There once was a Panther who ran wild and free throughout the jungle. He was fierce and strong, but most of all he was always hungry. Every creature of the jungle feared him –but even stronger than their fear was their envy. If they could only be him. If they could have his strength, his power, his intelligence, his agility, and cunning. Panther cared naught, nor thought much, for all this –for all he cared was to find his next meal. His hunger was insatiable, but with each kill he began to feel remorse.
“Why must I always shed blood to fill my yearning?” he thought to himself, “couldn’t there be another way?”
So the Panther tried starving himself. Each time he felt the pangs of hunger he would run as fast as he could throughout the jungle night, shooting up trees and leaping from limb to limb. His black fur glistened in the moonlight as his huge muscular limbs flew agilely through the forest. Twice he almost knocked over what he once saw as prey as he burst past them at full speed, and though he almost lost his balance he continued to run. And run. And run.
But the hunger pursued him faster than he could flee from it.
He eyed a small little mouse, which grazed happily upon a single blade of grass. It sat there and sung along joyfully with a little blue bird. The two seemed so happy. Panther licked his chops and instinctively crouched low.
“No. No. I can’t”
His yellow eyes narrowed. But he forced his gaze to the blade of grass instead.
“This isn’t going to work. Perhaps if I tried eating some of the foliage like my prey does.”
And so the Panther licked a single blade of grass. It seemed edible to him, and so he ate as much as his pallet would allow.
It wasn’t long though until the pain of his stomach returned, but this time with much greater force. All that he had consumed came riveting back up his throat and onto the moist jungle floor. Despite the pain of the hunger, and his inability to keep the frail grass down, Panther would not give up. He tried this for weeks, until he hardly had the strength to lift his body from the ground anymore. His once sinewy muscles had become frail and torn.
“This won’t work either,” he thought to himself as he stared at the puddle before him which had once been his meal.
“Perhaps If I…, yes he will know,” and with that Panther summoned the last of his strength and went running wildly into the heart of the jungle.
Finally he reached it. It was the old tree which spread high into the heavens. It was a holy place, a place that every animal of the jungle knew but few dared enter.
Panther looked at the tree whose branches had overgrown up into the sky to form a tower. Its roots had come out of the ground and faced upward, making a wall to which there was only one slender arched entrance.
Humbly he entered, bowing his head to the ground as he approached.
“I know what you seek and why you have come Panther,” boomed a voice.
“Then you know I seek the impossible.”
“All things are possible, if you can only just believe.”
“Perhaps, but how can one deny what one was made to be?”
“It is simple. You must change. You must become a new creature and not the wild beast that you were born.”
Panther looked down to the ground. His heart broke. How could he become a new creature? But why should he be surprised. He knew that what he wanted was impossible in the first place.
“I will show you. Now go.”
And with that Panther backed away slowly from the great tree, being sure to keep his eyes to the ground until he was clear of the archway.
The pains of hunger quickly returned as he looked out into the dense jungle forest. He hadn’t noticed that while he was in the tree that they had gone, but now they were back –and fiercer than ever.
“Perhaps it would be better to die than to change. For at least that is possible.”
It wasn’t long until Panther had found himself atop a high waterfall. The power of the falling water shook the ground and reverberated throughout the amazon valley below. Closer he stepped. Until he watched as the river poured forth its madness –beckoning him to join it in its momentary jubilance.
Panther crouched as if to leap one last time upon his prey. He would conquer this in the only way he knew how.
Just then a faint song rose above the thunder of the waterfall. He could barely hear it, but it was a sweet and tender melody which calmed his aching heart and caused him to forget his hunger –if only for a moment.
He turned to see the same little mouse which he had seen happily grazing before. It couldn’t be much larger than a fourth of his paw. And yet from its tiny mouth there was a wide grin and a high pitched tune which filled his heart with joy. It ran slowly from blade of grass to blade of grass which had crept through the solid rock which covered the top of the falls. Mist filled the air and Panther wondered to himself how such a small and helpless creature could find such joy amidst such chaos and danger.
“What is it that you sing, little mouse? It is a lovely tune,” said Panther, now approaching closer to where the tiny creature held in both its hands a single blade of grass.
The creature was just about to take another nibble until it froze at the sound of the Panther’s voice. She hoped if she didn’t move perhaps he wouldn’t see her. For every jungle creature knew Panther’s snarling voice well.
“Come now tiny mouse. Should I have wanted to eat you I already would have. In fact, I have sworn off the shedding of blood for my meals. So you are safe little one. Now tell me, little one, where you learned that beautiful song?” said Panther with a laugh.
The little mouse squeaked.
“I… well… I…”
“Yes?” Panther smiled.
“Well, I used to be terrified of the storms, but then I noticed that the rain and the thunder had a sort of music to it. So I taught myself to sing in the storms –and when I did I wasn’t afraid anymore,” she said nervously.
“I see. It does have a calming effect. Could you teach it to me?”
The little mouse dropped her single blade of grass and smiled brightly.
“Well of course!” she squeaked with excitement.
