This is a work of fiction, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Laramie Sasseville, copyright 1986
She rested the chunky, brown paper bag on her hip, balancing it with an arm already encumbered by the black leather briefcase that held all her notes. With her free hand she turned the key in the lock, pushing the door open with a thrust of her hip.
He stood directly across from the doorway; he was silhouetted by the silken grey wash of afternoon light. He was of medium size, dark of complexion, dark in his clothing.
Flash: The posters plastering the neighborhood, offering a two thousand dollar reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator of four murders, all committed in the neighborhood within the last month.
Flash: The Live-Eye news team outside Kate's apartment yesterday, interviewing local residents for their reaction to the threat.
The first thing that she noticed was that he had knocked over her grape ivy. It lay with its roots exposed, lumps of crumbled and drying potting soil spewn out across the golden hardwood of the living room floor. The pot seemed to be OK.
His attention was fastened on her. Their eyes met for an instant, hung suspended somewhere timeless…
"Now really," she spoke in a tone of friendly reprimand, setting her satchel down beside the door. She moved toward the kitchen with her bag of groceries, "Couldn't' you be a little more careful? Now I've got to get out the broom, and I'm sure that ivy isn't too happy waving its roots in the air." She spoke a little louder so as to be heard from the kitchen, and set the bag down on the counter.
She had done no more than taken the carton of eggs from the top of the bag, and opened the refrigerator when he appeared in the kitchen entry. His appearance followed closely upon the slamming of the door and was part of the same motion. Too bad. She had hoped he'd just make a run for it. Apparently he had something else in mind.
He loomed in the kitchen entry, hovering between advance and flight, displaying all the agitation of a feral beast.
"Look; I don't' want to hurt you. Don't give m any trouble." He spoke rapidly, his gaze darting about the room, flitting briefly from the array of spices and herbs, to the laden dish-drainer, to the spotless sink. She was glad she'd put the knives away in the drawer after sharpening them last night. Her hip rested snugly against that very drawer now, as she leaned - oh so casual - against the counter.
"Just stay cool," he advised, "nobody'll get hurt."
She removed the eggs, one by one, from the carton and placed them into their little plastic niches in the refrigerator door. "Don't worry," she assured him, "I'm cool." He jumped as she stepped back, opening the cupboard under the sink to deposit the empty carton in the trash. She let the cupboard door fall shut. Again he jumped. She reached back into the grocery bag, every movement followed closely by his agitated scrutiny. She moved with the casual ease of long habit, seeming oblivious to his presence. She pulled out the quart of strawberry icecream. "Can I offer you a cup of coffee? Seems like you could use one." She tucked the carton into a freezer in need of defrosting.
"I don't want to hurt you, " he said again, as though, by repeating himself, he could redirect the conversation into more familiar channels.
She pulled a bag of carrots and some lettuce from the grocery bag, found room for them in the veggie drawer. "I think I'll have some coffee." She picked up a stainless steel kettle from the back of the stove, emptied its sale contents into the small potted week that sat near the window, and refilled it in the sink. "if you want some, say so now."
His voice was tight, and too loud, as he spoke, "What's wrong with you? I'm a killer; I could beat your brains in…"
His last statement echoes a note of pride. His eyes took on a compressed intensity, drawing a thin line between his brows. The whites of his eyes were slightly yellowed.
Flash: He probably didn't have a gun. Of the four recent murders, two had been beatings, two stabbings.
"I hear you." She set the kettle on the coil of the electric burner, and switched on the heat. There was a small scraping noise as the kettle brushed across the coil. He jerked at the sound. She Spoke on, serene in the face of his threat. "I have a similar problem," she confessed, "I'm a Were-Tiger." She opened a cupboard and pulled out a can of Bavarian Mint Instant Coffee. As she pried the lid off with a spoon the sweet/bitter scent infiltrated the room.
He stared at her. She had spoken in clear English, but he showed no more comprehension than if it had been Chinese.
"Huh?" He eyed her as though he suspected she might be crazy, maybe crazier than he was. He stood suspended in the entryway, it seemed that forces of equal strength were pushing him forward and pulling him back; together they held him poised in the in-between.
"A Were-Tiger." She offered the open can to his nose, moving in the gentling way she used with her cat, as he showed signs of panic. "What do you think of this?"
He sniffed cautiously. For a moment the lines of tension around his eyes relaxed. "Sure, I'll have some of that." His expression took on an air of bemusement.
She brought two mugs down from the cupboard and began spooning the coffee into them. "A Were-Tiger," she explained, capturing his eyes with a look of deadly earnestness. "It's the result of a curse - like a Were- Wolf, only a tiger instead of a wolf." She hooded her eyes, lounging at action-ready against the counter, catlike in the ease of her movements. She could almost feel the stiff white whiskers reaching out from either side of her face, the jungle lurking in her sinews, and the darks of her mind. Her voice dropped, becoming so softly intense that he must lean forward to hear her. "I was in the Peace Corps, in India," her eyes never left him; she noted each detail of his reactions.
