Updated: Jun 14, 2019
This exciting adventurous short story takes place in West Africa. Check out the first two chapters here:
The air held the scent of her prey as she crouched in the darkness, her three-foot long tail curled around her right side. She waited silently, patiently lulling her prey, a young male zebra grazing alone, into a false sense of security. Why it was out alone, she didn’t question, just thankful she would be able to kill and return it to the village for food. She took shallow breaths as each muscle in her body tensed, like a tightly wound spring that was ready to pop when she caught another scent, human. The sound of an approaching engine and the strange illumination of headlights spooked the zebra and it ran off into the distance. There goes my dinner. She thought regretfully.
Incensed at her prey’s hasty retreat, she slowly turned to where the noise and light came from. Thirty yards or so in the distance, she spotted a human male. He was sitting alone in the jeep that came to a slow stop as he wiped the sweat from his brow with a red bandana. He held a map in one hand and a flickering flashlight in the other. His smooth pale skin and glowed eerily in the light of the flashlight and his sweat soaked curly blonde hair clung to the sides of his face and neck. She inched closer, sniffing the air as she studied him. His scent, a light musk, was pleasing and seemed familiar to her. His hazel green eyes looked confused as he studied the map he held tightly. He had to be lost; he was twenty miles from any of the roads, deep in the Sehki lion’s pride territory. She could practically taste his fear and frustration it was so thick. She observed quickly that he was no hunter; he had no weapons from what she could see. He was not a threat to her well, other than making her lose her dinner. Why doesn’t he carry anything to protect himself? He’s a sitting duck, the fool, if I actually liked the taste of human flesh. She shook her head in disbelief thinking this man must have a death wish or he was crazy. Why else would he be out here alone with no protection?
Leonessa inched a bit closer when she felt the presence of two of her sister lionesses as they approached the area. They also spotted the human, whom they would surely kill for sport and food. Finding and killing a human was a prize to her village, a sort of retribution for the human hunters who had killed her kind for sport over the centuries. However, this man was not a hunter and something about him moved her, from his scent to his gentle looking eyes. She acted without thinking of the repercussions as she let out a warning roar to the other lions, making her way to the terrified human who began to wave his flickering flashlight nervously about him in the darkness. She could hear his heart pounding; smell his fear and sweat as it dripped down his face and chest. He tried to start the jeep, flooding it in his haste. He panicked and cursed as Zabari, despite the warning roar, continued her pursuit of the human, striding curiously closer behind him in the darkness, her tail switching eagerly behind her. Keri, the other lioness, ran off as Leonessa padded in front of the jeep on four powerful legs and roared once more.
Zabari’s focus remained on the human male, but his was now on the large female lion before him. He blinked in disbelief as he noticed something different about this lioness; her eyes were a cool blue color instead of the usually golden eyes of lions. He was unaware of Zabari as she stealthily inched closer behind him. Zabari and Leonessa have never particularly liked one another, but have hunted together many times. She was not thrilled at Leonessa trying to claim what she considered her prize prey. Zabari loved human blood and flesh; it had been a long time since the sweetness of it touched her mouth and she salivated at the thought of tasting it once again. Unlike Leonessa, who never acquired the taste for human flesh, Zabari relished it. Many humans did not travel out this way so she wondered what sort of game Leonessa was trying to play by interfering.
The man sat frozen in terror, eyes wide, unable to move as Leonessa jumped onto the hood of the jeep, looking over his shoulder at the lioness behind him. She let out a roar that seemed to echo in the darkness. “N…n…nice kitty,” he stammered and swallowed hard. He summoned the courage to look her directly in the eyes; she was beautiful, strong, and proud. From what he knew of lions, they didn’t roar before an attack and he thought it strange that she would do so. Lance closed his eyes, thinking this was to be his last moment alive but, Leonessa sprang over him as Zabari leaped for her attack. The two lions met in mid air and tousled to the ground, growling and biting. Leonessa bit into Zabari’s left shoulder, her weak spot from an old wound that didn’t quite heal, so she’d get the message. It forced a high-pitched wail from her and she released her hold on Leonessa.
“Go home,” Leonessa growled.
“Ah saw im fohs!”
