Typically, cats of the wild are known for a solitary existence, with the exception of lions who prefer to form prides together. Around the time a male lion reaches maturity, he separates himself from his family to go off and form his own pride, living as a sort of nomad, wandering forth.
One such lion had found himself traveling for just over a year. The thrill, the excitement, the call of action, purpose had slowly begun to wear off the cat. The freedom, the scenes around him were exciting, though on some days (especially some days when a hunt had gone afoul and he found himself scavenging a hyena or leopard’s kill, only to seek shelter during a torrential storm), he found himself longing for company. Misery loves company and all that.
One such day he found himself hunkered under a tree, whose extensive branches spawned blessed shade from the glaring sun, when he detected movement across. Raising a lazy, scanning eye, the lion saw, was that an antelope? No, the horns on its head are different, straighter. The ears had an odd, almost fringed look about them. The body was mostly tan with a black stripe running down its flank. The lion’s head cocked up. Prey. Food.
Lions prefer to gang up on any potential prey, forming a semi-circle and creeping up on their victims, usually in the dead of night. This is only successful about half the time.
If he put forth his wits, this cat might eat good tonight. He stood, regretfully leaving the tree’s shade and began to stealthily make his way towards the animal.
The lion’s prey (who was a species of oryx) was busy munching away on a particularly delectable brand of grass, unconcerned of anything else. A sense of comfort settled in her along with the grass; she had come to these plains many times and knew them well.
The lion slunk low in the tall grasses, attempting to blend in
(be the grass be the grass)
with the grass. In his mind’s eye, he had already taken this animal, his belly was filled to satisfaction and his survival for tomorrow was permitted. His mouth was lubricated with saliva, his stomach gave a small growl.
The oryx paused in her consumption of the savory salad the grass provided to momentarily preen herself. She regarded the blank horizon, then returned to eating. There seemed to be a ticking somewhere. Something was not entirely right. The silence was too loud. The full portrait of the landscape was empty of subjects. An invisible shudder chased itself through the oryx. She was being watched. That meant only one thing…
The lion sensed its prey sudden discomfort. The time to attack was coming. Like a soundless countdown. Quickly, before it fled and the lion went another day without food. The time to act was approaching; the time to strike was –
He lunged from the brush at the same moment the fringe-eared oryx abandoned its meal and fled for cover. Adrenaline washed over the pair, the lion found himself fueled with a sugar-high joy as he bound after its hapless prey. The oryx was similarly flooded, though terror was what surged through the waters.
The plains they traveled over had a tendency to be unpredictable, running alternatively barren or rough with rocks and roots popping from the ground. The occasional forest was not an impossibility. These were plains the oryx had traveled a few times in the past. If this lion wasn’t entirely familiar with them, maybe…maybe she could escape.
The oryx counted itself lucky that at least she didn’t have a cheetah on her tail. Not that outrunning and outsmarting this beast would be a picnic. Already her legs were afire, pumping up and down like pistons to some machine working furiously, but she couldn’t give up now. To surrender meant to die. And she hadn’t quite had enough of that tasty grass.
An ecstatic, euphoric pant escaped the lion; he loved the chase, it made the kill so much sweeter when it happened. That fleeting realization that would come over his prey, realization that it had been caught, that its days casually sauntering through the brush had come to an end. That now, its true purpose in life was to be realized: it was nothing more than sustenance for this lion.
The oryx suddenly dodged to the left, causing the lion barely a pause in its pace as he shifted his body accordingly. What he failed to miss however was the root of a long dead tree protruding from the earth, hidden by the long grasses. The lion went sprawling face first in the ground.
The oryx couldn’t resist snatching a look at the high and mighty king of the jungle collapsed into one big mess of tan fur, but she still had to keep running if she wanted to maintain her slight lead on him.
The lion, having disentangled himself, growled fiercely. After tearing the flesh from the oryx’s bones and digesting them, he would deposit the biological waste of the oryx back on its pitiful remains.
They seemed to be coming towards an end to the plains as the trees around them had sprung up to form a leafy jungle. Birds vacated their nests, suddenly remembering prior engagements they had. Monkeys swung off on vines, some hooted encouragement to the oryx, others watched with grim countenance.
On and on they ran, the oryx taking an occasional wild turn here or there or made to feint left or right, but the lion was not deterred by such trickery. He was getting closer, he could feel it, soon the creature would be his. Her taste was almost on his lips, he added a small burst of speed, charging after his prey, then made a finale style lunge, his outstretched paws seemed to move in slow motion as they reached out to tear into the oryx…
A sudden left turn from the latter left the lion running headlong into a broad base of an aged tree, which he promptly would have crashed into had his agility been absent from this hunt; like a superball, the moment his paws landed on the tree, he launched himself off, ricocheting after his tricky foe.
The lion’s foe gave a brief pause; she had been hoping a collision with that aged tree would incapacitate her hunter. All was not lost though; an idea or two flitted fleetingly through her mind, like fickle fairies frolicking in fairgrounds. Like a bolt from an archer’s bow, she shot down a conspicuously uninhabited pathway.
