‘Arising’ by John Emmons
From American Scholar:
The lion stopped at a break in the rain and realized he was no longer on the path he’d been following. He scratched the side of his belly against a coleus bush, shook free of the water coating his back and legs, and studied the ferns and mosses growing all around him, a blurred patchwork of greens. He listened for Cousin’s rasp, which, like a gnat’s buzzing at his tail, had annoyed him all through the hunt, and for the whelps of Sister’s underweaned cubs, and for the irregular footsteps of Second Cousin, but heard nothing.
“I’m six furlongs west of the den,” he thought, catching the scent of the dead opossum. “At most nine.”
He was tempted to scoop up with his tongue an ant dragging a webbed mass of tsetse flies, but refrained. What could be seen of the sun seemed to shift and ripple in the sky like its reflection in disturbed water. Was he west of the den, or north? Perhaps he was northwest. Cousin, despite his uselessness in a kill, had a perfect sense of direction, and the lion felt his absence. Not long ago, for example, Cousin had found the way home after a two-day journey through alien trees that had marooned them in an unfamiliar glade, where they were so famished, Aunt had proposed eating Second Cousin.
“Sister!” he called out. “Niece!”
The chittering whir of life in the forest slowed and then sped up again.
“Can I help you?” came a voice from above.