The lion in the woods

or the importance of having a look


There’s a town not too far away from here--I never went there much myself, but there was no doubt they had a lion problem. Most hours of the day you could hear it roar, even from the next county over. Day and night it was grumbling somewhere in the woods nearby.  We all just assumed it was best to keep our distance.

Kids would tell each other ghost stories about the Lion in the Woods. The old men who spent too much time at our pub would talk about the times they saw him: “Tall enough to look you dead in the eye and a neck that would take two grown men to wrap their arms around. Teeth like white daggers,” they’d say.

Then one day it stopped.

I finally worked up the nerve to head over the following morning, and when I got there the whole place was buzzing.  I asked someone what had happened and she told me a man had passed through town and asked about the noise. He sat and listened to their stories and their lore about the lion, and after the tales were finished, he quietly stood up, walked to the edge of town, and paused for a moment at the tree line before passing into the forest.

The townspeople stood at the stared down the trail--afraid to follow--and waited. In hushed voices some called him foolish. Some said he’d just walked to his death. But after a time, the air got very quiet and all waited with eyes fixed.

Five minutes.

Fifteen minutes.


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Then the brush quivered and they gasped, expecting the lion to vault from the woods. Instead they saw the man’s figure reemerge and the people let out a collective sigh. A girl noticed he carried something in his right hand and he showed it to them.  A long thorn from a thistle. She asked why he had it.

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“Pluck a thorn from the paw of a lion and you’ll have a companion for years,” he smiled.

That night the town celebrated together in a way they hadn’t in years. Instead of roars from the lion, there were roars of laughter as people toasted and revelled deep into the night. No one asked about lion or where it had gone, but it there was a quiet realization that even though his roar was mighty, all this time the only thing he needed was a friend brave enough to help.

I was told the man must have left sometime before dawn without anyone noticing, though no one could say where to.  He came into town as if he was headed somewhere else, but didn’t seem burdened in taking the time to stop and lend a hand to the people here. Must have kept moving along his way.

I scratched my head, letting this story sink in, and I started my way back home. And as I made my way out of town I noticed two sets of tracks side-by-side heading west just off the main road—one of a man’s, and one of the biggest lion you could ever imagine.