PANTHERA and LEO
Foggy Choices (part one)
by Bevie James
Panthera knelt down and gazed out toward the lake far below. The flashes of light from the lighthouse along the pier pulsed in even measures while the horn sounded in mournful blasts. Curse the fog. It hung over and near the lake like a shroud of death.
The night winds played with her wayward tresses. She ignored the mocking gesture, but her hand absently dropped to scratch the back of Leo’s mane. The big lion purred, a feat not possible with the counterparts of this world.
“She will be along the water front, Leo,” Panthera said. Leo’s head responded with a slight nod. That was another thing about cats from Khat. They understood speech. “Perhaps I should venture down and check for myself.”
A soft rumble welled up from Leo’s chest. Panthera smiled.
“Worrier. But we’ll never see her through this fog. Keep a link.”
Making her way down the hillside of this northern port town was almost as dangerous as meeting her intended prey. Fortunately, the city was weakly populated, and so the streets were devoid of any meaningful life. A few trouble-makers lounged in dark corners, but otherwise all was still.
She walked the water’s edge. It was disconcerting, for water was not her friend. Beyond the harbor lift bridge was open water. Deep and powerful. Walking by a monstrous sea-going vessel she was reminded of the power of water. This lake had taken ships bigger than this one to its depths. It was far superior to her.
She couldn’t help the chuckle which escaped. Superior. That’s what these people called it. Walking along an alley she saw four young men lounging in a huddled circle. As she neared they saw her and moved to intercept. Feeling generous, she waited.
They were ill-clad and ill-fed. They reeked of putrid smoke, coming from tiny wads of rolled up leaves in white paper. The tall one took a position in front as the others encircled her.
“Hello, dearie. Out for a walk? Perhaps you would care to join us?”
Her generosity was over. She felt Leo’s anger well up in her chest and with a shake of her head the sparks flew and Leo’s snarl echoed into the night. The young men’s eyes all went wide and they quickly faded into the mists.
She fancied she caught a new smell. The smell she had been searching for. Following it she found herself at the beginning of a long pier, leading out to the lighthouse. This was bad. All that water. It could be used against her. Still, she had no choice but to go on.
She came to the end and walked around the lighthouse. Then she heard it. The hiss of a panther. Turning, she saw what she feared most to see: a wall of water waiting to crash down upon her. Above it, resting on the lighthouse, was a woman not too unlike herself, affectionately petting a black panther. Panthera’s heart went cold.
“Pelage,” she whispered.