The Zebra and the Lions
Hector the Zebra Discovers the Benefits of Herd Membership
[I am starting a new section on this substack for a series called “Tall Tales and Absurd Allegories.” This strange story, “The Zebra and the Lions,” is the first installment. Hope you like it. It’s an experiment — just trying new things to “get unstuck” creatively . . .]
“Oh shit, there’s a lion coming our way!” said Hector to the other zebras.
“The grass is good,” said Jimmy, the fat zebra next to him.
“What?!” cried Hector. “Did you not hear what I said? I said, ‘There’s a lion coming our way!’ No, make that two — er, no, three lions. I see three lions, and the way lions hunt, there are bound to be even more that we can’t see. They’re definitely coming our way.”
“Whose way?” asked JoAnn.
“Our way!” exclaimed Hector.
“You mean yours and Jimmy’s or mine and Sylvia’s?” asked JoAnn.
Hector shook his head and snorted before replying, “All of the above. Can we move towards the trees? Maybe the lions will go for the gazelle over there if we move away from them.'“
“The grass is not good over by the trees,” said Jimmy.
““Look, it’s not about the grass,” said Hector. “We can always come back and eat after the lions have gone.”
“He’s right,” added Joey.
“Thanks, Joey,” said Hector. “See, Joey agrees with me. We should move towards the trees and come back after the lions have gone.”
“No,” said Joey. “I wasn’t agreeing with you; I was agreeing with Jimmy. The grass over by the trees is terrible.”
“There is no grass over by the trees,” said Sylvia. “It’s mostly just briars and dirt.”
Hector stamped his forelegs. “Guys, one of us is going to get eaten if we don’t start moving, as a group, towards the treeline. If we do that, it’s possible the lions will go for the gazelle rather than following us.”
“What makes you think the lions are trying to eat us?” asked Jimmy.
“Because lions eat zebras,” said Hector.
“Oh yeah?” retorted Jimmy. “Well, I’m a zebra, and the lions have never eaten me!”
Hector rolled his eyes. “Right. And if you want to keep it that way, then you, and the rest of us, should avoid being here when the lions arrive.”
“You go ahead,” said Joey. “The rest of us don’t want to eat the grass over by the trees.”
“It’s not about the grass by the trees,” said Hector. “It’s —”
“There is no grass over by the trees!” blurted Sylvia.
“I didn’t say there was,” said Hector. “It’s just, if they see one or two zebras walking by themselves, they will target them. But if all of us walk together, in a tight formation, they are less likely to target us, and maybe they’ll go for the gazelle.”
“I don’t want to go over to the trees,” said Joey. “The grass is not good over there.”
“There is no grass over there,” said Sylvia.
“Exactly!” agreed Joey, before adding, “And on top of that, the grass that is over there is not good, like the grass over here is!”
Hector ignored their comments and surveyed the scene. The lions were still coming towards them, but instead of doing so openly, they were crouching and slinking stealthily. They were clearly on the hunt. Everywhere Hector looked, he saw cold, yellow eyes gleaming back at him.
“Look, guys, we don’t have much time,” said Hector. “If we move now, then we can be out of the area when the lions are ready to launch their attack. They’ll hopefully go for the gazelles, who don’t seem to notice the lions yet.”
“Why are you so worried about lions, Hector?” asked Jimmy.
“Because he’s paranoid,” said Joey.
“Oh, are you one of those conspiracy theorists?” asked Jimmy.
“He thinks lions are part of an anti-zebra conspiracy,” said Joey.
“Look at me, Hector,” said Jimmy. “I’m a zebra, and lions have never hunted me before.”
“No?” replied Hector. “But haven’t they hunted other zebras? Haven’t we seen zebras disappear when the lions show up, slinking around like they’re slinking around now?”
“That’s just a conspiracy theory,” said Joey. “You don’t have any proof that lions kill zebras.”
“Yeah, what’s your source?” demanded Jimmy. “Has it been fact-checked?”
“If the lions don’t kill zebras, then what happens to the zebra that disappear every time the lions show up?” demanded Hector.
