TWO cheetahs hunt a toddler. They fixate on the pudgy boy in overalls among the buzzing, squealing herd of children inside the family restaurant. The perfect mix of helpless and substantial. The cheetah in the fedora slinks one way. Slender hind legs stretching. Claws clicking against laminate tile. The cheetah in the ascot goes wide in a mirrored arc. The adults do not see.

 

The pudgy boy splashes in a ball pit. His stubby fingers struggle to hold onto a plastic ball. He is soaked in sugar. In bright lights. In colorless music. A costumed mouse sings nursery rhymes on stage.

 

Jim from Providence does not like the mouse reference. He is ashamed that as a child he had been afraid of it.

 

Family restaurant turns into playground. Ball pit into sandbox. Plastic ball into toy truck.

 

The cheetahs sprint across the grass. Sod implodes and splatters beneath meaty paws as streamlined bodies fly towards prey. Fedora reaches his target first. Iron maiden jaws clamp down on the boy’s neck. Drag him to the parking lot between cars. Ascot follows. His tail thumps against a van and muffles the boy’s cries.

 

Mary from Baltimore is upset. She has a child whom she affectionately calls “my pudgy pumpkin.”

 

Pudgy into lean. Boy into man. The overalls can stay. Fedora Cheetah traces a claw across the man’s torso. A slice of denim degrades into threads. A slice of cotton. A slice of skin. The cheetahs—

 

Alan from Seattle doesn’t understand why they are cheetahs.

 

Cheetahs into men. Claws into knives. The man with the fedora punctures Overalls’ throat. A bead of blood rolls down denim.

 

Susan from Los Angeles asks why.

 

Blade retracts. Blood rolls back into the wound. Fedora and his partner shove Overalls into a van. Tires scream against asphalt. A ransom note left in the vacant spot.

 

The men—

 

Alan from Seattle has stopped watching.

 

The cheetahs keep their hostage in a former meth house held together by tar. Overalls lies tied up in the bathroom.

 

Susan from Los Angeles still asks why.

 

Fedora is given a drug problem.

 

Marc from San Antonio doesn’t want to be reminded of his drug problem.

 

Fedora is given an abusive childhood. Ascot has a daughter he is trying to put through college.

 

The police track down the van. Surround the meth house. Surround the cheetahs. Fervent fingers tap on assault triggers. Waiting for movement…They get it. Bullets splatter across rotted and stained walls. Fedora is reduced to a confetti parade of gore and lead. A single bullet strikes Ascot in the—

 

The cheetah in the ascot is Marc’s favorite.

 

—shoulder.

 

Ascot leaps wounded through a shattered window. He cries for his fallen partner as he sprints to safety.

 

Overalls is rescued.

 

Jim stops watching. Susan stops watching. Marc stops watching. Mary stops watching.

 

The lean man in overalls is a pudgy boy in overalls. No van. No ransom. No meth house. Just bloodstains in the alley behind the family restaurant and a few scraps of denim.

TRIPWIRES ACROSS THE SERENGETI

Fiction

December 2017

Produced from 100% Everything

Literary Juice

E. M. Beane

E. M. Beane lives in Southern California and has a degree in criminology from California State University, Fresno. She is an amateur pool player and knows one piece on the piano.

 

 

COPYRIGHT 2017 LITERARY JUICE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.