The sun sat high in the desert sky. It would be several hours before sunset would offer a repreive from the scorching heat.
On the outskirts of the city sat the Paws and Hands daycare. It was a humble little building owned by a middle aged wurm and her husband.
Inside was a special kind of chaos, the kind only kids could create and at times, the matronly wurm in charge was the only one who seemed capable of controlling it. A wolf played fetch while a harpy flew around giggling, a little Anubis pup was busy building a pyramid out of building blocks and three Jinko cubs were busy running around.
Not to far away sat the parents, watching their kids play. Vanessa rested her head in her paw and sighed.
“Remind me why we’re here again?”
Art looked away from the chaos unfolding before him at over at his wife.
“Because we just moved here and this is a good chance for the girls to make friends. Plus we can make a good impression by volunteering here.”
Vanessa looked down at her “helper” shirt and sighed again.
“I guess you have a point. Just promise me we’ll go somewhere cold on vacation this year, I miss snuggling up to you on those chilly mornings.”
Art’s reminiscing was cut short by a loud crash, he looked over at the source and his heart sunk a little. Eva was face down in a scattered pile of blocks that used to be the anubis’s pyramid.
“So much for making a good impression” Art sighed.
The little anubis silently stared at the wreckage for a few moments before bursting into tears. The poor dear couldn’t have been any older than Gabby or Layla.
Art saw a man in another “helper” shirt try to run up and comfort the little pup before being stopped by an adult anubis wearing one as well. She said something along the lines of “I’ll handle this” before kneeling down and giving the little pup a tight hug.
Art and Vanessa had to assume the man was the little Anubis girl’s father as he gently gave her a reassuring pat on the head and said something to the mom. The Jinko could make out what was happening better than Art could thanks to the excellent hearing her tiger-like ears afforded her.
“It’s OK, sweetie. Let’s see if daddy can help you find some more blocks.” he said before getting up. The commotion had caught the attention of the wurm who was running Paws and Hands, but Vanessa’s attention had shifted to the Anubis mother and daughter.
“Oh…my precious Anippe- I’m sorry those clumsy little jinkos ruined the pyramid you were working so hard on.” she said.
“I…I’m sorry, lady.” Eva said bashfully. “It was an accident.”
“Young lady, you need to be more careful.” the werejackal said as she placed a paw on the jinko cub’s tiny shoulders. “You must understand that others are playing here as well and this isn’t exclusively your-“
That’s as far as she got before she was cut off by a low growl immediately behind her.
“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll unhand my daughter NOW…”
The Anubis did in fact unhand Eva as she turned to face the larger jinko. However, the she-jackal was not backing down.
“So you’re the one we have to thank for your little terrors running around unsupervised and doing as they please?” she sneered at Vanessa.
“Yes, I am” Vanessa looked down at the not so intimidating Jackal. “If they can’t burn off energy here then where can they? Also, I don’t appreciate you calling my daughters ‘little terrors.’ ”
“Perhaps they could run around some place that isn’t filled to the brim with other people’s children?”
“What like outside? Do you know how hot it is out there?” It was usually at this point most people would apologise and walk away from Vanessa but the anubis showed no sign of backing down.
“She has guts, I’ll give her that” Vanessa thought to herself. Vanessa placed her paws on Eva’s shoulders and kneeled down.
“Take your sisters and go play somewhere else.”
Eva nodded her head.
“Ok momma.” she said meekly. The cubs scampered off and Vanessa stood back up and resumed her conversation with Sakaali.
“We’re kinda getting away from the fact that you laid your paws on my daughter”
“I was simply informing her that she needs to be courteous and realize that their are other children in this play space.”
Vanessa laughed a bit “Where do you get off thinking that you can tell other people’s children what to do, you busybody jackal?”
“If it wasn’t my daughter’s pyramid, then it almost certainly would’ve been that harpy’s perch or that werewolf’s toy box that gets knocked over! And where do you get off calling me a busybody? I’m a working mother- I’ll have you know I co own a logistics firm!”
