Art - Mike Fyles
July 17, 1934
The first tiger surprised Helene Vaughn. The young aviatrix was trying on outfits in a small dressing room at the Robinson’s department store in Beverly Hills. She put on a cute Tartan plaid skirt and short-sleeved white top she hoped to wear to her pal Martha Mansfield’s birthday party. She opened the dressing room door to get the sales girl’s opinion.
The girl wasn’t there.
A tiger looked up at Helene and snarled. Helene screamed, jumped back, and slammed the door in the beast’s face.
Moments later she heard the sales girl come running, “What’s the problem, Miss…?” The young woman screamed - apparently she saw the problem - screamed again, and ran off.
Moments later she heard the sales girl come running, “What’s the problem, Miss…?” The young woman screamed - apparently she saw the problem - screamed again, and ran off.
Helene grabbed her purse, stepped up on the dressing room bench and peeked over the thin wall. The tiger sniffed at the crack under the door. Helene’s eyes were as big as saucers. She moved to the side and looked over the wall into the neighboring changing room.
An older woman looked up at Helene indignantly, “Do you mind?”
Helene said, “No, not really.” She looked back in her changing room and saw tiger paws pulling at the flimsy changing room door. Helene turned back and smiled at the woman below her and said, “I’ll need your room for a minute…”
The tiger got both paws hooked on the top of her door and pulled itself up. Helene flipped over the partition into the neighboring room just as the tiger tore the door off. The beast saw Helene disappear and snarled. Helene scrambled across the dressing room and over the next wall. The tiger returned to the corridor and followed: jumping on one door after the next, getting there just in time to see Helene go over the next divider.
Helene reached the last changing room and was relieved that it was empty. The beast tore at the door. Helene popped up to see that she was at the end of the narrow hall. Trapped. The tiger batted at the door. It wouldn’t last long.
Helene jumped up on the partition to go back the way she came from. The tiger smashed in the door. Helene ran across the top edge of the dressing room walls. Women shrieked. The tiger scrambled after Helene. The other women, some barely dressed, scattered screaming into the store.
Helene leaped down in the last room and opened the door just as the tiger scrambled over the wall. The Bengalese beast lunged at her. She slammed the door on its head and it went down in a heap, out cold.
The Ladies Department Manager rushed in. “Oh, thank goodness, you’ve saved us all. And made yourself two hundred smackers.”
Helene was taken aback, “What are you talking about?”
“I just heard on the radio. The Barham African Adventure Show’s got a two hundred dollar reward for each of their escaped tigers.”
“Great!” Helene gave her a cockeyed grin, “Wait… Each tiger? How many are there?”
“Seven, they had a truck accident, they and escaped …”
“Never mind. One down. Make sure to secure him. I don’t know how this one got in here, but I bet the others aren’t far off.” Helene grinned as she ran out of the store.
Wilshire Boulevard was busy in mid-afternoon but there was no sign of the tigers. Helene had no trouble hailing a cab. She climbed in the hack and barked to the driver, “Griffith Airfield! There’s an extra fin in it for you if you make it quick!”
“Sure thing, Miss!” He stomped on the accelerator.
Twenty-five harrowing minutes and a couple of stops later they arrived at the small airfield. Helene paid the cabbie and ran with her packages to her small plane. A wiry, middle-aged mechanic met her there.
“What’s the hurry, Vaughn?”
“Six tigers, Peavy.”
“Six? Radio said there were seven…”
Helene grinned, “Bagged one at the Robinson’s. Knocked out cold. I called the Circus from there to claim that one.”
“Nice work. They were lucky you were there.”
“It didn’t feel lucky at the time… then I heard about the reward. Two hundred bucks a piece. That will go a long way toward the dream…”
Peavey frowned. “Awww, you’re not still thinking about that are you? Too damn dangerous.”
