a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
Tigress by Ashley Kim (California)
Without warning, the sprinklers on every floor, every room of the Tannerin Hotel rained freezing water. As the marbled floors increasingly blanketed with gloss, people slipped and scurried to the nearest exit only to find them all locked shut. Families bordering on sleep after rich dinners escaped their rooms with the TVs still on and suitcases left open like books, just catching in the soak until the fake rain bounced off the folded clothing. Some left their rooms in bathrobes with hair towels.
Down in the lobby, children danced around, giggling and letting out their tongues while their parents grabbed their arms and dragged them away. Everyone’s hair was getting tangled and knotted while the elevator music blasted at a volume elevator speakers were not built for. The rectangular containers became boomboxes awkwardly placed within an elegant dollhouse.
Some dared to traverse the stairs, though the majority stayed on their respective floors deciding that they’d rather not be trampled down slippery stairwells. Besides, the exits were locked on every floor--there was absolutely no escape.
The employees behind the reception desks were on their phones, frantically punching numbers but getting no responses. The security guards normally standing outdoors had accompanied a prominent businessman inside minutes before. The guards had absolutely no way of getting help as their communication devices were unreceptive with the immense water contact-- all souls in the hotel were helplessly being showered. Panicked people kept asking others, “Where’s the fire?” as they slowly realized that there was not a single hint of smoke. . . .
At exactly 9:00 PM, the storm began; just as Gris intended.
She sat on a bench across the Tannerin wearing a black, almost sheer mask over the lower half of her face. The mask wasn't the medical kind, though. She crafted it herself, inspired by a shaman she saw on TV one day, flipping through channels. She didn’t care to watch the episode or even watch long enough to know what was going on, she just stared at the shaman, falling in love with the fear-quality of wearing such a mask. Much like a bandana, the shaman’s covering draped down the lower half of their face as spirits left and reentered their body. It was entrancing in an unintended way--to have only someone’s eyes analyze your entire face while you could only helplessly stare into the other’s eyes-- a feeling of nakedness in the atmosphere due to an uneven exchange of facial exposure.
Gris’ slender fingers went over her mask’s strap of small black pearls wrapped delicately around her head’s entirety. Secure. The rest of her clothing was black leather, the only exception being a fiery orange fur shawl draped elegantly over her shoulders. Gris fiddled with one end of her shawl, staring with hunger at the hotel before her but saving her appetite for the man inside.
Through the grandiose windows, Gris could clearly see the hellish chaos breaking out amongst the employees, the families, the businessmen, the mistresses. Even from the outside, Gris could hear the booming elevator music. It was so loud that it crossed her that the music might break the glass windows and let everyone out. Impossible though. They were in a flipped cup and Gris had her hand clamped tightly over the top. She smiled crookedly under her mask, maybe even giggled a bit aloud, then stood up from her bench and walked to the Tannerin’s sparkling entrance.
In front of the hotel’s gold-handled glass doors, Gris hugged her shawl around her body. Her sharp black pixie cut was slicked back and bounced subtle reflections of light from the establishment’s blazing chandeliers. The doors opened without a single movement from Gris.
They were automatic doors, but as all other entrances and exits in the hotel were locked, an undercurrent of magic expelled with each step Gris took. Despite massive preoccupation, everyone in the hotel stopped and noticed her. Not a single soul could tear their eyes away from the mystical woman who seemed to have control over a building sinking into disorderly hell. The chaotic symphony lost its chorus of voices and made auditory room for its prized soloist.
The rain poured on Gris as it did on everyone else, but it didn’t seem to be affecting her image--it didn’t seem to make her appear sadly soaked like the rest. Her slick hair and leather outfit stood where they were, as if Gris was finally entering her natural habitat. The only thing that changed in look was her orange shawl. Still, the fur didn’t move in the way water dampens and weighs down things--it looked like it was squirming around Gris’ slender frame.
“Hello,” Gris’ voice was as booming as her presence. “Where can I find Carson DeBlare?”
Everyone looked around and chatter grew back into the devilish orchestra. Those in the lobby knew he had just entered with a multitude of the hotel’s security guards, but no one was sure where he was now. Gris let out a scowl in her swelling annoyance and flusterance. Idiots.
Gris whipped off her shawl and threw it up in the air, allowing it to dance around and catch the rain how ever it liked. If the crowd wasn’t silent when Gris had entered, they were definitely hushed now. Eyes ogled at the shawl contorting itself with a purposeful manner in the air, apparently not weighed down by the stormy water or gravity itself. It twisted and turned, bounced and fumbled with itself, rubbing together with immense friction until a glowing hot, neon red exploded into an orange furred, black striped tiger with a size triple of what people might see in zoos. It’s awakening yawn shook the crystal chandelier so harshly that the grandiose fixture shrunk to windchimes. The sprinkler rain seemed to vibrate as well, and the water reaching ankles crashed on top of itself in waves as if moved by the tiger’s alarming aura and scurrying away.
