13
Dec

And, a Little Child Shall Lead Them.

An Amended scene from Mrs. Odboddy - And Then There was  a Tiger. Available at Amazon in e-book for $3.99  https://tinyurl.com/y96qshuv

Grandma took Maddie’s hand and marched her through the carnival. The crowd increased as they got closer to the stage where the tiger would perform. Grandma nodded to her neighbor. “Morning, Mrs. Williams. So, you’ve come to see the tiger?”

“They say it’s not even in a cage. You don’t suppose it’s wild, do you?”

“Can’t imagine they’d let a tiger perform outside if it was,” Grandma squeezed Maddie’s hand. “I suspect it hasn’t eaten any little girls for a while.”

“Grandma!” Maddie sidled closer. “That’s not funny!” Her eyes were as bright as twinkling stars and her smile held the delicious anticipation of a child entering a Halloween haunted house.

It was unlikely Maddie had ever experienced meeting a tiger face to face. Though, she had to admit, meeting a tiger was a first for her too.

The crowd gathered in front of a boxcar-like wagon covered with a painted canvas depicting a ferocious tiger leaping through a fiery hoop. Brightly colored red and yellow wheels protruded from beneath the canvas.

The crowd stilled as grunts and rumbles came from inside the wagon; as if a tiger was scratching its claws on the floor of its cage. All eyes turned toward the door, watching for the emerging tiger. A gentle breeze blew strands of hair into Maddie’s face. She shivered. Grandma squeezed her hand.

Roar!

The crowd froze and then anxious titters broke out. A baby wailed. The door of the tiger’s cage slowly swung open. A man emerged, dressed in a yellow shirt and red trousers. He tipped his hat to the crowd as he stepped off the metal step. He bowed toward the open door, drew a whistle from his pocket and blew a shrill note. The crowd waited. Ten seconds, then twenty. No one spoke. Someone coughed. Where was the tiger? The trainer leaned toward the door, expectantly. “Come on out and say hello, Sher Khan!”

Sher Khan! Like the Jungle Book tiger! Grandma grinned.

Another scratching sound came from behind the canvas. Again, the crowd tittered. Feet shuffled. And then, an orange and black striped nose appeared through the open door and the beast leaped onto the platform, its eyes roaming the crowd.

The crowd murmured and those closest to the platform stepped back. Coming to see a tiger perform was one thing; actually seeing one three feet away, unchained and unrestrained, was quite another. Maddie cringed against Grandma’s leg.

“Sher Khan. Wave hello to the nice people.” The trainer made a circular gesture with his wand. Sher Khan sat back on his haunches, lifted his front feet and waggled one foot. The trainer pulled a bit of beef jerky from his waist and slipped it to the big cat.

The crowd clapped and laughed. They knew the tiger was tame, their smiles declared. They weren’t the least bit afraid. Not really.

“Sher Khan! Up.” The trainer’s short stick tapped a large rubber ball. The tiger leaped onto the ball. The ball rolled across the stage with the cat balanced on top. The audience exploded with hoots, claps and whistles.

For the next ten minutes, the trainer put the tiger through his paces. At one point, the tiger lay on the platform, looking like a giant striped pussy-cat.

It was hard to imagine this gentle giant stalking an antelope, leaping, killing it with one snap of its jaws. Hard to imagine its jowls covered in warm blood, fending off predators determined to share his bounty. Hard to imagine the beast dragging its kill through the underbrush to a den where cubs might await their first taste of meat. Such was life in the jungle.

Not this tiger. This one was as tame as a pet cat. He was probably hand-raised as a cub, likely declawed and totally dependent on a human to provide his food on the end of a stick. He’d never see an antelope and even if he was starving, wouldn’t know what to do with it if he saw one.

“Does anyone want to come and pet Sher Khan? He’s very friendly.” The trainer pointed to Maddie. Maddie glanced at Grandma. Was she asking for permission, or seeking a way to decline?

“Do you want to pet him?” Grandma touched Maddie’s cheek.

“I…I…think so. Yes!” She pulled away from Grandma’s hand.

“Good!” Grandma nodded. “That’s my brave girl.”

