Chapter1- The Man Eater

Chapter1- The Man Eater

Little nine-year-old from Rubina Ali Qureshi knelt by the waterside with no idea that her short life was about to end. The last thing she saw was her six-year-old little brother disappear, he saw nothing. Just like a puff of smoke in the wind they were gone, as if they’d never been, the blanket of death dropped suddenly, the non-awareness total, like sleep without a dream.

Their mother who had been watching her children shielded her eyes with her hand and glanced down long enough to see the sun reflect in the ripple patterns of the water, then up, and they were gone. Her lips quivered, her face trembled and she dropped to her knees in shock, but made no attempt to find them, certain they were not to be found.

She could have begged in her mind to be dreaming, to awake and find her children by the stream, undisturbed, but that would be a fairy tale and this was the Sundarbans. The Sundarbans with a man-eater on the prowl, that took whatever it wanted and what it took was never returned. Indeed she had already made her own pledge with the god of reality, which did not abide. The man-eater had taken her own mother in the field just a month ago. Laying in the tall grass that she was cutting the giant tiger waited until it was nearly stepped upon, then sprang attacking with more vicious fury than her tiny body could absorb. It ripped her literally to pieces. Rubina had even drawn a picture to help her understand the unthinkable.

No, she would not plead with reality as before, would not again beg that which is as unalterable as it is unforgiving, to change it’s mind made up. They were gone and nothing would bring them back. Such was the grim acceptance of the people living on death’s edge waters. Everyone had lost someone, 389 times those living on the out skirts of the Sundarbans accepted their lot, but upon the loss of these small children the villagers vowed revenge.

Having decided to hunt down the tiger the villagers had no shortage of motives or methods. They had been killing tigers in the Sundarbans for hundreds of years. They killed tigers for medicine, they killed tigers for prestige, they killed tigers for sport, they killed tigers for every reason imaginable and not, they killed tigers by the hundreds of thousands, until there were nearly none left and now in retaliation for two villagers the government intended to kill the man eater, the monster.

They decided to rid the jungle of the man killer by elephant back. It was a tried and true method; drum beating villagers would drive the cat into a killing zone where the shooters could take aim at leisure. There is absolutely no reason for tigers to fear the drum beat, but they flee from it as they would a fire, and despite the big cats prowess the sheer force of numbers and firepower seemed overwhelmingly in the government’s favor.

Tigers though curious and intelligent are animals that rely mostly on their instincts so, it was that the hunt played out just like a script. The beaters began with more than one hundred men that surrounded the cat in a huge ring, and then they walked each of them to a point in the center of a broad grass field. In route the men climbed over or under or around any tree, ditch, river or obstacle of any kind chasing the cat into an ever constricting circle. Then either shoot it from elephant back or if the grass was too deep burn the exhausted cat out and kill it. From high and behind the elephant’s head, mahout Satya Ban Pegu saw the well formed image of a huge tiger, it must have been a thousand pounds or more trot deep into the tall grass. Gradually the image began to fade until there was just a big orange oval blob in the dark green grass, the tiger didn’t merely hide in, rather was absorbed by the weeds, as if it had changed color to blend in, then gone a step farther and disappeared. Some of the other wildlife control officers saw it too and the elephants were beginning to get spooked.

The elephants halted and momentarily the beating paused as an order was heard, “burn it”. From diametrically opposite Satya Ban the fire started as the beaters resumed their rhythmic torment. The fire was spotty at first, burning on separate islands surround by a sea of deep, dark green grass. As soon as the tiger raised up its orange coat would give it away. Then trapped by the flames and driven to exhaustion the trapped tiger would flee the flames and be shot, but it was Satya Ban who was first to learn that this time it was the tiger who set the trap.

Soon the fire was encompassing, and the islands joined together by fire bridges, turning the entire grass field bright orange as eddies of black smoke floated listlessly around. Against the burning back drop of the field the tiger’s coat was not easily visible, but Satya Bann saw the orange oval materialize, just as it had dissolved moments ago. It materialized in mid air like a puff of smoke, then coalesced in the form of a giant tiger, leaping directly at the mahout. Behind mahout Satya Bann, Sargent Mukherjee with his rifle at hip level was remembering something from his sharp shooter training. The human reaction time was about a quarter of a second. That meant that you could do anything at all to a man and he was powerless to even begin to stop you, if you could do it in under 0.25 seconds. That is what occurred to Seargent Mukherjee as he tried to raise his riffle from his hip to get a shot off at the humongous tiger flying at light speed into the mahout and himself. He never got the shot off, never even raised the gun, didn’t even blink an eye. The last thought that Sargent Mukherjee had was “I never knew tigers could fly”. And while he didn’t feel any more than nine-year-old from Rubina, Satya Bann Pegu had the life ripped from him by the tiger’s left paw that tore a third of his body off by the shoulder as it flew past. Satya Bann’s body fell not far from Seargent Mukherjee’s who had been throated and his head held only by the flap of skin at the nape of the neck. And as both their bodies burned it was Satya Bann Pegu who kept a death’s eye view from above the fiery field.

From the vantage point he could see the elephants turn and break, as the tiger cleared another mahout, shooter from atop another lumbering beast struggling to escape the cat and the flames. What Satya Bann saw next he’d have never believed if still alive. The beaters oblivious to the events in the killing zone, kept rhythm, as the tiger went in a logarithmic spiral from elephant to elephant ripping the humans off their backs. As the big beasts scattered, the tiger snapped the men’s necks in its jaws or carved them out hollow by a savage swat of its huge fore paws. Unnatural. Elephants usually chase tigers, but these were in a pure panic break with the tiger intercepting each and every one. It all happened in seconds and the cat jumping from one elephant to the next through the wildly licking flames and floating embers with only a bound or two in between did seem to take flight, but unlike Sergeant Mukherjee, Satya Bann Pegu never saw the tiger that sent him from consciousness to nothingness.

The elephants weren’t the only ones to panic. The bureaucrats at the forestry department put a bounty on the man-eater, bringing hunters from around the globe. The result was disastrous. There were too many hunters in too close quarters, they shot each other, they shot villagers, and they shot anything they were not supposed to, anything except the man-eater which eerily went away while all the commotion was going on. Finally the local tashidar rescinded the bounty and gave exclusive rights to the most famous hunter in the area, a Brit named Jim McCallum.

Chapter2- The Monster

Into this storm walked a hurricane named
Peter Harman who had heard of the monster of the Sundarbans from colleagues, fellow hunters and killers. Embittered by childhood, hardened by war, able to love, but unable to receive it, when it came to hunting and killing there were none in the class of Peter Harman, not even Jim McCallum. Harman could only desperately hope to find the hushed up, fantastic tales of a flying tiger killing 12 armed shooters and their mahouts had an ounce of truth. He could only hope that here in this dead end of the universe, in a mangrove swamp called Sundarbans, that here of all places he had finally met a challenge worthy of himself. Until now in life, in love and war it had eluded him, leaving hunting as the only sanctioned killing he by which to redeem himself.

Although unaware, to Peter Harman who had grown up on the move from between world wars under the militaristic rule of his wife beating father Col. Phillip Harman, US Marine, redemption was what killing was all about. It was from the Colonel the he learned the heroics of war, witnessed the horrors of domestic life, became enthralled by his fathers warrior exploits, grew up to worship and eventually despise the despotic monumental figure of his life. To the Colonel “war was hell” and life was war. To his son he made every sandlot game of base ball, every school yard footrace, every en-devour of any kind, competition, bitter competition to be won by any means, at all costs. When Peter was just seven and having difficulty with the nuances of poker which his dad was teaching him for the first time, the colonel cleared the table with one broad stroke of an arm and went up stairs, leaving the boy shattered and confused with nothing like the ability to process what he had done so wrong. The last words he heard from his father for a week were, “your stupid”, and the door slammed shut upstairs. He heard those words the rest of his life.

Peter took up boxing at that same tender young age, not for competition, but the Colonel’s approval. Instead his father forced him to fight in the children league and the Colonel made it his message clear. Boxing is war and you better win, you better not come home unless you win. That message and all it’s corollaries were well understood by Peter before was in the double digits. You’re no good unless your a winner. Your no good.

By the time he was into his mid teens he could no longer overlook the Colonel’s propensity for love taps toward his mother. Paradoxically he loved her less, still she was his representative, she protected him from the Colonel’s abuse where he could not protect her. And even as a teenager Peter could defeat their mutual abuser still he was helpless to raise a hand to the man he loved, envied and though would not admit, who’s approval he yearned for, would die for. He took many a beating for his mother, yet never raised a hand to his father.

And after all the Colonel never really meant to hurt them did he, not they way he meant to hurt that nigger outside of Kelley’s when Peter was eight. The man had merely bumped into him by accident and Col. Phillip Harman, US Marine kicked the living dog shit and human pride right out of him. The Col. put him against a wall with a flurry of head punches, then pushed the man’s head back with his right palm and Peter watching bent his knees and wound up and delivered a blow to the man’s liver that dropped him to the fetal position on the ground. The man begged in a raspy dried out voice and they would never know if it was that punch or the vicious kick Phillip delivered as he writhed on the ground, but something ruptured the man’s liver and he died a few hours later. Just before leaving Peter watched his father spit on the man. Is that what killing a man is about, he has since wondered? Not just taking his life, but robbing him of his dignity as well? Is that what the did to someone he wanted to hurt? Is that why we kill? Because his skin is black? Peter always remembered that incident always against his will, every time he skinned a kill.

