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Appropriated the lions from "The Ghost and the Darkness", book, legend or movie.

Maneaters


Men told many stories of the lions.

The vocabulary of logic did not impose order on the behaviour of those beasts. Myth spawned to fill the void with the strained tones of human despair: the lions killed for pleasure, and not for need.

Men told stories of the lions hunting against nature's law. Yet in naming the lions as beasts freed from the law, they became emblems of nature incarnate, returning vengeance on the unwary human tread. Fear begat the belief that the lions embodied humanity's conscience and humanity's judgment, given such claws, nature's lethal protest against everything civilization sought to achieve.

Many a listener noted the contradictions inherent between flesh and tale, absorbed as the wonder of myth.

The lions themselves did not care to respond.

The lions were neither true nor ideal exhibits for their species. They were maneless males. On gaining maturity still without their dark mantles, their prides shunned them as forever undeserving of mates, for mane length and thickness marked a male's true pride and right to breed. The names men called them meant nothing. Humans made such small squeaking sounds, lost against the endless roars keeping the lions away from the pride and warmth that should have meant home.

To any lion without pride, the land was hostile, but not unforgiving. Scarcity was not uncommon and not insurmountable. In the flesh of the Ghost, in the fibre of the Darkness, the genetic histories of their ancestors coursed. Proud grandsires and lethal granddames had done the necessary to survive.

One prey was easier to bring down than most, and plentiful.

When the Ghost met his Darkness, necessity became preference.

They had not chosen their solitude. They chose to share it. Proven as males, even without manes, they upheld only each other's company. A shoulder to a shoulder signaled intent. Distracted, an unwary roll down the slope of a hill left them scraped and injured, but only in such minor ways it did not merit the intensive, consoling licks delivered. The first to rise become the first to mount, while the other gave to the comfort of companionship.

Whatever names men called them, in awe or in horror, the lions disposed of the teller without a qualm.

After a kill, the landscape clung to fur and tongues. They licked red from muzzles and paws like as not their own, full bellies an unusual pleasure, almost pain once the afternoon reached full heat. The angular sun provoked the pair to wander, huffing and discontented, from the grassy ocean of their dozing to climb instead the isolate peninsula of a tree. Experience had taught them the sunset breeze offered greater solace than grassed shade.

The Ghost sought black branches with greater daring, holding drought-dry twigs in a great crackling embrace. On a lower, sturdier branch, the Darkness bestirred himself only to yawn at the tail taunting his whiskers.

A blanket over land and lion both, the dusty heated haze continued.

Time and their nature would always demand they rove. The Ghost rubbed both flanks against a tree, to release fur, sand, scent with the friction. The Darkness watched, inhaled a scent as familiar to him as his own, and licked a hard-baked pad of paw before following. They ranged, always within the span of each other's scent or sight. Such senses for a lion were as close as touch and taste.

Men told such stories of the lions. The limited span of human memory would not allow experience to justify such behaviour, sacrosanct the human belief that whatever had been (within their knowledge, within the fenced boundary of allowed reminiscence) was all there could ever be. Men said the land birthed the lions, unnatural as they were, a bloody vengeance to sire them. Yet the Ghost and the Darkness were born of sire and dame like any other lion; indeed, like any a man. The lions were no supernatural creatures.

Their deaths came as final proof of this fact.

Through the lengths of their lives, the lions had only ever killed out of need.

Simply, their needs were not those to which men were accustomed.

February 2011


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