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He sleeps in a small grass hut. Its floor is smooth ground, is hard dry mud trod and trod again by feet coming, going, coming, going, and sometimes staying.

The hut contains nothing but empty space and a yellow and green mat of woven grass, still fresh and with a scent of field, serving as his bed. This mat is light and easy to roll up and stow away or to carry. Although it is thin he sleeps well on it and he does not wake sore.

This morning was no exception: when he woke he felt well rested and much refreshed, if still somewhat dislocated.

It was the sun that woke him, this new sun. This white, new sun. The hut’s opening faced this sun’s rising above the mountain ridge on the far side of the valley below. As it began its climb, it lit the sky above, shadowing the mountain and the valley below, but then as it heaved itself above the ridge it entered first his hut and then his eyes even through closed lids. This is how he knew morning again, and this is what now woke him.

This is what marked the end of another darkness, of another inactivity so utter he could not remember ever beginning to do this deep nothing. He didn’t think more about that, however, but welcomed this new sun, this warm sun, white and closer than he remembered any other sun.

Once awake, and once he had rolled up his grass-mat bed for the day, he crawled on knees and hands through the low opening and out into the pleasant and lighter still morning air.

He was tall and slender. He was black-skinned and strong. Once out of the hut he stood up and felt how good it was to stretch arms and legs and to fill lungs.

It is good here, he thought, wherever here was. The air is fresh, the view stretches wide and far under this closer sun.

His hut was built—though he does not remember building it—on the edge of a large plateau rising high above the valley floor. The plateau itself was a wide expanse of green now rippled by the morning winds. The man smiled as he held the air and watched the small, bright clouds overhead. This wasn’t so bad after all. Yes, things could definitely have been a lot worse.

A loud screech rose from the sea of grass to his left and a large many-colored bird took wide wing, rose higher, the screech trailing. He watched as the bird winged into the morning sky. Another screech, as in answer, reached him and with it another bird, a copy of the first, arose farther still to his left and soon circled with its mate (he assumed) looking down at some shared annoyance.

He walked toward a movement in the grass to see what could have stirred those powerful wings. The movement at the same time parted the grass in his direction and they soon met. The shared annoyance was a large, beautiful cat. Not black, as cats should be, as he remembered them to be, but cat nonetheless, he was pretty sure. Green eyes and sharp teeth, long, pink tongue. A deep cat-voice spoke slowly and wondered who he was. He had not heard a voice like this, words like these, for…, for he could not remember when. Rumbling, whispering these cat words. While he wondered how the cat could speak so well with a long tongue like that, he answered him that he was not altogether sure exactly who he was, it was a bit of a blur, but he suspected, he said, that he had been sentenced probably not too long ago, and that he was here, now, serving time.

At this the big cat sneezed and sat down on his hind legs and looked up at him long and hard. For what crime? he asked in the end. I don’t remember, he answered. And who are you? he asked of the cat. I am Cheetah, answered the cat.

Is that a cat? the man wanted to know.

Yes.

“Are you serving time too?” he asked.

“Yes,” said the cat.

They continued to look at each other for some time. He was trying to see the cat within the cat who called himself Cheetah. Looking out from the man within the man.

“What was your crime?” he asked.

“We all are,” the cat added, ignoring his question.

“Why did you scare those birds off?” he asked, looking up at the two still-circling wide-winged birds.

“I didn’t mean to scare them,” answered Cheetah. “I bungled it.”

The man did not understand and looked at the cat for an answer. His face must have asked the right question, for Cheetah said:

“I meant to catch me one, or two.”

“Why?”

“To eat.”

“To eat?”

“Yes, eat.”

“Eat?”

“Yes.”

The man glanced up again at the two circling pairs of wings, closer to the ground now. Looking down at them. Concerned.

“What is eat?” said the man.

“How long have you been here?” asked the cat.

“I awoke here with the rising of this sun,” and turned halfway towards the sun to indicate precisely what sun he was talking about.

“So this is your first rising?”

“Yes,” said the man.

“Give it another rising or two and you will know what I mean.”

The man was about to ask Cheetah to explain, please, when a new movement in the tall grass interrupted their conversation. Cheetah spotted it first. Soon the man saw them too: antlers and heads of two deer making their way through the green sea to their right.

The cat stiffened as he watched the brown backs part the grass. Without looking back at the man he said, “Got to go,” and set out after the deer. Furtively, thought the man.

