Tales of Fur and Feathers: A Collection of Short Stories

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The Tiger's Soul

“Just be very, very quiet,” Susie tells me, “and we might spot him.” She holds up her hand, signaling for me to stop, and crouches down behind a bush.

I’m nearly bursting with excitement. I’ve been waiting for this day for goodness knows how long--five years? Six? It doesn’t matter now. I’m here, in the rainforest.

Looking for a tiger.

“Quietly, now,” Susie says, as if she can hear my heart pounding. “We don’t want to scare him off...”

“Are you sure he won’t be the one doing the scaring?” I whisper.

Susie smiles a small smile, her full attention on the trees in front of her. “I’m sure,” she says. “Tiger are known to be very--look there!” She points through the tall trunks. There, hiding behind tall grass, is a tiger. I’m expecting to feel some sort of magical jolt right about now, one that will make me want to study tigers for the rest of my life, or something like that. But the only thing I can see is a small patch of orange fur through the weeds. I can’t even see a single black stripe.

“I can’t see anything,” I complain.

“Shh.” Susie holds a finger to her lips. “Just wait, Calico. Just wait.”

I hold back a sigh and stare some more at the ferns. Susie and I have been walking through the forest for over six hours, and my feet are getting terribly sore. I think I’ve waited long enough. In truth, I was expecting more, to find a tiger within the first hour. But that didn’t happen.

Maybe I should’ve chosen a different birthday present.

My mother and father know how much I love tigers. Every time I see a tiger plushie at the store, I grab it. My bedsheets have stripes, my curtains have stripes, and even my cake of soap has stripes. So, when I asked to visit the Malaysian forests to look for tigers, my parents made me a promise. “On your thirteenth birthday,” they said, “you can go.”

It’s my thirteenth birthday today. I’m here. And so far, it’s been pretty disappointing. Mom and Dad weren’t even able to come with me, they’re so busy with work, so they hired a random lady named Susie to guide me through the jungle.

I haven’t even gotten any cake.

“He’s coming out,” Susie says slowly. “Keep your distance.”

Then he steps out of the grass, and I get my first look at a real live tiger. I gasp in delight. He’s so huge, and so beautiful, with bluish yellow eyes and vivid black strips that look like velvet. I want to run out from my hiding place and hug him.

“Does he have a name?” I ask Susie. She shrugs.

“I’m sure he does, like E-145 or something. That’s what the conservation company names them.”

“The what?”

“The Malaysian tigers are endangered, so our local conservation company is keeping track of them. Making sure they aren’t getting poached, things like that. Every one of them has a tracking chip, and it holds their identity, which is usually a combination of letters and numbers.”

I shake my head. “He deserves a real name,” I say.

Susie looks like she wants to argue, but says nothing. The tiger looks around for a few moments, then retreats back into the weeds. I wish he would have stayed for a little longer.

“Well, let’s get home,” Susie says. “I got a cake from the bakery.”


When I was on the plane ride here, I was ecstatic. I thought Malaysia would be the best place in the world, exotic and tangy and beautiful. True, the jungles are pretty, but besides that everything is... well, normal. And hot. My God, it is so hot. It feels like I can’t stay outside for more than two minutes without drowning in my own sweat. And the mosquitos at night are horrible. They come in swarms, and I can’t open my window before I go to bed like I usually do because I’ll wake up with a puffy, itchy face. I learned that the hard way.

I’m staying with Susie in her apartment, which is small and a little dusty. The cake she gives me is way too sweet, and the water tastes strange. Not like American water. Smells from her neighbor’s apartment drifts into ours and I wrinkle up my nose. It’s anchovies. I hate anchovies, especially the smell. Susie breaths it in and closes her eyes, obviously savoring it.

Ew.

I guess people here like to eat smelly food, because Susie brings in a strange spiky fruit after we finish the cake. “What is that?” I ask her.

She smiles and says, “durian. Want some?”

“... sure...” I say wearily, eying the fruit. When she cuts it open, I nearly gag. The smell is so stinky, I can’t even describe it. I don’t want to imagine what it tastes like. “Actually,” I say, holding my nose, “I’m tired. I think I’ll go to bed.”

Susie shrugs. “Suit yourself,” she says, already chomping on a piece. I run into the living room, where I sleep on the couch. Susie doesn’t have a guest room. Not even bothering to take a shower, I climb into the sofa and close my eyes.

I can’t wait to go back home.


Later that night, Susie shakes me awake. “Wake up!” She hisses. “We need to go.”

I sit up drowsily. “Go where?” I mumble.

“Out.” She yanks me by the wrist, dragging me off the couch. “It’s an emergency.”

“What?” I rub the sleep from my eyes. “What’s going on?”

“Just follow me.” Susie walks over to the balcony door and slides it open as I hear someone banging on the front door.

“Susan! Open this door!” someone yells.

“Who is that?” I ask, suddenly fearful. “Are they robbers?”

