Even the oldest Leopard can only barely remember a time when she didn’t have to cross a six-lane highway to reach the watering hole.
Like the others of her kind, she is a solitary beast. She knows other Leopards – even her own cubs come and gone long ago – the way a chess player evaluates her opponents for subtlety, strategy and surprise. These are necessary tools to preserving life and limb, and to get some foodmeat to carry on for another day.
The highway screams and glares red in the distance. The oldest Leopard pads deftly from shadow to shadow.The night is the last true ally of the Wild. The humans keep trying to push back the darkness with their fires and electric lights. But they must sleep, eventually – and the night is long and patient. When darkness covers the shrinking forest, the lines between human habitation and the trees soften, blur and disappear.
The oldest Leopard pauses in an alley, choosing her next move among waves of overpowering scents and sounds. In the forest, sensory signposts are easier to read — precise and unmasked by noise. The strength of human numbers and a certain proclivity to carelessness makes for a tumbling, tangled tumult of trails which nearly mask what really matters to the oldest Leopard. There it is again… the faintest cluck of a chicken in a cage, several streets away.
As the oldest Leopard tracks down her prey, the memory of the sound guides her over the rooftops and between the shabby, thin buildings. Occasionally she passes laconic, unmistakable signs left by other invisible Leopards. She moves quietly past humans sleeping on the pavement, so close to the ground they are usually invisible even to other humans.
The chicken shop is just around the corner. The scent of stale droppings and fallen feathers is strong, making the oldest Leopard’s scarred nose quiver with expectation.
The oldest Human sits muttering in a doorway which opens out into a narrow street. His fading eyes catch the brief glint of the oldest Leopard’s gaze as she steps out of the shadows and leaps past the square of flickering yellow light towards the chicken shop. The stacked cages outside are all empty except for one with a diseased bird left to die, who clucked faintly in the night and will be swiftly dispatched by the jaws of the oldest Leopard. Having taken what she needs, she melts back into the night as quietly as she arrived.
The oldest Human witnesses the hunt, mumbles incoherently and continues to dream. He lives in the Past, in a tiny village on the edge of the Wild.
Later, licking the last of the blood off her whiskers, the oldest Leopard wonders idly about the Black Panthers of the lost Wild… mythical beasts made of shadow with eyes like the brightest of stars, seeing all — and spotted by none. She thinks on the other Leopards who hunt silently in these human cities, planning and setting into motion slow but sure changes. The signs are up. The invisible Ones shall rise out of the shadows. The revolution will happen, the Wild will come to reclaim all that was taken from it.
The oldest Leopard hopes she will live to see it.
We are Leopard, say the signs. Expect us.