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May, a spotless leopard, breaks her promise to an old friend—and must own up to her actions

May sniffed. She relaxed when she smelled the gentle spring air. The strong breeze swept quickly through her beautiful golden fur. It was clean. No spots. That was what made her different, unique. The other leopards were all jealous of her fur. May stood up and looked around. The jungle was quiet in the mornings, like right now; she couldn’t hear any noises besides the wind rustling the leaves of the bushes and trees. But at noon, the jungle was filled with the noise of the monkeys hanging from the branches or the birds singing their song—or, maybe, the roar of a jaguar battling a crocodile. Sometimes, very rarely, May could even hear the growl of a tiger hunting prey. But the leopards, jaguars, and tigers all kept their distance. May stretched her legs. She needed a walk. That was all she needed. She walked through the damp jungle ground and tried not to get herself too muddy, but that was pretty much impossible.

Chirp! Chirp! 

May sighed contently. “The birds are waking up to sing their song. What song will they sing today? Maybe my favorite,” May said to herself hopefully. She remembered that when she was younger, Winger, a small little bird, would come visit May and her mother to sing the song of the wind. May forgot what it was called amongst the birds, though. She didn’t even know if Winger was still alive. If so, he’d be a very old bird. She continued to walk. She occasionally stopped to sniff the air or investigate the bushes. The air became slightly warmer as the sun rose higher and higher. May stopped moving when she heard a high-pitched cackling. She sniffed the air. The scent of a monkey was growing stronger, but she recognized this scent.

“Kashmir? Is that you?” May asked, clawing at the ground.

“Your nose is as good as ever, May,” Kashmir said, still making that awkward cackling noise. May let out a nervous laugh.

The Other Side

“Yeah . . .” May murmured. Kashmir was old and fragile. He was kind of strange as well. May didn’t really know his backstory, though. They met one day, and for some weird reason they became friends. She tried to remember why. She had been really young when she first met

Kashmir. May made an effort to try to remember what had happened. She sighed disappointedly. She didn’t remember. Kashmir cackled again and snapped May back to reality.

“Thinking of how we met, yes?” Kashmir asked. May nodded desperately. She didn’t know why, but she somehow felt like how they met was something she should know. “Well, I hate to say it, but I forgot.” Kashmir cackled.

May let out a disappointed breath.

“Of course . . . he’s old and fragile now; he wouldn’t remember something from that long ago,” May mumbled softly so he wouldn’t hear.

“What did you say?” Kashmir grunted.

“N-nothing!” May laughed nervously. She flicked her tail.

May sighed with relief when Kashmir left. She liked him as a friend, but sometimes things could get a little tricky with him. She realized she should hunt now. She would eat, then sleep till dark. Then hunt again. She stretched quickly and sniffed the air for the smell of prey. She smelled a monkey nearby, but she had vowed to Kashmir that she would never eat a monkey again. She sniffed the air one more time.

Hare! That smell! It’s a hare! May thought. She tracked the scent. No . . . the scent grows weaker here . . . this way! She made a quick turn back, then sniffed again. Left! She made a quick turn left. She needed to get to the prey before any of the other wildcats did. The scent grew stronger every second. May kept on going. She wanted that hare! Her stomach was growling at her to get it. May stopped. There it was: the hare. She crouched down and sneaked forward. She was careful not to make a single noise. She remembered her mother had said not to stick the tail too high, nor too low. May crept forward till she was close enough. Then she calculated her pounce, and leaped. She aimed her claws at the hare. It tried to move, but she was too fast. May bit the neck of the hare and relaxed.

“Food . . . yes,” May murmured as she ate the rabbit. She felt somewhat peaceful, despite killing this hare.

May yawned. It was time for her after-lunch nap. She might have a nice dream—or maybe a nightmare. She really wasn’t the one to decide.

Well, May realized, I am the one to decide, but not really. She yawned again, stretched, and lay down in a comfortable position. She remembered that delicious hare. She had gotten rid of the bones by burying them. She rolled on the grass a few times, then felt her eyelids close.

She smelled a monkey nearby, but she had vowed to Kashmir that she would never eat a monkey again.

May opened her eyes.

“Where am I?” she asked, knowing nobody would answer. She was where she’d fallen asleep. A small clearing in the jungle where the sun hit her at an angle from which her golden fur shined. Except it was different. The trees were backing away, becoming smaller. Disappearing. She looked at herself. Spots. Her golden fur had dark spots. She wasn’t her anymore. Then all spiraled into darkness. 

