Once there lived a man. Nothing was particularly extraordinary about this man. He lived in an ordinary house, had an ordinary job, ordinary kids, and ordinary wife, an ordinary life. Yet one day, something extraordinary happened. The man was home; his wife shopping and the children at school. So it was that the man found himself with nothing to command his attention and he became, of a sudden, acutely aware of a noise outside: purring. A neighborhood cat was making the rounds. Well, minutes passed and the man busied himself being idle. Again he heard a sound, but this time it was more than a purr. Curious, he peered through the front door peep and he nearly shouted at what he saw. There upon his front step was no less than a baby lion. At once dismayed and even a bit frightened, his mind rushed as he considered what to do. Whom should he call: the police, animal control, the zoo? His heart quickened as he heard the purr again.
“Perhaps the beast is hungry”, he thought. “I ought to bring it in while we wait for professionals to arrive.” At that thought he suddenly began to tremble. A knot formed in his stomach. Something in all this was very, very wrong. “Am I mad, bringing a lion into my home?” And yet, the thought once there could not be so easily dismissed. As he stood and listened to purr after purr he became steadily convinced, he would bring the lion in. He would feed it.
Inside the beast walked round the living room sniffing and looking this way and that, ignoring the bowl of milk the man placed on the floor. Finally, the adorable creature slid up against the man’s leg and cooed ever so softly. Reaching down and stroking its back the man said gently, “Hello there little beast, not so ferocious as they make you out to be eh?” The lion cub looked the man dead in the eyes. Amidst all the downy wrinkles the cub’s eyes appeared at once black; impossibly black and sinister. A lump materialized in the man’s throat. The moment passed. Released from the beast’s gaze, the man uttered sheepishly, “You know I shall have to call and have you picked up. This is no place for a beast such as you. Your place is the zoo or a refuge or some such”.
At that moment the impossible occurred, the beast spoke. “You mustn’t send me off if you don’t want to. You could keep me you know. And I’d be yours and yours alone. Just imagine, whenever you’re alone you’d have me to keep you company. Doesn’t that sound nice then, to never be alone?”
Feeling something between adrenaline and abject horror, the man sank to his knees and shook. A power such as he’d never known before took hold of him. Every firing thought fleeting through his head screamed, “Call, turn it over, get it out”!
“Look here, says the man, you can’t stay. I’ve got a wife and kids you see. She won’t stand for having a beast such as you in the house. They surely can’t be safe around a lion!”
Ever so gently, the beast replied, “They won’t have to know. I can stick to the shadows. I won’t show myself unless I am called or unless I am very, very hungry”.
As the lion spoke an uneasy calm passed over the man’s heart. Despite all faculties of reason, all the thoughts firing across his mind, in an instant the man knew; he would keep the beast.
Life was marvelous. No more did the man sit idle in the rare event he found himself at home alone. He had merely to call and the lion cub appeared. Each time the man would put out milk for the lion and each time the milk would go untouched. Initially, this seemed odd, but the man quickly came to find that so long as his attention was focused on his new companion, the lion went away seemingly satiated. And the man was all too happy to focus on the beast for its soft flesh felt so good, it’s longing stare seemed so loving and its sweet cooing soothed so well. If, however, the man became distracted, the lion’s gentle purr would change to an almost imperceptible growl. It was a subtle change, and any man unfamiliar with the beast might have fled in fear, but to our well acquainted man it was merely enough to shift his focus back where the beast desired. Granting the beast his eager gaze, the man would sit and stare until, with a start, he would hear the lock turn on the door and in a panic cast the beast back into the shadows. In this way their routine carried on; all the while remaining hidden from the man’s wife, children and friends. Oh he considered telling his friends, but each time he was about to, something held him back. “They wouldn’t understand”, he thought. “They’d likely think me a fool or worse”. No, he reasoned, best not to tell anyone.
