I usually prefer fantasy to animal fiction, but I wrote this for school in grade seven and really liked it.

The Child and the Lioness
Arianna Wings

The ground shifts beneath my paws. I stop. The antelope have not heard me. My breath comes in slow, shallow gasps. Just a few more paces.
I pounce for the nearest antelope. It falls; the others run.
My claws tear into my prey's flesh. It cries out in pain. Blood stains my paws. My jaws find its neck and I sink my teeth into its veins. The body beneath me goes limp. The antelope is dead.
I get up and sit beside the corpse. Lifting my head, I roar to the sky. In my mind, I hear the answering roar of the Lion Spirit and the cry of the Antelope Spirit. The kill is approved.
I drag the food to the den and watch as the rest of the pride feast on the antelope's flesh. Fur tipped tails swish, manes shake and growls erupt as they fight over the kill.
I have no appetite. I leave.
The jungle calls to me. I race towards it. When I reach the greenery, I stop. A strange noise is coming from deeper in the jungle.
Carefully, I creep forward. It is harder to be quiet in the jungle than in the grasslands, but the creature does not hear me - if it is a creature at all.
I near the source of the noise. Pushing aside a branch, I peer into a ravine clearing. The noise seems to be coming from a strangely coloured bulk on the ground. Cautiously, I approach.
The bulk moves. It is alive. But what sort of creature is this? It moves again, this time it lifts its head. The structure of its head is like that of the villagers I have sometimes seen, but it is different in colour.
It looks at me with wide eyes, from which stream a clear wetness.
I step forward and sniff at it. The creature shrinks away from me. I understand this movement - it fears me. I feel no threat from this creature's spirit, so I bend my head forward, exposing my neck to this creature.
A sound comes from the creature's mouth that is alien to me, but the spirits help me understand what it is saying.
The creature lays one of its front paws on me and runs it down my back. It is a soothing movement.
I raise my head to look at the creature's face. Yes, it does look like the villagers.
What do some call them? Humans? Yes, they are called humans. This is a human. But male or female?
Female, the spirits tell me.
In its eyes, I see my reflection. I have a big nose and eyes.
In my mind, the spirits tell me that the human has asked if I can help her get to the village.
I look at the human and see that there is a red gash on one of her hind legs. I know how to get to the village, but how to get the human there with her leg so badly hurt, I do not know. Perhaps if I steal something from the villagers and make them chase after me, I will be able to bring them to this human. Yes, that is what I shall do.
I turn and run toward the village. The human cries out. The spirits tell me that she thinks I am leaving her there to die. She does not understand that I am going to get help.
The village is alive and full of humans. What can I steal that they will notice immediately and chase after me for?
The village leader catches my eye. He holds a long, thick stick in his paw. I have learned that the villagers value this stick. It will be the perfect thing to steal!
I dash into the village. The humans scatter as I run through the crowd. I take the leader's stick in my jaw and run off, back in the direction of the ravine. As I expect, the villagers give chase. I run fast enough so that they do not catch me, but slow enough so that they do not lose me. The jungle ends and I am at the ravine clearing again.
The human looks up in surprise. The villagers are still in pursuit of me. I leap into the bushes on the side opposite from where they are coming. The humans come into the clearing and see the wounded one. Two of my pursuers are like it in colour and go to it.
There is much talking in their alien tongue. I slowly walk forward. The humans back away but the wounded one does not. Very slowly, it limps towards me. I see that it is shorter than the others. A cub; a human cub. And the two who look like her are, perhaps, her parents.
I drop the staff at the cub's feet, turn and run through the jungle to the den. I do not go strait. It is too dangerous. I have heard of humans who capture animals and take them far away. I cannot let that happen to my pride. I must not bring humans near the pride.
*****
A snapping branch from behind me makes me jump to my feet. I spin to see the human cub standing there. My muscles relax - slightly.
The cub cautiously approaches. I do not move. Her paw touches my back and she moves it up and down as she did yesterday. Her alien language spouts from her lips and the spirits tell me what she is saying.
I sit down. She follows and together, we look out at the horizon. She starts talking to me in her strange tongue and the spirits translate her words for me.
She talks of how she had to come here with her parents because she had no one to live with where she came from (I understand this; one must move with one's pride). Her parents had to come here to heal the villagers because there were no healers in the village anymore. She says that she misses her friends and home an the other children from a place she calls a 'school.'
I listen to the human. I have never listened to someone in this way. To me it is a strange thing to do, but the cub seems to be accustomed to talking in this way.
