Back to 2006 Student Contest Winners List
“No, no, no. Like this: RRAAAWWRRRR!”
The ground trembled. Flocks of birds took flight in alarm. The trees shook from their very roots, and everything quailed from the almighty roar.
Rankin sighed. It had been three weeks since he had started coaching his cub, Rogen, the art of hunting. The training was yielding no results; it was as if Rankin’s teachings had never taken place. Rankin was more worried than disappointed. Rogen’s natural instincts should have kicked in by now. After all, a tiger is born with the knowledge of everything he needs to know. All a cub should need is a little guidance in the right direction and the instincts should take it from there. Rogen was proving to be a challenge to teach.
Could I possibly be the problem? Rankin contemplated.
He immediately dismissed the thought. How could he, Rankin, the most respected tiger in all the land, be doing something wrong?
“Let’s try it again,” he ordered his son.
“Dad…” Rogen began.
The cub reluctantly did as he was told. It wasn’t as if Rogen wasn’t trying. In fact, he was doing his best to make his father proud. Apparently his efforts weren’t enough. Rankin continuously worked him, and not one single compliment had passed through his lips.
The lessons went on for a while longer, but Rankin finally called it a day after he realized that today was going to be no different than any other. Rogen still was showing no sign of success. Yes, it was true he was improving, but that just wasn’t good enough. He had to be perfect. Not almost perfect. Perfect. He had to be perfect.
* * *
The next day, Rankin was prepared to take drastic measures in order make Rogen a hunter. He was going to show Rogen how it was truly done. More importantly, it would give him a chance to show off his superior talent as well. Rankin berated himself for not thinking of the idea before; taking Rogen on a hunt would demonstrate the skill, in addition to earning more respect from the other animals.
Freshly fallen leaves crunched underneath the pads of the tigers’ feet. Rogen followed his father, bleary-eyed, to the meadows. Rankin had woken him up hours before even the slightest bit of light shone over the forest.
“You’re coming on a hunt with me, son,” Rankin had said to him. “There’s a herd of gazelle at the edge of the meadow. If we can get there early enough, we might catch them off guard.”
Rogen had not fully recovered from getting up so early; his brain was too muddled to digest all this new information. Now, as the pair was trudging along beneath the trees, the fact that he was going along on a hunt with his father finally started to sink in.
He was actually participating in a hunt! But why so suddenly? To take part in a hunt was a great honor. Rogen knew he wasn’t even close to that level, at least not in his father’s eyes, and Rankin hadn’t given any indication that he was actually proud of Rogen the previous day.
Surely there had to be some other reason, something that benefited his father more than Rogen himself. It wasn’t like Rankin to let someone share the glory of having a successful hunt. Rankin always put himself before others — it was one of his main faults.
The answer finally hit him. The only cause for this sudden action was that Rankin would gain more fame, more respect, more power. The hunt wouldn’t help Rogen in the slightest. It would only give Rankin yet another opportunity to boast his tendency to accomplish any task set to him.
This realization didn’t put Rogen in the best of moods; quite the contrary. It proved that Rankin had finally rendered his son a lost cause. He had simply given up on him. Rogen had truly been trying to the limit of his abilities. He might have been a bit slower than others, but so what? That was no reason for Rankin to give up on his only son. All admiration for Rankin gone, Rogen decided to stick with his father and put more thought into the matter after the hunt.
The two tigers had reached the meadow. Sure enough, a herd of gazelle were dozing peacefully in the grass, occasionally twitching an ear in their sleep. Rankin quietly padded towards the resting herd, keeping low, hiding under the cover of the tall grass. This confirmed Rogen’s suspicions. If Rankin had still wanted to teach Rogen, he would have asked him to follow.
“Watch and learn, son,” Rankin instructed. “Just watch and learn.”
Rogen suppressed a snort. Of course he would watch — that was the whole purpose of the hunt. But would he actually learn?
A twig snapped beneath his paw. Under normal circumstances, the noise it made would have gone unnoticed. However, given the thick silence that had blanketed the meadow, the sound might as well have been a foghorn, topped with the cries of a dozen infants. The gazelle leapt to their feet, suddenly aware of danger.
They bolted an instant later. All hopes of catching them faded. A steady stream of curses flowed through Rankin’s mouth. The tiger rounded on his cub, fuming.
“What were you thinking?” he castigated brutally. “Can’t anything get through that thick skull of yours? What do I have to do to get some sense drilled into your brain, boy? And you call yourself a tiger! I’ve seen more potential in a chipmunk! No son of mine would have done this.”
