The Hunted

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I slip softly through the shadowy underbrush, my vigilant, emerald eyes embellished with tiny flecks of golden light peering though the dense array of dampened forest leaves. A pawful of tiny silver globules of dew sprinkle down onto my face, and I lick them off with my enormous, rough, pastel pink tongue. My large but dainty paws pad across the mystifying foliage with hardly a sound resulting at all, save the faint snapping of brittle twigs and the crunch of fragile, fallen leaves decaying slowly on the jungle floor, eventually seeping into the ground to become an indistinguishable part of it, the drab, brownish soil mingling with the equally lackluster leaves, now stripped of their strange jungle beauty, to create a slightly altered yet still monotonous covering for the floor. No matter, for the still lurid, iridescent, jade leaves that remain fresh after their plunge from the mother tree rest upon the ground and fashion tolerable furnishings for my enigmatic home.

My ears perk up, detecting a shrill, piercing chattering in the treetops above, and I tilt my head upwards a bit. The heavens retain a salient ebony hue, lacking any sort of guiding light, empty of the moon, that glimmering, milky opal that far surpasses the brilliance of the sun. Its luminous reflection sparkles off the surface of a nearby pool of water collected in the basin of a gigantic leaf, the tiny beads of glistening liquid bulging off the pointed tip and careening to the ground below. The utter darkness and obscurity, distorting all images for most, proves to hardly cause a dilemma for me, since I, as a valiant night cat, posses an innate and unique sense of viewing everything clearly in even the murkiest conditions. My gleaming verdant orbs flitter back and forth rapidly, surveying the area for any threat. Turns out the noise simply belongs to one of those foolish monkeys that hop aimlessly around the treetops, calling out moronically to one another for no apparent reason. Hardly worth my time or concern. My muscles relax, my body now recognizing that the situation holds no certain peril for the moment, and I continue roaming through my territory. One in my position must constantly remain on a wary lookout, for danger could leap out of the gloom without my knowledge at any time, whether a hunter bent on my demise or a fierce creature of the forest intrudes my home. Either's assault could mean my death, if I don't stay on my guard at all times. Little individuals in my domain subsist that could even hope to overpower me or pose any sort of menace to my well-being, but I mustn't cease my alertness for even a moment, my instincts insist that I don't.

I wander between the towering trees, the coarse, black bark grazing my sleek fur as I slink past. The area explodes with sounds of the night, the shrieks, cries, whines, and growls echoing eerily in the darkness and filling my head with annoyance. They burden my ears with unwanted babble. I spy a few broadened, frightened spheres of golden incandescence blinking and sparkling through the bushes like gigantic stars, attentive and ready to scamper away should any sort of peril appear. They wait anxiously for me to depart as if I didn't see them, my daunting presence striking intense terror into their puny hearts. Well aware of them, I wish to spite them for their impudence. I can hear the hurried, uneven tempo of their breathing, broken and panicked. Dim-witted small beasts. They honestly believe they would devise any way to escape my onslaught if I resolved to choose one of them for my meal? I would surely overtake them in speed and intellect. I choose to look them over, almost chuckling haughtily to myself. I truly reign supreme over the forest.

I raise my petite, spongy, pink nose, sniffing the atmosphere for anything that can satisfy my throbbing craving for blood and flesh, which would seem repulsive to some, but my predatory nature demands a steady supply of each. I perceive the thick, sugary, heavy odor that meets with me frequently, the smell of that lovely claret fluid of life, the elixir that heals all. Its strong scent lingers in the air, dense and oh so enticing, seducing my mind completely and flowing into my nostrils like hot, milky, rippling rivers of ecstasy, driving me to follow its source. But before I can embark on this mission, a peculiar odor halts me, not unknown to me, but not common to my wits either. It has a smoky quality to it, not repulsive, but pleasing, nice...almost...almost like a gently flittering tributary of smoke drifting from a candle, a rarely seen, but definitely known, human device. Yet another of their hopelessly futile ways of improving the world to their standards. If the earth meant for you too cut through the gloom with vibrant, glowing eyes, then it would have made it so, and blessed you with such wondrous gifts. If that alas, does not occur, then that most definitely does not mean that Mother Earth wished for you to invent some 'ingenious' system to conquer your ineptitude and underdevelopment. Just deal with it! Or us more powerful beings shall butcher you, those meant to govern those below us. And that includes you, dear humans... But this aroma...it appears different, somehow...coarser, more rugged, like some obtuse, scraggly rodent wonderfully scalded alive in the midst of the sizzling summer sun, with no welcoming, moist, dripping forest leaves to shelter it, the sun's cruel rays beating down upon it with no hindrance and bringing the creature to its point of no return. I grin at the notion of its moldering corpse slowly decomposing on the steaming ground, giving off putrid masses of rancid smoke. Hmm...grilling rodents in the torrid heat of the desert...surely that would make an exciting meal. I could have dinner and a show...first viewing their demise, taking savage pleasure in watching their deplorable forms twitch and hiss as their hides get scorched off and they squawk in misery in those high pitched, meek, bothersome, voices they possess, confused and uncertain, but knowing in the roots of their instincts that they will surely die. I suppose their instincts shall prove correct, as just before they breathe their final sigh, I'll skulk close and devour them alive. Barbeque. My style. How simply divine. Returning from my contemptuous thoughts, though the recipients of these feelings well deserve this scorn, a greyish trail drifts by my nostrils, causing my long, slick whiskers to twitch and flutter a bit. I gaze at the drab, sinister serpent of smoke twisting in the air, dancing across the sky and intertwining with the vegetation it encounters, wrapping its wiry form around everything it passes. It seems to devour the plants and slumbering, exotic blossoms with its vicious, venomous fangs of smoke, swallowing them whole, shrouding its victims from view with its cloudy, veil-like body.

