The Lion, the Mouse, and the Thorn
                                                                                       copyright © 2003 by Robert L. Blau

    Once upon a time, there was a powerful Lion who ruled the animal kingdom with a mighty paw and a dense skull.  
    One day, when the Lion was proudly pacing the borders of his domain, he had the misfortune to step on a thorn, which lodged firmly in his paw.
    "Eee-youch!" yelped the Lion, and began prancing around on three legs.  He roared.  He yowled.  He shook his injured paw in agony.  He screwed up his face, which was already screwed up enough.  He sucked helplessly at the offending thorn.  But it would not come out.
    Before long, the Lion's howling attracted the other animals.  
    "Gosh," said the Elephant. "What happened?"
    "Can't you see, you numbskull?" roared the Lion. "Those damned thorny plants ambushed me and stuck a thorn into my paw!"
    "Gee, that looks painful," said the Elephant. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
    "Yeah," said the Leopard. "Anything at all.  Just let me know."
    Even the Hyena refrained from laughing.  "Hey, today, we all feel like we're lions," he said.
    "I sympathize, too," said the Zebra. "If you weren't always trying to eat me, I might sympathize a little more."
    At length, a tiny Mouse stepped forward.
    "Oh, mighty Lion!" said the Mouse, bowing and scraping with appropriate obsequiousness. "I think I can help.  Here's how it will work.  You just let me climb onto your paw, and I'll gnaw that thorn out.  I'm just the perfect size for this, and it will only take a few seconds."
    "Get lost!" roared the Lion. "Anyone touches my paw, they're dead meat!  Get it?"
    "It'll only hurt for a minute, Your Majesty," promised the Mouse. "Then it'll be all over, and you'll never have to worry about it again."
    "You got a death wish, pipsqueak?" growled the Lion. "Get out of here before I get really mad!  That goes for all of you!"
    "I don't understand," said the Mouse.
    "I am the King!" roared the Lion. "I don't need your flippin' sympathy!  Sympathy is for pansies, and I'm all about unfettered machismo!"
    "Uh, we just want to help," said the Crocodile.
    "Yeah, sure," scoffed the Lion. "You think I can't see through those tears?  Accepting help is a sign of weakness, and I'm all about strength."  He thumped his chest with the injured paw and stifled the scream of pain at the cost of only a few blood vessels.
    "But," persisted the Mouse, "why suffer pain when you don't have to?"
    "Only wusses are afraid of pain," jeered the Lion. "Why, I can take lots more pain than this!  In fact, by my standards, this doesn't even hurt at all!"
    "It's going to get infected," warned the Mouse.
    "Hah!" roared the Lion again. "Screw the lot of you!  I fight my own battles!  In fact, I am about to begin my War on Thorny Plants.  Now, you can either help me root out all the thorny plants in the world, or I'll know you're traitors."
    "Point of clarification," said the Elephant. "If we help you root out thorny plants, wouldn't that be a sign of weakness on your part?  By your definition, of course."
    "Nonsense!" screamed the Lion. "It's entirely different!  If you guys help me voluntarily when I'm in trouble, that's weakness. If I bully and threaten you into helping me, and you do everything I tell you to, that's strength."
    "Well," said the Hyena, "that sounds more like dementia to me."  And he sauntered off.
    "Where do you intend to begin your War on Thorny Plants?" asked the Leopard.
    "First of all," said the Lion, "I'm going to root out that thicket right over there.  And he rushed in, roaring and clawing.
    "Oh, Lion!" called the Elephant. "All your thrashing about is creating a huge cloud of seeds and pollen.  That's going to help spread these thorny plants far and wide.  Are you sure you know what you're doing?"
    The Lion didn't answer, but after a few minutes, he came limping out of the thicket.
    "Success!" cried the Lion. "That's one more nest of thorns that's never going to bother anyone again!"
    "What's all that stuff sticking to your fur?" asked the Leopard. "Looks like more seeds that you're going to spread yourself."
    "Won't  you reconsider?" begged the Mouse. "You've picked up several more thorns, both in your paws and elsewhere."
    "Phooey!" spat the Lion. "Onward in the War on International Thorny Plants!"
    "And, uh, where would that be?" asked the Crocodile.   
    "Antarctica!" declared the Lion.
    "I don't believe there are any thorny plants in Antarctica," said the Elephant.
    "Ha!" snapped the Lion. "Shows what you know!  They're hiding their thorny plants and exporting them to Africa.  Besides, I'm already King of Beasts in Africa.  There are lots of other creatures on other continents that need to acknowledge my magnificence.  Antarctica seems a relatively safe place to start.  Anyway, penguins have always pissed me off.  Strutting around like they're so superior."

NOTE:  Scientists are still debating the meaning of a frozen, gangrenous lion carcass discovered in Antarctica.  Cause of death is the least of the questions facing the befuddled scientists ...

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