Eventually the Colonel was forced to retire and freed to abandon them both. Peter never once cared if his father beat him to death to death, but rejection from the man he hated was more than he could stand. So, he determined to blow the bastards head off first chance, but he never got it. Just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Phillip distraught over a world at war without him, got into his full military dress, took his pearl handled marine revolver and scattered his brains against the wall of a cheap dive on a remote stretch of Nebraska highway 50. The Marines shrinks said they could find no reason. Peter, only 18 wanted nothing to do with reason, but purpose. Peter had a purpose, but now that purpose lay scattered across the blood stained wall of a motel. So, seamlessly, Peter’s purpose morphed from murdering his father to something else, something much bigger and more difficult, than killing the man, it was outdoing him.

Peter could not know of the deeds done deep in his unconscious, but way down in it’s bowels it struggled to make sense of the senselessness in his life. Down there the brain recorded every push, punch and insult, physical, verbal and emotional of his father against his mother and himself, down there the mind made up it’s own stories, the unconscious wipers said it’s own things; about the Colonel’s abuse of him it said “you deserved it”, and of the abuse against his mother, the abuse that he a small boy was helpless to prevent it said “I’ll get you”. His was a life dominated by the tacit assumption that he had no right to it, unconsciously he expected punishment, silently he screamed aloud for it.

So, war couldn’t frighten Peter, it’s not that he didn’t want to die, he didn’t want to die before he could out do his father at killing. The son of a bitch had already cheated him of the chance of killing him, he was certain he could not be so unfortunate so soon again. Peter’s problem was that he really had no idea how many men his father had killed. It could have been ten or 100, it was definitely the nigger outside of Kelley’s. The juxtaposed combination of certainty of fortune and uncertainty of deeds created a very certain recklessness in the young soldier entering war. There was no definite number beyond which Peter could stop so, he just kept count as best he could, and killed as many as possible. On the invasion of Guadal Canal Peter didn’t just keep count of how many he’d killed, but when time permitted he took scalps, literally. It was a technique he learned from a boyhood friend who lived on the reservation while he had lived on the base. It was eight on Guadal Canal, ten more on Iwo Jima. War brings out the wost in the very best of men, but in Peter’s case it simply removed the veneer that at 18 was already wearing thin. Peter didn’t have many friends; taking 18 scalps didn’t win him many more. Men at war get accustomed to all manners of brutality, they accept it, but what they really need from their comrades is dependably and just one look at Harman’s blood stained scalp sack told them there was nothing like it there. Most of the men were older than Peter, well into their 20’s, but they were afraid of him and with good reason. So, the man who entered war steeped in the belief that he had no right to live, left it a full fledged killer.

For Peter just like his father, life was war so, domestic life hell. Peter had seen that first hand and knew better than to even give it a try. Peter would never raise his hand to a woman, he hated his father too much for that, but he didn’t realize that he thought he was protecting them by keeping them out. Still, for Peter there were lots of girls, and girls were like enemy fire, hot, and eventually one always got in.

That girl’s name was Karen, a beauty from a loving family who knew how to love, but had never loved one like Peter Harman. She loved him, wanted to marry him. She knew too that he loved her, but could not have dreamed just how unwilling to be loved he was. It was in that chasm between love and unwillingness that their relationship died. She had fallen in love with him unaware and was left by him uncertain about all she had known before, un trusting of all who would come after, feeling not just unloved, but unlovable.

The night he left he looked her evenly in the eye and just like he was playing poker told her a bold faced lie. “I don’t love you, I don’t care about you, marry another”, then walked coldly out the door. A block away he broke down. He broke down and bawled like a little baby was ashamed of himself, stopped himself, then cried some more, then was ashamed even more.

He thought he had killed that memory just like so many of the enemy, but he could never have dreamed that it would come back to haunt him or how.

Chapter3 – A Tiger ‘s Story

The man eater was not born a killer. As with all tiger cubs it had be taught to kill by its mother. The man eater was born the runt of the litter. By the time it was picking shooters off the backs of elephants that cat had no memory of its larger brother and sister killed by a leopard less than a meter away. Their mother had left them in the hollow of an old large tree to go hunting. The kittens were too young to follow, but old enough to stray into the open, away from the log. All it took was a shift in the wind for prowling leopard to catch the scent. It was a large male who diverted his energies from killing for food to killing for vengeance. Leopards and tigers compete for the same food source so leopards will kill tiger Cubs.

The man eater, too young to understand, saw the leopard pounce upon his sister break her neck and shake her newly lifeless body like a rag doll and heard the sound of its body dropping in the leaves. His brother instinctively called for their mother in a high-pitched plaintive squeal sounding almost like a bark. Yip, yip, yip! But mother was nowhere she could hear. The man eater saw his brother turn on his back in a pathetic attempt to paw his attacker off, but the leopard bit down and bit the kitten in to two. The two halves of his body sounded like a pair of sneakers falling into the leaves. The leopard growled and snorted, sniffed the air and search the grass for another cub, for him. The runt had a strange sensation that he did not understand, it was the previously unknown sensation of fear.
Where his sister had been clueless and his brother tried to take action the runt much like Peter Harman at the abuse of his father, was too young to possess an emotional vocabulary to cope with what was happening. Confused by the leopard’s horrendous violence, bewildered by the dissevered, lifeless forms of his siblings, the forces within incapable of grasping the forces without paralyzed him, leaving him lying silent in the grass, unsure of what was happening, unable to comprehend this world of his, the Sundarbans.

Had he been able to comprehend he would not have understood why the leopard turned away. Did the wind shift again, did the leopard think that mother was returning, or just did it not see him? For whatever reason the spotted cat turned and left, leaving the runt alone afraid and defenseless, for hours, unaware even that the leopard was gone. It was the kittens first glimpse of violence, his first sense of “something wrong”, and the first alarm that all is not well from the kill or be killed world which he was now unwillingly part. And as he lay in the grass with his little body flattened against the ground, the new feeling of fear turned to terror, terror so stark that he attempted to deny his own existence, trying to lay so flat, trying to blend in with the ground, trying to become the ground. That was an art he would perfect, but not on this day. For all the horror it would inspire and horrors it would commit real or perceived on this day the man-eater, was just a confused, petrified little kitten laying helpless and flat desperate for his mother who was nowhere to be found.

When the tigress finally returned she was initially distraught, expecting to find three cubs to lead to her kill, to eat, instead she found the lifeless remains of two and a shocked runt in the weeds. Again and again the runt heard her roar and growl, again and again, the jungle heard the hurt she could not contain, langur and chital ran, vultures took flight, the jungle scattered as first the sound waves of her wounded roars crashed through every bush and tree, but gradually, inevitably, they wavered and wafted away like mist into the air.

Two thirds of all tiger cubs in the wild are killed within the first year. With her family having contributed its fair portion to the statistics the mother tiger was sure not to lose the last of this litter. She doted on her remaining kitten. She hunted exclusively for him, he did not have to compete for his meat, he learned fast, he grew strong. At nine months he was already the size of a grown male tiger, but at nine months old just as he had fully overcome the murder of his siblings, he got a brutal refresher about what murder was.

He saw it as he had witnessed his siblings murders, confused. His sense of the experience came in different order from its actual occurrence. He stood in the grass watching his mother stalking sambur, but what he saw was something else, something that gave him the same queasy feeling as the murder of his siblings, that made the world strange, unsafe. He watched her artful stalk from a safe distance. She moved only when the sambur moved, then stopped dead still the very second the sambur did. Subtly she pranced through the sun-dappled jungle at the perfect speed. Not too fast, never too late, the consummate professional. Suddenly she broke from her crouched position in the grass, charged an adult male, then at the perfect instant seamlessly changed her target to an adult female.

She was closing the gap when he heard her hit the ground, then suddenly time for a short time moved backwards. He saw her stumble, then heard a crackling blast of a rifle shot, then saw in the woods beyond his mother the man holding the gun turning its smoking barrel towards the sky while standing up. Unlike the first time, when his siblings were murdered this time he knew exactly what was happening, knew it well beyond what a tiger should, possessed a full set of emotions with which to cope, for most of which was immediate acceptance. Her body had barely hit the ground before the cold acceptance of the dreadful fact made its appearance. His eyes zeroed in telescopically on the white man who fired the weapon. He could see the sweat drop that formed on the man’s nose and the mosquito as it lifted off his fore head. With no way of knowing he instantly knew that this man was Jim McCallum, the man with the bounty on Tigers. He lay in the grass with his stomach and four laws flat on the ground but his head up, his nose high, smelling the burnt gunpowder pungent in the air. He remained absolutely motionless; watching detached as darker men appeared from the brush and moved towards his mother. Emotionlessly he sat watching them tie her carcass by the paws to a long bamboo rod and carry her off. He remained there completely detached, but totally aware, aware of the consequences of his mother’s death to him, aware of the consequences of these men, all men to the jungle and suddenly aware the he was of consequence to it all.

