Drip . . . Drip . . . Drip . . .
"DDDDDDDDDooooooooo . . . yyyyooooouuuu think it is safe to go out?" Willie asked his friends, Jack and Calvin. Hiding in darkness, Willie was lying on his stomach on a cold, damp, rock floor.
"Ssssssshhhhhhh," whispered Calvin, stuck between his rotund friend and a rock wall. "It still might be out there."
"But, I haven't seen it in a while, and I am hungry."
"Why are you thinking about food at a time like this?" Jack questioned, as he elbowed Willie. "You just had a snack when we were at the lake."
"Well, how long do we have to wait here?" Willie asked impatiently.
Tired of being squished by Willie, Calvin suggests, "Maybe one of us should take a peek to see if it is still out there?"
"I'll take a look," Jack whispered as he crawled forward on his stomach. Slowly, he inched forward. Finally, his red Phillies cap, with brown hair poking out underneath, emerged from the cave like a turtle's head poking out of his shell. Intently, he looked left. Seeing nothing unusual, he rotated his head to the right. Still nothing unusual in the woods. Or is there? What is moving over there? His head freezes. Jack holds his breath. He looks closely. A bush rustles. A squirrel emerges and climbs a nearby tree. He sighed in relief. He continued looking to the right. Nothing. His eyes scan back to the left. Still nothing.
Cautiously, he climbed out of the cave. Kneeling, he looks from his left to his right. Still nothing. With his right hand, he waives for his companions to come out of hiding. "I think the coast is clear. I don't see anything."
Calvin and Willie breathlessly watched Jack emerged from the cave and waive for them to join him. Willie exhaled. Calvin moves forward first and climbs out, followed by Willie. They stand together. It feels good to stretch after being cramped in darkness, for what felt like hours.
As they stood, Jack looked at his friends, Calvin in a muddy Star Wars t-shift and Willie in a mud covered Pepsi t-shirt, "You guys look terrible."
"You don't look so good either." Looking at his shirt, Calvin continued, "My mom is going to kill me."
Willie chimed in, "My mom expects me to be dirty."
Jack pulls at his muddy red Phillies shirt, "My grandmother will just think that I am in trouble again. Now that it looks safe, what should we do now?"
Jack and Willie looked at Calvin for the answer. "Let's go back to the lake and get our bikes."
"Follow me," Jack said as walked on a narrow path down a hill. Calvin followed as Willie trailed behind. Trees and brush surrounded them as they walked. Jack and Calvin kept looking around to be sure it was safe. After a few minutes, Willie started to sing. Calvin elbowed him, "Sssssshhhhhhhh." Jack turned and glared at him.
They walked in silence.
Suddenly, Jack threw out his right arm, stopped sharply, and whispered, "Stop." Calvin collided into Jack, dislodging his hat. Willie dove to his right and crawled under some brush.
Jack knelt down on his left knee, his right arm outstretched and pointing down with his forefinger. Calvin bent over, looking over Jack's shoulder, asking, "Why'd you stop?"
"Look. There's his paw print."
The boys, in awe, stared at an eight inch tiger paw print etched into the soft ground.
"You didn't see the tiger?" came a voice from the brush. Willie stood, wiping away dirt and leaves.
"So, we weren't imagining things. We really did see a tiger." Calvin remarked under his breath as he stood up, looking around for the tiger.
"What is a tiger doing out here?" asked Jack. "Tigers don't live in the Poconos."
"I don't know, but let's get our bikes before we see it again." Calvin replied as he rose.
Jack stood in front of Calvin and resumed leading the boys down the path. Willie scrambled out of the brush, slowed down to see the tiger's paw print, then hurried to catch Calvin.
Nearing the lake, the boys game to the edge of the woods. They could see their mountain bikes lying on the ground by the water. A meadow of long, green grass separated them from their bikes. Jack stopped.
"What is it?" asked Willie.
"I hope nothing. I just wanted to look around before we get out in the open."
All three looked around.
"All clear." Jack walked towards their mountain bikes, as the others followed.
The boys slipped their backpacks over their shoulders and strapped on their helmets. "Where are we going?" Willie asked.
"I think we should try to figure out what's going on. Remember, before we saw the tiger, we heard a loud noise," Calvin said thoughtfully.
"Yeah, I remember the noise. It sounded like it came from near the river," Jack recollected.
Getting on his bike, Calvin instructed, "Let's go the river and see what the noise was. Maybe it will explain the tiger."
"Okay, but I don't think anything can explain a tiger in these woods," Willie doubted out loud as he climbed on his bike. "By the way, what do we do if we see the tiger while we are riding?"
Jack looked up and down at his slightly overweight friend, "All I have to do is ride my bike faster then you." Jack rode away.
Beginning to pedal, Willie snarled, "That's not funny."
The boys followed a dirt path about two miles until they came to the southern end of Bear Lake, which was marked by a dam, holding the lake in place. The path ran next to Bear Creek for another two miles until it emptied into a larger river. When they reached the river, the path became wider and ran between the river and roal road tracks. After following the tracks and river for a mile, they rounded a corner, allowing them to see around a mountain.
For the first time, they saw the disaster. Sheriff's cars, fire trucks, and ambulances were spread out, surrounding a train that was lying on its side, next to the tracks.
The boys rode their bikes to the engine and started walking around. The train was like no train they had seen before. The cars were painted with tents, animals, and clowns. Some of the cars were cages with animals like lions and bears in them.
"It is a cicus train," Jack exclaimed.
"I remember hearing something about a circus train coming through town," Calvin chipped in. "Let's walk around and see if we can find out what happened."
Near the engine, they saw the sheriff talking with two men, one looked like the train's engineer and the other was an older man, wearing a suit. As they talked, they were pointing at the rear wheels of the train. Calvin put his right forefinger to his lips, "Sssshhhh." Then, he waived, indicating that he wanted them to follow him. He led the boys around the engine and stopped, where they would be inconspicuous, but could still overhear the conversation. Calvin could not overhear every word, but it sounded like a small explosive went off, causing the wheel to come dislodged from the track and the train to derail. When the train derailed, the tiger's cage broke and he escaped. The first priority was to capture the tiger before it hurt someone.
Calvin heard enough. He wanted to see the tiger's cage. They walked by numerous people who appeared to have minor injuries. Calvin assumed they were circus workers who were on the train when it derailed. Paramedics and EMTs were tending to the injuries.
Calvin found the car that served as the tiger cage. It was tipped over on its side. It was empty, so obviously the tiger escaped. However, Calvin noticed something unexpected. "Hey guys, what's missing from this cage?"
Jack and Willie looked at the cage. "We already know what is missing," Willie replied. "The tiger."
Calvin frowned. "Obviously. But, if the crash enabled the tiger to escape, we should be seeing something. But, it's missing. What is it?"
Jack took another look at the cage. "I am looking, but I don't know what you are talking about."
"The cage is not broken. All of the bars are intact, just like the other cages. Look, the bears, lions, and other animals are still in their cages. Those cages did not break. This cage did not break either. Someone let this tiger out."