The last lion lives in a false Savannah measuring about three kilometers. He was moved there after all of the jungle habitats had disappeared, and it was too hot outside for much to live. He is owned by an extraordinarily wealthy man he rarely sees, and when he does, the man simply stares at him from the safety of his golf cart, steadily puffing a cigar.
The last lion stalks the habitat built to make him feel at home, but somehow he knows it isn’t the same. The sounds of the jungle are piped in from an intercom device, and there are no other members of the pride to play with and sleep next to, dreaming of a kill. In fact, while he doesn’t really think about these things, the last lion has not dreamed in a long time.
He remembers the temperate haze of the grasslands. How he suckled at his mother’s teat as a cub, how she would lick the top of his head. The last lion remembers playing with the other lion cubs as the sun grew strong. Each day they wrestled in the grass and tried to avoid the murderous attention of the adult males.
The last lion remembers when the sun became too high and everything around the pride began to die. It was as if the land had been drained of life. One by one, the lions starved, bones peeking out beneath lazy skin. He remembers how his mother died, collapsing as he ran to her body. Then men came to the grasslands as he tried to forage in the heat. The rest was darkness until he woke up in this place. He thinks of how small his home is compared to the land he once knew before sleep overtakes him.
The last lion tears lazily at the raw meat pieces the handlers toss his way, as if the taste and feeling did not matter. His tongue tastes blood and iron as he peers grumpily at the groups of spectators allowed to observe from outside Plexiglass. Sometimes they weep.
Over the years the last lion grows old. His proud mane becomes thin, his hair whiter than any snow on the ground outside. He keeps padding about the Savannah because, well, what else can he do? The last lion tries to remember the grassland. What his mother looked like. But he can’t picture them anymore.
And then one day, the last lion lies down amid some tall green grass. He stretches his paws out and tries to think of his mother again, and as the recorded birdsong and the ambient jungle sounds repeat over tinny speakers for the millionth time that day, the last lion closes his eyes as if drifting to sleep, and all of this has been nothing.
C.M. CROCKFORD — C.M. is an autistic/ADHD writer whose work has been featured in Vastarien, The Were Traveller, and The Philadelphia Secret Admirer among other places. He also writes poetry and criticism, having had two chapbooks published. At the moment he lives in Philadelphia.
Art by JACQUELINE STAIKOS — Jacqueline is a largely self taught contemporary artist living in Quinte West, Ontario. She has exhibited her work in several Ontario galleries including shows in Toronto, Kingston and in New York City. Her creative process involves working with inks, acrylics, oils and mixed media. She is currently working out of her home studio in Trenton, Ontario. More of her art can be viewed on her website, jstaikos.org or on Instagram as jstaikosart.