Gross lay on the ground, tired after running the whole day after a gazelle. It was getting dark. He strode towards the den. Heavy strides. Head drooping. Eyes watery.
Mother was waiting for him with a freshly killed gazelle. His two brothers too had managed a mole. They welcomed him with an anxious complaint, “You are too late, Gross.”
Gross was silent, still looking down. “Don’t be sad Gross. I know it’s not easy. Keep trying. You’ll be able to do it. You still have time,” Mother purred, softly scratching his back. “Oh! let’s have dinner,” Alfred pulled at Mother’s tail. “I’m starving”. “Yes, dinner please!” said Fred. Gross did not feel like eating anything. But he sat with them and tasted the catches.
The family decided to sleep outside, under the solitary tree in front of their den. Fred and Alfred had made Mother’s abdomen their cushion. Gross also cuddled near Mother’s head. But sleep was nowhere in his eyes.
The twinkling stars in the clear sky were beckoning him. A star cheetah. That is what he wanted to be. But he hadn’t caught a single gazelle so far. “Why can’t I hunt at night?” he wondered. “Because you are a cheetah!” Gross was taken aback. He hadn’t realized he had been thinking aloud. And Mother was very much awake, with him, to tell him that it is okay to fail, but one should be brave to try again. “We are cheetahs, Gross. God made us this way. We need to learn to live within our constraints and work hard to fine tune our skills. That will make you a real cheetah. A star cheetah.”
Gross felt Mother lick the back of his head. He closed his eyes. He would wait for the next day.
Gross and his brothers had recently celebrated their first birthday, when Mother gave them the ultimatum. They had only about six months after which they he would be shown the door. Gross was not scared, rather very excited. He would be catching gazelles on his own! He would be an adult cheetah. But so far, he had caught none. Only some small rabbits. The excitement was slowly giving way to fear and shame. But there was a silver lining. Every time a gazelle escaped, he became more determined to catch one the next time.
Mother had told them many stories of hunting a gazelle. “It is not a child’s play. Only the best of the cheetahs can do it.” Gross had always watched his Mother closely. How she stealthily approached the unsuspecting herd, all the time taking care that no lion or lioness is simultaneously targeting the same herd. He remembered everything by heart – how to choose a target, how to tip toe, how to attack, how and when to speed up. But every time something wrong happened and Gross was left empty handed. Gross had started wondering whether he would ever be able to do it.!
The sun was quite high, far above the horizon. The family was ready to hunt. But Mother noticed, Gross looked weak. She touched his forehead. It was on the warmer side. “Gross, if you let your disappointment make you sick, do you think you will be able to ever catch a gazelle?” Gross was embarrassed. Yes, he was not feeling well. Mother licked his face clean and asked him to rest in the den. “Fred, Alfred, take care of Gross. He has not been eating properly. I’ll get him something to eat for now.” Gross was not allowed to go out hunting for the next few days.
It was a bright day. Mother had asked the children to form a team for themselves and find a prey. The children went to the river side. The river was flowing quietly. The grass was still. They noticed a crocodile resting on the muddy bank. They sat quietly, each positioned at a little distance from the other. Alfred was at the centre with Gross on his left and Fred on his right. “You need to allow the animals to come to the river.” They remembered Mother’s advice. They crouched low as they heard the leaves rustle. They looked up, alert. Yes, they were right. A herd of giraffes was approaching the river. Though the herd was still very far off, their tall necks made them easily visible. No, big animals were not for them, definitely not when in herd. It would take them some more time, to learn to tolerate or avoid a giraffe’s kick. The trio went back to waiting, chins resting on their front paws.
Suddenly Fred spotted a mongoose scouring swiftly through the short grass. He instinctively jumped on it. A few tussles and all was calm. Alfred and Gross congratulated him with a smile. They shared the breakfast. But it whetted their hunger. The herd of giraffes was almost there. The sun was almost over their head. They were thirsty.
The trio made signs to each other and advanced towards to river. They were anyways not targeting the giraffes.
