I’ve never been anything but ferocious.
In a world where everyone is an animal, you have to be. That’s the way I see it. Especially in a world where your kind is going extinct.
You have to be ferocious to survive.
There are more predators out there. More people. And they’ll hunt you down. They’ve got no problem doing it. Trust me, I’ve seen it before. Where do you think my family went, huh?
I’ve never been anything but ferocious.
Usually, it’s just directed at the world. At everything in general. Like trying to touch a porcupine. You bristle up, and they get the idea. They’ll stay away, leave you alone. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. To be left alone. At least that way, I’ll still be alive, right? That’s why ferocious is all I’ve ever been, and I’ve never shut it off. Never directed it anywhere but out.
Now is different.
I’m directed now.
Being a sabertooth isn’t easy.
I’ve only ever seen one other sabertooth, and she died a long time ago. She was protecting me from some lions–the bastards. Apparently, they loved hunting my kind. It was why we were going extinct. Why my mom and I seemed to be the last ones.
Well, why I seemed to be the last one.
When I was a kitten, I remember Mom telling me that I’d find another saber one day. That I’d find some peace, a place to rest. That I’d find my happiness, and I’d stop snarling so much. I wouldn’t need to bare my fangs at people because I wouldn’t be surrounded by strangers, I’d be surrounded by friends. Loved ones. She loved telling me that. And, most of all, she loved to tell me:
“You’ll find another saber. And you’ll love her more than anything else, and you’ll understand why Dad and I have protected you. You just need to stay alive until then, alright? Be as ferocious as you need to be to make it to that day, alright Arlo?”
I’d always say, “yes Mom,” because I was a good boy. And, I’ll admit it, I was a bit of a momma’s boy.
But how could I not have been? My mom was all I had.
And then, when I was still just a kitten, they even took her from me too.
I don’t remember how I escaped. I just remember waking up later with a lot of blood on me. And I was shaking. Cold all over, and nothing seemed to help.
So I curled into a ball, and I cried.
That got rid of the shakes at least.
But since then, I’d been wandering. On the run, I guess. I mean, I wasn’t sure why the lions had always been after us, but I really didn’t want to find out. And, if they were after us really just because we were sabers, then they would absolutely come for me because it’s not like I could ever stop being a saber.
So I kept moving.
I was safe. Me, alone. Nobody else could be trusted. I mean, what if the lions offered rewards for sabers? What if random peddlers sold saber pelts just because? What if that was why we were hunted?
I didn’t trust anyone.
Not until her.
Which, in all honesty, still doesn’t make any sense to me. It wasn’t like she did anything spectacular. Out of the ordinary? Definitely. Talking to me at all was out of the ordinary. I only ever talked to shopkeepers, and that was me talking to them. Not really the other way around.
But she’d noticed that it was so. That I was, more or less, snarling at the shopkeeper as I tried to haggle. Noticed how I was failing, and how angry it was making me.
So she stepped in.
She’d haggled the price for me.
Got me way more than what I had been bargaining for.
And for no reason.
I kept my animal side in check pretty well. I wasn’t even half-morphed. And my teeth? Absolutely, one-hundred percent, concealed. There was no way for her to tell I was a saber.
Why did she help me?
I told her not to expect much else besides a verbal “thank you” from me. And she more than happily accepted that.
And then she’d tried to walk off.
I’d stopped her of course, my own curiosity getting the better of me. I’d asked her why she’d helped me.
And she’d said that strangest thing.
I can’t remember what it was exactly, but something along the lines of “you were in trouble. Clearly you’re injured somewhere. You should always help injured people, even if they’re strangers,” or something like that.
Which, for one, totally baffled me. And two, she was wrong. I hadn’t been in a fight in days.
But then she’d acted as if that settled everything.
Which pissed me off.
I’d never owed anybody anything before. Just my folks. And Mom had already told me what I needed to do to repay them:
Find a sabertooth lady. Settle down. Have some grandkids for them to watch from heaven.
But now I suddenly owed this random girl?
Enraged, I insisted on paying her back.
So she told me her name. Darla.
What a stupid name.
And then she told me that, if I fixed the leaks in her barn, she’d call it even. Actually, she’d let me stay the night, and then consider us even.
Honestly, it was easy.
