The Tiger: March Short Story Competition
It was only his first term at School. The Child was homesick and miserable at first, but he was only seven. He hated the noise and bustle, and the strangeness of it all. He missed his mother and his sisters, and home seemed so very far away. Be a brave chap, his father had said, and he tried his best to fit in, and did not mention his unhappiness in his letters to his mother.
Then he was sick in the middle of English, sent to see Matron in the San. He felt wretched and alone, and now all he wanted was the familiar presence of his mother. He missed the smell of her hair and the comfort of her arms. He felt abandoned and so very alone.
The Child was drowsy, lethargic and burning up with fever. Familiar shapes and sounds were distorted. The light hurt his eyes and the walls of the room advanced and receded and he felt sick. Night and day had no meaning any more, and he no longer struggled to stay awake. Sleep meant the return of the Tiger, but he gave in, too weak and ill to resist, despite the danger.
The Angel brought his Ovaltine in his favourite tin mug, the one with string round the handle to stop him burning his fingers. He tried to drink it, but he couldn’t, so she left it on the table by his bed. She kissed his hot cheek, and left the room.
The Tiger prowled on silent pads around the overheated room. The Child stirred uneasily in his sleep. He felt the angry swish of the Tiger’s tail as he passed by the bed. He felt the Angel’s hand on his forehead and calmed. He slept. The Tiger left but the child knew instinctively that it would return. He knew, but he didn’t know why, yet. He only spoke of it once, but it distressed the Angel, so he remained silent. But he knew, all the same. He’d asked for his penknife; he’d have felt safer with this under his pillow, but they had ignored him. He felt helpless and scared, and so very very hot.
The Angel gave him sips of water from a spoon, because his throat still hurt and swallowing was painful. Everything ached and he felt he was suffocating. He lapsed back into sleep, ignoring another mug of Ovaltine which he tried to ask her to take away. He now knew with a horrible certainly what drew the Tiger to his room.
The Tiger returned with a loud crash this time. It knocked over the water, upturned the chair next to his bed, and grabbed the bed covers between his pointed teeth, and growled ferociously. He sprang and landed on top of the Child, who felt his fetid breath on his face. He couldn’t scream, he knew the Tiger wanted to eat him, bit by bit. It chewed on the Child’s arm, and when it had finished eating his arm, the Tiger seemed to smile. But the smile was all wrong; it was evil and false and the accompanying sounds that came out of its mouth sounded like a song, but so ugly and distorted, the Child shivered in terror.
“I’m the only one, the only one,” The Tiger rasped followed by another terrifying throaty growl
Then faintly he heard a friendly and comforting voice:
“It is hard to be brave, when you’re only a Very Small Animal.”
“Promise me you’ll always remember: you’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think”
When he woke up again, The Angel gave him some more pills, replaced his covers and asked him if he wanted anything.
“Honey, he whispered; “I’d like some honey. Tiggers don’t like honey.”
The toast and honey arrived with a strawberry milk shake. He felt better already.