"Capturing the Tiger" by Vesna McMaster
I can’t remember ever wanting anything so badly. I think it was the fur. All those raw-powered muscles, undulating, making every hair gleam in iridescent potency.
I tracked her for seven months, through the jungle, over gorges, across the sides of mountains that beat me with rocks and hail. Only occasionally would I catch sight of her. Other times I’d follow footprints, claw-marks in the dirt. I often ate the leftovers of her kill. Unwittingly, she kept me alive, even then.
The pure triumph of her finally in my power, throwing those gleaming sides against the iron bars with force that nearly knocked the two-tonne crate over, her snarls huge and impotent. She bathed me in her breath and noise – the breath of death but that I, I alone had conquered her.
For six years, I tamed her. With infinite patience, sitting, waiting. The rage quietened and she took food from my hand. One day, I got into the cage with her. She did not kill me.
We were the Great Explorers. The world has never looked as glistening, as wild, as beautiful and fresh as when I saw it with her flaming presence beside me. The mountains yielded their secrets, the jungles held no dread. When my human stride could not bridge a gap, she carried me on her back and leapt, despite my weight. I have never been so close to flying.
In the tenth year, a forest fire caught us sleeping. The emerald canopy transformed to searing orange, crack-hiss and falling all about. Smoke rolled into my lungs and I fell on the earth, already hot in angry flames. I felt her breath on my neck and then the soft power of her back. She bore me through the forest, shielding me with her hide, breaking burning trees with huge sweeps of her paw to make a clear passage. I awoke beside a stream, unharmed.
I tended to her while she recovered. It took a long time. I grew restless for our travels. But even when she could walk and run, she did not want to follow me into the forest. I sat by the stream and yearned.
One day an old acquaintance came by. “What is this old creature here in your house?” he smiled at me. “Do you keep a retirement home for tigers? That is good of you. I’d think of putting that poor beast out of its misery. She’s half blind, lame, arthritic, and what’s the matter with her back?”
“I think it was damaged. She carried too much weight.”
“Well, there’s room in the world for all, I guess.” He left the next day.
I have acquired a phone book. Some zoo must need a tame tiger. Maybe there’s a government grant for these situations. Or I’ll have to make other arrangements.
The phone book also lists expedition equipment vendors. This time, I won’t take seven months to get myself another Tiger. I’ll do it all, just, perfectly, right.