Thread: Contest - Fable
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Old 08-20-2015, 04:34 AM
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Marc Haertjens (Offline)
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Default It's all in the head, said the tiger

It’s all in the head, said the tiger
Marc Haertjens

M. was not feeling very well. This would not have worried him so much – M. was not a worrier by nature – if it hadn’t been going on for way too long now.

It started last December, in this lost week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Lost, that is, if you’re not spending it on skis in an exclusive resort, near a palm-lined beach snorkeling in crystal water or entertaining the extended family/a bunch of close friends in a forest-enclosed chalet. M. was doing none of these.
He was home, alone, just the two of them, M. and T., his wife. They had made plans to just hop in the car and drive somewhere for a couple of days, maybe Paris. Or London. But M. didn’t feel up to it when the moment arrived. Which of course irritated, even border-infuriated T.

“What’s wrong with you?” she had asked him.
Rather shortly. He could not make out if she was informing on his physical health or doubting his mental one.
“I don’t know. I’m just not feeling very well.”
And that was the exact truth. He had no pains, no runny nose, no fever, not even what you might call signs of an emerging depression. He was just not feeling very well.

They spent the week at home, T. not happy at all. On New Year’s Eve a couple of friends came over – it was M. and T.’s turn to invite this year and M. had not dared cancel, even if he had been feeling very much inclined to do so – and M. burned most of the dishes he normally prepared so passionately whenever he had the occasion. By 12:30 AM all the guests had gone, trying to hide their disappointment.

The second week of January, M. was still not feeling any better. So T. sent him to see the doctor, who could find nothing wrong. Just as M. had predicted. There was nothing wrong with him, only not feeling very well. The doctor prescribed some more tests and some purple pills, just in case.

Winter ended, spring arrived and nothing changed. M. still felt the same: not very well.

One sunny morning in the beginning of May, on the same morning he had sat there worrying, while he was not a natural-born worrier, M. got on a train and got off again in Antwerp. He had no idea what he was going to do, no plan. Just walk around, maybe the change of air-pollution from one city to another would change his feeling for the better. Getting out of the station, he saw the Zoo entrance next to it. M. hadn’t been in there since he was thirteen or fourteen, many decades ago. He stopped visiting the Zoo around that age, when he developed a pubescent dislike to so much animal captivity. He might as well give it another try. He went over and bought a ticket.

Kharlan – Siberian Tiger – born 1999’ read the enameled metal plaque on the concrete parapet. M. remembered the steel-barred cage they had when he was a kid. Now the tiger had a spacious patch of fake Tundra, separated from the public by a deep ditch of murky water and aforementioned parapet.
Kharlan was not strolling around, he was stretched out on the ground, resting his head on his forepaws, watching the handful of humans watching him. M. stared at the tiger, the tiger stared at him.

“It’s all in the head,” said the tiger.
“I beg your pardon?” replied a nearly dumbstruck M.
“I mean, I can tell just by looking at you that you are not feeling very well. And - trust my experience, I’m an old beast - I’m sure there is something in your head causing it.”
“Oh, but you must be mistaking. I went to the doctor’s, they did all sorts of tests – brain scan and psychological screening included – and there was nothing they could find wrong with me.”
“That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying there is something inside your head, really physically inside, that is making you feel less well than you should. In my opinion, it must be some kind of animal.”
“You mean there is someone like you, like a tiger inside my head? I’m not a tank!”
“Of course not. Have a look at me. Think about the size of your head. Not even the tiniest tiger cub would fit in. It has to be a small animal.”
“OK, suppose you’re right, how do I get him out?”
“I guess the only way is to find out why he decided to nestle inside your head and then convince him to get out again. Talking to some animals - remember, small animals - might help you discover why a certain species could feel attracted to you. Now I’m going to have another nap. Like I said, I’m an old beast, I need my sleep.”
Kharlan rested his head on his paws again and closed his eyes, indicating the interview was over.

The bird cages were his first stop. A small animal attracted to him, that had to be an owl, the wisest of birds. At first sight, though, the owl was quite an impressive piece of living wisdom. He would never fit inside his head. Maybe a young owl?
“Hello, mister owl, sorry to disturb you.”
The owl did this awful trick of opening an eye that was clearly already open.
“How can I help you, young man?”
“I think there might be an owl inside my head. The tiger told me so.”
“Interesting. Very interesting. You’ve been to the doctor’s?”
“Yes, I have. But no, I did not tell him I thought I had an owl inside my head. That was before I met the tiger.”
“Lucky you,” chuckled the owl, “you would not have been walking around the Zoo if you had told him so. But tell me, why do you think it’s an owl? It’s not unheard of, humans having an animal inside their heads, but why an owl?”
“Well, I just felt, like, an owl is a very wise animal. I’m not dumb myself, false modesty apart, so I thought, maybe an owl chose me for intellectual companionship. A small owl, of course, a big one wouldn’t fit.”
“Knowing that he would make you feel not really well? That does not seem particularly wise to me, does it?”
He had M. there. Sensing another word would be superfluous, the owl closed his eye without closing it.