“I don’t know,” said Joey. “Maybe they all caught Ebola.”
“I can prove lions don’t hunt zebras,” said Jimmy. “Because I am a zebra. And guess what?”
“No lions have ever hunted you?” said Hector, shaking his head and rolling his eyes.
“Exactly!” said Jimmy. “That proves there is no conspiracy against zebras.”
“How?” asked Hector.
“The exception proves the rule,” replied Jimmy, with a proud smile. “You don’t remember that from school? Because I sure do.”
“That makes no sense,” said Hector. “Look, can we stop talking and just walk quickly, without running, towards the treeline?”
“I hate the grass over by the trees,” said Jimmy.
“There is no grass over by the trees,” said Sylvia.
“And the grass that is over by the trees is not good,” added Joey.
“Who wants to eat the grass over by the trees?” asked JoAnn.
“There is no grass over by the trees,” said Sylvia, “so nobody can eat the grass over there, because it doesn’t even exist.”
“And on top of that, it’s really bad grass,” said Joey.
“Exactly,” said JoAnn. “So why does anyone want to go over there, if the grass is not good?”
“There is NO GRASS over by the trees!” shouted Sylvia.
“Hector thinks there is,” said Joey.
“Well, Hector is stupid,” replied Sylvia.
“Hector also thinks the lions are hunting us,” said Jimmy.
“He’s a conspiracy theorist,” added Joey.
Sylvia wrinkled up her nose in disgust.
“Hey, Sylvia, you’re a zebra, right?” asked Jimmy.
“Uh, yeah,” replied Sylvia.
“And have you ever been eaten by a lion?” continued Jimmy.
“Uh, no, because if I had, I obviously would not be here,” said Sylvia.
“One more exception to prove the rule,” said Jimmy. “I’m just shooting holes right through this crazy conspiracy theory of yours, Hector.”
Hector groaned and shook his head. The lions were closing in on them. “Guys, we have to move NOW!” insisted Hector.
“No, YOU move!” retorted JoAnn. “I wanna be where the grass is.”
“Exactly,” said Jimmy. “The grass over by the trees is terrible.”
“There is NO grass over by the trees,” rejoined Sylvia.
“I know,” said Jimmy. “That’s part of why that grass is so terrible. It also tastes bad.”
Hector detached himself mentally from their discussion. He scanned the savannah and noted the distance of the nearest lion. He then turned towards the treeline and noted a ravine he could use for concealment as he fled. He turned back towards the nearest lion and quickly calculated how long it would take that lion to reach the ravine.
“Okay, guys, last call,” said Hector. “I’m going towards the trees. If we go together the lions are less likely to target any of us. Who’s with me?”
“We’re all with you, right now,” said Joey. “Because if we weren’t with you, how could we be having this conversation?”
“No, I mean, who’s going over to the treeline with me?” asked Hector.
“The grass is much better here,” said Jimmy. “I’m staying.”
“Me too,” said Joey. “The grass by the trees sucks!”
“There is NO grass over by the trees,” said Sylvia.
“Exactly,” said Jimmy. “And it doesn’t even taste good, like the grass here does, which Hector fails to appreciate.”
“Nobody wants to go eat that disgusting tree grass with you, Hector,” said JoAnn.
“There is NO grass by the trees,” repeated Sylvia.
“Okay, guys. I’m going alone, then,” said Hector.
“Yeah, because none of us are conspiracy theorists,” said Joey.
“Because lions don’t even eat zebras,” said Jimmy.
“They don’t?” asked JoAnn.
“I just proved it,” said Jimmy. “Didn’t you hear me? The exception always proves the rule!”
“Wow, you’re really smart, Jimmy!” cooed Sylvia. “You must have a PhD!”
“I do!” replied Jimmy, grinning.
Meanwhile, Hector had scampered quickly towards the ravine. Once inside, he turned around and glanced carefully over the top. His blood ran cold. A pair of gleaming yellow eyes glowered murderously at him from about 30 yards away. The lions were almost within striking distance!
