"Eat your breakfast slowly, Katherine," her mother warned. "We're not leaving for another two hours."
They were going to the special lion circus today. Katherine had enjoyed the last circus -- the special seal circus -- but only on the viewscreen. Lions, though, had always fascinated her. She stroked the five-inch-high plush lion next to her cereal bowl. She looked across the table at her brother Simon, four years old. His plush dinosaur, a ferocious-looking Tyrannosaurus, bobbed in his hand.
"Rrrrr," he growled and clomped his dinosaur along the table toward his sister's lion.
"Oh, Simon, stop," said Katherine wearily. She moved the lion to her lap.
"My dinosaur went first," Simon said proudly. "Way before your lion. RRRRRR."
Katherine's father's voice came from the living room.
"There's a special on about the lion circus."
Katherine gobbled one last spoonful of cereal and pushed her chair away. With a small burst of sisterly solicitude she said, "Hurry and eat and come see, Simon."
Simon merely thrust his dinosaur forward. "RRRRR."
Katherine ignored him and left the kitchen. She threw herself on the sofa in front of the screen and watched lions stalk over the open plains of Africa. Lion cubs rolled around in mock combat. A fierce chase ensued, and three lionesses pulled down a hapless antelope. Katherine watched in fascination and horror.
"They killed the deer. Ugh, they're eating it."
"Gruesome, eh?" said her father. "There'll be no more of that." He smiled and tousled his daughter's hair. The screen changed and showed a crowd of people milling outside a building.
"That's where we're going, Katherine."
"Oh, look at the big balloon!"
A giant-sized lion floated above the building.
"Are you sure you want to see this circus? You might not ..."
Katherine gave her father her I'm not a child you know look.
Her father laughed. "All right. All right."
"Leave your stupid toy here," Katherine whispered.
Her father parked the family electri-cruiser.
"RRRRRR. Ranasaurus wants to see the lion circus, too."
"Daddy, is Simon taking his toy in with him?"
"It won't hurt anything, princess."
Katherine frowned. They let Simon act like such a baby. She hurried ahead so she would not have to walk next to her brother, who insisted on going "RRRRRR" to everyone he passed.
The goings-on entranced Katherine she walked toward the circus building. People laughed. There were clowns. She saw a person dressed in a lion suit giving out buttons saying LION CIRCUS and the day's date. She took one and pinned it to her dress.
"Want one, princess?" her father asked, standing in front of the T-shirt vendor.
"Oh, Daddy, yes!" Katherine studied the imprints on the T-shirts. Tigers. Whales. Pandas. Butterflies. Seals. Dinosaurs. Eagles. So many to choose from! She pointed to a blue shirt emblazoned with the golden head of a male lion, his jaws open in a ponderous, silent roar. Her brother chose a red shirt with the black silhouette of a Tyrannosaurus.
Beyond the gaiety of the parking lot, they joined the slowly moving queue entering the circus. Katherine watched her father hand four tickets to the ticket-taker, who said, "Two aisles over, sir." Her heart began to pound. She was really going to see the lion circus. She wondered how long it would last. When she watched the seal circus on the screen, she hated all the talking and videos and stuff. She hoped seeing a circus in person would be different. Then she heard a roar, weak as if from a distance. She squeezed her father's hand.
"That must be him," said her father.
Katherine held onto her father as they turned down an aisle to their seats.
Katherine's stomach skipped when the theatre dimmed. A man in a black suit walked into a circle of light and stood before a microphone.
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen," he said with a smile. "And good afternoon to the millions all over the world tuned in at home. It's the day you've been waiting for. Another step forward for all of us. Another step forward for our beloved Earth. The Lion Circus." He waited until the audience stopped their wild applause. "Let me tell you a little about how this wonderful day came about."
Why don't they just have the circus? Katherine fumed. Grownups always had to show off and talk. Finally, the curtains parted, and a wave of brilliant light swept over the stage. The crowd murmured. Some patrons gasped. In a large, clear plastic cage the lion lay languidly on a large three-foot high table. It lifted its head in a slow, disinterested manner then let it sink back onto its forepaws and closed its eyes.
Katherine riveted her eyes on its mane. It looked exactly like it did in the pictures and books and videos she'd seen. The lion's tail swished or rather half-swished, since it moved in only one direction.
Two men in white entered the cage through a door Katherine hadn't noticed before. The lion opened its eyes, gave a weak, half-hearted roar, and followed the men's movements. Katherine leaned forward, mesmerized.
One of the two men reached into a wide pocket on his white uniform and pulled out a large hypodermic needle. Katherine's eyes widened. The doctor had given her vitashots but never with a needle that big.
The lion tried to rise but its left foreleg gave out, and it nearly fell off the table. One of the men in white stood in front of the lion and swatted at the lion's head. The other man, the one with the needle, circled behind. The lion tried valiantly to swat back, but its left forepaw hung over the table edge useless, and it needed its right to maintain its balance. So it roared. A profound roar from deep inside. A tremendous roar of frustration that it could not dispose of this puny, annoying creature who poked disrespectfully at him.
A voice over the speakers made Katherine jump.
"Ladies and gentlemen and children all the world over." A dramatic pause followed. "The last lion on the planet Earth is about to be put to rest."
Katherine stared in wonder as the man jabbed the needle into the lion's hindquarters. The lion turned its head in surprise and tried in vain to move away. The two men in white left the cage and closed the door matter-of-factly behind them.
Katherine could hardly breathe. She watched the lion, freed from the threat of men, settle back down, its massive, maned head on its forepaws. Her father had told her to watch the lion's side, so she did. Up and down it went. Then it stopped. There it went again. Twice more, the last, a deep intake of breath. As if in slow motion the lion's side shrank inward. Katherine waited for it to rise again, but it never did.
The first applause came from behind her. Then the applause spread. Katherine leaped to her feet and joined in the ovation. On stage the lion lay, its eyes half open, bathed in spotlight as the celebration went on around it.
Going home in the car Katherine couldn't stop talking about the circus.
"Now, there won't be any more lions using up the land, and people will always be able to grow enough food," she bubbled.
"You're right, honey. The old land wasted on lions is already being farmed, and it won't be long before we'll be rid of all those nasty wild creatures," her father explained.
Simon shook his dinosaur and went, "RRRRRR."
Katherine ignored him. "Can I go to another circus? Will there be another circus soon? Can we go?"
"Well," her father laughed, pleased at her enthusiasm, "they say there will be an elephant circus in about a year."
"Can we go? Can we go?" Katherine pestered.
Her father laughed again. "I don't think they'd put two circuses in the same city. So many people want to see them."
"You can save up, and we can fly wherever the circus is."
Her mother and father simply laughed. Katherine knew what that meant. Oh, well. It would be on the viewscreen at least. She studied her new T-shirt. She'd wear it to school tomorrow and tell her friends about the lion circus. They would be so jealous. She smiled and made a solemn promise to herself. Someday, somehow, she would see another circus whether her father took her or not. Someday, no matter what; before everything disappeared.
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