“This is boring,” whined the tiger-wolf cub as he walked with his mother and auntie into the exhibits of the museum.
“Shush,” the tigress admonished the disinterested cub in a sharp whisper. The marble floors and columns reflected the spotlights and echoed his lament. The halls were quieter than usual as the sun began to set, the crowd emptying out before the museum closed.
The jaguaress, his auntie, stared at the dinosaur specimens in a knowing way, as if they were old friends. Really old friends, the cub reflected, remembering that most dinosaurs were extinct.
The jaguaress knelt next to the wiggling cub and murmured, “I used to come here often when I was your age.”
“That must’ve been way before the iPhone,” he glumly retorted.
“Well, unlike an app, these dinosaurs were real,” she went on, hoping to catch the cub’s curiosity.
“Meh,” the cub shrugged. “Come on auntie, we’ve been here so many times! Why can’t we just go to Disneyland like all the other cubs in my school?”
“Because these dinosaurs have a secret no Disney character has,” the jaguaress grunted.
“And Disneyland’s prices are outrageous,” the tigress muttered to the jaguaress.
“What secret is that? They’re dead, and dusty, and old!” the cub sat on a bench near a looming Tyrannosaurus rex skull.
“In each of these dinosaurs is a special code, one only a few can understand,” the jaguaress whispered to the cub. Despite himself, his eyes began to go wide.
“You can scan these with your phone?!”
“…no,” the jaguaress grinned. “It’s more of…a secret you learn in a special society…”
“Oh,” the cub thought. “A nerd club. The nerds at my school get bullied, auntie. I don’t want that!”
“I was a part of that society once,” the jaguaress went on, determined to keep his flagging interest.
“What’d you do? Get kicked out?” the cub wondered, half teasing, half serious.
“When you came along, I attended less and less,” she explained. “But I still know the secrets, still know the codes, still understand the beasts before you.”
“How did you get in this society in the first place? Weren’t you a cub? I thought only grown ups could be in a society. And why is it a secret, anyway? This stuff’s dead—that’s not a secret to me!”
The jaguaress smiled. “I thought you weren’t interested. You said yourself this place is boring, with just a bunch of dead animals.”
“Hey, I didn’t say dead stuff wasn’t cool,” the cub replied, defensive. “It’s just seeing the same old dead stuff over and over again. That’s not cool.”
“What if I told you this secret lets me see these dinosaurs differently every time I come here?”
“What? That’s not possible. What’s here is here, and what’s dead is dead.”
“True,” the jaguaress admitted. “But every time I visit, I learn something new in my society, another piece to the puzzle. You like to solve puzzles, right?”
“Duh,” the tiger-wolf cub rolled his eyes, remembering how he beat the crossword in a few minutes on his tablet that morning.
“Each of these dinosaurs has its own set of codes, and each is a piece of a much bigger puzzle. That bigger puzzle includes you—“ she pointed a paw at him gently, “—and me.”
“Auntie, we’re not dinosaurs,” the cub shook his head. He waved his paws around the room. “Those are!”
“If you want to know more, all you need to do is look at them,” the jaguaress tilted her head behind her toward the dinosaurs on display.
“All I see are dusty bones,” the cub huffed, setting his chin on his paws, hugging the railing.
The jaguaress laughed gently. “One day you will learn more about your own bones, and then when you see these bones for the millionth time, maybe something will click.”
“What happens then?”
The jaguaress whispered, “A door will open, and a path will be ready for you…if you wish to take it.”
The tiger-wolf cub tossed and turned in his dreams that night.
He was older, and anxiously stood before a group of black robed elder furs whose faces and species he couldn’t recognize. He was in a small, dimly lit room, much like the halls of the museum. He held a manuscript in his paws, and was shaking. He was awaiting their verdict.
A door in the wall on the right side of the room opened. His auntie, white haired and wizened, beckoned to him, whispering, “Come on!”
Before the tiger-wolf could join her, the dream dissipated. He sat up in the darkness, panting and whimpering.
His aunt peeked her head into the room, softly grunting, “Are you all right, little one?”
“It’s just a bad dream, is all…” the cub tried to reassure himself. His auntie sat next to him, squeezed his knee.
“What was it about?”
“It’s…it’s like the stuff you were saying earlier…about a door…I was gonna go through it, and then I woke up…”
“What was so bad about it?”
“I was really scared…there were all these grown ups judging me…and I was a grown up too…I had this paper…like homework…and they were gonna decide whether I was passing or failing…”
“Ah, you had a premonition.”
“What is that?”
“It’s…it’s when you know something will happen before it really does.”
“Like when I know I aced an exam?”
“Sort of!” the jaguaress nodded. “But you’ve dreamed something that might happen to you in the future.”
“…will it?” the cub wondered, leaning into his auntie for a hug. “Will I go through this door?”
“Once you do, there is no turning back.”
The cub shook himself, and the jaguaress hugged him again.
“It’s just a dream, sweetheart,” she murmured. “Try and get some sleep, huh?”
The cub watched his auntie leave. Then, he called out, “Wait!”
“Will I be a part of that society you talked about? Is that who was judging me?”
The jaguaress smiled. “Time will tell.” The tiger-wolf’s cubs went wide, and the jaguaress murmured, “You will be judged fairly, and if you pass, you can go through the door, like I did.”
“What’s on the other side?”
The jaguaress paused. She sat next to the cub again, tucking him into bed, soothingly petting his hair.
“Nature’s secrets and wonders…however you choose to see them.”
“Think of a beautiful landscape…something soothing…something that makes your heart leap when you see it…and think of something you’re doing in school that makes you happy. Now, envision yourself doing that happy thing for the rest of your life, in that beautiful place. Whenever you’re sad, or scared, I want you to return to that place, especially before you go to sleep.”
The cub grew sleepy listening to the jaguaress’ soft voice. He yawned. “Is that what’s behind the door?”
“I guess…that’s not so scary…after all…”