June 17, 2016
Tanjo was tired but knew that they had to get home. The evening sun was low and the bright yellow light lit up the western side of the tree canopies. All around him small creatures were busy as beavers wrapping up the days work collecting food or materials to strengthen their nests. The trail was dry and each step announced their arrival to the next jungle neighborhood. Jali (yahlee) was intemperate and longed for a rest. Her feet were sore from the long journey from the valley and she simply wanted to sit and rub them. Their mountain home seemed light years away. 'Can't we just find a nice patch of snake grass and make a bed for the night? We could lay back and watch the stars until sweet sleep kidnapped our eyes'. Tanjo's senses were sharpening with every passing moment. While he loved his jungle home he knew well the dangers that lurked behind every fallen log, every turn of the trail. Be it large predators or tiny arachnids, one must stay alert to every danger.
"We must hurry." he stated flatly. "We'll be out of light soon." His hand instinctively moved to the pouch on his side checking for the flint and knife. His naïve hope that it wouldn't be needed was fading as fast as the dying sun. "We may need to make some torches soon." he said matter-of-factly.
"Can't we just make a fire and relax for awhile?" Jali asked. "I need to rest Tanjo." Her hand touched his arm lightly.
Tanjo stopped and turned. He placed his hand on her shoulders gently. "I know you're tired, Jali. But we need to make it home. These woods are not kind to the weary traveler. We have little food and water and my staff and knife are no match for Dawon." he imparted sternly. "We must move faster. I know you can do it. You won every foot race I've seen you run." he smiled.
She was on to his game of flattery but could not help but smile back. "Okay." she said softly and straightened her back.
They slithered down the jungle trail at a good pace. The sun was sinking like a stone in the river behind the canopy, the light glittering through the leaves and dancing in their eyes. The first stars were already blinking awake in the Eastern sky. Tanjo increased the pace slightly hoping she would keep up without objection. A rise up ahead had a large rock to one side. The trail curved round with a few trees protecting them from the steep slope to the left. The flickering sunlight behind the trees was quickly diminishing and the sky above turned a dark amber. Just as they approached the rock a noise startled Tanjo and he abruptly stopped, his hand moved down with palm open behind him to halt Jali's approach. They both stood quietly for the eternity that a few seconds can be when fear springs from one's gut to the heart. Branches moved. A subtle sound revealed itself to be the breath of dread. A shadow above the rock took shape. Jali moved closer and clutched Tanjo's waist as the shadow became the tiger. Dawon!
"Don't move!" Tanjo's breath relayed. He moved ever so slightly between Jali and the tiger. His eyes locked on the tiger's face as it turned and acknowledged them. The tense moment seemed to last forever...
Just as panic began to demand flight, the strangest thing happened. Dawon spoke.
"Who is this traversing my land at dusk?" he growled lightly. "Do you think you can just pass through without consequence?"
Tanjo stiffened. Then quietly he replied, "I am Tanjo. This is Jali. We are just passing through to our home. We mean you no harm. Won't you let us pass?"
"You mean ME no harm?" Dawon smiled. "I hardly think that is the issue here. Why should I let you pass?"
"We have dried meat and water." Jali blurted out. Tanjo grabbed her arm and stared her down. She persisted nonetheless. "We will give you what we have if you will let us pass safely."
Dawon lazily leaped onto the trail directly in front of them. "Present your gift fair maiden and I will decide your fate." he bellowed. Her hand trembled as she removed the bag slung over her shoulder. "We are sorry to intrude on your evening." she said weakly. She reached into the bag and removed the small amount of dried meat and the gourd of water. She bowed slightly as she laid it on the trail in front of the beast. "This is all we have. Take it please. Just let us go on our way."
The tiger reached out a paw and with one claw spread the dried meat across the ground surveying the lot. He looked up at the tense face of Tanjo. "And you little warrior. Do YOU give this gift to me?" Dawon asked slyly.
Tanjo's jaw tightened. Jali gripped his hand tightly. His hand compressed around the staff momentarily then loosened ever so slight. "Yes, great creature. What we have is yours IF you let us by." he said as his chin raised with false pride.
"Hmmm. I could kill you both and take what I want." Dawon stated. "But...I admire your respect Jali. I will let you pass. But do not let me find you here again at this hour." The tiger lumbered to the side and sat down leaving the path ahead open. Tanjo and Jali moved quickly ahead around the rock. They began to run and ran until their lungs hurt. Jali stopped suddenly and bent over her hands on her knees. "Wait." she gasped. Tanjo came back and put his arm around her shoulder. "Are you alright?" he asked with care. "Yes. I just need to catch my breath." she answered. They rested briefly then continued up the mountain trail.
Darkness was now overtaking the fading light. Luckily a bright moon was lighting the way. They were just below the crest of a hill when they noticed a figure on the trail. Slowly as they moved closer they recognized the tiger. Despair gripped them as they moved cautiously closer. They stopped about 20 feet before Dawon.
"You are still in my wood?" he asked wryly.
"We gave you what we had for safe passage!" Tanjo objected. His eyes were wide and fiercely staring down the tiger. "Why do you stop us again?"
"That was then. This is now. What else do you have to give?" Dawon asked.
"We have nothing else. Please let us pass." Jali begged desperately. "Why do you persist?"