“It’s my dream and you know it!” Helene drew herself up straighter. “I will be the first pilot to fly solo across the heart of Africa”
The mechanic smiled. “Sometimes dreams should remain just that…”
“Shut up, Peavy. I need a pistol and a net.”
“You’re not gonna kill ‘em, are you?”
Helene smirked, “Not unless I have to. I picked up a tranq rifle on the way over.”
“Aww right!” He headed for the hanger and Helene followed with her gear.
Helene’s plane was a stubby little number - an old but well cared for Spad XIII. Helene had painted her a dusty pink and white and called her “Frenchie.” Helene pulled her aviatrix suit and helmet out of the storage compartment on the plane, stripped to her skivvies, and put them on.
Peavy returned as Helene finished changing. He handed her his old service pistol, ammo, and the net. She strapped on the pistol and loaded the rest into the open cockpit.
“Get me airborne!”
Peavy ran to the front of the plane and Helene scrambled into the crowded cockpit. She threw the ignition switch and eased the throttle back. Peavy threw the propeller and the old Spad rumbled to life. The mechanic pulled the wheel chocks, smiled at Helene and gave her the thumbs up. Helene pulled the throttle open and the plane rattled into the sky.
Peavy watched her leave and shook his head, “One day that dame is gonna get herself in real trouble, flying off… worse than that Secord kid…”
Helene pulled hard on the stick and banked over the Hollywood Hills past that damn hideous, gigantic real estate sign. It was already starting to fall apart. She still couldn’t believe the city let them put it up. Well, at least it gave her a good landmark.
She hoped the big cats would stick together. As she reached Beverly Hills she circled slowly - watching and listening. Sure enough, before long there was honking. She descended to fifty feet while she watched the traffic.
Everything was normal until she reached the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Rodeo Drive. Traffic was snarled and people leaped out of their cars and scattered.
Helene grabbed her radio mic. “This is Frenchie One. Peavy, are you there?”
After a long static filled silence, the mechanic got on the radio. “What you got, Vaughn?”
“Call the Beverly Hills PD and tell them those cats are at Santa Monica and Rodeo…”
“Wait -Never mind. They bolted across Santa Monica… Headed North East.”
Helene lost them in the thick vegetation of the Beverly Hills estates. She flew in wide circles, spotting the cats a few times as they headed North East. She never saw more than five at a time.
The cats passed under the HOLLYWOOD LAND sign that Helene had flown over. They followed the road to the radio broadcast tower. Helene stayed with them, circling. The tigers headed East as they crossed the ridge. They were soon in heavy brush and headed for the scrubby trees.
“How’s it going, Vaughn?”
“They’re still headed North East.”
Peavy grunted, “Crap. Them golf courses will be full of players on a nice day like this…”
“Yeah, I’m gonna set down there.”
“Head back here and we’ll drive in.”
Helene said, “Negative. I’m not gonna lose ‘em. I’ll put Frenchie down on the links and bag those kitties.”
“I still think you should come here, but I’ll meet you there…”
Peavy warned, “Watch yourself… Those cats are smart.”
Helene threw the Spad into a looping turn and buzzed her prey. The cats were startled and she buzzed them again, trying to push them away from the golf course clubhouse. They scrambled along the hillside, but a few kept going toward the links.
Helene circled once to lock in the tigers’ location and then headed for the 7th hole. She saw the fairway was free. The biplane descended. Helene buzzed twenty feet over the tee box. A foursome ducked and cursed.
A golf ball ricocheted off the cockpit as Helene eased off speed. She set down on the manicured grass. The golfers yelled at her for being a hazard, then just played through. Another ball hit the plane and bounce off into the rough.
Helene turned on the golfers and yelled, “Watch it! This plane’s expensive!”
Three of the foursome caught up as her plane rolled to a stop. The other man chased his ball into the rough.
“What’s the meaning of this?” the tallest man said.
“Any of you duffers seen a big cat?”
The golfers laughed. “Aww, pretty lady lost her kitty?”
“Not exactly. You see…”
“AHHHH!” The duffer in the rough screamed.