The men left, night fell, he felt his body’s hunger, but was not himself hungry, heard leopards and knew his body was in danger, but was not himself endangered, and when the sun rose once more he saw a huge male tiger that had caught his sent and was coming toward him and was aware that male tigers kill tiger cubs, but this one would not try to kill his body just as he knew nothing could kill him, who was not a body. This was his father and his protector. As the resident male his father would naturally keep competing males who would kill him away. But what would happen next was like his telescopic eye sight, it was beyond natural and unparalleled. It would be his father who would finish the training his mother had started, his father the irascible resident male, who would finish the job of teaching him to be a tiger, the job before the job of being a man-hunter.

In the natural course of things, a male tiger would never raise an adolescent cub to adulthood still a year and a half away. But this already was not the natural course of things, this was nature at it’s most desperate edge, this was the Sundarbans saving itself, he was the Sundarbans saving itself, he the runt who was chosen to be savior would be known to all who could know as Salvatore, and to the rest as a monster. The leopard, killed his siblings, a bullet ended his mother’s life, but nothing touched Salvatore and when another hunter eventually killed his father it was time for Salvatore to leave school and go to work and as 12 hunters and 12 mahouts and 389 before them knew, he learned his lessons well.

Chapter4-Gurunath and Peter

Peter Harman already had the man eater’s huge paw print embedded indelibly in his mind. He was making his way around the villages where the tiger attacked, not yet hunting, just looking for prints and other physical evidence, listening for clues. The man shepherding him around was Gurunath Mudlapur, a kalu. The two men met in a US Army Hospital in Australia during the war. Gurunath fighting for the Garhwalis, was recovering from injuries he received when his unit was strafed by a German fighter plane and Peter was fighting his release on section 8 after his unit was wiped out on Guadalcanal leaving him its loan survivor. Before he could be reassigned the war ended. Together they caroused the bars and red light districts, generally pissing off the Australian army by fucking all the women and wives they left to fight for and Gurunath a Sikh for whom kesh or uncut hair is a religious principle no less.

Peter had no conflict either moral or logical with being at once a racist and friends with Gurunath a kalu, a nigger. To Peter being a racist was convenient. Simply another device for building a wall around himself, locking a door and keeping the outside world out, but letting someone in, letting someone close, that was something that life and war had taught him harshly against. How could he know that here was Gurunath who would soon be knocking.

“Tigers just don’t know about their footprints,” Gurunath said, “or they’d never leave them lying around everywhere.” Peter stood up still not believing the enormous paw prints they’d been following. He wondered should he even be tracking such a thing. “Yea about 1,000 pounds I’d say, twice the size of a normal cat.” Gurunath said, “Cover me” and Peter watched him walk to the water, expecting him to take a piss. He glanced back into the mangrove trees lining the river for a man-eating tiger that could devour Gurunath, then back at him. Instead Gurunath went into waist deep water removed the red-orange turban in which his long hair was wound. Peter watched his friend remove his brown button down shirt, submerge himself a couple of times and wring the shirt with both hands, flexing a slim, but superb frame as he did so. He stood there, with the water barely to his waist yet the last several inches of his hair floating in the water around his waist. Once more Peter glanced the shore line, then back at Gurunath as water dripped from his full, but close trimmed beard. He put his shirt on while walking ashore; he leaned down to retrieve his pistol and shotgun.

They were on a beach where the man-eaters huge paw prints led to everywhere and all directions. It was as if the man eater had a million twins. Peter was irresistibly drawn to following the tracks deeper into the mangrove swamps, but serious consideration of a full-scale hunt at this point was fantasy. Every big game hunter knows that more than courage and good marksmanship is required for the successful pursuit of dangerous cats. Forethought, preparation, and persistence though mundane are indispensable. Peter had only a shotgun and revolver with him, if the man-eater walked out of the mangrove swamp and asked him to dance he could shoot it, but he had no serious intention of deep penetration into the swamp, but as he would learn the hard way, the Sundarbans had intentions of its own.

Peter heard the growl of a tiger and a man yelling in a language that Peter didn’t understand coming from the swamps. There was no mistaking it Gurunath heard it too. The two men glanced at each other, then into marsh. They both dropped into a three point stance, with their right toes and right knee and left foot on the ground and pointed their shotguns toward the sounds. Together and at once both men raced towards the commotion. Gurunath taking the lead for a few meters and then Peter, then Gurunath again. The men moved quickly despite their feet sinking slightly in the muddy dark undergrowth of the mangrove swamp. They heard the angry cat growl louder now as they moved away from the shoreline onto the grassy forest bed. The men broke into a full sprint on the firmer ground, hurling over logs and ditches and around standing trees like a slalom skiers. Feeling the ground flying beneath their feet their weapons held loosely but firmly moving side to side across their bodies counterbalancing furious flying feet. They ran like that breathing in rhythm, not to shallow not too deep. Peter saw Gurunath moving from the periphery of his left side toward the center of his field of vision. He was running in a full break brought to shotgun to his shoulder fired a single blast towards a tiger on its hind legs with its two front paws on the tree, preparing to climb. The big cat was out of range, but Gurunath kept charging at light speed, shotgun firm against his shoulder, level with the ground. Peter expected to cat scurry off into the woods, instead it charged full fury at Gurunath.

What happened next Peter almost couldn’t believe. The Tiger from about 20 m leapt at Gurunath jaws wide open, in full flight as Gurunath somehow jammed the shotgun down the cat’s throat pulled the trigger and his arms from it’s jaws slamming shut. The big cat instantaneously reversed her direction in mid-flight. It fell dead in the grass as Gurunath leapt over the cascading carcass, turned, reloaded and pointed his shotgun at the cat, Peter never got a shot.

He heard the cacophony of disparate sounds, the resounding shotgun blast, the rustling of the grass and huge cat fell into, his own footsteps pulling up at the base of the tree. All sounds had the same volume, Peter heard a twig crack high above as distinctly as the Tiger roars and the shotgun blasts.

Breathing heavily at the base of the tree both men now looked up. Peter had seen many a treed Indians. He had always marveled at the nonchalance with which they narrowly escaped death. Their courage was equal to that any shikari. Tigers do not like to climb trees. It’s not that they can’t, they do so expertly, but coming back down for the big cats is difficult. When trapped by a tiger he Indians climbed the nearest tree and scurry out to the end of the highest branch. The man was hanging with both arms fully out stretched hands firmly around the branch over his head. Peter judged him to be a good 40 feet above the ground. By the time he’d climbed back down he was so calm that only his bloody palms would reveal that he’d been in any danger at all. It’s was obvious to Peter and Gurunath that this cat was not the man-eater that they sought, but neither can a man in the tree be judged safe. Tigers don’t like to climb trees, but they can do so expertly.

Peter had not come here to hunt the man eater with Gurunath, nor was he easily impressed by other men, but though he didn’t show it he was wide-eyed amazed by Gurunath. He had known the man, but never seen him in action. Peter had not seen his skill, his fleet of foot, his courage, before today. Peter had heard a story from reliable sources, but to Peter seeing is believing and Peter was believing in Gurunath. Gurunath was a pistol Man. When his position was overrun by Germans, Gurunath jumped out of his foxhole sprinting like a gazelle with a pistol blazing from each hand. He hit everything he aimed at on a dead run killing 12 Germans and saving at least 10 of his own. Peter knew the story, but didn’t know whether to believe it, now he believed it. The only reason Peter was holding a shotgun instead of a rifle right now was on the advice of Gurunath.

Gurunath was the oldest, fastest and strongest of three sons. He was proud to be their protector, his family’s protector even at a young age. He was 11 when he killed a leopard. The cat broke into the hut where his brothers were sleeping. Gurunath lie awake with his father’s shotgun in the bed beside him. It was a shotgun blast that killed the leopard and saved his brothers, jolting them from the sleep from which they otherwise would not wake. Gurunath was a dead aim with the revolver, but in close where firepower is needed Gurunath for such good reason believed in and only in the shotgun.

Gurunath held nothing against the leopard, he was protecting his family, nothing against the Nazis, he was protecting his countrymen, nothing against the Tiger he had just killed and whose still warm body lay in the grass just meters away and he would hold nothing against the man eater if he were to hunt it, but would kill it just the same, just as same way he killed everything else that he put his will to.

Up till now Peter had always hunted animals the hard and fast rule which he’d learned as a sniper, go alone. When it goes bad for whatever reason if your partner is injured, he’ll kill you trying to save him. If you are injured you’ll kill him trying to save you. But hunting tigers is different always more dangerous because in addition to their overwhelming power and supernatural stealth the big cats always circle back on their tracks. It’s a natural ploy and any hunter soon becomes the hunted as well. Though he’d often said anyone stalking a tiger could use back up Peter had never found one he considered worthy, it was like a highly acclaimed award that had never been given out.

As they walked the treed man out of the jungle Gurunath mentioned as though he ordered tea, that he thought the tigress had a couple of broken canine teeth, Peter quipped that he was sure she did now, and they both laughed, but laughed uneasily.

Humans are not the natural prey of tigers they only become so when the animal becomes sick or injured. The tigress that Gury had just shot had been shot before, but due to inadequate follow up had escaped, injured and forced to consume humans. Having more than one man-eater in the vicinity was not unheard of, but what could entice a huge powerful male, twice the size of normal tigers to scavenge humans?

