The man dragged a body down the steps and into the damp, dark, dungeon of a cellar. The body twisted and wretched in agony and pain with each sequential thump down the frigid stairs, which posed to bring him further into the hell that he was already a part of. A bag over his head, and with arms and legs tied, this victim was powerless to stop his ever-present descent. Eventually the bottom of the steps was reached, and with a heave the captive was thrown forcefully into the corner. The man slowly removed the bag and looked this younger man in the eyes.
Bryan Worden was twenty years of age and had been missing for four days. Bryan had a pretty sweet job working in the back of his Mom’s restaurant. His job wasn’t terribly important. He didn’t cook the food or manage the front of the house or anything too important. He had a simple enough job: catering. Taking orders through calls or by email, then relaying that information to his mother and finally delivering it when the time came. It wasn’t a hard job, mostly because the catering requests received were few and far between. Bryan was currently enrolled in a community college and had plans to go off to a state university in a year. He always assumed that once he did go that his mother wouldn’t miss him. He sure hoped she did now. The last thing Bryan remembered was going to a friend’s party.
The bag was pulled from Bryan’s head, and he found himself looking into the smooth hazel eyes of Daniel Altro. Daniel’s warped gaze shot through his soul and froze his spine stiff. Daniel saw the fear in the brown eyes that looked back at him, a fact that filled him with a perverted sense of pleasure. With a smirk Daniel stood up and pulled a long string that hung from the ceiling. With a delayed flicker the single bulb that hung from the roof came to life, revealing a more grueling sight than Bryan cared to see.
Daniel’s mellow hazel eyes served to contrast the rest of the figure. Daniel’s figure was large and intimidating. He wore a white long sleeve shirt that was splattered like a painter’s smock with blood. His face was haphazardly plastered with scars and welts that helped weave a horrific story of the species of man that Daniel was. A story that was expounded upon by the basement that he kept. Against the walls on each side of the room were bookshelves coated with a myriad of sharp objects, most of which were stained with blood and rusted by the moisture that seeped into the darkness. In the corner was a large oozing trash bag accompanied by a worn shovel. Across the room from Bryan sat the stairs, the only exit that could be seen. On the walls to Bryan’s left and right were two huge mirrors, like the kind you would find in a ballet studio, creating a seemingly infinite reflection across the room. They were filthy. Everything in the room was, excluding one piece; the table in the center of the room was spotless.
“What are you going to do to me?” Bryan asked in a quivered tone.
“Oh kid, I don’t think you want to ask that question, do ya?” The man’s voice oozed with a harsh cruelty, each of the beats in his phrasing bitterly truncated with a maniacal atmosphere. With a sudden jolt and a hideous cackle, Bryan was lifted by the collar of his shirt and thrown onto the table. The harsh laughter continued as a nail gun was retrieved from a shelf and used to nail Bryan’s bound hands together and to the table in five consecutive shots. It all happened so fast that Bryan couldn’t bear the pain of what he saw or what he felt. Bryan passed out. Daniel’s laughter cut out cold and quick. A sigh of disappointment filled the dank room.
With a somewhat dejected gait, Daniel walked over and set the nail gun in its place. He went to the mirror and looked at the reflection. The expectation was to see his face and a limp figure on the table behind him. A sight that would surely give him a smile. A sight he did not see.
Daniel jumped back with a start to see the face of a white tiger in the mirror. Daniel scrambled to his feet and looked at the mirror behind him. If it wasn’t real, he figured it wouldn’t appear in both mirrors. Looking behind him, there was not just the face of the tiger but a full tiger, sitting where he should be standing. The tiger was a creature of brilliant snow-white fur that glistened in an ethereal fashion against the light. Dark, contrasting strips lined the feline’s back and tail. Its eyes of deep saturated blue sat squarely on Daniel as if just by looking at him the tiger knew him intimately.
“What in the hell is this?” Daniel asked. Even though it was intended to be rhetorical, the tiger replied without a moment’s hesitation.
“Don’t be daft, Daniel, you know my purpose quite well.” The tiger’s delivery was direct, bitter, and accompanied by the swish of its tail. The tiger had a smooth and airy tone to its voice but still managed to be commanding and potent, with an icy underlay in its syllables. Daniel had no idea what this apparition was or whatever it was calling its “purpose.” This didn’t matter to him. It was in his basement without a personal “invitation.”