"Oh I think that you DO have more to give." Dawon said as he began to circle around the pair. They turned as he circled and huddled together in fear. Suddenly the tiger leaped and his jaw opened wide exposing the large white teeth. With a quick snap he clamped down on Tanjo's arm. Tanjo screamed in pain and pulled away as the tiger's head jerked to the side. The snap of the arm bone was almost inaudible. The meat tore easily thereafter. In a second Tanjo was looking down at the stump that was his arm. His eyes wide with fear and shock. He barely noticed Jali's piercing scream. The blood spurted from what was left of his upper arm and he collapsed to the ground. Jali knelt beside him screaming in disbelief, hugging him in fear and trying to grasp the moment. Finally she pulled off her shirt and began to wrap the bleeding appendage as Tanjo leaned back in shock and began to pass out briefly. The tiger calmly gnawed on the arm at the side of the trail.
"Please just let us go." Jali whimpered. "Please."
"Go and don't come back." Dawon whispered over his meal.
Jali tore a strip from the shirt and tied it around Tanjo's arm tightly. She did the best she could to wrap the end. She called to him and patted his face until he gained some sense of consciousness.
"We have to go." she said. "You have to get up NOW Tanjo." she yelled. She pulled him up and led him up the trail. He stumbled along in a daze unable to fathom what had happened.
The next few minutes seemed like hours. They slowly moved up the trail. Night was fully upon them now. They stopped and sat on a ledge next to the trail. Jali ripped a piece of Tanjo's shirt and wrapped it around a green limb. She shook uncontrollably as she gathered dried moss and twigs in a pile. She used the flint and knife to start a small fire. Tanjo was moaning in pain and still in shock. Finally, she got a small fire lit and used it to light the rudimentary torch.
"Come on, Tanjo. We must go quickly." she urged. She helped him up and the two moved up the trail with the torch dimly lighting the way ahead. The minutes passed like hours as they made their way. She recognized the large twin oaks ahead and knew they were getting closer to home. She urged Tanjo on as he stumbled and almost collapsed. "Come on, Tanjo!"
Jali thrust the torch in front of them and squinted to see the dimly lit trail ahead. Just as they were coming to the edge of the clearing where the twin oaks stood the torchlight shone on the shadows beyond. Suddenly she noticed the two red lights directly ahead. No. NO! Her mind was racing.
Eyes. Those are eyes.
Her fear was now overcome by her exhaustion and desperation. Her legs could no longer hold the two of them and they collapsed on the trail. She began to cry uncontrollably. The torch lay upon the ground and grew dimmer but not so much as to diminish the two red lights moving closer and closer.
She buried her head into Tanjo's neck. The tiger moved upon them slowly and sat down a few feet away.
"Well, hello. Who is this still trespassing on my land?" Dawon growled lowly.
"Please...please you have taken our food, our water. You have taken my lovers arm. What more do you want?" Jali whimpered.
"I want what I can have." Dawon said matter-of-factly. "Do you want to live?"
"Of course I do." she cried.
"Then give him to me and I will let you go." said the tiger.
"I can't. He is the world to me." she whispered.
"If you don't give him to me you have no world."
"Give him to me now!" Dawon growled loudly. "Give him to me and you may pass." Dawon reached out a paw and lightly scratched her arm slowly. "He dies or you die my dear. You must choose now. Go. Go down the path now or die with him."
Jali's mind raced. Fear had overtaken every emotion and she convulsed with the thought of being eaten alive. Her shock now prevented her from even crying. She gasped for air. Her eyes glazed as she stared into the tiger's eyes. It was involuntary movement that raised her up slowly. She backed around and moved pass the tiger slowly. She couldn't even look at Tanjo anymore, her eyes fixed upon the tiger's stare. Finally, an instantaneous reaction vaulted her up the trail. She screamed as she ran. She ran so fast and so hard. She had no idea how long she ran. Her lungs were burning when she finally fell upon a log that lay next to the trail. She sobbed incessantly for many minutes. Finally, she began to gather herself somewhat instinctively. She wiped her face and her breathing slowed. Acceptance. He is gone. But she lives. She must press on. She must make it to her home. Her tired body moved from muscle memory more than purpose. She lumbered up the trail towards the crest dimly lit by the moon. She is almost there. Almost there.
Jali moved stoically step by step. She could see the lights of her village ahead now. Her mind was numb with pain, guilt and grief. Each step a condemnation of her unworthy life. How could she live now? How could she face Tanjo's family? What else could she do? She moved onward. Onward.
The village was just beyond the clearing ahead. She trudged forward. Suddenly from the bushes to the side a noise, then the tiger leaped in front of her and landed on the trail on all fours with a deepened stance. The white teeth showed through the smile.
"Where do you think you are going my dear?" Dawon asked condescendingly.
"I just want to go home." she stated unemotionally. "Please just let me go home."
"Why? Why should I let you go home?"
"You've taken all I have. I just want to live. Please." she begged.
"But I just want to live as well, my sweet. But for me to live you must die."
"Why? Why must I die for you to live?" she asked.
"Because I am a tiger Jali. I am a tiger and you are a human. For me to live you must die. For you to live I must die. As you are not going to kill me, I will kill you. This is the law of the jungle. This is the only law. Did they not teach you that?" Dawon asked incredulously.
"But can't we both live together?" she asked sincerely.
"No. We can't. I am a tiger." he said as he lept towards her throat...
by: Keith D. Rodebush
Posted by Keith D. Rodebush at 01:55