Animal Kingdom

My mother named me Maggie, because of the magpies. Mom had crows, and Dad had ravens. My grandma had nutcrackers. We were all birds in the same family.  

My magpie showed up when I was born. Everyone’s animal came to them when they were born. Mom kept the bird in my nursery with me, in a cage near my crib. She kept her crow Cora in the house, and Dad had Twilla, his raven. I would always fall asleep and wake up every morning to the magpie’s singing. When I was old enough to know words, I named her Strawberry because that was her favorite food.

My best friend’s name was Lucy Dove, and she had a deer. It was a big soft brown buck with huge beautiful antlers and white patches on his chest and legs. He had kind eyes and a gentle constitution, just like Lucy. She named him George. She would ride him to school a lot, holding onto his neck while he ran, and sometimes she would let me ride with her. Strawberry would fly above us. On our way we would see Steven, the boy I had a crush on, riding his bear. It was a fluffy brown bear named Ursula. Steven and Ursula would pull up next to us and grin, and we would race the rest of the way. Strawberry would always win, and she would laugh at us from the sky, caw caw caw.

On a bright, sunny day, Lucy picked me up for school, perched on George’s back. Steven was with her astride Ursula. A little black-and-white feathered body followed me and hopped around my feet when I walked out of the house, and I bent down to pick up Strawberry and sit her on my shoulder. She twittered in my ear, and I whistled back at her.

“Hey, girl!” Lucy waved. She and George were standing in my driveway, next to my Dad’s car. One of George’s antlers was dangerously close to the car. “Did you study for the test?”

I sighed. “No. Did you?”

She shook her head. “Nope.”

“I did,” Steven said, and Lucy and I both rolled our eyes.

“That’s because you’re a big ol’ nerd,” Lucy said. “George agrees.” The deer made a sound, and Lucy nodded with a smug smile.

“Aw, be nice.” I reached out my hand to pet George, who bowed his head, and then Ursula. The bear licked my hand expectantly. Grinning, I reached into my backpack and brought out my paper bag lunch. I took out the small container of honey-soaked graham crackers and fed one to Ursula. Strawberry flew down to the ground to pick at the crumbs, and then she flew up and perched on top of Ursula’s head. “Do you think Mr. Loeb will give us extra credit if we ask nice enough? Or if we all tank it?”

“Steven’s gonna ace it, and if one person aces it, he won’t give the whole class extra credit,” Lucy said, eyeballing Steven, and he shook his head.

“I’m not gonna fail on purpose,” he said. I pouted at him.

“Not even for me?” I asked, and he blushed. I put my lunch back in my bag and hopped onto Ursula’s back with Steven, and I turned his head to the side and kissed him. Lucy giggled. Ursula made a huffing sound through her nose. George tilted his antlers and blinked.

“He’ll get suspicious if I fail it,” Steven said a little breathlessly when I pulled away, and I sighed and gave Lucy an apologetic look.

“I tried,” I said, and she laughed. Steven rolled his eyes, but he smiled when I wrapped my arms around his waist and leaned my head against his back. I held onto him as we rode to school, Strawberry flying above us.

“Hey, did you guys hear about the new kid?” Lucy asked as she and George trotted along beside us. “I heard from Isabelle that we’re getting a new kid. He’s from some small town that nobody’s ever heard of.”

“I didn’t hear anything,” I said, and Steven shook his head. Lucy grinned, eyes bright.

“I heard he’s hot,” she said. Steven rolled his eyes, and I laughed. When we got to school (Strawberry got there first), we dismounted and let George and Ursula wander the grounds. There were other animals meandering around – I recognized my friend Devin’s giant tortoise, my teacher Mr. Applebee’s otter splashing in the pond. There was Isabelle Martin’s peacock, and Mrs. Mahoney’s lioness. Some of the smaller animals were allowed inside, as long as they didn’t make a mess and they weren’t disruptive. But that always depended on the person. Jackson Foley had a fox, and since Jackson was always getting in fights, his fox was always going around biting people. Thrasher (the fox) had to stay outside now.

“Do you guys see a new one anywhere?” Lucy asked, her eyes darting across the school grounds in search of any animals we hadn’t seen before. I held Steven’s hand and shook my head. Strawberry made herself comfortable in my sweatshirt pocket.

“I don’t see anything,” I said.

“Me either,” Steven said.

“Maybe it’s small and it’s inside already, then,” Lucy said, jumpy with anticipation. “I can’t wait to see what he looks like.”

The new kid, as it turned out, was in Mr. Loeb’s class with us. His name was Tyler Young. Mr. Loeb made him stand up and introduce himself.

“What’s your animal?” someone asked after Tyler stood up. He grinned and pointed towards the ceiling.

“She’s on the roof.”

“What is it?” Lucy asked, batting her eyelashes.

Tyler paused for dramatic effect and then said, “She’s a dragon.”

For a second there was silence, and then we all laughed. Even Mr. Loeb cracked a smile.

“That’s very funny, Mr. Young. Now, if you’d please take your seat.” Tyler grinned and moved to his seat.

After school, we saw Tyler in the parking lot, a big lizard lumbering along next to him. It was a komodo dragon. Steven, Lucy and I grinned at each other and shook our heads. We raced home, and Strawberry won again, laughing at us from the sky.


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