“No, they are much worse. They are police,” Susie answers. I’m half aware of her tying a rope around my waist as I try to process her words.

Wait. She’s tying a rope around my waist.

“Hey! Stop!” I cry, trying to push her away. She grabs my arm and pulls me over to the balcony, closing the door behind us.

“Climb over the railing,” she instructs. I hear a crash from inside.

“What? Why?!”

“Just do as I say! You will not be hurt!” I’m wide-eyed, uncomprehending. I’m also frozen. I can’t move. Susie groans in frustration and pushes me over the balcony.

We’re on the twelfth floor of the apartment. I am falling down twelve stories. And Susie pushed me.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

I scream so hard my lungs seem to fall right out of my mouth. The ground is closer, closer, so close I could reach out my hand and touch it...

But I don’t hit the street. I’m floating, just a couple inches from the road, suspended in the air by a piece of rope. Susie is holding me. Then she lets go, and my body plops down. My throat is stinging from all the screaming.

What in heaven’s name is going on?

I can only watch as Susie ties the end of the rope to the balcony railing, then slides down it so quickly I’m sure her hands are burning from the rough twine. Two policemen are staring down at us, dumbfounded. I don’t understand. Why are they chasing us?

“This way,” Susie says. She’s breathing hard. She takes my hand and runs so fast I nearly trip over my own feet. Where are we going?

“Tell me what’s going on!” I shout, trying to pull her back.

“Children are so inconvenient! Why do people have them?” Susie yells back. “We are running from the police because they are chasing us!”

“Why are they chasing us!”

“Because of me, so shut up and keep quiet!”

“Shutting up and keeping quiet are the exact same thing.”

“SILENCE!”

Fine. I’m silent for the rest of the way, my mind buzzing, my throat aching. We run and run, until my legs hurt so bad it feels like they’re falling into thousands of pieces. But Susie doesn’t get tired. She runs and runs, never stopping, until we reach the edge of the forest. What are we doing here?

“Come with me, and be very silent,” Susie says gravely. She walks into the jungle and reaches into her coat.

She pulls out a gun.

I stifle a squeak and keep behind her, not sure whether she’s going to use it for self-defense or to hurt someone on purpose. I don’t know whether to run or stick with her. Is she trying to protect me, or hurt me?

I have no idea how long we walk. Susie keeps staring at the ground, and I realize what she’s looking at. Tracks. Tiger tracks.

I pull on her sleeve. “Where are we going?” I ask.

“To find something,” Susie mutters. Then she stops. We’ve reached a clearing, and standing before us is the tiger. The same tiger I saw this afternoon. The one with no name.

I’m starting to feel uneasy.

Susie raises her gun. It takes me too long to figure out what she’s trying to do, and before I can stop her she fires at the tiger. My tiger.

She shoots him in the head. He collapses on the ground with a roar. Susie laughs a high, hysterical laugh. “You wanted a tiger for your birthday,” she cackles as angry and confused tears stream down my cheeks. “Make yourself a pretty rug out of that, will you?” And then she runs, away from me, through the trees until the sound of her footsteps die away.

I’m alone.

I walk towards the tiger with shaky steps, my hands trembling. I can see now that the bullet hit him in the eye. The image is so gruesome and looks so painful that my tears come on only faster.

I don’t understand. I don’t understand any of this.

I kneel beside the tiger. “Hello,” I whisper weakly. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry...”

The tiger looks angry, ferocious, as if I was the one who shot him. But he can’t move. He can only look at me with those yellow eyes of his and grunt.

I don’t want him to die. I can’t let him die.

I reach out a shaking hand and touch his fur. “You deserve a gift before you go,” I say to him. “How about a name? Would you like a name?”

He doesn’t say anything. Well, of course he doesn’t.

“How about... Darko?” I say, remembering the name from the book my parents bought when they were looking for names for my baby brother. Darko means gift.

He makes no protests. I smile. “Okay,” I say, feeling choked. “Darko it is. Goodbye, Darko.” My hand leaves his soft fur and his eyes glass over. I cry for a good long while before I leave.

Goodbye, Darko.


TEN YEARS LATER...

“Just be very quiet,” I say to the little girl beside me. She nods excitedly. “If you’re very still, he’ll come out.”

“I can’t wait!” Rose squeals. I shush her with a smile.

“I couldn’t wait either, when I was your age,” I say.

“Is that when you decided to become a tiger lady?” Rose asks. I laugh quietly.

“Yes,” I say, suddenly feeling solemn. “Yes, it is.”

The bushes in front of us move. Rose gasps as the tiger reveals himself.

I gasp too.

He has vibrant stripes that look like velvet, magnificent bluish yellow eyes. The tiger looks at me, his eyes connecting with mine. I feel a strange thrill throughout my whole body, starting from my toes and going all the way up.

“Hello, Darko,” I whisper. “We meet again.”

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