The Man Eater — a Short Short Fable

Published September 28, 2017 by Nan Mykel

Fidelio’s footsteps faltered as the lion bounded against the bars upon his approach. The old man sighed and shook his head sadly as the lion roared and pawed the floor of his wagon. ‘If you would only show yourself out of your cage, in the ring, before the paying customers,” He said. The lion’s roar resounding in his head, Fidelio’s footsteps took him to the shelter of his temporary home where wife and children awaited his return. They were huddled together in a corner for warmth. Looking into the large hungry eyes of his beloved wife and children, Fidelio shook his fist weakly but with determination. He would take some action. But what? Josie, the baby, began coughing and  Fidelio, unable to face his family without better prospects, departed the hut.

He walked and pondered. Why would his lion only roar in its cage and not in the ring? Why would it remain silent, timid and cowering in the ring when the paying customers wanted a  good show?

His family would never survive the long winter if old Leo could not be made to roar outside his cage.

Fidelio paced the night and he was feverish and delirious when he returned to the carnival at show time. In his delirium he considered killing the beast and devouring him, but the beast was their only hope of livelihood. As his fever rose, the answer appeared: the family would feed the beast. Numbly Fidelio led the lion from cage to ring, noting dully how the great beast quietened once he entered the spotlight.

Fidelio was ready, and as the roll of the drums attracted the crowd’s attention, Fidelio placed a small covered object before the lion and gently uncovered it. The crowd gasped. Blue-eyed Josie cooed as she looked up at the lion, kicking and waving as babies are wont to do.

Suddenly Fidelio’s lion put back his head and roared mightily. In the crowd spectators  clutched their children to them. The beast was coming to life. Fidelio looked on in bewildered surprise, and reached for Josie. A large paw came down on Fidelio’s arm, and paws pierced the thin fabric of his coat. Then the beast was on the child, the screams of onlookers drowning out her last wails and Fidelio’s horrified gasps. The old man slumped forward and lay still, and the lion once again threw back his head and roared. Josie was a filling meal, and the lion circled once,  laid down and slept beside his unconscious master.

For seven days and seven nights beast and man slept. The awed townspeople gave shelter to Fidelio’s wife and remaining children, but did not disturb the sleeping pair.  As they came each day they noticed that the man’s hair was turning white. During the night of the .still, weak and silently weeping, and then slowly sat up and looked at the lion, who had also wakened.

Silent tears continued to fall as Fidelio stood and woodenly began cleaning up after the lion. A sharp pain pierced him and s he saw an intact bootie in the black animal feces. Horrorstruck, he watched as the bootie moved. On hands an knees now, Fidelio grabbed the dirt and lifted his child from the dung heap. A dousing in the water trough brought pink flesh forth from the filth.

The child was undamaged except for a crippled leg, and her eyes were bluer than before. She smiled  at Fidelio, and held out her arms. People would call her Angelica ever after.

The lion roared a little now and then in the ring, but that was less important,  because he was respected as a man eater, which he was.

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