An excerpt from my upcoming novel, THE COMING DAYS

Kabir walked on foot because he needed to guide Zima alongside, while he held the reins of his horse with the other hand. Many times a chirp or a flutter caught Zima’s attention, and she wanted to explore. But Kabir would cuff her by the neck and put her back in stride. They walked around shrubs and over rocks and twigs for more than a mile, and finally Kabir tied the horse to a tree and he patted Zima down to sit against a nearby tree that stood behind a cluster of bushes. Zima was now breathing animatedly and with her head raised was listening and looking expectantly for action. She could sense something was brewing. Frequently, she would glance at Kabir for a cue or a command.

Zima didn’t have to wait long. For now, she could hear Zorro’s intermittent barks. She wanted to get up for a better view, but Kabir, who had his arm around her neck, kept her down. Though Zima was now a full-grown tigress, she had spent a lifetime with pet dogs that included a foster mother. So her temperament and attitude were that of a trained canine. Her master was waiting for Abdul and Zorro to draw close and then to check what they had brought in the beat. Soon he could hear Zorro’s barks in repetition, and the hustle of dried leaves showed animals on the run. He got up, and so did Zima. Some distance away, he could see a group of sambhars scampering across a row of trees. Kabir pointed them out to Zima and then ran to get astride his horse. He jumped on it and then turned to know Zima’s whereabouts.

He had to pull back. For the beat had brought not only the mob of sambhars, a huge sloth bear too. The fearsome animals had seen each other; so the hairy, harried, and angry bugger had stood up on its hinds and the domesticated, striped feline was tensed and crouching. Both were on the verge of war, and to make matters more volatile, the German Shepherd’s barks sounded next grove. Kabir took out his holstered Colt as he didn’t want Zima to get scratched, and he was also worried Zorro would get entangled in a ferocious scrap.

At the war front, both the animals had displayed their fangs and furs, and in that electrifying moment, entered an animated Zorro on fire. The taut scene startled him, as it had done to Kabir. However, the rampaging dog didn’t think twice and in a flash, it jumped over the back of the bear to grab its neck. Taken by surprise, the hairy animal let out a shriek and dropped on its hunches with Zorro still astride its back. But the sloth, like all other endangered bears, put into action the immense strength of its powerful muscles to shrug off the dog.

 Abdul Karim was next to enter the arena on horseback. But he could only gaze wide-eyed at Zima, who was charging towards the beast that had dared to hurt Zorro. In two mighty leaps, Zima was on the bear to slap the offender on both sides of the jaw. The volley of clawed paws was too much for the cornered creature, and it rolled on its back to defend with its bigger claws. Zorro, by this time, recovered to attack from behind and caught the beast’s teensy tail.

A cacophony of growls, shrieks, snarls, and neighs created a commotion that carried for miles in the jungle. These were the sounds that make monkeys leak excreta from treetops, and some men pee in their pants, which was the case with Abdul Karim, ex-paramour of the late Queen. 

From the start, Kabir wanted to scuttle the scrap and was looking for an opportunity to scare-fire the sloth. Zima well understood that Zorro had done a marvellous job by attacking from the rear, so she too moved to the bear’s rear-end. That was when Kabir fired at the bear’s raised leg. He followed that with two more stinging shots to instil more fear in the rugged beast.

The deafening sounds produced the desired effect. For now, the bear rolled back on its feet and dashed. Zorro presumed he had won, so he went for the chase to claim the prize. But then Kabir called out, “No, Zorro, stay!”

The dog slowed down and Kabir galloped to overtake it. Then he got off the horse and caught hold of Zorro’s collar. Zima and Abdul also reached there, and so Kabir patted and hugged both pets to calm them down.

“So Mr. Abdul Karim, did you ever go for a hunt like this in your Bartania?”

“Nay, Sir!”

Kabir looked down at his pyjamas and teased, “I can see that. But you tell no one what happened today, and I’ll tell no one about your pyjamas.”

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