Chapter5- A Wise Man

Gurunath suggested they see a witness and village wise man, Satish Sethi. Sethi was known to go into the jungle for days at a time with no provisions or weapons. He claims to have been with the man eater in the wild and now lives to tell about it. All anyone has is his word and though none could confirm it, no one doubted him either. Peter Harman would be the first to question him with no way to know how costly verifying the truth would be.

Gurunath pulled the jeep’s bumper up to an old tree stump and the men got out and walked toward a row of huts backed against the jungle. Peter noted how easily anything in the forest could strike the village and return to the darkness unseen. Either this Satish had nothing to fear from the man-eater or he was fool. Gurunath said he was 60 so, that ruled out idiocy. He was dying to know if he was telling the truth about the tiger and more importantly how an unarmed man could be alone in the wild with the man-eater and live to tell.

The sun waned now and the row of huts was being swallowed by the trees shadows as the men entered Satish’s hut, Peter whispered to Gurunath that it would be dark when they came out and felt for his revolver.

Satish greeted them at the door and let them inside. Peter was a predator whose well honed fight or flight response system took over automatically. To him the 60 year old looked healthy, but frail, he underestimated Sethi immediately. The man standing in the middle of the floor, offering him tea in the Queens most proper dialect had no business in the swamps, let alone next to a man-eater. Peter having no interest in small talk got right to the point.

“Did you see the man-eater? How big was he”, Peter asked.

“Oh about 1000 pounds I’d say”, replied Satish, in a tone that intimated “If you want to play it that way.” The two men stared at each other and Peter smiled a wry smile. “That’s twice the size of a regular tiger”, he retorted accusingly, knowing full well that as impossible as it might seem 1,000 pounds was about spot on, he had been looking at the cat’s tracks all day.

“That sir is no normal tiger”, Satish said as he accurately gauged Peter Harman who had just missed the mark on his man again.

Creating conflict was Peter Harman’s way of life, without it he was barely sure that he was alive, but conflict with Satish was like lobbing a hand grenade only to have it tossed back, just before blowing up in your face.

“I know it’s not a normal tiger, it’s a man-killer. It’s a cruel, blood thirsty man-eater.

“Sir you know tigers as well as I and you know that they hunt to eat, they kill to ease the hunger burning holes in their stomach. Be honest and you will admit that you have never seen a case where tiger has been deliberately cruel, has killed unprovoked, beyond that needed to feed itself or its cubs. We both are well aware that a tiger, unless molested, will do harm to no one.”

You almost sound like you admire it”, Peter’s voice grew more accusatory.

Unapologetically Satish said, “I most certainly do admire that cat sir.”

“Well you shouldn’t, it’s a fucking man killer”.

“Sir, you have killed more men than that cat”

“And how would you know”?

“I can judge by you’re age that you survived the war, but never left it, that you masquerade as a hunter, but in truth war was just an excuse, in truth you are a killer.”

“You figured me out awfully fast old man.”

“I live in the jungle and as you I recognize the cat by the paw.”

Sethi had indeed recognized the cat by the paw, but even he couldn’t see the rage he had unleashed. Peter Harman had always enjoyed the full cover of a reason for the exercise of his bloody rage. He was not particularly concerned with the welfare of humanity in general, but he was peculiarly obsessed with the opinion of him held by those he could not care about, including himself. He was peculiarly obsessed with having an excuse. That’s why Peter’s irritation which had been growing exponentially, but continuously exploded beyond reason or reasoning taking him Sethi and Gury aback.

“Fucking goddam right I am. I’ve killed men and lions and tigers, I’ve killed birds and fish. At one time or another I’ve killed anything that’s ever walked or crawled or moved. I’ve killed things on every continent on Earth and things they don’t even have in books yet and I’m gonna kill your god dam tiger old man.” Peter said it “oolldd maaan.” And Sethi could see every tooth in his mouth as Peter’s lips pealed back to say it.

“Yes you’re obviously very proud.”

“Yes and I’m still gonna kill it”, Peter said in the same firm monotonic tone that said he believed every word of it and revealed that he had entered a different state of mind.

“So, why is it that you want so badly to kill this cat, what for?” asked Satish.

Gurunath who had the unique of ability of accepting Peter’s without judgment looked on as though he were not present, as though he was watching a movie, or a battle from a ridge high above it all, saw that the question took Harman completely by surprise. It seemed as if he hastily scanned several alternative responses before selecting the appropriate one.

“For the people in the village” so, they no longer have to live in fear of being eating alive.”, but when just seconds ago Harman’s attitude was of white hot this reply he delivered with uttered feebleness.

“Sir I have seen the man-eater, I have stood right next to him alone in the woods, he does not frighten me. You do.”

Even Sethi couldn’t know how damaging that simple truth was. Peter Harman having spent just under four decades on the planet had made a living out of killing and a habit of seeing in himself no evil. But here a thin frail old man was pealing back the lid of both blind eyes and it hurt to look. But Satish Sethi kept right on pulling, “You don’t give a shit about the people in the village”, he continued.” If you did you could simply tell them to move back a few miles from the jungle and the tiger would leave them alone, it is they who have encroached on the tigers domain, it is they who put a choke hold on the jungle, they can leave or stay. The tiger is confined to the woods and that sir is shrinking rapidly.”

“Fuck the forest old man”, was Harman’s retort.

“But mankind has been doing precisely that for hundreds of years, until now when Mother Nature must rein them in”.

“So, the tiger kills for the forest”, Harman asked disbelievingly?

“The tiger is the forest fighting back”, Satish said. Unlike you sir, the self appointed murder for the people the tiger is the protector of the Sundarbans, it’s manifestation of a savior. I call him Salvatore, he is the jungle’s projection of a protector.”

Peter was stunned and turned his gaze to the old man askance, “This is almost 1960 old man”.

“The date is irrelevant, the jungle protects it’s own, it preserves the balance of life, even your life, my murderous young friend. Even in normal times a tiger’s function is to help maintain the balance of nature, but in this most dire of occasions the jungle created Salvatore as your body would white blood cells, to restore the balance of nature.”

“I’m not your friend old man.”

“Never the less I am picking up that the Sundarban’s are calling you here, not to kill or be killed, but to be healed if you will be healed.”

“And I am picking up that you are a stupid superstitious old man and I’m going to shoot your tiger and I’ll burn your fucking jungle to the last blade of grass to do it if I have to.”

“Young man, it’s not that you do or don’t have to, but you can’t. You can’t burn the jungle down nor can you kill the man-eater. You may shoot it all you want, but you can never kill it. The Sundarbans doesn’t choose to create conflict or choose between mankind or the tiger, it seeks only to protect the priceless and irreplaceable life which dwells within. It will protect you if you allow it to, or allow you to destroy yourself, if you should force it. The choice is yours, but either way the balance of life will be preserved.”

Peter Harman began a chuckle which gradually erupted into full blown contemptuous laughter. But as Peter Harman left laughing through the old man’s door he had no way of knowing that the joke was on him, that he had underestimated Satish Sethi for the last time.

Chapter6- First Blood
Sahib, Sahib, came the plaintive cry which brought Peter Harman out of his hut. Down the dusty dirt path he saw Gurunath calmly following after he excited little man calling out, “There’s another kill, another man eater kill.”

“Where”, asked Peter intently? “Not far from where we were yesterday”, Gury answered, walking up to Peter’s door. “About 20 villagers went to the water. They said they checked the beach and the jungle thoroughly and thought it was safe, but the man eater came out of the bushes which they had just checked and killed two women, it just left their bodies there on the beach. They are still blaming each other for not being careful enough.” What Gury wasn’t saying is that there was no way to be careful enough. There was no well enough. There was a man eater that appeared from nowhere to be where ever he wanted to be. He knew that Peter understood that too, despite his protestations to Satish Sethi, to the contrary.

Peter was already moving back inside when he said, “then he’ll be back to finish his meal and we will be there to clean up.” “Does we mean me”, Gury asked expectantly? Peter never replied, just disappeared inside and quickly reappeared with his Aston Martini rifle and shotgun. Gury was hurt taking Peter’s silence as a rejection.

“It’s four clock o now” Peter said, “We’ll never get there before dark.” “Oh yes we will Sahib”, Gury assured. “We will go by sea” Gury said and Peter’s face changed from inquisitive to a smile.

“We can drive upstream to a canoe, and be at the kill site around a dark.” “The river widens there in the shoreline is shaped like a big horse shoe”, Gury continued. When the tiger comes to finish his kill he will be standing in about a thousand square feet of open sand. The problem won’t be seeing him through the cover, but seeing him on the humongous beach. You’ll need two shooters.” “We have two shooters Peter said” and Gury realized that Peter had simply ducked back into his hut to retrieve the weapons and never heard the offer. In fact Guri need not have even volunteered at all; Peter had implicitly taken him up it. “We don’t have a contract,” Gury reminded him. But Gury smiled as Peter said, “Listen, if that Tiger is there we are going to bag him, I don’t care about some bureaucrat sitting on his flabby fat ass or that fucking limy McCallum.”

