The Ecphorizer

The Lions and the Fire
Joseph Antonitis

Issue #61 (December 1986)

Two elderly lions decided to come out of the jungle wherein they had always lived to see some of the wonders of the distant world of which they had often heard the birds speak. They wanted to see the monstrous hard-shelled beetles, with legs that were round instead of straight, running rapidly,

...they could see columns of sparks rising to the sky

roaring and fighting on the black paths. And they wanted to see the [quoteright]hairless monkeys whom the beetles carried about and who lived in the gigantic anthills at the edge of the limitless watering place which the birds called the ocean. The beetles, the monkeys, the anthills — these they wanted to see with their own eyes.

When it was day, they came out of the jungle and started across the great grassy plain where the zebras roamed. By the time the sun had set, they had left the zebras far behind, and because they could smell a strange smell as of carrion and brimstone, which made them cough and brought tears to their eyes, they knew they were close to the place where the beetles and the monkeys lived and the anthills were.

"Let us go on by night," said one lion, "for then we shall be able to approach closely without being seen."

By night, then, they made their way through the last tall grasses. Finally, they stood at the edge of the plain. Before them in the distance the night sky glowed as with the reflection of fire. They could not see the anthills but here and there they could see columns of sparks rising to the sky. Above them what appeared to be mammoth fireflies circled with thunderous beatings of wings. As they watched, one darted down into the flames and was gone.

Awed by the strange sight, the lions stopped.

"We have come too late," one said. "The fire is so great that no living thing could possible survive."

"I have never seen or smelled anything so terrible," the other one said. "Everything must be consumed."

So they turned and went back through the tall grasses to the jungle. When they arrived home, they informed their friends that the beetles and the monkeys who had lived beside the limitless watering place had perished in a great fire. And they told them that with their own eyes, they had seen the gigantic anthills crumble and fall into the flames. 

JOSEPH ANTONITIS, a professor of psychology and former associate of B. F. Skinner, writes us that he composed "The Lions and the Fire" to ask what animals might make of a city being bombed. He adds: "Having been in one, I have a fixation about war."

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