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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Black Lion

{by Monty St John (©1996)}


A hawk flies lazily across the sky.  Below, its silhouette is lost in the ever-stretching expanse of golden waves that are speckled with the shadows cast by the clouds.  Here and there is the occasional glimpse of verdure; a hint of the trees that are the seldom, solitary sentinels gazing across the golden lake of grass.  The hawk wings away and its silhouette departs with it, leaving nothing but the other shadows and the occasional shaft of light that beams down between the clouds to lay a gentle hand on the waving grass.  The dance of the shadows is slow and majestic.  Little disturbs their fanciful movements except the wind.  Still, one of them moves to a different tune and it breaks away from the others.  The grasses rustle and wave in the wind and the departing shade moves like a gentle spirit through the reeds.  It creeps away until it slips into an open sward of green in the golden grasses, one cut by the ripples of blue water.


            It silently slips into the open, its great head cocked slightly to listen.  Hearing nothing, it pads quietly to the slowly moving stream and bends its heavy head to drink.  The wind streams through the grass, bending stalks and drawing heavy fingers through the thick mane and shock of hair that surmounts its great head.  Its ears, small for its frame, flicker and twitch ever so slightly but it continues to drink.  Suddenly, it stops.  Frozen for a second, it raises up its head and peers into the waving grass with two brilliant, emerald green eyes.  Its gums pull back, baring yellowed teeth and its body crouches.  Lower to the ground, it slinks across the shallow water, its shock of hair spidering out in the wind.  It slips into the grass with barely a ripple.  It stops now and again, hunting the air for scents and sounds, then moves forward in bursts of speed.
         
It stops.  The black lion slowly crouches deeply down until all that shows is a pair of emerald eyes burning out of a diffusing array of black hair that blends well with the shadows in the grass.  It creeps forward slowly hind legs like coiled springs at all times, ready to pounce.  Its glacial movement soon bring into view one of the spots of green that dot the plains and with it, the brown undulating roll of the earthen roads that are the sole divider in the great grass.

            The rhythmic creaking of the wheels precede the sight of the cart and at its sound the black lion coils even tighter and lower to the ground while inching forward ever so slightly.  A two-wheeled cart slowly comes into view, pulled by a piebald horse.  The horse, the cart, and the solitary farmer have seen better days.  They are all lined with age and well worn to the world, a harmless element that could disturb no one.  The black lion, however, sees them in a different light.  As the creak of the wheels plays in the air and the wind winds towards it, it creeps in the shadow cast by the solitary tree that grows near the road.  The piebald snorts and breaks stride, an event that is followed by curses and a quick lash from the farmer’s switch.  The horse snorts and shies slightly and the wind whips and whirls, stirring the grass and the leaves of the trees.  With it comes the dangerous scent of the predator lying in wait.  Yet, before the horse can react, the black lion explodes into the air all its coiled power raging forward in one convulsive leap.  It strikes the piebald with one heavy, claw laden paw and then another, as its bulk comes down on the ribs of the horse and its back claws rake and tear along its flank.  Their combined weight is too much, and crying and neighing its terror and pain, the piebald horse crashes onto its side, the wagon flipping with it.  The poor farmer, unsuspecting and unlucky, flies free only to crash into the waves of grass and the soft earth, the clutch of the soft mud catching his neck and snapping it effortlessly.  The horse, equally unlucky, somehow manages to halfway lurch upright, only to fall again as the black lion’s maw descends on its neck, ripping and tearing away its life.

            The silence afterwards is almost anticlimactic.  The black lion bites savagely on the piebald horse’s neck, shaking it powerfully until it is doubly sure of its death.  It sniffs the air for the farmer, licking its blood steaming teeth and chin clean.  A quick pad to where he lies reveals he is dead and after a few slaps with its paws to make sure of it, the black lion is satisfied.

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