“Go home Zabari! This human is no hunter, there is no need to kill him,” Leonessa warned with a low growl, pressing her forepaw deeper still into Zabari’s shoulder causing her more pain. “Ok Leonessa, a de go naw! (I am going now),” She winced. Her golden eyes gave Leonessa a defiant look. Though Leonessa was the pride king’s daughter, she wasn’t untouchable. Yu gbana (difficult) uman (woman), yu will regret this! She fumed to herself.
Leonessa stepped back and let Zabari get up, with one last look at the human; she limped away into the darkness. With Zabari gone, Leonessa turned back to the man who sat in the jeep staring wide-eyed at her. He thought he heard the name Leonessa in the midst of the growling, snarling lions. Of course lions can’t speak, so he put it off as his imagination. The blue-eyed lioness who won the match, turned to face him, blood dripped from her mouth.
“I…I suppose now you’ll eat me,” he whispered to himself. He kicked himself for not bringing a weapon. He been terrified to know there was another lioness behind him. He shivered; his breath shallow and his heartbeat erratic, his pulse was weak and rapid as he closed then opened his eyes in confusion. Damn, he’s going into shock. Leonessa quickly assessed. He needed treatment, but in her lioness form, that would be impossible. Panting and near exhaustion herself, she moved slowly, cautiously to the side of the jeep and sat down on the cool ground, her front paws stretched lazily before her as she stared at him, willing him to slow his breathing. After a few moments, his breathing slowed and he continued to blink as he stared at the beautiful lioness. He was surprised that she didn’t move to attack him. Was she toying with him in some way or was she actually protecting him? The thoughts in his mind began to fade and the last thing he saw were those hypnotic ocean blue eyes looking up at him before his world turned to darkness.
Leonessa began to shift into human form; the golden fur receded as smooth dark brown skin took its place until she lay on the ground completely naked. The ground beneath her belly and breasts were cool. She stood up slowly, her muscles aching and sore from shifting and dusted herself off, wiping the blood from her mouth and chin. Her dark brown skin glowed in the soft moonlight. She strode quietly to the place where she’d hidden her clothing, khaki pants, black underwear and a white buttoned shirt. She dressed quickly and returned to the jeep. The man sat slumped in the driver’s side. She touched the man’s face, lifting his head to look at him. His creamy white skin glowed in the moonlight; it was cold and clammy to the touch. He was still in shock and she needed to get him to the hospital right away, so she lifted him, ever so gently, and moved him into the back seat, laying him flat and elevating his legs to restore blood pressure. She loosened his clothing and used water from his canteen to wet his bandana, cooling him. He looked peaceful and handsome to her, as perfect as the Greek and Roman sculptures she’d seen in art books. She’d never seen this man before, yet his scent was unmistakably familiar. After making sure he was stable, she started the jeep effortlessly and drove him to the hospital in Freetown.
The hospital was quiet, the hour being so late. A few nurse’s aides were on staff and only one doctor. She parked his jeep outside and quickly carried him in. She placed him in a small private room she used to sleep in at times when it was too late to travel back to her village. After settling him onto the metal framed bed with a thin mattress, she began to clean him up. She stroked his face, chest and arms gently with a cool, wet cloth. His skin was soft and the cat within her wanted to strip him bare and lick his smooth skin that took on a slight tan in the dim yellowish light of the small room. She fought this feeling of course and prepared his arm for the IV needle, she thought surely he would awaken but he only stirred as she started the flow of the saline drip. She smoothed back his curly hair from his face and studied him. He was indeed beautiful with his eyebrows that were slightly darker than his hair, thick, full, his long lashes, and slightly crooked aquiline nose. She paused at his mouth as she felt a strong urge to kiss his pink hued lips that were slightly fuller on the bottom, but she would never be so forward with a man and had never kissed one before.
Who is this man? She thought to herself as she leaned over him, listening to his heart with her stethoscope.
