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THE LEOPARD

    Once a leopard declared it had changed its spots.
    More amazing yet, the leopard added, its spots had all but disappeared. “I’ve redefined what it means to be a leopard,” the leopard maintained. “I’m no longer driven by merciless instinct. You see before you a kinder, gentler leopard, take my word for it. Think of me now as a compassionate carnivore.”
    The leopard pressed this assurance on every creature it encountered, judging the effect it had by whether the listener bolted for dear life or looked willing to consider at least the possibility of having come face-to-face with a “compassionate carnivore.” In the latter instance, the leopard would congratulate the listener for being open-minded and go on to suggest that its life-changing makeover wasn’t so out of the ordinary these days, really.
    “Isn’t this the greatest place on earth?” it would enthuse. “Where else can you say you’ve turned over a new leaf any day of the week and nobody thinks twice about it? I’m living proof that this isn’t just a place where leopards prowl by night but also where you can trust a lamb to the same leopards by day. Here anything is possible, if you just tell yourself it is!”
    To those who didn’t look particularly reassured by the leopard’s ardor, it would redouble its charm with a neighborly wink and leaning forward confide, “Seein’s believin’, know what I mean? I tellya, this here tongue of mine made short work of all them spots once I set my mind to it. With that same can-do gumption, y’all can be just like me. Ain’t this the most amazin’ place on the face of the earth? Ain’t it?”
    This homey approach typically did the trick, fostering a vague readiness to believe that, well, maybe a leopard really could change its spots. And maybe innocent lambs really could be entrusted to it without fear of the outcome. And if that was true, why not the old and the infirm as well? 
    With time, the memory of the leopard’s spots faded away as utterly as the spots themselves were claimed to have. News photos showed no trace of them, and network reports of the leopard’s latest whereabouts seldom mentioned that they’d ever existed. It really did seem as if everything it claimed about itself was true. 
    Encouraged by this broad acceptance, the leopard devoted its energies to the constant grooming necessary to maintain its new appearance. Ever so patiently, it worked its tongue over any trace of a telltale spot, repeating and repeating the same motions for as long as it took. There was only one place the leopard couldn’t quite reach in these tireless efforts.
    Between its claws.