“I won’t leave without you!” cried Layla, Tara’s mother.
“Don’t worry about me. Just take the baby and go,” said Jake, Tara’s father.
They had gotten lost in the jungle after bandits had ambushed and destroyed their village. Now a pack of wolves had begun to attack them. As the wolves charged forward, Jake picked up a stick to shoo the wolves away while Tara’s mother kept going.
Layla had no choice. She picked up Tara and ran like the wind. She ran and ran, deeper and deeper, into the jungle.
Meanwhile, in the thick of the jungle, there was a clearing where Mother Tiger had made her den. She was letting her three cubs, Romeo, Tina and Taylor, play outside. Romeo, the oldest, sprinted away with the middle cub, Taylor, to go to the field that was close to the den so they could race and play-fight. But Tina, the youngest, was full of adventure and mischief, so she quietly sprang away and wandered farther than ever before. She ended up in a flowery clearing. She looked up to the sky and saw that it was darkening to a bright red. Frantically, she started sniffing the ground to find her way home. By now, the stars were glittering in the night sky. Still sniffing, Tina stopped dead in her tracks. Now she had another problem: a human. Curiously, she followed the scent until she found a baby, wrapped in a blanket. The blanket read T-A-R-A. Tina widened her eyes in amazement. She had heard bad stories about humans, but this one seemed harmless.
“I’ll sniff her out to see if she’s dangerous,” Tina whispered. When she laid her head down on the baby, the warmth reminded her of Mother Tiger. Oh, how she missed her mother.
Finding that the baby was safe gave her a wash of relief. She was about to take the baby home by her jaws when she stopped.
“Wait. I can’t take the human to the den. Mother Tiger would get mad. I guess I should ask first,” she said. Tina found a shady tree and carefully laid the baby down, whispering, “I’ll be back,” before trotting home.
“Mother, there is a human baby far from the den,” Tina, said padding frantically into the den.
Mother Tiger looked sternly at her. “Tina, how many times did I tell you NOT to go farther than the territory of the cave!” Mother Tiger thundered.
“But, Mother! There is a human baby out there! Should we care for her?” Tina trembled.
Mother Tiger’s expression softened. “No type of cub should be abandoned,” she agreed.
Tina led them to the clearing and bounded quickly to where Tara lay. Mother Tiger, her cubs and the Wise Monkey were astonished to see how quiet and calm the baby was, especially since she had no parents… that they knew of.
Tara was wondering when her mother would come back. She had never left her alone for so long, but Tara was positive her parents would return. All she knew was that her mother had left her and given her the memory necklace, the one that her mom always wore and that her grandmother had given to her mother. “Now it is my time to give it to you,” her mother had said, hugging Tara tightly before quickly running off.
Suddenly, Tara saw some animals coming. She grew curious. She had never seen animals before. She recognized the monkey, but he was holding a stick. And the other animals? She’d never seen that kind before, even in books. Because she could not walk or talk, she just lay there with her blue eyes wide open as she made gurgling sounds of curiosity.
“If you are going to keep this young human, I must give her one power,” the Wise Monkey announced.
“What is it!?” the cubs asked, full of envy.
The Monkey stroked his wise beard, which was full of fruits he had eaten for lunch. “The power of understanding animals,” he replied.
“Oh,” they said with their eyes twinkling, except for Romeo, who was still jealous. Instead of adopting this human, why couldn’t he just play?
So from that day on, Tara was a part of the Tiger family.
CHAPTER 1: THE BEGINNING
“Tara,” called Mother Tiger. “Time for dinner!”
“Coming,” said Tara.
Ten-year-old Tara was sitting on her favorite cliff, high above a lake. When she looked down, she could see the entire jungle. All of the trees and animals’ dens looked as tiny as toys. She was playing her favorite instrument, her bamboo flute, which was slung around her chest. Banana, her monkey friend, had given it to her on her 8th birthday.
She was wearing a rugged skirt and peach tank top that she had managed to scavenge at an abandoned campsite several months ago. She was also wearing a pearl necklace that her mother had given to her the minute she had disappeared. Being a human raised by tigers never really bothered her, but this day was different. She couldn’t think of this year’s birthday wish. All she could think of was finding her parents, but how could she tell this to her tiger family? Would it hurt them? She shrugged her shoulders, trying to dismiss the idea.