He stirred and awoke to a warm sensation that seemed to move over his body with purpose. He looked sleepily at the woman leaning over him, her concern for him evident on her face as she listened to his heart and lungs. He moved to touch her, but the IV immobilized him, pulling at his arm. She looked up at him, smiling. He gazed for a moment at the captivating Caribbean blue eyes that stared back at him. Her dark brown skin was a magnificent contrast to her beautiful eyes. Her hair was black and she wore it in a natural afro style, with braids stemming from her forehead and stopping where the afro began, resembling a crown. Her dangling earrings were large and round and shimmered like mother of pearl. Her cheekbones were high and regal and he thought she was the most enchanting and most exotic looking woman he’d ever seen. He wanted to caress her lovely dark skin and hair, kiss her soft full lips. He wanted to hold her, gazing into her lovely eyes as they beheld his. “Where…where am I?” He finally managed to whisper. “This is Our Lady of Mercy Hospital in Freetown. I’m Dr. Leonessa Kamara, but you can call me Leonessa if you like,” she smiled at him. It was a smile that warmed him; he was intrigued and felt a stirring in his nether regions. She spoke perfect English and her voice was calm and soothing. She looked too young to be a doctor but then he surmised that she must be an intern or medical student. She wasn’t wearing a lab coat, only a white button down shirt and khaki pants, which showed off her curves and round bottom nicely. She was there alone with him, with no other resident in attendance. Most resident doctors in America would never have given their first name or be caught without a lab coat unless they were a surgeon in scrubs. This country was so very different from his, but if they had doctors who looked like Leonessa, he would be at the hospital everyday!
“Leonessa…that is a beautiful name,” he whispered his voice raspy from dryness. He could have sworn he’d heard that name before, maybe in a dream he thought. He’d been out for hours and yet his eyes locked onto hers in a stare that threatened to lay bare her soul. She looked away quickly placing the stethoscope around her neck and placing her hands nervously inside her pants pocket. “Tenki, (thank you). I see you are American, would you like me to contact the U.S. Embassy mister….?”
“Lance, Lance Harrold, and no darlin that won’t be necessary,” he gave her a weak but sincere smile.
“Is there anyone we can contact for you, a friend, wife or employer?”
“No, I’ll call my group leader later. Say, how did I get here in the first place?”
“Well Mr. Harrold, you were in shock and passed out when I found you a few miles north of here on my way to the hospital. I brought you here and treated you. You should be fine with some rest and fluids and may leave the hospital tumara, (tomorrow),” She assured him with a slight pat on his arm. He covered her hand with his and his touch vibrated through her body, a feeling she’d never felt before. She pulled away quickly as if his touch had stung her.
Ignoring her reaction, he sighed. “I had the most incredible dream, or maybe it wasn’t, this lioness, I thought she was going to attack me, but she protected me from another lion. She had the most unusual eyes…I could have sworn they were blue….”
“Mr. Harrold,” she interrupted him gently, “you were suffering from shock and dehydration, you were delirious and it isn’t unusual to become confused. I can assure you there are no lions near the area where I found you; they are in Kilimi National Park, a large wildlife reserve. As for a lion with blue eyes, well, I’ve never heard of such a thing. Perhaps you should just rest now. I put your shirt, watch and keys in the chair next to the bed. Your jeep is outside and though it sounds like an interesting dream, if you will excuse me, I have other patients to attend,” she smiled warmly. “Of course doc, you know speaking of eye color, your eyes sure are pretty, if I may say so myself. Do blue eyes run in your family?”
Leonessa blushed and caught her breath before quickly straightening her composure, “tenki, but you really should rest now Mr. Harrold, I will check on you later.” She avoided his question as she couldn’t explain the nature of her eye color to him. The truth is she didn’t know herself. She never experienced any of the local humans asking her directly about them before. Most assumed she was of mixed heritage. Everyone in her village had tawny golden eyes, including both of her parents. Many of the villagers thought their enemies had cursed her, but the wise old crone woman, Panthera, who delivered her, told them that the goddess of waters, Mami Wata, marked her for a special purpose.
“Leonessa?” he called to her softly, his voice barely above a whisper. The sound of her name on his lips hit her hard. She inhaled sharply as tsunami waves of shock and heat slapped through her nerve endings. Why am I reacting like this? This feeling was new to her and she hadn’t even felt that way about her fiancé. Theirs was an arranged marriage of course, as is their custom and she’d only met him once at the betrothal ceremony a few months ago.
“Yes Mr. Harrold?” She turned briefly to him, her cool composure slowly slipping away. “Tenki…for saving me Leonessa,” his smile was more confident, knowing.
He was unconscious when I changed, wasn’t he? She wondered. His gaze was unnerving to say the least, but the man had been delirious, even if he saw anything, who would believe him in this condition? Her family has been living for centuries, hidden away from the humans and the hunters of the past hunted them as lions; never knowing they could take human form. Only one human knew of their secret, a registered nurse who worked at the hospital, Olivette. She was Leonessa’s best friend and her sister-in-law, the first and only human allowed to marry into the tribe after she and her younger brother were able to wear their father down.