Out of this benign routine troubles slowly emerged. At first the issue was time. While initially the man only considered his new friend when he happened to find himself alone at home, eventually the man found his thoughts drifting to the beast throughout the day. Next momentary thoughts turned to fully fledged day dreams. He no longer got to see his pet, he had to see his pet. One by one age old habits were altered in order to create more time at home alone. On Tuesdays he rushed his work to get off early and gain a couple of hours before the children arrived from school and his wife returned from spin class. If the family was headed to eat or a show he would often pretend to feel ill in order that he might remain at home alone. Once he even bought his wife and her best friend a weekend getaway and arranged for the children to stay at the grandparents under the guise of a gift to his wife all the while relishing the fact that he had won two entire days of uninterrupted time with his pet. It was never enough. The more time he spent with his lion, the more time he wanted with his lion.
At least that is, until the first bite. It was, at the time, so shocking the man had difficulty grasping what had happened. By this point the lion no longer resembled a cub so much as a newly shaved king of the jungle. The frame was growing but the mane not yet fully developed. They had been sitting as usual, the man lost in the abyss of the beast’s obsidian eyes, when at once the man started up. He remembered having assured his wife that he would mop the kitchen before she returned. Not wanting to draw her attention to such a simple request going unaccomplished, the man, without a word to the beast, stood and meant to make for the kitchen. At that moment the lion snapped. As lighting appears and is instantaneously invisible again the lion was still crouching on the floor. Not invisible was the brilliant blood dripping from the man’s fingertips. In his hand matching holes decorated his top and palm. Pain, piercing pain dropped the man cursing onto the floor. In that moment the man sat staring in disbelief at what lie before him: a lion. As though awakened from a stupor, his mind whirled and raced desperately to retrace the steps that led to this horrific moment. Finally the man stammered, “You, you bit me”. To which the lion simply starred in reply. “Well I’m through with you, you beast! Right now I’m going to do what I ought to have done in the first place, I’m calling animal control”. At that the lion leaned forward and caressed the man’s hand with its tongue. The soothing warmth abated the pain somewhat. While the lion licked his wounds, the man’s eyes met the beast’s and the pain began to fade; displaced by the euphoria to be found only in the lion’s imprisoning eyes. Like countless times before the man lost track of time itself and was awakened from his pleasure stupor only by the sound of the front door swinging open to reveal his wife. To her horror, she found the man sitting on the floor holding a bloody hand, creating a bloody mess beside a kitchen floor that had not been mopped. But that was not all, she could swear she had seen something else in the room just as her eyes lit upon it.
“What on earth has happened?” she asked.
“Oh dearest I’ve had a simple accident is all. I’m sorry about the floor love I’ll clean it just as soon as I’m bandaged”, the man stammered as he rose to his feet and began fumbling toward the cabinet full of first aid supplies.
“But what happened? I mean I saw something in here with you what was it?”
“Afraid you’re mistaken dearest it’s been just me here”.
“Now come, don’t lie to me. I know there was something. And just look at that hand, why that’s a nasty bite you’ve got. Have you brought in a stray?”
So she had seen the beast. The man’s mind raced. What ought he to do? Confess? Call it out and let her see for herself? Mightn’t it be time to end this suddenly dangerous game he’d been playing? But, no sooner had these thoughts dashed across his consciousness than a larger, more powerful thought pushed them aside: she must not know. For if she knew, all the moments of private pleasure would come to an end and as the man’s lust for pleasure had eroded his faculties of reason he thought to himself; surely the moments of private pleasure were more than worth the pain of a little bite.
“Oh you’ve caught me dearest”.
Better she believe that it were a stray dog than know the truth.
“He was on the lawn miserable and hungry and I just couldn’t leave him. How was I to know he’d turn out to be a vicious beast?”
“Well look here, I’ve got to go pick up the children and when I get back I expect the stray to be gone and the floors to be clean.”
With that she turned and was out the door. The lion was safe.