Maddie stepped onto the platform, put out her hand to touch Sher Khan’s head, then ran one finger over his ear. She grinned at the crowd, sheer joy on her face. “He’s so soft!” She stroked down his neck and scratched behind his ear.

The tiger turned toward the welcome stroke and yawned, showing long sharp teeth. His eyes closed and he lowered his head onto his paw, a rumble in his throat expressing pleasure.

Several other children had gained the courage to approach the stage. The trainer touched Maddie’s shoulder. “Can the other children have a turn, honey?”

Maddie returned to her grandmother. “He just likes me. See how he’s turning away from the other children?”

Indeed, Sher Khan had stood and was ambling back toward his cage, apparently having had his fill of public adoration. He looked ready for a nap and within seconds, he was up the steps and back in his cage. “Well, guess the show’s over. Our star needs his beauty sleep,” the trainer chuckled.

“Ohhh!” The crowd mumbled and then drifted away, toward other carnival events.

“Are you ready to go back, Maddie?” Grandma pushed a lock of hair off her face.

Maddie stood, unmoving, a faraway look in her eyes. She gazed at the door where the tiger had disappeared. She seemed unwilling to release the memory of the tiger’s ear, reluctant to forget the rumble in his throat as she stroked his head.

“Maddie?” Grandma whispered, looking at Maddie’s face. The child was lost in a shared moment with a creature from the wild, reluctant to move past it, to return to present day. “Shall we go?”

“I was remembering," she said. "Did you see how he looked at me? I remember him. From before, when we were in Heaven together and Sher Khan and I played in a meadow with some baby lambs and goats. Do you think he remembered me, too, Grandma?”

“What strange ideas you have, child. Where do you come up with such things?” Grandma grasped Maddie’s hand and hurried her away. Played together in Heaven? What could have put such a thought into her head?

Grandma glanced at Maddie’s face. Her eyes were aglow. Her smile was as innocent as an angel. Her face looked as one might imagine if she was remembering standing at the pearly gates, catching a glimpse directly into Heaven. Grandma swallowed a lump in her throat. Goosebumps crept up her arms and a tear pricked her eyes. Maybe…maybe she was remembering. Wasn’t there a verse in the Bible…?  The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.

(Isaiah 11:6 KJV)

Leopards? Wolves? Lions? Why not tigers?

 

23
May

Excerpt: And Then There Was a Tiger (WWII novel)

This is an edited scene from my next novel, coming this summer. And Then There Was a Tiger. Watch for announcement of publication.

Agnes took Maddie’s hand and marched her down the aisle towards the back parking lot to the tiger exhibition. “Morning, Mrs. Williams. So, you’ve come to see the tiger, too?”

“I’ll admit, the idea makes me a bit nervous. You don’t suppose it’s a wild one, do you?”

“Can’t imagine they’d let it perform out in the open if it was.” Agnes grinned down at Maddie and squeezed her hand. “I suspect it hasn’t eaten any little girls for a while.”

“Grandma!” Maddie sidled closer to Agnes’s leg. “That’s not funny.” Her eyes were as bright as sparklers on the Fourth of July.

Agnes’s heart warmed, seeing Maddie’s pleasure. It wasn’t likely she had ever met a tiger face to face. For that matter, meeting a tiger was a first for her too.

The spectators gathered in front of a boxcar-like caravan with a painted canvas draped over the front bars. Brightly colored yellow spoked-wheels jutted from beneath the wagon.

The crowd heard grunts and grumbles behind the canvas. They eagerly awaiting the first sign of the emerging tiger.

Roar!

The tiger’s cage creaked and swung open. A young man emerged, dressed in a blue and yellow shirt and red trousers. He stepped down the metal step carrying a short red and white striped stick resembling a magician’s wand. He bowed to the audience, then glanced back toward the open door, drew a whistle from his pocket and blew a shrill note. “Don’t be shy, Shere Khan. Come on out and say hello to the nice people.”

Scratching sounds came from behind the canvas, like the sound one might imagine a tiger would make as it rises from a metal floor, intent on hunting its prey. An orange nose appeared through the open door and the beast leaped onto the ground. Yellow eyes roamed the crowd.

The spectators murmured and took a collective step backwards. Coming to see a tiger was one thing–actually seeing one three feet away, unchained and unrestrained, was quite another.