Helene leaped out of her plane, rifle in hand, while the golfers gawked. She pushed a tranquilizer round into the rifle as she charged toward the golfer in the waist high grass. He screamed again and ran toward her. Helene shouldered the rifle. The man panicked and dove into the grass.
BLAM! The rifle fired just as a tiger leaped out of the grass toward the cowering man. The heavy beast flattened him. He screamed and struggled, but after a moment the cat lay still.
The other golfers applauded. Their friend under the tiger yelled, “Hey, can you get this damned thing offa me?”
Helene laughed and said, “Why, you’re welcome, sir. No, it was no trouble to land my plane and save your life. Pictures? I don’t have time.” She marched off.
The men stood in silence with mouths agape.
The cargo door in the side of her plane opened and Helene pulled one of the thick rope nets out and tightly wrapped the big cat. Then she jumped on the wing, reached in the cockpit and called Peavey.
“Hey, Helene, how’s it going?”
“Great, I just bagged number two in the rough on the 7th fairway. Bring the truck over.”
“Roger that, I saw you flyin’ in, and I’m almost there.”
Helene turned around and saw Peavy’s stake-bed truck rumbling down the fairway. She smiled as he pulled up. “Peavy!”
He jumped down from the cab and smiled at the men surrounding Helene. “Well, I see you found a crowd. Hello boys - why don’t you help me load this kitty on the truck?
The men pitched in as Helene jogged past the rough and off the golf course onto the rugged hillside.
“I see how it is,” one of the golfers said, “You do the work and she takes a powder.”
Peavey said, “Yea, a powder. I don’t see any of you guys going after those tigers.”
A duffers jaw dropped, “Tigers? You mean there is another one of these beasts around?”
“Thank god,” the tallest man said.
Peavy grinned. “There’s not another one of these beasts around. There’s five more tigers out there, nearby, and hungry.” Peavy spun quickly. “There’s one!” The golfers shrieked, threw their clubs and ran for the clubhouse.
Peavy couldn’t stop laughing as he walked over to check on Helene’s Spad.
The rocky ground slipped under Helene’s feet as she climbed. There was a snarl above her. She looked up and saw a female tiger lounging on a rock about twenty feet above her. The rock stood in front of a sheer rock face. There was little choice for the tiger but to come at her. Helene unslung the tranq rifle and while she was off balance, the tiger pounced.
The gun was knocked loose and the cat and Helene went sliding down the scree. They tumbled over each other and finally separated as they slid to a stop near the mouth of a cave. The tiger scrambled in. Helene smiled as she got to her feet. Bronson Cave was a leftover mining tunnel that was used in movie shoots all the time. She had been there before.
“I know something you don’t know.” Helene rustled her feet in the rocks, took a few steps toward the cave and then silently backed away. She moved as quietly as she could over the boulders, headed alongside the rocky outcrop. She reached a second opening into the cave. Helene shouldered her rifle and moved in as silently as she could. She hugged the wall to prevent her being a silhouette against the bright opening and crept forward. She reached a fork and went left, keeping to the wall. For a moment the place was black as pitch; then dim light shone ahead. Helene kept to the wall.
A low rumbling breath froze the aviatrix in her tracks. She breathed silently through her mouth, knowing full well that the cat could surely smell her.
She crept slowly toward the cat, favoring stealth over speed. Then she heard it. Another tiger. Behind her. She whirled around and fired, catching the leaping tiger in the neck.
The tiger’s chest collided with the tranq rifle’s barrel and knocked Helene over. The big cat landed on her and pawed at her, but the beast was getting groggy. Helen groped blindly for the rifle. Her fingers found it in the dirt. She pulled the rifle between herself and the cat and pried it off her. She dug in her pocket for another dart and jammed it in the gun. She whirled around looking for the other tiger. Nothing.
