Mowgli was a boy who lived in the jungle. He had lived there since before he could walk, raised by a pack of wolves who had taken him in when he had managed to crawl to the mouth of one of their dens and impressed the wolves with his helplessness and lack of fear. Members of his human family had been part of a group that was walking the trail through the jungle from the nearest village to the banks of the river when they were attacked by the mad tiger Shere Khan. This was in the days before these attacks became such a frequent and distressing feature of life in this part of the jungle, and when the path to the river was long and through dense jungle the whole way. The tiger had set upon the group, killing all he could and scattering the rest to flee back to the village, while the boy had escaped his notice long enough to find the protection of the den.
Much had changed in the years since. Mowgli had grown and now ran and hunted with the wolves in the day and shared their dens at night. Shere Khan had grown to spend ever more time in this part of the jungle between the human village and the river. Sometimes he would wander for miles along the river or across the country, attending to his own business whatever it might be, but whenever he returned, his now-unwelcome presence always preceded an attack on the humans, wherever he encountered them.
Their reactions to these attacks had also changed and this is what made Shere Khan’s presence in the jungle so troublesome for the wolves and all other creatures who lived there. Mobs of torch-bearing would-be tiger hunters swarmed through the jungle every time he struck, trampling or skewering any who got in the way, though the tiger always evaded them. More difficult to escape were the fires. These popped up evermore frequently, encircling an area of jungle on the border of the village or fields and destroying everything that was not able to escape before the flames grew too fierce and wide to cross. Soon after the flames had died, teams of workers from the village would begin clearing away the burned dead and changing the land into new pasture.
This expansion had begun in earnest several years ago. Mowgli had already been running with the pack at this point and had seen the whole situation take shape and he feared for his brother and sister wolves, who now felt the constant pressure of human presence in their hunting lands on this side of the river. The wolf family who had taken him in had had to move their den over the years to keep their distance from the human frontier and the once long and narrow path that lead from the village to the banks of the river was now widened from the point where the jungle met the fields which now stretched almost a mile from where the village still sat. It could still be seen from the scorched edges of the jungle where smoke rose from the fires that burned day and night and the number of huts gradually grew.
Shere Khan had now been prowling this part of the jungle hunting humans for weeks, the longest time he had lingered in recent memory, and his attacks were coming almost daily. In response the humans were raiding the jungle almost as often, killing a great number of creatures and displacing even more as they lit fires with increased vigor. The wolves were growing alarmed that the continued attacks on the humans would provoke them to kill all the creatures of the jungle, as no one really knew how many there were, where they came from, or how many would be in the next raiding party that came storming through the jungle.
Any attempts to persuade the tiger to stop his attack or move on to another part of the jungle were met with a violent response, and while he would generally not kill other jungle creatures, he would slink off into the vegetation and soon prey upon another human, triggering another raid and more burning. The wolves met again to discuss what to do. A few were in favor of joining the tiger and attacking the village to drive the humans off or die trying, but the elders could not be persuaded. Then Mowgli had an idea. Maybe he could help the humans get rid of the tiger and things in the jungle could go back to normal. Deeply mistrustful of humans, the pack rejected this idea as well, although it now burned in the boy’s mind as he thought of the danger the tiger put them all in.
As the pack continued to debate, Mowgli slipped away and went to see the humans in the village for the first time. He was amazed to see so many like him when he arrived. Apart from a few walking on the trails and hunting or working the fields near the edge of the jungle he saw very little of humans, and there were hundreds in the village, all like him and yet all different. Mowgli knew no human speech, but several of the hunters had heard tales of this jungle boy and even glimpsed him on occasion, and the subject of the tiger was at the front of everyone’s mind, as it was his. With gestures and scratchings in the dirt they were able to formulate a plan.
Shere Khan had always had a grudge against Mowgli, and hated the idea of a human living in the jungle. While Mowgli had the protection of the pack he was safe, but even this could not stop the tiger from killing one who is weak, injured, and near death to begin with. The next day Mowgli paced the edge of the jungle, near where he knew the tiger to be watching for humans to prey on, far from the deeper jungle where the pack spent their days. He walked with a pronounced limp and complained loudly in the language of the jungle about having a terrible accident and becoming badly injured. He had a pouch of cow’s blood from the village that he slowly dripped along the ground as he moved along the edge of the jungle, keeping his eyes and ears open for signs of the tiger. After a while the smell from the blood grew strong and he knew the tiger was nearby. Limping, he shuffled noisily into a clearing as the tiger charged out of the underbrush, singly focused on putting an end to this boy who had angered him since his arrival all those years ago. Halfway across the clearing the tiger lost his footing and tumbled downward as the ground collapsed and he fell through a covering of sticks and leaves, down, down into a deep pit.
The hunters emerged from their hiding places to see the trap they had sprung and the tiger that had tormented them for years. Mowgli was celebrated as a hero in the village, and called their long lost son. The celebrating went on for days and they invited Mowgli to stay and live with them, but he felt he had to return to his family the wolves. News of his actions had reached the pack and some greeted him with joy while others were grave and worried about what he had done. Still, life went on in the jungle, but things continued to change more than ever. The fires the humans lit in the jungle had once been small. Now they covered great swaths of land and more and more villagers came to clear away the charred remains. Within weeks all the land between the village and the river was cleared and the jungle creatures had either perished or moved as far away as possible.
The wolf pack that had raised Mowgli was now few in number and scattered. Looking around from the last den one morning, Mowgli could see the smoke rising from a nearby fire above the trees and occasionally hear the shouts of the people hard at work. The wolves who had slept in the den the night before had slunk away in the night, off to find new territory where they were’t threatened by the constant encroachment from the villagers, if there was still any to be found. Mowgli stared off into the jungle for some time before turning from the den and walking towards the source of the rising smoke and the now familiar sounds of human voices.