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The mellifluous rhapsody of the barbets wafted in across the forest. A van glided to a halt near the thickets. The window rolled down, and Ishan stuck his head out, inhaling the earthy aroma of the petrichor. 

It’s so good to be back!

Smiling to himself, he switched off the ignition. The headlights glared at the misty path one last time. Taking out his DSLR, Ishan got out of the van, closing the door with a soft nudge. 

The barbets stopped humming, as if they had sensed the presence of a vicious predator in their vicinity. Ishan’s heart gave a lurch. Is it a tiger? Or a leopard? And suddenly, without any warning, the birds took flight, emitting anxious cries. 

The leaves from the teak tree behind the van rustled, and Ishan turned back. The family of chipmunks were nibbling on fruits, when they froze. The huge male dropped his half-eaten food to the ground, and scrambled up the tree further, taking with him his family. Ishan strained his neck up to see where they disappeared. But they were nowhere to be seen. 

Are they scared of me? But why? I don’t mean to do any harm to them. Not anymore. Ever since…. 

Ishan’s musings were interrupted when his ears registered the unmistakable sound of damp grass coming into contact with those soft feline paws. He held in his breath, and slowly pressed the button on the door of his van. In a swift motion, he ambled inside the safe confines of his automobile. His hands shook. He almost sniggered at the irony. Once upon a time, they had been steady as a rock, holding the gun firmly, pulling the trigger without an iota of hesitation. Ishan opened his mouth, inhaling bouts of air noisily, as a black apparition came into view. 

Blurry images danced before Ishan. The bullet leaving from his gun. Piercing the skull of the alleged man-eater. The agonizing cry that left its throat for the last time. The look of shock that registered on those soulful mesmerizing green eyes.

A whimper escaped Ishan’s lips. His gaze fell on the book on the passenger seat.

‘Shoot! But With A Camera’ by Ishan S. 

Within a week of its release, it had become a bestseller on Amazon, with hundreds of readers providing generous ratings of five. Even the harshest of the critics had eulogized his poetic language. Wildlife lovers had gone into raptures about his change of heart from a cold-hearted hunter to a naturalist, often arbitrating between the forest officials and the furious villagers. 

The highlight of the book was its final paragraph. 

As the orphaned cub approached its dying mom, something in me snapped. I dropped my gun. My knees gave way, and I fell to the ground. That moment, I made my decision. If I am ever to shoot a leopard again, it will be from my camera. 

The melanistic cat growled at Ishan, and slowly disappeared into the woods. Just like the barbets and the chipmunks. The trust they had placed in humans had been breached. Nothing could mend it. Not even an Amazon bestseller with five-star ratings!


Author’s Notes:

This story was first published in Penmancy as a part of their Tale-a-Thlon event.

P.C – Neom/Unsplash


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