It wasn’t long until Panther and Mouse had become the best of friends. With each new song that Panther learned from Mouse his hunger faded. In fact, he had almost forgot about it all together. Finally the deepest desires of his heart had been answered –or so he thought.
One day Panther was walking alone in the forest. Mouse had gone on a trip to see her friends across the river and wouldn’t be back for weeks. Despite her absence his hunger was still abated. He was really quite surprised. He had thought that if she had gone for but a moment it would return, but it seemed as though her songs had cured him after all.
He walked lazily through the forest and up a mountain path to an old tree where he used to love to sleep. As he neared his old home he saw a bird nesting upon the very same branch where he had spent many an afternoon napping. The bird dozed lazily as Panther stealthily neared it and peered into its shabby nest. He recognized it as the little blue bird that Mouse had sung along with the first time he had seen her.
Then something came over him.
It wasn’t hunger. It was habit. Or was it just his nature?
He crouched low, balancing agilely upon the branch in which the nest rested.
Already his heart hated what he knew would happen in but a moment; yet, perhaps it wouldn’t happen after all. His heart began to race and his claws extend.
A moment later and he had leapt noiselessly through the air and caught the little blue bird in his mouth. The flesh tasted warm, and the creature’s life ended as swiftly as a dream as it slept.
His heart was hard, and yet despite the hardness he could already feel remorse. Already he hated what he had done, but what he feared the most was how easily it had happened.
And he wasn’t even hungry.
Panther let the lifeless carcass fall from his maw and watched as it fell slowly to the ground –it’s night blue feathers drifting through the air as time seemed to slow. Before it hit the leafy floor he was off, leaping to the ground and bolting swiftly through the forest. The image haunted him.
It wasn’t long until he had found himself at the old tree in the heart of the forest. He ran furiously through the earthy archway, forgetting to bow.
“You said I would change!”
There was no reply.
“You said you would show me!” growled Panther.
A cool breeze blew softly upon Panther’s dry nose.
Panther then viciously attacked the old tree. He scratched at its base and broke off its branches. But the tree was too large, too old, and too strong. Try as he might he could not destroy it. When his strength was spent he growled angrily and turned back to the forest.
He had planned to return to the falls, where he had met Mouse, but along the way the soft tune of singing came to his ears. There, along the path was Mouse, humming her tunes and dancing along the way. She smiled and squeaked with joy as she saw Panther and came running to him.
“I couldn’t wait to see you again my friend! Look, I have brought you tea from across the river. They say it is better over there.”
Her smile slowly faded.
“What’s wrong Panther? Why are you so downcast?”
“Something happened. I don’t want to tell you. Please don’t ask me.”
“What is it? Tell me,” she persisted.
And so Panther told her. He could not lie to her. She had come to mean a great deal to him, the least he could do was to tell her anything that she asked.
Mouse was quiet. The song that was always in her heart had suddenly gone silent.
“Blue bird?” she gasped, “Oh no, Blue Bird. Blue Bird was my friend!” she started to sob but stopped herself, “I don’t know if I can trust you anymore,” she resolved.
Panther was quiet. He was just as surprised it had happened as Mouse was. He wasn’t sure he could trust himself anymore either.
And so they sat there, on the path along the way, in silence.
“I think you should go. I still care about you, but I don’t know if I can trust you to be my friend,” she squeaked.
Although it broke his heart Panther understood. He nodded his head, and turned away quickly before she would see his tears. He wanted to say so much more to her, but his shame silenced him.
And so once again he ran wildly through the forest, along the path along the way to the waterfall where he had first met Mouse. But he didn’t make it to the falls. The tears came bellowing out, and he fell to the ground to the side of the path crying uncontrollably.
“I want to die!” he shouted in between gasps of air and wails.
“I just want to die,” he sobbed.
He had lost the only friend he had ever had. And worst of all he had caused her so much pain. He continued to sob for hours, until his tears had muddied the ground beneath him. He wailed and cried until finally he was still. And there he lay in the cold wet mud, with no desire to move. The pain of his loss had far outweighed the pain of his stomach. In that moment he decided he would never eat again. There was no respite from his grief except for the sleep which finally crept over him as he gradually closed his eyes.
When he awoke he awoke to the sun shining brightly upon him. His heart continued to lay as low as the ground upon which he sprawled. He lifted his eyes only slightly to see that in the night a strange plant had grown up in the mud where his tears had moistened the ground. It was short and stocky and unassuming –except for the vine which stretched out on the path along the way. As he eyed it he noticed that on the vine grew a strange fruit, the like of which Panther had never seen before. He rolled to his feet and dragged his body towards the vine.
The fruit was brown and flat like a wafer with red spots as red as wine. With a heavy and broken heart Panther fell down face first before the vine and opened his mouth to eat the fruit thereof.
“I am so sorry,” he muttered as he bit down helplessly upon the fruit.
To his surprise it did not fill his stomach, but instead filled his heart. It was then that he finally understood the Old Tree’s words.
© 2015. Matthew Camphuis. All rights reserved.