This story is by Taylor Deziel and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I dreamt of the fire again. The fearsomeness of the licking flames, singed flesh as I desperately leapt through the openings, yells and screams permeating the air…
The pain of my back and the newest of wounds had returned in their full fury as the numbing effects of sleep faded. I was once more faced with my cage – one that was much too small – and the rancid, lingering scent of feces and dried blood.
Blinking my tired eyes a few times I realized that the caravan had stopped moving; it was probably why I woke up. Cracks of daylight leaked in through the small gaps of the door. I could see the others I travelled with, even if some couldn’t see me. A few were still asleep, but that was fine.
We had all learned to remain silent.
It had been roughly two moons since we had last eaten, and that meal had only been a mere morsel. Really though, it was difficult to say for sure. Being in that cage all the time usually made the days blend together.
The door suddenly slammed open and two men made their way inside. I recognized their voices and obnoxious laughs, but as expected there was no sign of food, or even water. Not wanting to look at them, I struggled up and turned to lie down the other way. The wall of the dirty caravan was a much nicer sight.
Speaking between themselves in their overly loud chatter they ventured further inside. I anxiously kneaded my long claws against the hard surface below me. They were most likely either checking to be sure none of us died, or were there to harass us. I listened to their steps and speech before I heard – and felt – a hard kick to my cage.
My reaction was an instant hiss as I cocked my head in their general direction.
One of the men said something in a mumbling, grumpy tone before kicking the cage harder. “Stupid beast,” the man added.
I hissed again with a bit of a growl, baring my large fangs. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but the latter statement was one I heard fairly often. I had no idea what the words actually meant but it always seemed to follow with some form of pain or punishment. With my lack of a violent outburst the men moved on, mumbling something else to each other.
One day, I will escape these monsters. One day, I will be free.
If I would have run that day, as far and as fast as my small young feet would have carried me, if I wouldn’t have frozen cold and stiff the way I had, I would still have my freedom. I wouldn’t be living in fear, I wouldn’t be starving, I wouldn’t be in so much pain all the time… And I certainly wouldn’t be obsessively plotting to kill the way I have been so recently.
I’m so sick of these imprisoning bars, cold and filthy concrete floors, and the lashings. Oh how sick I am of the needless punishment, and it’s all because I became a statue instead of listening to my mother’s warnings. I sometimes wonder if she’d still be alive with me today if I had listened to her instead of freezing at the sounds of her agonized screaming.
“Hide,” she had said. “Run and hide in the tall grass, and don’t come out. I’m right behind you.”
She had caught a strange and dangerous scent, you see. I obeyed, but only a moment after I entered there was a loud, resonating BANG. Just as I whipped around to look back, my mother hit the ground.
“Run!” she roared in a painful scream. “Run, my Malaika! Run!”
I stood stark still, my eyes wide with fear. Why couldn’t I move?
Clumsy stomps were making their way closer before I heard the voice of what must have been a man. Then, a much louder and much closer BANG sounded. My mother went limp. My ears were ringing.
As if the sound had awoken my feet I began to stumble backward, but I didn’t get far. I suddenly felt a strong grip on my scruff and was soon dangling above the ground. I hissed and swatted my paws around in sheer terror.
The humans began… Conversing? I couldn’t understand what they were saying but when the one holding me up began laughing, he shook me about by my scruff.
From there, it was into a dark box that was on the back of a loud rumbly machine, to a cage, to being shown to more humans. That soon led to the training, uncomfortable and confusing tricks and being whipped or even shocked for even the tiniest of mistakes.
I wish they’d have just killed me.
Seated on my awkward, designated stool, I watched as the others in the ring were each in turn humiliated in their own special ways. At least, that’s what I was focussing on at first. My attention soon turned to the trainers’ tendencies. I subconsciously began sizing them up. The pain they could deliver seemed so much worse than fire, yet they seemed so much weaker than I. I knew that if I took just one of them down, I could escape. There were only two in the ring. Worst outcomes would be either my continued suffering, or my own death. At that point though, the latter didn’t even seem that bad.
A terrible stinging pain suddenly spread over my right side. I roared.
“I said ‘DOWN’ Nikita!”
That isn’t my name. It was all I could think as I roared again at the man in the stupid outfit, but decided it was too risky to attack in that moment. Knowing it would be better to wait for the right time, I got off of the stool and begrudgingly followed his hand gesture. I did my best to ignore the awful trickling sensation along my throbbing ribs.
Cumbersome and wobbly, I managed to climb atop the giant ball and roll it down its track. Upon my leap down is when I saw a light and the silhouette of another, smaller human.
Pain unleashed itself once more to the same side, my distraction causing me to miss another command. The lash overlapped the first one I had received, and the added pain only fueled my growing stress and irritation. I glanced at his repeated hand signal as he lifted a large ring; plenty of room for my large body to jump through. With no hesitation I did just that, but landed with a growl. I circled the trainer, knowing exactly what was coming next. Even after his gesture, even after ascending the steps to my platform I watched him. That man, that monster, was going to die that day and he didn’t even know it.
Fire engulfed the elevated ring and I hesitated, the heat of those fearsome flames warming my face. But what was worse?
With another growl I leapt, this time through the ring of fire. The applause was deafening as I landed on the next platform and descended the stairs. I made as if I were walking back to my appointed seat as the trainer relished in the attention, but the cheers very quickly turned to terrified screams as I took advantage of his distraction. It was his turn to be punished.
Having feigned my obedient return, I swiftly whipped around and pounced on the man. Beneath one large, heavy paw I felt a crunch, and my teeth sank into the back of my prey’s neck. In my peripherals I saw a nearly mirrored black-orange streak headed into the direction of the second trainer.
I lifted my head, blood still dripping from my chin. “My name is Malaika!” I roared, even in knowing the audience couldn’t understand. I darted for the exit I had seen, jumping into the stands, and avoiding members of the crowd to the best of my ability. “And I am finished with this torment!”
At that point the other tiger was close behind, and we both – almost as if it was another act of choreography – sprang at the door. It hadn’t stood a chance against our collective weight and busted open with ease. We ran into the world followed by some of the others we were once imprisoned with. We ran as if the tall grass was already in sight, finally achieving the freedom we all craved for so long.
We didn’t need to remain silent any longer.