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THE GREATEST RACE


By A. Lawati

Illustrated by Elizabeth Arnold


Cover by Loraine van Tonder

Edited by Veronica Castle


Published by

Crimson Cloak Publishing

All Rights Reserved


This book is a work of Fiction. Names, characters, events or locations are fictitious or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons or events, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

This book is licensed for private, individual entertainment only. The book contained herein constitutes a copyrighted work and may not be reproduced, stored in or introduced into an information retrieval system or transmitted in any form by ANY means (electrical, mechanical, photographic, audio recording or otherwise) for any reason (excepting the uses permitted by the licensee by copyright law under terms of fair use) without the specific written permission of the author.


Library reference details


~o~


The path to publication for this book has been a long one. But I did not walk this path alone. Along the way, many people both younger and older inspired me. I would like to thank them all and some by mention due to their extraordinary contributions:


Usman Lakhani
Saleem Islam
Asma Qayyum
Brian Henry
DL Wright
Ricky Garry
Sharmeen Hussain
Saba Sulaiman


The Society Of Children's Book Writers And Illustrators.


Local 113 and my Union Co - workers.


All the children in my family for their invaluable support especially:
Ahsan Al Lawati, Noah Lakhani, Sarah, Aliya and Amal Hashim, Mohammad
Abbas and Zayna Husain.


Mehnaaz Al Lawati who is my role model.


Syed Ali Ahmed for believing in me.


J.K Rowling for inspiring me and for being a great teacher.


Ernest Hemingway for helping me out of writer's block.


Last but certainly not least to Carly McCracken for believing in The Greatest Race.
Thanks Carly.


~~o~~

Chapter One:
Meerza

Winter had arrived early and with a vengeance in Yosemite National Park. A wave of cold mountain air had caused temperatures to plummet overnight to well below freezing. In the winter, most animals in Yosemite liked to take it easy. Meerza, the aging tortoise, had hoped to hide under his old shell and enjoy a long snooze, but he knew these were trying times for everyone. Usually, as winter approached, all the animals would go further into the dense heart of the park to look for food and better shelter. But this time, many were unprepared for the early arrival of the cold; they moved quickly and had no time to gather food supplies. Food became scarce. So the adults of the community ventured out to look for food—everyone but Meerza, trusted and admired by all, who was left to look after the young ones in his cave home.

Meerza raised his big head and wide, wrinkled face. With his round, black eyes, he surveyed the younglings and said: “Well, let’s see, whom do we have here?”

Meerza looked across to the eager faces filled with hope and anticipation. There were the brown and grey rabbit quadruplets, the garter snake siblings, the black-and-white crowned sparrow twins, the dark brown alligator lizard triplets, the black field mice twins, and the red fox cub with a streak of white running from her head across her narrow back down to her furry tail. Everyone was present.

But they were getting restless. Meerza had to distract them, before their parents’ absence became even more noticeable and they all broke out in sobs.

“Well, all right then, let’s begin a great adventure.”

“Really, an adventure?” said the young group in chorus.

“But before we go on an adventure, can someone tell me what is the most important thing to do first?

There were a few errs and ums and then silence.

“We get ready, right?” said Meerza.

“Ready? How do we get ready?” said the fox cub, leaping in excitement and sparking everyone’s attention.

“That’s an excellent question,” said Meerza. “We warm up! Now do as I do.”

Grunting, Meerza raised himself on all four legs, bearing the weight of his hard, heavy shell equally. He said: “Now, we will bend our front legs and lower our bellies to the ground.”

All the younglings tried to mimic him, but the snake siblings raised their heads simultaneously.

“Yes?” Meerza.

“We can’t do it.”

“Why is that?”

“Our bellies are already on the ground.”

“Oh dear,” said Meerza. “Well, do the best that you can.”

The rabbit quadruplets were sitting on their hind legs.

“Now what seems to be troubling you lads?” said Meerza.

“Well,” they said as one: “Our front legs are too short for this feat. We can try this with our hind legs if it pleases you.”

Meerza said, “I must be getting old.”

“That’s an understatement,” muttered the quadruplets under their whiskers.