Time passed and the man and his lion drifted comfortably back into their old routine. Life was almost perfect again: almost. Almost, and not completely, because where once the man would have finished a session with his beast and simply basked in euphoria, he had begun to feel off. Something unsettled his stomach. Sometimes during their sessions his head would throb- not enough to overpower the pleasure but enough to momentarily catch the man’s attention. At night he experienced trouble getting to sleep and would argue with himself over whether it were wise to keep this secret from his wife. Honestly he knew he oughtn’t to lie to her. But, he simply couldn’t bear the thought of giving up the beast. For he knew she would insist it be sent away. “And why”, thought the man. “Its not as though the beast ever comes around her or the children. It’s not hurting them or anyone else for that matter. Why should it have to go away? Besides I rather like the beast. And as I’m a good husband, a good father, a good man don’t I deserve a little something for me every now and again eh? And it’s not as though I intend to keep it forever anyhow. I’ll give it up eventually. Eventually.” In this way the man would stifle the questioning voice inside his head, bury his guilt and justify keeping his secret a while longer.
Such was the way of the man’s world until one fateful day the world came crashing down around him. Sitting transfixed in the lion’s hypnotic stare, the man was too stupefied to notice his wife at the window. He did, however, notice when she barged shouting through the front door.
“What the hell is this? She demanded. Are you out of your mind having a lion in our house? Where, how, we’ve got to call the police or something!”
“Wait! He wailed. You don’t understand. It’s not what it appears. It’s a nice beast really. You just don’t know. I’m sorry love I ought to have told you only I didn’t think you’d understand.”
“Have you lost your senses then? Well here’s what’s what; I’m taking the children and we will not be returning until that evil creature is gone. I love you, but you know this is madness and I won’t condone it.”
The man watched helplessly as his dearest packed bags for her and for his children. He said not a word for he knew she was in the right. When at last she disappeared out the door and down the lane he resolved himself to what he had to do. He had to turn the beast in. He had to end the madness. Boldly he strode across the living room and took his phone. In seconds he had animal control pulled up and then the number dialed. Prepared at last to sever ties with this wicked albatross, he felt a peace he had not known in ages. Suddenly all he knew was pain, then nothing.
When the man came to, he at first struggled to apprehend the sight before him. There was blood; a lot of blood. His pet lion was on the floor merely staring at him. Two mangled lumps lie before and to the side of the beast. In one startling realization it all became terrifyingly clear: the beast had taken his legs. At that the man began to scream incessantly: screams of agony, screams of horror, screams of regret. His screams were soon interrupted by a pounding on the front door. The voice of his neighbor cried out, “Hello, what’s the matter in there?”
In his increasing delirium the man turned to the believable falsehood which had seemingly saved him once before, “I’ve been bitten by a dog please help!”
Much of what followed is shrouded in haze. Apparently the beast disappeared before his neighbor came in, as the neighbor made no mention of a lion. Weeks later as he regained strength in the hospital recovery room, the man gathered that his story of having been attacked by a stray dog was generally accepted. The wounds were vicious but not out of the question for a bully or some other large breed. After assuring the doctors his days of trying to help strange animals were behind him, the how surrounding his wounds went unquestioned. In private his wife expressed her disgust that he continued with his feeble lies, but was content to let it rest believing that at last the man had truly turned the beast out for good.
Now it happened that one day the man was visited by an old friend. After exchanging pleasantries the man’s friend leaned in over the hospital bed and asked intently, “How are you doing?”
“Well, the man responded jovially, there’s no infection and the specialist says the molds for the prosthetics came out dandy so despite my new condition I feel rather okay”.
“That’s not what I mean. I mean how have you been doing recently? You see friend, I don’t actually believe that a dog did this to you.”
A lump jumped into the man’s throat and a wave of panic washed over his heart. Surely he can’t know about the lion, the man thought. He’s not been round the house in ages; why, it’s impossible.
“I’m afraid I don’t follow you”, the man said.
His friend leaned back and sighed. “You know, we’ve known one another a long time. And I happen to love you very much. So much in fact that I’m not willing to sit and watch you destroy yourself. You may lie to doctors, God help you, you may lie to your wife but I’ll not let you lie to me”.
The man’s mind churned. Could his friend really know what he had been doing all this time? Could he tell him? Impossible. His friend would think him mad.
“You’d think me mad if I told you”, the man exclaimed.
