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Excerpt from "In the Furnace of the Night."
Copyright 1997 by James Sarafin
All rights reserved. First published in _Asimov's Science Fiction_, May 1997

(Backstory: In the near future, a group of animal rights biologists, claiming to be saving the wild tiger from extinction, genetically engineer a strain of tigers with humanlike intelligence. Their intent is to allow the tigers the means to kill the poachers who are killing them. Predictably, the tigers soon eat up their natural prey. A tigress with two near-adult cubs escape their containment at India's Ranthambhore National Park and begin preying on the most abundant and easily caught food source -- people. A professional hunter from Africa (an ex-patriot
American) is brought in to kill the maneaters. In the immediately preceding scene, the hunter has managed to kill one of the cubs, which was skinned by his loyal African trackers. The hunter has fallen into his usual evening state of inebriation. Meanwhile, the trackers have gone to sleep in their tent. . . with the scent of the cub still on their hands. . . .)

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    Late in the night he found himself stumbling around the camp, from one corner to the next, swaying, drinking straight from the bottle now because somewhere he had left his glass.  A full moon had risen over the hills, bathing the open areas of the camp in silvered light, silvered light also seeping around the shadow edges of the tents and forest.  The cicadas were singing a mating song, and the branches of trees swayed with the approach of the night's rainstorm.  The air felt stifling and hot as a furnace.  Too tired to look for his tent, Barry felt his legs sagging, leaned against one of the privy poles, and slid to the ground. The bottle tilted vertical and his throat accepted the last of the whiskey.
    When he lowered his head she had come out of the wall of forest shadows as if materialized in a dream.  She slowly swung her head and it looked enormous and for an instant moonlight blazed in her eyes.  Then she moved toward him, flowing across the ground in one continuous unhurried motion, her coat showing burnished gold between the dark longitudinal stripes and her torso as wide and solid as an oak barrel.  She held her head low and tail high and straight back like a staff as she came, and all Barry could do was set the empty bottle on the ground.
    She stopped flowing and crouched beside him.  He felt her sniff at his leg and exhale across his ankle.  Then she stood erect and her truly enormous head swung up close enough for Barry to see twin moons reflected in her eyes.  The faintest brush of her leg against his trousers as she stepped across him, turned, raised her tail high.
    A warm spray of urine hit the pole beside his face, splashing blindingly in his eyes, the pungent smell making him choke.  He wiped his face, blinking away the urine and tears, and when he could see again he found her flowing along the ground toward Emily's tent.  Barry could not move.  He knew he should be trying to get to the rifle in his tent.  But he still felt, despite the cooling wetness and sting and stink of the urine, as if he were in a dream.
    Something made him turn his head and there at the edge of the forest, from whence Shaitan had come, a second, slightly smaller cat sat on its haunches just inside the shadows.  The second cub, the female. Watching, waiting for her mother.  A huge moth flitted in front of the cub, distracting her attention briefly.  From every tree around the camp and throughout the forest came the high fiddling song of cicadas even above the rush of the approaching storm.  The light seemed to drop, and looking up, Barry saw the moon being swallowed by a thick bank of cloudscoming over the hills.
    The tigress had reached Emily's tent, but didn't pause long at the entrance before moving on to the next tent, Barry's own.  Here she paused a bit longer, and went in half her own length before withdrawing.  Then on to the tent the Edward shared with two of the camp hands; again, a cursory pause.  Then the trackers' tent.  She went in, all the way.
    The tent sides bulged, whooshed out by the plunge of her swift movement, and a loud choking groan silenced the nearby cicadas and other insects.  It was a sound a man might make in a nightmare, in mingled terror and embarrassment.  The near side of the tent bulged even further, thrashed, and then came a scream in a different voice, a voice that didn't sound human but animal-like, as if made by an antelope or monkey perhaps, dying in agony.
    The tigress's hindquarters appeared at the entrance, feet digging in, pulling, something inside still thrashing and shaking the whole tent.  A pole snapped, fabric tore, and the tigress was free of the tent, turning back toward the forest, holding something dark that thrashed and screamed again in that keening antelope cry.
    She loped toward him, head held high, neck arched, holding gently but with implacable firmness between her jaws, like a retriever fetching a duck, the torso of a man.  The man was being carried face up by the small of his back, his legs kicking, arms beating the tigress about the head and whose only response was to lay back her ears and close her eyes.  The cat moved in awful silence except for its victim's continued keening, and as the apparition swung by him, Barry, still in dreamlike immobility, saw the inverted face of Joshua, his mouth open, eyes wide and unseeing, pupils reflecting the last of the fading moonlight.
    The shadows along the trees had deepened and Barry wasn't sure exactly when both cats had disappeared, nor when the dream had ended and he'd reached his feet.  The entire camp had risen in a furor of voices and lights showing inside the tentwalls.  Emily was the first to reach him with a light, which she shined in his face.  It was only the third or fourth inquiry, perhaps aided by the onslaught of huge raindrops, that brought him back fully to the world of the quick.  Without a word of response, he ran for the rifle and flashlight in his tent.
    In the forest furnace of night, Barry fell over fallen trees and walked into live ones and tore himself with thorns and thistles, while the storm raged and deluged drops as hot as blood.  He kept calling "Joshua" over and over, as if his friend might have pried himself free of those gigantic jaws and was now simply lost among the trees.  Stumbling on, branches tearing at his face and arms... until near dawn he fell panting against a tree, his rifle in the mud, closing his eyes... and the nightmare returned.

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