The mighty jungle
cat prowled silently through the grasses, stalking its prey. It was hungry, and
had been driven away from its usual hunting grounds, but it knew there was prey
to be found here. He had been here before, and had seen the prey.
BANG! THUMP! CRASH!
stomach knotted for an instant at the first sound of the shrieks. Then, the
stampede of one lone bison galloping down the dusty, wooden stairs untied the
knot, and loosed a sigh filled with exasperation from her previously clenched
A boy of ten, one
inch short of five feet, and one pound short of an even hundred, thundered
across the living room and into the kitchen. He scrambled around behind
Shelly’s akimbo pose, and nimbly avoided her efforts to face him, hugging her
“Eric! What did you
break this time?” she demanded with a weary tone.
“That’s all you’re
worried about when the aliens are trying to abduct your only son?” he replied,
panting. “Monsters want to stick their slimy tentacles up your little boy’s
innocent anus, and you’re only thinking about the lightbulb, and bathroom
mirror, you’ll have to replace?”
Willets! Ten year old boys do NOT talk like that! Especially to their mothers!
Go cause your destruction outside. Out!” she shouted.
The tiger snarled
its fury in silence. It hadn’t expected the bear to drive it out of its den,
and the tiger’s reactions were too slow to match the bear’s sudden wrath. The
tiger was obviously slowed by hunger. It would hunt and eat, then deal with the
“Oh, thank God,”
Shelly sighed. All that was broken were two of the whiskey shot glasses Eric’s
dad sent him on his birthdays. Perhaps storing them on the top shelf of the
tall bookcase wasn’t the best idea, after all. She could think of no better
compromise, though. They were all Eric had from his father, aside from his
bright, sapphire-blue eyes. What in the world made that lunatic think that shot
glasses were an appropriate gift for a little boy? Just another indication of
his mental illness, Shelly guessed.
Only one glass remained,
and it was perched precariously on the edge of the shelf. Shelly moved to push
it back, and stopped. Eric had lied to her! No, not quite… but he had misled
her. She knew that lies from ten year old boys were normal. Straight,
black-and-white lies. But verbal misdirections? Subtle deceptions? She didn’t
Eric had asked if
she was worried about a broken mirror and lightbulb. Implied and theoretical
mirrors and lightbulbs! No, that was just too complicated for Eric. He’s a
bright boy, but there had to be a simpler, less troubling explanation. Shelly
swept up the heavy shards of broken glass (These are thick glass! Would a
simple fall from a shelf really break both of them?) and thought about
Eric… and Jack.
Eric had been
pretending about some kind of alien invasion or abduction attempt, and his
imagination seemed to get more vivid every month. The way he abused the
furniture during his Old West adventures and prehistoric dinosaur escapades had
always prevented Shelly from getting a family pet of any kind. His father,
Jack, had been the same way, Shelly knew now. When they had been dating, she
had been thoroughly charmed by his boyish pleasure whenever they chanced upon
an empty playground. Jack would excitedly jump onto the monkey bars and exhaust
himself pretending to be King Kong. He would roar, and beat his chest, and bat
at imaginary tiny airplanes. When he caught sight of Shelly standing in the
tower of the Big Toy, laughing, he would stop his roaring, and climb up to her.
He would stroke her cheek and look at her as though she were his own Fay Wray.
Shelly only saw the
red flags when they came to a park where the monkey bars were being used by a
group of children. Jack had chased them away while roaring and beating his
chest. Shelly, horrified, had seen tears streaming down the cheeks of every
child as they exited the park. Jack was committed to the institution less than
three months later.
As always, these
memories made her worry for Eric and his sanity. “Damn you, Jack!” she swore as
she felt the wetness in her eyes. She cried for both of her boys.
Shelly mopped the
floor, ensuring that there were no slivers of glass hidden on the floorboards.
Then she made her way downstairs, determined to indulge her son with his
favorite lunch of grilled cheese and maple syrup, followed by a trip to the
The tiger crouched
patiently. It knew that the large rodents…what did the humans call them?
