The Purr of the Beast

A bird swept down over the treetops and roosted in a tall tree.

It was a nice day. Not too hot, but not too warm. The sky was speckled with puffy cumulus clouds. None of them threatened rain. The clouds were suspended over a dense forest, home to many wild animals. From an aerial view, all that could be seen for miles and miles was green. It seemed endless; there appeared to be no space between trees at all, though some foot-trodden paths did snake their way through the greenery. It was easy for people to get lost as they traveled through the forest. A bird could simply fly up, up, and away from the forest, leaving the trees and the wild animals behind. But humans could only walk on one plane. They could not fly with the birds.

My mother and I lived in a cottage on the outskirts of the forest. It was a peaceful lifestyle—the nearest town was about a mile away. We had electricity, supplied from the town, and we got our water from a nearby spring.

We set out into the forest on a hike. We hiked often, so this was nothing unusual. But, as we walked, the paths slowly got less and less familiar until I was unsure of where we were. My mother realized this too. We were lost. We tried to turn back, but we just got more lost. We couldn't see anything but the trunks of trees in every direction we turned. We had no cell phone, though, to call anyone, so we picked a direction that we thought might be right, and headed that way. When this direction seemed to not work, we turned in another direction, hoping for the best. But as we grew less hopeful, I gre more scared.

Then I saw a rustling in a bush about fifty feet in front of us.

"Ma, did you see that?" I asked my mother.

"See what?" she asked.

I pointed towards the bush. One large gray paw was sticking out of it. She had obviously seen it, seeing as she froze. "Don't move or say a thing," she whispered. I froze too.

Quickly, out of the bush jumped a large leopard. It was silver with dark gray spots. Had I seen it in a National Geographic magazine I had bought in town, I would have thought it was beautiful, and possibly have cut out the picture and saved it. But this was not a National Geographic magazine. This was reality. And in reality, a leopard, albeit a majestic one, was bounding towards my mother and me.

I held back a scream; I had to be silent. I didn't want to be supper.

The leopard was just ten feet away from us when it turned. It began to run in circles around us. Didn't animals do this to members of their pack? I wondered. To keep the members together?

After circling us for a time—it felt like an hour, but it was probably only a minute—the leopard began to close in on us, making the circles smaller and smaller. Then it halted and turned to us, staring straight into my eyes. It came closer to me. It lifted up its head and rubbed it into my left shoulder.

My mother and I gasped.

The leopard was purring loudly. It moved its head to my mother, rubbing into her left arm.

"Ma . . ." I managed to say.

"I know," she replied.

The leopard wasn't ferocious. It wasn't going to eat us, tear us limb from limb. No. It just wanted affection. It wanted love. And love was what I gave it. I lifted my hand to his head and scratched behind its ear. The leopard began to purr louder.

A bird roosting in a nearby tree launched itself from its branch. It flew out over the tops of the dense, green forest, past my cabin at the forest's edge, past the town, and into the fading sun.