“Yeah, sure thing, freak. Now leave.” Daniel snarled back.
“Oh please, Daniel. Your coy ignorance is vaguely entertaining, I’ll admit, but hardly fits.”
“I don’t know who you are, but I want you out,” Daniel replied, agitation clear in his voice. The tiger cocked its head to the side and pulled its eyes wide, coming to the realization that Daniel actually did not know. The tiger reacted in a manner that the possibility had never even crossed its mind.
“Well, now I sure feel foolish. I am Sud’ya.” The tiger bowed slightly during its introduction.
This gesture of respect made no difference to Daniel. He simply yelled back, “Sure jackass, but I told you I didn’t care who you are! I just want you out!” With this statement, Daniel turned to his shelf and picked up a hatchet. When he turned back around he was greeted with a brand new scene looking back at him in the mirror.
What was once a reflection of the room, himself replaced with the tiger being the exception, had now turned into a cracked grey stone plateau. This formation appeared to make a circle, cut perfectly by steep faced cliffs on all sides. The world around this arena was steeped in snow, the pure white broken only by obstreperous grey rock formations that infiltrated the otherwise sharp white mountains. Daniel could hardly believe his eyes. He looked into the mirror on the other wall, which showed a perfect reflection of the tiger and its domain.
Sud’ya sat in the center of the plateau and flicked its tail gently, the passing wind sweeping the fur across its face and back. Sud’ya’s blue eyes stared Daniel down. In response, Daniel’s grip tightened around the hatchet he was holding.
“What what the— what did you do?!?” Daniel’s tone was shaky and desperate, filled with uncertain energy.
“I’ve done nothing. What I shall do, however, is my task.” Sud’ya spoke with clarity and confidence, and with his words flakes of snow began to fall. The snow fell with a slow and gentle grace to it, each of the flakes resting gently on the stone of the plateau.
“And what’s this task?” The hesitation in Daniel’s voice made it clear it was a question he felt afraid to ask.
“Daniel Altro, I am to provide a divine verdict to you.”
“A— a what now?”
“A celestial decree. A heavenly decision.”
“And it is?” Daniel’s grip strangled the handle of the hatchet further, while his other hand balled into a tight fist of anxious energy.
“You shall be removed for your wasteful deeds.” As Sud’ya’s words faded, a silence fell upon Daniel. Daniel sat in awe for a moment, his knuckles turning white from his grip on his rusted tool. His expression slowly morphed from that of shock to one of hatred and defiance. Daniel’s scared face turned red with hate as he began his tirade.
“You don’t know anything about me! You don’t know who I am, you’re just talking out your ass, you stupid cat! You’re a cat! Cats are morons, they know nothing and— and they sure as hell can’t talk! What am I even doing? Why am I wasting my time on something that can’t even exist!?!”
With the rage behind him Daniel lunged forwards towards the image. Using the hatchet he smashed the large mirror in the exact place that Sud’ya was sitting. Shards of glass polluted the ground as they fell. As he hit the mirror, the momentum sent him to his knees.
Daniel took a moment to stare at the floor. He observed one of the broken pieces of glass on the ground and picked it up with his free hand. As Daniel picked it up, it cut into his fingers. The red blood dripped slowly to the ground as he looked at his reflection in the piece of glass. Daniel watched a smile creep over his face as he stared back at himself. The smile grew into a chuckle and then into a laugh.
“Take that you dumb cat!” Daniel exclaimed through his laughter.
“What was that now?” Hearing the voice, Daniel snapped his head up to see Sud’ya sitting in front of him. Daniel looked around him, seeing mountains covered in snow. The ground below him was made of stone, laced with cracks and dusted lightly with snow. He looked down at the piece of glass he held, its surface no longer reflected due to a dark red coat across the shard. Dropping the glass to the stone floor, Daniel’s eyes looked straight ahead at Sud’ya. The tiger sat in front of him, a somewhat smug look of satisfaction plastered across its striped face.
Daniel scrambled to his feet and charged at Sud’ya, swinging his hatchet in a rage. “What did you do?!?” As he screamed, Sud’ya gracefully dodged the ill-tempered swing.
