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Mean Old Coyote


Miz Shirley Badger

NEXT DAY, MIZ SHIRLEY BADGER LOOKED AROUND AT HER PUPILS. "Do you remember the other day in class when I asked you how you would escape from the mean old coyote?"

"Yes, Miz Badger," they chorused.

"And you, Jeremy, said you would run up a tree, isn't that right?"

"Yes, Miz Badger," said Jeremy, "and I did."

"And you, Steven, said you would jump into the berry bushes, isn't that right?"

"Yes, Miz Badger," said Steven, "and I did."

"And you, Michael, said you would plunge into the water, isn't that right?"

"Yes, Miz Badger," said Michael, "and I did."

"And you, Ruthie, said you would dive into your underground house, isn't that right?"

Ruthie gulped. "Yes, Miz Badger," she said, and hung her head. The other animals sat quietly, looking at her.

"Well, Ruthie, that escape didn't work too well yesterday, did it?" Miz Shirley Badger asked kindly.

"No, Miz Badger," whispered Ruthie, and two big tears rolled down her furry face and were trapped by her whiskers. "The mean old coyote would have caught me because I wasn't anywhere near my underground house."

"Maybe he would," agreed Miz Shirley Badger, "but he didn't." She added, "We'll discuss later how you can escape the mean old coyote if you're not near your underground house. But before we do that, I'm going to tell you a secret."

Everybody sat up, ears perked, eyes sparkling. A secret! Wow! Even Ruthie Woodchuck looked up, more cheerful now.

"Yes," declared Miz Shirley Badger, "I'm going to tell you The Possum Secret." Now, everyone looked at Kathy. She looked down at her paws, but the others could see she was smiling, a small secret smile.

"It's a very old secret," Miz Shirley Badger went on, "that only possums know. I have permission from Kathy's Grandma Possum to tell it to you," said Miz Shirley Badger, "and then it will be our secret, too."

"Ooooh," whispered Steven Rabbit to Jeremy Squirrel. "Shhh," said Michael Beaver, "I want to hear this. It should be very interesting."

"As you know, Kathy Possum can't run fast, like Steven and Jeremy. Unlike Michael, she doesn't swim very well. And she doesn't live in an underground house like Ruthie." Everybody nodded. They knew that.

"So what can she do to escape the mean old coyote?" Miz Shirley Badger inquired of the class.

"Go to sleep?" Steven Rabbit asked, remembering how Kathy Possum had yawned and blinked.

Everybody laughed, and Steven looked embarrassed. "Steven's answer is close," said Miz Shirley Badger, "but not quite right. No, Kathy used The Possum Secret yesterday. When a possum sees, or hears, or smells danger, as Kathy did, she just falls down and lies there. A big hungry animal, like the mean old coyote, thinks she is dead, and not worth bothering with."

The animals were very quiet. Kathy was still smiling, but no longer a small secret smile. She was almost laughing out loud.

"Yes, if he had come any closer to her, the mean old coyote would think she was dead," said Miz Shirley Badger, "except that she isn't dead, as you can see."

At this Kathy did laugh out loud, because the other animals looked so puzzled.

"But how does she do it?" asked Jeremy Squirrel. "I thought she WAS dead because she was so still. I didn't even see her breathe, and her eyes didn't even blink, and even her legs were all stiff and funny."

"Pretty neat trick," said Michael Beaver, thoughtfully.

"Kathy went into a sort of trance," said Miz Shirley Badger. "That's why I had to bring her out of it gently." She added, "And it IS a neat trickā€”to fool a big hungry animal into leaving her alone and trying his luck somewhere else. The Possum Secret is Kathy's way of escaping the mean old coyote, or any other big hungry animal."

Steven Rabbit leaned over and whispered to Kathy, "I'm sorry I laughed at you the other day. That was really dumb. You've got the best escape of all."

"Oh, that's okay," said Kathy, waving a paw airily. "I didn't feel so bad about being laughed at, after my Grandma Possum told me The Possum Secret."

"Bet you didn't think you'd have to use The Possum Secret so soon, did you?" Jeremy Squirrel asked.

"No, I didn't," said Kathy emphatically. "But it's a good thing The Possum Secret is automatic. Grandma told me I wouldn't even have to think about doing it. She said that when I need to escape I would just tip over and stop moving and breathing and blinking."

This was a very long speech for Kathy, and the other animals looked at her respectfully.

Ruthie Woodchuck asked hesitantly, "Do you think I could I learn to do it?"

Miz Shirley Badger smiled. "No, Ruthie, The Possum Secret is only for possums. But tomorrow I'm going to ask Steven Rabbit to show you how he escapes into the berry bushes. That will be your second way of escaping if you're not near your underground house."

The shadows had lengthened across the grass. The school day was over. Miz Shirley Badger dismissed her class, and the little animals left in a group, chattering and laughing. They had reached the old oak tree when Kathy said suddenly, "Why don't you all come to Grandma Possum's house with me." She looked shyly down at her paws. "That is, if you like chocolate milk and cookies."

"Oh, boy," said Ruthie, "do I!" And without waiting for the others, she waddled off down the path to Grandma Possum's house.

Steven Rabbit leapt after her with a bound. "C'mon," he shouted over his shoulder, "let's go!" And Michael, Jeremy, and Kathy followed, still chattering and laughing, all the way to Grandma Possum's house.

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