She pinned her back against the cave wall and froze, listening. Silence. She waited. Helene heard the faintest rustle of paw on the gravel behind her. She slowly turned. Silence was everything now. She stared into the dark. Waiting. Listening. She saw the faintest glint of an eye and fired as the tiger lunged. Moments later, the tiger was out cold.
Helene took advantage of her adrenaline and ran most of the way back to the plane. Unfortunately when she burst through the brush onto the fairway, Peavey, her plane, and his truck were all gone.
“Dammit! Where, he go?”
She whirled around, looking for something, anything that would help. A hundred yards away she saw the back side of the clubhouse. A garage door rolled up and a greenskeeper’s cart rolled out. She ran for it.
Fifteen seconds later she arrived as the old man was shutting the door. Helene hopped into the idling cart, put her rifle in the back, and pressed the gas. The motor sputtered and blared, but she was on her way. The old man yelled and cursed, but Helene didn’t look back.
The cart was much faster than walking and narrow enough to navigate the rugged trails. She soon arrived back at Bronson Cave.
The cats were gone. Helene carefully looked around the small cave, thinking the animals might have crawled away. As she got to the smaller of the two rear exits, a motor blared to life back at the front of the cave.
Her eyes probed in the dark frantically. She managed to not bash her head in her frantic exit. As she reached the cave’s narrow opening she raised the tranq rifle. A three-wheeled open Cushman cart roared by. Helene fired. Her aim was true and the driver grabbed at his shoulder. It took him a few moments to get the dart out.
Helene ran as fast as she could. The man in the Cushman swerved and weaved. The tigers flopped around in the back of the cart. Finally, the man slumped forward and the cart stopped. Helene caught up to him and jumped into the Cushman cart, pushing the man into the other seat.
Helene sped off down the trail. She was at the clubhouse in no time. The back was all closed up, so she went around front.
Helene rumbled in, parked, and made sure that the cats were still secure. It was only then that she became aware of her surroundings. Golfers on the practice green were staring at her. That stare. Helene looked down and saw that her blouse was ripped and filthy, but more interestingly to the men, it was open to her waist and her bra wasn’t much better shape.
“What? You boys never seen a lady before? Get over it.” She pulled her shirt shut as best she could and marched across the green and into the “Nineteenth Hole” bar at the clubhouse.
She kept marching until she was behind the bar and dialing the phone. The bartender could do little but stare.
“Peavy’s service, may I help you?”
“WHERE THE HELL DID YOU GO? AND GET YOUR BUTT TO THE GOLF COURSE BAR RIGHT NOW!!!”
She slammed down the phone and poured herself a gin and tonic.
The bartender said, “You’re welcome.”
Twenty minutes later, Peavy arrived. Helene sat at an outside table on the clubhouse veranda nursing her drink. She had tied her top shut. Peavy ran over. Helene scowled at him. “This had better be good, Peavy. Goddamn good.”
He gestured at the truck and smiled. “Look in the truck.”
“I hope my plane isn’t in there…”
“Look in the truck.”
Helene held on to her drink and walked to the back of the truck and pulled down the gate. There were two tigers tied up in there. She kissed Peavy on the mouth. “Where did you get that one?”
“Well… It and another one ran out of the rough after you took off. They were gettin’ away so I jumped in the truck to follow them.”
“And my plane?”
Peavy looked surprised. He looked around the parking lot and on the fairway. “Huh… The kid was poking around the airfield and he asked me where it was and I told him. I guess he came by and picked it up.”
Helene rolled her eyes and finished her drink. “Well, we better go pick up the other ones I darted.”
The old mechanic said, “How many did you get?”
“Two more. Let’s go.”
After muscling the two tigers that were darted in the cave into the back of the truck, Peavy headed off the golf course. Helene flipped on the radio and picked up the mic, “Calling Frenchie One… Calling Frenchie One…”
“This is not your mother, kid… You in my plane?”
“Goddammit, kid do you read me?”
