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Fiction by A.M. Morgen
Illustrations by Lisa K. Weber
George Devonshire had the worst luck of any boy in London.
Because of his awful luck, he’d had to wait two weeks to get his hands on a new food called The Gentleman’s Relish.
The first time he went to his local grocer to buy it, his coins slipped from his pocket and rolled under the wheels of a passing carriage.
The second time, he stumbled over a pile of coal in the road and twisted his ankle.
The third time, he arrived at the store to find it had burned down overnight.
But George wasn’t going to let his bad luck stop him, even if it meant scouring every shop in the city.
Sure enough, today, at the very last grocer he visited, George’s luck changed. Fortnum’s Specialty Foods had one jar left, George had one shilling and he was able to leave the store with zero injuries.
At least until he stepped into the street, where a skinny boy with a small orangutan hanging around his neck crashed into him. The jar nearly flew out of George’s hand into a pile of horse dung, but he snatched it back with the tips of his fingers and stuffed it into his bag.
“Oscar? Ruthie!” His friend Oscar worked at the palace menagerie, caring for the exotic animals that the royal family received as gifts from other nations — bears from Sweden, llamas from Peru kangaroos from the Australian colonies and other creatures that lived in specially designed enclosures. Ruthie, the orangutan, lived there too, in a glass pavilion filled with mango trees and chirping parrots.
“George,” Oscar panted. “I lost Tilly!”
George didn’t know what a Tilly was, but Oscar was forever losing things — rocks, socks, important thoughts and the like. “Did you check your pockets?”
Oscar furrowed his brow in confusion. “No. Fully grown tigers can’t fit into pockets. Maybe baby tigers …”
“Did you say–?” George was cut off by an enormous, earth-shattering roar behind him.
Just as George turned around to face his untimely death, their friend Ada Byron burst out from behind a parked carriage. She was grinning and balancing three thin brass boxes as long as her forearm. Each box had a cone-shaped trumpet sprouting from one end.
“Excellent! I’ve found the perfect tiger-roaring pitch,” Ada announced, sliding a lever on one of the boxes to produce another roar.
George let out a shuddering breath. The roar had come from the box, which Ada must have made. She was not only his friend, but also a genius inventor. “I don’t have time to help you test another new invention today, Ada. I’m going home for a long-awaited snack.”
Ada thrust one of the boxes into George’s hands and another into Oscar’s. “There’s no time for a snack!”
“But it’s not an ordinary snack,” George protested.
“This is not an ordinary problem! A tiger is loose in the city!”
“She’s not just any tiger!” Oscar cried. “Tilly is special. She arrived at the menagerie yesterday. I thought she’d like a tour of her new home, but when I opened her door, she got scared and ran away. Ada has a plan to get her back.”
George crossed his arms. “Does this plan involve my painful death? Or experimenting on me again?”
“No. Are you still angry about that?” Ada sighed. “This plan is simple. Tigers don’t like being near other tigers. When Tilly hears us roaring, she’ll follow her own scent toward something that smells familiar — her enclosure. See? Simple. She’ll find the menagerie herself.”
Oscar plucked a box from Ada’s arms. “Please? She’s lost and frightened.”
“There are three boxes and three of us,” Ada said. “This is no time to be scared, George.”
George’s throat went dry. “I’m not scared. I have bad luck. If I get close to that tiger, I’ll be eaten for sure.”
“Don’t be silly. Tigers rarely eat people,” Ada said.
“Rarely?” George gulped.
A flash of orange darted from an alley, then disappeared behind a cart overflowing with apples.
“Look!” Oscar pointed. “She’s heading north — toward the park.”
“Perfect. We’ll flank her. I’ll go right. Oscar, go left. George, take up the rear. Stay out of sight. Ready, set, roar!” Ada plunged after the tiger, as did Oscar, with Ruthie chattering excitedly on his shoulders. Reluctantly, George followed.
Rumbling roars filled the air as they chased the orange flashes.
At the edge of the park, George and Oscar peered from behind a barrel to glimpse an orange tail disappearing over a low stone wall. A few seconds later, Ada sprang out from behind a streetlamp, gesturing for them to follow.
During the day, the park was the picture of loveliness, but now, as the sun set, it became a forest of shadows where a gigantic orange-striped cat could be hiding.
They darted in and out of the bushes, trees and benches, sliding the levers of their boxes whenever they paused. Though George could see the tiger in the distance, he swore he felt the cat’s hot breath on his neck.
Finally, the iron fence of the menagerie came into view. Along the inner edge of the fence were open-air paddocks for animals that needed space to run and jump. With a thrill of triumph, George watched the tiger slink inside the menagerie through the open gate.
He rushed to his friends crouched behind a shrub. “It worked! She thinks we’re rival tigers. She’s home!”
Oscar squinted. “She’s inside the menagerie, but not her enclosure.”
George patted Oscar’s arm. “I’m sure she’s fine, now can we–”
“Go after her,” Ada interrupted. “Great idea, George!”
It was no use. The canister of relish in George’s bag smashed against the iron gate as they slipped into the menagerie. Oscar shut the gate behind them. Soon, George felt something damp against his side. He stopped. The jar lid had come loose and the bottom of his bag was sticky and purple.
“Great. Half of my relish is ruined!”
As he fumbled with the jar while clutching the roaring box under his arm, George heard Ruthie whining softly.
“George,” Ada said. “Stand still.”
A chill raced down his spine. He raised his head slowly. Silent as a cloud, the tiger emerged from the shadows — and stood directly between George and her enclosure. Her paws were as big as dinner plates. Her black lips pulled back to reveal sharp white teeth.
Oscar cleared his throat. “Don’t get any closer. We’re in her territory now.”
“Why would I get any closer?” George snapped.
He stepped back. The tiger stepped forward. A low growl rumbled from her throat, making George tremble so hard that the box slipped from under his arm. He caught it by the lever, and a mechanical roar split the air. Tilly snarled, close enough to George that flecks of saliva landed on his shoes.
“She knows you’re not a real tiger now.” Ada said. “You can’t outrun her.”
“I’d rather run than stand here like a dodo,” George whimpered. “I told you she’d want to eat me. I could be home, eating the most delicious snack ever tasted by man. Instead, I’m going to be the most delicious snack ever tasted by tiger!”
“Snack?” Oscar asked. “Tilly loves snacks.”
The tiger’s tongue slid across her glistening teeth. George thrust the jar of Gentleman’s Relish in front of him like a shield. “Your tiger doesn’t want my relish, Oscar!”
“Wait — what’s in it?” Ada asked.
Heart thudding in his ears, George read the ingredients printed on the label: “Strawberry, sugar, jellied … sardines?”
George gagged in disgust, but Ada gasped as if she’d discovered something miraculous. “Sardines are fish! Cats love fish!”
“She can have it!” With all his strength, George tossed the jar of purple, slimy relish toward Tilly’s enclosure.
With a burst of happy grunts, the tiger batted at the jar as it passed overhead. When it landed inside her enclosure, she pounced and rolled it between her claws like a ball of yarn, fully opening the lid with her paws.
Her whiskers wiggled in delight as she licked at the jellied chunks of fish inside. After Oscar latched the enclosure door, he, Ada and George collapsed onto the grass side by side.
“Your snack saved us!” Ada smirked. “How lucky.”
“How can I ever repay you?” Oscar asked.
“Promise that you won’t take your tiger on any more afternoon strolls,” George said, and they broke out into laughter.
A.M. Morgen is the author of The Inventors at No. 8.