"I made the mistake of antagonizing a holy man - I mocked his powers - ever since, I've been subject to these strange attacks…" Her eyes dropped, as though in shame; a haunted note entered her voice. Whenever I allow myself to get nervous or frightened, it happens." She stroked her own hair soothingly, as though she were a cat to be comforted. "I have a friend in school who thinks that it's a chemical-based reaction, triggered by fear-released adrenaline." A deep-rooted sigh escaped her. "My first victim was a child. He threw a rock at me as I was waling down a village street at dusk… I didn't realize what was happening; the change was almost instantaneous. I had my fangs in his throat, and the taste was hot and salty-sweet; I was huge, and powerful, with black-striped golden fur, and a lashing tail." Her voice dropped nearly to a whisper, her eyes were focused on some distant point.
Her visitor stepped back, slapping the heel of his hand explosively against the refrigerator. "Lady, you're either lying or crazy! That sort of stuff doesn't happen in the real world." His voice and eyes betrayed the doubts she had raised; he paused, clearly uncertain as to which of them presented the greater danger. She continued her story.
I thought I was crazy, at first." A soft scream grew shrill behind them; she turned, with majestic feline grace, to remove the whistling kettle from the stove. She was fairly tall, a strong-boned woman, whose cool grace, and brown-gold hair and clothes lent veracity to her tale.
"When I came to myself I was kneeling in the dust beside the blood-soaked body of the boy. I can still remember the pungent smell, of mingled blood and dust. That scent chained me undeniably to the memory of my tiger-self. There were tracks in the dust of the road, larger than the spread of my hand, clearly showing the shape of a giant cat's padded paws." She hugged herself, her eyes moody and distant.
Her visitor's eyes glinted with a feral interest. "My first one was this old geezer…" He leaned against the wall, a tight-jawed assurance claiming him; he flexed his hands, constricting them to fists, flexed again. "I picked the lock without any trouble, but it turned out the old man was home." His voice tightened. "He called me 'boy;' he threatened to call the cops; said he'd have my ass; started shouting in my face 'til I could feel his spray on me. I hit him." He stopped short, one hand cupped around a tightly clenched fist.
He spoke in something resembling a chant. There was a sinister satisfaction darkening his features. His eyes seemed to glow like pale flames in that shadow. "I didn't stop for a long time. It felt so good. I loved making him pay; I loved getting back. I loved making him HURT."
She poured the hot water into the mugs, casually stirring coffee and liquid together while the rich aroma saturated the air.
"When I stopped it was because my arms were tired, and my knuckles hurt from hitting his head - I lit out of there like lightning."
She offered him a steaming mug. Her eyes were knowing as she met his, in a smile dark with understanding.
His eyes appraised her as she accepted the cup. His stance was more relaxed now, more confident. "Lady, you're cool" there was admiration in his tone. "You may be the world's slickest liar, but you sure got guts."
"Who needs guts?" she eyes him with half-savage innocence over the rim of her cup, sipping carefully at the hot liquid. "When, in half an instant, I can become ten feet of bristling claws and teeth?" She stepped a step toward him. "Want to sit down?" She gestured behind him, toward the living room. He moved out of her way as she continued forward, and followed her as she took a chair and offered him another. She crooned softly as she moved, a wordless chant, in a voice that was low and throaty - the sort that can flow easily into either a purr, or a savage yowl.
As she settled into her chair she took up the thread of her story. "At first I couldn't face what had happened. But then, it happened again. A month later, a man tried to grab me when I was out walking alone. The villagers were organizing a tiger hunt, and there was talk of calling in the same holy man who had put the curse on me. I thought of going to him, apologizing, asking to have the curse lifted, but there was already too much blood on my… hands. I had to leave the country."
Her eyes wandered to some point beyond the ceiling, exposing a subtle arch of white throat that was somehow not at all vulnerable. "I convinced the Peace Corps that I was cracking under the strain of adjusting to a new culture, and they sent me home." The slightest of smiles touched the corners of her lips as she met his eyes.
Her visitor seemed almost at ease, sitting perched on the edge of the rocking chair her mother had given her years before. His face held understanding and agreement. "Yeah," he nodded, "the next couple times I think I was almost looking for it…" His voice trailed off as he rummaged his memories. "The last one was a young chick - like you. She started screaming; I had to shut her up. It seemed like such a waste. I could have had more fun with her alive…" His eyes flicked over the well-rounded contours of his hostess.
She watched him with a cool, detached amusement. "You know how it is," she confided. "I was real short on money when I got back to the U.S.; I didn't have anything from the Peace Corps cause I had broken my contract by returning before my two years were up." She tucked her loose, gold-touched hair back behind an ear, and took a sip of her coffee. "I got a job, cooking the late shift. I couldn't afford bus fare, so I'd walk home, alone, around midnight every night; I suppose it was just a matter of time… One night some fellow attacked me in a deserted place. The next thing I knew I was crouched over his half-eaten body, my mouth dripping with blood." She licked her lips thoughtfully.
Her uninvited guest sat up straight in his chair. "You were eating him?" the whites of his eyes showed wide.