“Ya well I’m a personal trainer and in my professional opinion taking that stick out of your ass could do wonders for your posture.” Sakalli’s eyes went wide and her mouth dropped open slightly she stood there in stunned silence for a few moments before clenching her fangs. “How dare you talk down to an anubis you thick skulled tigress!”
Her cheeks a bright shade of crimson, Vanessa bared her teeth and growled. She leaned down and touched her forehead to Sakalli’s “Say that again… Bitch.”
Vanessa flashed her claws as a small ankh on the Anubis’ necklace began glowing blue. While Sakaali was no midget, the jackal woman only came up to Vanessa’s chest. Both women were vaguely aware of a male voice off in the distance and getting closer.
“Damn it! Damn it! Damn it!” the man said before catching his breath. He was now next to the two women and trying to pull the Anubis away from the tigress. “C’mon- I can’t take you anywhere, can I Sakaali?”
“Unhand me, husband! This striped simpleton needs to lean some manners” the feisty Anubis snapped as her husband attempted to drag the werejackal away from Vanessa.
“Sakaali….listen to me-” he said trying to calm her down.
“For the love of Ra- you’re not actually taking that beast’s side, are you?” she asked in an accusatory tone.
“C’mon Sakaali…….kids are gonna be kids- and sometimes they get a little rough or careless.” he began. “These things are gonna happen- you need to calm down”
By this point Art had also been trying to find the Wurm in charge of the facility, but now could practically see the steam coming from Vanessa’s ears and he knew he had to do something. Art ran up in front of Vanessa and placed his hands on her arms and looked up into her eyes.
“V-Vanessa calm down, do you really want a repeat of what happened at that parent teacher conference? J-just breath and think for a second.”
Vanessa smiled and tousled Art’s hair. “Oh my dear husband, you have nothing to worry about, we were simply having a conversation.”
Her voice sounded docile and sweet, but Art could see the rage in her eyes getting more and more intense as Sakaali resumed hurling insults.
“Now… Let me go so I can resolve this.”
Art spun around and dug his heels into the ground as he tried his best to keep Vanessa at bay. He then shot Graham a pleading look. “C-can you please calm your wife down? Believe me when I say you really don’t wanna see mine any angrier.”
“How much angrier is more angry?”
“Rip a door off it’s hinges kind of angry. My wife can bench 300 pounds and has punched a hole clean through a wall”
“Mine can curse your bloodline for 300 generations and once nagged my ear off for 12 hours straight- but this isn’t a contest.” Graham retorted as he was having difficulty with a thrashing Anubis.
Art whimpered a little “I wasn’t joking…”
“Neither was I…”
The two wives stopped snarling at each other long enough to turn and glare at their husbands.
“I’m standing right here you know…” the jackal and tigress said in unison to their husbands. The two of them heard the other and looked back up before locking gazes again.
“Look…..as incredibly hot as a clothes-ripping-off catfight between a MILF Anubis and MILF Jinko would be, you’re both setting a terrible example for the kids!” Graham said.
His wife glared at him. “Graham you’re really asking for it right now!”
“What? It’s a compliment….sort of….Think about it, babe. Do you really want to be the star of the next viral Mamono Gone Wild video?”
By this point, both Art and Vanessa were certain that they heard a slight Boston accent from the Anubis’ husband.
“Art, dear?” Vanessa asked through clenched fangs, the fury still apparent in her eyes. “Could you kindly step aside so I can teach this jackal some manners?”
Against his better judgement, Art wasn’t budging.
Meanwhile, Graham was approaching his wits end, struggling to physically restrain his wife from launching herself at the taller jinko. However, he still had one card left to play.
“Sakaali- you may not like what I’m gonna ask next, but what would the Pharaoh say if she saw you acting like this?”
Sakaali went quiet for a moment as her ears drooped.
“Do you really have to bring her up?” she asked meekly.
“C’mon, tell me what she’d say.”