Handiwork was sort of my thing. I wasn’t much of a salesman, and with all my growling it was kind of hard to convince people I was good at anything that didn’t involve illegal activities, but, when I managed, handiwork paid well and I always did an excellent job.
So her barn’s roof was fixed.
And then, the next morning, she’d invited me for breakfast.
Which I had.
And then she had some equipment that needed fixing.
Which I fixed easily.
And then she’d asked me for dinner.
Which I had.
And then, before I knew it, a week had passed and I was doing nothing. Spinning my wheels on this old farm.
And for what?
This random girl and her small family? For the sake of her younger siblings? Sure, she had it rough. Her dad being unable to work anymore left all the farm work to her, because her siblings were still too young to do much, but still. Was that really why I was sticking around?
Was it because she seemed genuine to me? Actually kind? Not just to me, but to everyone around her as well. I’d noticed her leaving food for dad, I noticed when she picked up after her little siblings. I saw her sneaking to the farm next door in the middle of the night to bring them groceries because, apparently, feeding yourself was almost impossible for the people in this neighborhood.
Was that why I was staying?
Or was it because I thought–against all reason and logic–that she was kind of pretty? Because I liked how soothing her voice was, even though it was kind of low. Because I liked the way she looked when she was working hard, or holding her breath when she concentrated, or when she was humming to herself under her breath? Was that why I was sticking around?
It was ridiculous.
I didn’t even know what kind she belonged to!
For all I knew, she was a lion.
So I decided. I’d sneak out in the morning, before she could ask me for breakfast. I’d break the cycle and be out of here.
But I never made it that far.
Because when I woke up the next morning, the field was on fire.
And lions were roaring in it.
It was a terrifying thing to behold. My worst nightmare almost literally come to life. All that was missing were my parents’ heads on sticks. They marched, in a line, their bodies fully morphed in that in-between. That place between “animal” and “human”. The place we all lingered.
The girls came out of the house. Darla first, doing her best to shield her little sisters from the lions. And, when she stood there, at the back of her porch, watching her livelihood burn, I didn’t see any fear. And I didn’t see any sorrow. No pain either.
Her face was stone, like an avenging angel statue.
And, as I watched the lions approach, I realized that this might be my fault.
This might be all my fault.
But, does it matter?
Did it matter that they were here because of me? Did it matter what happened to this small family? Did it effect me that their field was burning? As long as I lived though this, I’d be fine, right? Ferociously avoiding my problem was still living ferociously, right?
And I stepped out of the barn.
And I walked passed Darla, and her little sisters.
And I strode up to the lip of the burning field.
And I morphed.
Letting the primal instincts inside me taking over, my body got huge, ripping my clothes. The pain in my mouth as my teeth grew was excruciating, but familiar, so I endured it easily. My hands became clawed, and my height increased by at least four feet. My muscles weren’t anything to scoff at either. Once, when I was showing my more ferocious side to some bandits, I’d flipped a train.
Pretty easily too.
And here I was, ten feet of pure ferocity, staring down a field of lions.
My worst nightmare.
And I was about to face it.
Looking to my left, I saw the perplexed look on Darla’s face. The utter shock and surprise there.
And her surprise melted away.
Stepping off the porch, her human form melted away as well. She only stopped when she was beside me.
But she was not the same Darla.
Standing next to me, about three feet smaller than me, was a giant tigress.
Not a saber.
But, still a tiger.
Someone who was willing to stand with me against my foes. Against the lions and their odds.
I smiled, though it was marred by my giant teeth.
And I roared into the field.
Because even though I was being hunted, and this might be my funeral pyre, and this might be the end, at least there was this:
There was someone beside me.
My whole life, I’d been ferocious. Lost in what to do with all this fierce emotion. And now I knew.
Ferocity came naturally to me, because I was supposed to use it. A sabertooth was one of the most ancient, most primal, instinctive beings on this planet. And instinct wasn’t generally wrong. If I had this ferocity, it was for a purpose. It was just that, before that moment, I didn’t know how to use it. But that burning field, and the beautiful, strong tigress beside me, and the lions before me made it all click somehow:
Use it to protect the people I care about.
As I rushed into the burning field, right into the belly of the beast itself, I finally understood.
My parents had been this ferocious, too.
One day, I’d thank them for it.
I was sure of it.
Author’s note: Written 12/19/17