A work of fiction, based on actual events.
by William Blake
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
“No Tiger is born a man-eater. ” – James Corbett
Slayer of the ManEating Tiger of Chowgrath
Mahinder Urdaes Balikabakara swung the wheel cranking it sharply, barely maneuvering around Deadman’s corner. The thin road practically spun wildly away, as the edge of the jungle’s tallest cliff crept much to close to the bus’s course for his liking. With it, it stripped away any semblance of comfort ever known. Sweating profusely Mahinder wiped the stinging sweat from his eyes and brow, as the passengers audibly gasped. He breathed short-lived relief, as his heart skipped, adrenaline pounding his temple, with the strength of a sledgehammer. His heart’s beat, in time with an unseen drum; whose rhythm smacked of a past long forgotten. A rattle matching the rising beat of his own heart; in some cult ritual just prior to the sacrificial offering.
The bus rolled through the brush of the Indian Jungle road, jolting as it hit potholes, moving steadily onward. The lush overgrowth of the forest allowing limited clearance as the vegetation slowly but inevitably reclaimed the roadway. The leaves of the forest slapped against the windows as the rain beat down mercilessly against the windshield. He could scarcely see.
Mahinder had been driving the tourist bus on this route for several years, despite all the experience, it never failed to feel in a sense alien. Perhaps not alien, but alive itself, ever changing, and at that unpredictable. The rain was not surprising; but it made the present course slow going. It was the only route between Havish and Reuoulle.
The heads of the tourists bobbed in the review mirror. Mahinder had seen many things on this road, the occasional herd of elephants that would block the route of the not often traveled road. There had always been a plethora of wildlife in the rainforest. Seeing the tourist, some of which he thought naive, and occasionally was proved right, as they complained or made an ignorant comment under their breath reminded him of his goal of vacation himself. He had saved up enough to afford a week or so, he longed to travel to Mexico. He would very much like to experience Dia Los Muertos. Another sharp turn brought his attention back to the road as the bus careened much to fast on a steep downgrade corner, around a blind curve.
It wasn’t the inclement weather of the route, the tattered barely recognizable road, nor the wildlife that would halt travel there through, it was the little boy repeatedly kicking at his seat which bothered him most; as he strained to find the road in the torrential downpour. The parents weren’t doing anything to discipline the behavior. Instead they were absorbed in planning out the sights they would see and the tourist spots they would hit. They had been rude to him earlier as he loaded their bags, with care, complaining that they should be able to bring them inside the bus, instead of him strapping them to the roof. There was precious little space in the already crowded bus for that he tried to calmly explain. They replied in action instead of words.
They stiffed him on a tip.
Try as he might Mahinder could not ignore the constant annoyance. The child quite knowingly and deliberately continued this incessant action with increasing vigor; in his attempt to get his parents attention. Much to Mahinder’s dismay they continued to ignore the behavior. Mahinder spun the wheel punching the accelerator in an effort to avoid getting the bus lodged in a deep pool of standing water, the bus bucked from the force. There was a short straight stretch. Mahinder relaxed slightly, the child had finally ceased to kick his seat.
Then the kicking began again. Mahinder turned his head to look at the kid, who was intent on annoying him.
“Please, for the love of Kali, Stop it kid I’m trying to-
Mahinder was interrupted by a sharp blow to the front tire as the steering column jolted, he broke hard swerving to avoid colliding with the tree line. As adrenaline was released into his bloodstream, he overcorrected in his panic; Mahinder swerved again as the bus rolled to a stop.
“Hey, watch it pal.” said the father of the child. Shaking his head, with a can you believe this guy kind of air.
Mahinder became dismayed at the bump bump sound of a flat tire as the bus came to its final resting place. Mahinder shook off his nerves; they were in the middle of the jungle road infrequently traveled, no one would notice their absence for at least two hours, then they would have to wait another two hours for help to arrive. He reached for the PA microphone.
“I apologize for the inconvenience, we seem to have struck a rut. I’d like everyone to remain seated and calm, we may be here for a moment. I am going to assess the bus before we continue onward.”
”You do that,” said the father with all the hostility and hint of really saying without speaking “chop, chop; asshole.”
Mahinder shrugged off the rude behavior; Americans he thought. He knew the tire was most likely in shreads, there was a spare, with any luck the damage to the driving train would be superficial; however there was no point in alarming the passengers. Mahinder looked out the window and back at the passengers who were exchanging puzzled looks laced* with concern. Some were in frantic conversation; others just appeared indifferent and bored; waiting for the problem to resolve itself.
He wondered where was Chowgrath from here?
Mahinder grabbed for the tire wrench, he stood at the threshold of the bus door peering into the dark jungle. Under the canopy of the colossal vegetation the darkness seemed to creep among the trees, echoing a menace not known to man since he had fled this habitat, which at this particular moment seemed malevolent and primordial to Mahinder.
The trees seemed to breath in anticipation of something, something that sent chills up Mahinder’s spine, running his blood cold. It brought to thoughts of the Thuggees to mind. A ruthless circle of bandits; murderers who would smartly lure travelers into a false sense of security by asking to camp with those misfortunate enough to cross their path. They would cook a fine meal laced with drugs, as the victims fell asleep from the narcotic effect, the Thuggee would strangle their victims in their sleep or worse.
Mahinder sensed something was amiss, he couldn’t trace it but he could feel its existence in his bones. He shuddered impulsively feeling as though the jungle itself were observing him. Some claim, they would leave one victim alive bound to a tree; for the jungle to feast on in the night.
Mahinder inhaled slowly trying to calm his nerves, his hand on the door lever. He was perspiring, though he didn’t know why. With an ominous creak, which seemed deafeningly loud, the doors swung open allowing him to meet whatever fate lay before his path head on.
