The Lion and the Fox
A lioness awoke from her sleep, stretching her mouth as far as her jaw would allow and pawing the sleep out of her eyes. She glanced at the surroundings – and wherever she was, it was definitely not the jungle. She was in some kind of cage, having been positioned close to the bars. Walking around outside were humans of all ages, most of them blissfully unaware of her condition.
She looked more curiously and widely through the bars to observe more of her surroundings. She wasn't alone here – the presence of numerous other animal cages clued her into the fact that this was a zoo. Balloons, banners, and machines distributing popcorn and cotton candy speckled the aisles in between her fellow prisoners. A car drove by, glossy and rounded like a toy but carrying several people, mostly adults, from whose eyes the wonder of childhood had long since left.
There was a long, sustained roar about the place, but it was not hers. Permeating through the very air were laughs, shrieks, and other contemptible noises from the humans' mouths, and the more aware she became of her surroundings, the more grating the noise got.
The lioness laid her head down and placed her paws over her ears – sight would do just fine. And she was greeted by a new sight just then: an elderly man sauntered straight up to her cage and turned his back to her.
"Folks," the man hollered to his audience, his bullhorn squealing over his voice. The lioness frowned and plugged her ears up tighter. "I'd like to introduce you to the newest member of our jolly old family here. This one's an exotic beauty – we brought her over the other day from White Jungle."
This really is a zoo, grumbled the lioness internally. Wonderful.
"Who wants to guess what kind of animal she is?" the man shouted. "I'll give you a couple of hints. She looooves to do two things: eat meat, and LOTS of it… and sleep!"
A small boy hopped to his feet and waved his arms back and forth. "Ooooooh! Me me me!"
The man pointed to him and smiled. "Yes?"
"A saber-tooth tiger!" An uproar of laughter greeted the incorrect guess.
"Not... quite, son, but good try," the man said. He scanned the crowd, and his finger pointed to another child, this time a girl. "Yes?"
"A lion...?" she said shyly.
"Corrrrrreect!" the man bellowed, backing away from the cage to reveal his latest acquisition to the audience. Applause screeched into her ear drums.
Why me? she thought. This is degrading. It doesn't suit me, it simply doesn't. If I could just find the slightest opening to sneak through and rid myself of these confines, I'd just...
"Give her some space, folks! It was a loooooong trip for her to come here." He shot her a quick, apologetic glance; she rolled her eyes at the thought of that being anywhere near enough consolation. Finally, everyone did back away, providing her the peace of mind to shut her eyes once more.
She woke with a start, the grogginess in her head suggesting she hadn't been out longer than a few minutes. There was a noise about, a different one: someone was grinding what sounded like two metallic objects against the pavement close to her cage. She growled inhospitably, looking up to see what in the world could be making such a deafening clatter. She was greeted by a small, black-furred fox.
The lioness sat up to get a better look at this girl. The fox was only a child, perhaps seven or eight years old, and she wore a white tank top with navy blue and pink sneakers. She also had two tails that looked it as though they've been recently robotized. The fox starred at the lion with big brown eyes. "Hello," she said shyly, waving her white-gloved hand.
In response, the lioness stood up on her own hind legs, raised her left paw, and roared out hello – or tried to; it came out about as close as a hello could sound. The fox's eyes widened in amazement, and the lioness smirked to herself. The fox smiled widely. "Wow… can you talk?" she whispered.
The lioness nodded, roaring out her best affectation of a "yeah". The fox gasped. "You can understand me?" she gaped, her whisper louder.
Again, the lioness nodded, silently but more enthusiastically, and the fox jumped in excitement. "S-she can understand me! I can't believe it!" she repeated, the words coming out as a very audible shriek.
A few people in the crowd turned their heads. Startled, the fox rocked back and forth on her feet, thinking frantically of a solution. "Um... yes! This is a fun game!" she shouted, demonstratively angling her body toward the lioness. "Hello, friend! I am having a mighty good time pretending that we can understand each other!"
The onlookers rolled their eyes, frowned, and continued to explore the zoo. "Uheheh…" the fox whispered apologetically. "Guess some friendships aren't meant for the world to know about, huh?"
The lioness froze and looked over the fox's shoulder. Her eyes widened again, and she turned to see what was behind her: it was a large, gray-feathered albatross. The albatross wore black sneakers with white and yellow stripe across them, tan gloves with large cuffs at the end of them, and small goggles on top of his head. All in all, he was quite a hulking figure – which would make him an intimidating if it weren't for the fact that he was looking at the small girl with concern.
"Uh… you okay, lil' girl?" he asked.
The fox jumped in place, startled, but nodded timidly when she realized he was only being friendly. Still, he was awfully big.