“Shere Khan.” The trainer waved his stick in a circular motion. “Wave hello to the nice people.”

“Is he dangerous?” Someone called from the audience.

“Only when he’s hungry.” The trainer chuckled. “Up! Shere Khan!”

Shere Khan sat back on his haunches, lifted his front feet and waggled one foot.

A wave of oohs, aahs and nervous titters broke out in the audience.
They inched forward, clapped and laughed. They weren’t afraid. Not really. They knew he was tame. Heads nodded and smiled.

For the next ten minutes, the trainer put the tiger through his paces. After each trick, he gave the cat a treat from the bag at his waist. At one point, the tiger lay on the platform, gazing at the crowd, looking like an enormous, striped housecat.

Agnes dabbed her hankie across her forehead again as her thoughts turned to Shere Khan’s distant furry relatives. Too many had fallen prey to the hunter’s guns and the clothing industry, now that Hollywood starlets fancied fur coats. Shere Khan’s native cousins should be thankful that fox fur coats had more recently become more fashionable this season than tiger. Even so, the threat imposed by poachers was still very real. She envisioned wealthy and unscrupulous hunters stalking an unsuspecting prey, seeking tiger skin rugs and tiger heads mounted over their bars.

It was hard to imagine this gentle giant pursuing an antelope, leaping on its back, killing it with one snap of his jaws. Hard to imagine his jowls covered in the life’s blood of the still warm antelope, snarling to fend off predators determined to steal his bounty. Hard to imagine the beast dragging his kill through the underbrush, perhaps to a nearby den where two or three cubs awaited their first taste of meat. Such was a wild tiger’s life in the jungle.

This tiger was probably hand-raised, likely declawed and now totally dependent on a human to provide his meat on the end of a stick. It was doubtful he’d ever seen an antelope, and even if starving, wouldn’t know what to do if he saw one.

The trainer’s voice snapped her back to the present. “Does anyone want to pet Shere Khan?” The trainer pointed to Maddie. “You?”

Maddie glanced up at Agnes.

“What do you think?” Agnes touched Maddie’s cheek. “Do you want to pet him?”

“I…I…think so. Yes!” She pulled away from Agnes and stepped closer.

Maddie reached out her hand and touched Shere Khan’s head, then ran one finger over his ear. “He’s so soft.” She stroked down the tiger’s neck and scratched his ear.

Shere Khan turned toward the caress, opened his mouth and yawned, showing long sharp teeth. His eyes sought Maddie’s face and their eyes locked in a gaze that seemed to connect their soul. At last he blinked and lowered his head onto a giant paw.

Seeing Maddie’s delight, several other children rushed forward.

The trainer motioned them back. “Just one at a time.”

Maddie returned to Agnes. “He only likes me. See how he’s turning away from the other children?”

Indeed, Shere Khan stood and ambled back toward his caravan, apparently he'd had enough public adulation. Within seconds, he was up the steps and out of sight.

Agnes reached for Maddie’s hand. “Are you ready to go back now?”

Maddie's gaze was fixed on the spot where Shere Khan had disappeared. She rubbed her fingers together, seeming unable to relinquish the sensation of the tiger’s ear, reluctant to forget the rumble in his throat as she stroked his face. The child seemed lost in the memory of a special shared moment with a creature from the wild, reluctant to return to her life where troubling events were a daily occurrence. “Shall we go, sweetheart?”

Maddie blinked. “I remember, before I was born, we were in Heaven and we played in a meadow with baby lambs and goats. Was Shere Khan remembering, too, Grandma?”

“What strange ideas you have, child. Where do you come up with such things?” Played together in Heaven? What could have put such a thought into her head?

Maddie’s eyes were aglow, her smile as innocent as an angel. She looked as though she was truly catching a glimpse directly into Heaven where she had played in a meadow with a tiger.

Goosebumps crept up Agnes’s arms. Maybe Maddie was remembering. Hadn’t Pastor Lickleiter just preached on this text and encouraged the congregation to memorize the Bible verse? The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6 KJV)

Wolves? Leopards? Lions? Who’s to say there wasn’t a tiger among them?

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