by Beth Gunson
Which one of my babies this time? Or was it one of my friends who couldn’t carry cubs anymore? Who was too old to run from the fatter sized pale faces?
Light shone through the leaves again. Light that came from the outside. My outside. The sun was just coming up… orange, pink, yellow, white. Almost blinding. My eyes not quite ready to open yet. Earlier than usual for the pale faces first kill of the day.
Weird ones. The pale faces. Hairless, smooth, fragile. My claws rip through them. My teeth shatter their bones. No strength, speed, or stamina to protect them – an easy kill. But they have their sticks. Sticks that make the loudest noise. Then we drop dead. They don’t even eat us.
I barely flinch anymore. Not a good hunter this one. The worse they are the more bangs. The bangs will continue for as long as the sun is up. They even came to look at me yesterday. Me and my swollen belly. I recognised some of the pale faces. One still has the mark from when I clawed him. He tried to take my cub. He succeeded. He comes back a lot, his eyes the most evil I’ve ever seen. A true killer.
It feels good to stretch. I walk around my territory. It takes me three strides, four strides, three strides, then four again. My scratching pole feels good on my back this morning. The hard rock beneath my paws beginning to warm. The birds don’t sing when they’re here.
I smell her before I see her. My favourite pale face. Bloody leg in hand. My mouth begins to water. Breakfast.
She comes into the cage, the only one I will allow. Stroking my head, she drops the leg down at my paws. After the first bite I recognise the distinct taste of the black and whites. Delicious. She seems strange today – walking up and down, checking for her friends. She checks my enlarged belly. I growl. She knows I hate this. They’re mine. She backs down. Good. You’re not having these ones. I go back to my leg. She comes down to my level and I see something different in her eyes. It’s time. She’s kept her promise.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
My heart races. Her eyes dart around. She cuts the collar off my neck, the weight lifted more than physical. But they’re out there! He’s out there. She runs out and shuts the door behind her. What is happening? I don’t understand them. Not even her. They don’t speak the language of the savannah. They don’t belong here. I go back to my leg.
One of those strange smelling beasts awakens with its tell-tale roar. Impossibly tame, it carries the pale faces around. Sometimes us too. But never to the outside. It gets closer. I see her riding it alone. She never rides it alone. She leaves it, rumbling, and comes in again. She’s waving her paws at me, calling my name. She seems distressed. I’ve not finished my leg yet.
She pushes me through the door and into the trembling beast. She’s lucky I like her. It goes so fast, even she seems scared. The outside comes closer. My outside. Home.
Water leaks from her eyes. The same thing happened to me when they took my babies. I didn’t know she could do it too. But why are her eyes leaking? Has she lost her babies today? Did they take hers as well?
The air changes. We’re in it. I can no longer smell them. The pale faces. Except her. But she has always smelt different.
We stop. The beast quiets. The colours in the sky are changing. The pink is back, the orange will soon follow, and then the black night will cover us all. She gets out and tells me to follow. The outside. It even feels different on my paws.
We both jump. And then I hear it. Carried on the wind. Another roaring beast. Louder than the one we rode. Faster too. She’s screaming at me. Her paws going wild. Now? I run. My heavy belly weighing me down. She climbs back onto her beast, it’s snarls competing with the other. My unused legs are useless in the outside. I don’t remember being this slow. The beast is catching up. I hear her screams. I look back. It’s him.