Closer Sun
By Rowan Wolf

Once upon a time there was no doubt.

He lived in a small clay hut. The floor was smooth ground, was hard dry mud trampled on again and again by industrious feet as if by heavy machinery. His bed was a yellow and green mat of woven grass. Although thin he slept well on it and he did not wake sore. He felt rested and fresh, if somewhat dislocated.

It was the sun that woke him, this new sun. This white, disorienting sun. This beautiful sun. The low half circle that was the hut's opening faced the new sun's rising above the mountain ridge on the far side of the valley below. As it climbed, it lit the sky above him, touched the mountain behind him, then entered his hut and his eyes through shut lids. Then he knew it was morning. Again.

The end of another darkness, of another inactivity so deep he had trouble remembering doing this nothing. He welcomed this new sun, this warm sun, white and closer.

He crawled on knees and hands through the opening and out into the pleasant morning air. He was fresh and slender. He was black skinned and strong. He stood up and it felt good to stretch arms and legs and lungs.

It was good here, wherever here was. Under this closer sun.

His hut was built on the edge of a large plateau above the valley. It was a wide expanse of green rippled by the morning winds. The man smiled as he held the air and watched the small, bright clouds overhead. This wasn't so bad after all.

A loud screech rose from the sea of grass to his left and a large bird took wide wing. Rose with the sound. He watched as the bird, startled and escaping, winged higher and higher into the morning sky. Another screech, as if in answer, reached him and with it another bird, a copy of the first, arose further still to his left and soon circled with the first looking down at some common annoyance.

He walked toward a movement in the grass to see what could have stirred those powerful wings. The movement at the same time parted the grass toward him and soon they met. It was a large, beautiful cat. Not black, as cats should be, but a cat nonetheless. Green eyes and sharp teeth, long, pink tongue. A deep voice spoke slowly and wondered who he was. He had not heard a voice like this, words like these, for. . . he could not remember when.  Rumbling, whispering. He wondered how the cat could speak such words and answered him that he was not altogether sure exactly who he was, it was a bit of a blur, really, but there was no doubt, he said, that he was here serving time.

At this the big cat sneezed and sat down on his hind legs and looked at him long and hard.  For what crime, he asked in the end.  I don't remember, he answered. And who are you, he asked of the cat.  I am Cheetah, he answered.

"Is that a cat? "


"Are you serving time too?" he asked.

"Yes," said the cat.

They looked at each other for some time. He was trying to find the cat within the cat who called himself Cheetah.  Looking from the man within theman.

"We all are," the cat added.

"Why did you scare the birds off?" he asked.

"I didn't mean to scare them," he answered. "It was a mistake."

He didn't understand and looked at the cat for an answer.

"I meant to catch me one."


"To eat."



He looked up at the two circling pairs of wings, closer to the ground now.Looking down at them. Concerned.

"What is eat?"

"How long have you been here?" asked the cat.

"I don't know. Perhaps two risings of this sun."

"Wait another rising or two and you will know what I mean."

There was a new movement in the tall grass and the antlers and heads of two deer made their way through the green sea to their right. The cat stiffened and watched the brown backs part the grass. "Got to go," he said, and set out after the deer. The man, still wondering about eat stood still, looking a tthe yellow and black of the cat moving away from him. He almost called thedeer in warning but knew it would offend the cat so instead he simply watched. Watched the frozen panic of the brown animals, heads and antlers etched against the undulating green, watched the tail of the cat moving slowly from side to side creeping closer. Watched the sudden brown flight and the tremendous pursuit of the cat. Saw the leap, the kill, heard the cry, smelled the blood, almost felt the meat torn from the bones of the dead animal. Saw the other deer stop a ways off, still, sad, relieved. He wondered why.

He walked over to the cat. The cat didn't turn around at first, but once the man's presence was beyond doubt he looked up with fiery eyes and growled a low and threatening greeting. The man stopped and asked what he was doing.The cat did not answer, so the man asked again. "Eating," said the cat between bites.

The man remained for a while, watching, wondering about eat. The cat did not turn again and the man left him at his eating. There was only the broken suggestion of deer left on the ground, a long broken neck brown with blood, an empty eye looking up at the man, the deer within the deer gone. Freed?  He thought not.

He turned and walked back towards his hut. The two birds overhead were settling back into the grass and he walked in their direction, maybe they too could speak. As he drew closer he saw one lean next to the other and whisper something. If a wing could point, it pointed at him and they both took to the air again, screeching.

He admired their aerial artistry for a while and tried to remember flying. There should be memories, there were memories, he was certain, but like stones slippery with algae they could not be grasped. He fetched nothing.

The birds remained aloft and he walked back to the hut.  Inside he rolled up his mat and placed it along the wall. He sat down on the ground and thought again about eat. He tried to remember. Remember the feeling that had possessed the cat, had made him rude. But like flight these memories were elusive, and though they cast shadows they seemed of no substance and he fetched nothing from his groping.