Peter also agreed that two shooters was a good idea. Tigers have superb night vision; they can detect a blade of grass rattling two football fields away in the pitch black. A man on a boat scanning the beach 270 degrees might as well put a neon sign on his swiveling head.

Gurunath Mudlapur was a kalu, but he didn’t give a fuck, that’s what Peter liked, he’d kill anything that moved, and he didn’t give a shit about the tiger’s magical powers. Tonight there was only one man Peter Harman trusted besides himself, and that man was Gurunath Mudlapur and if his father, Col. Phillip Harman, US Marine, wanted to say something about it he shouldn’t have evacatuated his skull captivity in a motel on US highway 50 with a pearl handle revolver. Tonight it was a nigger who would have his back.

So it was that as dusk fell on the Sundarbans in blood red and yellow reflection that Peter and Gurunath Mudlapur rowed their boat as silently as a tiger’s crawl into the mangrove swamp in the tiger’s home range. They anchored the boat in the wide smooth river, both men on their stomachs, rifle butts snug against their shoulders, fingers tapping their triggers and grips calm, but firm under the barrels and above all each man was absolutely silent and motionless.

As the warm bloody dusk changed to dark red, then a dying purple then black the men’s eyes adjusted in tune to the jungles rhythm of light to dark, better able to search in the darkness for the marsh’s man eater. Grurnath took thestearn and scanned east the of the half of the U shaped shore line, while Peter reclined into the V shape of the bow, feeling very much as he had in a foxhole, but even to the veteran of so many a foxhole the substance of the blackness, the visceral feel of it like a curtain, cloaking the man next to him, separating him from the man lying motionless inches from him. He remembered a night like this one in the war, when the cloak was suddenly blown apart lifted by artillery fire and he could see silhouetted against the blast the head of the man next to him exploded by a bullet as capricious as deadly. And as the brains of what had been his best friend, of what had held dreams of a future beyond the madness of war, of what would have been a father and husband, pelted his face in bloody droplets, Peter lost not just another friend, but another piece of his humanity. After his unit pushed back the Japanese advance they found Peter in his foxhole with eight enemy infantry in his foxhole, shot dead and decapitated. It had sickened even the most hardened soldier, it further hardened soldier next to Peter Harman. He never made another friend after that, he’d put another brick in the wall growing rapidly around him.

Peter remembered that night as thickly black as this one, and a friend not unlike the man with him and he began to tremble. There was nothing to worry about, no army out there just one big cat, that would be killed by one small bullet, traveling fast, as fast as the one that killed his friend. There was something wrong. In the war he had learned to follow this extra sense of fear. To be certain of the sense of danger when there was no reason to suspect it and he was certain of it now. Where was Guri. it had been hours since dark, but the multitude of stars blanketed the sky, altogether they shed not a single ray on the earth and he couldn’t know how long it had been. “Guri” he wanted to say, but dare not. Dare not so, as not to reveal his true fear, to himself, to Guri if he was still there, was he still there? He inched his left leg closer to where Guri was, should be, but felt nothing. Guri was gone, how? It’s a boat Goddammit, you’d hear something, feel the dam thing rock, nothing could come or go, but something did, it must have. There’s nothing to worry about.

“Not going to be a tiger here tonight my friend”, Guri said and Peter nearly jumped out of his skin. It was all he could do to restrain himself from asking Guri if he felt the same thing too. Had he just made a prudent judgment or used that as an excuse. Instead Peter simply agreed, “Yea your right, that tiger drank and left hours ago. Let’s get outta here.” Then Peter put his ore in the water and began to row half waiting for a verbal agreement from Guri. He never got it. It took only a single stroke for Peter to realize that he was the only one rowing; he was the only one in the boat. He dropped the ore and grabbed the gun. There was the sound of a single splash and Peter let rip a flurry of shots into the water in that direction. Through the red flash of muzzle burst he could see Guri’s hand slapping the water’s surface until his gun was empty. Continuously he dropped his and raised Guri’s gun, but the tiger was already ashore. Peter shone his flashlight along the muddy bank until the beam caught the glimpse of a soaking wet tiger carrying the limp body of Guri by the nape of the neck. But just before the tiger dissolved into the mangrove swamp in a split second Gury became alive. His body flailed as if electrified. Peter dropped the flashlight and fired again and again into the night, but nothing was there and just like his mother he was powerless to help and just as with his best friend in war, Guri was never seen again.

He fumbled the oar in his hands banging it against the boat as he turned the water alongside it. Clumsily he paddled into the night. He bent backwards in desperation and felt small beneath the carpet of stars in the sky, listened to the water sounds lapping against the boat, tried to control his breathing. It was all he could do just to glide back with the tide.

When the sun broke Peter sat alone in the beached boat with his arms around his knees and face buried in between them. He lifted his head and ran his hand across his stubble, his face half light and half dark in the shadows who’s relief was intensifying with the rising sun. It was as if the light laid bare all that he was ashamed of to himself. Peter’s mind had a mind of it’s own that calculated the most intenesly painful way in which to recall it, then recalled it in the same manner. His hands were still shaking so he clinched his fists trying to deny them, to deny that he was terrified, to deny that Gury might still be alive, but he did nothing to help him, just like he did nothing to help his mother.

But in every way what had just happened seemed impossible, the tiger had swum up to the boat, grabbed Guri, and swum away without making a sound. Unnatural. Supernatural. In his life Peter had experienced rage, been through the dangers of war, had seen firsthand the ugliest of humanity, but until now he had never felt stark terror, had never been truly rattled.

And just now recalled the shame of a deeply buried memory brought violently to light and now he felt the shame all over again. He remembered the night he walked out on Karen. Remembered, the way he broke down, completely! Felt it, the shame of it, as though it had just happened, it had just happen and against his will. Compared to the events of the prior night is wasn’t much, it wasn’t what swam up to the boat and carried Gurry away, it wasn’t making his hands tremble now, it wasn’t something that could kill him, but it was what made him vomit between his knees.

Chapter 7 Duel

Peter would kill the tiger to avenge Gury. He was aware that killing the tiger would not bring back his friend, and to many that would seem unsatisfying. Peter didn’t give a damn, killing that Tiger would make him feel a lot better, killing always made Peter Harman feel better. But just like a wounded tiger he would first have to get his edge back and the man at his door had news to help him along. Peter’s dark hut gave way part way to the light, as he opened the door. His eyes focused first on the Tahsildar’s patent leather shoes, tender footed prick he thought, then quickly ran his eyes up the bureaucrat’s nondescript body, to the face of a man who disapproved of Peter as much as Peter did of him.

“Jim McCallum has quite his contract”, was the official’s greeting. “Do you want it?” “Fucking Goddam right I do”, Peter said righteously. “He didn’t even say why”, the Tahsildar offered, just came to my office and said he was no longer interested.” Peter didn’t give a shit why or why not, but having the contract was no small matter. With more than one shakari in an area pursuing the same animal it was sure to turn into a cluster fuck and added uncertainty was the last thing he wanted now. Peter was willing to kill the man-eater when he didn’t have it, but was more than pleased the contract was his.

He didn’t want tell bureaucrat about Gury, but he had to. Gury was Hindu so, it was imperative that some of his remains be found and properly cremated. The officious little prick didn’t even seem to care. Of course he didn’t, he just wanted someone to kill the tiger, to fix his problem, he didn’t give a shit about the harm it did. Peter could not see that part of himself in the tashidar, the part that didn’t he give a shit. He assured him that yes he had seen it well enough through the light of the muzzle burst, but he did not tell him that the last thing he saw was Gury snapped back to life and flailing, calling Peter to help him. He did not say that what he saw was impossible, or that he was too scared to do something about it. He left that part out.

He had recovered Gury’s double barrel from the boat. The end of the left barrel had been bent beyond repair so, Peter sawed most of both barrels off so that the entire weapon was not much longer then a revolver, this would be Peter’s in close weapon, inspired by Gury.

Most shikari go out early in the morning, pick up the tiger’s tracks, and follow them. But it’s too dangerous to track the nocturnal beast at night so they must allow time for return by night or hold up in a marchant. But now Peter had the contract, the legal means to follow the innate will to kill and for Peter that meant no turning back. He would stalk that big cat, trap it and kill it and not come back until he did so, or not come back.

The Tahsildar had barely left when Peter with just the clothes on his back, his Martini Henry, sawed off double barrel, and revolver set off down the dirt path. By the time the Tahsildar’s patent leathers strolled into his office, Peter was off the trail and into the Sundarbans and neither would see the other until it was done.

Running fast, into the woods, Peter remembered what Gury had said, “Tigers wouldn’t leave so many tracks.” Here in the knee-high grass there were no pug marks, but it was still easy to track a tiger. The alarm calls off chital and langurs make audible arrows pointing if not to the tiger then to his vicinity, and as the grass tickled his knees Peter zeroed in on clamor of frenzied panic calls.

Human beings have no sense of smell, Tigers have a superior one. So, Peter approached the area in which he both hoped and dreaded the man eater was, from downwind. He was glad to be on foot. It’s much easier to kill a tiger when shooting on foot then when shooting down from an elephant or machant. Random shots would not do for a 1000 pound animal, for this only the vitals would do and they are accessible when shooting, down in the grass on the level with the tiger. Down here the Martini Henry’s power and accuracy would atone for its canon kick, and if it didn’t Peter would to drop it to the ground immediately and bring up Gury’s ready loaded double barreled sawed off shotgun. If didn’t do it, then fuck it.