The words stung. Tears welled in Rogen’s eyes. He couldn’t bear it anymore. Rogen turned around and fled into the woods. He could hear Rankin calling his name behind him, but he didn’t look back. His paws seemed to have a mind of their own. They carried him over to the very heart of the forest, where they stopped abruptly.
No son of mine would have done this.
Not knowing what else to do, Rogen laid down, leaning on a nearby tree, and sobbed.
* * *
Back in the meadows, Rankin was at loss for words. He hadn’t meant to lose control like he had. Now, because of his temper, he had lost his only son.
Was that the only reason why Rogen had run away?
Rankin closed his eyes, trying to recall a time when he had mistreated his cub. As he looked back, he realized that he had abandoned Rogen long ago, at the start of the training. If Rankin had been in the same situation, he would have done exactly the same as Rogen had done.
All through the course of his coaching, not one accolade had been uttered. He had simply given up on his son. Just because Rogen had needed a bit more time than the average tiger cub. Rankin had been blinded by his hunger for fame and power. He had never given a second thought about Rogen — he was too preoccupied with himself to do so. How could he have been so selfish?
There was no use in moping about the situation. Rankin pulled himself together and started moving towards the woods, praying that his search for Rogen would be successful.
A single tear rolled down his cheek.
*  *  *
As Rogen walked underneath the foliage of the trees in the forest, he spotted a small bird, pecking at the ground. Were Rankin’s words true? Was he really a hopeless case?
The bird glanced at him. “’Ja say sumffin’?”
Rogen heaved a sigh. “Yeah. But never mind. I’d better get going now.”
The bird grunted and resumed its forage as Rogen ambled on through the thicket.
So Rankin was right. He couldn’t even frighten a raven, a feat even a human could accomplish. Rogen was beginning to give up hope on himself, just as his father had.
It was growing dark, and Rogen was weary from the day’s events. He gathered up a number of leaves and twigs into a pile and attempted to sleep on the makeshift bed. It was not nearly as comfortable as the one back home, but it would have to do.
Rogen had never been alone for so long before. Thoughts of human hunters, with their rifles held aloft, swam before his mind. He jumped at the softest noises, coiled from the smallest movements. The sun had long since disappeared from view. Unfamiliar sounds and scents surrounded Rogen. He whimpered in fear. Now, swallowed by the darkness, he wished he had never left his father.
If the cub had nodded off during the night, he would have been woken up within seconds by the rustling of leaves and the howling of the cold, bitter wind. But he couldn’t bring himself to close his eyes, even for the shortest period of time. He was too terrified of being caught off guard by something unwelcome.
Despite his uneasiness, Rogen was determined not to go back to his father. It would give Rankin another reason to believe that his son didn’t have the heart of a tiger, the drive to do well. He was not going to give his father that satisfaction, not after what Rankin had done.
Nevertheless, Rogen longed for the sense of security that he had grown accustomed to. Nobody would dare even touch Rogen in the presence of Rankin. Rankin had gained much respect over the years, and, along with it, much fear from the creatures that might bear ill intentions.
These thoughts preoccupied Rogen and let him forget his fears. He was brought back to the present, however, as the rays of the morning sun licked at his whiskers. All qualms dissolved in the light of dawn, Rogen went into a deep sleep on the pile of leaves at last.
The cub woke from his nap around noontime and was immediately overcome by a wave of hunger. He set off in search of food. Although he was unfamiliar with his surroundings, Rogen discovered a bush filled with ripe berries before long. He stuffed his mouth until his cheeks were bulging with the bright blue fruit.
Tigers are not known to eat berries. They are strictly carnivorous mammals, but Rogen, whose stomach was practically crying out for food, didn’t care what went down his throat, as long as it satisfied his ravenous hunger. Nearly every single berry on the bush had been devoured before the hunger had diminished. Newly energized by his nap and meal, he set to analyzing his current situation.
Food was no longer an obstacle. Seeing as he couldn’t hunt, meat was out of the question, but he could always live off of the fruits produced in the forest. A stream was sure to be found nearby, so water was not an issue. Rogen supposed he would get used to the queasiness he experienced during the night over time.
Rogen wandered about the forest with no particular destination in mind for the rest of the day. As darkness fell, he piled up leaves and twigs once more and went to sleep.
* * *
Rankin hadn’t slept for two full days, but none of his fatigue showed. He had been searching nonstop for his son, and he had so far been unsuccessful. He questioned every animal he came across, from tiny voles to fellow tigers. Nobody seemed to have any tips, and Rankin was growing more anxious by the minute.
The tiger caught sight of a black raven preening its feathers in a tree. He called it over and asked about Rogen.
