Disclaimer: Must I say it?


Puzzle Pieces

Heart pounding.

Lungs burning for air.

Hooves churning up the dust.

He battled with the billowing wind that met him head-on, but rather than push him back, it only spurred him forward. The sun, unhindered by clouds, cloaked the world in brilliant color. Children laughed and squealed, their mothers and fathers looking on in amusement. The cause of their jovial displays evaded him; Melman was too busy running for his life.

He could feel the presence behind him.

It was watching him.

Chasing him.

Hunting him.

No matter how fast he pumped his little legs, it grew closer.

In his chest arose a feeling of exhilarating suspense, because he knew it was coming.

It was only a matter of when.

But then he saw something else.

Something that would be his downfall, for sure.

He tried to stop, but it was too late. Though he was agile and quick, he was no match for the rock in his path. His hooves made contact, and Melman went tumbling down. He coughed and sputtered as the dust cloud swirled around him. His legs scrambled for purchase on the well-trodden earth, but it was in vain. He remained on the ground, out of breath and out of time.

He was a sitting duck. His energy spent, he could only wait for the inevitable. He was done. Finished. Defeated. A disgrace to his family. A failure that would never amount to anything –

The presence was there. Standing over him. It lowered its large head.

There was the familiar pressure of a muzzle being pressed to his forehead. Its owner drew back, and Melman looked into deep brown eyes. The older giraffe smiled.

"You're it."

"Papa!" he groaned.

His father laughed, the sound ringing out over their exhibit at the Bronx, clear as a bell. He trotted away, leaving his son lying in the dust. Melman gathered himself. He locked eyes on the spotted haunches that were getting farther away every second.

He gave chase.

The hunter became the hunted.

This was his element. He knew this land better than anyone. He moved with the quickness and grace of a gazelle, with all the strategy and power of a lion. He had experience, now. He would never again be tripped up by a mere pebble. He was not someone to be trifled with; the whole zoo would learn of his awesome might and skill. He would be legendary, his story repeated through hushed whispers for all eternity. "Did you know Melman Mankiewicz III?" animals would ask one another. "No," would come the reply, "but I saw him once…he was truly the most powerful being I have ever laid eyes on…"

"Melman!"

Melman screeched to a halt at the sound of his mother's voice, as did his father.

"The vet is here, it's time to take your medicine!"

"Clementine," his father grumbled. "How many times do I have to tell you that garbage is doing him more harm than good?"

The female giraffe shot her mate a glare so sharp that a smaller animal would have surely perished under its intensity. She took a couple of steps toward him. "Really, Melman? You and I both know that you're going to regret not listening to me."

Melman Mankiewicz II rolled his eyes. "Am I? Because I seem to be doing pretty alright, if you ask me. I haven't had so much as a cold in months!" He smirked in his confidence. "I'm a picture of health. Nothing has happened to me –"

"Yet!" Clementine hissed. "Nothing has happened yet."

" – and nothing will," he finished.

Young Melman didn't much understand their argument, though he could sense both of his parents getting pretty mad. Why would his father have a problem with the vet? But if he wasn't getting sick anyway, what was the harm in not going to the vet? And neither of his parents were prepared to give in, so why bother arguing?

He sighed. How could grown-ups be so smart, but so dumb? His attention was diverted by a small white butterfly flitting through the enclosure. The mighty hunter gave chase once more.

Melman's father scoffed. "Always the downer, aye, Clementine? I'm always the parade, and you, the rain." He took a couple of steps toward his mate. "So – let me get this straight – I skip a couple of vet visits -"

"All of them," Clementine interrupted.

" – and suddenly I'm going to, what? Die?"

Clementine's determination faltered as she blinked back tears. "Don't talk like that," she pleaded. She drew in a deep breath. "Please, Melman. Please just go see the vet once – just to make sure you're as healthy as you say. I don't like to see you putting yourself at risk – putting our son at risk –"

"I don't need a vet to tell me that I'm in the best shape of my life," he retorted as he stalked away, causing school children to shriek with delight as he approached the fence.

Clementine glared at his retreating form before turning to her son. "C' mon, Melman," she said. Melman had resorted to standing perfectly still, as the butterfly had landed on his nose.

"Which one?" his father called over his shoulder.

"The one that listens to me," she snapped. "C' mon, baby."

