“Get up, you piece of shit!” I faintly hear the trainer’s voice. “I paid eight-thousand dollars for your sorry ass.” A whip cracks on my haunches, and I flinch, regaining consciousness. His tone is guttural and sharp, and the warning edge cuts through my fuzzy brain. “I’ll beat the wild hairs out of you, and if you don’t comply, you just may not make it in the arena another day.”
Opening my eyes, I see his Russian face. I would guess handsome, by human standards. His tight-fitting costume accentuates well-defined muscles, and his long flowing blonde hair gives the impression of extreme vanity. What disturbs me most are his eyes, cruel and self-serving. I can tell he won’t stop until he entirely breaks me. But, my spirit is strong, though my body is ebbing past its prime.
Struggling to my feet, I taste blood on my fangs. It’s not mine. The trainer looks fresh, so I must have gotten a piece of the last one. Licking bloody lips, and violently shaking my head, I project a blood-curdling snarl at this new antagonist.
“We cut a good deal on you, Boris. Probably, because you’re considered to be untrainable, and getting old. ” He stands with his feet planted shoulder width apart, his steel grey eyes boring into mine. “I am Viktor, The Conqueror. This is your last stop, buddy, so you better listen up. You might have drawn an attraction in your younger days, but now, you’re just another aging tiger almost ready for the meat grinder. You can choose to spend your days on easy street popping a few tricks, or we can end you early. Your choice.”
His voice drones on. Why does he waste his breath? I’m not a human. It’s funny to hear them try to reason with us, as if we understand or comprehend their insane demands. It’s not a matter of understanding; it’s a matter of agreeing. I wasn’t born to live this life.
I circle him, slowly and pensively, watching for quick movements of the whip, sidestepping, when the tentacles hit the dirt near my pacing paws. In his other hand, he holds a bullhook, normally reserved for training elephants. Its pointed tip gleams under the lights. I expected to see another electric prod or stun gun. He’s determined to break me, taking no chances, and prepared to be brutal. Maybe, this is my last chance. If he rips me open with the hook, I’ll be no good for show anymore. I’ll be as good as dead. I continue pacing, contemplating my choices.
“We’re gonna clip those fangs, soon, Boris. Taking a chunk out of a trainer is no way to show your gratitude to the circus. You take a piece out of me, and you’re history. No chances left.”
He snaps the whip wickedly. The long strands circle around my front legs, flipping me down to the ground on my side. My head hits the dirt. Before I can get up, he is standing over me, and I feel the bullhook pressing down gingerly on my rib cage. I roar in protest, wanting to rip his head off and taste his blood. But, I calm my urges, waiting for the right moment. This was not the time to die.
“Now, you will learn this easy trick. You will roll over.” He pushes the hook deeper, forcing me to roll or puncture my gut. I roll.
“Again!” he barks.
I can play this game. Let him think I can learn to be a show cat. I’ve seen the tricks other tigers do. I continue to roll, each time he presses the bullhook in my belly.
“For that, you get some meat, my dear Boris.” He motions for one of the men outside the fenced in arena to bring the beef. It was thrown onto the ground in front of me. The trainer pulls the hooked rod away, and allows me to stand and eat the prize.
“I am thinking this is too easy. What kind of plans do you have for me, you wretched beast?” He watches me eat the meat. “What’s going on in that shit-head brain of yours?”
Tearing apart the flesh and tasting the steer meat reminds me of my childhood, in Russia. Our pride roamed the Sikhote-Alin Mountains. Red deer were prevalent in the area, and when the females would bring them back to our cave, it was our favorite food as cubs. I imagine this meat to be the red deer. Flaring my nostrils and breathing in deeply, I smell the fir and spruce trees surrounding our home.
“Next trick, Boris, rise up on your hind legs, and roar like the beast that you are.”
Watching him, I lazily lick a paw and wash my face. He saunters over, his long strides aggressive and methodical. The bullhook pokes into my chest, grabbing the sensitive skin beneath the fur, and he jerks the pole up forcing me to stand. I jump back on my hind legs, my front claws extracted and fangs exposed, bawling in pain.
“Ha, Ha, Boris! Now, you are getting the picture,” he yanks the hooked rod back.
Before he can regain control, I lunge forward, sinking my incisors deep into his neck. Shaking him like a rag doll, I bite through his larynx, and puncture the jugular. Blood pours out on the arena floor. Pulling back, our eyes meet, and I see the dull light begin to fade in his gaze. Instead of pompous arrogance, I see fear. There is no more threat of pain or control. The taste of the kill is glorious, and I finish him off by plunging my teeth into his dying face.
I feel bullets enter my body. Men run toward us, armed with guns and spears. This is the way to go, I smile to myself, savoring Viktor, The Conqueror’s blood, tearing him to shreds. Who is the victor now? It feels like being back home in the mountains, again, where survival of the fittest determined a tiger’s path. It is a good day to die.
© 2016, Rebecca Braun. All rights reserved.
The author has granted WritersCarnival.ca, its affiliates and syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.