As Tara set down her flute, she let her dirty blond hair dangle down her waist. Her silver-blue eyes darted one last time to the lake as she climbed off the cliff and headed toward home. She had to admit, it was quite cozy. There was a small blanket that she scavenged at the corner of the den, and beside it she put all of her belongings. A tiny Teddy Bear. A bunch of birds’ feathers that she wrapped with vines. And, usually, her bamboo flute, which she had just set down next to the Teddy bear, and her pearl necklace.
Suddenly Tara heard her older tiger brother, Romeo, calling to her two tiger sisters.
“Race you!” he said, and started to sprint away from them.
“Hey, that’s not fair!” cried Tara, stomping her foot. “I want to play, too!” She charged after him, with Tina and Taylor running closely behind her.
“First,” called Romeo as he reached the den.
“Second,” called Tina as she followed him inside.
“Third,” called Taylor, padding behind Tina.
“Aw, I’m last. That’s not fair!” Tara said stomping her foot again. “Gurr!”
“Kids, it’s cattle meat today,” said Mother Tiger.
“Yeah!” They all cheered, for it was their favorite.
Later, Mother Tiger asked, “Your birthday is coming up, Tara. What do you want?”
“I didn’t want to tell you, but all I want is…” Tara said hesitantly.
“Go on,” said the siblings, annoyed.
Tara finally let it out. “Is my parents back.”
There was a moment of silence. Then Mother Tiger was brave enough to speak.
“Honey, but we are your real family.”
“No you’re not. I am a human and you are tigers,” said Tara logically.
Tara heard Tina whisper, “I remember when you were a baby, I was so afraid this would happen.”
Tara looked down, ashamed of herself, but she knew she had to do this.
“It does not matter who you are. We are all family,” Mother Tiger replied.
“Yeah,” Tina said loudly. “And I was the one who found you and saved your life.”
“Mother,” Tara announced, completely ignoring Tina. “I think it is time I find my true family!” Tara stormed out of the den only to hear Tina whimpering.
CHAPTER 2: A STRANGE TOWN
Tara began to sprint away from the cave. She could hear Tina’s faint voice, but did not look back.
“Not now,” Tara thought. She was desperate to find her parents. After a couple of hours, Tara was still trudging through vines and webs when she came across a meadow. The meadow was full of dandelions, marigolds and other flowers Tara didn’t even know about. The stars twinkled in the night sky, and that was the only light.
When Tara was halfway through the meadow she squinted and saw big, pointy things, and she wanted to check them out.
“Wow!” thought Tara as she drew closer and closer to the village. It seemed quite fascinating. As she examined one of the buildings, she realized that the square was made out of stone and the triangle was made out of wood. Tara went to take a look at the door. It had a monkey on it! Tara was so excited that she held on to the knob of the door, then accidently turned it.
“Oof!” She fell onto the floor.
“Oh Lord, it’s a child!” said a woman.
Tara looked up from the floor. She saw something she was supposed to be scared of, but for some reason she wasn’t: a human.
“Do you want something to eat?” asked the strange woman, trying to help her up. The woman’s voice didn’t sound like the animal voices she was used to, but Tara could understand her perfectly fine. “This must be part of my power,” she thought.
“No,” said Tara. Of course she was hungry, but she was not sure that the food was like Mother Tiger’s.
“Where am I?” She said, looking at up at a huge wooden structure with four legs and smaller structures that had four legs as well. “I hope that’s not a mother animal with her cubs,” she thought. She knew how mothers like to protect their cubs. On the other side, she saw a stone wall with a curved hole in it. When Tara tilted her head and looked through the hole, she saw more wooden cubs and a huge, soft animal. “Oh no,” she thought. “I’m surrounded.”
“You are at the home of the Rama family.”
“Oh,” said Tara, thankfully. Those aren’t animals. “So you call your den a home?”
“Yes,” said the woman confused about the ‘den’ part. “Don’t you know that?”
“No,” said Tara “I grew up in the jungle. I am looking for my parents. My dad is named Jake and my mom is named Layla.”
“Don’t you know anything else about them?” asked the woman.
“No,” said Tara “They disappeared without me.”
“Well, before you start looking, let’s get you some clean clothes and a nice jug of warm milk,” said the woman, taking her hand. “Let me take you upstairs to the bedroom.”
