An embarrassment on the scale of being saved by a lowly mouse was almost too much to bear, and made especially worse when the lion, who paid a lot of money to send his kids to a good school, discovered that the subject of his humiliation featured highly in his daughter’s curriculum for the year. Each student under the age of 16 would be writing an essay on the moral lessons to be learned from the situation, with special mention given to the arrogance of The Lion, and why that arrogance had lead him to be caught in the net in the first place. Extra-credit would go to any child who also mentioned the innate goodness of The Mouse, who was, by all accounts, actually pretty insufferable in real life, though of course the textbooks couldn’t say that.
The former King of Beasts descended into a mid-life crisis. He bought a new car, left his wife for a younger lioness, crashed his new car into a fence, and attempted to become ‘spiritual’ without actually having to do any religion. Figuring he’d try something simpler, he tried (and failed) to write a novel about his experiences, and then, having gained 20 lbs around the middle, went back to his wife with his tail between his legs.
‘You need to find the mouse,’ she said to him upon his return, ‘and save him from something. Or find some other way to redeem yourself.’
‘But how?’ he asked.
‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘But you’d better think of something, because right now, everyone’s laughing at you.’
‘But then what would the Moral Of The Story be?’ he asked.
‘Who cares?’ his wife said. ‘Just sort it out.’
Over the phone, the Mouse’s agent was wholly unsympathetic, and refused to even contemplate setting up a meeting between the two of them, citing ‘negative associations which could be damaging to The Mouse’s image going forward’. Protestations from The Lion that he was the King of Beasts were met with sniggering.
‘You were the King of Beasts. Past tense. These days everyone knows you’re a pussy. Honestly, I think even I could take you, and I’m a squirrel. At least I’ve never had to be saved from a bunch of stupid humans by some pissy little mouse. I don’t know how you live with yourself, quite frankly.’
The squirrel slammed his tiny phone down.
The lion, rediscovering a part of himself which had been lost that day when The Mouse had chewed through the net and he’d fallen to the ground, snarled.
He strode out onto the street and, spying his neighbour Tony, an ugly little badger, disemboweled him with a swipe of his paw, stopping only to smear a little of the badger’s blood across his cheeks.
Before Tony died, he had enough time to bemoan how embarrassing it was to be killed by the same lion that had been saved by some piddling little rodent, to which The Lion picked the carcass up by the neck, and hurled it through the badger’s kitchen window, where it landed on the dinner table. The cries of badger children followed the lion down the street, where he stopped to examine his reflection in a puddle. He liked what he saw.
Reaching the centre of town, The Lion, who had to disguise the fact that he was a little out of breath, swaggered into a Barnes & Noble and tore to shreds the ornate display which featured the Mouse’s autobiography ‘A Little Goes a Long Way: The Moral Of The Story’. Turning to the counter, he asked the startled shop assistant if he knew where he might find the Mouse.
‘How the hell would I know?’
‘Is he maybe doing a book signing, or something?’
‘I don’t know. Couldn’t you Google it?’
‘I don’t. Um…’ The Lion paused.
‘I don’t have a Smartphone,’ said The Lion.
The shop assistant gawked. ‘You don’t have a Smartphone?’
‘Money’s been tight since the endorsement money dried up. MGM got a different lion in to roar charmingly before their movies. And I’ve got two kids in private schools.’
‘The King of Beasts doesn’t have a Smartphone,’ the assistant mocked. ‘How rich is that? The King. Of. Beasts. and he uses an old flip phone! Is that a Motorola Razr? Those are fifteen years old! I guess the Moral Of The Story is-’
The shop assistant stopped, finding it oddly difficult to finish his sentence. Looking down, he realised this was largely because its hard to speak when a lion has ripped your throat out.
Picking up the shop assistant’s iPhone, the Lion, snarling a voice command, found out that the Mouse was indeed doing a reading that day, at another bookstore right across the street. A crowd had already begun to gather, and The Lion, smearing the shop assistant’s blood across his forehead, strutted across the street with his tail erect, his teeth out.
The crowd, only expecting to see the Mouse, couldn’t believe their luck. Perhaps they were going to do a reenactment?
