A litter of mice scuttle across the grass, causing barely a whisper. A hedgehog trundles after them, flattening patches of ground beneath its feet. Next, a group of geese emerge from the river, gaggling loudly, leaving splayed prints in the mud.
A herd of deer peek out from the shelter of trees, trotting out meekly to join the forming procession. Then, a pride of lions step forward proudly, roaring their worth throughout the forest.
The lions and their accompanying felines lead the way to a large clearing, where a raised, flat surface of rock juts out, serving as a convenient platform to address the crowd. The lions leap onto the stage, tails twitching with anticipation. Their mates settle near the bottom, gathering their cubs close, hissing at anyone who dares come near.
When everyone is present, their cries, whinnies, growls and squawks create a ruckus that can be heard for miles. Then, one lion stands on the platform, roaring into the din.
This lion, of the darkest mane, of the sharpest canines, is King over all. He is not used to being questioned, nor does he accept questions, for that matter.
‘Friends, animals, those of forest ilk, lend me your ears!’ The King speaks, quoting a line from a book he had found on the forest floor, after licking the bones of its owner clean. Ever since then, he has been using this line to start his oral presentations.
A few mice take his words too literally, and they gladly nibble off one another’s ears, squeaking in pain all the while. They place their offerings in front of the King, bowing in respect.
‘Mmm, how noble,’ the King’s mate muses, her yellow eyes glittering.
Before the still-squeaking creatures can let out another peep, she has pounced on them, snapping them up lightning fast. She offers her cubs a few of them, and as the cubs roll around, fighting for scraps, the squeaking immediately stops.
‘They could have made loyal soldiers,’ the King stares regretfully at the spot where the mice’s ears are, before he flicks a red tongue out and licks the spot clean. ‘But they are too small. They are likely to be a liability.’ The lioness flicks her ears in agreement.
The watching, silent animals seem quite unaffected, as if this is a normal occurrence. They know that if the King were to ask any of them to sit on his dinner plate, they would obey without hesitation.
‘Apologies for the slight distraction. I have an announcement to make,’ the King announces. Immediately, a band of trumpeter swans raise their necks to the sky, trumpeting a fanfare for the King. All the animals clap and cheer, cat calls (from the cats) and wolf whistles (from the wolves) sounding from the crowd. Another roar from one of the King’s council suffices to settle the animals.
‘My loyal servants, I bring grave news. Humans, those infernal, insidious, conceited, incorrigible desecrators—’ the King pauses to let the effect of those words sink in, or perhaps he has run out of adjectives, before continuing. A porcupine, the scribe who takes down the minutes of discussion, scribbles frantically with a quill.
‘Yes, those people—’ the King spits it out like a swear word, ‘—have come to raze our homes down! By the dawn of tomorrow, our home will be in flames, our nests, lairs, dens and what not will all be but a mere memory!’ The King roars in anger.
There is an immediate effect—the crowd bursts into animated discussions and protests. A cluster of hens squawk in panic, the gaggle of geese hem and haw in doubt. A mother duck keels to the ground in a dead faint, flattening her ducklings in the process. A pack of wolves howl in dismay, and the foxes hiss in anger, at the injustice done to their homes. The deer snuffle sadly at the grass, their ears pressed flat to their heads, their large doe eyes glittering with unshed tears. The giraffes nibble absent-mindedly at the leaves on the tree, too tall above everyone else to be included in the discussion.
A crocodile, sitting at the edge of the clearing, sheds a few tears, though he knows his home will not be affected.
A family of sparrows titter with anger, before falling in a faint out of their nests. They hit the ground with a soft thump and break their necks, though it goes almost unnoticed in the chaos around them. A vulture, who has been watching the sparrow’s movements closely, swoops down from an adjoining tree and picks the sparrows clean.
‘Why aren’t you upset?’ A goose warbles at the vulture.
The vulture looks up from his meal, feathers still poking out from its curved, cruel beak.
‘Because, silly goose, it benefits me. Let them come, I say. Those humans, despicable as they seem, will bring me food.’ The vulture’s voice is husky with anticipation for his imminent feast. The goose looks doubtful for a second, before edging away from the still-eating vulture.
The King roars to command attention, and the hubbub dies immediately, till they can hear a quill drop on the forest floor.
‘Be still, my friends, for all is not lost yet! Our night-vision spies, the owls, have fortunately brought us this information to forewarn us! Action must be taken immediately!’ The King announces loudly, his majestic voice ringing throughout the entire clearing, though it could be because of the conch shell a frightened seagull is holding before the lion’s mouth.
‘We must ambush the humans, before they even set foot in our forest! Come! We must get organised into troops, to sneak up on them in the night, and burn them down with their own torches!’ The King is all hyped up, his enthusiasm seeping into the crowd, raising them to their feet in a matter of seconds. They stamp on the grass and utter war cries.
‘Do you think roast meat will be better than raw meat?’ One lioness mumbles, opening her jaws to yawn.
