The Best Laid Schemes

published in Ferocious Quarterly, Issue 3, Be Prepared, 2012

The event began with an invitation: “Peace can be achieved. You can be the change you wish to see. You are cordially invited to the first annual Predator Prey Summit to be held in the private meeting room of the Central Park Boathouse at 4:30 p.m., Saturday, January 14, 2012. No RSPV required. Punctuality is appreciated.”

“Peace,” thought Lion. “Change.” Who had sent this? And how did he know what Lion had been thinking? Were there others like him, others who longed for change, who yearned for a new world order? He was intrigued.

Before Gazelle entered the meeting room, he knew who was inside. He knew that overpowering stench of urine and undigested meat. He had come for a reason, though, and he would not be deterred. He held his breath and forced his rear legs to move him over the threshold. Lion was not alone. Beside him, yellowish-white and enormous, was Polar Bear, grinning and moving a small beribboned box about in his paw. The floor to his left seemed to shift, and he looked down to see Crocodile climbing up to a seated position at the end of the table, where a bouquet of red roses rested. Was this an ambush? Was Gazelle to be disemboweled by this brute squad? He twitched, stepped back, and jerked his head to turn. As he did so, he spotted a small ringed seal sidling up to a pelican. He blinked. “Wait!” roared Lion.

Lion had not come to eat Gazelle. Far from that. In fact, he was more interested in what Gazelle might himself be eating. Lion had consumed more Gazelles (or was it Gazelle?) in his lifetime than he had claws to count. Each tasted vaguely the same, with few outliers: age made a difference, of course, as did athleticism. What he was most curious about was Gazelle’s diet. Lion thought that if he could pinpoint just what in Gazelle’s daily intake provided that tangy, savory, almost peppery bite, he could bypass the middleman and go directly to the source. Surely this was some wild root, flower or leaf, a renewable resource to be certain, and much easier to prey upon than a mammal. Not that Lion hunted; his females took care of that. But how nice it would be, he thought, to make a contribution.

He had recently taken to walking about alone two hours a day, and during that time had begun to question why it was that he was considered a predator. To him, “predator” suggested a fierce, violent, energetic beast who would track, attack, and overcome his prey with voracious greed. He spent most of his day sleeping and watching the cubs play. He would occasionally get up to relieve himself or eat, but his life was one of quiet leisure, a leisure that had enticed questions to burrow into his mind and there abide. He had begun to suffer from indigestion, sleeplessness, and general irritation. His life seemed to lack purpose; here he was this great beast, this king, if you will, yet he made no contribution save fathering (how many?) offspring. He could no longer distract himself with hours of meaningless sex, his barbed penis stimulating ovulation, rolling wildly in the carcass of a wildebeest or gazelle. He blinked to remove this image from his sight. He had come for a reason, a purpose, and he needed to stay focused and clear-headed. That is when he smelled the sweet aroma of gazelle fused with sea water? fat? feathers? A banquet for the nose.

Seal sensed Gazelle’s distress. “Do not fear, Eudorcas thomsoni. All is well,” he said, approaching with his new friend. “This is Pelecanus conspicillatus”

Just Pelican,” added Pelican.

“And I am Pusa hispid.  You may call me Seal. I see you have been acquainted with, who’s in there? Panthera leo, Crocodylus porosus, my old pal Ursus maritimus?”

“Are you responsible for this?” asked Gazelle.

“Me? I was invited, same as you, although I think I know who is behind this. If my intuition is correct, we have nothing to be afraid of. Shall we?”

The three preys made their way into the small banquet room for the first annual Predator Prey Summit.

Not an hour earlier, Seal had happened upon Pelican in the restroom. It was in this seemingly private room that Seal revealed his ulterior motives to a shocked Pelican. “They want us to think they want peace. They want us to take our guard down. But they are predators. The nature of a predator is to destroy his prey. I don’t know what their game is, why they would go to so much trouble, why they don’t just continue with their barbaric practices of sneaking up on us while we sleep and eating our young as appetizers. They have some plot here, some trap, and they think us ignorant enough to fall into it. Well, not I, sir. Not I.”

Pelican thought Seal looked like a cute little toy, and even as he lectured on class warfare and revolution, Pelican had the urge to tickle Seal with his beak.

“Are you even listening?”

He began to wonder if Seal might taste like the marshmallows he had once eaten.

“The tide is about to turn,” said Seal as he revealed a small box he had been hiding in a fat roll. “Polar bears are scared of music. It scares them into thinking a larger animal is coming,” he said, pushing a small button on the box. A driving rhythm emitted from the box along with the voice of a female Homo sapiens. “This will distract him long enough for you to use this.” And he pulled from his fur a small wand with a blade on the end of it. “It’s a switch blade. Clench it in your beak, apply pressure to release the blade, and use it as they use their incisors.”

“A knife?” asked Pelican. “This is your plan? A knife?”

“There’s more.”

“What more?”

“You’ll see. I have this all planned out. They don’t think we think, but we think. Did you know the Inuit names for warriors all come from variations on the word bear? Bear. Some warrior. No more, Nanook.” Seal had worked himself into a dangerously overconfident state. And he was not finished. “They fancy themselves the Übertier. All we need is the will, and we can have the power. Do you think the strongest among the Homo sapiens rules their world? Nor shall it be for ours. Arm yourself, Pelecanus conspicillatus.

Pelican was not convinced, but had become quite afraid of the furry white zealot, so he hid the knife in his gular pouch and followed Seal to the conference room of the Central Park Boathouse where the revolution would ostensibly begin. As they neared the room, they saw a shaking and urinating Gazelle attempting to back away to safety. “Do not fear, Eudorcas thomsoni,” announced Seal.All is well.”