“Answer the goddamn radio or I will shove it so far up your aa…”
“Go ahead, this is Frenchie…”
“YOU ARE NOT FRENCHIE!!! I AM GODDAMN FRENCHIE!!!! WHERE IS MY GODDAMN PLANE?!?!
“Flying straight and smooth at about 500 feet.”
Helene was livid with the sassy kid. “You get my plane to the damn airfield RIGHT NOW!”
Peavy looked at Helene and back to the road. There was an explosion coming and he did not want to be the one on the receiving end of it.
The kid broke the silence. “I don’t think you want me to do that, at least not right now.”
Peavy thought Helene was going to tear a muscle or something in her neck or shoulders. She was briefly speechless as her muscles writhed around while she searched for words. The silence didn’t last long. “WHY THE HELL NOT?”
It didn’t take forever for the kid to reply. He underplayed it. “Because I’m flying over two tigers right now.”
Helene burst out laughing. “All right, you got me. I’ll meet you at the airfield and you can give me my plane back.”
The kid said, “No. I’m not kidding. I’m tracking two of the tigers as we speak.”
Helene’s anger deflated. She took a couple of breaths. “OK kid, stick with them, those are the last two. Where are they?”
“Working their way up the Los Angeles River.”
Helene sighed. “We’re on the way. Keep on them.”
Peavy raced up Riverside and Helene hung out the window searching for her plane. After ten minutes, Helene lost patience. She grabbed the radio mic. “What the Hell is going on up there, kid?”
Peavy looked over at Helene. Her eyes were wide and her mouth was moving, but no words were coming out. He muttered, “Oh, boy…”
Helene stared daggers at the mechanic.
Peavy continued, “Be nice…”
Helene closed her eyes for a moment prior to thumbing the mic on. She took a deep breath. “Where are you and where are the tigers?”
“Well… They went under some trees about ten minutes ago and now I’m not sure…”
“You lost them?”
“I guess so… Sorry…”
“Well you better find them Goddamn quick or you will never be able to find or remove my boot from up your backside. I will never give you another flying lesson and I will never…”
Peavy grabbed the mic out of her hands and threw it to the floor. “Just so you don’t say something you’ll regret later…” Helene’s eyes were daggers for a moment, then softened to simple frustration.
The kid cut in, “Sorry. I’m sorry Helene. I’ll keep looking…”
Helene retrieved the mic from Peavy’s hands and said, “Thanks, kid.”
Peavy continued driving on Riverside for a few more minutes.
Helene looked at him and said, “They could be anywhere. We might as well head back to the airfield and take care of the ones we’ve got.”
Peavy smiled. “You got it.”
Helene and Peavy drove in silence. She stared out at the scrub covered hills. Her mind drifted off, imagining she was taking off from the Liberian capital, Monrovia, and heading East over the dark African continent. She wanted that dream so badly, and soon it would be true. Soon…
What was that poking in her side? Her mind returned to Peavy’s truck… He was saying something…
“Back to Earth, Helene… ARE YOU WITH US?!?”
She shook the lingering dream off. “Yeah, I’m here.”
“Good. Did you hear that last transmission?”
Helene looked down.
Peavy said, “Well, I guess not. There was some radio chatter from the Zookeepers. Something about the keepers spotting a couple of tigers loose in the zoo and naturally they thought their animals had escaped, so they opened up the enclosure to try and herd them back in.”
Helene finished the thought, “So now their own tigers are loose as well. Helene shook her head, “Great… So now there’s two extra tigers out there… Well, at least we know where they are…”
Peavy pulled into the Zookeeper’s parking lot. Helene grabbed her rifle and the rest of the tranq rounds; there were only five left. She put the box of traditional ammo in her bag as well.
Peavy gave her a sharp look. She said, “Just in case…”
They heard screaming and ran toward the zoo.
People were frantic as they ran out of the zoo. Mothers dragged their children. Fathers carried theirs. A young couple saw Helene and Peavy. The woman said, “Stop! Don’t go! Tigers on the loose! Keeper attacked!”