“What is your name?” Tara asked.
“My name is Sasha,” said the woman.
“My name is Tara.”
After that, Tara dressed neatly in a violet nightgown with lace at the bottom. It felt weird to Tara at first, but the dress began to be comfier than her old clothes. Tara began to awkwardly sit down on the soft “couch” that Sasha had directed her to, for she wasn’t so sure that it wasn’t an animal.
“Here, take this,” said Sasha, handing her a plastic cup.
“What is this?” asked Tara as she peered inside to see a white liquid.
“It is milk,” said Sasha.
Sasha was confused. Again.
After she had drunk her milk, Tara went to the bedroom to rest. Sasha had said that there was a big “bed” in the corner of the room. Tara found that bed and she had noticed that it was soft and had covers. It was warm and Tara preferred this to the floor.
Snug in bed, Tara thought of Mother Tiger, Romeo, Tina and Taylor. She heard crickets and wolves outside. She missed Mother Tiger’s warmth and protection. She missed them so much, she sobbed. But she knew that she would go through any cost to get her parents back.
It was a long, lonely night. Tara thought she could hear faint voices of her own mother singing a lullaby to her. It went like this:
Hush little baby. You are my only little sunshine. Let your inner self show and shine. Let all of this brighten your way. Good wishes to you this day. Hush little baby, I will get you a toy so it will bring you laughter and joy. So do not weep, my little one. Rest now, rest now in a deep sleep. Mommy will wake you with caring and loving eyes. Mommy will always love you, forever.
CHAPTER 4: OUTSIDE
At breakfast Tara asked, “Can I go outside?”
“Sure, after you get dressed. Let me go fetch your clothes,” said Sasha pausing.
“What exactly are you going to do outside?”
“To begin my search for my parents,” Tara said casually. She didn’t want to make Sasha feel like she wasn’t thankful for her kindness.
“Oh,” Sasha said before quickly walking away.
Tara looked at the window. It was a bright, sunny morning. She could hear the robins tweeting their little songs. This made Tara homesick. For the songs the birds sang sounded like the waking call when she was with Mother Tiger. Through that open window a slight breeze came in. The trees outside looked dressed with blossoms like the middle of spring.
Sasha came back with a turquoise dress that had bright pink roses at the side. She also brought white leggings and white strap-up shoes.
“Wow,” thought Tara, “This outfit blends with the outside.”
Tara got dressed and headed toward the door.
“Wait!” said Sasha
“Here. Take this.” Sasha handed her a basket.
Tara looked inside. In the basket there was food, water, a blanket, a pillow, a fork, a knife, a spoon, and napkins. The night before, Sasha had taught her how to use those utensils, and Tara had no trouble at all. She said thank you and skipped down the gravel pathway.
CHAPTER 5: A CLUE
The sun was high in the sky. That indicated that it was the afternoon. Tara was hungry so she decided to have a little picnic and laid out the blanket on the lawn, spreading out the food. There was salad and sandwiches and fruit. Tara only ate the fruit because she wanted to save the rest for later. Besides, she wasn’t too hungry yet. She enjoyed the juicy mango, the vine of plump grapes, and the soft banana. She had eaten these before with Banana, her monkey friend. They also used to sneak past their territory to go to the grove, which was full of fruit trees, which were always ripe. Even in the winter, the fruit was tasty. Just eating the fruit Sasha had given to her made Tara more homesick. She reached out her finger and imagined Banana’s tail wrapping around it.
Tara kept on going over hills, into valleys, taking shortcuts through forests by trees. It felt like she had just walked half the country. It was starting to get a little cold so Tara rubbed her arms for warmth, but that was no use. She wished Mother Tiger were here. Sitting on the branch of a tree, she looked at the basket in her lap and imagined inside there was a portal where she could just jump in and appear in Mother Tiger’s den.
The sun was a bit lower in the sky. It had become much chillier. A beautiful red, pink and purple sunset looked like someone had just painted the sky in warm colors. She smiled at the sunset. Pink, red and purple were her favorite colors; they reminded her of hope and love. She held her head up high, looking at the sky and bumping into trees a few times. But that was okay with her. As long as she could see the sunset, she could keep going.
The sky was starting to darken now, and Tara was hungry and wanted to go back home. She collapsed near the side of the paved road under a shady oak tree. She closed her eyes and fell asleep.