‘Is there going to be a reenactment?’ cried a Hipster Seal in thick-rimmed glasses.
The Squirrel, there in his capacity as the Mouse’s agent, and unaware of the impending used-to-be-King-Of-Beasts,
shouted back in a merry tone of voice. ‘We’d have to get a new lion for that. The old one’s broken!’
The crowd cheered and the squirrel-agent, unused to being liked, giggled at his own wit.
Across the street, the sun was some way towards setting, bathing the crowd in an agreeably autumnal reddish glow. It made the Lion, covered in the blood of badger-and-book-seller, look like he’d crawled right out of hell.
The Squirrel, realising what was going on and seeing how big the lion was up close, crapped itself.
‘What are you doing here?’ he blustered. ‘This is a ticketed event.’
The Lion snarled. ‘Where’s the Mouse?’
‘None of your business!’
‘Tell me where the Mouse is,’ the Lion said, smiling, ‘or I’ll bite your head off.’
The Squirrel, wondering what had happened to the Lion to restore him to his former glory, remembered with some regret his comments on the phone. He held up a paw, attempting placation.
‘I’d like to help you, Lion, really. But The Mouse doesn’t want to speak with you. There’s nothing I can do about that, you know?’
‘Business,’ said the Squirrel, ‘is business. Now, look, perhaps we could set up a-’
The Lion, hating business, roared the almighty roar of a killer (not a little MGM pussy-roar, oh no. Those bastards would want him back on their movies now, wouldn’t they?).
The crowd loved it. They called for the Mouse to come out and face him, and The Mouse, who had been stupid enough to let an apex predator out of its net in the first place, emerged from his limousine and squared up to the Lion as best he could.
‘Greetings, Lion,’ The Mouse said. ‘What can I do for you?’ He was wearing a new scarf from Givenchy which really brought out his eyes. The Lion, abhorring clothes, sneered.
‘My reputation is ruined,’ he said, ‘because of you. Help me fix it. Also, that scarf is ridiculous.’
The Mouse bridled. ‘Why would I help you now? Haven’t I,’ he turned to the crowd and winked in a way that was almost audible, ‘helped you enough?’
‘You’ll help me because if you don’t,’ the Lion said, ‘I’ll eat you.’
The crowd ‘ooed’ appreciatively. The Mouse shook his head.
‘You won’t kill me,’ he said.
‘And why not?’
‘Because,’ said The Mouse, ‘I let you out of that net because you let me escape your food bowl earlier that morning. You’re not a killer! The Moral Of The Story is that you are a good, merciful lion.’
The crowd, sensing that Lion was potentially a little bitch after-all, jeered.
‘I am a good lion,’ the Lion said. ‘You’re right.’
The crowd, wanting blood, sighed. The Hipster Seal live-tweeted.
‘So you won’t kill me now, either,’ said The Mouse. ‘Because what kind of Moral Of The Story would that be? Mouse trusts Lion enough to free it from its captivity, Lion gains a little weight and kills The Mouse at a book signing? And the Moral Of The Story would be what? Don’t go to book signings? Come, now.’
Turning to the crowd, the Mouse humble-bragged about his own virtues at some length, repeatedly referring to the lion as a ‘dear friend’. He went on to mention various, and increasingly vague, Morals Of The Story, none of which made a lot of sense.
The Lion, who was sick of that shit, bit the mouse’s head off.
The crowd, having seen the Lion languidly decapitate their hero, demanded answers.
‘What’s the Moral Of The Story?’ they asked, as the Lion stepped off stage.
‘The moral of the story?’ the Lion said. ‘There is no moral of the story. Things happen sometimes, and then, sometimes, you have to bite their fucking heads off. Now piss off home,’ he said.
And they did.
Robin White is a twenty-six year old writer living in Manhattan with his partner, Wesley. When he isn’t writing, he haunts the Museum of Natural History, hoping to persuade Neil Degrasse Tyson to teach him about black holes. He has over a dozen fiction credits to his name, including placement in Bartleby Snopes, Crack the Spine, and Dogzplot, among others.
Artwork: Sir Peter Paul Rubens, “Lion,” 1612-1613, public domain.