Burning Bright

“I’m a glorified babysitter,” Den said to the empty room. They promised excitement in the ad, but so far she’d just spent everyday sitting at a desk facing a cage with some sad, old tiger in it. She wasn’t even allowed to feed or care for the elderly animal, that was someone else’s job.

Den thunked her head against the desk and wailed through gritted teeth.

“It’s not that bad,” said a voice from somewhere in the room. “You could be stuck in the cage.”

Den jerked her head up and looked around in panic. The only other soul was the big cat. Shaking, she got up from the desk and made her way to the bars. She sunk to her knees and looked into the creature’s eyes.

“Did you just speak?”

The tiger nodded and gave a slow blink.

“No, no,” Den said standing and turning her back on the cage. “This isn’t happening.”

The tiger reared up and pounced against the bars so his face was next to hers. “I assure you, this is happening.”

Den spun and came face to face with the leering tiger. She screamed as she backed away, but the room was small and the desk blocked her from getting too far.

“Oh, do be quiet,” the tiger said with a tired tone in his gruff voice. Den stopped screaming. This time she saw his mouth move. A small whimper escaped her.

“Thank you.” The tiger lowered himself back to all fours and started pacing the small cage.

“This is it,” Den breathed. “I’ve gone crazy. This is what that feels like.” She covered her face.

“While I’ll allow that it does appear similar, I must tell you that you haven’t gone mad. Far from it, in fact.”

Den peeled her fingers from her face and stared at the beast. He shook his head and settled on the floor.

“When Will died, I was distraught, inconsolable.” The tiger squeezed his eyes shut before he continued. “I loved him like a father, like a scared man loves his God. I was not with him when he passed, and I will never forgive myself for that.”

“I don’t understand.” Den began. “You’re an animal. Why? How could you love-“

“I was once a man. Madness twisted me and sin made me immortal. That’s why I’m here. I am but a fearsome beast and I deserve this, I know that now, but at least I won’t be alone anymore. They’ve given me a companion.”

Den shook her head. This was too much. Tigers couldn’t talk and they didn’t use to be people. No the isolation must have just gotten to her. She raced around the desk and pushed the panic button on the underside.

Not five seconds later, four armed guards came into the small room. The checked the cage and, finding no breaches, led Den from the room.

“Goodbye,” the tiger called. He could hear her anguished sob as they led her away.

A moment later, a tall man in a suit walked in. He had a stern look on his face and a grim demeanor as he approached the cage.

“Tyger, Tyger,” he chided as he looked into the creature’s eyes. “You really shouldn’t taunt them.”

“I wasn’t taunting, I was talking.”

“Same difference. This is the eighth one you’ve scared off this quarter. What am I supposed to do now?”

“Mention the talking tiger in the next advert?” the tiger suggested.

“Out of the question. No one worth having would apply.”

“I guess you’ll just have to let me go, or maybe send me to a zoo.”

The tall man pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head. “You don’t exist, Tully, and neither do any of the others. I can’t let you go, someone would notice. You know that.”

“I suppose you could keep me company. I could tell you about my life-“

“Tully, I don’t care. My job is to make sure all the impossible creatures are cared for, and the board thinks that should include companionship.” He shook his head. “Goodbye, I’ll get you someone next week.”

Tully snarled and banged his massive paws against his bars, scraping them with his claws.

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