“Good God!” cried Sergeant Major General. “Is that – ?”
“Stay very still, General,” Kirk Bill said in a calm, low voice, instantly taking full command of the situation. “Don’t make any sudden moves.”
Mesmerised, the two men stared into the glowing orange orbs. Weaving back and forth as the unseen animal paced, the eyes slowly moved closer, closer! Then they became still, low, until suddenly there was an inhuman roar as the animal launched itself at their jugulars! Or at least, at one of their jugulars!
“Steady, General!” Kirk Bill commanded, and then the animal was upon them!
Sergeant Major General was conscious only of a huge bulk knocking him down, flashing teeth and those eyes – those eyes! – before everything went black.
When he came to, he was in his berth. Kirk Bill was seated nearby, writing in his journal. Sergeant Major General became aware that he was no longer wearing his coat. He tried to sit up, but gasped as sharp pains ran up his torso and down his arms, a little bit down his left thigh and he suspected his right cheekbone was quite bruised. Also, he forgot he was in a ship’s berth and bumped his head on the bottom of the berth above. (Kirk Bill had taken the top bunk, as usual).
“Ow! I say, Bill, what in the devil just happened?”
Kirk Bill looked up, smiling in relief at his friend’s recovery.
“Well, my old friend, you missed quite the set-to! The animal attacked, it had you flat on the deck and was going for your throat! I hit it between the eyes with one of those bits of wood that’s always lying around and it turned on me, snarling! I grabbed one of the lanterns and hurled it at the beast – the oil spilled over its fur and it caught alight! I thought it was going to rush me but it leapt over the side of the boat and into the sea!”
“Good God!” said Sergeant Major General, silently thanking Kirk Bill’s lightning-fast reflexes once again.
“It was a lucky escape, old chum. That beast easily weighed 236 pounds.” (Kirk Bill had an uncanny skill at judging weights and always won those competitions at fairs). “Claws as sharp as sharpened knives,” he added.
“Was it —” Sergeant Major General began.
“Yes,” Kirk Bill said grimly. “It was. A Bengal, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Good God,” whispered Sergeant Major General.
Suddenly, there was an inhuman scream from above, inhuman insofar as a human scream could sound so agonized, so tremendously afraid, so horrified that it actually sounded inhuman. At first it was loud, shrill, then changed to a series of shrieks, then some sickeningly wet-sounding gurgles, tapering off in a long, painful moan.
“Good God!” ejaculated Sergeant Major General again, sitting bolt upright, at least as upright as possible before bumping his head on the berth above. “What on earth was that?”
“That, my friend, sounds like one of our crew being devoured by – by—”Kirk Bill paused as a thin keening sound started.
“…a TIGER,” Sergeant Major General finished, and fainted.
TO BE CONTINUED