“She’d say that I was acting childish”
Vanessa seemed to be calming down as she listened in on the exchange between the two.
Graham patted her shoulders “And she’d be right…” Graham smiled a little “And this whole time you two were bickering, take a look at what the girls have been up to over there.”
Sakaali did as she was asked and gasped a little.
Art looked past Vanessa “Oh my god- that’s adorable!” Vanessa turned around and saw Anippe and the cubs putting the finishing touches on an even bigger pyramid.
“I bet it would look even cooler with some tiger stripes!” Layla said.
“It’s even bigger than the one you had before!” Gabby proclaimed.
“And I can put more than one entrance on it, thanks to you guys helping out!” Said Anippe as she happily clapped her hand-paws together. The cubs crowded around her and gave her a big group hug.
“We’re sorry about knocking over the one you had before.” Eva said to the pup.
“It’s ok, I bet you didn’t mean to.” Anippe’s tail was wagging like crazy and little chuffs could be heard.
The Wurm came up behind the parents and clasped her hands together. “Well- it looks like you two have managed to resolve things on your own!” she chirped happily in a noticable midwestern accent right out of Fargo. A dark expression briefly clouded over the Wurm’s otherwise pleasant face that made Vanessa cringe as she instinctively took a half step back. The others could’ve sworn they heard the Anubis let out a small whimper at the same time. “For awhile, I thought I might have to step in, and I can assure you that neither one of you would’ve wanted that.” she said before turning her attention to the cubs and pup.
“Oh – isn’t that just the sweetest ? I’m sooo happy to see that little Anippe is finally making friends!”
Graham smiled and put his arm around Sakaali “So are we.”
Art pulled out his phone and snapped a few pictures, Vanessa sighed happily. “They sure are little snuggle bugs.”
Art looked up at Vanessa. “They get that from you” Vanessa put her arm around Art and gave him a small squeeze.
“If our baby girl’s tail wags any faster, she’s gonna get airborne.” Graham joked as he gently squeezed his wife’s paw.
Vanessa looked over at Graham and Sakaali and took a deep breath before speaking up. “I just wanted to apologize for the way I acted. I can be a little over protective when it comes to my kids.” Vanessa pointed to herself “my name’s Vanessa and this beautiful man right here is my husband Art.” Vanessa patted Art on the head before extending her paw out to Sakaali.
She looked at it for a moment before smiling and shaking the Jinko’s paw. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, I’m Sakaali and this fool right here is my husband Graham. I should offer my apologies for earlier as well- I can get quite territorial when it comes to my little one.”
The four of them made their way over to the cubs and pup as they were now admiring their handiwork.
“I bet some statues of a sphinx or tiger on the bottom would look super cool!” Eva said.
Anippe nodded happily before she felt her mother’s paw on her shoulder.
“Sweetie?” Sakaali asked her softly. “Why didn’t you tell us where you were going?”
“You were busy doing grown up things, mommy…” the little Anubis pup replied. “Am I in trouble?”
There was an awkward silence. Graham looked as though he was going to say something but uncharacteristically held his tongue. Finally, after a long pause, Sakaali leaned in and softly kissed the pup on her head.
“Of course not, love. Mommy was being very silly. But would you like to show us what you’ve been working on with your new friends?”
Anippe nodded enthusiastically.
“This side is for the Phaoroh’s loyal subordinates and the kingdom’s treasure.” the little girl beamed.
“And on the Pharoah’s side, we made the doors extra big so that elephants could fit through!” Gabby gestured enthusiastically.
“Why elephants?” Art asked her daughter
“We thought after sleeping for so long, Pharoah might want to see the circus when she wakes up.”
“Yeah! So we can bring the circus to her!” Layla chimed in.
“I heard mommy say that sometimes Pharoah needs to be entertained when she wakes up.” Anippe says, looking up at Sakaali while her tail is wagging. “And we all thought Pharoah could be entertained by a circus!”
