Set in Sundarban Forests.
The tiny tiger cubs are attending school.
They are being taught by a fellow tiger teacher. Though he is old, he is exceptionally knowledgeable.
He is said to be a specialist in ecology and tiger general knowledge.
Danny is one of the students. He is very sharp and down to the earth.
The topic of ‘Food Chain’ fascinates him somehow.
Unable to hold his queries any longer, he finally raises his hand.
Teacher: Yes, Danny! What’s the matter?
Danny: Sir, I have a doubt. You just explained that we belong to the ‘Top Carnivore’ category. That means we are not supposed to be the food of any other animal. We are supposed to die a natural death. Then, why was my Mom killed by some creatures called ‘Humans’?
Teacher: Ugh! Well! I…I’ll tell you about that later.
Danny is a bit disappointed for not getting any answer, but he doesn’t complain.
Teacher: Okay, students! That’s it then! We will stop here. See you tomorrow. Remember a number. Ninety-six. We’ll discuss this tomorrow.
It’s a significant number. Goodbye for now!
The students dispersed. Their parents were on time to receive their kids—
Danny, along with his father, set homewards.
Danny: Dad! I asked my teacher about my Mom. Why was she killed? But he didn’t give me any answer.
Dad: Oh, my child! Okay! I’ll tell you. Your Mom wasn’t killed by those humans for food. At least that’s what I think. Because they didn’t feed on her after they killed her. Instead, they took her body away. Trust me! I spent around a week looking for her, At every corner of this forest. Yet, I returned empty-handed. She was a pure soul. She was the most adorable tigress I have ever seen. She didn’t deserve that. Not at all.
Danny watches his father as tears roll down his cheeks.
Danny: Don’t worry, Dad! I’m there. I’ll always be there for you.
Dad: Yes, my boy! We’ll always be there for each other.
Now, listen to me. Today we are going to learn something fundamental. It’s going to help you until you die. And if you don’t learn it, you’ll die anyway. Hahahahahh!
Danny: And what exactly is that?
Danny: Whoa! Finally! Okay, Dad, I’m ready. I won’t disappoint you.
Dad: Yup! I know you won’t. Now can you see that deer over there?
Danny: Yes, Dad!
Dad: Now listen to me carefully. You have to approach him very cautiously. Don’t make even the slightest bit of noise. They have very sharp ears. They will detect even the faintest of sounds.
Moreover, don’t make yourself visible to them. Choose the right hiding spots. They have eyes on the sides of their heads. They can see both sides at once. Hence, stay in cover, be quiet, and when the time is right, POUNCE!
Danny: Dad! I can run fast. Very very fast. Why should I be careful?
Dad: I know my little champ. You can run fast. But trust me. They have got some severe pace of their own. Now, follow me.
Danny and his father move behind a bush. His father’s eyes are entirely locked on that deer. Not shifting an inch. His focus is impeccable.
Dad: Now watch and learn!
He tiptoes towards the deer. Trying his best to remain out of sight. Just when the deer bends his head down, he leaps immediately. Catches the deer by throat and shreds it to bits in an instant. He turns around and gives his kid a smile.
Danny: You go, Dad!!
Dad: Now, for the most critical advi…
He hasn’t completed his words when a sudden blasting sound echoes through the forest.
Danny is stunned at first. He looks towards the direction of the sound. He finds nothing. When he shifts his focus towards his father, he sees his body sunk to the ground. Lifeless.
Danny is dumbstruck. He bursts into tears. He hopes his father will wake up again. Maybe this is all just another part of the training.
To pretend you’re dead so that your prey is confused.
But no, the victim is gone, and so is his father.
The rifle has done its job!
Danny refuses to believe. Just when he is about to run towards his father, he spots two strange creatures approaching the corpse. They have covered themselves with some peculiar multi-colored skins.
They are walking on two feet. And they have a long stick-like object with them. Suddenly, Danny hears a voice from behind.
Teacher: Hurry, Danny! Come with me! Quick! Or else you’ll end up like your father.
Danny doesn’t want to leave. He can’t leave his only parent. He has already lost the one who gave him life. Now, he can’t lose the one who taught him about life.
Still, fighting his emotions, he goes with his teacher.
Danny: Sir! Are these the same creatures who killed my Mom?
Teacher: Yes! Precisely!
Danny: But what have I done to them? Why are they taking everything away from me?
Danny’s sobs become more painful.
Teacher: I don’t know, son. These creatures! They even kill each other. So how can they spare your father whom they don’t even know?
Danny: Before dying, my father was telling me about some last advice about hunting?
Teacher: Yes, never remain still!
Remember the number I told you earlier today in school?
Danny: Yes, sir! 96!
Teacher: Well! Scratch that! It’s 95!
Danny: But what is that number?
Teacher: Number of fellow tigers alive in this forest!
Aniket Das is currently a student in agriculture at OUAT, Bhubaneswar. He started writing eight months back. An avid book lover. What fascinates him the most are the stories based on mystery and suspense.