Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Chapter Thirty-Seven

“This is all I could find,” says Pinocchio. He lays a meager sack of food – moldy breads and dried meats, for the most part - at the base of a stout tree.

“It is more than enough,” purrs the Lion. Amidst the foliage, he is all but invisible. “Thank you, Pinocchio.”

“You’re welcome.”

There are no more words from the tree, and the little puppet realizes he is being dismissed. He swings his arms awkwardly and tries to think of the right thing to say.

“Can’t I stay with you this time?” he finally asks, but the Lion is ready with another smooth denial.

“I’m afraid not, my friend,” he says, having noticed how the child relishes that particular word. “For in my land, we must eat in private. That is how things are done.”

“But in my land we always eat together,” says Pinocchio.

“That may be well for boys and their fathers, but for lions, it is a different matter.”

“I could stay and tell you a story,” Pinocchio says hopefully.

“Another time, surely,” says the Lion, who indeed is always hungry for the boy’s stories. They’re quite informative, and in hearing the tales of this land and others, he’s learned some very enlightening facts indeed.

“Just a short one about a princess who fell asleep,” presses the boy, but the Lion cuts him off sharply.

“No. They are coming. Go.”

Instantly, the boy’s smile vanishes. “Where are they?”

“Downwind, over there. Now hurry and do not return. I’ll find you later.”

The puppet quickly dances away. His feet clatter loudly against the cobblestone streets. He sings and shouts and claps his hands. Soon, three ragged men, their stink mostly masked by all the soot covering their bodies, stagger after the noisy wooden boy.

Eventually, he disappears from earshot, and the Lion thinks of the stories he’s been told, of the prized possession he’s found in this puppet, and of the many Doors scattered about the city. So many Doors. So many stories.

And all that time, his yellow eyes rarely blink, and they never leave the sack of food. The smell of meat, he knows, is wafting across the empty streets, slowly but surely.

It is dusk when they finally come. Their white fur stands out sharply in the foggy gloom. They come slowly, two of them, disturbed by the foreign, feline scent in the air. A hopeful, hesitant nose snuffling at the food, some whispered words, and the Lion drops from his perch.

He lands with a muffled crunch, immediately crushing the spotted dog's spine. Its mate bares her fangs and manages to bark once, but her fury is no match for the Lion.

Quickly, he drags the bodies up the tree. An old habit, but it runs deep. And as the Lion bites into the first body, he reaffirms that yes, it’s probably for the best that the boy not witness his meal.