“Nothing yet.” Sud’ya punctuated its words by protruding its claws and lowering its shoulders. Sud’ya slowly circled Daniel and eyed him with an eerie deliverance. Daniel readied his weapon, waiting for the large cat to pounce.
“So? Do it!” Daniel taunted.
“And what, pray tell, am I to do?” Sud’ya asked, continuing to prowl around Daniel.
“Kill me. Wasn’t that your ‘task,’ you furball?”
Sud’ya grimaced slightly at this before retorting with harsh conviction. “My task is to eliminate you. Punishment for your hubris.”
“Hubris? You mean me killing people, don’t you? I’m not sure why it’s hard for you to be direct. And you’re one to talk— the man-eating tiger never killed anyone, I’m sure.”
Daniel was intentionally trying to enrage Sud’ya at this point, hoping it would cause the tiger to make a move out of rage. Something that would leave the large cat open for a counterattack.
“Kill people? Yes, I have.”
Daniel was somewhat disappointed at the relaxed nature of this response and schemed that the best course of action was to keep antagonizing. “Then who are you to judge me, cat?” Daniel was sure to make the last word drip with contempt for what he felt was an injustice towards him.
“I kill with purpose, with intent. You just waste. You waste life; you are a waste of life.” Sud’ya’s stare ripped through Daniel. The frigid land around him was nothing compared to the cold hard blue of the tiger’s eyes as they ripped through to his soul.
Sud’ya stood for what felt like an eternity, just staring at Daniel. With each passing second the snow picked up, decreasing Daniel’s vision, though even through the gathering storm Daniel could clearly see Sud’ya’s eyes glaring back at him. The blue pearls shredded through every fiber of Daniel’s being until he couldn’t take it anymore. Those eyes, that gaze, it haunted him. He just wanted the eyes off him, he needed them off of him. What he needed to do was kill Sud’ya.
With delirious resolve Daniel made his move, charging towards the tiger with his hatchet raised and a hysterical battle cry. The tiger pounced towards him but aimed low. Sud’ya hit the floor less than a foot in front of Daniel. The cat then dug its teeth into Daniel’s ankle and used the pounce’s momentum to pull the ankle up. With one smooth motion, Daniel landed flat on his face, breaking his nose in the process. Before Daniel had an opportunity to react, Sud’ya dug its claws into his wrists. With a yell, Daniel released his weapon.
Sud’ya stood on top of Daniel’s back, pinning the man to the snowy ground. Daniel struggled to get up, but Sud’ya was far too heavy to leave Daniel any hope of escape. With an icy boom to its voice, Sud’ya spoke with its head turned to the heavens.
“I, Sud’ya now execute the sentence entrusted to me upon Daniel Alto!” As if in reply, the wind howled, and the storm brewed fiercely above the tiger. Sud’ya paused for a moment to prepare, then extended its claws and began to rip into Daniel’s back. Daniel screamed in pain as the tiger tore through his flesh. With each consecutive swipe, skin was shredded as the cat dug deeper. Sud’ya continued to dredge through skin and bone, tearing a hole through Daniel. The tiger continued to delve though the man, tearing past the heart, the lungs, until Sud’ya had finished its work. Sud’ya roared to indicate its victory and on cue the two were covered in a veil of brilliant white snow.
Bryan’s eyes slowly opened as he regained consciousness. With a sudden influx of realization his eyes snapped open and looked down at his hands, still nailed to the table. His panic was temporarily quelled when he noticed the state of the mirror on the wall. It was shattered. Its remains lay on the floor as shards of stranded glass. He tried to turn his head to see more of the room but was stopped by a large hand being placed on the side of his head.
“Do not fret, I have no intentions to bring harm to you.” The voice was odd to Bryan. It sounded smooth and frosty, nothing like his captor’s harsh tone.
As the man walked around, he saw what looked like his captor, but something was clearly off about his face. His scars had now become symmetrical across the sides of his face, giving the illusion of stripes. The man got on a knee in front of Bryan, and their gazes met. Bryan found himself staring into a pair of vibrant blue eyes as the man spoke to him again.
“I am no monster. You will feel no pain.” With a quick motion, the beast snapped Bryan’s neck and began to eat.