I remain motionless for a few moments, enthralled in the apparition, and suddenly cut my trance short when my eyes scream out in distress that the mysterious dragon has entered my eyes and caused a stinging pain to surface. I wince slightly at the stabbing pang that zips through my eyes, and a little stream of salty liquid dribbles down my face, catching on my whiskers, twinkling like a crystal for a moment. I smear my paw across my eyes, and instantly determine to discover where this smoke must have originated. I pursue the traces it left behind in its travels, which proves to have no great difficulty, as it has enveloped my surroundings with a narrow path of pale gas.

After traveling for a quarter of a mile or so, as a human would so casually say, my nose abruptly perceives a new scent. It reeks dreadfully, somewhat of a wretched mix of stale sweat, drying blood, and something I haven't smelt but twice before in my existence: gun shot. These nauseating stenches, sloppily merged together to create a vile substance, could cause even the mightiest of creatures to wail and scuttle away. But I have to figure out what kind of creature...alright, I have already quickly decided that the contemptible stench no doubt belongs to a human, as no other creature upon this earth has a dense enough mind to produce such an object of destruction as a gun. Also, their filthy, hairless bodies generate more putridly foul sweat than any species to grace-err, shame, this earth. They always seem to remind me of infant rodents, what with their flabby, pink, slimy flesh. I find it quite depressing and somewhat amusing that they retain this rank, naked image their entire lives. And if one thinks about how long they somehow manage to survive in such a pathetic state...one almost pities them. But then if one ponders how they hunt and slaughter animals in such cruel ways for the sole purpose of improving their pitiful appearance, certain condemnation befalls the pathos. But you see, their species lacks any physical strength and never learned to adapt to the environment, so they must manufacture complicated weapons and contraptions to protect themselves; otherwise they would have suffered mass massacring of their species millions of years ago. And they so adore dragging the 'primitive' animals into their world, annihilating them for their own frivolous 'needs.'

My eyes skim around the simple setup, the thin tent covered with grime, the blazing fire. I stare into the fathomless depths of the crimson flame, the scorching, blistering, deadly, pyro ballerinas coiling and intertwining with each other in a radiant performance to create one sweltering, devastating inferno, a vibrant orange glow echoing around it and revealing all shadowed surroundings. Surprising that this imbecile hasn't burnt the entire damn rainforest to a crisp. A long-barreled gun, propped up against a pair of leather boots, convinces me that this man most decidedly has the occupation of a hunter; either that or he just enjoys carrying a firearm with him for the sake of looking powerful. One never knows with humans. Considering their pathetic build, I suppose appearing superiority holds the best interests of them, if they ever expect to endure for longer than ten minutes on their own. The predicament most likely holds characteristics of the former guess. Damn. I glance down at my silken coat, the flowing auburn, cream, and midnight splotches of colors fusing and mingling together in a gorgeous pattern of stripes that would cause any tiger to boil over with hot envy. Perfect, yes, just so flawless. I smirk to myself, nearly coveting my own magnificence, and then the immediate danger dawns on me: any vain human would love to flaunt my stunning coat over their shoulders to swathe their own hideousness. Damn, I curse again. Must they maintain such wretched features that in order for them to obtain any splendor they must achieve it through the suffering of others? Damn them and their hideousness.

I jolt suddenly as I hear the vulgar tread of the man no doubt returning to his camp, as each footstep smashes into the ground in a boorish manner with little care, tattering the delicate leaves and elegant flowers. Only humans have such disregard for the forest. I crouch down low, concealing myself beneath the drooping branches of a dying tree. Its once imposing figure, slowly perishing, now eternally ensnared with an unrelenting army of lovely yet malicious vines, seems to weep ruefully with its fatigued, limply sagging branches. A few droplets of rainwater from the previous evening trickle down from the end of the leaves onto the tips of my ears, and I flick them, bothered, a couple times to rid them of moisture. The deceptive vines would appear to one as a miracle, an indescribably beautiful garland bedecked with glittering, mystifying blooms of exquisite pigments that exist no where else. Unbeknownst to many, the jade creepers enfold the helpless tree and snatch it of all life, smothering it in a way, crushing it, the splendor of the spectacle concealing this tragic fact. The poor tree has little power to stop their development, and they slowly obliterate it, apathetic to the damage they wreak. If the tree stood at its full striking height and could shake loose of the demanding vines, it would seem to kiss the sky and soar to the size of the world. How sad that a higher being handed it such a despondent fate. If only someone would rescue it...