So M. had to look for a small, less scrupulous animal. The reptile park was right next to the bird cages. He knew snakes are pretty long, but they coil up, don’t they? He would not choose a boa constrictor, but maybe a viper?
“Hi there, viper, how you doing?”
“Look who’s talking. Not doing so well yourself, are you?”
“You might be right there. Anyhow, the tiger said there is this possibility of me having a viper inside my head.”
“Did he, now? And do you believe talking tigers?”
Tricky, he’d have to watch his back with this one. “Well, he did not exactly tell me it was a viper, but some kind of small animal.”
“And like always, it’s the viper they put the blame on. You, humans will never learn. Blame, blame, blame. Never a look into the inside, see if you yourself may be carrying some responsibility.”
“I have seen the owl before, but he made clear owls are much too compassionate to risk interfering with the well-being of somebody else.”
“Did you talk to some mice, recently? Anyway, why do you think a viper would even consider taking up refuge inside your head?”
“Well, I imagined, maybe, snakes being like very cunning and always ready to strike… I mean, me, too, I’m a bit that way, always awaiting the right opportunity. So, I thought, a viper might want to join forces.”
“And lock himself up inside your head, where it would take him an eternity to get out? Be reasonable, man. We’re no idiots.”
The viper recoiled on himself, leaving M. no alternative but to continue on his quest.

Which brought him to the darkened corridor with the desert animals. Working through the night if need arose. Always making the best of scarce resources. He did recognize himself. Not a coyote, of course. But maybe a gerbil?
“Hello, Mrs. gerbil. Hope I’m not disturbing you?”
“You do see I’m busy, don’t you? What do you want from me?”
“In fact, I’m trying to find out if I might have a gerbil inside my head.”
He did not know gerbils could laugh. Now he knew. M. hoped she would recover unharmed. After some final laughing fits, she squinted her eyes and looked into his.
“Are you serious? A gerbil? You do realize we’re not the most solitary species on earth, do you? Hey, husband, show up. And bring the kids.”
Before M. had the time to blink twice, about 25 gerbils were pressing their snouts to the thick glass partition.
“Imagine them running around in your poor head. Would give you kind of a headache, wouldn’t it?”

A spider, that’s it. One of these cruel little creatures patiently awaiting a prey to wander into their expertly hidden webs. A tarantula!
“Sorry, dude, we don’t do webs.”

A piranha, a humming bird, a tortoise, a falcon, a squirrel?
No, no, no, no, no!

M. was exhausted and hot. His wristwatch told him Zoo-closing time was approaching fast. The sun was slowly sinking, but still warm. He sat down on a bench on a small patch of grass, pulling his sweat-soaked T-shirt over his head. He was passed caring what people might think. He was still not feeling very well.

“You don’t look very blooming, sir.” A little, ugly thing at his feet. This one not locked away behind bars or partitions or parapets. It was a hedgehog.
“That, my dear friend, is an understatement. Though, maybe not. I guess I’m just a bit tired. And not feeling very well.”
“Ever thought about giving up your defenses?”
“What defenses?”
“I don’t know, you look all crisped up. Turning into yourself and showing your sharpest needles to the outside world. Like we, hedgehogs, do when we’re not one hundred percent sure all is safe.”
“You think so?”
“I can feel it. And, believe me, I’m an expert. You’re afraid to show your inner self to the world, to undertake actions if you can’t oversee all of the consequences, to run even the most insignificant of risks. And this gives you a constant nagging sense of not-feeling-so-well. Am I right?”

M. had to think this one over, but not for very long. What the heck? Why didn’t he speak up any more when he wanted to be heard? Why didn’t he sit down at his PC and start to write this book he’d been pondering over for ages? And if the world did not like it, he would write another one, and another one, and ...”

He felt tiny feet tripling over his neck, a soft belly caressing his bare shoulder, saw something hurry down his left arm. Then there were two hedgehogs looking up at him, just one heartbeat, and they were off into the undergrowth.
Suddenly he felt very well, indeed. He felt … free!

Late that night, back home, he told T. everything, as he always did.
“All this talking animals. Sounds like one of these childish fables we used to read at school when I was a little girl.” She looked relieved for him feeling better, but a bit worried, too, as if she suspected him of having taken one or two or three of these tiny purple pills on top of the prescribed dose, which he had not. “Anyhow, shouldn’t there be a Moral in the end, then?”
“Nah, I guess not,” M. wondered, “or maybe, there is one.”

“It’s the artist’s responsibility to balance mystical communication and the labor of creation.” Patti Smith, Just Kids

Last edited by Tau; 08-21-2015 at 01:22 PM..
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