Nine years old, with parents distracted, a boy falls into the lion enclosure.
It looked more like a jump, his sister says.
The boy lands safely, in the artificial lake beneath him. He swims to the shoreline, to his new home. Murals of the savanna and non-native plant life.
Background noise played through speakers. The stare of an audience above him.
The lions protect him from rescue. Surround him in tight circles. Brush their hides against the hair on his arms. Give him a name in their tongue.
Satisfied that his care is adequate, his parents leave him with the pride. Make arrangements for extended visiting hours. Make plans for social time with one less child.
The boy teaches the lions to swim in deep water, to sleep in humanoid positions.
He shows them his fingerprints, his double-jointed thumbs. Over time, his parents forget his birthday, his age now measured in animal years. Other children jump down to join the herd, parents happy with the care provided.
The hybrid exhibit becomes an attraction. Children themed merchandise in the gift shop.
Until one day late in the autumn, when an adult jumps in and tries to join them. Moving with speed they tear off his limbs and play with his torso, before returning to sleep with the lions.
Paul Thompson lives and works in Sheffield. His stories have appeared in Spelk Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, and The Cabinet of Heed. His work also recently appeared in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology 2019.