“RUN! Quickly, Jasiri, wake and follow the passageway for the sake of our survival. RUN, IT’S BEHIND US,” she pleaded as she tore after him.
He fought to find his feet in his stride in the wet. When a young lion is pushed in his rump by his mother and told to run that young lion runs and does not need a reason to run. But his mother’s desperate pitch, high, though measured in its loudness swam like a shoal of questions in his head. Why would she pull him from his sleep? Why push him on with all her might and what was “IT”? Despite his questions he had to obey her. Everything else was unimportant. The pulse drumming in his temple awoke his senses. Rain lashed the landscape, thick and fast. Guilt pricked his pelt as he ran down through elephant grass; he had fallen asleep when he should not have been asleep.
She nosed his rump abruptly again as he hustled; his pulse pounded in his neck. Out of terror, Jasiri jerked his head back at their trail. Then, for a sliver of an instant, he glimpsed, “IT”. A shadowy figure exciting their retreat. “IT”: a dark, devilish predator. “IT”: a chasing, shifting shadow in the night. “IT,” was twenty paces behind them, “IT,” the unwanted, now feared, “IT”.
A boom of thunder resounded over the plain. The wind soared over canopies and dived, roaring with a pitch, low like tens of enraged elephants. The lion’s muscles trembled, slowing his descent. Lubaya bit his nape, pushing him toward an opening in the purple stems; onward, onward. His forepaws thudded on to damp dirt, downward, downward. She gravitated; shoulder to shoulder they moved, weaving and wrestling to reach a wider passage. The passage appeared between thickets. Purple stems crashed in the melee. Heat burned in leg muscles and cold rain slashed over fur. What was this monstrous creature and what did it want? A blanket of cloud drew over the sky, depriving the world of moon light; the world choked in the storm, brutal and black; the stars within holes even seemed to stop blinking as if they, themselves were hiding from “IT”. Jasiri’s eyes wildly roved about the gloom. And, just then, streaks of lightning flushed the land amber. Twenty paces behind, a shadow charged toward their shadow. An angry form, “IT’ with a chin white gliding over parting tips, eyes silver, looming at the centre, his outline jagged, savage and large like a grotesque spectre, hell born and bred.
Lubaya, allowed herself to slip back into Jasiri’s shadow and turned her face to find “IT”. “ITs” eyes bored into her like two angry volcano craters in the darkness. Jasiri threw a glance behind to her; she had halted and stood immobile facing the beast. The very sight of “IT” had paralysed her. In a jolt blood returned to her knees for she twisted and threw herself toward her son; firmly nosing his hind thigh she cried, “LEFT, GO LEFT”. He pummelled through a wall of grass and burst out onto a brow of sand; son then mother followed a thread between thickets that covered the descending land like flame.
There was only darkness; sour tasting grass slashed his face and eyes. A relentless terror heated his belly. In a line they charged headlong onto firm, level sand. They rushed past a tall, dark Jackalberry tree; spindly, black branches reached out over their heads like black tarantula legs. As if to warn off intruders.
Minutes passed, and deathly silence presided over the plain. A gust broke the quiet and whistled through the spider legs. Lonely stars, reinvigorated pulsed between racing storm clouds. Rays weakly shone. Spider leg shadows striped the earth, crooked and twitching. The lions exchanged nods: the signal to run. As Jasiri ran, he threw glances back up the hill; piecemeal glimpses of their trail revealed a darkened, unwelcome world. Bending grasses dissolved behind their trembling shadows. Blackness and more blackness. For a fraction of a moment, the young lion’s terrified gaze locked onto the tarantula tree. Had they lost “IT”? A rapid shudder rose up his shadow and attached itself to his shade; the same black “IT” screamed toward them from behind its darkened trunk. A sonorous, angry growl rolled from every corner of the globe. The sound was the kind of growl that would make mighty hippos charge blindly to the safety of the centre of their watery homes.
He wanted to cry out, but his lips wouldn’t move. They darted at breakneck speed down toward stacks of grasses and plumb bushes. Several seconds advanced; muscles, tendons strained. Relentless, running. Breathless, with overriding desperation. The grumbling sound died. A chilling silence followed; temperamental clouds swept over the last incandescent light. Gloom followed bestowing a silent hopelessness.
They halted in their strides among the plumb bushes, darting eyes behind at the scene. Beside each other they crouched in dust like earthquake survivors, their lives in the balance, uncertain another quake would come and finish them. The gale died for an instant; Jasiri hoped they were concealed among the dark bushes. “We must keep moving,” she whispered loudly enough for him to hear.
Jasiri, prompted by a nose in the shoulder, turned and ran with speed and strength. They traced the sandy ground that ran past woodland copses. He threw a glimpse behind himself; the trail had become lost behind his mother’s twisting torso. He squeezed his eyes shut for an instant. He wished when they opened, they would have escaped and their ordeal over.
Son, then mother, carved through the copse of willows. The half-moon slinked from behind ashen clouds. She cast puny rays on the willows and the hill. Jasiri dared to sling a squint again behind at the sodden trail. The willows concealed his view of the trail. The wind moaned. All of a sudden, the willow branches caved in toward them. “IT” appeared in their tailing shadows: a spiked silhouette with two burning bronze eyes. Unidentifiable through shadow.
Their gap from, “IT” shrunk as fast as flames licking dry tinder. But the next several seconds slowed like several minutes. Those several seconds became a blur to the young lion as if, “IT” was controlling time itself by terror and anger. He heard his mother breaths, short and desperate aside him. In a jolt, she nosed his shoulder hard; he tumbled headlong, legs flailing, crashing into wet leafless bushes ten paces further along.
