The moment Anne raised that gun, the tiger bounded forward one step, then another, and then another, a blur of brown, faster than any dog Chuks had ever seen, showing wickedly sharp teeth as it closed the little distance between them.
All she had to do was fire the gun, but Chuks’ heart sank as he watched her wrestle with it. He had been right about what made Instructor Max unafraid of the gun: it was neither cocked nor had the safety in the right position.
Anne only managed to get the safety fast enough. Chuks saw at once that she couldn’t have the gun cocked in time, that she was already no more than meat for this freakish-sized cat.
The moment he had that part figured out, he didn’t even have to think. He tossed the iPad aside, pushed Anne back into Segun and dove in front of her just as the animal pounced, paws and claws extended.
He covered his head with his hands and braced himself for those horrible teeth to sink into his flesh.
There was the slightest suggestion of wind across his face as it happened. He heard the animal yelp, and then a thud. He still waited for the bite, for the slash across his arms, but as with the slap he had expected Anne to receive from their field instructor, it never came.
Lying on the ground, Chuks tentatively opened one eye. Just in front of him lay the tiger, half on the trail and half on the grasses that bordered it, struggling to regain its feet, with an arrow sticking out of its side.
Arrow? Where the arrow come from?
The animal turned its head and saw Chuks sitting there, and it stood and staggered. Behind him, Anne shouted for him to stand up. Chuks struggled to do so, just as something dropped from the tree just above. It landed on the tiger— Chuks heard an audible crack as it did —tumbled on the ground, then rolled into the darkness.
Someone pulled him up from behind. He looked at the tiger. The crack had come from its head, obviously, judging by the way its skull had caved in partially, spattering blood on its face and the sand around it. Even the arrow in its side had broken.
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“Are you alright?” Segun asked. He nodded. Both of them looked out at the trees on the other side of the path. It was completely dark out there as well. What was it that fell on the tiger? Another tiger? He was still looking when something flew out of the darkness, exactly where he was watching. When the wind blew across his face, Chuks realized he knew what was coming.
He heard it strike its target even before he turned his head and saw the tiger down yet again, this time with an arrow in its throat.
It wasn’t a what that was out there in the darkness. It was a who.
Oyin was gasping again and panting behind them. The animal’s eyes were still open, twin yellow pools staring out blankly.
Everybody who had run away began to come back out. How on earth they knew that the animal was dead, Chuks had no idea. All of them started to crowd around the dead cat, pointing and taking pictures.
Someone else followed them out, mostly staying in the shadow of the trees. Chuks looked around. It seemed he was the only one who noticed the apparition standing there. He had already turned to call Anne’s and Segun’s attention to it when he noticed something odd. Odd and bizarre.
The figure wore what looked to be a skirt of leaves. And yet, was it his imagination, or did the person have no face? His heart beat faster. God of mercy, which kind things dey inside this useless place? It was impossible, and yet, it was what he saw with his very eyes— a person standing, flesh and blood from feet up to neck, and then nothing —just the night blackness. Yes, he wasn’t seeing things. He could hear someone whimpering behind him. Oyin again, it seemed like.
The figure walked out from the shadows, right toward the dead animal. He brought out a cloth rag and wiped the space above his neck. Those who saw the face appear out of thin air like magic abandoned the tiger— and some even their phones —and, God as his witness, ran behind Anne, while those who didn’t see others running and followed suit.
“Camouflage,” Anne’s shaking voice came from beside him. He sighed with relief. Their class instructor was okay. He had been anxious about whether she was.
The mysterious figure stepped into illumination of the phones on the ground. He looked like— Hold on. The height, the bum short under the raffia skirt. The shape of the legs it exposed. It was a she. A woman. A girl, really, no more than her early twenties, and she was dressed in a short-sleeved black top over the shorts. She had a quiver of arrows slung over one shoulder, and her bow was held in her hand while she took in the dead animal.
To be continue on Monday