Her voice betrayed some slight annoyance with his interruption. "Food prices were high that year, and a tiger has different instincts than a human." She sipped meditatively at her coffee.
"That's when I took to hunting… I'd walk the 'bad' neighborhoods at night, a woman, alone. All it took was one thug thinking, 'easy mark,' and I'd have my protein for the next week."
His nostrils flared wide and his eyes shot to the door. "how can you take it so calm?: He shuddered as he put his cup on the side table. "I never ate anybody, I just got mad…"
"That's how it started with me. If I hadn't learned to keep calm, you'd know I was telling the truth - as for eating people, I've gotten used to the idea." She leaned back in her chair, stretching with the sensual abandon of a very large cat, delighting in the play of her smooth muscles. "How about you?" she countered. "how do you feel about getting into beating up on old en, about being a murderer?" Her smile was pronounced, a hint of white tooth glimmering briefly between her lips. There was a sharp edge to her question.
A host of emotions crowded his face, and struggled there for expression. He gripped his knees with hands on which the tendons showed in stark relief. "I don't want to." His voice was tight and small, a child's. "It's a trap, a monster. I feel like I'm trapped in a monster." He leaned forward until his head rested on his knees, and wrapped his arms around himself. Rough sobs broke forth in irregular, gasping bursts. His whole body rocked with the strength of those half-strangled sobs; the chair rocked with him.
"I know." She spoke softly. "I know exactly."
Silence opened between them, a silence in which the sounds of the few cars that wandered onto these residential side streets could be heard, and somewhere, the barking of a dog.
A bitter tone twisted her voice. "But there's no one in this world who can help me; if they believed me at all, they would kill me in fear. More likely they'd drug me, or lobotomize me, and leave all my human potential to rot - never facing what they'd done."
His look was the pitying sort of withdrawal with which the untainted look upon the pariah, changing, as she watched, to the hard recognition of kinship. His voice was gruff as he pulled back to a sitting position, hands still knotted about his knees.
"Do you think maybe, they could help me…" He licked his lips. "I'm not like you, so much - I just don't know what else to do, when I get so mad…" He became restless, making to get up, but his hands clenched the arms of the chair so fiercely that all he managed was to squirm briefly. "they wouldn't do that to me; I'm not that weird." His distaste was clear now in the eyes that shied away from contact with her own.
She shrugged, glancing off through the window, into the one patch of darkening sky that could be seen from among these buildings. "I'm not a shrink. I don't know. Maybe." He fastened on her words. Strange, she thought, that he would value her advice. "Maybe one of them could help you. They might get you into treatment, if you turned yourself in, and pleaded 'temporary insanity.' They might buy it - if you tell them I'm really a were-Tiger." She smiled humorously. "I'll deny it, of course."
His eyes studied her face. He drew a deep, ragged breath. "Can I use your phone?"
She gestured to the device, leaned back, and sipped her coffee.
The police wasted no time in arriving.
While they waited she told him a little about India. The sense of magic and mystery that permeated the culture… she showed him a ring. She said she'd made it from clumps of tiger fur collected from the places where her Were-form had brushed. She told him how she had twisted the bits of fur into a cord and wrapped them into the ring. "There are worse fates than becoming a human monster," she reflected, handing him the twist of hair.
He rubbed the soft-harshness of the thing between his fingers; could that scent that lifted the hairs on the back of his primate neck be truly the scent of the tiger? "Maybe so." His eyes filled once more with that fearful sort of pity, and understanding.
The buzzer sounded, and she moved to let the callers in.
In her presence the arresting officers were not over-rough with him. Their bustling, take-charge officiality transformed the serenity of her small apartment in a way that even the presence of her killer-guest had not. They were foreigners here in a way that he was not. Six foot, blond, red-faced and brusque, one spoke, "Name?"
"Alan Jones," he confessed, while handcuffs clattered behind him, and the sweat appeared on his brow, as it had not done at the prospect of a man-eating tiger.
A smaller man, with freckles and sandy hair, dropped heavy feet through the room to question her. She answered automatically until, "Occupation?"
She looked up to meet the eyes of Alan Jones, looking straight to the savagery that hid there, behind the mask of his name, crouching, killer-beast in the hands of a power much, much too large to comprehend. "Actress," she stated. Her look was unreadable.
The control of his fear seemed to crack and fall away in a fascinating slow shift of the contours of his face. "No," his voice was small, then suddenly large, in protest, almost shrill. "She's worse than I am!" He leapt forward, but the strong man who held him was ready, and jerked back on the cuffs. "She's really a tiger!" He snarled as she stood unperturbed, within arms reach had his arms been free. "She turns into a tiger and drinks people's blood!"
She smiled a helpless little smile to the officers, who nodded knowingly. "I think this poor man needs some help," she suggested.
"We'll see that he gets it." His eyes ran down the checklist of the report he'd been making. "Someone will be contacting you about the reward money."
She licked her lips, wincing as her tongue encountered sudden sharpness. Perhaps it was time to file those canines again…