I know it is dangerous to the pride, yet I do not leave. I will not take the child to the den, but that does not mean I cannot listen to her.
Suddenly, the child asks if I can show her the rest of the pride.
I do not think before I act. I snarl at her.
She does not move away, but simply bows her head and apologizes. Then she stares at me. The cub asks how I can understand her. I realize that she cannot hear the spirits.
What should I do?
I look up at the sky and roar. There is no response.
Are the spirits angry with me because I am endangering the pride? But then, why do they still reveal to me what this human says?
The child cocks her head at me, then seems to understand.
She says something in her language and in my mind, I hear: So spirits are real.
I look at her and cock my head in return. This child did not, until now, known that spirits are real. Are all humans disbelievers in the spirits?
The cub continues talking. She talks of her home and friends and explains what a school is, now that she knows I understand.
The sun is beginning to disappear over the horizon. The child stands and asks me to meet her here tomorrow. I lick her hand as a sign of agreement, then wait until her footsteps fade away into the distance.
I turn and run back to the den.
*****
The girl is talking again. Today she talks of how she misses the food of her home.
I have so many questions. I wish I could talk to her, but she cannot hear the spirits.
This is the fifth day I have met her here. No one from my pride knows that I meet her here. I wonder if anyone from the village knows of these meetings.
The child asks to see me hunt. I shake my head, no, wishing I could tell her that the spirits would be angry with me if I hunt for any reason except to have food for my pride.
She seems disappointed, then asks me to take her to the top of the waterfall. I cock my head to ask her why. She makes a strange movement with her shoulders then says that she wants to see what a waterfall looks like from the top.
I hesitate for a moment. Then I stand and move my head to tell her to follow me. I take her up a hill, over a small stream and through a patch of jungle.
We are standing to the side of the river that flows over a wall of earth, creating a waterfall. The girl gasps as she looks down. I crouch beside her and look down as well. I always feel strange when I look down from the top of the waterfall. I do not like the feeling. I draw back and wait for the girl to stand again. When she does, I lead her back to the village, then zigzag back to my pride's den.
The pride leader approaches me.
"Why do you meet with the human every day?" he demands.
So they have discovered my secret.
"The spirits do not object," I reply.
"How do you know this?"
"They tell me what the child says when she speaks to me."
He snarls, turns and stalks away. He cannot oppose what the spirits have decided. He will not interfere with my meetings with the girl.
I sigh and choose a place to sleep.
*****
The human cub is waiting for me when I reach our meeting place. Today she just talks of her far way home. It is noon now. She gets up to leave. Her mother has told her to go back early today. I lick her hand in farewell. She pats my head in response.
I watch her go. I sit in the sun for no reason at all. The girl's footsteps have already faded into silence.
A foul scent invades my nostrils. Smoke!
I look up. In the distance, tongues of fire lick the sky. The fire is spreading quickly. I must run. No. The child is in the jungle. She still cannot move quickly because of her wound.
I run as fast as my legs will move. But lions are built for strength, not speed. The smell of smoke grows stronger. My chest aches for clean, fresh air, but I must find the child.
The child is lying on the ground. Something has knocked her unconscious. I nudge my head underneath her and stand, moving my neck so that the child lies sideways across my back. Then I race away from the fire.
It is spreading quickly and I cannot run fast with the child on my back. But I must get her to safety.
The jungle gives way to the grasslands and I continue running. There is a narrow river that divides the grasslands in half. I must cross the river on the stones that are spread across it.
I keep running. The river is not too far now. The smoke filled air is beginning to drift upward now. I must continue running.
The river is in sight. I keep running. I spot the line of stones and tilt the direction in which I run so that I am going forward and sideways, toward the stones.
I jump onto the first stone without hesitation. The child's body slips to one side a bit. I hunch my back and the child slides back into place. I jump to the second stone, more carefully this time, the third, the fourth, the fifth. Again I move my back until the girl is righted.
The sixth stone, the seventh, the eighth, the ninth. Now I am on the other side of the river. I let the girl's body slip to the ground, then collapse.
My chest burns with pain and I feel as if something inside it is pushing out. The human cub moans and sits up. For a moment, she looks confused. She looks across the river at the fire, then at me.
She says something and I hear the spirits translate it in my mind, but I do not know what the words mean and I do not care.
The child is safe. That is my only thought. It is like a gentle, incoming tide, a shield against the pain that spreads from my chest throughout my body.
The child is safe. The words echo in my mind.
I close my eyes for the last time. I hear the human cry out as I take my last breath.
The child lives. I die.