Little Melman opened his mouth to protest, but he quickly shut it after another hard look from Clementine. "Yes, Mama," he said, shaking the butterfly off and obediently trotting after his mother. He paused for a moment, casting one last glance at his father. "Can we play tag later, Papa?"

"Of course," promised the giraffe at the fence. Satisfied, Melman brightened and skipped after Clementine. He braced himself for an encounter with the vet: a nice enough man, but he had needles!

He entered the familiar barn, the very barn in which he was born, and a wave of comfort washed over him. The smell of fresh hay – musty, but clean – filled his nostrils, as did the scents of his family. Golden light from the outdoors filtered in through the windows, falling on his mother's soft, spotted coat. He inhaled deeply. The mighty hunter had returned to his sanctuary.

"Good girl, Clem!" a man exclaimed. The vet. A young woman who accompanied him cautiously offered Clementine a carrot, which the female giraffe accepted with a swishing tail. Melman hadn't seen the woman before. He hoped she was nice.

The woman stepped back, still gazing upon the recipient of the carrot. "How did you train her to bring little dude for his check-up?"

Her superior chuckled and shook his head. "We didn't! She began bringing him all on her own; we figured the least we could do was thank her for it." He paused, looking from Clementine to Melman who peered out from behind her. "It really makes you wonder…"

"What, sir?"

"Never mind. Little Melman here just needs some vitamins, and we need a couple of samples." He reached into one of his many pockets and retrieved a small cube of unknown plant matter. Melman's nostrils quivered at the delightful scent, and he took a couple of steps forward. The vet extended his arm, and the young giraffe gleefully accepted the vitamin-laden treat.

The vet reached into a small black case he had set on the barn floor, retrieving several items. Melman didn't much notice two of them, because the third was a syringe armed with a needle. The young giraffe squeaked in terror, ducking through Clementine's long, graceful legs in his panic.

"It's okay, baby," his mother soothed. "They just have to make sure you're healthy."

As Melman considered his mother's words and tried to gather courage, the veterinarian handed the other two items retrieved from his black case – a plastic bag and a flattened stick – to the young woman who accompanied him. "Here. You'd better learn to love taking fecal samples." When she made a face, he chuckled. "This is textbook intern work. You'll get used to it."

"Yessir," she said, giving him a small salute.

The vet returned his attention to Melman, who had emerged from Clementine's legs. "Hey, buddy," he said gently. He slowly approached his patient and readied the needle. Melman squeaked again when it pierced his skin.

But just as soon as the pain began, it ended. He twisted his neck to see the syringe filling with blood – his blood – and started to tremble. His mother shushed him and pressed her muzzle to his temple. When an adequate amount of blood had been collected, the vet removed the needle.

Clementine smiled at her son. "There, now. That wasn't so bad, was it?"

Melman shook his head. He could handle anything! He was Melman Mankiewicz III!

"That's my brave boy."

His little chest swelled with pride. He was brave!

The veterinary intern knelt down on the floor once she had located a semi-fresh pile of – ahem – sample, and scooped some of it up using the small, flattened stick. "Ooh, that's nice."

Melman curled his lip in disgust. The intern dropped the stick into a plastic bag and smiled. "I like that," she murmured.

What?

She sealed the bag and stood up. "Mm girl, you know how to treat me ri –"

"Melman!" Clementine whispered with urgency.

Melman turned his attention from the bizarre woman to his mother. "What, Mama?"

The intern's voice deepened. "Yes, Naomi!"

Melman turned to his mother. "Mama, what is she talking about?"

"Right there!" The young woman's voice was distinctly male, and it was growing increasingly familiar…

"Melman!" Clementine whispered again, clearly growing desperate.

"Mama, what is it? Who is Naomi?"

She placed a hoof on a shoulder and shook him roughly. "Melman, wake up!"

His ears flicked. Something wasn't right. Her voice sounded distant.

And it certainly was not her own.

"Wake up!" she said again, louder now.

He knew that voice.

"Gloria?"

The warm, musty smell of the barn was drowned out by a heavenly tropical perfume, the barn ceiling crumbled away to reveal a sky full of stars, and the chirping of crickets silenced the squealing of school children. The green eyes of his mother were replaced by the brown ones of Gloria. "It's about time!" the hippo hissed. "You seein' this?"

"Mmwhat, honey?" Melman murmured, still in the clutches of sleep.

