Hello everyone. CJzilla here slamming out another piece. This time, I'm covering the angst genre, one that I've never crossed over into before. This is my first angst piece. Enjoy.
Synopsis: Shere Khan is old, starving and far away from his home. He reflects on his past and his dealings with the Man Cub. This will be his last night alive. Be warned. Character death.
As I rampage all over this city, alls CJzilla has to roar is this: R&R! Love... hate... review.
AN: In my research, there is no information on where in India that the Jungle Book takes place. I guessed it was in the Sundarbans Valley. Also, "Lungri" is Shere Khan's nickname inside the pages of the original book. It means... The Lame One. Fitting for an old tiger staring death in the face.
CJzilla owns nothing of the Jungle Book, Disney or otherwise. I own no characters, just your reviews.
The Sundarbans Valley, India. A wildlife reserve on one side of the river and a quickly growing human population on the other. This was no quarter for the unobservant, especially at night.
The dead of night chilled to the bone. The darkness itself wasn't cold; it was what stalked beyond the light of the lanterns that made the men shake. Their dark, bare feet kept to the well-trodden boarder paths of their village. The ground was cool; the heat of the day had worn off of the swampy soil. Beyond them, a two foot stretch of grass before the land bled off into the river. The water's edge could not be seen and the dense jungle swamp was also veiled by blackness. The six men huddled together, holding their dogs close and their lanterns in front of them. Gripping their machetes, they had a terrible feeling about tonight. As they passed the river's edge for the second time, praying that they be kept safe from the tiger.
Shere Khan held his eyes on the group of men and dogs as they passed. Lying in the cool mud of the dense mangrove undergrowth, the aged Bengal Tiger observed the village's guards. The wet earth covering his faded orange and black coat inhibited his scent from reaching the curs' noses. He was grateful, despite the cold mire aching his bones. For if the mongrels caught wind of him, his ambush would be ruined.
Shere Khan's ears twitched and flicked behind him. The old male was nervous about only one thing. He had passed into another, younger male's territory. If the other tiger happened upon him, Shere Khan would have no chance to fight. Shere Khan had a reputation in the jungle as ruler. But the state he was in now, he wouldn't be recognized.
His once vibrant coat was faded and coarse. His rippling muscles were only a past memory; prolonged starvation made his body eat itself away. The murderous glimmer in his golden eyes had long since fogged over with near blindness. His fangs were worn to the point where he couldn't puncture the flesh of a melon. The arsenal of claws held retracted within his big paws were dull, but still sharp enough to loosely grip. Shere Khan's hearing was still acute yet all he had heard for the last two years were echoes of his past.
Six years after his first encounter with the Man Cub, Shere Khan had battled with the boy. Mowgli had since then grown into a man; a man wise in the ways of the jungle and of his old enemy. Despite nearly killing his most hated human, Shere Khan never had the opportunity to inflict the killing blow. But both he and Mowgli had scars. On cool nights, like this, Shere Khan could still feel the old wound on his belly ache and his jaw throb from the stone thrust into his face. His front paw had been broken by the Man Cub's spear and he was eternally walking as a cripple.
A full smile split the old tiger's face. Mowgli was marked forever, too. Aside from a vicious scar on the boy's thigh, Mowgli had to contend with the death of one of his children. He and his little mate had three children. But one child wandered too close to the wooden fence boarding her village. The small girl was taken without a sound and killed within walking distance from her father's home. Shere Khan never consumed his human kill. Instead, he stood at the gate of Mowgli's village, the boy's child in his jaws. With the entire village as an audience, the tiger dropped the toddler's corpse to the ground and licked her blood from around his maw. Shere Khan relished the look of horror on Mowgli's face. Then the tiger walked away, leaving bloody paw prints on the dirt and in the jungle.
From that day on, though, everything changed. Within an hour of killing Mowgli's offspring, Shere Khan was the most hated and hunted creature in the jungle. The tiger remembered hiding in the underbrush as Mowgli led an assault on his lair. Shere Khan was smart enough to stay still and hidden, even though the Man Cub was close enough to step on him. Though Mowgli never got the opportunity to avenge his daughter's life, he saw to it that the tiger was driven from the jungle. Soon Akela, Bagheera, Baloo and Hathi were pulling out all stops to see that Shere Khan was expelled.
The old tiger's exile was bittersweet. Shere Khan was forced to leave his territory, his mates, an abundant food source and an enemy that still drew breath. But he left with his head held high and the toddler's blood still in his mouth.
Now, he was in an alien territory, starving and old. Looking into a Man Village, Shere Khan felt no dread. He knew that where there was Man, there was Man's fire and Man's gun. While frightened of fire and weapons in the past, Shere Khan felt a wave on indifference drown him. The tiger felt a draw to the village and what inevitably waited for him there: death.
Suddenly, after an hour of resting, the old Shere Khan pulled himself to his feet and moved toward the river's edge. His body slipped into the water without a sound and treaded the mud silently. Pulling himself up the opposite bank was a challenge because he was weak and the mud was deep. But the old tiger crawled to dry ground. With water and mud staining his fur, Shere Khan combed the village with his eyes. The huts were made of earth and vegetation. When he was younger and stronger, Shere Khan would have no problem breaking a wall and grabbing the nearest human. It was too much for his old bones now. Moving over the worn path, he stalked into the darkness.