“Hey! Hey! You’re from the Desert Kingdom, right?” Gabby asked as she got Sakaali’s attention by gently tugging on the hem of her dress. “Do you think the Pharoah likes circuses? Can they even put up the big top in a pyramid?”
The beautiful jackal mother was starting to turn red and stammered for a bit before addressing the jinko cub’s question, doing her best to provide a kid-friendly explanation of the Desert Kingdom empress’ often legendary lust.
“Well, young lady, you must understand that her Majesty’s idea of ‘entertainment’ can take many forms.” she said as she regained her composure.
“Oh- I get it! Like she might want to see the trapeeze artists first, and then the magicians!”
“Sort of- sometimes Pharoah may want to celebrate her return with a feast for her and all of her subjects. Or even just some quiet time alone with her husband…”
“You mean like when Daddy calls you ‘Empress’? But you’re not very quiet…” Anippe says.
“Whoa now…..heh heh….didn’t think you were awake when your mom and I-” Graham starts to say before turning to Vanessa and Art in a pretty obvious attempt to change the subject. “So….hey! I don’t think I’ve seen you guys around before- are you new here?”
Art chuckled a little. “Uh yeah, we just moved here about a month ago, job transfers and the like. We thought volunteering here would give us a chance to meet some fellow parents and help the girls make some new friends.” Art looked back down at the girls, still enamored with their pyramid then back up at Sakaali and Graham. “I guess it worked out pretty well.”
The wurm was now talking to Anippe and the cubs. With just a gentle word from her, they started dismantling the pyramid they had been working on and put away the building blocks in the toy chest.
“I wish we didn’t have to take this apart, but….” Anippe pouted a little.
“I know sweetie, but we have to put all the blocks away for the evening. Maybe tomorrow you and your new friends can build another one from scratch.” the good-natured wurm said to the pup and cubs.
“You bet!” Eva said as she dropped a little armload of building blocks into the toy chest.
“Really? You mean it?” Anippe asked the cubs, her little tail wagging again. The trio of jinko cubs nodded enthusiastically as she looked at each of them.
Their was a brief silence between the two parents before Vanessa piped up. “This might be kinda sudden but Art and I were planning on grilling out tonight, would you three be interested in coming?”
Sakaali responded almost immediately. “Well I’d have to check our schedule. We’re quite busy. but we might be able to squeeze that in sometime next month.” Graham put his hand on her shoulder and shot her a disapproving look. “I-I mean we’d love to!”.
Graham and Sakaali rolled up to Art and Vanessa’s house a few minutes ahead of schedule. Sakaali parked the car and listened to Anippe spout another miscellaneous jinko fact.
“Did you know that both jinkos and tigers can’t purr?”
Graham looked back at his daughter.
“We did know that sweetheart- you told us before we left the house”
“Oh- I just wanted to make sure.”
Sakaali sighed nervously and looked at the gift basket on Graham’s lap.
“I hope they’ll like it.”
Graham laughed. “Of course they’ll like it! You did great- especially on such short notice.” he said as he rubbed Sakaali’s ear a little before the Anubis playfully swatted his hand away.
They exited the car and made their way towards the door, Graham rang the doorbell and after a few moments, Vanessa answered.
Sakaali held out the gift basket. “Consider this a welcome gift/apology for earlier today.” Sakaali pointed out each item in the basket. “Let’s see… We have some wine and a sampler set of imported cheeses for you and Art, a DVD of The Great Anuby-Chan Detective for the cubs, a favorite show of mine from when I was a kid.”
Graham worked in a “Sixteen!” between some fake coughing, earning him an abrupt glare from his werejackal wife before she turned her attention back to the basket.
“And finally a gift certificate to Vinny’s for the whole family, their gelato is amazing.” Vanessa stared at the gift basket for a moment before taking it and giving Sakaali a big hug.
“Thank you so much!” the jinko gushed, her words partially muffled by Sakaali’s hair.
