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The Night of The Tiger, Page 2

Stephen King

  Finally only the cat cages were left, and there was a special arrangement for those. Each cage had a special mesh "breezeway" accordioned up against it, which, when extended completely, connected with the Demon Cat Cage. When the smaller cages had to be moved, the felines could be herded into the big cage while they were loaded up. The big cage itself rolled on gigantic casters and could be muscled around to a position where each cat could be let back into its original cage. It sounds complicated, and it was, but it was just the only way.

  We did the lions first, then Ebony Velvet, the docile black panther that had set the circus back almost one season's receipts. It was a tricky business coaxing them up and then back through the breezeways, but all of` us preferred it to calling Mr. Indrasil to help.

  By the time we were ready for Green Terror, twilight had come --- a queer, yellow twilight that hung humidly around us. The sky above had taken on a flat, shiny aspect that I had never seen and which I didn't like in the least.

  "Better hurry," Mr. Farnum said, as we laboriously trundled the Demon Cat Cage back to where we could hook it to the back of Green Terror's show cage. "Barometer's falling off fast." He shook his head worriedly. "Looks bad, boys. Bad.'' He hurried on, still shaking his head.

  We got Green Terror's breezeway hooked up and opened the back of his cage. "In you go," I said encouragingly.

  Green Terror looked at me menacingly and didn't move.

  Thunder rumbled again, louder, closer, sharper. The sky had gone jaundice, the ugliest color I have ever seen. Wind-devils began to pick jerkily at our clothes and whirl away the flattened candy wrappers and cotton-candy cones that littered the area.

  "Come on, come on," I urged and poked him easily with the blunt-tipped rods we were given to herd them with.

  Green Terror roared ear-splittingly, and one paw lashed out with blinding speed. The hardwood pole was jerked from my hands and splintered as if it had been a greenwood twig. The tiger was on his feet now, and there was murder in his eyes.

  "Look," I said shakily. "One of you will have to go get Mr. Indrasil, that's all. We can't wait around."

  As if to punctuate my words, thunder cracked louder, the clapping of mammoth hands.

  Kelly Nixon and Mike McGregor flipped for it; I was excluded because of my previous run-in with Mr. Indrasil. Kelly drew the task, threw us a wordless glance that said he would prefer facing the storm and then started off.

  He was gone almost ten minutes. The wind was picking up velocity now, and twilight was darkening into a weird six o'clock night. I was scared, and am not afraid to admit it. That rushing, featureless sky, the deserted circus grounds, the sharp, tugging wind-vortices all that makes a memory that will stay with me always, undimmed.

  And Green Terror would not budge into his breezeway.

  Kelly Nixon came rushing back, his eyes wide. "I pounded on his door for 'most five minutes!" He gasped. "Couldn't raise him!"

  We looked at each other, at a loss. Green Terror was a big investment for the circus. He couldn't just be left in the open. I turned bewilderedly, looking for Chips, Mr. Farnum, or anybody who could tell me what to do. But everyone was gone. The tiger was our responsibility. I considered trying to load the cage bodily into the trailer, but I wasn't going to get my fingers in that cage.

  "Well, we've just got to go and get him," I said. "The three of us. Come on." And we ran toward Mr. Indrasil's trailer through the gloom of coming night.

  We pounded on his door until he must have thought all the demons of hell were after him. Thankfully, it finally jerked open. Mr. Indrasil swayed and stared down at us, his mad eyes rimmed and oversheened with drink. He smelled like a distillery.

  "Damn you, leave me alone," he snarled.

  "Mr. Indrasil --" I had to shout over the rising whine of the wind. It was like no storm I had ever heard of or read about, out there. It was like the end of the world .

  "You," he gritted softly. He reached down and gathered my shirt up in a knot. "I'm going to teach you a lesson you'll never forget." He glared at Kelly and Mike, cowering back in the moving storm shadows. "Get out!"

  They ran. I didn't blame them; I've told you -- Mr. Indrasil was crazy. And not just ordinary crazy -- he was like a crazy animal, like one of his own cats gone bad.

  "All right," he muttered, staring down at me, his eyes like hurricane lamps. "No juju to protect you now. No grisgris." His lips twitched in a wild, horrible smile. "He isn't here now, is he? We're two of a kind, him and me. Maybe the only two left. My nemesis -- and I'm his." He was rambling, and I didn't try to stop him. At least his mind was off me.

  "Turned that cat against me, back in '58. Always had the power more'n me. Fool could make a million -- the two of us could make a million if he wasn't so damned high and mighty...what's that?"

