The roar outside my structure is deafening. I hate the way it makes my skull tight, my sternum vibrate. I hunker into a shell shape, plug my ears, rock back and forth. The lion is hellbent on supper—muscle, bone, marrow—mine. I am an at-risk target, neither young nor old, not even ailing. Worse, I am alone, almost silent in my vacillation: fight or flight.
“Easy pickings,” purrs the beast. His spined tongue trips as he speaks a language foreign.
I was informed years ago that it is good to be hunted. It means your contents, spiritual, are worth consuming, important to destroy lest you accomplish something for the other side, the other lion. It’s a comfort though not particularly substantial at the moment.
As black becomes blacker, I formulate a list of things I long for: a shield, a sword, a stronghold (or wood and nails to build one). A circular boundary replete with knife-like thorns would serve me well.
An hour later, searching through the one book I have in my possession, I realize I am Thomas. Daily I long for something I can see, something I can touch. I am the father of the possessed boy as well, begging, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” I am Jacob even, my hip aching from midnight’s wrestling match.
The canvas gives as the lion brushes it.
“Be gone!” I tell the cat. “You can’t have me after all for I am not alone, not anymore.”
The whisper of paws in sand moves away. After a minute I hear my breath leak out, notice my shoulders freefall. My flesh feels loose, raw, and at the same time full of power. I find a stone to serve as a pillow and finally I am able to sleep.
The morning is silent when I peek out my tent. Ten feet away, lying on his side, back to me, is the lion. I snap my fingers. Wait, watch. He doesn’t move. I approach him, encircle him slowly, noiselessly. He sleeps the slumber of Sheol. His eyes are shut but his mouth is not, cannot, for it is wedged wide around my pillow rock.
I shake my head and marvel. “So that’s who I am,” I tell the morning. “Of all people, how did I manage to forget him?” I stare across the desert to where a knuckle of dawn light, mango-colored, rises out of dry stubble. “I was, I am, Daniel, in an earthly tent instead of a lion's den, but still.”