Once upon a time, there was a girl.
Oh wait, that's not true. Or rather, it is true, but completely beside the point.
Oh.... what the hell, right? We're already here, might as well go through with it.
So once upon a time, there was a girl. And this girl met a guy, and fell in love and out of love and through days and across the wide and shifting sea, with waves that bent like grass under the wind, until she was very far from home.
She came to rest on a shore she did not know, filled with plants whose shapes were unfamiliar. Animals she could not recognize stared out from the woods at her with glowing, silent eyes. Although the place was very beautiful, in her heart she felt sore afraid.
She glanced around her, in her little boat, looking for her friends who had traveled the wide and shifting sea with her. The little bear, the solemn knight, the faithful hound... these were her boon companions and truest friends. They cared for one another deeply, and together had fought off the Terrors of Darkness, sending them back to the King of Shadows, in his realm beyond the Great White Door.
There was no one there, however. She thought she remembered them stopping off at the last dream for a bite to eat, to catch up with her later, but who can tell how these things go, and what may come from dream to dream? Regardless, here she was.
Alone, with nothing but her courage and a boat which seemed determined to rest here in this foreign land (if she could have turned it around, she would), she set foot upon the shore. Her feet sank into wet, cold sand, and the wind whipped chills along her spine. A keening sound carried on the wind and she hugged herself tightly against it, wishing it quiet and pretending that it was.
She had taken no more than a few steps when a figure stepped forth from the wilderness, dressed in clothes that seemed familiar, yet unlike her own. "Do you come alone?" it said.
"Yes," the girl answered. "I have friends, but they are not with me."
"What do you want?" it asked her.
"I don't know," she said. "But I'm here, and I think I have to stay."
"That is too bad," it said. "For I am a lion, and I must eat anyone who tries to pass."
The girl stared at the figure, which looked far more like a person than a lion. "You don't look like a lion," she said at last.
"No? Perhaps you need glasses. For assuredly, I am a lion, and I must eat you up."
The girl took off her glasses and looked at them closely, wiping the lenses, and looked at the figure again. It still looked like a person. She put them back on and blinked, and looked again. Still a person, though perhaps a bit taller than she'd thought. "You look like a person, not a lion."
"And what does a person look like?" it asked.
"Well... like me," she said. "I'm a person."
"Are you sure? Maybe you are a lion."
The girl wrinkled her forehead at this assertion. Surely if she were a lion, she would know it. She said, "No, I don't think--"
"Don't you?" it said. "I think you do. Perhaps," it said, "lions are different where you are from."
"Perhaps," she replied.
"Nevertheless," it said, "I must eat you."
"Must you?" she asked. "I have traveled so far."
"I can see that you must have, for you do not know a lion when you see one. What a strange world that must be."
"Do you think..." she said, pausing to choose her words carefully "...do you think it would be absolutely necessary for you to eat me this very moment? The lions I know rarely act with such haste."
The figure looked at her for a moment, its eyes flashing green, startling in the dim light. "Perhaps that is hasty of me," it said finally. "After all, you might be a lion too."
"Would it be just the same if you ate me tomorrow?" she asked, shivering slightly.
"Well, not just the same," it answered. "One never knows about tomorrow."
"Still... if no one would mind, tomorrow might be better," she said. "It would be greatly preferable for me, as I am too tired now to have any interest in being eaten."
The figure drew itself up proudly. "I would mind," it said. "However...." it looked at her, and suddenly she wondered if it knew something she did not. "I would not press death upon one so unready to greet it." It stepped aside from the path. "Tonight you can be my guest. Tomorrow I will eat you, as custom demands. The game must be played."
The girl tilted her head a bit, looking perplexed, but then nodded slowly. "I accept for tonight, then," she said. "Tomorrow we shall see."
She stepped forward cautiously, uncertain how to regard this stranger. She walked slowly up the path to the figure, who remained in the shadows. Taller than she, holding no weapon, she could still feel its eyes on her, and chills ran across her skin. As she approached, it bowed to her, and gestured for her to move forward. She stepped ahead of it on the path and moved further into the forest, toward the lion/person's home.
She had just moved ahead when she heard it fall into step behind her. The sounds of the other animals stopped silent, and she wondered for the first time what manner of wilderness she had found. The creature spoke, then, its low voice quiet in her ear and it's breath hot on her neck. "And perhaps, if you find you are a lion, we will have to eat each other up. And that is the best game of all."
"But I'm not a lion," she said.
"Tomorrow we shall see," he answered.