Growing frustration grew inside the so-called predator, by all rights it would probably have been wiser to just write off this hunt as having gone foul. But there was something about the oryx, the way she dared to defy him – to defy the natural order of the food chain, even more, to dare to humiliate him. He felt he had something to prove, to show her the folly, the futility of her flight. Well, that, and he was hungry.
Had he perhaps given pause in his pursuit, he may have noticed a lack of fellow jungle creatures swinging past the tall trees, slithering about the leafy forest floor, or flying high above. It could also be that had he noticed, he may have written it off that as a side effect of his impressive presence he scared off lesser prey.
The ground beneath his feet was soft as he padded after the oryx, she had just disappeared around a grove of bushes. A queer idea gently began tugging the corner of his mind: that the oryx was stringing him along, like show dog following its master’s leash, as though he were being lead
to somewhere. The paws of the lion were digging deep into the yielding earth with each step (had it rained recently); flecks of dirt and bits of sand were sullying his ankles.
Turning the corner after the oryx he discovered she was no where to be seen. Dead stop. Where had she gone to? She was just here a moment ago. Hiding? The fierce eyes of the lion carefully scanned the area. No movement. His ears strained to hear the faintest rustle of leaves, the crunch of hooves on fallen branches, finding nothing.
He took a step forward, noting with some annoyance how soft earth was impeding his movements. Like it was gobbling him up. His nostrils flared, searching for a trace of his prey. She was close. He couldn’t pinpoint where…
He made to take another step forward only to find himself stuck up to his joints in the soggy earth. He examined his paws and discovered them all to be similarly encumbered. What was happening to him? Cogs in the back of his mind were slowly beginning to raise the veil. Quicksand. He had foolishly blundered into a patch of it.
From behind a small boulder, outside the boundaries of the hungry quicksand, the oryx stepped out, triumph was written across her face. The lion growled angrily. Now he knew; she had planned this, lead him, like a cow to the slaughterhouse. Why had he let himself be tricked thus? This couldn’t be his end, it was too ignoble of an end for him. Dreams of running a pride and siring cubs of his own with lionesses, valiantly defending his pride from predators and humans flashed through his brain before they were entirely realized.
He strained his muscles against the earth. No use. He was stuck and sinking fast. The oryx turned and walked off, a spring in her step, taunting the humbled king, leaving her prey to his doom.
Furiously the lion let out a roar that chilled the bones of all who could hear in the jungle and the surrounding tri-state area. He chided himself for it; waste of energy that was. Not going to help him escape. Gotta keep trying.
Again he tried to free his trapped limbs, taking caution to not move around so much as to cause the volume of the sand to shift so that it sucked him in faster. But what other choice did he have? To give up would be…dishonorable. A lion may die, either by the hand of time and Old Age or by the hand of a cold-blooded poacher that would wear his hide as a (pretty sweet lookin’) vest-jacket.
Now, however, was not the time. Nor place. He had to try. If there remained an ounce of energy inside, a scrap of courage left in his weary bones, he would blend it together and strive to survive. Veins in his muscles stood out as he tugged his weary limbs. Something felt like it was moving, but if that was his imagination or if he was just sinking further in, he could tell.
His vision drifted in and out as he pooled all his resources into escaping. He was very tired, what with all that running and now this? It’d be nice to be back under that tree, lazily sprawled out. No, can’t give in yet, to rest now, to sleep would mean death.
He roared again, scaring off what remained of the wildlife. A tribe of monkeys swung past on vines with such force that they caused an aged and diseased tree to topple over, falling in line with the trapped lion. He lion snapped his jaws, so close, but it might as well be in another dimension. If he could just get hold of it…He could do this. Come on.
With renewed determination, he sent forth his remaining dregs of strength, wrenching free his front paw, grasping onto the fallen tree, his salvation. Using that as an anchor, he twisted and shifted his body, squirming against the earth, almost to his surprise he managed to pop free of the pit, landing on the tree with the cat-like agility that was his by natural birth.
A guttural growl grew deep within his throat, his lips peeled back in a fierce snarl, he was triumphant. He had proven himself still worthy of his title as king of the jungle, master of the wild. Though one remained who denied him. The lion’s grin faded, he would find her.
Waves upon waves of euphoria rushed through her, rivers of rapture flooded her, like a thousand orgasms all exploding within her as one. The taste of survival, the thrill of having come out of a hunt victorious was overpowering. She imagined this must be how those high and mighty lions and tigers and bears felt all the time. The only trouble was that no one else would believe her. Ah well, adventure is worthwhile in itself.
The oryx smirked thinking of her former predatory pussycat (well they got half of it right), hopelessly trapped, surely even now deep enough that his final screams would be muffled under several layers of the earth. He had certainly made her day more interesting and served as a reminder the benefits of staying in shape.
That was rather cold. Just leaving him for dead. But he would have done no better, heck he would have eaten her, given the chance. She shook off these feelings of pity, preferring to hop back on her imaginary surfboard and ride those euphoric waves.
