art by Michele Richter

Dance of the Jungle

By Mike Koenen

It's dark.  Lights flicker above. Visibility is low but he has become accustomed to this. He has trained his eyes to compensate for the lack of light. He has learned how this game works and now feels he was born for it -- born for the game much the way a bird is born to fly and instinctively knows when winter is approaching, and when it is time to fly south. He had learned what to look for and when to strike.

He surveys the area. There are many possibilities tonight but not many worth the energy of the game. He waits, all the while looking for one worthy of his skills.

There are many like him roaming the same territory tonight, but his competition most likely won't bother him as long as he goes in first. It's an unwritten rule among those like him. They know he will follow the rules and he expects they will too. Its just something he has learned over the years.

There are occasionally new ones that don't follow or don't know the rules but they learn or else they don't last here very long. The players here are very territorial and don't take to new ones very well. Some young ones move in too quick and spoil it for the rest, some timid ones wait too long, some don't move in at all but just watch the game. He's here to play tonight, though.

He sees a dark figure slither across the area.

Others see this also. They are all thinking the same thing. Do they have what it  takes to bring this beautiful creature down? Many shake their manes in frustration for today is a particularly competitive day.

The long, lean, dark figure takes in the crowd. It knows the game as well as they do. It is here to play

This witching one is very rare, especially here at this time of night. His approach will have to be timed just right. If he moves too soon he may scare it away and he has not seen its true speed yet. If he waits too long he runs the risk of the competition moving in and scaring it away or worse -- taking it away.

It makes eye contact with one of his larger competitors. He waits to see the result. His competition moves slowly towards the dark, haunting creature. There is much power in this one. This will not be easy for his rival. All of its strength will be needed for this conquest. As his competition moves closer the creature glides away effortlessly.

He now sees its speed in action.

His rival doesn't stop though.  He regroups and forges ahead one more time. He catches up. The game is on for this one now.

Teeth are exposed, claws come out. His rival roars.

The dark creature growls in disgust at this showy spectacle and escapes again. It is too nimble for this adversary. His opponent leaves and heads in the opposite direction. It is tired and decides to search for something smaller tonight instead.

He waits. Smaller creatures wait in groups and try to protect each other. Many get away each night. It is a game for them too. Unlike this exquisite, haunting creature, their strength depends on staying together in the group. They derive their strength from the group. This creature doesn't need a group though, for it is as powerful as many of its predators.

It sees him and they lock eyes for a moment. His first reaction is to turn away but he doesn't. He wants the creature to feel his presence.

Art by Michelle RichterBoth stand their ground waiting for the other the break the stare. Neither does. It sees he is a worthy player.

Competitors of lesser statue block his view for a moment. It disappears momentarily into the shadows of these insignificant creatures. He moves and finds it again and in the process gets a better vantage point. He can now see the strength and perfection of this dark one. He has not seen one like this before. It moves in a way he has not encountered. He feels a chance of danger in this one but doesn't care. After all, he is King of the jungle.

He waits and watches.

He can see that there is little else to choose from now. It doesn't matter though for tonight it is all or nothing. He will either leave the champion or leave defeated.

They lock eyes again. It gives him one last inviting look.

He now knows what the result will be. He closes in towards the creature. The sheep watch from the side. The lion reaches the black panther. The game is over.

“Hello. What’s your name?”
“What’s your’s?”
“I was wondering when you would come over. You don’t know how many guys I’ve spurned tonight.”
“Actually I do. I was watching, remember?”
“Ah, yes.”
They smile.
The music plays.
The lion asks the panther to dance and she accepts.
It is dark. Lights flicker above.
The dance of the jungle is history once again.
Another night in a singles bar.