But was all well? In typical predator style, Crocodile, Polar Bear, and Lion had all arrived the previous evening. None knew that the others were invited. Still, upon seeing one another, they each surmised that they were there for the same event and so began a summit of their own, each to determine why the others chose to come.

After a long discussion on binomial nomenclature and the oligarchy that was the animal kingdom, Crocodile came to a conclusion: “We are becoming extinct,” he said, luxuriating in the soft grass of Central Park. “I’m looking for alternatives.”

“Yes, options,” added Polar Bear. “The population is dwindling. Foresight tells us we should diversify. And, if it doesn’t work out, we can always—”

“Eat them,” interrupted Crocodile.

“Eat them,” echoed Polar Bear, examining his fur.

“But…” began Lion.

“Say it.”

“Spit it out.”

“We’re all friends here,” chuckled Crocodile.

Lion did not want to raise suspicions. These were deadly bedmates he had chosen to lie down with. Man may call him “king of the beasts,” but he had grown to believe that he was just some cog in the universal wheel, and that made him feel small.

“But…I will eat first, of course,” said Lion.

“Of course,” both agreed, but he had already gotten up and swaggered away. He knew they had no real desire for peaceful relations. They thought they were coming to some meat and greet with an international buffet. It would be up to him. His empty stomach burned for food. He went in search of palatable berries.

Gazelle had wondered what kind of grasses and leaves would be available. He had been curious about his American relatives and considered himself lucky to travel abroad. Food was a secondary concern for Gazelle though. His objective was to be a pioneer in a theory he had contemplated called “the new normal.” He was eager for a paradigm shift. All his life he had been pursued by tigers and lions. He too had fallen victim to what he called the “prey mentality.” He had a sense, though, that this dynamic could change. “One day,” he heard himself say aloud to his herd, “the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” He couldn’t remember where he had heard this, but it stuck with him. When he repeated it, the response was what he expected: “The day that Man leads us anywhere but certain death, I will mate with a lion.” This from a gazelle whose entire family had been too slow for a hunting lioness. The herd dispersed, and Gazelle did not share his thoughts any more. Then one day, an invitation arrived.

“Is this it?” asked Seal, who had hoped more prey would have shown. “This is all who received an invitation?” His bravery was draining as he counted the ratio of predators to prey in the room. He spotted a shiny fork on the table and made his way closer to it.

“We could wait,” suggested Crocodile. “I hear Alligator may arrive.”

“We can start,” said Pelican, who looked to Lion. They all looked to Lion.

“Peace can be achieved,” he said. “At least someone believes so. I would ask if our host is among us, but based on your looks, I do not think that is necessary. Our numbers are dwindling.” He looked to Polar Bear, who had moved in behind Seal with his small gift box. “All of us. We can scarcely afford to continue like this. I propose, as I believe my…predatory brethren…would, a moratorium on traditional predator prey relations.”

“You mean you’ll stop eating us?” asked Seal, who had meant for the question to come out with some fire, but instead sounded frightened, and he realized he must look terrified. He put his flipper on the table next to the fork.

“Exactly,” said Lion. “In exchange, you will assist us with procuring alternative… fuel sources.” He glared at Crocodile, now crushing the stems of the roses in his reptilian claw.

“But,” said Seal, “if we show you what we eat, won’t you just eat all of our food?” His courage returning, he grabbed the fork.

“We could just—” but Polar Bear was interrupted by Lion. “I’m sure you’ll agree there are far fewer of us than there are of you.”

“Lion has a point,” added Gazelle, his bravery rising. “Continue, please.”

“I have been…feeling lately that we need a, well, a new normal,” said Lion, handing a cup of tea to his new friend. Seal’s eyes widened. That tea was not meant for Gazelle.

“Yes, a new normal,” cheered Gazelle, who seemed to have found in Lion a soul mate.

“A paradigm shift,” said Lion.

“Yes!” bellowed Gazelle whose excited haunches unintentionally lifted him into the air. His quick movements frightened Seal who knocked the pocket radio to the floor, turning it on. The blaring music alarmed Polar Bear, who tossed the gift box of polar cod into the air. As the cod rained down on Seal, he ordered Pelican to attack. At the same time, he threw the fork, spear-like, in the direction of no animal in particular. It hit the wall and clattered to the floor. Pelican tried to escape but was caught handily in the crushing jaws of Crocodile. Seal retreated into the twelve-inch long flesh-tearing paws of his arch nemesis. Polar Bear deftly removed his head as Crocodile pinkened  Pelican’s white feathers with his own life-giving blood. At this point, both predators were too distracted to observe the awkward tension between Lion and Gazelle.

Gazelle began. “Do you know the African proverb, ‘Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up and knows that it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.  Every morning a lion wakes up and knows that it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.  It doesn’t matter whether you are the lion or the gazelle, when the sun comes up, you better start running’?”

“I think I might have heard that,” said Lion.

“I thought we could change that,” said Gazelle.

“As did I,” said Lion.

“Be we can’t.”

“Not today.”

“So I should start running?” he asked, hoping Lion would say, no.

“Yes,” said Lion. But before Gazelle could turn to run, Lion was on him, tearing open his throat like ripping through wet paper. The roar that followed was so impulsive and concussive it startled even him.

The three predators devoured their own meals. In the midst of the carnage, Lion noticed a tear stream down Crocodile’s face. “A flake of bone,” he said, teeth dripping with Pelican’s innards. “Did you think I was…ha.”

Watching from a closed-circuit television, the field mouse cringed. “Well, that was fast.”

“Don’t be disappointed,” said Man. “This was bound to happen. Predators are predators and prey are prey.”

“So bloody,” said Mouse.

“I’ve seen worse,” said Man.


Title image by Emory Allen

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