Today’s prompt is here. Because I did not have much time to fill out yesterday’s story, I used today’s prompt to build on that idea and finish it.
She knew this presentation backwards, forwards, inside, and out; she gave it a good twenty times a day at least. But she loved it, and her eyes lit up every time. Carnivorous plants were so cool. They found a way to live in nutrient deserts and had so many tricks to attract their prey.
She is just getting to the part about how some of them grew so large in the wild that they can trap frogs and small mammals when shouts and screams reach her from the tiger pen. Her walkie talkie goes off, but other ‘keepers are already running over there. She starts running mid-sentence.
“We looked away for two seconds!” The two men were begging someone to do something. In the tiger pen was a child, maybe seven years old. The tiger was up and watching. The girl was crying. Stephanie was on the walkie-talkie, starting to coordinate. Someone needs to get over to the door and get the tiger out of the pen.
The tiger has other ideas. She is up and padding slowly toward the child. Another zookeeper yells into his walkie-talkie to get the tranquilizer NOW. The crowd around them pushes forward and yells and gasps. The zookeepers turn to see the fathers jump down into the pen. “Fuck.”
The faster of the men picks up the girl and turns to run back to the wall. The other man stands between them and the tiger. Stephanie runs up to the wall above them and yells down.
“DO NOT TURN AWAY FROM THE TIGER! LOOK HER IN THE EYES.” The men look toward the voice and then immediately back to the tiger. “They like to kill by biting the back of the head. DO. NOT. LOOK. AWAY. And don’t run. If she comes toward you, back slowly away. Got it?” They grunt up that they understand.
The men face the tiger. She prowls forward. The man in front holds up his hands as if to tell her to stop, and the family steps back together. The other man whispers into their daughter’s ear that everything will be okay and keeps her face turned into his shoulder. She cries, scared and scraped from her fall, and the anxiety pours off of her parents and the crowd above.
The door to the pen opens painstakingly slow, creaking as if it is threatening not to do its job. The iron smell of raw, bloody meat floats over the pen, and the tiger scents the air and turns toward the smell. Anticipation surges over the crowd. She takes a few steps toward the door and then turns back to the family and roars.
She just stands there between the family and the door, obviously not interested in dead meat. The family inches along the wall toward the door, but the cat is too close to the door for them to safely get inside. The ‘keepers above are screaming into walkie-talkies to get the gun here now and where the fuck is it. This is taking much longer than it should have.
Another scream from the crowd, but toward a different part of the pen. The zookeepers look. A woman is in the pen. “SHIT.” Stephanie screams her frustration at the other zookeepers. “Get this crowd away from the pen, RIGHT. NOW.” The ‘keepers get in front of the crowd and back it away, looking over their shoulders into the pen.
The tiger now looks anxious. She pans from the family to the woman. The woman slowly halves the distance between her and the tiger. Without looking at the men, she projects, “I am going to draw the tiger to me. Inch over more to the door. When she starts running to me, get inside.” She then yells up to the ‘keepers. “You hear that?! Make sure they can get out once they are through the door. Okay?!”
Stephanie looks conflicted. They cannot agree to this.
“Don’t make me do this for nothing. Okay?”
“Yeah. … Yeah.” She conveys the plan over the walkie-talkie and then demands again where the fuck the tranq is. Scrambled words say it is almost there. They had to get it from the lion’s area. “Where is the tiger one?!” They didn’t know. This situation was a fucking mess.
The woman yells at the tiger, turns, and runs. She heads toward a big, climbable tree. Her strong, chubby legs rushing and hoping she can make it.
The tiger takes the bait. The crowd inhales. Her stripes are lethal beauty. The man presses his daughter’s face into his chest. They move quickly to the door and push their child out. A ‘keeper is waiting for them, and they tell her to get their daughter out and turn back, watching.
The woman reaches the tree. She climbs and hooks her right leg over the first branch, but the tiger is there. She reaches up from her hind legs and digs claws into the flesh of the dangling leg. The woman slips down and grips the branch, screaming in fear, metallic adrenaline on her tongue. Her grip holds for two eternal seconds as the tiger lands on all fours and gears up to pull her down again. The branch slips from her sweating hands.
The ground pounds into her knees and cuts blood from the palms of her hands before it pushes the air out of her lungs. The tiger’s shadow covers her body. She screams “HELP!” The tiger’s jaws open for the kill bite. The woman asks forgiveness of her sins and hears the fathers shouting, “NO! You have to help her!” She can’t breathe. Foul breath breezes through her hair.
“RUN!” A soft pop displaces the air. The tiger roars painfully. “THE TRANQ ISN’T INSTANT. YOU HAVE TO MOVE!” The crowd shoves forward past the zookeepers, pressing against the railing, not daring to push past. The people watch the woman flip over and look the tiger in the eyes as she scoots away on one leg. Stephanie directs, “YOU NEED TO HEAD MORE TO YOUR RIGHT.” The woman corrects.
Three hundred pounds of tiger pads slowly after her, listing slightly. The tiger sniffs the ground where the woman drug her useless leg and licks something into its mouth. Several people turn away, green; one rushes toward the bathroom but only makes it to the bushes before throwing up the overpriced zoo food.
The woman is slowing down, crying, mewling for someone to help. The tiger sways more, drunker on the tranquilizer, growling. One of the fathers runs out, the other grabbing after him before exiting and standing right next to the door. The first man slows to a steady, crouched walk to their savior. He whispers into her ear, eyes on the tiger, and lifts her up under the arms. The woman grabs hold of her damaged, bleeding leg, skin and muscle flapping against her hand.
The tiger gives up an lays down, roaring out a last protest against the lost kill. The man carry-drags the woman backwards to the exit, and his partner helps to pass the woman through the door to pairs of zookeeper hands. The crowd exhales when the door finally, painstakingly shuts the people out.
The woman shows off her tiger striped fake leg to the girl. She had it specially done, because it just seemed appropriate. The girl touches it and says it is really cool. Her fathers ask the woman if she is really ready to do this.
“Hell, yeah. It’s been a year, and I’ve had a lot of therapy. No one is going to jump in this time, right?” The girl blushes and said “No.” The woman laughs, good natured but the undertone was nervous. “Can you hold my hand while we do this?” The girl nods and takes her hand.
The group walks up to the pen. The tiger stares at the ones that got away through the new thick, glass barrier.