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THE TIGER

    Once a tiger came face to face with its stuffed likeness.
    Though it wasn’t really much of a likeness, if the truth be told. The stuffed tiger was so magnificent and intimidating that the live one could scarcely recognize their kinship and shuddered in marvel at the thought of what a noble creature this must have been. 
    Hesitantly, alternating between a crouch and a crawl, the tiger began to circle the motionless figure on display. Across and down the long back, blood-hot muscles still seemed to ripple beneath the radiant stripes. How they must have matched the passage of the day’s heat through the tall grass and the shadow of swaying leaves in the moonlight. In the firm haunches, how the lightning charge must have coiled in wait as the white belly hardening in mid-breath, stretched taut with fierce purpose, and the long tail flicked briefly and then held still. Massive feet clawed the warm earth. The thick ruff stood wide upon the straining neck. Not a twitch marred the glory of those whiskers or the lips drawn back over teeth greater and sharper than any the tiger had ever seen. How the land must have trembled at the roar from that throat. And those piercing eyes, what horizons would they not have reached? 
    Truly this was a majestic animal! Born of a long, long evolution of every chromosome from out of the primordial sludge to form this masterpiece of nature. Was it aware of the hushed amazement that would have rooted all other creatures to the spot at the sight of it, prey to the sudden knowledge of how far beyond their imagination life’s power reached that it could include anything so sublimely framed as this? Asking themselves questions to which no answer could be made? How could it not have been aware and not burned with that knowledge?
    The tiger was filled with a warm pride just to think it could be related to such perfection. The triumphs of this paragon were its own as well, weren’t they in a way? Just to be in its luminous presence could heal the inner wound of any number of failed hunts and lost domains. The fiery markings, keen stare, bright fangs and claws, tight sinews of the heart—they all promised time was a tiger’s plaything and mastery its birthright. 
    Creeping back around in front, the tiger noticed a faded shred of paper attached to a short stick. After an uneasy wait, it summoned its courage and crawled close enough to read the few words written there:
Panthera tigris (gloriosis)
Not sighted for years.
Thought by many to be extinct.