the lion lay crying
deep in the jungle. a little
field mouse
heard his weeping and happened
to be headed that way anyway
looking for his seeds and nuts
to sock away
for winter. he found he couldn’t
just pass by this elaborate spectacle
of suffering without at least inquiring
as to the cause.

the lion’s roars
shook the earth in his vicinity.
the frightened field mouse, trembling,
crept up to the
enormous supine form.

“why are you crying?”
he had to shout
to be heard over the
deafening racket.
“there’s a thorn
in my paw,” said the lion,
sullenly. “it hurts a lot
and I can’t get it out.”
he gnawed on the paw
angrily, but to no avail.

the field mouse thought,
what’s in it for me? he might
just eat me as soon as I’ve
helped him. I should just
run away right now
before he remembers that
he’s a predator and I’m prey
so I can live to scavenge
another day.
but. then the lion
would keep on roaring
and caterwauling
and it was hard to sleep
with all that noise.
the mouse had
twelve new babies at home
that needed their rest,
and a tired mousewife
who was at her wit’s end.
if she found out he could have
stopped it, and didn’t?
he’d never hear
the end of it.

“I can help you with that,”
squeaked the mouse shyly,
and before the lion could demur,
ran over to the swollen paw and nimbly
plucked free the thorn
with his tiny sharp teeth.

the lion yowled in reflex but then
suddenly stopped, shaking his paw in
amazement. he licked it

“it doesn’t hurt any more!” said he in
wonder. he looked at the mouse
and a new gleam came
to his eye. his other paw shot out
and pinned the mouse
to the earth. “I could eat you
right now!” he growled menacingly.

“you could,” replied the mouse.
“but then who would tell you
about the three dead zebra
on the edge of the forest?
they’ve only been a little nibbled
by jackals.”

“you could be lying
about those zebra. a mouse
in the paw is worth
two in the veldt, my mother
used to say.”

“I helped you with that
pesky thorn, when I could easily
have walked away. believe me
or not.” and the mouse shrugged
as best he could under the weight
of the giant, velvety paw. he tried
not to tremble and mostly
succeeded. the big claws curved
slowly out of their sheaths, and
surrounded him in an ivory

the lion laughed.
“you think I can’t sniff out
three lousy zebra
by myself? or kill three more
if I felt like it?” and he flipped
the mouse into his mouth
like a popcorn kernel. crunch,
crunch, gulp, and the mouse was
history. his children never knew him,
and his widow remarried
the next season. (in retrospect
being nagged for a while
seems like a small price to pay.)

the morals of this story are these:
if you put yourself
in someone’s power,
don’t be surprised
if they use it over you
in ways you don’t like. mercy
is rare in those used
to the privilege
of always getting their own way.

how quickly we forget
what pain feels like
once the stimulus is subtracted.

if you get the choice to be a lion
or a field mouse, be the lion
or be prepared to get eaten.

Published by

R. Brookes McKenzie

what fresh hell is this

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