It was a typical day in the grassland. The oppressive heat beat down on the denizens of the field. The dry grass swayed; pushed and pulled by the dry breeze. A cheetah crouched among the golden-yellow grass; her tawny, speckled coat peeking out from between the blades. An unsuspecting young antelope nibbled on the green shoots, straying from its herd. The huntress cautiously stalked towards her victim, taking care not to step on the dry, brittle grass. Suddenly, the antelope started, its peaceful feast disturbed by the muffled crunch of grass. It looked up and locked eyes with its upcoming doom. Something flashed in its eyes – a split-second decision. It fled, the predator close behind on its heels. Be it Fate, it tripped; hind legs flying into the air as its forelegs folded beneath its body with an audible snap. The cheetah was on it in an instant; ripping its throat out with her well-worn claws as she roared in victory.
After gorging herself on her prey, the cheetah ambled away, herstomach too full, bulging; clearly not the result of a hearty meal.
She was pregnant.
The lonely huntress stilled, the birth pangs drawing a yowl of painand surprise. Her blood roared in her ears, heart racing as shescrambled madly for shelter. Spotting a crevice in the rocks, sheslid into it. The contractions hit her like a freight train, takingherbreath away.
The evening sky was greeted by the soft mewls of newborncubs. The mother, exhausted, was half asleep, her four cubs cuddlingnext to her, pushing their noses into her soft fur. The mother gazed adoringly at her cubs as they suckled, occasionally lickingthem affectionately. They settled down for the night.
The morning sun shone on they new family, the cubs yowlingindispleasure at the invading light. The cheetah pacified themwithafew licks, an act that evolved into a cleaning session. The freshlycleaned cubs grumbled and mewled as they settled downnext toeach other for a nap. The mother glanced at the moundof peachfuzz before sauntering towards the burning sun. She liftedher nose, sniffing the air for any surprises. Satisfied that her cubswere safe, she set out for the day’s hunt.
The cheetah ran across the golden expanse at a moderate pace, taking short breaks to rest her aching paws. She occasionallysniffed the air to catch the scent of any prey lurking nearby.
Around midday, the huntress sank to the ground, annoyedat thescarcity of prey. Her stomach threw a tantrum, gurgling loudenough to alert any nearby animals. She had given up hope whenthe tantalizing scent of a hare passed by her nose. She liftedherhead and turned around in circles, trying to detect the positionofher prey. Getting a whiff of the scent, she crouched down, slowlystalking towards the source.
Her prey was half buried in straw and mud. The grey hare wasbuilding a nest, oblivious to the danger that laid in wait for it. Thecheetah pounced; her graceful form twisting in midair to catchthehare that reacted too quickly to land a hit. Her claws rakeditslefthind leg, but the hare escaped, running swiftly through the drygrass. The huntress wasted no time in following the scent of freshblood. The hare was halfway through a clearing when she put onaburst of speed, leaping towards the fleeing animal. This time, heraim was true. Her paws slammed the unfortunate animal against the ground, her jaw immediately snapping its neck. She placedapaw on the animal, pleased with her prowess.
Her hunger took over and she devoured the hare in a matter of minutes. Her rebelling stomach appeased for the time being, sheambled away to the shade of a tree for a short nap.
The sun was low on the horizon when the cheetah decidedtoheadback to her cubs. She took a different route, so as to avoidpredators that were attracted by the remains of her meal. Her journey was disrupted by a scent that made her wrinkle her nosein disgust. She squinted to see the the blackened earth andweirdskeletal remains of trees that the Land-Sun left behind. She hadseen the Land-Sun when she was a cub. It was hungry; devouringthe grass and trees like a starving lion. It was very uncomfortable, and hot – hotter than the sun in the sky. It was easier to lookat, not that bright. But it smelt awful, like rotting carcasses.
She was so lost in her thoughts that she missed the soft soundsofincoming predators. Startled by a low growl, she whirledaroundto meet the menacing eyes of a hyena with a blood-curdlingsnarl of her own. She hissed and spat at them in warning, crouching
down in a defensive position. Another growl warned her of asecond hyena, coming up next to its pack-mate. A quick glanceshowed her that those two were alone for the movement, but theirpack would join them at any time. Going on the offensive, sheleaped on to the first hyena, slashing at its face. It howledinagonyand moved back, holding its face. The second hyena tookher moment of distraction to clamp down on her right hindleg. Sheyowled and sunk her teeth onto the scruff of its neck. It quicklyreleased her and moved next to its pack-mate, who was still whimpering in pain. The cheetah hissed at themthreateningly, and they moved away slowly, clearly not wishing to start anotherfight. She ran with all her strength, ignoring the pain in her leg. Once she was sure she was safe, she rested on the cool grass, nursing her injury. The wound was not too deep, and she lickedatit a few times before continuing her journey.
She reached the mouth of her little cave when she heardthesoft cries of her hungry cubs. They were mewling in distress, their unopened eyes seeking their mother’s warmth. She chuffedat then gently and laid down, guiding their little mouths to her teats. They suckled hungrily and burrowed into her warmfur. Shewrapped her lithe body around her cubs, cocooning theminwarmth before laying her tired head down to sleep.
The cheetah got up at dawn, stretching her tired muscles. Shesuckled her cubs before leaving them contently curled upnext toeach other. Giving them on last lick, she emerged fromthe cave, savouring the fresh air. Her happiness did not last long.
She had barely moved a few yards when a bullet plungedthroughher abdomen. She stilled as the pain registered in her mind. Herfirst thought was to keep her cubs safe. She snarled at the intruders, her vision hazy from blood loss. The intruders watchedher intensely, baring their strangely blunt teeth. They walkedontwo legs, with sticks in their front paws. She glanced downindespair; her blood had dripped down her spotted coat, mattingher fur to her legs. She whimpered pitifully. Her suffering wascutshort by the bullet that pierced her skull. She collapsed intoapool of her own blood. The men moved towards her body, their facesimpassive. Her lifeless brown eyes stared at themreproachfullyasher blood watered the earth. The mourning wind blewawaythestench of her cooling blood. By noon, all traces of her were gone.
The next day, the morning sun shone on a group of vultures, theirsharp beaks aggressively picking on something. The rays of light dodged past the restless scavengers to fall on four deadcubs.