“Oh…you’re quite welcome. Just…don’t venture out alone again, OK?” “Ok, I’ll tell you what, how about you be my guide from now on?” he flirted as his hazel green eyes shimmered in the soft afternoon light coming from a nearby window. “I’m afraid that isn’t possible Mr. Harrold, I’m much too busy. Have a good rest now,” Leonessa smiled and walked quickly toward the door. He was a very handsome man, but there was something in his eyes and his scent, his very voice that caused a deep stirring within her. She’d never reacted this way with anyone, human or shifter. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t been around human white men before, some had even flirted, but she had no interest in them. However, Lance Harrold seemed different. She actually wanted to accept his invitation. What makes this man so special?
Ten Years ago… Leonessa held her mother’s hand tightly as they stepped off of the boat, which docked in the lagoon of the Banana Islands, off the North Atlantic coast of Sierra Leone. She breathed in the ocean air deeply and admired the beautiful color of the water and sandy beach. It was her first time away from the Sehki village, which was located in a remote part of Sierra Leone in West Africa. It was a special outing for her and her family and they would be here for a week before returning to the village. The village and Leonessa’s family were lion shape shifters. Five full blood West African lions, two males and three females, lived in the pride and the females of that pride sometimes hunted with them. All other lions lived within the confines of the Kilimi National Park. Eleven years of civil war from 1991 to 2002 had practically left the county in ruins, save the Sehki village and other shifter villages which were cloaked by magical means and thrived for centuries unspoiled and unaffected by the outside world. Thousands of humans died and millions displaced but many lion tribes felt along with their chiefs that it was not their place to interfere in human affairs. They possessed a few modern things like clothing, shoes, coca-cola, cigars, and radios, but telephone, cell phones, televisions and computers did not exist in the village. They would venture into Freetown and other surrounding towns for such things after the war as they wanted their village to remain hidden from humans. The ability to shift or “go thru the change” as they called it, didn’t usually occur until a child became thirteen years of age and with it their powers or special abilities. Until that time, the children remained safely inside the village.
Leonessa was thrilled to be away from the village, she felt fortunate to accompany her family outside of the village as she had shifted for the first time last year, at the age of ten. She had been terrified. She remembered how her head throbbed in pain and how she thought she would vomit at any minute, trembling as sweat glistened on her skin. Her body felt as if something were trying to rip its way out. She twisted and turned on the floor of Panthera’s clay/mud hut. Panthera, the wise witch woman of the village, knew instantly that Leonessa was shifting much too soon. She began to chant immediately to the goddess, walking in a circle around Leonessa. She had not been the first child to shift at such a young age, it happened a few times before with some of the girls, due to the hormones in their bodies and early onset of puberty. However, they did not survive the change and usually died within minutes, stuck in half-animal form. Their bodies burned and their ashes spread among the trees so that humans would not accidentally discover their remains.
As Leonessa writhed feverishly in agony, calling for her mother, Panthera continued her chanting. Leonessa’s mother came running into Panthera’s hut and screamed at the site of her daughter in the throes of shifting on the ground.
“Please, non, mi pickin (my child), NON!” “Lef (Stop) mi kween, eh yu mus go! Le mi ep una titi! (let me help the girl),” Panthera shouted.
Lenore stopped instantly and stood watching helplessly, silently praying, her tears soaking her rust colored mud cloth blouse. Panthera continued chanting as Leonessa jerked with pain and an ever-increasing body temperature. Her bones and joints shifted and formed new patterns. Her eyes opened and shut frantically as she rolled onto her stomach, her arms and legs no longer human. She opened her mouth to scream only to hear a strangled growl that grew into a roar. A rush of power filled the hut, knocking Panthera and several other women, who’d run in when they heard Leonessa’s screams, to the ground. Leonessa felt dizzy for a moment; she opened her eyes one last time to see the women staring at her in amazement, their eyes a little wider than usual. Fur swirled about Leonessa’s body; her hands, now paws with sharp claws. She wanted to speak, but couldn’t. She felt confused, scared and frustrated all at once. She knew she would change into her lion form one day, but it wasn’t supposed to happen until her thirteenth year. She shook her now lion shaped head frantically. Leonessa stood before the women a tawny young lioness with blue eyes. The women grew more amazed, yet worried about her eye color even in lioness form. They feared she would not be ab