Leo: Lions by Emma Kernahan

They decided, in the end, to dress as lions. The Government guidelines had been very specific about wearing animal pelts to avoid infection, but Josh was chair of the local wildlife trust, so they compromised and used the costumes from a recent production of Cats the musical. There were only ten, so Jane made do with a fake fur coat and a pair of ears on a headband. Also, Geoff said lions weren’t technically native to England, so he dug out his Richard the Lionheart outfit from Babes in the Wood instead.

To begin with, they killed sheep. Two from Maytree Farm, a ram from Barnard’s Cross – then three sacrificed in a night, up at the Beacon. Josh printed off some pictures of the ceremony and pinned them up around the edge of the village. They waved from the tree trunks like flags of red and pink – muscled scraps of wool, jagged tiaras of teeth, some blurry action shots of Geoff in a codpiece. It used a lot of ink in the colour printer, but it was worth it if it deterred the tourists. They added a note about the ancient prophecy being fulfilled, and the recent closure of the public toilets. But it made no difference. People kept coming.

After several weeks everyone was sick of eating lamb, so they started eating the tourists. It helped that the weather was good – plenty of barbecues – and also that there was council funding for community-led human sacrifice projects, particularly while so many people were breaching the new parking restrictions. There was some debate about social distancing when hunting as a pack, but the robes and animal masks turned out to be clinical grade PPE, and besides, Geoff had a tranquiliser gun left over from last year’s dog obedience display.

After three months, everyone had learned new skills and gained confidence. Carol started selling her locally sourced black pudding and Josh wrote a piece for the parish newsletter entitled ‘Nature is healing!’ above a picture of Geoff being attacked by his King Charles Spaniel. The feedback to the council was overwhelmingly positive – everyone sent in a picture of themselves in their lion outfits, daubed with blood and giving a thumbs up. What people really need in these strange times, they wrote, is a bit of common sense, some community spirit, and above all, a really striking set of commemorative tea towels.

Emma lives in Stroud, Gloucestershire, writes short stories, flash fiction and satire. She also blogs as Crappy Living. Her work has been published in The Vision Project, Ellipsis Zine, New Flash Fiction Review, The Occulum, Writers’ HQ, Stroud Short Stories, The F Word and McSweeney’s. She won the 2018 Gloucestershire Writers Network Prose Prize, the Funny Pearls Short Story Prize 2019 and has been shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award. She spends far too much time on Twitter @crappyliving

A vintage photo of a woman in cage leaning against a lion and next to another lion
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