Crappy-berries? No… cappa-berries?... lived in this jumble of fallen and
rotting trees. If he stayed motionless, one might appear. The tiger waited, and
thought back to the bear.
He was mad at the
bear, but he didn’t hate the bear. He didn’t want to harm the bear. The tiger
reminded itself that the law of the jungle was survival, nothing more. Not
revenge, only survival. Soon, the fury faded, the need to survive ruled its
brain, and the bear was utterly forgotten.
A twitch! The tiger
focused its sight and clearly saw a twitching nose in the shadows of the
deadfall. The huge rodent soon inched its entire head into the light of the
day, but the tiger waited. The cappa-berry that slowly emerged was the largest
the tiger had ever seen! It would feed the tiger for the whole day. The rodent
slowly wandered away from its home, stopped, sniffed the air directly in front
of the tiger, looked poised to run… and resumed searching the ground for
insects and beetles.
The tiger waited a
few seconds more, and pounced.
Shelly turned the
knob, opening the back door that led from the kitchen to the fenced-in back
yard. She stepped out onto the wooden boards of the back porch, and shaded her
eyes. The awning kept the porch shaded, but the yard was bright with summer
sunshine. She put her left hand out to the side, bracing herself against the
A-frame ladder leaning against the outside wall of the house.
Lunch!” she called.
There was no
movement in the yard. Shelly scanned the property again, with a sharper focus.
Alarm bells were starting to sound in her head when she saw him. He was on his
hands and knees, face close to the ground, close to the woodpile.
“What are you
looking at, Eric? Lunch is ready. Come in, and tell me about whatever you
found-“ her words broke off when she recognized the pointed, long-whiskered
head poking out from her son’s clutching fingers.
“Eric! Get your face
away from that thing!” she yelled, and felt her left knee buckle in her
surprise. She pushed against the ladder, hoping it would steady her while she
regained her footing. The ladder slid along the house, emitting a clattering screech
and sending a cascade of beige paint flakes to the wood planks below. Shelly
found her balance and let the ladder move away from her. She took one small
The tiger heard the
commotion the bear made as it blundered through the jungle. How could he not
hear it? It sounded as though the bear was uprooting entire trees as it
rampaged through the forest. The tiger turned to look at the bear, snarling his
displeasure at the bear’s careless ruckus.
covered her mouth when Eric turned to look at her. His dirt-smeared face
dripped with blood, and there were patches of dark gray fur sticking to his
chin. He snarled at her, baring his gory teeth, and she took an involuntary
The ladder bounced
off of the wainscoting on the side of the porch, and toppled.
Shelly stared at the
warning in her son’s eyes. It was purely animal.
The ladder struck
her shoulder and head, and she lurched forward in shock. Self-preservation
instincts drove her to her knees as the drop off to the first of the five
wooden steps rushed toward her. The edge of the step bit into her kneecaps, and
she felt the skin split… but Eric’s wild eyes held her, and she tried to lean
back too late. Momentum carried her forward, and she had to thrust out her
hands to protect herself. Her hands planted on the last step, and she pitched
forward face-first to the flagstones at the bottom.
The meeting of
forehead with flagstone reverberated through her skull like a freight train
rolling through a tunnel. She opened her eyes and saw a demon emerge from that
tunnel, bearing down on her. Its eyes glowed with the feverish light of
The tiger watched in
fascination as the bear crashed down the hillside. It landed in a heap at the
bottom of the ravine, and lay unmoving.
The tiger considered
the bear, then looked at the partially-devoured cappa-berry. It regarded the
The tiger approached
the bear, extended his powerful, massive paws, and rolled the bear onto its
back. The bear breathed shallow, labored gasps.
The tiger, king of
the jungle, looked back at its rodent lunch, and decided that it had fresher,
The tiger stretched
its jaws wide, and tore the bear’s throat out.
Brown is a multi-genre author, specializing in
speculative fiction and middle-grade fantasy/adventure. His work has appeared in
Black Petals (Issue #91) and he is currently finishing his children’s adventure
series. He and his Guide Dog prowl the mean streets of the Pacific Northwest.