He didn't notice or care. "What's your name, sweetheart?" he said.
"Flower," she replied quietly.
"Hey, Flower, my name's Storm, Storm the Albatross. I saw you talking with that lioness behind ya – guess you didn't hide it quite well enough! Are you guys friends or something?" Storm glanced toward the creature, and she growled at him; he lowered his head in disappointment. "She doesn't seem to like me much."
"Maybe not," Flower told him, unsure of what she herself thought of the bird. "But maybe you can ask her… because you heard right. She can talk."
Storm burst out laughing, but his belly laughs slowed to a halt when he saw that the look Flower gave him was very much not the kind that one makes after cracking a joke.
"You're serious..." he exhaled, momentarily looking over at the lioness.
"Yeah," Flower continued, "and the lioness can understand you when you talk, too!" She pointed toward the cage. "Go on, try talking to her," she urged him.
Storm heaved a sigh, and a few seconds later, Storm found himself up at the lioness's cage, only a few feet from her animalistic features. Storm could not believe he was doing this, but he cleared his throat and spoke.
"Lioness," he began. "What..." He tried to come up with a question, but he could not. His mind was too focused on the embarrassment of talking to an animal, a real animal whose mind wasn't adjusted to conversing with other humans – or albatrosses, for that matter.
"I'm waiting." The words slipped from the lioness's irritated mouth, gruff and difficult to make out but very clearly real words.
Storm shook his head, then stared at the lioness in bewilderment. His mouth couldn't form words or even unintelligible sounds. Storm practically tripped over his own feet as he scampered away without asking a thing, leaving the fox and lioness snickering.
Once they both calmed down, Flower and the lioness glanced meaningfully at each other. "I think you're pretty cool," Flower admitted. The lioness mustered a genuine smile.
Suddenly, a blue beam of light spat through the air, ripping the bars of the cage open to clear its path. Metal scattered, people screamed and ran, sparks flew, flames burst. Through the smoke, the lioness emerged free, but she was not safe yet: who in the world had fired the blast? Before Flower or the lioness could move, Storm reappeared before them, and he was accompanied by a purple swallow and a green hawk.
The swallow walked up to the lioness, apparently unafraid of what the lioness might do to her. Her blue eyes shimmered in arrogance.
"Don't touch her!" Flower yelled. "Who are you, anyway?!"
Without feeling the need to answer a single word, the swallow, reaching into her pocket, pulled out a tiny handheld device. The lioness got into defensive position, ready for any type of attack this creature could toss her way. The swallow grew closer and closer, every movement unpredictable – and not only to her; the hawk eyed the swallow as though she were crazy.
Storm grabbed Flower and gripped her as though in fear she would slip away, and Flower could only watch as the bird of prey descended upon them.
Beep, beep, beep!
Everyone jumped back a foot. The swallow, too, was startled, but regained her composure quickly and delivered a swift kick to the lioness's stomach. With an "oof", the lioness stumbled, and a large emerald popped out of her mouth.
The gem flew through the air, spinning once, twice, three times before the green hawk leaped into the air, the gem slammed against his hand. While in midair, the hawk squeezed the gem with his catcher's-mitt hand.
Storm sprang in the air, his arms far apart. "I got you, boossss!" His howl was cut short as the hawk crashed into his stomach, knocking him back a good few feet back, finally skidding to a stop at the exit of the zoo.
The swallow threw her arms in the air. "Honestly, you two!" she screamed. "Can't you actually do something right for one measly day! I swear, nothing ever gets done around here!"
"Well, Wave," the green hawk scoffed. "Maybe if you stopped nagging us and started helping us, we would've done something for a change!"
"Yeah," Storm joined in. "What the boss said!"
"Stop interrupting!" Wave bellowed, walking briskly toward her comrades. She gritted her teeth. "Knock it off!"
Flower took this as her cue to leave, so with the help of her two tails, she flew away, the bickering fading away with every passing minute. Pretty soon, the zoo had become a mere speck in the distance. Flower then noticed that the sun was setting; she had to get home soon. Off she went, but as soon as she set foot on the welcome home mat in front of the mansion she lived in, she remembered something awful.
The lioness! she gulped to herself. Well… I guess she must've been fine, and it's too late now, but…
She was distracted, however, by the sound of an unfamiliar voice of a female, chatting with everyone in the house. She rapped softly on the door, and Mr. Tanaka, the mansion's butler, opened the gigantic door. "Please come in, Miss Flower," he told her, opening the door wider.
Flower timidly entered to find a dark purple hedgehog she'd never seen before laughing, talking with Sonic. Without noticing the fox, the hedgehog smiled, her teeth bared wide and ready to eat, just like the lioness. This was all so strange – was this a dream?