By RD Rivero
By RD Rivero
July 1, 2000
“Bengali, why don’t you take a look at the kittens’ play room?”
“Why? Is something wrong with it?” He looked at her across the cluttered
“I don’t know, I just want you to look at it -- or maybe get Cheetara to look at
He put his cup of orange juice down. “Cheetara? What would she know? It
was designed by Panthro and Tygra.”
“It’s just that maybe someone with her sense might --” Pumyra stopped in the
middle of the kitchen. A pot of water boiled over the stove. “The play room is
just, different now, different than it once was.”
Bengali sighed and stood. “Fine, let’s have a look.”
The two Thundercats walked down the main hall of the Tower of Omens. It
was still early in the morning and most of the interior lights were off. A spiral
staircase led down to the floors that housed the sleeping rooms -- the very last
one, the level that was the deepest in the damp, cool ground was the one used
by the kittens. The play room was the largest section by far, forty by forty feet
and was the last part of the station to have been built.
The play room was silent -- it was a jungle glade on a hot afternoon. Overhead
the sky was blue, a yellow sun was streaked by long, thin clouds. Bengali and
Pumyra -- who stood in the middle of the clearing -- began to sweat under the
“Let’s get out of the sun,” he said to her, “this is a little too real but I don’t see
“Wait a moment and you’ll see,” she whispered into his ear.
He sniffed the air and was struck by the particularly strong smell of lion grass,
the cool smell of a water hole. The sounds came next. Antelopes running
through a grassy sod, vultures soaring in the air.
A shadow ran across the land.
“Filthy creatures,” he heard her say.
“See, there are lions over that way, there that way. They’re going to the water
“They’ve just eaten,” Bengali said.
“Yes, but I don’t know what, though -- a zebra, a giraffe. It’s a little late to be
sure, it’s cleaned, bleached bone. The vultures are dropping in for what’s left.”
Pumyra thought she had heard a scream -- it was different from the last time she
had been in the play room -- but he could not tell.
The lions crept close to the water outside the cover to the knee-high grass.
Bengali was filled with admiration for the mechanical geniuses who had
conceived of that room. He wished that when he was a kid back on Thundera
that he had had such a room. To be sure, the place could frighten with its
absolute accuracy -- something that Tygra had said need adjusting -- but most
of the time it was fun to have around.
The lions were less than fifteen feet from them -- so real, so incredibly real that
the two could feel the fur.
“Watch out!” she screamed at Bengali.
A lion with glowing, green eyes came rushing at the Thundercats. Pumyra
bolted instinctively, he ran after her. Outside, he slammed the play room’s door
shut laughing but she was crying. Both were appalled at the other’s reaction.
“Pumyra, my dear, sweet Pumyra,” he said playfully, “they almost got us.” She
was hysterical. “Those were only images, those lions weren’t real.”
“It was too real! Didn’t you see that? Didn’t you feel that?”
“We’ve got to tell WileyKat and WileyKit not to explore more of Africa until
the room can be fixed.”
Bengali relented after a few minutes. She had stopped sobbing and was on her
feet again, on her way out of the room. “OK, I’ll lock the play room for a
while.” He knew how hard that would be to do. He remembered the last time
those two had to be punished and the play room had to be turned off -- the
tantrum! Lately those two only seemed to live only for that place.
She looked around, beyond him to the door of the play room. “The lions can’t
get out of there, can they?”
He looked at the door -- it trembled though something had jumped against it
from the other side. “Of course not,” he answered.
At dinner Bengali and Pumyra ate alone because WileyKat and WileyKit had
yet to arrive from Cat’s Lair.
He had enough time to think about the matter some more and concluded that it
would not hurt if the twins were locked out of it for a while. Too much of a
good thing was not good, he reasoned. The twins had been spending too much
time in there and their Thundercat duties had begun to suffer. It used to be that
they loved to go out into the real countryside and explore it themselves but that
“The sun,” he began to speak to himself in his head while he ate the food that
she had prepared, “I can still feel it on my neck like a hot paw. The lions, the
smell of blood. It was remarkable how the play room could recreate life.”
