The lion came to Ricky in dreams. Every night he closed his eyes after his mother put him to bed, and soon the lion appeared. Sometimes it threatened him, and he ran in fear from it. Other times, the lion just existed as part of the dreamscape his mind wove at nights.
Ricky told his parents about the lion, but they dismissed it as a simple dream. And dreams are only figments of our imagination, right? So what harm can they do? Ricky shrugged and tried to convince himself his parents were correct. Yet, every night the lion came.
Morning dawned on Ricky’s tenth birthday, and as he readied himself for school, he felt a prickling at the back of his head. He spun around with his pants halfway up his legs and glanced about the room. Someone was watching him.
“The lion,” he murmured and recalled that night’s dream.
He’d been walking in the bush; a pair of yellow eyes followed him in the dark. As he’d caught the creature’s gaze, the lion had pounced. Ricky had gasped awake and sat up in bed with sweat trickling down his forehead. He’d had the same dream all month, but it had never permeated reality, until now.
“Mom, may I stay home from school today?” Ricky gave a fake cough, “I think I’m coming down with something.”
Mom raised an eyebrow and shook her head.
“What a shame,” her voice dripped with sarcasm, “sick on your birthday. I suppose I’ll let everyone know there won’t be a party after school.”
Ricky scrunched his face; he’d forgotten about the party. The dread had pushed it to the back of his mind, but he’d been looking forward to it all month. And, knowing Mom, she would cancel if pressed.
“No, no,” Ricky blurted, “I’m sure it’s nothing, it’ll pass.”
Mom shrugged and ushered Ricky out the door.
Ricky felt the lion’s hunting gaze follow him all the way to the bus stop, which was empty. Ricky wondered if he was earlier than usual. He was one of three kids who stood at this stop, and he was often the last to arrive. Not today, today he stood alone in the morning light and the sense of foreboding grew as the minutes ticked. He glanced at the neighboring houses and caught Millie’s placid gaze on her stoop.
“Hi Millie,” he called; the tabby cat yawned with tongue out and fangs to the sky.
Ricky tried to goad her towards him with his fingertips, but Millie only flicked her tail.
A yellow car pulled up and the driver rolled down the window. Ricky’s heart skipped a beat when yellow eyes fixed on him. The man’s pasty skin showed under his long yellow hair and disheveled beard. The sallow cheekbones sunk beneath the deep dark bags under his eyelids, yet his eyes blazed with ferocity and malice. Ricky gulped.
“Hey buddy,” the man smirked, showing rotten yellow teeth, “your mom asked me to take you to school, get in the car.”
The man’s yellow voice oozed venom and menace; Ricky shook his head.
“Look buddy, you’re gonna be late. The school called your mom cause the bus broke down. All the parents are driving their kids today, but your mom asked me.”
Ricky looked around him. It seemed plausible; no one was at the bus stop. But… who was this man? How did he know Mom?
As Ricky pondered this and turned to face the car, the sudden stench of tobacco and armpits stung Ricky’s nostrils. A filthy hand clapped over his mouth, pasty arms enveloped him and shoved him towards the clunky yellow car. Ricky tried to scream as he kicked the air, hoping to hit something, anything. The thought that the lion had got him flashed through his mind as the gaping trunk loomed closer.
A yowl; the yellow man’s grip loosened in pain as Millie pounced on the man’s back and slid down with her claws. The man staggered and held on to the boy, yet Ricky freed one hand and used his fist as best as he could. Millie swiped and clawed at the man’s legs.
“Get in there!” The man snarled into Ricky’s face.
The stinking yellow breath almost winded Ricky and the yellow eyes flashed such evil Ricky couldn’t bear to look at them. His free hand rose and, the next instant, Ricky felt moist gooey orbs as he pushed his fingertips into the man’s eyes.
The man let go and Ricky fell on his butt. Millie hissed and swatted at the blinded man. Ricky kicked his feet and tried to stand.
“Ricky in here!” Mrs. Johnson, Millie’s elderly owner, called from her open door.
Ricky grabbed Millie and ran to the safety of Mrs. Johnson’s house.
The police took the yellow man away.
That night, the lion came again. In his dream, Ricky sat at a riverbank; the lion sat beside him and nuzzled his cheek.