Scanning ahead Peter could see the languor’s scurry into trees around a clearing. From the flattened grass in the field he could tell something large had fallen there. Maybe a sambur and it may be a tiger feeding on it. He was approaching downwind of the tree and so long as the agitation in the grass marked the Tiger’s position, he need only be patient and silent, to get close.

Closer, closer, Peter had learned to stalk like the cats that he hunted. Slowly the left foot, then the right foot next to it, finger on the trigger, barrel to the sky over the left shoulder, then right foot, easy, easy half of the weight, and the rest, then the left foot. Peter closed in with agonizing patience to the outer rim of the trees branches. He moved up next to it under the din of screaming scurrying languors. He was afraid they would give him away, he was wrong, the man eater knew that he was there all along.

As Peter dropped to a knee and inched the barrel around the trunk and leveled it a huge cat raised to all fours and stared at him. Peter had the clear view of it’s entire body standing in the flattened grass as he line up his shot, but when he closed his left eye and centered the Martini-Henry’s sight mark between the big cat’s eyes, something was wrong. He tried to refocus, opened his left eye, then closed it again, but to no avail. It was as if the distance between him and the cat was shrinking, then it disappeared altogether and Salvatore was at the end of his barrel as though he’d been there all along. Peter could see nothing else, just to huge green eyes on either side of his site mark down the long end of his barrel, and he couldn’t move, couldn’t even twitch. He tried to pull the trigger, but heard his body hitting the ground felt it rolling the grass and saw a white underbelly of the monstrous tiger flying over.

Peter rolled over backwards a few more times, but came up to his feet with a sawed off pointing the direction of the disappearing tiger. Quickly he scanned 360° and noticed that it was suddenly getting dark and the languors were dead silent.

He retrieved his rifle and walked for a half-mile and the blood red dusk. Finding a suitable tree he climbed it tied his rifle to his arm and settled in for the night. But it was an unsettling night.

As the darkness fell, the deep recesses of Peter’s guilt ridden unconscious came volcanically active. “You should have tried to save your friend.” “It was an optical illusion, he was dead. There is only one chance in a million he was alive.” “You should have taken that chance, you chicken shit son of a bitch. Because of you he’s dead. You killed him.”

Gury was alive, was that an illusion. The man eater in his sights today, was that an illusion. For how long had he had the shot? How long had he not taken the shot? Why not?

Peter was dreaming of Gury’s face in the light of the muzzle burst as he disappeared with the tiger into the swap. But it was not the dream that woke him up, rather the angry growls of a sloth bear nearby.

The bear was no immediate threat, judging from the sounds of things she had probably lost a cub to the stealth of a leopard or tiger. Sloth bears possess bad tempers at their best, but a mother wounded over the loss of a cub would doubtless be at her ugly worst. He could not have slept anyway, but with Gury’s face in plain sight at his mind’s eye and the Sloth bear’s angry, plaintive calls caroming off the night, had the effect of twisting an already deeply buried blade. By sunrise his nerves were frayed.

Concentrating on the alarm calls of langur and kakar distracted his jagged nerves. The calls came from less than a mile away and while there were many tigers and leopards to cause the alarm, with no way of knowing how, Peter knew that from now on there was only one, and that one was waiting for him less than a mile away.

The calls lead him to a ravine, shallow enough to see over the sides, but too sparsely populated by shrubs for a large tiger to hide in. So, he moved into the ravine and walked right down the center, looking always in all directions at once, even up. The constant surveillance was a procedure born of discipline, but what kept Peter alive until now went beyond training and the five senses, what had gotten him to here, was what couldn’t be trained, what couldn’t be explained, what could couldn’t be experienced, only realized. He had realized it that night in the boat with Gury, maybe they both had, but he didn’t believe it, like a boxer who hesitates, then get’s hit. Why did he wait? So long as there was no accompanying sense of danger Peter went dutifully along in the scripted manner. And when the ravine deepened so that he could no longer gaze over it’s sides, responsibly Peter climbed to the top of it, but did not feel that sense of urgency, he had even stopped looking for it so, when it came, it came from nowhere. It came from behind that large rock ahead to his left. That AWARENESS coursed like electricity through his veins. For ten minutes he stood perfectly still, absolutely silent, knowing he was being watched, being watched by a 1000 pound tiger behind the rock, staring through the rock at him.

He had to get out of this ravine. From here the walls slanted upward about 45° for about 20 feet, but went 90° the top 6 feet. Holding his rifle in front of him made it easily to the perpendicular, then swung his foot and arm up and slid over the top on his stomach. Taking to the high ground proved to be a wise move. On the other side of the big rock staring up at him as he expected was the man eater. Peter was still taken aback by its size. Calmly the big cat turned the moved down into the ravine and never letting him leave his site Peter jumped expertly back into the rocky walls and grassy bottom after it.

The big cat stopped lowered its head and looked back again. What a monster, Peter thought leveling his rifle at a shot through the point of the cats shoulder. A certain kill shot and this time he did not hesitate. From 25 yards out Peter put a bullet diagonally across the cat’s massive body, then for good measure pulled a second trigger even as the first was in flight. From 25 yards out Peter missed the massive target twice. Pulling the first trigger produced nothing but a hollow click, the second a pure miss for which he could assign no reason. Watching the big cat calmly turn and disappear deeper into the ravine, Peter was suddenly in no hurry to follow.

Instead he turned to his left and looked up about 200 yards on the rock face where the sound of his shots had dislodged two goats. He reloaded, lined the first one up in his site and evenly pulled the trigger, then watched it stagger, fall and slide down the face of the ravine. By the time he shot a second goat it was 250 yards off and it rolled down and slid past where the first one had come to a halt, and then continued off the cliff and Peter heard it rolling in the grass below. Killing two small goats at 10 times the distance from which he missed the man eater confirmed Peter suspicion that there was nothing wrong with his shot or his rifle. What Peter Harman could not know was that for now Salvatore was leaving him. The big cat had more pressing business further down in the ravine.

Peter spent the night in a shallow cave just under the place where he shot the goats. He did not sleep, nor did he miss it, but ate for the first time in two days and despite the two misses for which he could provide no explanation, would not be deterred. Glowing like a coal ember in the fire light Peter listened to the jungle’s night sounds and schemed.

Having fed and feeling no ill effects from lack of sleep moved back in ravine as soon as it was light enough to track by. The ravine deepened to about 6 feet and the rock walls gave way to grassy sides that he could easily surmounted with a running start. The man eaters pug marks disappeared up the right side over the ravine. Peter did not follow, instead he continued down the ravine being sure to leave his own tracks and more importantly his own sent by which a tiger could track him.

This was a very delicate and dangerous game he was playing. He pulled the sawed-off shotgun out and rested it in the crook of his left shoulder. Now he proceeded forward slowly, ever so cautiously, with shotgun and rifle forming an X in front of him as he swiveled his body so that the arc of his guns covered the left side of the ravine, to the right side, then back to the left again. He scanned vertically upwards as well. The mode of progression though awkward maximized surveillance. Down on his hip on his revolver if he needed it, if he could get to it.

The trick now was to go this way for as long as he could without being killed by the man eater. It would all depend on the wind ,which came from behind him now, but the instant that it shifted Peter was out of the ravine and sprinting back to where he entered it, but as he did so the second time he was downwind, and downwind of everything in the ravine; the tiger was in the ravine.

Now Peter started tracking his own tracks. He he wore his rifle diagonally across his back as he went, keeping the sawed-off out, loaded, arcing from side to side. Down here it was in tight and close, down here he believed in what Gury believed it, the shotgun and only the shotgun.

But this time he was forced to move a little faster and necessarily with greater risk. He and the man eater were playing the same game now and who would win would depend on who played at best and a luck. In the latter Peter thought he had the edge, he had never needed luck to kill anything, he had always been to good at it.

Peter came across his old footprints and fully expected sooner or later to find the man eaters fresh-cut marks on top of them, but what he found instead was the bloody shredded bodies of two poachers.

The bodies were spread along the length of 20 yards. It looked like a murder scene reminding him of the time in Africa when a massive male lion grabbed a hyena and while growling angrily violently shook it to pieces then disdainful indifference dropped it on the ground. It wasn’t feeding, it wasn’t self-defense it was angry naked aggression against a rival species and it was precisely what Salvatore had done to the two poachers. Is that what mankind was to Salvatore, a rival species? It wasn’t the kind of question that Peter typically asked let alone pondered, but just now he couldn’t refuse it.

He moved cautiously here, looking down here saw the huge pug marks of the man-eater superimposed in blood over his own, and on he went. Beyond the shredded bodies, beyond where the entrails became entangled with the weeds, beyond the bits of clothing and smashed rifles, beyond the kill site and upwind of its stench Peter Harman tracked the bloody pug marks of the giant man eater that was tracking him.

