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Authors: Jacqueline Kelly

Skunked!

BOOK: Skunked!
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For animal lovers everywhere

1

None of the terrible things that happened need have happened at all if the skunk hadn't drawn attention to itself by ripping up our garden and stealing a bunch of vegetables. And if Father hadn't told the hired man to set a trap and kill it. And if the skunk hadn't turned out to be a mother with a baby hidden in a den nearby. And if my younger brother Travis hadn't heard the hungry baby crying and stopped to investigate.

But this unfortunate chain of events did occur, with Travis winding up in disgrace and a hero at the exact same time.

You may wonder how one boy, age eleven and a half, could end up both heroic and disgraced on the same day. Well, I'm going to tell you about it, and it's all true. There may be some people in our town of Fentress, Texas, who suspect me of stretching the truth from time to time, but I swear this is not one of those times.

In 1901 we lived in a big white house near the San Marcos River: me, Mother, Father, Granddaddy, and a total of six brothers. How I got stuck in this big old mess of boys I'll never know. Life is just not fair sometimes. Rivers tend to attract wildlife, so living near a river is an excellent thing if you happen to be interested in such. Travis and I were both interested in wildlife but for different reasons. I was interested because Granddaddy was teaching me Science. Together we studied all kinds of life, wild and tame, big and small, flora and fauna (meaning both plants and animals). Travis, on the other hand, was crazy about animals as pets. He was always bringing home some wild creature or other, determined to make it his pet. He persisted in doing this even when the creature was just as determined to
not
be his pet.

One fine day in May, he went down to the river. On the way he heard a strange noise unlike anything he'd ever heard before. The noise was like a squeak and a hiss and a grumble all mixed up together.

“Hello?” he said. “Who's there?”

The noise stopped. Some other boy might have been scared, but Travis knew these woods and was not afraid. He stood very still. Then he heard the noise again. It was coming from a hollow tree. He peered inside and saw a tiny animal looking up at him.

“A kitten! How'd you get stuck in there? Don't worry. I'll get you out, and then I'll help you look for your mama.”

Travis reached in. He gently pulled the kitten out. Except that the warm furry body curled in his palm wasn't a kitten. It was a kit. Also known as a baby skunk.

2

Travis nearly dropped the kit in shock. But he knew that skunks spray only when they are scared or upset, so he stood very still and made no sound. He and the kit stared at each other. The baby had shiny black eyes, two white stripes down its back, and a fluffy tail. It sniffed his hand and tried to nibble his thumb.

“Poor little guy, I guess you're hungry. Where's your mama? We better find her.” He explored the surrounding woods for a while, but there was no sign of her.

Finally he said, “I guess I have to take you home with me. Your mama's not going to be happy, and my mama's not going to be happy, either. She doesn't like it when I bring wild animals home, although I don't see anything wrong with it myself. I'll have to hide you somewhere or she'll pitch a fit.”

The kit began to squirm and grumble, so Travis tucked it into the bib of his overalls, where it settled right down. (It's a cruel world for orphaned skunks unless they have the great good fortune of meeting my brother.)

“All right, let's get you to your new home.”

The kit stayed quiet while Travis fretted about hiding it from Mother.

“I guess you'll have to live in the chicken coop.” He thought about this for a minute. “I suspect the chickens won't like that. They're really fussy. You won't believe the racket they make when someone goes in their pen, even to feed them. And I can't put you in the root cellar. Our cook, Viola, goes in there all the time to fetch potatoes. So I guess it's the barn for you, my friend.”

If the kit had any thoughts about this, he kept them to himself.

Travis sneaked into the barn. He hurried past the horses and the milk cow and the barn cats to the farthest corner, where he kept his tame rabbits. It was dark and gloomy back there, and a new addition to the family would be less likely to be noticed. He hoped.

He spoke to his prizewinning Angora rabbit. “Bunny, I want you to meet your new friend.”

He held the skunk up to Bunny's cage. Bunny's nose twitched once; the kit's nose twitched once. And then they ignored each other. So much for new friends.

Viola rang the dinner bell on the back porch. Travis shoved the kit into the empty cage next to Bunny's, saying, “Mother gets upset if we're late to the table. After we eat, I'll bring you your dinner, once I figure out what that is, of course.”

He hurried inside and took his place next to me at the long table crammed with hungry brothers. After the blessing, he whispered, “Say, Callie, what do skunks eat?”

I gave him a wary look. “Why do you ask?”

“Um, no reason. I'm just curious.” He went back to eating his ham and potatoes and pretended not to notice that I was now staring at him in alarm.

“Travis,” I hissed, “tell me you didn't.”

BOOK: Skunked!
8.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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