The boy’s father was initially terrified. At first, he thought the cheetah was looking in at his son and that horrified him. Even if it was not full-grown, it was still a killer of men. What should he do? This was not the same as chasing off a rodent. If it were, he would merely have turned on the outside light and popped the door open and shook his fist at the filthy beast.
He wasn’t going to throw the door open on a cheetah, unless he was ready to fight to the death. Maybe he should grab his shotgun, the one he kept in the attic along with a box of shells, exactly for an occasion like this. Except he hadn’t shot that thing in almost twenty years, when he wasn’t much older than his son and he and his father decided to go hunting. All they’d done then was sit in a stand among the treetops eating dried meat and drinking cold hot chocolate until they decided they didn’t want to shoot any animals anyway. Instead, they’d just fired a few shots into a paper target on the side of a tree and then gone home.
Recalling these fond memories gave the present scene a faintly fond sheen. The father looked above the cheetah’s head and through the window to the side profile of his son who sat fascinated and then back to the cheetah who wasn’t looking at his son at all, but the same show. A realization washed across his mind, but seemed too incredible to fully accept. Was this young cheetah watching Chima? How old was this cheetah anyway? Was it possible that he was the same age as his son but in cheetah years? What were cheetah years anyway?
Whatever. The father decided to stand there and watch and sure enough when the show was over the cheetah returned to all fours and jogged away. “I’ll be damned,” the man said to himself. The next night the same, and the same the night after that. The cheetah loved Chima.
On the fourth night, the cheetah took in the show but when he turned to leave detected the figure behind the glass door. The cheetah reflexively cringed and shrunk back into itself. The father sucked in his breath. Neither could move, until the boy called out. “Dad? Dad?” With his eyes on the cheetah the father answered and when he turned his head toward his son, the cheetah shot off into the night. “What are you doing, dad?” The father could not truthfully answer. “Oh, watching a cheetah watch Chima with you.” That would be a hard one to explain, so he merely said, “Nothing. You ready for bed?” as he followed his son back to his bedroom.
The next two nights the father slowly shuffled to the door to disappointment. The cheetah was nowhere, and by the third time he checked the father gave up. That’s when the cheetah tentatively made his way out of the thicket and up to the window where he dared to take in Chima once again. There was the boy as usual, but the father had joined him. The cheetah considered his options. He could obey his instinct for preservation or give in to this pure pleasure. Chima was like a piece of candy, and he surrendered to his sweet tooth. As he settled in for another episode, the father suddenly turned his head and looked straight at him, giving him a wink.
The cheetah flinched. Should he flee? The father had already turned back around to the TV and the jungle cat drifted to the screen, too. The lion, his favorite, was talking with the gorilla as they rode on some land cruisers. The two cartoon animals laughed, and so did the boy. The cheetah just smiled.
The boy sat on the far edge of the couch and stared into the TV. A yellow bowl of pretzels was in his lap and he would occasionally dig his hand in and retrieve one but his gaze never left the screen. His favorite show was playing, Chima, and he would watch it every night on Netflix after dinner, delighted by the adventures of Laval, Cragger, Eris, and the like. Laval the lion was his favorite and when he was on-screen the boy’s attention could not be diverted, even if his father stood to the side chanting his name like a mantra. His father would eventually sigh and move back into the living room, unable to share in his son’s obsession.
Behind the leather couch was a large picture window that gave way to the African pasture. Out in the dark, there in two foot tall grass, crouched a young cheetah, entranced by the light that drifted from the house. He could hear the faint sound of the TV and, intrigued, crept over to the edge of the house where he stood on his hind legs and peered in through the window.
The cheetah’s mouth fell open. On the screen, animals talked and walked like humans. As the characters on the TV interacted, the cheetah and the boy gawked nearly side by side, separated only by glass. When the show ended the boy moved to stand, and the cheetah–noticing his surroundings–came back to his senses. Terrified, he turned and ran, too young to reach the ideal speed of 70mph, but fast enough that he was back home with his mother and brothers within a few minutes.
That night, he dreamed of the lion, croc, and eagle he’d seen the night before, and when he woke, resolved to seek out the boy and his amazing box of light. Once it was dark, he slid to the window and watched with his new friend. He was almost as absorbed as the little boy until he noticed the boy’s father out of the corner of his eye as the man drifted into the room. The cheetah frantically dipped down below the window. He knew better than to attract any attention from the humans. His father was killed by one of them.
Still, the danger was not enough to deter him from Chima and even as he stealthily made his way back home he resolved to return. The boy’s father had not seen the cheetah–it was pitch black outside the window–but the next morning he detected paw prints on the white siding of the house. His immediate thoughts were of his boy’s safety. He could never have known that a young jungle cat was creeping up to watch his son’s favorite show with him, he assumed a more sinister reality, and he decided to catch the interloper that evening.
The cheetah knew better when he stepped out of the camouflage of the grass that night, but the lure of the glow was too much. He snaked up to the side of the house and, rising up, looked through the window. The boy was in his usual spot, transfixed, as the cheetah soon was, so much so, that he failed to notice the shape standing behind the glassed-in screen door at the side of the house. To be continued…