bears here, and if one wanders this far inland, it’s usually captured by natural resourses pretty fast.”
“Polly, can you draw us a picture of one of these pack animals?” Jeff Musk asked.
“Sure thing,” Polly said, taking up a pencil and setting to work on a white sheet of paper on the table. The rest of the anipals drew away to allow Polly to work in peace while they talked.
“So now we know part of this mystery,” Ninja Harine said, “the eggs were from the chickens. But that’s not what I was chasing last night. It was definitely on four legs.”
“And too short to be a bear, even if one wandered this far inland,” Jinx said. “I think it’s obvious that when the chickens escaped, they drew the attention of a predator. What do you think it could be? Dogs, maybe? I’ve heard of dogs attacking chickens.”
“That was no dog howling that we’ve been hearing in the woods,” Whitey said. “Plus, I know every dog in the area. They’re all very domesticated and quite friendly.”
“Then what?” Mariana asked.
“This!” Polly said, holding up the picture. Everybody gasped.
“Coyotes,” Morty said, her eyes narrowing. “We suspected that.”
“That’s a very good drawing, Polly,” Chloe said, “you’re quite a talented artist.”
Polly smiled at the detailed drawing, complete with appropriate shadowing and trees in the background. “Thank you. I do like art.”
“We can’t allow coyotes to settle this close to anipal land,” Jinx said. “They’re some of the worst natural predators to every species here, and the wild ones on our borders. What can we do? We can’t defeat them in open battle.”
“They’ll tear us apart like chew toys,” Ninja Harine.
Jeff Musk thought. “You’re right. They would. However, they aren’t from around here, and that ignorance may work to our advantage to open up a unique negotiation situation.”
“What do you mean?” Zack asked.
Jeff Musk smiled, pointing at Zack’s bubble pipe. “I mean, do you think you can find us more goodies in your grandparents attic and storage sheds?”
Felix bubbled. “I think this may shape up to be our most interesting first contact encounter ever!”