Sakaali yelped a little at the force of Vanessa’s hug. Vanessa pulled back and put her paw on her shoulder
“Oh I’m sorry! Did I hurt you?!”
“N-no it was just sudden, that’s all. A-anyways I’m glad you like our gift.”
Vanessa smiled and walked into the house. “The girls are playing in the backyard and Art’s grilling out on the porch. If you don’t mind I think I’m going to go open this wine now”
“Oh not at all”
Anippe made a Beeline for the backyard, leaving Sakaali and Graham alone in the entryway. Graham tried to follow his daughter but was stopped by a paw on his shoulder. Sakaali whispered in his ear, “Remind me to never piss her off ever again.” Graham smiled a little and was about ready to head on out after his daughter when he felt Sakaali’s paw tighten its grip a little.
“Graham, love?” she asked sweetly.
“We never got to take a picture of Anippe’s handiwork before she and the others had to put the building blocks away. See if you can get Art to send us a copy.”
He nodded as the two of them headed outside.
Anippe got maybe halfway up the little rope ladder attached to the jungle gym in Art and Vanessa’s backyard when the cubs beckoned to her from a large cardboard box in the shade.
Vanessa had an iPod with speakers playing what she called her workout mix- not too loudly, but certainly loud enough to drown out her banter with Sakaali while the tigress and jackal were trading risuqe tales about themselves and their husbands over the newly gifted bottle of Merlot.
Vanessa giggled as she took another sip of wine.
“So there I am! Buck naked and waiting for something to happen when all of a sudden the cutest brunet I’ve ever seen walks in!”
Sakaali laughed and took a sip of wine. “And then what?!”
Vanessa continued on with the story and made sure not to leave out any of the saucy details.
Art looked down at the burgers on the grill and sighed. “Why’s she telling that one?”
Graham took a sip of beer and looked at Art. “Mind telling me your side of the story?”
“Let’s just say that I was short on cash and I just so happened to meet a very persuasive Danuki.”
“Well shit- looks like things worked out well for you, all things considered. Could’ve turned out much worse- could’ve hooked up with an Ushi Oni or something.” Graham chuckled.
“Well, actually……” Art began sheepishly
“No friggin way.” Graham said- his accent becoming a little more apparent with that surprised outburst.
“Turns out that was the shoot after us. I was pretty glad to get out of there when me and Vanessa wrapped things up.”
“Oh man- sounds like you dodged a bullet there….” Graham mused as he took another pull from his bottle of beer. “I mean….if you ended up with an Ushi, you’d probably still be in traction.”
Art looked out into the yard and saw the girls playing with one of the moving boxes underneath the jungle gym. It was still pretty warm out, but the big box the girls were playing with was in the shade. Anippe was busy drawing hieroglyphics on the side while the cubs bounced around inside it.
“These are so the Sun King Horus can grant our boat a safe voyage and protect us from pirates.” the little Anubis pup said as she stepped back to admire her handiwork.
“But it’s a spaceship now.” said Eva
“No way- it’s a stagecoach, and I’m riding shotgun, pardner!!” Retorted Layla.
Art never could quite understand his daughters fascination with cardboard boxes. Even though he encouraged them to play on the practically brand new slide and jungle gym, it seemed as though the boxes had won them over.
The jinko’s husband thought back to the time he found Vanessa sitting in the box their fridge came in and chuckled a little. “Like mother, like daughters I suppose.”
“What was that about?” Graham looked at him
“Oh, I was just thinking how we made sure we got a place that included a jungle gym for the girls, but it’s losing badly to the cardboard boxes from our move.” Art mused as he flipped a burger over. “In fact- between my daughters and Anippe, I’d say your girl got the most use out of it this week- and she only got halfway up before the girls called her over.”
“So, how are you and Vanessa enjoying this fair state of ours?”
“Pretty well I suppose. Me and Vanessa are originally from Minnesota so we’re still getting used to the heat.”
“Oh lordy- that takes some adjustment. Before I enlisted and got stationed out here and met my lovely Wan With the Plan, I was born and raised in New Hampshire.” Graham said sympathetically.
