The young lion rubbed against the cyclone fence, urging the boy who had raised him to give him a gentle scratch behind his ears.
The father lunged at the fence and yelled, “Aaaaah!” The lion took off running and hid in the enclosure at the far end of the fenced yard.
“See what a sad excuse he is for a lion anyway,” the father mocked. “When I feed him, I don't even have to lock him in his enclosure like the other lions. The minute he sees me enter the gate, he runs and hides.”
“But he's so young, barely a year,” his son pleaded.
“Right, and I have a special order for young lion meat—so he goes down tomorrow, that's it.”
The boy look down at the ground. He knew it was useless to argue with his father. “You're just like your mother,” he would say, “too much emotion. There's no room for emotion in the exotic meat business. Be a man!”
His mother would have understood, but she had died over a year ago. The only one who he told his feelings to was the young lion, who had come to the compound shortly after her death.
He watched his father walk away. When he was out of sight, he ran his fingernails across the metal cage and in a few seconds the lion came bounding toward him.
As usual, when the young lion saw Hal at the gate at mealtime, he ran and hid in the enclosure. Hal shook his head and dropped the chunks of meat into his feeding bowl. As he turned and walked away, he heard a faint sound, like the wind had rubbed a branch across the metal fence. A few seconds later he whipped around as he heard heavy footfalls behind him. The young lion was running at top speed on his way to the fence.
They found him sprawled on the ground, a pool of blood caking in the dirt beside his head. The tracks on the ground gave evidence that the young lion had knocked him down, but not mauled him or harmed him in any direct way. The police figured that the weight of the lion had sent him flying backward, smashing his head in a deadly crash on one of the boulders in the yard. The yell as he fell had scared the young lion back into his enclosure.
After the police left, the boy went out to the young lion's cage. A faint sound like the wind rubbing a branch across the metal fence rose in the night air as he traced his fingernails across the fencing, followed by the sound of the young lion bounding toward the fence.