A deep chill snakes its way through the blanketed recesses of Lion Country. I’m afraid to move, afraid to even breathe. I am afraid of making the slightest noise which may incite the insatiable devourer of life, of light, of souls. It is pointless to wonder why this horrid creature hates me so. What matters only is that I must defend my life and the life of those entrusted to me, wherever they may be in this dark infested domain.
I can almost feel it sneering beyond the thickets, hear it smelling the wind, tracking my scent, or worse – tracking those I love. How did I end up in this wretched place? One summer evening, I was on a dock, placing a ring on the finger of a beautiful girl, and almost overnight, we find ourselves in this place of danger. We are hated, we are hunted by an evil thing, and worse yet – we have reproduced, poured our collective hearts into the forms of two small beings, and we forever carry the burden of worrying about their safety. What were we thinking??
A startling crack within the brush, and I know it is moving quickly. It’s chasing me.
Screams. No, it’s her! It’s after her! What is she doing out here? I told her to…Ice boils, then explodes to flames within me as I launch myself toward the panicked sounds. The screams are becoming hurried, staggered. She is trying to run away, but she won’t be fast enough. She is running toward the children. NO! She has no choice; she is only doing what her instincts compel her to do – to protect them. And they hear her screaming; they are coming out of the house. The demonic cat speeds its pace, knowing its meal has just tripled. And I can’t run fast enough.
In this moment – in this most strange, most inappropriate of moments, as my desperation could not possibly be greater, I think of all the times in which I was so petty and so selfish. I think of all the times I silently agreed that this whole thing with the wife and the kids was too much work. I think of all the arrows I pointed, labeling her as the enemy, when the true enemy is before me, drastically outrunning me, heaving death and hatred with every drop of its violent paws upon the earth.
My current approach is doomed to fail. I’ll never intercept the creature in time. I am not fast enough, and she is falling to the ground. In seconds, it will have her in its jaws. So I resort to the only think I can think to do. I yell. All depleted strength in my exhausted lungs collaborates into one, long, nonsensical exhalation. It’s foolishness to think it will accomplish anything, which is why I am shocked when the lion stops. As though striking an invisible wall, it freezes in mid-step.
I can hear, almost as echoes beyond the pounding of my own heartbeat, as aftershocks within an infinitely stretched moment in time, the frightened and hurried breaths of my dearest one. The cries of our children as they race toward her. The growls of the horrid beast as it turns to face me.
Prepared as I am to sacrifice my life for their sake, I remain stricken with the probability that the terrible cat will not end its tyranny upon devouring me. Once done, it will continue on and on until no person remains that bears my name. I do not fear death. But I do fear failure. What has my life been worth if I have failed to protect those entrusted to me? How could I have failed so profoundly?
Staring into yellow eyes of the ancient, blood-thirsty beast, a peculiar impulse comes over me. Rather than stand still, awaiting its attack, rather than divert its attention from the precious ones beyond me, I begin to circle. I circle the beast, and I stand. I stand between the lion and my home – my domain. And as I do so, I reach behind me, take the hand of my wife, and as she takes hold, I can feel the warmth of her tears upon my arm’s flesh. Memories of every wonderful experience we have ever known together begin to flood my mind. This is my companion. This is my friend. We must face the beast together. Perhaps we will die. Perhaps we will all perish together this night of nights in Lion Country. Knowing what I do about the prowling demon, I can expect nothing else.
Which is why I am shocked when the lion stops bearing its teeth. And it turns and walks away. Almost casually, it paces back into the thickets, soon out of sight. Dense silence settles into the air. We are relieved, even as we suffer from panic’s hangover. The children, frightened to quiet tears, approach and embrace us. The night’s chill begins to warm. And I am holding her hand.