Sweating, squirming, wrestling with nothing less than a savage beast inside his very soul the man blurted out, “It was a lion! I found it on my door step some time ago and I meant only to keep it for a while but it was so good to me you see. When no one else was around, at the end of pissy days, after fights with the Mrs, the lion made me feel better.” And the instant the words had escaped his lips it was as though an anvil had been lifted from the man’s chest. He sat, not expectantly. For what could he expect? He’d just said he’d kept a lion hidden in his home and it made him feel good. His friend would certainly think him mad. But no matter, he knew a peace in that moment he had not known since the beast first entered his life.
The man’s friend didn’t hesitate, “Ah yes I know this beast. I’ve had to kill it twice myself”.
“Yes, that’s the only way to be rid of it. Consider what it is. It’s a wild creature. You don’t tame something like that. You can’t quell its appetite. And sooner or later it will devour you. This time it was legs, perhaps next time it will only be a hand or an arm but eventually it will destroy you entirely. All that you love, all that you have will be gone. It’s not worth all that now is it?”
“But I can’t kill it”. The man’s head sank and pitiful tears began to wet his cheeks.
“I know you can’t friend, but – we – can. By God’s grace you are not destroyed and by God’s strength we can overcome even a lion”. The man’s friend leaned over him and prayed. They wept together.
It was a Tuesday. The wife had spin and the children were still at school. The man’s friend wheeled him up the walk and paused at the door long enough to look him in the eyes and give a reassuring nod. They entered the house and took their positions, the man on the living room floor and his friend frozen, club in hand, in a corner.
“Beast I’m back! Come see me”, the man called.
Out of the shadows the beast appeared and bounded to the man, eagerly placing his head in the man’s lap ready to receive his loving eyes once more. From the corner, the man’s friend strode quickly, club held high and his aim proved true. With an audible “crack!” the blow left the lion lying limp upon the floor. The man’s friend dragged the beast outside and produced from inside his blazer a large caliber pistol which he handed to the man. The man looked horrified.
“I, I can’t shoot it”.
“You must, his friend replied. I can help up to a point and I can be with you in all things but this thing you must do yourself. I cannot kill the beast for you”.
Wincing, the man cocked the pistol, placed it between the beast’s eyes and with a muffled cry, fired. The beast was dead. Its grip on the man’s mind and heart severed; at last.
A picture of the dead beast was enough to earn his wife’s embrace when she arrived home. He told her everything. How he’d meant to have it picked up the day it appeared on their doorstep, all the times he considered telling her, how he could not for the life of him grasp how it all happened the way it did.
“You are a fool, she said. But you are my fool. And I love you”.
The man did not magically cease to desire his long time companion. Out of nowhere he would find himself gripped by a desperate desire to see the lion if only once more. When these episodes came, the man turned to his friend who, as he had said, always walked with him. They prayed together on the phone. Over coffee they would discuss the reality that at various times they both longed for their lions. Sometimes the man would look down to where his feet once resided beneath his stubs. In his heart he expressed gratitude to God that he had not lost more of himself. In this way he came to live. One day at a time ever aware of the power the beast might yet wield over him.
In this manner life continued for many seasons. Until one day, the man found himself at home alone with nothing in particular commanding his attention and he became, of a sudden, acutely aware of a noise outside: purring. A neighborhood cat was making the rounds. Well, minutes passed and the man busied himself being idle. Again he heard a sound, but this time it was more than a purr. Curious, he wheeled himself to the door, opened it a crack and peered out. He nearly shouted at what he saw. There upon his front step was no less than a baby lion. At once dismayed and even a bit frightened, his mind rushed as he recalled in vivid detail the sordid affair which lead to his chair bound state. His breath quickened and he found himself almost gasping. He closed the door. He thought, “I must call my friend immediately”. As he turned to retrieve his phone the soft purr came again. Like a siren’s song it lifted him from his chair and carried him back to those pleasant days sitting on the floor lost in onyx eyes that brought wave after wave of euphoric pleasure. Turning back to the door the man said to himself, “Well I ought to at least bring the poor creature in out of the cold while we wait. No sense in being a brute. It is after all still a cub”. The man opened the door and from his wheelchair reached down past his stubs and took the lion cub in his arms. Inside he cradled the beast in his arms, looked into its black eyes and thought, “I ought to call my friend”.