by Kathy Sattem Rygg
Cheet waltzed into the Serengeti School for Land Animals on the first day excited and full of confidence. He had watched his two older brothers go through school and had waited two years for his turn. The day had finally arrived.
He spotted a couple familiar faces hanging out in the shade of an Acacia tree. “What’s up, G? Hey, Leo. Have they started yet?”
The giraffe and the lion shook their heads. “We’re just waiting for Big E and Z-Dawg to get here,” said Leo. “Here they come.”
A medium-sized elephant and stocky zebra strutted over.
“Good to see ya’ Cheet,” Big E said. “How was your summer vacation?”
“Hot and dry. I can’t wait for the rainy season,” the cheetah said.
The elephant nodded. “No kidding. I’d give anything for a trunk full of water so I can shower off. I’ve got dust in places I can’t even reach.”
“Hey, Cheet, are the rumors true?” the zebra asked. “Did you really outrun a pronghorn antelope? My brother heard from a wildebeest who heard from a hyena who heard from a hippo whose not even from around here. Word travelled all around the Serengeti.”
The cheetah grinned. “It sure is, Z-Dawg. The race was close, but I pulled it out in the end.”
“Oh, man. I would have loved to have seen that,” Big E said.
“Oh, please. Anyone can beat a pronghorn.” The animals all looked in the direction of the voice, which came from above. A large, brown fluffy bird sat in one of the lower branches.
“What are you doing here, eagle?” the lion asked, flicking his black-tipped tail.
“The same as you. Waiting for school to start.”
“I hate to tell you this, but you’re in the wrong place,” Cheet said. “This is the school for land animals. Flight school is across the ravine.”
“Then how come there’s a group of ostrich over there?” the eagle asked, nodding with its pointy beak.
“Ostrich are the only birds that can’t fly, so they attend school with us,” the giraffe said.
“Well, the flight school is full. The incoming class of Crested Cranes is huge, so they moved all the African Eagles here. What’s the matter, are you afraid to race a bird?” The eagle cawed.
“Course not,” said Cheet, puffing out his chest. “I’ll race anyone, anytime, anywhere.”
“Care to put a wager on that?” said the eagle.
Cheet glanced at the other animals. Big E shook his head as a warning not to take the bet, but the cheetah ignored it. “You’re on. What’s at stake?”
“If I win the race, you have to bring me lunch for the rest of the school year.”
Cheet’s eyes grew wide. Food was hard enough to come by during a drought, let alone have to find enough for two of them. “And if I win?” he asked.
“Then I give you something no other cheetah in the history of the Savannah has ever had.”
Cheet liked the sound of that. “It’s a deal. We’ll meet at the dried-up wading pool after school.” The cheetah and his friends left for their first lesson.
“Dude, what were you thinking?” The giraffe whispered. “You can’t beat a bird, especially not an eagle!”
“Why not? My top speed is 70 miles per hour. There’s no way a small eagle can fly that fast.”
“My brother heard from a giraffe who heard from a buffalo who heard from a crocodile across the river about an eagle that flew faster than one of those metal whirly birds you see zooming through the sky,” said Z-Dawg.
“I can handle it,” Cheet said, but he couldn’t shake the nervous feeling he had the rest of the day.
By the time school was out, word had traveled fast, and all the land animals headed for the dried-up wading pool to watch the race. Cheet’s stomach fluttered when he saw the entire flight school perched on tree branches overhead. They ruffled their feathers and squawked at Cheet and his friends.
“Pay no attention to those bird-brains,” Leo growled. “Just focus on the race.”
Cheet paced back and forth until the eagle finally showed up. “First one to reach the ravine wins,” he said. The eagle nodded, hopping up and down.
The crowd cheered for their favorite contender.
“Eagle is regal!” the birds chirped.
“You can’t beat Cheet!” the land animals shouted back.
A black and white ostrich stood beside the two racers. “Since I am neutral, belonging to both the birds and the land animals, I will judge the race. Runners, take your stance.”
Cheet crouched low while the eagle spread his wings on a branch above.
“On your mark, get set, GO!” The ostrich waved a giant wing in the air, and the runners were off!
Cheet leapt forward, sprinting at full speed from the second his feet started running. Directly overhead he heard the flap of wings and saw the eagle’s shadow beside him in the bright Serengeti afternoon sun. The race was a sprint, so Cheet knew he had to go full force the entire time. But sprinting was his specialty.
At the half-way mark, Cheet glanced up toward the sky, but he didn’t see the eagle. Where did he go? The sounds of the cheering crowd faded in the distance. Cheet wondered if he was still going in the right direction. This had to be the way to the ravine. Did he somehow manage to get off course?
Cheet turned to look over his shoulder, and when he turned back, a small Acacia tree stood in his way. Going too fast to stop, the cheetah had no choice but to run up the trunk of the tree. When he reached the top, the branches bent down underneath the animal’s weight. Cheet crouched and jumped. As his weight lifted, the tree branches sprung up, propelling him forward into the air.
Cheet sailed through the sky like he was flying! He looked to his right and saw a very surprised eagle soaring beside him.
“Holy crow! You’re flying!” the eagle cried.
The two animals descended side-by-side. Cheet crashed into the shallow ravine, and the eagle landed on a rock next to him.
“It’s a tie!” the ostrich yelled, scurrying up from behind. The entire herd of land animals and flock of birds joined them, cheering for both Cheet and the eagle.
“Nice race,” the eagle said.
“You, too,” said Cheet, his tongue hanging out of this mouth. “I guess we both won. I’ll help you get your lunches. Land animals have some good tricks.”
“And I owe you something no cheetah has ever had.” The eagle flew off and returned a few minutes later with four large, red objects hanging around its neck. He dropped them on the ground in front of Cheet.
“Whoa, what are those?” Cheet asked.
“Running shoes. I snagged them from a campground. I thought they’d make good nests, but they’re a little stiff. Somebody should break them in.” The eagle smiled.
“Wow, these are great. But I’ve never heard of an animal wearing running shoes before.”
“My brother said he heard from an impala who heard from a lizard who heard from a meerkat in the Sahara Dessert that some dogs and cats wear shoes, sweaters, and even coats in cold weather,” said Z-Dawg.
“Besides,” said Big E, “everyone knows a brand new pair of shoes always makes you run faster!”
1. What was the eagle doing at the Serengeti School for Land Animals?
2. What would Cheet have to do for the eagle if he lost the race?
3. Who judged the race?
4. Who won the race?
5. What did Eagle have for Cheet?