OUTSIDE IN

By John Thomas Tuft

Jubilee Parker opened the door and stepped into forever. It looked and felt like a dream—the sheep on the hills, slowly munching their way across the pastures, the donkeys around the perimeter guarding against predators. The afternoon heat damped down most activity except for the buzzing of insects around the clover and dandelions in the lawn. White clouds piled up in the sky, billowing from nowhere, restlessly expanding like they were going to go find a thunderstorm and drag it back across the blue expanse to entertain themselves on a drowsy summer day. The horses stood in the stream at the foot of the field, nostrils down into the gurgling water, blowing bubbles. Jubilee took it all in, wishing it could last, just go on and on, not changing, not demanding, always existing as an invitation to breathe, to love, to dance. At that moment, he saw the movement at the edge of the woods. A shadow, moving slowly, before breaking through the foliage. To his astonishment, a lion stepped from the tree line.

Jubilee watched nervously as the lion meandered across the field, looking about as though trying to figure out where he was. As the magnificent beast approached, he looked Jubilee up and down and spoke. “Why did you summon me?” Needless to say, Jubilee was quite taken aback. “Me? Summon you? I didn’t summon you.” The lion shook his mane, spraying dust in all directions. “Don’t test me.” He stomped his front paw on the ground, making it shake. “What is your deepest desire?” Jubilee did a double take. “Well, it wasn’t for a talking lion, that’s for sure. Am I dreaming?” The lion opened his mouth wide and let out a ferocious roar that echoed off the hills, startling the sheep and horses, setting the donkeys to braying. Then he reared on his hind legs and put his front paws on Jubilee’s shoulders, breathing hot wild lion breath onto his face. “I’m wide awake,” said the lion.

Jubilee stood as still as possible, hot wild lion’s breath notwithstanding. “I am, too,” he admitted. He thought for a moment. “I was wishing that this day could last. That the feeling I have when I step out the door on a day like today would always be with me. Can you provide me with that?” The lion held Jubilee’s gaze with the power of his own. “I can. Invite me in.” Jubilee hesitated. “In? I have to let you in?” The lion snuffled loudly and crashed his front paws back onto the ground. “What do you feel when you step outside on a day like this? What outside do you want in?” Jubilee stepped back, glad to have that weight off his shoulders. “I look at the colors of the grass and trees and sky and I am fulfilled. The sun and clouds are in the sky, and I feel peaceful. I see the sheep grazing and I feel contentment. I see the donkeys guarding and I feel safe and secure. I see the horses in the stream blowing bubbles and I feel joy. I want that always. That’s the outside I want in.”

The lion nodded his head. “You shall have all of that. Let me in.” Jubilee opened the door and invited the lion inside. “I’m very  hungry,” said the lion as he squeezed past the nervous Jubilee. “What would you like to eat?” As the lion headed for the couch, he casually said, “Sheep. I eat sheep.” Jubilee hesitated. “My sheep? I have other…” The lion stopped him with his roar. “Do you want that feeling or not? The outside in?” Jubilee reluctantly relented and got one of the sheep for the lion to devour. And so it went, day after day. First the sheep were all eaten. Then the donkeys. The lion fed till satisfied and then lay down to sleep. He would wake up hungry, demand to be fed, knock over furniture and scratch his claws on all the woodwork, eat, sleep and so on.

One day Jubilee went out to get the lion more to eat and noticed that the pastures were overgrown now. As he went to fetch one of the horses, he felt the chill of the wind and saw that the sky was gray and desolate. He realized that he felt no better either. Maybe if the lion was satisfied, then Jubilee could find what he longed to have in return. One by one all the horses were eaten and the field lay barren from lack of attention and hard work. One day Jubilee got out of bed and found the lion staring out the front door at the gray world. “I’m hungry,” he said as Jubilee came up beside him. “If I am hungry then you cannot find the peace and contentment and security that you long to have. And what I see outside here doesn’t make me feel anything but fear, shame and disgust. Is that what you want?” Stricken, Jubilee fell to his knees, begging the lion not to leave. “I must have it,” he pleaded. “I’ll do anything you want.”

The lion turned to look at him and slowly smiled. In one great leap he pounced on Jubilee, pinning him to the floor. “Wait, what are you doing?” Jubilee yelled in a panic. With both great paws pushing on his chest, and hot wild lion drool dripping on to Jubilee’s face, the lion roared, “You wanted the outside in. You wanted to possess what gave you all that you feel. You took me in to provide that for you.” Jubilee sputtered, his face ashen, “But…but I don’t feel it. I fed you, gave you whatever you wanted. I don’t understand.” The lion bellowed out the last words Jubilee ever heard. “You knew I was a lion when you invited me in…”

Words are magic and writers are wizards.