Helene brandished her rifle and said, “Don’t worry about me, sister! I’ve already bagged five tigers today!”
The couple’s jaws dropped and they ran off.
Helene and Peavy ran against the tide of frantic zoo visitors. They soon arrived at a large park area in the middle of a rough circle of rocky enclosures and large cages. The crowd was gone, and so were the keepers.
They soon found the tiger cage. It was a low, wide simulated hill with a deep trench in front where the animals spent the day, but there was a much larger section out of view of the public. Helene ran to a gate marked, KEEPERS ONLY, and pushed through.
Inside the Keepers area, men were brandishing long poles with a ring at the end, searching for the escapees.
Helen shouted at a man nearby. “Have you caught any?”
The man snapped, “You see any in that cage?”
“So get the hell out of here, what are ya, reporters?”
“Nope, but those circus tigers are mine - ya hear?”
“Go on lady, get out! This is dangerous.”
Helene stood her ground. “Yeah? How many tigers have you bagged today? Huh?”
The rugged and not unhandsome keeper looked at her sheepishly and said, “None.”
“And how many did you lose?”
Helene laughed warmly. “I thought so… I didn’t lose any and I’ve bagged five of those circus tigers already, so go suck an egg. I’m getting my last two, and if I happen to get yours, call it a gift. And stay the hell out of my way.”
She stormed off between enclosures toward the wooded hills.
Peavy looked at the zoo keeper and said, “Sorry. She can be a little headstrong now and then…” The mechanic ran after Helene. The keeper followed and smiled, shaking his head.
Soon enough Helene came to a tall iron fence. Peavy caught up to her there. He said, “Too tall for the tigers to climb, with nothing to grip.”
Helene marched uphill.
Peavy pointed along the fence downhill. “They could’ve gone down there…”
“You wish.” She kept marching uphill along the fence. A few minutes later Helene stopped and shot a look at Peavy that forced him to silence. She carefully looked around. Trees and rocks. She waited. Minutes passed. They waited.
Peavy got antsy. He whispered, “Look, I’ll go back and see if they’ve caught any yet…”
Helene almost silently said, “You will shut up and not move.”
Her look silenced him. He went pale. She turned slowly at the waist - brought up her rifle. She sighted down the barrel just past a large rock. She stood there frozen for more than two minutes.
Peavy couldn’t contain himself. He whispered, “I don’t see a damn…”
The tiger burst out from behind the rock, although on the opposite side from where Helene was sighting. She adjusted her aim as the striped beast charged, and fired. The dart hit it squarely in the chest just seconds before the tiger landed atop Peavy. The man fought, the cat smacked him in the head with a paw. Peavy saw stars.
Helen dove on the beast, straddling it; grabbed it around the neck and tried to pull it off the mechanic. The beast fought back, but Helene could feel it weakening. She also noticed a metal tag on one ear. Helene released what she now knew was a zoo tiger as it lost consciousness.
The not unhandsome zookeeper caught up to them. Helene was still straddling the tiger. He looked at her, jaw agape. She snarked, “You’re welcome. Have you guys managed to catch any?”
He closed his mouth and looked at the ground. “No.”
She sighed and walked away, heading to the brush nearest the tiger enclosure.
The young zookeeper asked Peavy, “Is she always like that?”
“Oh, no,” the mechanic assured him. “That was nice. You don’t want to see nasty.”
Helene almost stepped on the next tiger as she rounded the corner to the back of the honey bee exhibit. The tiger calmly looked at her, tongue out, cooling itself. She froze. Started backing slowly. A low rumble came from deep within the tiger. Whiskers pulled back. Muscles tightened. Helene whipped her rifle down as a shield, barely catching the beast’s neck as it threw her backward. The beast landed on her, snarling. It roared furiously and swiped a massive paw at her, tearing the rifle out of her hands. Helene spun from the beasts blow and added her own energy to it. She landed a powerful boot on the side of its head. The tiger rolled and flopped and ran off. Helene grabbed her rifle and gave chase.
