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A Distant Memory
The morning sun shimmered in the river, creating a mix of shining gold and navy blue across the surface of the water. A few white spots dotted the green mountain side where snow hadn’t melted yet. A pure white cub trotted alongside its mother, feeling the soft wind flow through his fur. He was only a few months old, and he still didn’t have any stripes in his fur yet. It was the first time he had seen the mountains without endless white covering the whole landscape. The best part was all of the smells. During the winter everything was dead, and the snow killed off most of the plants that gave off the sweet fragrances he smelled now. Many other animals had wakened from their winter slumber as well. All of these smells mixed together made the cub dizzy with excitement. Every odor was a creature or a plant waiting to be discovered.
One smell was different from all the others, though. His mother had noticed it too, and she nudged him back to the line of trees. He protested until his mother growled for him to obey. They quickly moved back towards the forest. Halfway to the trees his mother halted. She sniffed the air and then gave a low growl towards the direction of the odd smell. An object came whistling through the air. It missed the cub, but when he turned toward his mother he saw that the object was stuck into her neck. His mother roared in anger, and bared her deadly fangs toward the direction where the strange smell emanated. Two more objects struck her in the thigh and shoulder. His mother roared again as her legs began to quiver. Another struck her, and she was down. The cub cried in bewilderment, and ran towards his mother. Two men came out of trees carrying tranquilizer guns. The cub cried in fear as they walked up to their catch.
“Only one little one. Pretty young though. It’ll sell good in the states,” the taller of the two picked the cub up by the scruff of its neck. The cub squirmed and wriggled in his grasp. “Mean little b*****d,” the man chuckled as the cub clawed at his arm.
“Should we leave her here? We could sell her down below the Amur River,” the other man gestured toward the sleeping mother.
“Nah, we’d be better off finding more cubs. Leave her.”
The other man nodded and proceeded to take the darts out.
“Alright,” The tall man said, “Let’s sedate this one. I don’t want my arm clawed up on the way back.” He grabbed a syringe and stuck it to the cub’s neck. The cub gave out a small cry before his world faded into the distance.
Light wound through huge windows lined up on both sides of the long hallway, dimly illuminating grey and black floor tiles patterned together in an unorganized way. Black metal rails stood in a four-foot high barricade, creating a yard-long gap between the glass behind it and curious passersby.
“DO NOT TAP GLASS” was printed in large black letters on the bottom right corner of the windows. The glass itself stretched from nearly the top of the black painted wall down to about two feet above the floor, and was about fifteen feet in width, for each window.
A framed wall poster hung next to one of the windows. “White Siberian Tiger” was printed at the top in white bold font, and below that appeared detailed information about the animal’s habitat and way of living.
On the opposite side of the glass was a large cement room. The walls and the floor wore a dull grey color broken up by thousands of tiny black canyons where the cracks had made their way. The hot sun flung its warm light through the skylight that covered most of the ceiling. A flamingo-pink ball about the size of a toddler sat alone next to the glass, marred by hundreds of claw marks and a few deep gashes where fangs had sunk into the plastic surface. A foot above the ball hung a gnarled tree branch that twisted its way into the side of the large lifeless limb that lay at the center of the room and wound up towards the ceiling. Water pooled where a small jet incessantly flowed out of a quarter-sized hole in the wall and into a crude cement bowl at the front corner of the room
In the opposite corner of the room flies buzzed around the sleeping figure. Black stripes wrapped around its big white body and swirled around its eyes and face. The tiger’s body was calm in its peaceful slumber, but soon its tail twitched and swayed, the bulky muscles of its arm jerked and convulsed, its ears moving forward and backward until finally the massive head snapped up in astonishment.
A faint tapping noise was coming from the window where the shadowy figures watched him. Two figures stood on the other side now more clearly. One was beating a bottle against the glass and pointed when the tiger woke up. The tiger soon forgot about the figures though; they seemed to be as much a part of his life as the grey walls were now. The tiger closed its eyes and laid its head down again, hoping it would fall into that distant memory just a little longer.