Paws...5 mins 41 5 mins 41
Lilkapur, as any other small town in India, had woken up with a rush. Vegetable vendors and spice sellers were seen prepping for a comfortable place on the roadside, while the men of the families were leaving their homes hurriedly, in an attempt to get their hands on fresh meat for their Sunday brunch.
A middle-aged man, probably in his forties, was seen leaving his home with a worn-out sling bag on his shoulders, climbing the rugged road that leads away from the town and into the hills. He wore a dirty white striped shirt, the tops two buttons have fallen, giving a sneak peek into the white-turned-brownish Banyan (vest) inside.
Apparently, Anand being the small-time mechanic and full-time alcoholic he was, had not enough money to fend himself a decent meal for the day. As such, he was on his way into the jungle outskirts of Lilkapur to hunt down a couple of wild hens to go with the bottle of cheap liquor he saved for the night.
Wild hens are tough to catch. They have this incredible flight technique for refuge in tall trees and dense bushes, to stay out predators' sight. As Anand stealthily walked into the canopy of JAMUN (Indian Blackberry) and Teak Trees, he could hear the forest lazying along with the soft rays of the sun. The occasional chirping of the Myna and the Magpie Robins assured him of no imminent danger, and thus he went on humming to himself on the tunes of the old Lata Mangeshkar song, "Lag Jaa Gale...Ki Phir ye..hmmm hmmm".
The gush of water trickling between the stones greeted his ears, as he sighted the brook in front of him. On the other bank of the brook starts the denser forest area, the central region of Lilkapur Jungle. Tired from the long, bare feet walk on the path with broken pebbles poking his feet, Anand decided to sit down on a boulder of rock beside the stream.
It was a futile search. Hours of search and sight of wild hens and running behind them brought no result, and Anand couldn't even catch one hen, let alone two. The sun was at its peak, and Anand could feel his back itching from all the sweat.
He buttoned down his shirt and opened it, and got down from the boulder to drink some water. Just as he was cupping his hands to drink, he could feel a pair of eyes boring into him.
Someone was here.
Scared to move, Anand sat crouching beside the river without moving an inch. If there was some animal on the other side, it wouldn't take a minute for it to jump towards his. And if there was anything behind him, well, let's not go there.
After waiting for a long 15 minutes, and they were as long as it could ever be, Anand slowly got up. Tiptoeing one foot in front of the other, he reached into his sling bag and was about to pull his Iron Dagger out when the leaves in the bush ahead of him moved violently.
Out stepped the most magnificent animal he had ever seen. And the most dangerous.
Anyone could identify him. With a scar running down his left eye, Bagheera was a Full-grown male tiger lurking in the shadows of the forest with a limp in his hind leg. But even an injury like that couldn't turn him into a man-eater. He was slow but quiet, and sometimes you would hear about him dragging away a cow or two while the villagers took them out to graze in the open space after the annual winter fire.
Anand let his guard down a bit after he noticed patches of blood on Bagheera's teeth and whiskers, and also on his paws. It meant that he has had his fill and wasn't looking for a prey anytime soon. But predicting a predator's mood isn't easy. Therefore, Anand waited, unmoved, all the while keeping eye contact with Bagheera, waiting for him to go away.
After a few minutes, and God knows how much, Bagheera slowly retraced his steps, turned his back on Anand, and moved away into the bushes.
"Phewww!", Anand let out a sigh of relief. He still remembered the day when he was young and ruthless and had hunted down a female tiger in front of her cubs that were hardly over one month old; to display his strength and manhood to those around him. It was only after his mother died that he fell under the remorse of what he'd done, and had stopped coming into the jungle unless necessary.
Putting such thoughts aside and getting a hold of the movements around him, Anand was sure that Bagheera had left. Sensing no other danger nearby, and no hens for his dinner, Anand let out another sigh and started walking back towards the open end of the forest.
It took just a split second for him to hear the terrifying roar behind him, and a slicing pain in his neck.
Bagheera stood over the lifeless body in front of him, as he watched fresh blood trickling from the neck of the thing that killed his mother.
"Good Afternoon, this is LKP news. Today, the head constable of Brirudh Police Station, Lilkapur was found dead in his verandah. His body has been mercilessly mauled by a wild animal, and the patterns are identical to the previous 20 animal killings, all pointing to one suspect, Bagheera the man-eater. It is advised for all to keep themselves secure in their houses and refrain from leaving their gates open after dark."