When Tara woke up, she saw that she had ended up in another village. But this one was more on a grassy plain. As she opened her eyes, she saw the sun just rising from the east side of the hills, casting a beautiful light. Birds were just coming out of their nests — purple, yellow, blue, red and black. As the beautiful springtime flowers waved through the soft breeze, she thought, “This is amazing.” She realized that the tree she was resting by was not an oak. It was a tree filled with beautiful pink blossoms. The other trees around her were filled with blue, violet and red blooms. Then she saw an old woman wearing a purple shawl gradually making her way towards her.
“I didn’t expect for any humans to be around here,” she whispered. “I thought there would be animals,” she paused. “Lots of animals,” she said, looking at an open spot in the village where there were statues of tigers, eagles and rabbits. Before Tara could catch a glimpse of the rest of them, the old lady had finally gotten to Tara.
“Darling, are you Tara? I heard that you were looking for your parents, Layla and Jake.”
“Yes,” Tara said suspiciously. “Do you know anything about them?!” she said, eager to get a clue.
“Well, this might not help you, but they went to the jungle,” she paused and took a deep breath.“To run away from the bandits that attacked a nearby village,” and quietly added, “They disappeared.”
Tara sniffed, trying to control her emotions.
“Nobody knows about them now. Not even the folks that saw them run into the jungle,” the old lady said.
Tara felt her mouth tremble as she widened her eyes. She took a deep breathe and narrowed them.
“Thanks a lot!” Tara grabbed her basket and jogged away, mumbling,” I came all this way for that? I’ll prove you wrong. I know it!”
“Wait,” called the woman in a feeble voice, but Tara was too angry to look back. Tara disliked her so much that she decided to not listen to that old lady. She did not even want to see the woman, ever again.
Tara looked down on her necklace and whispered, “Mom, I am coming for you, I promise. Just give me a hint – please – and not from an old lady.” Her necklace swayed to the right, even though there was no breeze. Well, she thought. Thanks for that hint. But I might need another one. Then Tara sprinted away.
CHAPTER 6: THE ^ TRUTH
Tara was storming down the narrow road, when a young looking man with black hair stopped his chestnut stallion right in front of her. She leaned back to see that he was wearing expensive riding gear and a helmet that looked like gold. She sighed. I do not need another person to tell me some fake facts, she thought.
The man looked down at Tara, surprised.
“What brings you here, young lady? Is it the nice weather, or your mother has sent you to fetch herbs, or your father is planting corn further along and asked for your help?”
“No,” giggled Tara, her annoyance dissolving. “I’m looking for my parents, they…” but before Tara could finish her answer, the man dismounted his horse and interrupted her.
“I’ve heard, I’ve heard,” he said stroking his chin then narrowing his eyes. “People have been hearing this as a rumor,” he paused. “But I know the truth about your parents.”
“Did I hear you correctly?” Tara said, questioning him. “Are you sure?” She thought about the old lady who claimed she knew the truth about her parents. “I’ve heard this story before,” she said. “Are you sure you know the truth?”
“Tara, this is Ryan Gold at your service!” He held out his hand. She slowly gave her hand to the man, and he firmly shook it. She had to wiggle her hand free, she put her hand behind her back and wiggled her wrist to make sure no bones were broken. Then she felt a piece of paper in her hand. Tara shoved it in her dress pocket to read later.
“Is there anything you know that could help my search?” Tara said.
“There is a lot I can tell you, but this is one basic thing: They’re dead, kid, they’re dead,” said the man. “Anything else? Cause I’ve got to go soon,” he said, reaching out his hand to grab Tara’s arm after taking a few steps forward.
“No,” Tara shakily, backing away getting ready to turn and run. This is was a time that I really need Mother Tiger’s protection, she thought.
“Well then, goodbye,” he said, getting back on the horse. “Canter!” the man said to his horse firmly, and it cantered away.
Tara ran. Faster than ever before, cutting off the road and into the forest. She continued running until she heard a twig snap. Then through the trees she saw a horse with Ryan on it! Tara recognized that shiny helmet and that chestnut horse. She put her legs in a running position, but before she could react, Ryan Gold had his horse just inches away from her. She started running – under trees, over rocks, through the forest she ran. Eventually Ryan caught up to Tara and jumped off his horse.