Gloria giggled. "You boys're ridiculous. But you see it too, right? I ain't trippin'?

"See wha –"

"You know what I like, Naomi," Marty mumbled. Melman was wide awake, now. He glanced over at Marty, who was fast asleep. An amused smirk tugged at the corners of the giraffe's lips, but it vanished as soon as he took in the rest of the picture.

Alex.

Was.

Licking.

Marty.

Melman was at a loss for words. Was Alex dreaming? Did he and Marty share something more than friendship? But then who was Naomi? Was Alex going to…eat Marty? No, that couldn't be it, right? Alex would never –

"Marty," Gloria hissed.

"How does he not know?" the giraffe wondered aloud.

"Marty!"

Marty twitched, but he didn't wake. "You sure know how'ta use that tongue, baby –"

Melman gagged, not even wanting to think about what the zebra was dreaming about. Neither did Gloria, apparently, because she punched the zebra in the shoulder.

Marty jolted awake, teal eyes wide. "Naomi!"

"Who's Naomi?"

The striped stallion blinked rapidly. "Gloria? What is – Alex?"

Alex didn't wake. The lion dragged his tongue across the black-and-white pelt, hopefully lost in a dream, as well. Melman shuddered. He didn't want to know what Alex was dreaming about, either.

"Alex?" Marty repeated.

Alex's blue eyes shot open.

"What are you doing?" Marty asked.

Alex looked from his friends' faces to Marty's side. He licked his finger and began counting the zebra's stripes. " – 27, 28, 29, 30 – thirty! Thirty black and only twenty-nine white," he said quickly. "Looks like you're black with white stripes after all! Dilemma solved! Goodnight!" The lion abruptly rolled over and began snoring instantly.

"That was weird," Melman mused, flopping back down onto the sand.

"Which part?" Gloria whispered, her eyelids drooping.

Melman scoffed. "All of it! Alex licking Marty, Marty talking in his sleep –"

"You talk in your sleep too, you know."

Melman shrank back. "I-I do?" It felt like his soul left his body. Like his chest was caving in. Like his blood had frozen in his veins. He could control what he said when he was awake. But unconscious? He had no choice in that. It occurred to Melman that, despite his best efforts to keep his secret a secret, he might unwittingly reveal it in the night. He gazed up at the night sky, an endless sea of helicopters. "Did I…did I say anything, um, weird?" he asked her, trying to sound casual.

Gloria laughed softly. "You called out for your mama."

"I – what?" Melman was mortified. It was almost as bad as an unconscious revelation. He blushed, grateful for the cover of the night, and looked at Gloria out of the corner of his eye. "S-sorry you had to…um…hear that."

She giggled again. "It's okay, Melman. It's probably best that I was the one who heard it, and not Alex or Marty. They wouldn't let you live it down…heck, I might not let you live it down, either."

Melman let out a hushed groan, trying not to allow his humiliation to wake up the others. "Please, Gloria –"

"At least you didn't say anything like Marty," she pointed out, earning a chuckle from the giraffe beside her.

You have no idea.

Gloria yawned, and then she smirked at her friend before closing her eyes. "'Night, Melman. Sweet dreams."

"Goodnight, Gloria," He whispered back, rolling his eyes in the darkness. He blamed Marty's seaweed for the weird, vivid dreams. Or maybe had he had swallowed some seawater on accident. He shuddered at the thought.

As Melman lay there in silence, listening to the nighttime sounds of the jungle and the waves lapping at the shore, he hoped and prayed that he would not be like Marty – or call out for his mother again. As he was about to slip into the comfortable haze of sleep, an unfamiliar voice cried out in frustration.

"HOW LONG IS THIS GOING TO TAKE?"


0o0


Woohoo! Yeah! Another chapter done! I hope you liked this dose of baby Melman and fam :D I don't know if I am pleased, but test audiences liked it so...everything is fine. It took longer than I expected, sorry. The next chapter (I think?) is, like, half-done. I'm so excited about it. Eep! I'm trying to hurry myself along and get to a sequel, but there's so much potential on Madagascar, you feel me?

Thank you so so much for your reads, favorites, follows, and reviews (!) Loved reading them, the river water/vodka story made me giggle (sorry that happened to u, friend); also, shook that not everyone skims over my author's notes lol

As always, feel free to leave your thoughts ;) I'll see y'all real soon