  It was Green Terror, and he had begun to roar ear-splittingly.

  "Haven't you got that damned tiger in?" He screamed, almost falsetto. He shook me like a rag doll.

  "He won't go!" I found myself yelling back. "You've got to --"

  But he flung me away. I stumbled over the fold-up steps in front of his trailer and crashed into a bone-shaking heap at the bottom. With something between a sob and a curse, Mr. Indrasil strode past me, face mottled with anger and fear.

  I got up, drawn after him as if hypnotized. Some intuitive part of me realized I was about to see the last act played out.

  Once clear of the shelter of Mr. Indrasil's trailer, the power of the wind was appalling. It screamed like a runaway freight train. I was an ant, a speck, an unprotected molecule before that thundering, cosmic force.

  And Mr. Legere was standing by Green Terror's cage.

  It was like a tableau from Dante. The near-empty cage-clearing inside the circle of trailers; the two men, facing each other silently, their clothes and hair rippled by the shrieking gale; the boiling sky above; the twisting wheatfields in the background, like damned souls bending to the whip of Lucifer.

  "It's time, Jason," Mr. Legere said, his words flayed across the clearing by the wind.

  Mr. Indrasil's wildly whipping hair lifted around the livid scar across the back of his neck. His fists clenched, but he said nothing. I could almost feel him gathering his will, his life force, his id. It gathered around him like an unholy nimbus.

  And, then, I saw with sudden horror that Mr. Legere was unhooking Green Terror's breezeway -- and the back of the cage was open!

  I cried out, but the wind ripped my words away.

  The great tiger leaped out and almost flowed past Mr. Legere. Mr. Indrasil swayed, but did not run. He bent his head and stared down at the tiger.

  And Green Terror stopped.

  He swung his huge head back to Mr. Legere, almost turned, and then slowly turned back to Mr. Indrasil again. There was a terrifyingly palpable sensation of directed force in the air, a mesh of conflicting wills centered around the tiger. And the wills were evenly matched.

  I think, in the end, it was Green Terror's own will -- his hate of Mr. Indrasil -- that tipped the scales.

  The cat began to advance, his eyes hellish, flaring beacons. And. something strange began to happen to Mr. Indrasil. He seemed to be folding in on himself, shriveling, accordioning. The silk-shirt lost shape, the dark, whipping hair became a hideous toadstool around his collar.

  Mr. Legere called something across to him, and, simultaneously, Green Terror leaped.

  I never saw the outcome. The next moment I was slammed flat on my back, and the breath seemed to be sucked from my body. I caught one crazily tilted glimpse of a huge, towering cyclone funnel, and then the darkness descended.

  When I awoke, I was in my cot just aft of the grainery bins in the all-purpose storage trailer we carried. My body felt as if it had been beaten with padded Indian clubs.

  Chips Baily appeared, his face lined and pale. He saw my eyes were open and grinned relievedly. "Didn't know as you were ever gonna wake up. How you feel?"

  "Dislocated," I said. "What happened? How'd I get

  "We found you piled up against Mr. Indrasil's trailer. The tornado almost carried you away for a souvenir, m'boy."

  At the mention of Mr. Indrasil, all the ghastly memories came flooding back. "Where is Mr. Indrasil? And Mr. Legere?"

  His eyes went murky, and he started to make some kind of an evasive answer.

  "Straight talk," I said, struggling up on one elbow. "I have to know, Chips. I have to."

  Something in my face must have decided him. "Okay. But this isn't exactly what we told the cops -- in fact we hardly told the cops any of it. No sense havin' people think we're crazy. Anyhow, Indrasil's gone. I didn't even know that Legere guy was around."

  "And Green Tiger?"

  Chips' eyes were unreadable again. "He and the other tiger fought to death."

  "Other tiger? There's no other ---"

  "Yeah, but they found two of 'em, lying in each other's blood. Hell of a mess. Ripped each other's throats out."

  "What -- where --"

  "Who knows? We just told the cops we had two tigers. Simpler that way." And before I could say another word, he was gone.

  And that's the end of my story -- except for two little items. The words Mr. Legere shouted just before the tornado hit: "When a man and an animal live in the same shell, Indrasil, the instincts determine the mold!"

  The other thing is what keeps me awake nights. Chips told me later, offering it only for what it might be worth. What he told me was that the strange tiger had a long scar on the back of its neck.

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  Document ID: 14328653-b6e5-46d7-85ba-e084e4ff1554

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  Document creation date: 20.3.2012

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  Document authors :

  Stephen King


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