“Death, what ever the lions ate had to have been killed and remember that the
room creates what ever they think, Bengali. If they thought a sun the sun would
appear. If they thought a lion a the room would create a lion.”
“And if they thought death --”
Silence followed for a while and then Pumyra admitted: “It’s not that they don’t
know what death is. It’s the wail of death at the jaws of a lion, repeated again
and again -- and the blood.” She looked up, he was not at the table any more,
his plate only half-eaten. “Where are you going?”
But he did not answer her.
Down the stairs and into the darkness he made his way back to the play room
and pressed his ear up against the door. Far away in the muted distance a lion
roared. He unlocked the door and opened it and just before he stepped inside
he heard a scream, then another roar, then a lion charging and then another
He stepped into Africa. How many times in the last year since Panthro and
Tygra built the play room had he opened that door and found scenes of
Thundera, the moons of Plundar, even Mumm-Ra’s Pyramid. Never before
that, that jungle, baked over yellow in the hot sun, steaming with death. Pumyra
was right, the kittens needed some time away from the fantasy that was growing
It was all right to exercise one’s mind with fantasies but when the lively children
settled on one pattern -- then the thought occurred to him, faint and murky, that
he was sure that for the past month he had heard lions roaring but had
dismissed the notion as quickly as it came to him.
Bengali stood in the grassland alone -- the lions looked up from their feeding,
watching him. The only flaw to the grand illusion was the sight of the open door
behind him. He could see Pumyra from the open door, half in the darkness of
“Go away,” he said to the lions but nothing happened. He knew the principles
of the room. He knew that if he sent his thoughts clearly then whatever he had
pictured in his mind would appear. “I want to see Thundera,” he snapped but
the scene remained, the lions remained. “I demand it!”
The lions rumbled in their hot pelts.
“Show me Jagga!”
He turned around and faced her in the safety of the darkness outside the play
room. “The room’s out of order. It won’t respond.”
“Or it can’t respond because WileyKat and WileyKit have thought about Africa
and lions and killing so much for so many long that the room is in a rut.”
“Bengali, Pumyra,” a soft voice spoke from behind.
The lights turned on and the two adult Thundercats turned to see WileyKat and
“You two are just in time for dinner.”
“Oh,” the girl spoke, “we’re so full of candy fruit.”
“We were helping Snarf and Snarfer harvest some of the bushes.”
“Anyways, come with us to table if just to sit and watch,” Bengali said.
“Yes, so you can tell us all about the play room.”
The Thunder kittens blinked at her and at each other. The color had drained
from their faces. “The play room?” WileyKat said with a slight, almost
“About Africa and lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”
The children, of course, pretended that there was nothing wrong, indeed, that
what the adults had seen was news to them. WileyKat said he did not
understand, he said simply that there was no Africa in the play room and his
sister backed him up: “Cheetara hasn’t yet taught us that chapter.”
It was an exasperating conversation until the twins offered to check for
themselves. WileyKit bolted to the door, the adults tried to hold her back but it
was too late. Bengali realized that he had not locked the door. Her brother
assured them that she would only tell them what was in the play room and
nothing more but the others were not listening to him.
WileyKit came out of the room: “It’s not Africa,” she said.
“We’ll see about that,” Pumyra answered with a slight growl.
Bengali pushed the door open all the way. Before him was a green forest, an
arched river straddled by a stone bridge, a gray mountain loomed over the
horizon. The air was filled with the songs of unseen birds. The African scenery
was gone along with the lions.
He looked on with disbelief: “Go to your rooms,” he said.
“To bed,” Pumyra scolded.
The children opened their mouths but Bengali cut them off and fearing that he
was about to yell at them they turned their heads down and sulked into their
silent sleeping room.
