The King of the Jungle

Before the blood rushing through my veins goes cold, I should tell you. And before this mangled limb of mine spills forth all the life that is left in me, I will. I’ll do my best to paint the blank canvas with all that I know, all that is lost, and all that ever was.

Today, like any other, began with my brother nudging me to get up. He wanted to play, I suppose. It’s just the two of us, and Mother, but she’s often gone for long periods. My brother and I share a birthday, so we’re both eighteen.

Eighteen months, that is.

Oh, I suppose I should mention before continuing that I am, in fact, a tiger. A species which your society seems to hold in near-complete disregard. However, be that as it may, I would like you to hear me out. I am a tiger, and this is my story.

It was not as though anything was special about today, not to begin with, at least. Summer was in the air, as it had been yesterday. My brother, one who has yet to establish his independence, deemed it appropriate to wake me so he’d have someone to go with him to the waterhole. Always the considerate one, I suppose he didn’t want to leave me behind, either. Worn from the heat, we dragged ourselves to find the creek bed, following it until we found what the summer had left us. Other creatures, small things, slinked away as we approached. We were the kings of the jungle, my brother and I.

Dashing into the water, we immediately began to brawl. The water was refreshing, cooling our dense fur to a more suitable temperature. We purred and bit and growled and scratched at each other. I, of course, was the more dominant. My brother had only on rare occasions beaten me while sparring—such rare occasions being when Mother let him eat the larger portion of the gazelle, or something like that. She often worried he was scrawny for his age.

In any case, the match came to a swift end and, before long, my brother was running. He loved chases because he was faster, so I indulged him. I bounded into a steady pace, blazing a trail behind him. This is the part where I’m supposed to warn you to look away, but I must encourage you otherwise.

There was a peculiar smell in the air, but by the time I had noticed, it was already too late. I faltered at the ankle as metal teeth sank into my skin, quickly cracking my bone. I let out a hoarse cry, and crashed to the ground.

Standing on three feet, I tried to pull away, but to no avail. The contraption was bolted as firmly to the ground as my fate was tightly sealed. My brother likely followed my growling back to where I was once he noticed I was no longer chasing him, or for that matter, able to. He bolted toward me when he caught sight of me, expressing an array of emotions you’d probably think were lost on us beasts. I will never forget the look in his eyes, the despair I saw more painful to bear than my mangled leg.  He groaned and growled and hissed in a mix of anger and frustration. Intent on freeing me, he began to tug at the chain, grinding his teeth on it. He bit and tugged so hard he chipped a tooth, but that didn’t even deter him. All I could do was slump myself against him as I felt my heart drop. Thinking back, I wish I would have died there. Died swiftly and silently, so as to not have to bear the sorrow my brother held in those last moments. It should have ended with me, but it didn’t.

My brother gnawed until his gums bled. As the sky began to darken, the defeat sank in. Letting down the chain, he lay down beside me and began to lick at my fur. He was telling me he loved me and I said it back through my purr. He was telling me that he would be there with me until the end. And then the noises came, a kind I’d never heard before. I had never even been graced by human presence. Before today, I couldn’t have imagined a species to be so destructive. Once you see something, you can never un-see it. The events which unfolded next were a horrific blur, but nevertheless burned into the back of my mind.

Two humans approached. My brother sensed them early enough to take them by surprise. When he knew they had noticed me and dropped their peripheral guard, he leapt at one and tore out his neck. Blood—human blood—was everywhere. The other one, however, having more time to react than his companion, jumped to his senses and, pulling a strange-looking contraption from over his shoulder, let out a deafening sound which echoed throughout the forest. Silence fell after that, as did my brother, to the forest floor. The human stumbled, running back the way he came, making odd noises as he did so.

For a moment, I felt relief. My brother managed to fend them off, and even kill one. But when I called out, no reply came. My brother lay motionless on the ground, his chest still, without the rise and fall of breathing. For what felt like an eternity, I cried for him and tugged at the iron teeth binding me.

And now I can feel the darkness closing in around me. It’s time for me to join my brother. I hope you realize just how necessary it was that I tell you this story—because I know that my brother and I are not the only ones.