May jerked awake.

What was that dream about? she asked herself. She shivered and looked at her own fur. No spots. Good. May sighed with relief. The moon shone along with the stars above her. Time to hunt. She got up quickly and started moving. She moved with the silence of the night, careful not to make a single sound. She sniffed the air. I smell deer. But too stale. It was here yesterday. May sighed and continued sneaking. The night was silent. All the animals were sleeping in their dens and homes. May liked the challenge. She sniffed the nearby bush. She stuck her head into it and bit down hard. Mouse. Not enough for my belly, though . . . she thought as she gobbled down the mouse. May needed to hunt more.

Still nothing. She had spent the last three hours searching for a strong scent of prey. She was disappointed with her results, extremely disappointed. She was desperate now. She needed to find prey. She was starting to get hungry. May sniffed the air.

There’s a monkey! Wait—no! What are you thinking, May? Remember what you promised to Kashmir? May scolded herself, shaking her head. Then, she felt something bite her back. She moved her own body powerfully to shake the thing off. She growled and leaped at the creature, claws out. May slashed at the creature’s head and relaxed. I wonder what it was—oh no. 

May felt panic climbing up her legs. She had killed a monkey, despite the promise she had made to Kashmir. A weird feeling came up her spine. She shook it off and looked at her paws.

What?! There are spots! How?! May gasped. Her paws had spots on them. She rushed to the nearby puddle to look at her reflection. Spots made her fur dirty. Her unique, clean fur was now covered in spots. The moon shone above her, not knowing the panic she was in. She needed knowledge of what had happened. She needed the Wise Old Elephant. First, she needed to bury the body of this monkey.

Please have a good trip to the afterlife. May thought. She had broken her promise to Kashmir. How would she tell that to the Wise Old Elephant? All the animals knew about her. The Wise Old Elephant was the smartest creature in the jungle. Well actually, she didn’t really live in the jungle; she lived just outside.

“I should get going, then,” May told herself. She needed to get there by morning or else the Wise Old Elephant’s home would be crowded with those who were seeking her advice. She sighed. This was going to be a long walk. She was full, which was a good thing. She had eaten that monkey because she needed to eat. “It was dead anyway” was the excuse she had told herself.

May walked quickly. It was almost sunrise. The air felt much warmer than it had a few hours ago, when she had killed that monkey despite her promise. She somehow felt what she had done was related to the spots.

She was almost there. She saw the trees were starting to get shorter and sadder. Her quick walking had become a run. When she saw the Wise Old Elephant standing in a clearing, she relaxed.

May looked at her fur. The spots—they were disappearing!

“Why have you come here? Have you come for knowledge about how to remove your spots? Or something else?” the Wise Old Elephant asked suddenly. May took a moment to regain her breath.

“Both actually. I broke a promise to a friend, and I also want to remove my spots,” May said. The Wise Old Elephant turned and stared at her.

“A leopard cannot change her spots. Now tell me what promise you have broken. You want to know what to do about that as well, yes?” the Wise Old Elephant asked.

May nodded fiercely. If the Wise Old Elephant couldn’t remove her spots, then hopefully she would at least know how to right May’s wrong.

“Well, first of all, apologize to Kashmir. Then, accept any punishment he shall give you.”

May nodded.

*          *          *

May felt like she was about to stab her own claws into her own neck. Kashmir was there, cackling. Like usual. It made things even harder for May at the moment. She breathed in and breathed out.

“Kashmir? I need to tell you something important,” May said slowly. Kashmir stopped to look at her. “Last night . . .” May paused to take another deep breath.

“Go on.” Kashmir nodded.

“I killed a monkey. I know my promise to you, but I did it by accident. I’m sorry. I buried him and wished him a good afterlife,” May said, carefully picking her words and how to say them. Kashmir looked shocked for a moment, angry. Then his expression changed. It became softer.

“I believe you did it by accident, May, and I understand how that could have happened, but if you ever kill a monkey again, our friendship is broken.” Kashmir sighed. May jumped and hugged Kashmir.

“Thank you so much, Kashmir! You really are a good friend,” May said happily.

“It’s alright. What’s happening to your fur, though?” Kashmir asked.

May looked at her fur. The spots— they were disappearing! Fading away! May smiled brightly.

“Oh, I don’t think it’s anything.”

Juli Hiramatsu
Juli Hiramatsu, 11
Portland, OR

Arjun Nair
Arjun Nair, 9
Midlothian, VA