The smell of burning flesh made his mouth water and his nostrils stretch to their limits.
He was hungry, famished, ravenous, after the endless punishing miles over rough stony terrain. Pus ridden blisters crippled his every barefoot step; he continued pushing himself through the spiteful pain that shot through his feet.
His stomach grumbled with emptiness he’d caught some insects, and ants to stifle the pangs as the parched sandy ground had little else to give. He had found no water and so he broke open cacti and other plants with his bony fingers to suck the juice, grateful for any liquid.
Hideous images rushed cruelly through him, flashing back to the screeching, the interminable screeching, so loud and high pitched that it had made him vomit viciously causing his eyes to waver and water. He had quickly protected his ears with two rags, his fingers pushing the material down deep into his eardrums.
Crouching behind a mossy boulder terrified, watching the tribe being petrified into a stupor by the incessant shrieking from the dreadful apparitions circling the village, he watched the life spirit drain out of them, their eyes no longer unoccupied. The children fell first and were voraciously devoured; he had to hold both hands tightly over his mouth to stop crying out his horror.
They stood no chance at all.
A blood lust frantically tore through the monstrous attackers. They hysterically threw their quarries’, blood dripping, still beating hearts through the gory air into a rising grisly pile.
The fighting, screeching, and snarling over bodies continued to tear its way through his tribe. Shaking, tormented from the brutal scene, he silently backed away.
He sat trembling behind a large tree on a hill afraid to look but eventually he opened his eyes and looked down at the ravaged village crimson with the blood of his desecrated people, their picked clean bones uniting them in death.
He scanned the landscape but the beasts had dissolved leaving his wretched soul to collapse. He sleepwalked away for days to where the nights were bone chilling cold.
Digging a burrow under the warm sand before sunset he slid in deep. Staring at the stars, tears of loneliness streaming down the sides of his cheeks, he prayed for his kin and begged the ancestors to protect him.
One morning he was awoken by the screeching. His whole body tensed and his heart thundered under the high pitch shriek. He looked over to the valley on his right where the terrible noise was emanating and headed as quickly as he could for a cave he had seen in the cliffs a mile way.
He struggled up the cliff, crossing a ledge to get to the cave. Looking over the view from behind a large rock, set away from the cave’s entrance, he saw smoke billowing from the ill-fated valley but heard no sound. It was already over.
He tentatively entered the dark coolness of the cave.
Something heavy rustled from deep within the darkness, it moved forward slowly and then through the blackness, two shining yellow eyes appeared, fierce with fear and mad with hunger.
Backing out of the cave into the heat he climbed down the cliff swiftly fueled by the adrenaline. As he walked away from the danger he looked up from a distance to see a tiger looking down on him, large but skinny, pacing the ledge.
A further mile away he found an abandoned tent in an old dried up gully which although wrecked was salvageable for his needs. In the hot sun, sweating, relieved to have something else to occupy him, he created a small place of sanctuary. It was low but he could sit up and undercover he felt safer, less vulnerable. He slept for hours that night and only awoke when he heard them again.
Lying still he prayed for protection but just as he finished, the face of the tiger appeared though the slit in the doorway. Terrified he backed up as far as he could but the tiger edged in, creeping along on its paws. The screeching continued, getting louder. The tiger looked at him with terrified beautiful eyes and dragged the rest of its long body urgently under the canvas.
They both listened, the tiger quietly whimpering, so he cautiously moved forward putting a hand on the tigers head for comfort. They awoke in the morning next to each other, both grateful for the company. They moved on in search of food and water arriving at the edge of a town, the tiger stayed under an upturned cart that he’d covered in canvas while he went in search for supplies.
The streets were quiet. Suddenly from nowhere a man strode out urging him inside a small dilapidated house. They spoke in the doorway whispering as if the volume would attract an attack.
All at once a group of hunters came through the gates, carrying the poor limp bleeding tiger. He rushed towards his dead companion screaming into the hot fur but he was pulled away roughly by a hunter.
When the townspeople hid in a cellar under the temple, the sages decreed that they must offer the heart of a tiger and burn its skin to drive away the devils. So the young and able men had gone out to hunt three days before, returning empty handed and starving until they’d spotted the tiger tail poking out from the upturned cart.
He sat despairing as they lit the handsome tiger skin that had warmed and comforted him. The whole town chanted and danced before the tall orange flames, the same colour as the skin. He mourned its large loving heart that had been laid out on a rock away from the village; it would be gone by morning.
As the ritual died down and turned into a celebration, the meaty aroma of his sacrificed companion drew wretchedness up through his bones causing him to falter but his thriving hunger dragged him on towards the nauseating meal to fill his starvation.
The ear-splitting screeches reached them at dawn.