Bengali walked through the glade and picked up something that lay in the corner
by a stone where before a lion had stood. He held it in his hand and walked
slowly to Pumyra. She asked what it was and he looked at her: “An old wallet
of mine, from Thundera, I thought I had lost it.” He showed it to her: the smell
of hot grass was on it, the smell of a lion, too, complete with drops of saliva. It
had been chewed thoroughly and blood was smeared on both sides.
He closed the play room door and locked it tightly.
In the middle of the night he was still awake and he knew that she was still
awake, too. He got up from bed and into the dark hall. He did not have to
knock on her door, he was right about her -- at the same moment that he had
left his room she had opened her door. The two stood face to face, half in, half
out of the shadows.
“Do you think WileyKit changed it?” one of them asked.
“Turned it from a veldt to a forest.”
“Switched the birds for lions.”
“Yes, I do but I don’t know why. Until we do that room stays barricaded,”
“Those kittens have been given everything they’ve ever wanted and more and
this is our reward? Secrecy and disobedience?”
“They’ve been acting funny since we forbade them from showering together.”
“They’re too old to that, soon they’re going to need separate bedrooms.”
“Very soon,” he looked to the ceiling. “They’ve been cold to us lately, haven’t
they? I’ll get Cheetara to look at the play room tomorrow. It’s a tranquil forest
now but I have a feeling it’ll be Africa again.”
Just as they turned around to go back to bed, just as soon as they thought it
was over, they heard screams. Two screams, two people screaming from
downstairs followed by the roars of lions. Pumyra sprinted down to the room
next to hers and announced that the kittens were not in bed. “They’ve broken
into the play room,” she yelled into the murky, night air.
Bengali felt that the screams sounded familiar, awfully familiar.
“Bengali,” said WileyKat.
WileyKat looked at his feet -- he never looked at him anymore or at Pumyra
either. “You’re not going to lock up the play room for good, are you?”
“On you and your sister. If perhaps you had more variety than just Africa.
Thundera or the Treetop Kingdom.”
“But we were free to play what we wanted.”
“You are, within reasonable limits.”
“But what’s wrong with Africa.”
“So, now you admit that you have been conjuring up Africa, aren’t you?”
“I wouldn’t want the play room locked up,” he said coldly, “ever.”
Bengali sensed something in the teenager’s tone that was -- “I won’t have any
threats from you!” he growled.
The youth nodded and turned away without a word, headed off to the play
room where his sister was waiting.
“I hope I’m not too early,” Cheetara said.
“Breakfast?” Bengali asked.
“Oh, I already had some. So what’s the trouble?”
“You know something of psychology --” Cheetara admitted so. “Why don’t
you take a look at the play room. You saw it once when Tygra put the last
touches on it. Did you notice anything, odd, about it back then?”
Bengali had locked the play room. He told her how he had done it once
before, that the kittens broke in sometime in the middle of the night. He had let
them stay there so that it could form the images for Cheetara could see.
A terrible screaming came from the door.
“See what you make of it,” he said. He opened the door walking in on the
twins without knocking.
The screams faded, the lions fed.
“Run outside a moment you two,” Cheetara said, “don’t change the metal
images, leave them the way they are.”
With the children gone the two Thundercats stood studying the pride of lions
clustered at the distance. The animals ate with great fever whatever it was that
had been the prey.
“I wish I knew what it is that the lions catch -- we never get to see it until it’s
“How long has this been going on?”
“Pumyra thinks a month or more.”
“This doesn’t feel -- good. This is bad, very bad. No, this room shouldn’t
have been built. I warned Tygra but he would not listen, he doesn’t understand
much about the nature of addictions -- that’s given him problems in the past.
And to give a room like this to children. The room has become a channel bent
toward the fulfillment of destructive thoughts instead of a healthy release from
them. Has something happened in the meanwhile to have made the twins
“I wouldn’t let them shower together. I’ve discussed them having separate
“Does that mean anything?”