“’Course ‘e came ‘round ‘ere. Saw ‘im wiff me own eyes, di’n’t I? Li’l guy, ‘e was. Sorta looked like you, now that I think ‘bout it. On’y smaller,” the raven replied.
“What?” Rankin was surprised. He didn’t think that this bird would have had any information at all. “Did he talk at all?”
“Did say sumffin’, I think. Think ‘e tried teh scare me, the li’l squirt. Tried teh roar, ‘e did. Barely ‘eard it. Other then that, ‘e di’n’t say nuffink. Tryin’ teh catch meself some breakfast, I was. ”
“Which way did he go?” Rankin inquired urgently.
“Ain’t we in a hurry! Where ya goin’ tha—”
“Now is not a good time, bird! I’ll ask once more. Which way did he go?” Rankin interrupted, losing his patience fast.
“Well, lookie ‘oo woke up on the wrong side o’ the bed this mornin’. A’right, a’right!” he added hastily, quailing from the venomous glare Rankin was giving him. “’E went thata ways.”
“Thank you.” Rankin was not sorry at all to leave the raven. He had used up a lot of Rankin’s time already. Then again, the bird had given useful tips.
The tiger walked in the direction the raven had indicated. He immediately knew the newly acquired information was going to be helpful. Rankin could see faint outlines of a tiger’s paw prints, distinctly smaller then his own. They were sure to be Rogen’s.
Hopeful once again, Rankin followed the tracks to a pile of leaves. This must have been where Rogen had slept that first night. Further on, he came upon a berry bush. It only had a few berries left. A purplish substance, presumably berry juice, was spattered on the ground.
The tracks were gradually becoming more prominent. At the same time, exhaustion was catching up with Rankin.
He thought he saw the shapes of humans…but no, it had to be his mind playing tricks.
There they were again! Humans, with rifles in their hands… Then they were gone again…he had to be hallucinating…
His body needed rest…but he wouldn’t stop. Rogen was still out there. Rankin wouldn’t stop moving until Rogen was found…
He collapsed on the spot as fatigue overwhelmed him.
* * *
Rogen sauntered on after waking up, oblivious to the fact that his father was searching for him.
Why would he? It’s not as if he actually cared about me, Rogen thought.
Then, without warning, homesickness beset him. He longed for the fresh smell of meat, the comfort of his bed, and, most of all, he longed for his father.
Before the training began, Rankin had been a loving, caring father. He had been strict at times, but he had always acted like a true father should. Once Rankin had started coaching Rogen, however, he had become snappy and only thought of himself. It was not the latter that Rogen pined for.
Rogen, with all accusations for his father gone, retraced his steps, eager to get back home. The task was not hard; his paws had left heavy imprints in the soft soil. Hopefully, he could follow the tracks all the way to the meadow, given that the older tracks had not lifted over time.
A while later, as Rogen traversed the woods, he thought he caught a glimpse of orange fur in a clearing not far ahead — orange tiger fur, striped black. As he came closer, he realized it was Rankin, lying on the ground. His father had cared, after all!
“Dad! Dad, it’s me!” Rogen called out excitedly. There was no answer. Rogen fervently prayed that Rankin was only sleeping. Then, through the foliage, Rogen could have sworn he spotted the barrel of a rifle. His heart skipped a beat; if he truly saw what he believed he had seen, if the rifle was not a hallucination, then the two tigers were as good as dead.
Only humans carried rifles. Humans always meant trouble. They were always the villains of animal folklore. Rogen was told that they killed for fur. Hunting for food was acceptable — every creature needed food. But just for their fur? It was the cruelest of cruel acts. Just the thought of it sent a shiver down Rogen’s spine.
Then a pair of humans stepped out into the clearing, pointing their rifles at Rankin. Rankin still hadn’t woken up; he was unaware of the precarious situation he was in.
The humans cocked their rifles….Rankin was still lying on the ground, eyes closed…then —
The roar had not come from Rankin. He was still unconscious. It had come from Rogen. It rippled through his throat, starting somewhere deep in his stomach. The sheer intensity of the roar made the humans drop their rifles. One of them looked positively terrified; the other was just plain scared. They turned around and fled.
The sound had woken Rankin as well.
“Where’d that come from?” he asked incredulously, thoroughly taken aback.
Rogen bounded over to his father, overcome with happiness.
“Hey, bud! Knew you had it in you!” Rankin said, back to his old self. He hugged Rogen and apologized. “I’m sorry, Rogen. About how I’ve been acting. I was just worried.”
Rogen accepted the apology joyfully.
“Now, what do you say about going home?”
Reunited once more, father and son headed home in high spirits.