The man, still wondering about eat and what it might mean, remained where he was, watching the yellow and black of the cat move away from him. Cheetah did not seem well-intended, and he almost called the deer in warning but suspected it would offend the cat so instead he simply watched.

Watched how the two deer suddenly froze, heads and antlers etched against the undulating green; watched the tail of the cat moving slowly from side to side now while creeping—yes, creeping now—closer. Watched the sudden brown explosion of flight as the deer burst into run and the equally explosive pursuit of the cat.

He saw Cheetah leap, saw him kill, heard the last cry of the deer with lesser antlers, smelled the blood, almost felt the meat tear from the bones of the now dead animal. Saw the other, more impressively-antlered deer stop some distance off, looking back at the carnage, sad, relieved.

The man wondered why this was taking place. The deer had done nothing to offend Cheetah that he could tell.

So the man walked over to the cat. The cat didn’t turn around at first, but once the man’s presence was beyond doubt he looked up with fiery eyes and growled a low and threatening greeting. The man got the message and did not approach further. Instead he asked what the cat was doing. Cheetah did not answer, so the man asked again. Eating, the cat eventually answered, between bites.

The man remained for a while, fascinated, watching the cat tear at the carcass, still wondering about this strange eat and what might be its purpose. If eat was what the cat was doing, it did not look like a pleasant thing to do.

Cheetah did not turn from his task again and the man did not interrupt further.

When Cheetah had finished this eating there was only the broken suggestion of deer left on the ground, a long twisted neck, torn and dark with blood, an empty eye socket looking up at the man, the deer within the deer gone. Freed? Sentence served? He thought not.

The man turned and walked back towards his hut. The two birds overhead were descending now in large, lazy circles to several of these circles later settle back into the grass.

Perhaps they, too, could talk, he thought. Perhaps they could tell him more about eat. With that he set out for them. As he drew closer he saw one lean closer to the other and whisper something. If a wing could point, it pointed at him and they both took to the air again, screeching. No answerers of questions, these birds.

He did, however, admire their aerial artistry for a while and tried to remember flying. There should be memories, there were memories, he was sure of it, but like stones slippery with wet moss they could not be grasped. He fetched nothing. Just wet fingers.

The birds remained aloft for as long as he stayed, so he turned and walked the rest of the way back to the hut.

Inside he unrolled his mat again the more comfortably to sit down and wonder about eat. He pictured Cheetah tearing at the dead deer, as if possessed, and tried to imagine what feeling might have done such possessing. It must have been strong to make him so preoccupied and so rude.

He tried to remember, had he ever felt something that might account for that behavior? He grasped and grasped but such memories, too, proved elusive, and though they did cast shadows they were of little substance and he fetched nothing from his pastward groping.

The sun climbed further and the band of light on his floor grew shorter and brighter. He thought about closing his eyes to revisit the darkness but could not find the stillness within to, not with the sun so high, and not with the dead deer still on his mind. So he sat for a long time on his hut floor looking out across the valley, at the trees clustering the valley floor, at the grasses, grasses everywhere and the many animals, deer, antelopes, zebras, elephants, other cats, both larger and smaller than Cheetah, strolling some, sleeping some in the sun. How could they sleep when he could not? He crawled through the opening again and stood up. Other birds were soaring overhead. Some flew close to each other as if in conversation. Others darted singly up and down seemingly without purpose. Others still were circling above the place where Cheetah had killed the deer, some settling there as well. Squabbling going on, too, over there.

Cheetah returned. Quietly. One moment there was no cat, the next there was all of it.

So, that was an eat? the man said. What you did with the deer? Yes, said the Cheetah. That was an eat. Hungry yet? he added.

“What does it mean, hungry?”

“It means must eat,” said the Cheetah.

“If that’s what it means, then, no,” he answered. “I’m not hungry yet.”

“You will be soon enough.”

“How do you know?” said the man.

“That’s what happens. Every time.”

“You remember?” said the man, a little surprised.

The cat didn’t answer, but instead began to clean his left front paw with his large pink tongue. The man could hear each raspy lick and watched the long white whiskers fold and unfold as Cheetah again and again licked pads and claws and furry top. There was still the faint smell of blood in the air. From his paws, jaws, teeth, the man guessed.

Do you remember?” he said.

The Cheetah slowly put his paw down and looked like he would begin cleaning the other, but he did not.

“Some,” he said. “But not much.”

“What then?” he asked.

The Cheetah said nothing.

