A jungle is no place for the faint of heart. No place for someone who doesn’t know—doesn’t accept—the law of the jungle.
Predators are kings.
And everyone else?
The leaves cover us from most of the weather here. Shields us from a lot of the rain, and certainly the sun. Sure, it invites spiders and ants, and things that invade and crawl. But.
It keeps the weather out.
Hides us from the bigger things.
Hides us from the predators.
Sound of branches snapping catches my attention.
The bushes are being pushed aside. The rhythm is wonky. All wrong for a predator. For a creature with hidden intent. It’s a creature fleeing, running from something I think.
I’m not wrong.
A young boy emerges from the bushes, leaves spitting him out of the jungle’s mouth.
He pants for only a moment before he shouts.
The village scrambles, not daring to waver. Not daring to doubt. We all rush, grabbing who and what we can as we make for our houses. Bar the doors, close the windows, sit in silence.
In just a handful of minutes, the village is silent. Eerie. Ghostlike. As if nothing here is alive. As if we’ve all become spirits in the last few seconds.
It’s a pressing quiet.
We’re all focused. All straining to hear so we can know when he arrives. When he passes.
If he takes.
They crunch against the ground. Breaking twigs and leaves, tossing up rocks.
Footsteps of him.
That’s all we know of him. He comes, and he takes.
And he is the greatest predator the jungle has to offer.
A man-looking thing that wears tiger skins. That has fangs. Claws. Whose skin glows in the daylight, and whose eyes light the jungle at night. We hear his cries to the moon, and we hear the anguish of his victims. He is fierce, and powerful. A creature who is bowed to. Who commands even the trees, and who walks with the silence of death.
Unless he doesn’t want to.
Then he walks deliberately. Searching out the fear that his presence brings. Drawing it out of us with each step, as if it were a poison.
He loves it.
When he walks closer, I can hear his grumbling. The rolling thunder of lions in his chest. Of stampeding beasts ceasing to be.
I pray that he doesn’t pick my house.
That he doesn’t try to knock down our door.
Scraping interrupts my prayer. A sound like nails being dug into wood.
He’s scratching the door.
He continues his fear-mongering. Walking with his claws embedded into the skin of my house. Scraping the wood away as he lazily continues his path.
I’m under the window. Hiding. When he passes—the scraping making my back itch, as if his claws were on me instead—I can’t help but turn. Look up.
Through a crack in the window, I can see him.
I see him.
A body bigger than any man’s, muscled to the very bone. His fangs protrude from his mouth, sharp and jagged things. His ears are sharp, pointed. A mane like a lion’s adorns his head, and when he looks down, our eyes meet.
Our eyes meet.
Solid green eyes, the eyes of the jungle at night, look back at me. Pin me to my spot. Make all the blood rush out of my body before he has a chance to take it from me.
I nearly faint.
And, as our eyes meet, and my body turns cold, and I tremble as I fall backward—
Ever so slightly, he smiles.
Showing off the rest of his teeth. His tiger teeth.
And then he’s gone.
The village holds its breath for a bit, not wanting to chance it. Not wanting to take the risk. But, eventually, we all know for sure.
I can’t shake the feeling that his eyes gave me. Can’t help but think I’ve seen them before, gazing out from the leaves. Searching in the dark heart of the jungle.
Searching for me.
I have a sinking feeling. A knowing feeling.
He’ll be back.
Because he always—always—comes back.
He is what lies in the heart of the jungle.
A wildman. A beast. Unruly energy, and power, and strength.
A real monster.
The king of the jungle.
He’ll be back because, in truth:
He never leaves.