“What’s that?” said Meerza, leaning his ear toward the quadruplets.

And at that moment all the younglings started to cry, bursting into tiny tears.

“You’re making us do the impossible,” said the lizard triplets together. Panting, the lizards started waddling toward the cave entrance. The sparrow twins hopped behind them, followed by the slithering snake siblings.

Rumbling echoed through the cave. Meerza, allowing his deep voice to rise, said: “Would anyone here care to find out about the greatest race?”

The younglings stopped in their tiny tracks. They looked back at the other remaining younglings. Meerza’s voice held authority and his eyes held warmth. A look of awe spread across the innocent young faces and their tears dried up. The younglings turned and scurried curiously toward Meerza. Before his feet buckled under the weight of his big shell, Meerza slowly sat down and gently gathered everyone near him. Body heat warmed up the cave, setting the mood for a great cave-time story.

Meerza looked at the rabbits and a small smile appeared on his weather-beaten face. Stopping now and again to allow his winter cough to subside, he began to tell them the story about the greatest race ever held.

The race was not the greatest because it was run over extraordinary distances or by a great many runners. On the contrary, the race was run between two individuals; and this was not the first time that their kind had competed.

“It all began many, many moons ago,” said Meerza, then he stopped as if in his old age he had trouble remembering. “You know, younglings, we were not always as friendly here in the park as we are today. Folks back then were not very welcoming to newcomers.”

One of the rabbit quadruplets said, “Our grandpa told us about that.”

“Ah, did he?” said Meerza, smiling. “Now, it was a windy night. On the outskirts of the park, on the highway…”

“What’s a highway?” asked the fox cub.

Before Meerza could explain, the sparrow twins answered together. “It’s a trail for humans and not a very safe place to be, especially for us.”

Meerza seemed to fall into deep thought, muttering, “Patience is a quality.” But he quickly recovered. “Let’s keep our questions for after the story, okay?”

“Okay,” said all the younglings, snuggling closer.

Meerza continued his story: “On this highway during a windy night just like tonight, but during the summer, a big truck, which is what humans carry food or other things from one place to another in, was moving very fast. As it rounded a sharp corner, something inside of it flew out. This thing was a big wooden box. It fell a far distance and made a loud crashing sound as it came down through the oak trees, which helped break its fall. It landed on the rocks by a stream in the park, not too far from where the Cottontails lived.”

The quadruplets’ ears stood up at the mention of their clan’s name, but Meerza motioned them to stay quiet with a nod of his head.

Meerza said: “The words on the side of the box read: Joe’s Exotic Pets. In the box were forty-four Afghan male tortoises. Because of the fall from the truck, some, including the heir to the tribe title, and all the females died that night. Only eighteen male tortoises young and old survived. These tortoises found themselves in a new and strange country. The tortoises had come from a place half way across the ocean called The Margalla National Park.

“Not finding anyone to greet them or welcome them, these tortoises belonging to the Horsfieldii tribe made a home for themselves right here in the park. They decided to call their home in Yosemite ‘Margalla’ in memory of their much missed home so far away.”

The quadruplets and the fox cub raised their ears. They looked curiously at Meerza’s hoof-shaped light brown shell. Meerza could see the excitement building in their eyes and before they interrupted again, he said, “I am the last survivor of the Horsfieldii tribe.”

Not waiting for a reaction, he dove back into the story. “The Cottontails were a big clan of rabbits. The first settlers in Yosemite had been the Bush Cottontails; later on the Pygmy Cottontails had come. The other inhabitants of Yosemite, like the birds, the bears and the deer, were a little wary of newcomers but went about their business without paying too much attention. But since the Horsfieldii tribe’s dwelling was closest to the Cottontails’ territory, the rabbits were the most affected by the tortoises’ presence.

The Pygmy and the Bush Cottontails did not lend ears to each other, but now there seemed to be a common problem, which required them to unite. Everyone knew about the legendary race between the Hare and the Tortoise.”

“We know about the Tortoise and the Hare. Our grandpa always tells us that story,” said the quadruplets in chorus as they cleaned their whiskers.


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