When Salvatore turned to give the sakari shot in no way of knowing whether or not he’d take it. He observed the hunter intensely as he leveled a rifle at him from one knee. Salvatori did not understand this man anymore than he had Jim McCallum initially. He understood men’s fire sticks since the day McCallum shot his mother. When a year and a half later he finally gave McCallum a shot at him he felt the man’s pain that day, upon realizing his mother was not a man eater for which he had been deputized to kill. His regret was sincere, killing must be purposeful and killing the wrong tiger did no one any good. He understood too that McCallum was a hard man, a man that could readily kill, but not one that had to. The man simply knew of no other way to solve things, nor did he understand the damage of his deeds. Yet when Salvatore helped McCallum to heal himself, the ex-hunter lowered his rifle, hiked out of the swamps, walked into the tahsildar’s office, resigned his contract and never fired a shot at another living thing for as long as he lived.

But when Peter Harman lined up to take a shot Salvatore felt the the burning rage, like the flames in the elephant hunt. This man’s thoughts were too scattered, too erratic to decipher. So, he froze time in the air just before the man could pull the trigger. After getting his read he and releasing his grip on time he charged the man, and that was when Peter was knocked over, and could only catch a blur of his underbelly. It was good that he did. What The young cat, the old spirit did not understand on their first meeting came through clearly on the second. Unlike McCallum, who was a hunter this man was a killer. While McCallum killed things that were outside of him, Harman projected his inner rage and hate outward onto the outside world which was blindsided by it. He hated and sought to destroy every living thing thought could hurt him and he thought that everything every living thing could. He sought relief from his pain which was within by destroying all that lay without. He could live a thousand years and never be healed, he was hunting the wrong thing in the wrong place. Still it wasn’t that Salvatore couldn’t help heal him, rather that like so many of his kind, he would not be healed.

Salvatore was still new to this game in this body, in this lifetime. He recognized that he still had much to learn, to remember. He now regretted pulling Gury from the boat in the darkness, it should have been the white man instead, but the burgeoning sense of himself was relentless. There were perhaps a few like him, somewhere in the Amazon or Africa maybe deep in the oceans, but here and now, in the Sundarbans it was all up to him and he was already aware that there was only one way for Peter Harman.

When Salvatore sensed the poachers further down the ravine he left Peter. He wasn’t sure if he sensed or smelled the two men down in the gorge. Were they poaching leopards, tigers, were they hunting for him. At this stage in his development he couldn’t be sure, couldn’t be sure that the bullets that pierced his skin could do no harm, he was still remembering. For now the only thing he could be sure of was that the men stalking down the gorge where hardened and capable and hunting for him, he must stop them, but how. He had learned from his mother to take no unnecessary risks so, even as mighty a cat such as he, Salvatore chose ambush. The problem for Salvatore was not intercepting them, it was where to set the trap for experienced harden men who would be looking for it. For this he would return to his first days as a cub lying in hiding from the leopard.

Santosh Kumar and Deepack Parekh were nervous. Between them they’d killed hundreds of big cats, leopards and tigers, but now they had the eerie feeling of knowing that they were being watched, being watched by something close and dangerous, something that must be right there, but wasn’t. They eyed each other, then keeping a distance of about 20 feet so, what ever it was couldn’t kill them both at once, ran their eyes up and down the ravine.

They were at the epi-center of the animal rancor, with the langur swinging wildly in the branches and the entire jungle screaming that there was a 1000 pound tiger right next to them, but they still couldn’t see it. And the spot on which they stood was not the best place in the gorge for an ambush. It was relatively sparse, certainly no place down in it for a big cat to hide so, it had to be up on either side of the ridge. Santosh Kumar looked down into the orange clay earth for tracks, but noticed only the long black stripes that ran for about ten feet toward each side of the ravine. Then with Deepack Parekh getting more and more spooked, knelt for a closer look. Santosh put his hand on the ground and immediately thought it odd that it should be warm, thought it odder still, to see a large red oval blood splotch hit he back of his hand, but when he looked up he saw the entire sky raining blood. It was the last thing he saw.

Deepack was right to be spooked, Santosh was dead, but the only thing he was aware of was the ground moving beneath his feet. He first thought it was an earth quake when the ground moved, pushing him over as if he were rolled down hill. What he did not see was the enormous tiger that poured his powerful body out of the ground in the shape of a huge teardrop, then that of a snarling vicious man eating tiger. Salvatore snatched Deepack from behind so that the back of his head hit the bottoms of his feet, the last thing Deepack Parekh saw has the ground coming up hard. Then Santosh Kumar and Deepack Parekh had their bloody bodies smeared into filthy earth until they lay dry and shredded and dead in the blood storm in the gorge.

Peter and the man-eater were tracking each other in a large oval down in the ravine and neither wanted to be the one to be surprised by the other. Peter thought he could follow the pug marks from the top of the ravine. So, with the shotgun leading and rifle secured across his back he ran up the right-hand side of the ravine wall then moved ever so cautiously along its length.

A full-grown tiger can hide under a dry twig so, each bush and ticket of high grass, every tree became an enemy because the enemy unseen could strike from there. Yet under these conditions Peter had to move quickly he had to take that risk to avoid certain risk of being caught from behind. So, along the ridge he went with the shotgun snugly in the crook of his arm and pointing both barrels down rim, north, south, east, west, up and down. He went that way, judiciously weighing the risks of speed and thoroughness against each other. He went that difficult way all the way until he nearly tripped over the tale of 1000 pound tiger.

A lifetime of many wars had taught Peter to readily accept facts as they were, not as they ought to be. He had tried to shoot this tiger before and failed. Maybe Sethi was right, maybe this was a spiritual tiger, or maybe just a spiritual kitten. He knew things went weird when looking this cat in the eyes and went weirder when taking a shot. But no one else could have kept calm when the wires of nature shorted out and sparked and the illusion became real and a simple bush became a 1000 pound man eating tiger. The tigers tail disappeared into the bush and became the bush which in turn became a tiger. Before him the bush curled and twisted into the shape of a tiger turning around in place, turning to attack. Peter didn’t for the illusion of the bush to become it’s reality, Salvatore, he wasted not a second in denial, he blasted it instantly.

Peter took the shot from a three point behind the great cat, the blast was louder than he expected, but as anticipated the kick from the dense weapon pushed him over to his back. From there he sat up, spread his legs in anticipation of delivering the contents of the sawed-off’s second barrel right down the throat of the beast, but what happened instead he would recall for all of his days how ever numbered they may be.

The tiger turned round all right, but leaped 20 feet into the air, four paws extended straight down, growling with the most vicious gnarling growls Peter had ever heard. Peter had to lay back flat on the ground to keep the acrobatic cat in his sights as it rotated tail to nose, and crashed back to earth, crashed back right down on top of him. Just before it landed Peter closed squeezed his eyes and the trigger tight.

In all of his days of war he had never seen such unbridled fury as the tiger unleashed on the ground surrounding where he landed. His left fore paw landed on Peter and crushed his ribs on the left side. Peter rolled onto his stomach was grabbed in the tiger’s mouth by the rifle worn diagonally across his back, was tossed like a rag doll into a near by tree. Desperate, he clung to the tree, but the tiger got him by a foot and ripped him down viciously against all the might Peter could muster to hold on to the tree branch. Ripped him down and ripped the skin right off the palms of his hands so that in an instant he had not a centimeter on skin on either hand, it was all on the branch. The monster threw him down into the ravine and continued to savage the entire ground as though it were guilty of the offense, howling as he did, deep loud blood-curdling roars and Peter thought the tiger thought that he was savaging him.

From down under ravine Peter can see Broken branches of a tree, bark, and dirt being thrown about as those hit by a tornado, and as the Tempest in the bushes continued expected at any moment for the man eater to find him and jumped down on top of him. But even with his skin ripped from his palms and his ribs crushed his body knew not to scream nor did it occur to him. He just lay in the grass at the bottom of the ravine in sweat and pain and prayed the storm to end. Before it did he passed out.

It was sheer agony that roused Peter. He had laid on his back the entire night and now the pain made him grimace and bent his head back holding his broken left ribs. Painfully he rolled to his knees and elbows, then put his right foot out and agonizingly rose to his feet. He gingerly cut his trousers just above the knees with his field knife and cut them into strips and bandaged his hands. Ripped open as they were his palms screamed at every movement required of them and when the sweat seeped into them Peter screamed. Unable to find his weapons he laid back on his back and shimmied up to the grassy embankment out of the ravine.

Back at the scene he found the large tree he had climbed up rooted. Congealed blood was sprayed everywhere. He found his rifle, snapped in thirds by the man eaters jaws in scattered around half a dozen shotgun shells. Away from the main carnage he found the one thing that would let him continue, laying in the grass he found Gury’s shotgun, and reloaded it.

The pain all over his body was unbearable, but he would have to bear it because it would be his constant companion. It would not let him sleep and even the burning hunger in his stomach was barely noticed. He saw the blood trail leading back into the ravine and he followed it.

Peter, in intense agony, became acutely aware of his predicament. He dropped to one knee and thought. He could neither survive here deep in the jungle or could he likely make it to a village. He would die soon, he knew it from the day he was born. He would die soon, that he had no say in, but he could still kill or not kill the tiger. His father never could have achieved such a feat. Even being here, hurt he had done well to be alive, he was proud of himself, he imagined that his father would have been proud, imagining that he rose and staggered down the ravine in pursuit of the most dangerous animal in the world, a gravely wounded tiger. He was gravely wounded himself and lacking the energy to properly pursue passed out again in the ravine, in the open.