“Everything. Before they had a friend and now they have an enemy. Teenagers
prefer to have it their way all the time, especially spoiled teenagers. We’re all
guilty, I suppose, we’ve all let this room replace their parents. This room is
their mother, their father, it does what they want, it never tells them that they
can’t do this, can’t do that. It doesn’t set their bedtime, warn them to brush
their teeth, wash their face.”
“And now we’ve come along and want to shut it off. No wonder there’s so
much hatred here.”
“Yes, Bengali, I can feel it coming out of the sky. Feel that sun. This room
must be turned off, quickly and I guarantee that in a year those two will be back
to their normal selves.”
“Won’t the shock be too much if we shut the play room off too abruptly?”
The lions stood on the edge of the clearing watching the Thundercats.
Cheetara wanted to leave -- she could not stand what was coming out of the
room any more. She said that the lions looked real.
“I don’t suppose that there’s a way --”
He looked down, somewhat embarrassed: “I’m not too good with technical
stuff. I don’t suppose that there’s a way the lions could become real?”
“Not any way that I know.”
“A flaw in the machinery, a tampering, something?”
She laughed a little, tapped him on the shoulder. The two went to the open
“I don’t image the play room’ll like being turned off,” Bengali said.
“Nothing ever likes to die, not even a room. Hey, what’s this?” She bent and
picked up a bloody collar from the grass.
He looked at it, then at her: “It’s Pumyra’s.”
At the fuse box in the control room Bengali pulled the switches that killed the
play room. The twins were hysterical, they screamed and pranced and threw
things. They yelled and sobbed and swore and jumped at the furniture.
“You can’t do that, just can’t!”
The two flung themselves onto a couch and began to tear the fabric with their
“No, Bengali, turn it on for just a few moments, you can’t be so abrupt.”
“You can’t be so cruel!” one of the kittens screamed.
“It’s off and it stays off.”
“I hate you!” WileyKat said to Bengali, right into his eyes.
“Insults will get you no where.”
“I wish you were dead!”
WileyKat began to cry and his words were unintelligible. WileyKit looked up
at the two adults and wailed: “Just for a moment, just for one moment.”
Pumyra looked at him: “It couldn’t hurt.”
He relented if only so that those two would shut up. He let them stay for one
minute, one minute only and that then it would be off forever. He was
determined that the dreadful play room would no longer be part of the Tower of
Omens. He was going to call Panthro and Tygra and have the thing removed --
The children smiled with wet faces then went off babbling to themselves.
In the kitchen Pumyra was once again busy preparing dinner. That time,
however, Bengali was helping her. He was actually very good around the stove
and she liked having his company. In about a half hour, they guessed, the food
would be ready to serve.
“I think we’d better get downstairs before they get too attached to those
“Pumyra! Bengali!” The twins called from bellow. “Come quick -- quick!”
Without thinking they ran down the hall, down the stairs into the darkened
basement where the play room was built. The kittens were no where in sight.
“WileyKat? WileyKit?” The adults asked but there was no answer.
The door to the play room was slightly ajar and bright, yellow light poured from
the crack. The two entered -- the African grasslands were empty except for
the lions waiting, looking at them. “WileyKat? WileyKit?” Once again there
was no answer.
The door slammed shut behind them.
“Open the door!” Bengali growled. The knob would not turn for him. “We’ve
been locked in!”
“You two better open now! Right now!” Pumyra scolded.
She heard WileyKat’s voice from outside, against the door. “Don’t let them
switch off the play room,” he said.
The adults continued to pound at the door. “Don’t be ridiculous, open this
door now,” Bengali shouted.
The two heard the sounds -- the lions were coming toward them from three
sides, the door to their backs, running toward them in the yellow grass of the
clearing, padding through the dry straw. Roaring.
Bengali looked at her and she looked at him then to the beasts that edged
forward at them. The two Thundercats screamed suddenly realizing why the
screaming they had heard so often before had sounded so familiar.
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