“New Hampshire, huh? Guess that explains the accent.” Art observed.
“I have an accent?” Graham asked self-consciously.
“It’s a little noticeable at times.”
“Anyways, there’s some cooler spots I know of that you guys could head to some time. You ever been to Sedona?”
“Can’t say I have.”
“Beautiful place. Kinda artsy, not too hard to find a good vantage point late in the evening and It’ll take your breath away. Alot of red rock formations, great sunsets, lots of stargazing at night and almost always cooler than here. I love taking the wife and little one up there whenever I get the chance. There’s some good state parks up there…” Graham pointed out before pausing to take another pull from his beer. “But towns like that or Prescott….or even Yarnell can run anywhere from 15 to 30 degrees cooler than here in the Valley depending on the time of year.”
“I’ll have to check it out, thanks for the tip.” Graham gave Art a small pat on the back.
“Don’t mention it.” Graham pointed to the burgers sizzling away on the grill. “Say- you think these are almost done?”
“I think so- you wanted yours medium rare, right?”
The Anubis’ husband nodded.
“Just like the girls- let’s go round up the wives before they tell a really embarrassing story.” Art said, earning a guffaw from Graham.
“I think that train’s already left the station.” he said as the two of them made their way over to their wives, just as Vanessa was finishing up her tale.
“So then I ask him if he’ll still be their when I wake up, he says ‘yes’ and we spend the night in each others arms.” Vanessa put her arm around Art and gave him a kiss on the top of the head.
Sakaali put her paw over her heart and smiled.
“So, how did you and Graham meet?” Vanessa asked her guest.
“Well, it’s nowhere near as unconventional as your story.” Sakaali took Graham’s hand in her paw “but I like to think it’s still a good one nonetheless.” She rested her head against his shoulder and smiled.
“How about you tell it over dinner?” Art said before he called the cubs and Anippe over. Before long, all eight of them of them were eagerly milling around the grill.
“Oh boy! You get to see the extra special tigerburgers daddy makes for us.” Layla told Anippe.
“Mm-hmm!” the jinko cub nodded happily. “They’re made with stripes- just like the ones on our tail and paws!”
Sakaali and Graham stifled a little grin when they saw that the ‘stripes’ on the burgers were just normal grill marks, but weren’t too surprised that their host understandably ran with it and told his daughters they were customized for his girls.
“There’s even tiger buns.” Art said to his guests as he used the spatula to deftly lift off a big kaiser bun that was also sporting grill marks. “But if you ask me, my favorite tiger buns are right here.” he said while playfully patting Vanessa’s backside.
“Art….not in front of the kids.” A flustered Vanessa quietly murmured.
None of the kids seemed to notice right away as they were busy giving Anippe another group hug.
“Those High-Row-Griffins you added sure helped us chase off that zombie outlaw Apophis space pirate!” Gabby said between chuffs before releasing the jackal pup. “Now- let’s eat!”
“Yeah!” her siblings called out enthusiastically as they started holding out their plates.
“Before I start serving everyone I’d like to propose a toast.” Art held up his bottle.
Graham held up his bottle while Sakaali and Vanessa still had wine in their respective glasses.
“OK then- a toast! To the beautiful, stubborn and headstrong women in our lives- they may drive us crazy, but let’s face it…..we wouldn’t want it any other way.” Graham began.
He could see that Anippe and the cubs had little plastic cups of apple juice in each of their big paws.
“To new friendships!” Vanessa said as their glasses, bottles and cups all clinked together.
“Took the words right out of my mouth, sweetie.” Art said before delivering a chaste peck on the jinko’s cheek.
“To new and lasting friendships!” Sakaali added before raising her glass and taking another sip of Merlot.
“I’m no oni, but I’ll drink to that.” Graham said, taking an espeically prolonged pull from his beer.
With the sun sinking closer to the horizon, the two families dug in to dinner in Art and Vanessa’s backyard.