“Do you remember before being Cheetah?”

“No, only being Cheetah.”

“Nothing else?”

“No.”

“No other sun?”

“No.”

“But you are serving time. You remember that.”

“That is not something I remember. That is something I know.”

The man thought about that and saw that the Cheetah was right. No memory there. Just know. He nodded.

“What about the others?” he asked. “Do they know, too?”

“Most do,” said Cheetah.

“Can they all talk?”

“Most do,” repeated Cheetah.

“Anyone remember?”

“Only this sun,” said the Cheetah, and then he left.

:

The closer sun was setting now. The man watched it slowly sink beyond the far end of the plateau. Cheetah returned again from his grassy nowhere and sat down beside the man. The world was stiller now, but for a larger roar than the Cheetah’s rising from the valley below. Another like you? he wondered. No, said Cheetah, Lion. You don’t want to meet him hungry. He will eat you. For that matter, you may want to stay away from me too if you see me too hungry for choosing. I’d settle for man flesh in a pinch.

“You would treat me like deer?”

“Yes I would.”

“Seriously?”

“Quite.”

They spoke no more and soon Cheetah disappeared into the dusk. Inner stillness returned to the man and he crept back into his hut, unrolled his sleeping mat, and closed his eyes on his first fading day.

:

The closer sun reached the top of the far ridge, heaved itself above it, found his eyelids, and lit his eyes open for a second time.

The man looked out and onto the valley below, still in shadow from the range, still not lit by the closer sun which now seemed to also have found his stomach with a strange heat, an ember at first below his heart, now waking it in small steps: first into hollowness, then into glow, then into pain, then into larger pain, now into hunger and suddenly eat was all he knew.

Without rolling up and stowing his sleeping mat, he crawled out of his hut on hands and knees, and this morning not with pleasure but with urgency.

Once outside, he stood up and surveyed his world, no longer for beauty and fresh light and air, but for food. Shadows cast by daemon memories now dictated motion, guided his feet, steered his eyes and he remembered the birds. Cheetah had stalked them. As food.

He tried to remember where, exactly, while his hunger roared below. He did remember and made his way through the grass in that direction, though seeing no birds. Then a screech and the powerful down beat of muscle and feather: the bird rose and screamed the warning. He was not going to catch that one. Instead he knew to look for where the bird had come from and found the nest. Large and brown it was, filled with eggs, with food.

He bent down to pick one to eat, when talons ripped long, red furrows across his back and shoulders. He whipped around to see the bird again, and to feel the down draft of desperation and anger. The pain, initially lesser than surprise, soon grew greater than while the bird, fearless now, dove for him again. He was still too perplexed to get out of the way and talons found his ear this time and drew blood. Then the man ran.

His back and shoulders and ear were pulsing and burning from the attack and he needed water to cool them. The hunger below was still screaming, however, about eggs. But eggs told him about talons that rip and he stalled, undecided. Pain regained the upper hand and clamored for water.

He found the path to the water hole. He had seen it traveled by antelopes and zebras. Pain and hunger made momentary battle but pain prevailed. He must soothe his wounds. He made his way toward water.

And here, within sight of the water hole, sitting on the path, was Cheetah, watching him, sniffing the air—perhaps his blood was in it. Green eyes held his steadily as he approached. Cheetah’s tail was tap-tap-tapping up tiny puffs of dusty cloud.

“Hungry now?” said the cat. The man could see four sharp teeth as Cheetah smiled.

The man did not answer.

“I can smell your blood,” said Cheetah.

A new feeling, sparked by these words and by now hungry green eyes, told him he had better run away from this cat. Cheetah remained very still except for tail and nostrils and hungry, calculating eyes. The man, too, undecided, remained very still.

Cheetah’s muscles tensed and rippled. Then the big cat leaped.

Claws found his chest, teeth found his neck and powerful jaws closed down over arteries and spine. He heard his own neck break before all went quiet as he now looked down on Cheetah taking his first bite out of his shoulder. Then there was a new and wider darkness.

Then that darkness ended.

:

He sleeps in a small grass hut. Its floor is smooth ground, is hard dry mud trod and trod again by feet coming, going, coming, going, and sometimes staying.

The hut contains nothing but empty space and a yellow and green mat of woven grass, still fresh and with a scent of field, serving as his bed. This mat is light and easy to roll up and stow away or to carry. Although it is thin he sleeps well on it and he does not wake sore.

::