SHAKTI’S HONOR • by James Patrick Focarile

They shot the tiger on his chain in a field behind the cages. A giant Bengal, with paws the size of tree stumps. Even lifeless, his body rippled with muscle and sinew. Flecks of gray tarnished his orange and black striped coat. Crimson drained from the bullet hole in his skull. It pooled on the dirt, glistening in the morning light. His name was Shakti, which means “power” in Hindi. He’d lived a long, hard life with dignity until now.

“Why’d they kill him?” I whispered to my mother.

Her amber eyes narrowed. “Because he’s old. He’s worth more dead than alive.”

“I don’t understand.”

She didn’t answer right away. “They harvest the skin, paws, bones, and teeth.”

“What will they do with them?”

She turned to me. “Sell them. They crush the bones and digest them.”

“They’ll eat his bones?” I said, pressing my cold nose against the gate of our enclosure.

“Why?”

“Shakti’s strong medicine.”

“They have no honor.”

“No, they don’t,” she said. “They want his power and they’ll do anything to get it.”

“Will they kill us too?”

She didn’t answer, her gaze fixed on the poacher butchering Shakti. Then two other men walked towards us. One carried a large rifle. The other cursed us as he reached to open the gate.

I stole a glance at my younger brother and stepped in front of him. My mother bared her teeth. A low, harsh growl emanated from her bowels.

“Be ready to run, Daughter,” she muttered. “And don’t look back.” My hind legs trembled; the tang of bile bit the back of my throat.

“And remember, they can’t take your power unless you give it to them.”

The poacher swung the gate door open and my mother flew from my side. Like a flash of lightning, she was on him, her teeth and razor-sharp claws ripping at his flesh. She fought like an apex predator. Like her cubs’ lives depended on it.

They did.

My mother tore the poacher’s arm clean from its socket; his screams pierced the air like a blade’s edge. I bolted past her and leaped onto the man holding the gun. His rifle fell to the ground and he ran. I called my brother to follow me. We blew by Shakti’s corpse and the last poacher like wind in a summer storm.

We never looked back.

When we reached the trees and freedom a shot sounded. And another. They echoed off the man-made cages and enclosures. My mother’s roar rang true one last time.

From that day on, I took the name Shakti, after my father. I wanted to remember him and the sacrifice my mother had made to ensure our freedom. I wanted to live a long life with honor.

And I vowed, then and there, never to give up my power — no matter what the cost.


James Patrick Focarile resides in the Northwest, U.S.A. He holds an undergraduate degree from Rutgers University and an M.F.A. from Brooklyn College. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the following: Bright Flash Literary Review, Mystery Tribune, Guilty Crime Story Magazine, Thrill Ride Magazine, and more. Awards include 2nd Place in both the Idaho Writers Guild’s 2023 Short Story Contest and Litro Magazine’s 2022 Art of Reflection Competition. “Shakti’s Honor” was a Finalist in Stonecrop Magazine’s 2024 Micro Fiction Contest.


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