The sun climbed further and the band of light on his floor grew shorter and brighter. He thought about closing his eyes and entering the darkness again but felt not and could not find the restfulness. Not with the sun high. So he sat for a long time on his hut floor looking out across the valley, at the trees clustering the valley floor, at the grasses, grasses everywhere, and the many animals, deer, antelopes, zebras, elephants, other cats, larger and smaller than Cheetah, strolling some, eating some, sleeping some in the sun. How could they sleep when he could not? He crawled through the opening again and stood up. Other birds were soaring overhead. Some flew close to each other as in conversation. Others darted singly up and down seemingly without purpose.

Cheetah came back. Quietly. One moment there was no one the next there was Cheetah again.
Had a good eat, he wondered. "Yes," said Cheetah. "Hungry yet?" he added.


"It's must eat," said the Cheetah.

"No," he answered. "But I've thought about it."

"That's how it starts," said the Cheetah.

"Can you remember?" asked the man.

The Cheetah didn't answer at first but began to clean his left front paw with his large pink tongue. The man could hear each raspy lick and watched the long white whiskers fold and unfold as he again and again licked pads and claws and furry top.

"Can you remember?" he asked again.

The Cheetah slowly put his paw down and looked like he would begin cleaning the other, but he did not.

"Not much," he said.

"What then?" he asked.

"Only being Cheetah," said the Cheetah.

"Nothing else?"


"No other sun?"


"But you're serving time. You remember that."

"I don't remember that. I know that."

The man thought about that and saw that the Cheetah was right. No memory there. Just know. He nodded.

"What about the others?" he asked. "Do they know too?"

"Most do," said the Cheetah.

"Can they all talk?"

"Most do," repeated the Cheetah.

"Anyone remember?"

"Only this sun," said the Cheetah, and left.

This sun was setting now. The man saw it diving behind the mountain,bringing shadow to the valley. Cheetah returned again from the grassy nowhere and sat down beside the man. The world was stiller now, but for a larger roar than the Cheetah's coming from the valley below. "Another like you," he asked. "No," said Cheetah, "Lion. You don't want to meet him hungry. He will eat you. For that matter, you may want to stay away from me too if you see me too hungry for choosing. I'd settle for man flesh in a pinch."



They spoke no more and soon Cheetah disappeared into the dusk. Restfulness returned to the man. He crept back into his hut and closed his eyes.

The closer sun reached the top of the ridge and found his eyelids, lit hiseyes. He woke and looked out and onto the valley below, still in shadow from the range, still not lit by the closer sun which had now entered him.  Entered with a new heat, an ember at first below his heart, now waking in small steps. First into hollowness, then into glow, then into pain, into larger pain, into hunger and suddenly eat was all he knew.

He crawled out on hands and knees, but not with pleasure. With urgency.  Hestood up and surveyed his world, not for beauty but for food. Shadows cast by daemon memories dictated motion, guided his feet, steered his eyes and he remembered the birds. Cheetah had stalked them. Food.

He tried to remember where, exactly, while his hunger twisted below. He walked through the grass, seeing no birds. Then the screech and the powerful down-beat of muscle and feather. The bird rose and screamed the warning. He was not going to catch him. Instead he knew to look for where he had hidden and found the nest. Large and brown, filled with eggs. With food. He bent to pick one, to eat one, when talons ripped long, red furrows across his shoulders. The pain seared through and he whipped around to see the bird again, to feel the down draft of desperation and anger. The bird had grown fearless and dove for him again. He was too perplexed to get out of the way and talons found his ear this time and drew blood. Then he ran.

His shoulders and ear were pulsing and burning from the attack and he needed water to cool them. The hunger returned below and told him about eggs toeat. But eggs told him about talons to rip and he stalled, undecided. Pain returned and clamored for water.

He found the path to the water hole. He had seen it traveled by antelopes and zebras. Pain and hunger made battle but pain prevailed. He must soothe his shoulder. And there was Cheetah sitting on the path, smelling the air. Green eyes held his steadily as he approached. His tail was tapping up tiny puffs of dust behind him. The man could see four sharp teeth as the Cheetah smiled.

"Hungry now?" he asked.

The man did not answer. A new feeling, sparked by green eyes, told him to run. Cheetah sat very still except for tail and nostrils. Man stood very still now as Cheetah's muscles tensed and rippled. Then he leaped.

Claws found his chest, teeth found his neck and powerful jaws closed down over arteries and spine. He heard his own neck break before all went quiet as he looked down on Cheetah taking his first bite out of his shoulder. Then there was a new darkness.

Once upon a time there was no doubt.

He lived in a small clay hut. The floor was smooth ground, was hard dry mud trampled on again and again by industrious feet as if by heavy machinery. His bed was a yellow and green mat of woven grass. Although thin he slept well on it and he did not wake sore. He felt rested and fresh, if somewhat dislocated.

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