He glanced over his shoulder at the treeline. He had a head start, and if he could make it to the trees before the lions, they should start feeling winded at that distance and have to slow down. To make it to the treeline, he would need to get out of the ravine, because the ground was too soggy and uneven for him to run his fastest. But exiting the ravine would expose him to all of the lions, including any who may be closer than the one with whom he had just locked eyes.
He climbed the side of the ravine, but the ground gave way and he fell backwards. He leaped to his feet and looked back towards the lions. They had heard him fall, and now they were focused exclusively on him.
Hector scurried up the side and this time got over the top. He glanced quickly around and froze instantly. A lioness was circling towards him from the right. She seemed to know he was planning to flee towards the trees, and she had positioned herself to cut him off. He did not think he could get to the trees before she could reach him.
Hector bit his lip as he looked nervously about. The lions were definitely targeting him now. He quickly analyzed the situation and figured he had only two choices: run like hell for the trees, and hope he’d get there before the lioness on his right could get him; or he could try to rejoin the herd, on the off chance that the lions would pick someone else when the herd inevitably started running. He made up his mind when he spotted what looked like another lion’s tail twitching close to the route he would have to run if he fled towards the trees. The path between his location and the herd was still clear, though, at least for the moment, although the lions were encircling them from every other side.
Hector mouthed a quick prayer and marched briskly towards the herd. He had to move at just the right pace: too fast, and he would instantly trigger the lions to chase him; but too slow, and the lions would get there ahead of him. He hurried as fast as he could without actually running.
He noted movement to his left and right. The lions were following him, but they were matching his pace. He would get to the herd before they would reach him.
“What are you doing back here?” asked Jimmy.
“Back to eat the grass with you guys, I guess,” replied Hector.
“I told you there wasn’t any grass over there,” said Sylvia.
“Guess not,” mumbled Hector.
“I feel scared all of the sudden,” said Joey.
“Me too,” said JoAnn. “I started feeling scared right when Hector showed up.”
“Why are you scaring us, Hector?” demanded Jimmy.
“I’m not,” retorted Hector. “The lions are. Your subconscious has noticed the way the lions are moving towards us, and it’s triggering your fight-flight-or-freeze response.”
“Well, I wasn’t scared of the lions before you started spouting all that conspiracy-theory nonsense,” said Joey.
“The lions are probably just mad at YOU!” hissed Jimmy. “They know you’ve been spreading conspiracy theories about them, and now they’re coming for you.”
“Look, guys, let’s stick together,” begged Hector. “There’s more of us than there are of them. We can all kick pretty ferociously. If we form a circle to cover our own flanks, we can face the lions, and they’ll probably hunt the gazelle instead.”
“Are the gazelle conspiracy theorists like you?” asked Joey.
“No, they’re lion food, like us,” said Hector.
Suddenly, panic broke over all the zebra. It was as if a gun had been fired to signal the start of a race: all at once, the zebra ran frantically about in every direction.
The lions blitzed towards Hector. One swiped him with her paw, but dropped back to avoid a kick from Hector’s hoof. Another leaped on his back and bit his neck. They tumbled to the ground, and two more lionesses pounced on him.
Just before his throat was ripped apart by the lions’ fangs, Hector managed to mutter a final prayer, in case reincarnation turned out to be real: “God, let me be an elephant next time.”
After the lions had finished feasting, they stretched out lazily in the sun. Their eyes were glazed over. Tired smiles lined their faces.
Seeing that the lions were calm and content, the zebra began regrouping in the same place where they had been grazing just before the lions attacked.
“The grass is good,” said Jimmy. “Much better than that grass Hector wanted us to eat over by the trees.”
“There is NO grass over by the trees,” replied Sylvia.
“Exactly,” agreed Jimmy. “And on top of that, the grass by the trees tastes terrible.”
A Video of Lions Hunting and Killing Hector the Zebra:
If you like animal stories, especially about lions…
By the way, if you like animal stories, Mark Bisone wrote an excellent fable called “The Skunk and the Lion” on his substack:
Listen to a Reading of This Story in A Ghost in the Machine Podcast
You can also listen to an audio version of this post here:
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