The cool water soothed their parched throats. They were encouraged and went deeper into the water, splashing at and licking each other. Suddenly there was a thud. “What was that?” Gross was the first to notice. The crocodile was no longer visible on the bank. Fast. Quick. Get out of water. They ran for their life, and continued running even when they reached solid ground. Then Fred looked back. No. Nobody was chasing them. They could stop. Relax. Panting, they sat down and broke into laughter. Had they been paranoid? Or had the hunter given up? Whatever the case was, they were safe now.
They were still panting and looking around when Alfred spotted movement through the mesh of the grass blades. The grass towards the west was increasingly swaying and the sound of approaching thuds was getting louder. The boys stood up, alert. Oh wow, a sounder of warthogs! They could make out about three to four adults with their big tusks and around seven young ones, which could be targeted. If they could catch one, their lunch would be satisfactory. Gross was hungry, but was looking at the river for the gazelles. No, none were there. The sound of vegetation crushing under the feet of the hogs was getting louder. Alfred tugged at Gross. “This side, stupid!” They quickly took positions. Yes, two young hogs were repeatedly ignoring the their elders’ advice and trailing back, playing among themselves. Gross and his brothers let the sounder reach the river – almost. When the goal is near, you tend to be a little careless about the others and more focused on the aim. The same happened. Most of the hogs bent into the river, while the last two were still reaching. This was the moment they had been waiting for. Fred, Alfred, and Gross stealthily stood up, looked at each other, bowed a little, and suddenly sprang on their feet – all together, well-coordinated, attacked the cubs from left, right, and behind. The neck of the poor things were in the jaws of Gross and Fred before they knew it, while their mothers were still drinking water and off and on calling them out. The trio ran with their prize. Huffing, puffing, they sat under the tree. Mother was already waiting with a sable. Together they had a feast. Gross too ate well. He had atleast caught a warthog.
Today the air was a little cool and the breeze was nice. Fred and Alfred were in no mood to slog, and Started playing hide and seek. Mother caressed them and let them be. “Okay, you enjoy today, I will arrange for meal. Let’s see, if I can find a gazelle today.” Gross sprang up. Eyes bright. Suddenly he felt his tail being tugged at. “What do you want ?” He turned and demanded. “To play” came the response in chorus. “Yes Gross, you can play with your brothers today. There is a new herd of gazelles nearby. I spotted them yesterday too. I think I can come back early and join you all. You three better take care of each other.” Gross was mad at Fred and Alfred. But he could do nothing. They were his brothers, and Mother had asked them to take care of each other while she was away. Gross gave in. Soon mother returned with a gazelle. But she was too tired after the kill. The children did not disturb her after the meal and let her have rest. “If only I had brought this gazelle,” Gross kept thinking the whole day.
But, such episodes had started repeating themselves quite often. In fact, every time the trio had a good catch, they seemed to earn a day off to play around. Gross was losing patience and getting alarmed. Yes, he had caught other animals, and also some birds, but to hunt a gazelle was what he wanted. How could he be a star cheetah if he couldn’t surpass a gazelle in speed and swiftness?
“Here, here, catch me if you can!” Fred teased from the top of the den and ran upwards. Alfred was about to run after Fred, when Gross purred from behind the tree, “I am here, come and get me” and climbed up to the tree top. Alfred ran after Gross. Again from nowhere Fred mocked, “I am here, but can you catch me?” Alfred turned towards Fred. Gross was about to come down from the tree, when suddenly a scene caught his eye. A herd of gazelles was grazing not very far off, near a clearing. If he tried, he knew, he could do it. Suddenly there was a flash of a genius in his mind.
“Hey! come here both of you.” The brothers were taken aback by this sudden change of tone. “Do you want to play a real game?” Gross had a mischievous but anxious expression on his face.
The brothers, puzzled, quipped “Okay! Tell us?”
“Instead of catch ‘me’ if you can, let’s play catch a ‘gazelle’ if you can.”
“No way! That is real hunting, real danger,” the two protested.
“But real achievement,” Gross made them think.
Time was running out. “So, what do you say?”
“Hmm. Let us play ‘Catch a gazelle if you can’.”.
“Great!” Gross was thrilled. “They are right there. Behind this patch of tall grass. Near the clearing.”
“Okay, so are we hunting together, or is it one for oneself?”