The keeper caught up with her and together they chased the missing tiger. He said, “That’s one of yours for sure, I’ve never seen him before.” They chased the tiger up a hill and onto the wide oval lawn that surrounded Monkey Island. The tiger looked back and roared at his pursuers. The chimps and spider monkeys shrieked and howled, gibbons hooted.
Helene took a shot that barely missed, the dart tore through the tiger’s ear. It howled and leaped over the cement wall into the moat surrounding Monkey Island. The monkeys scrambled up their steel pipe structure, screaming curses and throwing feces at the tiger. The Bengal beast swam out of the moat and shook the water off. He roared at the apes.
Helene asked, “Can he get out of there?”
“I don’t think so.”
The tiger plunged back into the water, and tried to jump the wall, but couldn’t make it. He spun and snarled, but was trapped.
“Helene smiled, “That’s mine. Get him in a cage before he has a monkey for lunch. I’m going after my last one!” She ran off.
The keeper laughed and shook his head, smiling as he watched the aviatrix march off.
The tiger spun and snarled, tried to swat the dart out. The effort was fruitless; the tranq dart’s bite had already done it’s work.
Helene barked, “Get that one in a cage. I’m going f or my last one!”
The keeper yelled after her, “Don’t be afraid to bag mine if you see him!”
The aviator yelled back over her shoulder, “Fat chance! And if you catch mine, I’ll tranq you and steal it away. That cat is mine!”
The keeper laughed and shook his head, smiling as the aviatrix marched off.
Helene looked uphill past the exhibits onto the hillside. She thought she saw some movement, but was it the wind, a searcher, or a tiger? She didn’t know, but she headed up past the cages full of restless animals and into the low brush. She slowed her pace, listened more, kept alert. There was a fire road ahead. She reached it and followed it up hill. Far ahead she saw a flash of orange and black in the dry brush. She rushed forward, knowing that she was tapping into the last of her reserves. She pushed harder, not caring any more, just needing to get this tiger.
Helene chased the animal up the hill and through the brush for twenty minutes, getting closer to the animal, but also close to utter exhaustion. She could see the beast was wearing down, too. She kept on it, up and up the canyon. She reached for her water, but the canteen was empty. She tossed it aside. Her sweat soaked shirt was next, leaving her in a drenched white tee shirt. Her pants would have been next, but she knew she couldn’t take the time. She caught glimpses of orange and black; she knew she was gaining.
A steep rock face lay ahead. Helen e saw the tiger leap up the rocks and claw its way up to a high ledge. Even in her exhaustion, Helene couldn’t help but grin. It was a dead end. The nearest footholds were too far away for her or the beast. The tiger looked back at her and snarled as she drew closer. Helene raised her rifle and sighted through the scope, trying to see if the beast was one of hers or one of the zoos. It was too hard to tell and she wasn’t going to stop now. She would not let it get away. She kept advancing and was about forty yards off when the cat grew more agitated. It leaped desperately for the next ledge. At full strength it would have made it, but in his weakened state, the beast missed by a few inches. It clawed desperately at the rocks, but fell snarling into the thick brush at the base of the cliff.
As she saw the creature leap, Helene ran forward, brush and briars be damned. Her heart sank as the beast crashed into the rocks and dry brush. She fired two shots from her pistol into the ground hoping the zookeeper would find them. Brush tore into her legs, but she reached the animal. It rolled its head to look at her, but otherwise lay still. She saw the zoo’s ear tag while she cradled its head. She stroked the animal’s fur gently while she looked it over. At least one leg was broken and a branch had pierced the animal’s ribcage.
The zookeeper arrived. He opened a canteen and poured water in her hands. The tiger weakly lapped at it. Helene’s eyes welled with tears. The keeper put his arm around her and they sat quietly until the magnificent animal passed.
“I’ll take care of her,” the keeper said. “This isn’t your fault, you know. You need to go after the others.”