Shere Khan closed his old eyes and let his hearing guide him. Lameness and age lead him to prey upon cattle, relegating him to the swampy riverbanks of the Sudarbans. That worked for a while but as the humans grew smarter, Shere Khan felt his own age catch up to him. Unable to navigate the mud, he had to survive on carrion and the kills of other animals. When the typhoons came, though, many humans drowned and their bodies littered the waterways. It was only in the typhoon season that he gorged on the human remains. Three months ago… that's the last time he knew what if felt like to be full and satisfied. But even then, the indignity of eating corpses led Shere Khan to wish he was among the dead. His life was ashy, hollow and loathsome. Shere Khan's memories brought him no more satisfaction. Strife and dishonor seemed to be his only companions as he walked the swamps.
Now he trudged in the village, his hazy mind set toward the one creature to strike fear into his heart. Time, it seemed, was a lurking enemy that had caught up with him. Shere Khan set his heart on causing one last scene before he was killed by Man. That way, they wouldn't spare him and end him with bullets or clubs and time would never claim him as victim.
Then his nose caught scent of something. Shere Khan's ears twitched, now picking up movement. It was a human, its footsteps uneven. Picking up his head, the tiger followed his ears to the movement. When he happened upon the human, he found it to be a little girl, on her way back from the privy. It was dark and she was half-asleep as well as unguarded. Shere Khan salivated, his old teeth craving to wrap around her throat. The human girl walked back toward her home, turning and moving in front of him; her back to the old tiger. Shere Khan released the loudest growl he could muster out of his dry throat. The girl stopped and turned. But by then Shere Khan slammed her to the ground.
She screamed and fire filled his old bones. Digging his claws into her dress, Shere Khan made sure she couldn't escape. The girl was shrieking, her voice mimicking the dying cry of a deer. The tiger snapped his mouth over her throat. Her neck vibrated with her screams, tickling his tongue. Then Shere Khan started to squeeze. The girl's screams died when he closed her windpipe. Humans were so easy to kill; just hold them down and clamp onto their throats and death was within two minuets. Shere Khan closed his eyes and felt her squirm from under him. The girl couldn't kick or hit since his much bigger body was on hers.
This human was older than Mowgli's cub; the child of his enemy was quickly subdued and perished instantly. Of course, back then, his teeth were sharper and he could kill a deer with one bite to the spine. But now, he could only choke this human; strangle her with his dull teeth. He missed the irony taste of blood on his tongue but settled for the girl's fading squirming. She was slipping into unconsciousness.
But just then, Shere Khan heard footfalls on the ground. Perking up his lackluster eyes, the tiger saw the blurry lights of torches. MANY torches; speeding toward him. Then panicked voices flooded the still night air. They were calling for the girl. Shere Khan loosened his chokehold on the girl. He pleaded for one more scream. The terrified child granted his wish. She filled her lungs with air and gave a loud shriek, howling her mother's name.
Instantly, the thundering of footfalls came nearer. Shouts, voices and dogs' barking soon followed. Then the blinding light of the torches beamed down on him. Shere Khan heard a woman scream; likely the girl's mother. The tiger released the girl's throat. He stood on his victim and bared his fangs. There were many hazy silhouettes of men in front of him, all with torches and dogs.
The old tiger growled, daring someone to advance on him. There was a stunned pause from the humans, where they hesitated to save their loved one. This displeased Shere Khan. Bending down, he grabbed the girl's head in his mouth and dragged her back toward the river. He nearly turned his back on the mob when he felt the first blow to his hip, though it wasn't enough to injure him. Shere Khan remembered how Mowgli used to hit. Like a hammer, the tiger would feel the Man Cub's fists for a long time.
By then, the villagers were pelting him with clubs and rocks. Shere Khan still walked on, aiming for the river, the squealing girl still in his jaws. Then he felt a dog's teeth sink into his back leg. The pain was nothing compared to the last two years of his life, where time had rotted his body. Growing old and dim, lacking luster and power; that was no way to live. Shere Khan marched on.
The people clawed at his face, trying to gouge his eyes and rip off his ears; anything to get him to release the girl. It wasn't until a human jammed a rod into his old stomach wound that he stumbled and dropped the girl. Shere Khan hissed in pain. Suddenly, the child was yanked away from him. Then the entire village surrounded him. The shouts, barking dogs and roar of flames was deafening. The old tiger swung his paw, but caught nothing but air. And then something was slammed onto his head. Driven to the ground, Shere Khan could no longer stand. The old male looked up and saw a man raising a large stone above his head. That second lasted for a lifetime. Maybe this man was the girl's father. He'd seen only one other man fight this hard… Mowgli.
Shere Khan took solace in the fact that death wasn't far away. He walked in the footsteps of his father and grandfather before him. They both died at the hands of men; ended with a bullet and clubs. The old tiger had a good life as king of the jungle and it wasn't only until recently that he wanted to perish.
At that moment, Shere Khan could see Mowgli raising the rock above his head, instead of some faceless man of an unnamed village. He'd die with dignity, taking vengeance on the creatures he'd come to hate so. Perhaps Mowgli would find out about his death. Would he shed a tear, disappointed that he didn't send Shere Khan to his grave himself? Or would he just shake his head, regretting that he died like this?
Shere Khan would never know.
And then the man threw down the stone. Shere Khan never felt the impact. The old, starving tiger died there; under the light of fire inside a Man village.
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