When the kite alighted on the head of the young male sea lion hovering at the edge of the herd, the harem promptly made him king. They didn’t know what a kite was or where it came from. Their island was a dot in a slate blue sea frequented by schools of fish, and the lions lived on the southern rim, a shallow pebbled beach that curved like a mouth. When the lions lay still, they were nearly invisible, the same color and shape as the stones.
The kite was mysterious, its red color rare and portentous – of good, the herd decided. The kite’s tail had tangled about the king lion’s neck, and the kite draped over his body, making him bright and apart.
Now it was the old king who was pushed to the edge, and his former harem lazily slapped him away like an errant pup when they rested from bringing fish to the king lion so that he never had to leave the pebble shore and risk dirtying the red kite. The old lion was big and scarred, but his challenges went unheeded and unreturned. The old lion didn’t have a red skin that lay along his flanks and shimmered in the sun and set the lady lions swooning, their flippers thrown over their eyes, their ear flaps trembling in awe and wonder and desire.
The old lion did not understand. He had followed the rules – lurking the edge of the herd in his own young days, challenging his own old lion, taking his place, fighting off new interloping pups. This new king lion did nothing to earn his place. The old lion believed that the strange red skin had been sent by a demon.
The old lion lay at the edge of the pebble shore and prayed, first to the mighty golden lion, then to the gentle silver lion. He never lost, he reminded them. He never lost once. Day and night he prayed, and the great lions heard him.
The golden lion stirred up a storm, furious and shrieking, and the herd huddled on the beach, for the waters had grown too dangerous even for lions. The kite and its tangled strings tightened and sung on the king lion’s neck, cutting fur and skin, but he had grown fat and sleek in the harem’s adoration, and the string could not pull tight enough or deep enough to end his life.
Then the silver lion touched his throat and made it soft, softer than a new pup’s, and the strings cut deeper, grew pink, but still he did not die.
Then the old lion charged, and he took the red kit in his teeth, and he pulled. And the string grew taught, bit, held. They finished their deadly work, and the old lion rejoiced. He savaged the young lion’s body and pushed it into the sea. He carried a scrap of kite in his mouth and bared his teeth when he thought of the usurper. He demanded the harem bring him fish, fish, fish.
But the harem mourned, and the lions blinked salt from their great dark eyes. The hunting stopped. The birthing of pups stopped. One by one they slipped away until the old lion was left alone, worrying the kite scrap with his teeth, boasting to the stones, long low heaps of gray and brown shining wet in the sun. If he didn’t open his eye too far, it was as though the lions had never gone.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kelsie Hahn’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Barrelhouse, NANO Fiction, Inkwell, Timber, 1/25, and Short, Fast, and Deadly.