Helene looked over to him, “Thank you. I’m Helene…”
The zookeeper smiled softly, “John…”
She gave the tiger a last gentle stroke on the head and brushed John’s cheek. He said, “Good hunting.”
Helene circled along the ridge, her eyes straining to see any movement in the brush. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. “Where are you…” She kept moving. Then she saw it. A slight waver in the brush. She altered direction to intersect it, whatever it was. Helene was silent.
The slightest movement in the brush guided her. Her angle was taking her across the mountain to get ahead of whatever it was that was moving through the brush. She was soon parallel with the movement below her. The rustling was reaching a clearing. Helene braced herself on a boulder and took aim at the clearing. Her finger touched the trigger, patiently waiting to squeeze. The soft rustling reached the clearing. Helene’s finger began to tighten, squeezing. Then she suddenly relaxed it. Branches became antlers. She let out a sigh and lowered her rifle.
A tiger slammed hard into her. Helene’s
flew from her grip as hunter
and prey tumbled down through the brush and then onto a steep, rocky hillside.
The intertwined pair smashed into a boulder, the tiger taking the brunt of the
impact, but Helene screamed as her right
wrist, took a hard hit. The tiger ew threw
a shoulder into her and she rolled another twenty yards through the rocks.
The beast pursued, now gone fully wild. It leaped at the aviatrix. She dodged, but barely.It slid down the rocky slope. Helene dove after it without thinking. She hit it hard and they rolled further down in the rocks. The tiger
into a group of trees and stopped. As Helene slid she got her feet
in front of her and used her arms to steer straight for the beast. She drew her
legs up against her and kicked as hard as she could at the tiger’s
head. The beast was still a bit dazed from hitting the tree, but it managed to
dodge the brunt of her kick. She slammed into its side.
The tiger spun and they were now face to face;
to snarling beast. Helene pushed away, trying to get clear of it. She paid for
that space by giving the tiger a clear shot at her head. She saw stars. Now the
tiger was on her, pinning her down with its mass of tightly wound muscle. She
was staring right into its snarling maw. She thought frantically. A gleam came
to her eye. She could barely move. It was only a few inches to her
right thigh pocket. Which was snapped shut.
BLAM! A loud shot cracked and something smacked her in the calf. BLAM! Something whizzed past her head. The tiger turned and her hand was free, pocket unsnapped, tranq dart in hand.
woozy as she stabbed the muscular beast with the dart, hoping for the best as
she drifted into unconsciousness.
* * *
The world was a dark, murky confusion of babbles and muted sounds. She listened to the noises for a few moments and slipped back into the quiet.
Helene awoke in a bed. Her eyes were open, but it was dark. She lay there in the quiet dark place. Alive, she thought. I guess I’m alive. She tried to sit up, but it hurt too much. She gasped in pain.
There was a light knock and a door gently swung open. A sillouette appeared, “Helene? Are you alright?”
Helene pondered that. “Not sure, doctor. I hurt. A lot. Can’t sit up.”
The figure at the door chuckled, “Not surprising. I’m not a doctor, well, not the kind you’re thinking of… I’m not surprised you’re hurting… I mean, you won a wrestling match with Panthera Tigris Tigris.”
“I don’t feel like the winner. How is she?”
The zookeeper walked up to the bed and turned on a dim light. He sat down in a chair by the bed. “She’s alive. In captivity. They all are. That was one hell of a day you had.”
Helene cracked a tiny smile, then grimaced. “Had? How long was I out?”
“Three days…” He took her hand. She didn’t seem to mind.
“Oh, crap,’’ Helene thought of something, “So who got their hands on my reward?”
“No one Peavy’s keeping it safe for you. All of it. Plus a little extra from the zoo. I saw to that.”Helene smiled and drifted back to sleep. She dreamed of flying across the magnificently green African Continent.
And before she knew it, she was.
copyright 2016 W. Peter Miller