“No, let it be one for one self. But we won’t compete for the same prey.”
“Okay” “All the best.” The boys hugged each other and set off.
They were near the clearing, but still hidden in the grass. The unsuspecting gazelles were not alert enough and the tip-toeing cheetahs were soundless enough. The group had a number of adults as well as a number of young ones. One adult was at the farthest end of the clearing, grazing and occasionally lifting his head to look around. Two were quite near where Fred was crouched. Two other adults are just sitting, apparently chewing the cud. Four more were casually strolling around.The young ones — most of them fawns, but some juveniles about ten of them were at the centre, some playing, some sitting. Three of them were grazing. No, this makes it unsuitable to attack at this time.
The cheetahs sat such that they made a triangle. They were not competing, but they needed to signal each other, for even if one of them sped, that would alert the entire herd. So all three must attack together.
Two of the four strolling gazelles sat down and the other two began grazing off and on. But the two who were sitting earlier, now stood up. Not strolling, but looking around. The sun was nearing the western horizon. Whatever was to be done, had to be done fast. Suddenly two juveniles in the herd started fighting. Horns hitting hard with loud sounds, distracting the others. While the rest of the young ones, moved a little away from the centre, some of the elders actually came near the fighting duo to resolve the issue. This was the chance Gross, Fred, and Alfred had been looking for. They signaled to each other and neared the periphery of the tall grass. And then, one, two, and GO.
The three shot like comets towards their respective prey and the herd was suddenly alarmed and all ran, but none knew where. In fact two gazelles ran towards Fred and then retracted. One of the fellows slacked a bit. Fred chased him as if his life depended on it. The gazelle had wasted a lot of time first running towards Fred and then turning around and figuring out the safe direction. After a short chase three to four seconds long, Fred jumped on the gazelle’s back and gave it a deadly bite on its neck. The gazelle fell down.
Alfred had an easy hit. A young gazelle had injured himself in the fight and was now limping.
Gross targeted a full-grown gazelle that had fallen back a little while guiding the young ones to safety. Gross followed her. A good chase of about twenty seconds.She was far away from the rest of the herd. Gross almost touched the gazelle. But the gazelle was running for life. She ran swifter. Gross bucked up, speeding up further. He struck the gazelle on her hind leg. The gazelle fell down but picked herself up again and escaped. Gross took a moment to realize that and chased again. Fred and Alfred were constantly watching them. But they were not supposed to help. The gazelle was bleeding and was now not able to maintain the same speed. Gross chased nevertheless. Another ten seconds and the gazelle had another severe blow on both her hind legs. She fell down again. This time Gross pounced on her. The gazelle was a fighter, and would not give up so easily. She kept shooing Gross away with her horns. But life was trickling out of her veins speedily. She tried to stand up again and run but Gross would not let that happen and within a few minutes of struggle, was a proud owner of a clean kill. Gross was now a star cheetah.
It was almost dark. The three young cheetahs were under the tree with their respective catches. In fact, dragging such big catches too made them huff and puff. Soon Mother came home with another prey of hers, for the family. But she stopped at a distance from her children.
The children came running to her with joy, to show her their trophies. Mother saw them and then turned to look at them. They were surprised to see tears in her eyes.
“Very good children, now you have grown up, timely. Be good cheetahs when you go out into the world. Let us have our last family dinner today. Each one his own kill.”
“What? Why? ”
The family had dinner silently. The gazelles tasted nice. But the tears were salty and the silence was deafening.
Mother went to sleep inside the den, alone. The three young cheetahs were left dumbfounded, standing, staring under the dark blue sky with twinkling stars.
My name is Aashutosh Mukherjee. I am a student of class seven surrounded by wonderful teachers, friends and family.
Initially, I just had an idea in my mind but when I started writing, I came to realize that I have to know about my subject well. So I had to do some research on the Internet. To write even one sentence out of imagination I had to know a lot of facts. So now I know that a good writer has to be a good reader.
This is my first story and I thank Vibha ma’am, Literature Studio’s “Conjuring a Story” workshop, and my family for their support in this endeavour. Hope you like it. Please share your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For my picture, I am attaching a self-portrait of mine 🙂