As he stepped off the bus he knew so well into the overgrowth he felt as though some malicious force were studying his hesitant movements, some unseen eye sizing him up. As if on cue he heard a rustle, or had he imagined it? Was an invisible dark spirit moving throughout the forest? He shrugged it off discounting it to lack of sleep.
The rain had subsided leaving the landscape shrouded in a fogged abyss. Mahinder felt an innate panic sweep through him, in this foreign land he felt dread seeping into his blood stream. Try as he might he could not place its source nor could he placate his nerves, or mind for that matter from reeling. He felt some sort of urgency that he needed to do this task and do it quickly.
He walked swiftly to the tire, as the front of the bus seemed to stretch away from him, the safety of the doorway lost to him.
What may have been a mere forty-five feet yawned its unfed maw, stretching into eternity.
He was struggling in each breath he took from the formidably humid and stagnant air. Stepping off kilter, as his foot sank into a deceptively deep puddle, the sound the splash made was inevitably far worse than his now soaked shoe. As if in answer to his misfortune, he heard it again, or rather he heard the deafening silence.
The silence that follows the great predators throughout the jungle; whether it is out of respect or fear neither an insect nor bird could be heard.
He shook his head, no, no it can’t be.
Mahinder tried as he might to convince himself. It must have been this quiet from the start. He made quick work of the jack. It had seemed to take forever to jack the bus up to the proper height and after he was perspiring a great deal, overexerted he had not rest.
Hurriedly, he began unscrewing the spare from the undercarriage. One bolt, Two, then he had it, it fell to the ground unceremoniously with earsplitting plunk. It gave him a jolt, he stood up again imagining the noise once more. He surveyed the forest line. Out of his periphery:
He swung his head around, horror, dread, and apprehension chased each other across his expression. Nothing there, save red reeds waving in the wind; beyond shadow, mist, and mystery; perhaps even terror.
Mahinder was quick to discard the notion that he was being watched, though it was difficult to shake; he discounted it to his imagination. He hastily rolled the tire to its destination.
He began to unscrew the bolts one by one which much difficulty. They must have been secured by pneumatics. After a great deal of work and fatigue he pulled the tire free and began to attach the other. Finally his work nearly complete, he took a moment to relax, wiping the sweat from his brow. One more bolt to go.
He took a deep breath in his exhaustion. It was then that he smelled it. A malodorous scent reached his nostrils, the foul stench of rotting decay. The smell of rotting meat. Followed by the sound.
He could hear it… heard it panting.
Something brushed his shoulder. He spun wildly, but there was nothing to be seen. Damn the tire, he’d rather wait for help than stay out in this forest of death a second longer. Mahinder fought panic as he began to walk very slowly back toward the front of the bus. The keys jangling in his pocket. As he walked he could not hear its dead silence, he could, however smell the stench. Creeping unseen, but close, too close.
He shuddered, whatever it was it was playing with him, following him. No! Stalking him. He continued onward, his back to the bus, peering into the haze trying to discern dark shapes all seeming to move in the mist. He could stand it no longer, Mahinder bolted for the bus door. He tripped over a root, striking his shoulder bloody in the process. Scrambling to his feet, he reached out for the open doorway, smacking his head on the plate glass.
The door was closed. It couldn’t be. He began to shout, pleading he banged on it looking at the distracted passengers within, deep in conversation; the only one on the bus watching his plight; the child that had been kicking his seat. The child smiled at him, a mocking smile. Then the smile was wiped from the child’s face, replaced by confusion followed by wide-eyed horror. The child began to cry, in fear and terror.
The child pointed trying to get its parents attention tugging at their shirts, at last they looked up at Mahinder Mahinder screaming, “Let me in!”
Mahinder turned around slowly hearing the panting once more, but whatever it was it had gone; nothing but the jungle. He sighed relief.
It was at that precise moment, he felt it. Breathing on his leg…panic gouged his mind; as Mahinder realized the panting was now coming from under the bus, but it was too late.
As the ten centimeter retractable claws dug into the bone of his shins, he had no time to cry out in pain, as he was yanked full body under the bus, with brutal force. Hitting his skull on the undercarriage. The world became a dizzying blur, his head throbbing.
In a blinding flurry all he knew were claws as they slashed through his flesh, teeth flashing as they dug into his ankle with the sickening sound of cracking bone. His world became torture.
Mahinder felt a searing pain across his abdomen. Reaching out feebly to pry the claws away from tearing out through the flesh of his stomach. He let out an agonizing groan, as he felt the damp warmth of his own blood pooled across the ground.
He clutched at what felt to be a wet cord, the sickening realization set in. His intestines were outside his body in his writhing hands. He sensed fierceness of the animal that had eviscerated him; in shock Mahinder realized he was being eaten alive by a dark shadow. The terrifying and horrid gold eye of which smiled, knowing that it was fed.
All he could do was scream. But even that dying scream was cut short by a terrifying roar; from the guttural throat of hell. Soon all he knew was blackness, sweet indifferent blackness as the world faded from view.
Alhu stood smoking a cigarette, watching the blood red sun fade on the horizon’s edge. He was brought out of his deep thoughts by the sound of approaching feet.
“Alhu, its time.”
Alhu shrugged, turning to face the deputy park ranger. He felt uneasy,
“No remains have been recovered then.”
“What about the witnesses?”
“The family didn’t see much, the animal dragged the bus driver East into the forest.” It had circled the bus in the night, trying to get in.
Alhu pondered this a moment.
”It also maimed a passenger who had been in the front of the bus, a tourist who foolishly tried to get the keys from the bus drivers body, before the tiger had dragged its kill away. Not mortally but, even so…”