Had the oryx herself been a member of the feline family she might have laid out under the shadow of a leafy tree and purred, content with herself. As it was, the oyrx simply returned to consuming the grass, unwary of the new danger that now stalked after her.
Following her scent, the lion was able to track the oryx to a clearing where he saw her munching away again on that grass. Did it really taste that good? the lion wondered in the back of his head.
Tsk tsk, did she not learn? Or did she think she was safe, even now gloating over her little victory? She had gumption though, he would allow her that. Never had anyone, prey or predator, taken him on such a chase and humbled him. Maybe in another lifetime she had been a lioness, proud and strong, courageous even under the most frightening of circumstances.
The muscles in his legs coiled, his body tensed to a point where he was perfectly still, wait for it, waitforit, waitforit…the oryx had just ducked her head to ingest another chunk of grass. Now.
It was like an explosion of fur, teeth, and large paws with large claws extended out. The oryx didn’t even have time to swallow before she found herself pinned down by the fearsome, hateful beast above her. You again, wonderful, her face said, disdain etched in along her features.
The lion bellowed triumphantly, staring down into the eyes of his scared, hapless prey. Only, those eyes weren’t very scared. Quite the opposite in fact those eyes were lined with anger, at him, at being so unceremoniously toppled thusly. Why, the lion almost felt a little fearful, had those eyes been on top of him. Scared, but excited. There was a hint of sarcasm in those eyes somewhere, almost speaking to him,
(you like what you see? Put a ring on it, Mister.)
daring him. She squirmed underneath him, trying to free herself, but the lion tightened his hold on her. She spat the contents of her mouth onto his face. He growled at her, but it had lost that fearsome quality that had once chilled her bones.
They stood interlocked together for a few moments longer than what may have been normally “accepted” in the wild, each enthralled by the other. The oryx found herself impressed by the lion’s survival, under several layers of annoyance at his intrusion. He still found himself gazing into her eyes, captivated by their lack of fear.
An odd scene flickered inside the lion briefly on a subconscious level where they had been (humans) another species, or the same species, in this position, in opposition to the other, then suddenly (mating, groping, coupling, feverishly) laughing and grinning. Like throwing off goblin masks after Halloween, revealing their true (feelings) faces.
He let her up, much to his surprise as hers. Much to her surprise as his, she didn’t immediately run away. Each just stood, watching the other. The lion took a slow step towards the oryx, she remained still. He took another step towards her and did something he had never done with another animal, whether lion or otherwise, he licked her cheek.
She turned her head away, accepting his lick. An unspoken pact was made to meet back here, at this spot later. Now, the oryx turned away from the large predator that had stalked her with the intent of consuming her and meandered off, almost floating through the tall fields of grass.
The gun shot was like a cannon blast, like the loudest bolt of lightning Thor or Zeus had ever hurled from Asgard or Olympus. The sound was all consuming, it seemed there was no other sound, had never been any other sound except that shot. It filled the lion’s acute ears painfully and made his gut clench horribly.
The subsequent yowl that followed the gun shot was worse, infinitely worse. It pierced him, it pierced beyond him, landing home on a level of existence he had never known before. To her credit, the oryx did not immediately collapse. She swayed, steadied herself, felt her knees grow weak as new blood failed to circulate to her legs. There was no new blood to come to her aid, her body’s supplier had been injured.
Perhaps a skilled veterinarian would have been able to save the oryx’s life, but a veterinarian was not around, the only humans around were those with the intent to take her life, steal it. Black patches dotted with purple ate away her vision. Drowsiness overtook her, she dully felt her knees finally give way, felt the hot earth rush to greet her.
The lion protested. Protested until he could no longer speak. Then he quietly approached the fallen creature guiltily as though he was the one to have brought about the oryx’s end. Soft whines escaped his throat upon seeing her indignantly splayed on the ground. He nudged her head. Maybe it was a game. Maybe she’d leap up, snicker at him and make him chase after her again.
But no, she remained quite still. Maybe, someday, in time –
The second shot was just as loud as the first. The lion collapsed upon his former nemesis, the life, the fight, gone from him.
The two men regarded each other briefly, before the squatter of the two stepped forward.
“Well bully,” he said, jovially. “Quite an impressive shot you have there; I’ve never seen a lion go down in a single hit.”
The other man was tall, broad shouldered and bare chested. His jet black hair was slicked back in a no-nonsense attitude. A bushy black handlebar mustache accompanied his face. He had already started to his game, leaving his rifle behind. The former man regarded this as a little bold, even for him, what if that lion, or the oryx for that matter, wasn’t quite dead yet and decided to attack the next poor sap to come within reach?
Something told him that the tall man could take care of himself.
“The lion was distracted. He no longer possessed the will to live.” The tall man’s voice was gravelly, with a hint of…was that German or Russian in there?
“Ah.” The squat man said knowingly, without any real clue. He stuck out his hand. “Theodore Roosevelt, and you sir?”
The tall man ignored Roosevelt’s hand, his answer was singular. “Kraven.”
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