When he awakened he reckoned it to be about noon. His blood soaked bandages stuck to his palms and fingers, but at least had stopped bleeding. He wished they would just stop hurting, he could barely hold a shotgun and sometimes had to use the back of his hands to carry it. But if he had to shoot with it, then he was game and so would be his palms.

The grass was a little thicker here and he lost the pug marks so, he could only track by the blood trail. But inexplicably the blood trail ended. Peter reckoned that the tiger climbed up out of the ravine to circle back on him. He hesitated in place, staggered in a circle, then found what he was looking for. A little further down the ravine was a shallow spot by which he could more easily exit it. He staggered to it, stopped in dead fright, then staggered back. From out behind a rock emerged a huge male leopard. The cat grimaced, roared, then sat on its hind quarters with its front legs straight.

Peter leveled the shotgun searching for the tip of the leopard’s tail. He was looking for the slow snaky wise up and down warning a leopard gives before striking. It never came. Peter’s eyes and shotgun never left the leopard as he walked backward moving down the ravine about 10 yards but when he went to climb the other side he heard a succession of deep throat-ed angry grunts. He spun around, winced and saw the grass in violently agitated waves coming at him. It stopped just as it broke from the grass into view. It was the same leopard. Confused he pointed his gun at the leopard’s first position, then it’s second then the first again, then walked a few feet down the ravine and sat with his back to it, and understood.

It was obvious to Peter that he was being driven, like a tiger to a kill zone that laid somewhere down there at the end of the ravine. Down there to lay doom so, Peter beaten, broken and coughing blood spied a tree that jutted up from the side of the ravine and a long branch that hung out over it. Instead of crawling to the man eater he could bring it to him, if he could just get up that dam tree.

His hands were such that he could not hold the shotgun to climb the tree. So he tied a string around it and bit down on the end. Moving to the base of the tree at the top of the ravine again the leopard appeared. He paid no attention to it, not even to its foul breath on his exposed legs. The cat’s moist breath close enough to warm the skin, but it never touched him. With the menace just centimeters away, he wrapped his arms around the tree interlaced his fingers and climbed with the back of his hands against the bark. He shimmied up the tree and as far out on the branch as his weight would allow, then painfully he pulled up the shotgun. He tried the shotgun to the branch then lay on his right side with his left elbow protecting his ribs.

Where he lay the on the branch brought him to the middle of the ravine a safe 20 feet above the ground, if 20 feet was safe from Salvatore. Seemingly satisfied that he was confined to the ravine the leopard dematerialized. So far so good and as darkness set in Peter lay on the branch secure in the knowledge that he had foiled the tigers plan and now lay in wait for the man-eater come to him.

For Peter it was time to wait, but in waiting time wavered like mist in the air, then went on as the mind wandered. It went in turn to his father, Karen and Gury, then all directions at once. Broken ribs and burning palms should have distracted it from such meanderings, but so strong was it’s desire to torment. He look down into the pitch black of the ravine and saw Gury disappearing into the mangroves in the jaws of a tiger. Alive? Squeezed his eyes tight and saw Karen, seeing that as mightily as he tried to keep her out she somehow got in. He let her know him and now he could die down here and she would never know. He wanted her to know, even married to another still he wanted her to know. He wanted his father to know, to be proud, he wanted to say “look dad. I did it all for you. I killed men and animals on land sea and air, killed things on seven continents, I killed things they don’t even know about and all the time I thought I was killing you.” That was not all that was finally revealed.

It had never really hit him that his father was dead, that was a fact he was aware of like a spot on a map. But now finally self deception relented and he acknowledged that his father had never known a thing, that his father walked out and not only never loved him, but was never even capable of it, that his efforts were all in vain, his life had been meaningless, there in the pitch darkness the killer cracked, and the small boy in a warriors body cried, in deep heaving sobs he cried uncontrollably, oblivious even to the intense pressure it placed on his broken ribs, aware that he would die as he had lived, alone.

A single flash of heat lightning revealed his tightly clinched eyes from which streams flowed, the body of a small boy wrapped shaking in the skin of a man, a warrior, a killer. Finally he could bear no more, alone in the dark he fell into a deep dark sleep.

The rain woke Peter. It was the decisive factor in his bodies battle of pain versus fatigue. Though perfectly content to have kept sleeping, he found it convenient to open his mouth and let the water soothed his savage thirst. But even this brought pain, as the water burned his parched lips and revealed unknown cuts on his body. Dutifully he picked a bug off the rain drenched branch and ate it.

Then Peter saw something that made him take the shotgun as firmly in hand as he could. Lying on his right side to give reprieve to his bruised left ribs, he saw on the top ravine opposite a kakar. The kakar stood stock still, staring at a spot at the base of his tree. When the kakar delivered its alarm call Peter knew somewhere beneath him was a tiger as he remembered that, tigers don’t like to climb trees but they can expertly.

Peter rolled to his back wrapped his feet around the branch and pointed the sawed off. He was satisfied that unless invisible, the man eater could not reach him unseen, but he was unsatisfied that the man eater was not invisible. Then he rolled back over and scanned the ground, the kakar was gone. Until now time for Peter had flown, but now in terror and agony it stopped dead.

He had the uneasy feeling of being watched before. But the sense of dread settling over and now was far worse. He knew the tiger was here and just like he knew the tiger was behind the rocks he knew it was climbing tree, coming from beneath him, but he couldn’t see it. He couldn’t feel the trees swaying under the cats mighty weight, but he was sure it was climbing, why couldn’t he see it. Surely there was no cause for alarm. By his calculations it was simple, there was only one approach, up the trunk of the tree and out onto the branch. Salvatore would have to follow the same route he taken and that route was entirely in plain sight beneath him, it was why he chose to climb this tree in the first place. When the man-eater came for him he would be forced into the open and he would have his shot. Peter scanned and recalculated again and again and came up with the same result. So, why did he feel so creepy, not just that he was being watched, but that the monster was right next to him, just behind him on the branch. He could feel the thing’s breath. He scanned the tree again and again. Nothing there. He passed it off as just nerves, then remembered what happened the only time he ignored THE FEELING, Gury was carried away into water soaked darkness. Maybe it was there and he just couldn’t see it. That’s it. It’s right here I just can’t see it. OK assume it’s right behind me on the branch, I don’t have to see it to shoot it. Slowly so as not to raise the monsters alarm he brought the shotgun around and pointed it straight behind him toward the trunk of the tree. Gently as if he could see it there watching him he firmed its position in his shoulder and pulled the trigger. Boom! The blast was deafening and though he fully expected to hear the tiger crashing in the bushes there was nothing but the ringing in his ears and the splintering of bark on the tree. He was down to five shots. He gave it another blast at the trunk half way from the ground to where the limb branched off. He could hear the pellets absorbed by the tree and the bark blasted away in a dirty cloud around the wound inflected into the tree. His shredded hands began bleeding again and he clumsily reloaded. He was down to four shots.

While Peter could merely feel certain about the man-eater’s probable route, the tiger in fact was certain of it. And it  wasn’t just a tiger below and beneath the man in the tree, it was a 1000 pound man-eater and it was beginning to stalk, beginning climb, climb like a snail.

First a front paw slid up the bark, took a hold, then the next. There was no way for the man to feel him, it took more than an hour to get all four paws dug in high enough so that only his tail slid on the ground.

All night he climbed that way, body snug against the bark, the fur brushed it as he gently moved his massive body up it’s length. His claws moved as though he wanted to tickle a man’s back without being discovered. All night he climbed shielded from site by the tree, but the man still knowing he was there, somewhere. All night he climbed knowing that the man was an excellent position, but immobilized. The man was far out, but not too far out on the branch to reach, Salvatore just wanted no part of his fire stick. Slowly so slowly up he went, just as he had seen his mother hunt, moving only when the man looked away, stopping when he looked back, toward the trunk. Infinitely patiently he went until finally he reached the branch. Putting his forepaws out on the branch the man could not see him. The man could only guess that he was about 12 meters out from the trunk, but the man-eater knew exactly how far out he was, and when he got there he waited.

All the while he was sure it was there, down there, but where? Where is it? Where is the fucking thing? Down there, he knew it was down there coming up at him. With shredded hands that still ached he shot twice and reloaded. ” It’s down there, don’t be fooled”, he told himself, “it’s down there”. Death or redemption, one or the other was down there, he was sure of it. But sure as he was it wasn’t down there. When death came for him it came from the sky. From high in the trees across limbs a spider couldn’t crawl, dropped a 1000 pounds of vengeance intent on a kill.

Enraged by everyone or thing that had ever hurt him, engulfed by grief and guilt, delirious and distracted by pain he would never imagined that the tiger got above him, never believed it could outdo him, never even thought to look up, but Peter Harman neither saw nor felt the slicing, bludgeoning blow that killed him, that eviscerated him into a misty mix of blood and bone and skin, illuminated for a split second by the flash from a shotgun blast. Then the man-eater disintegrated with the mist of the man into the air without either hitting the ground and no one saw, no one knew, no one found any part of the man nor did they see the man eater again. The night was silent, the monster quieted, the Sundarbans restored.