“Behind me Jasiri,” she shouted
“Jasiri is his name eh? Named after a distant King,” the voice behind croaked, like a giant toad.
She spun round and faced their foe, muzzle to blackened face. Her round, eyes shone silver, drilling, “IT”. Eyeball to eye ball. As Jasiri squirmed on his belly he heard the short roar of his mother. A dismal, low pitched roar replied, echoing far over distant hills. The low sound pushed heat, pulsing up Jasiri’s belly.
“You can’t escape, lioness. Your struggle is a waste of time! Meet the new king of the plains,” boomed the shadowed, “IT”.
Lubaya backed off, blocking the path of flattened grass to her son, who was watching hidden partly by stems.
Predator and prey paused, facing each other in the gloom. A skewed streak of lightning threw itself across the sky. At that moment, Lubaya saw, “IT” in the dimness: a spiked, black mane framed a ferocious square muzzle. “Despot of the night go back to roaming barren lands. GO where you are alone whoever you are!” she hissed.
He padded closer to her, a terrible anger grumbling up this throat, revealing itself in his bared teeth and his buckled brow. “The King of the Savannah makes his own rules – I will not waste time responding to your hysterical words – a lioness who should bend to the will of mine!
“Why should I?”
“Your scant pride of runts questioned the right of Rima Bopha to rule.” He paused, his barrelled chest expanded and sank. A black and crooked smile appeared on his lips. “The males were hewn as they ran to protect retreating weak females.”
She backed a few paces towards Jasiri. “No, it cannot be true. Murderer, oppressor, usurper of a territory that is not yours to reign over!” she yelped, with wounded eyes.
“The time of weakness on the savannah is ended!” He lapped at his hair-dotted muzzle. Jerked his head and his gaze to the smaller figure half in and half out of a thicket behind her.
She saw his eyes on Jasiri and hissed, “You beast of the shadow, you are unfit to grow a black mane of kings. Oh, why did your mother give birth a tyrant who kills the good and humble for his own gains.”
It is well known on the plains when lionesses live close to death and when death comes closer than usual, concentrating about survival leaves little room for anything else. With a young lion to fight for, a mother could very well possess the will and strength of two lions. She, bent, her haunches under her, arched her back and bared her own dagger-like canines. She was ready. She would assail him with her hardest blows. Maybe her son would escape his teeth, though the predator appeared unfazed.
“Whatever you do this night, allies close and far, young and old, will rise against you, black-hearted monster,” hissed Lubaya.
Towering over her, bathed in shadow, “IT” pinned her with a stare. He growled a growl of the deepest pitch. Over a mile away, vervet monkeys anxiously awoke, threw fearful glances at each other and climbed to tallest branches of savannah palm trees.
Jasiri lay facing the adults, his eyes glowing silver, betraying his hiding place. He still couldn’t identify “IT” Feelings of helplessness crowded the edges of his mind like circling sharks. He had not even been close to making his first kill. Terror of the tenebrous “IT” paralyzed his muscles and paws staking his skeleton to the sand. He had never so much wounded another creature. let alone fought a foe like this leviathan. As the creature faced his mother, a feeling of terrible awe sprung up in him. The spectacle of horror towered, twice the size of his mother. Shadowed, unidentifiable.
With all things forgotten apart from dispatching the young lion, the shadow charged. Lubaya threw herself at the blackened, “IT”. She struck his muzzle with a flurry of open clawed swipes; for a shard of a second, pain flickered in his eyes. He paused before composing himself. In a frenzy of brown, blurred, hues he laid a powerful right swipe, on her cheek. She jolted backward, moaning thickly as she fell at the feet of Jasiri. In an instant, she was up on the pads of her paws, facing, “IT” She shook pink drops – part water, part blood off her muzzle. In the corner of her right eye a half trail, half burrow appeared beside her. She twisted, mouthed Jasiri’s nape and yanked him toward the trail. Jasiri was too heavy to mouth toward that trail. He guessed her plan and threw himself toward the passage. The small black passage carved itself through a stand of elephant grass. Created by a deserted bird nest. The hollow ran too narrow for the beast to tail them. Following, his footfall at tidal speed, she charged. Several paces separated her hind paws from, “IT”. Hope surged in Lubaya’s eyes.
Lubaya’s hind paws sprung her in to Jasiri’s trailing shadow. “Head NORTH,” she breathed as her face gravitated. The words were desperate. She knew time was up. She nudged his shoulder with a blow. His feet fell under him, felt himself twist; wet stems didn’t slow his descent; his eyes fought to remain on her; the souls of her paws flicked through stems, her body bucked backward. Behind her, the monstrous, “IT” gripped her shoulders. Shapes of wrestling shadows dissolved in the night. Jasiri descended down the hill while roars and growls faded behind him. Lost in the howls of wind. She was gone with “IT” in to the turmoil of the storm.
Jasiri descended, sliding over mud and roots; “Mother,” he cried with a futile howl.
Shadows and thickets rose around him. His forepaws grabbed only rushing air and grass. Survival began to dominate his thoughts. He was on a slope. Not a sheer drop, atleast. He tumbled backward, rolling over flints, like sharp teeth. His skull crunched on to rocks, unmercifully hitting again and again. Rolling on to his belly, grass tasted bitter, cutting his muzzle. Downward, downward, he couldn’t see a bottom through blackness. Details became a blur. He squeezed his eyes shut. Out of dread or pain or both. Several seconds or several minutes passed. His decent began to slow. Thud after thud kept his senses firing. A final thud hit hard. Blackness sweep over him like a mud slide.