He grabbed her arm and said, “My mission is not complete until that baby girl is captured — and that girl is you.”
Tara lifted up her back leg and kicked him in the chest, sending him falling to the ground and buying her enough time to run.
Tara was scared and was longing for Mother Tiger more than ever. To think that Ryan Gold was her “friend!” Now Tara was on the edge of a steep hill, Ryan at her tail. Suddenly an idea popped in her head. It’s quite risky, but it’s the only way she thought. She looked up at the sky, the same scenery from last night; this made Tara feel more confident. Tara charged at Ryan and asked the horse, “Can you buck the guy off?”
“Yeah, but I never tried because Ryan would whip me. I think he knows that I hate him,” he snorted.
“Will you at least try, just for me?”
“Okay,” the horse said, tossing his head to the side hesitantly.
“Excellent! Get Ryan at the edge of the hill and while I distract him you buck him off. Okay?”
“I won’t be surprised if I become a trading hide though,” the horse commented.
Tara swerved right, then left, dodging Ryan’s arm, while the horse was dancing around pretending to follow Ryan’s commands. Their plan had begun. By doing this, Tara gave the horse a chance to get to the edge of the hill and buck. The last vision Tara had of Ryan Gold was of him tumbling down the steep hill.
“Thanks,” Tara said smiling.
“No problem,” said the stallion. “It’s been a long time since I’ve done that.”
Tara giggled. “We’ll every job comes with a price, and I’ll pay you by,” she paused then taking of his reins and gear off, “setting you free!”
“Gee, thanks,” said the stallion stunned. “Really?”
“You can call me Morco, if you want to,” he said, resting his muzzle on her shoulder.
“Go now, Morco! You are a free horse. No one can capture you now!” Tara instructed with a tinge of sadness in her voice. She put her arms around his neck to hug him. Before she let go, she thought of how much she would miss him. He saved her life.
“I’ll never forget you,” called Marco before galloping away and leaving a cloud of dust behind him.
Sitting down, sad and exhausted to see her new friend go, Tara took the piece of paper out of her skirt pocket and unrolled it. It was some sort of badge of military accomplishments. It read:
“Ryan Gold Lieutenant of the LBT (Legendary Bandit Team) attack on the Athen Village, killing thirteen people and then sent wolves to kill two escapees. Their baby still lives.”
Tara started crying. She knew who those people were: her parents. “I guess the old lady was right,” she said between tears. “My mom and dad are dead.” For Tara now knew the painful truth.
CHAPTER 7: REAL FAMILY
Once she had pulled it together, Tara managed to haul herself off the ground and make her way to the road to go back to Sasha’s house. She had a hole in her heart that only her tiger family could fix. She missed them sorely.
Tara had walked for two hours and ended up at Sasha’s house. By now it was late evening and the sun was gone and the moon shone brightly with twinkling stars scattered across the pale grey sky. Tara decided that if she went to Sasha’s house that it would be a delay and all she wanted was to get back home. So she continued walking. Tara would miss Sasha badly, but she knew she would visit her. If she found her way back home, she would know where to find Sasha. She walked past the meadow and looked back. A tear trickled down her cheek and fell right on a dandelion. This tear was for everything: Sasha, her parents, and all the sad things that had happened in the past few days. Tara was still trudging through bushes when she saw her den, her siblings and….
“Mother Tiger!” She screamed, thrilled.
“Tara!”said Mother Tiger and Tina in unison.
“I am so glad to see you!” said Tara.
“Me too. Where have you been!?” said Mother Tiger.
CHAPTER 8: A STORY TO BE TOLD
“Well,” Tara paused. “It is hard to explain. I met a woman named Sasha and she took care of me. And I met a man and he told me that my parents were dead.” She sniffed. Tara had not gotten over that her parents died, but she managed not to cry.
“That is sad,” said Mother Tiger, for she too was surprised what her own “daughter” had been going through! Tara stepped into the cave, to see her section deserted, only her blanket and flute there. She was so glad to be home. Yes, it was different from the houses, thought Tara. But it was home.
That night Tara lay down her eyes closed thinking about the past days. Could it be true? It was hard to understand, even harder when you were brought up in the jungle. But from that day on Tara knew what family is:
Any animal or human that loves you and supports you no matter what.