I compel myself to return to my current impasse, and I direct my attention towards the man. In my few minutes of diverted concentration, he had plopped himself down on the ground and pulled a thick-glassed bottle out of one of his many bags. The fire causes a blinding glint to reflect off the smooth glass. He struggles for a few moments to open it, and then yanks the cap off with a little too much force, shoving him backwards. He pays no heed to this small delay and takes a long swig from the bottle, sighing at the finish. I take great interest in his actions for some reason, and then begin to question my purpose for lingering here.

I abide in this position for quite some time, my eyelids growing heavier, and lethargically slumping downwards as my body slouches closer to the ground. I force my eyes to awaken and shift around the encampment, my mind suddenly bored with his drunken state, and a malignant fury emerges in what I see. I hadn't noticed this in my prior scrutiny of the area. A pile of pelts. Tiger pelts. Audaciously and carelessly strewn in a large stack beside the tent. The once regal coats now denounced to this detestable level: a heap of fur, speckled with large stains of crunchy, sticky blood, no longer serving the grand monarchs of the rainforest that they once did. The goddamn bastard.

A guttural snarl resounds from my throat, gurgling up my throat and sharply rumbling out of my mouth, my lips drawn into a sneer, and the man spins around. I creep closer, and the man darts away, groping around for his gun in the misty shadows, for the fire had long ago flickered and spluttered and the once enormous flame had expired and dimmed to a wavering speck of light, aiding his search little. His hand dashes around frantically, and I grin to myself, knowing quite well that I've sealed his imminent doom. His hand finally seizes the machine, and he points it at me, the gun shaking in the air, and his trembling finger pulls back on the trigger. Nothing happens, save a weak click. He gasps, breathing some sort of inaudible swear to himself. He attempts once more, but in vain. He whimpers, now knowing full well that his executioner has arrived.

I narrow my eyes sadistically, and he yelps, leaping backwards. This does little to rescue him. I swiftly pounce forward, pinning his feeble human body beneath me, his head knocking against the dusty earth and disturbing the blanket of leaves plastering its surface. He grapples with my strong grip for a moment, freeing his right hand, and he wrenches out a long, engraved dagger from his pocket. For a moment, it entrances me, the swirling, seemingly ancient designs ensnaring my mind and soul, reviving a distant past from somewhere I cannot completely recall. He then plunges it into my shoulder blade with a swift motion of his steadily quaking arm, compelling my mind to once again float back to the present. Seems that happens often to me. I jump back, recoiling in agony as the blood pours out, soiling my coat and dripping onto the ground. Did a thousand knives slice into my skin? It seems so, as a thousand pangs of bursting torment detonate from that single, blood-doused source. I shudder in anguish, writhing on the floor, the excruciating soreness spreading throughout my entire body like a pestilent plague. Enraged, I emit an infuriated, maniacal, roar, and his sudden burst of courage dissolves instantly. He backs slowly away from me, eyes tremulous and huge with sheer dread, and the blade tinkles to the ground. I spring forward again, ignoring the searing, throbbing jolts of pain that spurt thought my entire body. He cries out in misery and bawls as my claws dig into his chest, simply making a fool of himself, for his feeble squawking proves to benefit him little. My powerful paw surges upwards and mercilessly tears open the flesh of his throat, and he moans as a crimson fountain erupts from the wound. I slice it yet again, and this time, he utters his final gasp of breath, and his eyes roll back into his head, leaving his sockets with nothing to occupy them but lifeless, opaque, chalky orbs. My fangs gouge into the tender flesh of his stomach, shredding it open with my teeth, and I callously devour it as a ruthless, untamed predator...after all, my birthright says I should dutifully do so. The syrupy substance gushes into my mouth, my insatiable thirst throbbing through my veins and longing to for satisfaction; its wish shall receive fulfillment...the juicy fluid surges down my throat and makes me ache for more. I slash at his carcass again and again, consuming the tantalizing flesh and gratifying, delicious, scarlet liquid flooding from his mutilated cadaver, yes, oh yes, the sweet, sweet, blood.

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Hours have passed, and I now lie underneath that tree again, that desolate, defenseless tree, slowly devastated, little by little. I glare back at the maimed corpse of the hunter, barely distinguishable as a man now, a pile of gummy blood and crumbling bones. Much like those tiger pelts that he so dearly paid for. A clouded film has materialized over his once active eyes, viscous and morose. The fire has perished, simply a collection of smoldering, smoking bits of blackened wood now. The heavens blush a pinkish sheen, a luminous aura to surround the rising sun to give light to the world. I sense the forest coming to the life of the day, creatures awakening for the great-anticipated light, while others search for a place to doze. I consider my options for a moment, and decide that I had best bathe if I wish to ever remove the crumbly blood clinging to my coat. Absolutely vomitrocious. I rise and roam away from the site, looking behind myself for one moment to remorsefully view that tree once more, and then turn my back and stride proudly away, my work finished.

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