‘We’ll see. Though, I think I prefer mine medium rare,’ a lion replies, his full length stretched out on the ground, paws clicking sharply on the rock as he taps out a rock- and-roll beat.
In no time, the animals are organised into groups, with bulls and rhinoceroses lined up in the front ranks, their tough hides intended to provide an impenetrable armour for the battalion. The lions form the rear of the army, as they value their lives more than their lowly servants.
As the dawn of dusk approaches, the clearing falls into a tense silence, which stretches like a taut rubber band, about to be broken. The animals stand in formation—all except the vulture. He sits on a branch high up in the canopy, his eyes beady and observant, his hooked beak clicking expectantly at the prospect of a meal, a feast for the lifetime.
At last, the moon rises, and anticipation rises with it. The animals become slightly restless, shifting about in their positions. The chickens cluck their tongues expectantly, the owls rotate their heads in half a circle every few seconds or so, and a couple of cheetahs start a game of poker.
‘You cheated again,’ one cheetah snarls to the other. The cheetah who had cheated bares his teeth at his opponent, before tossing his cards irritably onto their makeshift table—a cluster of toadstools.
‘I was going to win, anyway,’ the cheater comments dispassionately. ‘A leopard never changes its spots,’ the other cheetah snaps.
‘You were saying?’ The leopard stalks out from behind a tree, his yellow eyes glowing with ire, his fangs bared. His voice, a low, raspy growl, sounds very, very annoyed.
‘Ah, nothing of your concern, Your Spotiness,’ one of the cheetahs speaks placatingly, his fur standing on end.
‘A lot of animals like to use that expression,’ the leopard grumbles to himself, before slinking back to his position.
‘You should have used toadstools as an example,’ the other cheetah offers. His friend shoots him a glare, before they gather their cards and continue.
The King himself is seated on his platform, his tawny eyes half-lidded. The only movement that betrays his anticipation is the sweep of his tufted tail, back and fro upon the rock. His mate is next to him, curled up around her cubs, seemingly asleep. Only the frequent flick of her ears tells otherwise.
A hoot of warning sounds into the night. ‘The humans approach,’ a high, reedy voice announces into the clearing. It is one of the elite night-vision spies—a youthful owl. He settles back onto his branch with a dignified ruffle of his wings.
Everyone in the clearing rustles to life, standing in position. ‘Onward march,’ the King growls.
As one, the animals proceed to the edge of the forest. As they near their destination, the flicker of torches and gruff voices of men can be heard. From what the animals
can gather, the men plan to set fire to the trees, to clear ground to build more of what they call ‘machines’.
‘Charge!’ The King roars. ‘For our home! For our forest! For our pride!
The animals charge forward with battle cries, the rhinoceroses roaring their worth, the wolves letting lose ear-splitting howls, the mice squeaking with all their might at the deplorable creatures, which have no right to burn their homes.
Far, far overhead, the vulture swoops down lower and lower, his eyes holding a deep savage yearning. The bird of prey starts its descent.
The battle lasts till dawn the next day. Bt then, all is still; the only movement is the columns of smoke curling into the air. The vulture is still circling in the sky, now lower than before. From his view, there are more animals dead than humans.
The more the merrier. The vulture thinks gleefully, before he lands with an excited thump. He eyes a dead rhinoceros, its sides laid open with a wide gash. The vulture begins its feast.
Inside, deeper in the partially destroyed forest, the remaining animals gather as if in a congregation. Everyone’s face is mournful, their eyes downcast, glistening with tears, even the crocodile’s.
A few wolves start up a funeral song, their voices a desolate howl in the forest. Three blind mice stand in formation and strike up a melancholic chord, their high voices squeaking in harmony. Even a group of hares join in, their noses twitching, whiskers moving awry, to a tune only they can hear. They are followed by the rest of the animals, and all their voices create a cacophony that echoes throughout their devastated home. Such a discordant melody has never sounded so harmonious before.
Meanwhile, the vulture gorges himself on his meal, his eyes glinting with a satisfied light. He lifts his head as he hears the mournful song, before his mouth curves into a crude imitation of a smile. He dips his crimson beak back into the carcass.
The mourning lasts till the next day, and as a new dawn peaks over the tree tops, painting everything in a golden hue, the animals cease their song, till all is silent, and all is still.
The silence, a suffocating blanket, envelopes the entire clearing. No animal knows the next step, the next plan to move forward into the future.
Until… An elephant takes up a broken log with its trunk, tossing it to the side of the clearing.
Then, all the animals burst into activity, moving and clearing bits of debris. Even the lions and their mates begin to contribute their share. In their hearts, they all share the hope that the destruction will never happen again.
One night, as the animals gather in their clearing, taking a break from their work, a message arrives from an owl.
‘The humans are—’
His voice is drowned out by an outraged roar, which reverbrates through the forest, reaching the humans a mile away. They tremble at the animals’ voices, chainsaws dropping lifeless to the ground.
Author’s Note: And that’s the end of it. Leave a little note and tell me what you think!