The orange creature crept around Gris’ legs, wiping its large head on her slim torso, slicking back its fur with the rainwater, then settling at her left-hand side. Its slicked fur mirrored its mother’s sleekness and honestly, even more intimidating appearance now with the side by side addition of her son.
Gris roared once more to the quivering crowd, “Where can I find Carson DeBlare?” A broad and tall man who looked to have maybe been handsome in his younger years, but was now weighed down with saggy skin around his jaw, made his way out of a bundle of security guards who failed at holding him back. He slipped through the lobby’s crowd and came forward, locking eyes with Gris. He was wearing a fanciful, navy suit now drenched to an inky black. His hair was silver and striped with sparse strands of white.
“What a scene, Gris!” His voice was raspy but nonetheless a challenging volume. Gris and the tiger slicingly studied Mr. DeBlare’s movements. A growl lightly echoed from the pair, though it wasn’t clear who it vibrated from.
Deblare slowly stepped closer to Gris, never once eyeing the massive creature beside her. With each step, the wet onlookers inhaled more and more air in fear that the whole place would submerge under due to the fattening tension.
“I figured it would be soon; first Warbar, then Hicks,” DeBlare was not stopping his pursuit forward, “What happened to Warbar, exactly? Hicks was found dead, but Warbar was declared missing… Anyways, I’m a bit offended being third.”
The tiger bared its teeth as Gris’s eyes smiled upward. Slimy saliva dripped from the tiger’s trap as its neck lowered and a growl flowed from its mouth, the deep vibrations bouncing off the marble walls and trembling the Tannerin with fear.
“I’m not here to talk.”
“Right, right… You’re just here to kill.” DeBlare had finally stopped walking forward. If both he and Gris had extended their arms, they would’ve shaken the other's hand. The black mask still hovered over Gris’ lower half of her face, seemingly unaffected by the sticky nature of water. The mask even puffed a little when Gris spoke. “I don’t want to kill you, DeBlare. I’m not gonna kill you at all. You’re too good for that.”
DeBlare let out a huff of air disguising what might’ve been a laugh had he been humanely capable of it.
“So what? You’re gonna have your fucking tiger rip me apart? Have me screaming while being shredded to nothing, begging for mercy? GO AHEAD!” DeBlare stepped forward and slapped the tiger straight across its face, triggering the predator who lunged and almost ripped him to flesh right then and there had it not been for Gris who quickly grabbed the tiger’s fat neck and pulled it back to her side.
DeBlare laid on the swampy ground and struggled lifting himself up on the backs of his hands. He was shaking, hard, as he realized his gross underestimation of the terror of a tiger--the terror of a brutal and bloody death.
“The tiger’s not gonna eat you either. It’s still pretty full from Hicks.”
DeBlare immediately shuttered at the thought of his old buddy being ripped apart and eaten by the foul creature before him. For a few moments, Deblare seemed to only be capable of blinking and shaking until he finally spit out, “W- what?! Wh- So what do you want then? What’s your revenge?”
Gris’ eyes smiled upward once more. Her shoulders bounced up and down as DeBlare realized she was actually laughing. “So you know you did something wrong if you’re calling it revenge! My god, Blare, you’re too fun. And ya know what? There's no reason to feel hurt being third-- I like to alternate death with torture so you’ll still get the better, more fun one. Or-- at least it is in my opinion.” And with that, Gris raised her finger and the tiger pursued the man who became so small and pathetic, even his fanciful suit that clung onto his body seemed to want a new owner.
The tiger bit deeply into the chest of DeBlare, and his screams tore out of every pore in his body. An exploding white light burst and blinded all onlookers.
. . .
When the police and fireman finally arrived, they came to a flooded building with locked exits--nothing more or less. It was an utter and absolute mess, yes, but it had only one casualty despite the disastrous scene: a plump, naked man crying and trembling terribly in the middle of the lobby. He was identified as the missing William Warbar--medically fine, albeit now with orange skin.
. . .
Gris petted her new silver shawl lovingly and relaxed as she clicked her way down the dark avenue a few blocks away from the Tannerin Hotel. Not getting caught by the law was the easiest part of Gris’ plan. You didn’t really need magic to go undetected by the police, as disappearing wasn’t much of a challenge. It was the first trick she taught herself after acclimating to a singular lifestyle. It was simple to do: she would shut her eyes, focus on her breath, mute out all other noise (this time it was the sirens of firetrucks and police cars that blared and distracted her the most), and then finally, Gris would hum a low vibration out of her chest. Any dark alley's corner would quickly become an exit where Gris could disappear. She could easily evaporate into the night… but not without all the hurting coming with her. She wasn’t skilled enough to figure that out… yet… but she was on her way--it was her plan. For now, Gris could only disappear into the darkness as much as a traveler stepping onto an empty night train, going unnoticed, carrying a baggage of agony with them.
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